THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE TRADITION OF THE LEFT
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The following text, The Communist Party in the Tradition of the Left, from June 1974, is the product of the party’s collective effort to prioritise and restate the fundamental issues; issues which get brought up whenever the organisation swerves off course and which generally, at least so far, have taken the form of more or less conspicuous and comprehensive splits, more or less useful in terms of strengthening of party action on the basis of continuity and unity of theory, programme, tactics and organisation. Written all in one go, under the impulse of the perpetual, pressing need to re-establish the fundamental principles on which the Party based its re-launch in 1952, no textual modifications are needed.
In the days before the appearance of the Party’s new press organ Il Partito Comunista, the work appeared originally as the first of a series of pamphlets. The circulation of the text was therefore inevitably limited, although a new edition in book form was brought out a few years later, first in Italian then in other languages. Now, at last, it is available in English speaking countries and to an international readership. It is hoped that comrades, readers of our press and proletarians who follow our struggle will find it both an aid to study, and an indispensable guide to how the Left resolved the complex and intertwined issues adequately summed up in the title of our classical text from 1945, Nature, Function and Tactics of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the Working Class.
Explained in that work, using our powerful and impersonal historical method, is the Marxist school’s perfectly consistent definition of the Communist Party; which, after the destruction of the Third International, has been uniquely represented by the Communist Left’s tradition of positions and struggles.
Drawing on a long party activity stretching over half a century, from 1920, a still revolutionary year in Europe, to the comparatively recent 1970, and covering a long cycle of counterrevolution (as opposed to the gossipy “new stages” discovered every six months by anti-Marxist immediatism), the quotations and the comments which introduce them, and nail down their meaning, describe the historically determined characteristics of the revolutionary party, «a projection into the present day of the human-society of tomorrow».
The text neither adds to, or modifies, any of the theses which the Left defended within the International against Stalinist corruption and then later against the degeneration represented by the non-Marxist anti-Stalinist currents. Taking that in combination with what was codified and objectively realized within a long international party tradition in the post 2nd World War period, it represents a synthetic and systematic document, and the confirmation of our programmatic theses on the so-called organizational questions. We thus bring to the attention of new generations of young proletarians, the revolutionaries of tomorrow, and to whoever is drawn into our orbit the theses defended by our party organization and by us alone.
The text was written immediately after the last laceration of party unity; the worst and most dramatic of the post-war period because desired and driven by the party Centre itself, and directed against comrades who maintained their full allegiance to its programmatic principles and organizational discipline. It is to be considered the continuation of a work, carried out according to our tradition and method, by which, amidst the frantic organizational “new courses”, the correct orientation was kept in accordance with the basic principles which regulate and discipline the life, action, and nature of the party; a work which was presented to the organization as a whole as a way of preventing it losing its revolutionary bearings.
The text was circulated at the time as an internal document, exclusively aimed at party comrades and the Centre. This was because the main thing was to get the administrative measure of expulsion repealed, channelling the forces of all comrades into reconfirming the homogeneous bases we held in common, the old method of work we had in common, the common principles which nobody was openly saying they wished to question; and, equally importantly, it wanted to reaffirm those characteristic and special aspects of party life which had characterized it since its reconstitution in the immediate post-war period.
So, a party text then, a party work rather than a polemical document or an indictment of secessionism against an alleged “other side”. In the Introduction of the time we read: «Rejected by the Centre as total and absolute rubbish, this work is a modest contribution which amplifies a proposal made some years ago. Maybe if the ’compass’ hadn’t spun out of control, it would have appeared in the columns of Programma Comunista, instead of all those dubious articles on ’organisation’».
We had to admit that the compass had spun out of control, and irreversibly so. Since then, the two organisations have pursued their own respective paths and we have no further demands or reproaches to put forward. We are, however, left with the precious lesson of the method we used to respond to the encroaching disaster of the split, and to the errors which would prompt, sustain and conclude it in such an ignominious way over the years which followed; errors which would reduce to vile, disgraceful tatters that allegedly iron organization which had arisen after the expulsion of ’the weaklings’; of those ’lacking in discipline’; of the ’anti-centralist’ fraction, as it was then called, who had opposed the new organizational courses and the impromptu disciplinary measures; not for fear of discipline and organizational power, but rather because they saw in those means, in those criteria, the road to disorganization, and hence a breach of programmatic unity.
The aim of this tenacious work wasn’t to arouse any sense of personal satisfaction about ’winners’ and the ’losers’ within the party, but rather to prompt a sound reaction, capable of bringing the party as a whole back onto correct positions, without rehabilitations, self-criticisms or anyone being put on trial.
Drawing on the whole, integrated tradition of the Communist Left, the text, therefore, merely sets out to restate postulates known to everyone in the party and accepted by all militants; postulates which past and present generations have ’sculpted’ and refined with the aim of fortifying and expanding the fighting party organization, which in its turn has been strengthened by this continuous, untiring work.
Faced with the dispersal and general retreat of the proletarian movement on all fronts, when even parties calling themselves communist would yield to those old bourgeois and idealist superstitions which entrust everything to the myth of the illustrious leader, or to the petty bourgeois deference to hierarchy, or, worse still, to simple arithmetical majorities, only the Left was capable of drawing the lesson of the counter-revolution, by recognising the Third International, in its first two congresses, as the anticipation of the world communist party; something which is an old aspiration of Marxist communism and a historical necessity. The Left would also denounce ephemeral forms, the survival of federalism and of doctrinal and programmatic heterogeneity within the party, and their degenerate consequences: the democratic mechanism and its complement, bureaucratism and abuse of organizational formalism.
Before in the International the Left was opposed to the view that the method of internal work, the study of social reality and the singling out of the appropriate tactics, should be the result of an internal political struggle, of the clash between different factions and of their changing relationships.
Within the party which re-emerged at the end of the war – the one world communist party in embryonic form – all the more strenuously did we rule out the possibility that its internal life could be based on a clash between several, ideologically opposed currents. Now, thanks to a process of historical revolutionary and class struggle maturation, doctrinal unity had finally been achieved once and for all, and a system of tactical norms codified.
Such an objective maturity of proletarian experience is crystallized in facts, texts and theses, and pulsates in the living party structure and in its univocal and scientific work of study and research. This makes possible – or rather requires – the adoption of an organic method for the realization of its tactics and its coherent action.
We maintain that the most efficient way of utilizing the party forces as a whole lies in unitary methods of work which rely on «fraternal solidarity and mutual consideration among comrades». We therefore finally relegate to the museum of prehistory, to that of proletarian organization as well, those nowadays destructive methods (which were only ever present in the movement due to historical immaturity) of “struggle” between comrades and fractions, where not only the weapons of democracy and numerical head counts are used, but exaggeration and polemical excess as well; to the point indeed that the Left fraction would have to put up with personal attacks, slanders, gossip, manoeuvres between prominent leaders, and manipulations of the much adulated rank and file.
Finally, we could rule out both the habit of “personifying the party”, and “personifying errors”, according to which it is only through the authoritativeness of a “leader” that the party can discern the correct political line, or, vice versa, ascribe errors to some “culprit’s” deviation. In the world revolutionary party, the hunt for the correct tactical line was at last possible without the need to waste an absurd amount of energy in factional struggles (the “sport of fractionism” within the Third International); the goal was no longer defeating, numerically overwhelming or expelling from the organizational leadership a given group of comrades, by using any means necessary; but rather convincing the whole party organism of the correctness of the tactical line, and thus reinforcing the movement’s unity.
We knew what the objection would be: the party, still subjected to the pressure of the bourgeois environment, should defend itself from spurious ideologies and lines which try to penetrate it. With our clear theses, and wishing to avoid all useless moralising or witch-hunts, we simply answered that experience had taught us that the opportunist involution of parties has always been manipulated from above, by artfully flaunting numerical majorities and invoking formal discipline. Introducing the practice of engaging in political struggle within the party thus meant handing it over to the very people it was supposed to be fighting against. The party can, and indeed must, defend itself from the terrible, permanent pressure of the external environment with the same methods it uses to govern its organic life. The latter is not an aesthetical luxury or a formal liturgy to be set aside whenever we move from the “stage of theoretical research” to that of “class struggle”. The one defence the party has is the extreme coherence of its organic method.
These themes have been further expounded in a recent report entitled, In the Party’s Organic Predisposition lies its Preparation for Revolution, which is included here as an appendix to the 1974 text.
In 1951, «in the depths of the counter-revolutionary depression», with the drifting of the Russian State onto the terrain of defence of bourgeois relations a fait accompli and the patriotic intoxication of the second imperialist war a thing of the past, the Internationalist Communist Party, constituting itself in a clear and homogeneous manner, formulated a body of characteristic theses. These theses had the purpose of defining our movement, and clearly delimiting it both from those forces which have abandoned the party and from those groups which though they appear to be close to us, have marched in step with the great machineries of official social democracy ever since.
In those theses, still a constant reference point for our present organization, the chapters entitled Theory; Tasks of the Communist Party; Historical Waves of Opportunist Degeneration; Party Action in Italy and in Other Countries in 1952, aren’t to do with philosophy, or with abstract professorial histories; rather they outline the party’s mode of being, a party not merely firmly founded on “the principles of historical materialism and of critical communism of Marx and Engels”; but one able, and willing to, bring that social science and those future predictions to life within an active organisation; within a party whose aim is to suppress the antagonism between consciousness and action, between the theory of revolution and revolutionary activity itself.
Although referring to a fairly small organisation, due to historical causes, the 4th thesis in part IV states:
1 - Characteristic Theses of the Party, 1951
IV. 4 – Today we are in the depths of the political depression, and although the possibilities of action are considerably reduced, the party, following revolutionary tradition, has no intention of breaking the historical line of preparation for a future large scale resurgence of the class struggle, which will integrate all the results of past experience. Restriction of practical activity does not imply the renunciation of revolutionary objectives. The party recognises that in certain sectors its activity is quantitatively reduced, but this does not mean that the multi-faceted totality of its activity is altered, and it does not renounce expressly to any of them.
The reduced militant forces which reorganized soon after the end of the war recognized that choosing the program of revolutionary emancipation of the working class from the capitalist class was by now historically incontrovertible. Not only were the theoretical principles of communist social and cognitive critique integral and essential parts of such a program, but also a complete system of tactical norms derived from centuries of proletarian warfare, and an organic method of work and internal relations relevant to the proletarian party. The maturity of our theoretical postulates, and their confirmation derived from the living verification of the class struggle, enabled the party at the time to state in Thesis 5, Part IV:
2 - Characteristic Theses of the Party, 1951
IV. 5. Today, the principal activity is the re-establishment of the theory of Marxist communism (...) That is why 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 (...) 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 consequence of our trust in science and the scientific method is the conviction that the programme isn’t something we invent, rediscover or update, especially nowadays. The revolutionary programme already exists in the awful reality of proletarian defeats and the putrefaction of the bourgeois universe. The revolutionary programme, in a doctrinal sense, has existed for a century and a half with the last refinements being added by the Marxist left, who codified the lessons derived from the culminating point of the proletarian advance, the Russian Revolution; and from that first, pulsing realization of the anticipated one, worldwide direction of the insurgent proletariat, the Third International. From then on, the party’s task has been to preserve this outlook, to keep the science of subversion alive. In the amorphous present, the party’s task is to seek the confirmation of its theorems in contemporary and past events rather than trying to find new exceptions to them.
Since the time of the Third International, the party, remaining true to its historical tradition, has devoted itself – within what the theses would refer to as “merely quantitative” limitations – to the impersonal and indispensable work of defending communist continuity.
We postulate the organized form of the party type, which since 1848 at least has been the appropriate form for a conscious, and unique, proletarian organization capable of accommodating the milizia comunista whenever there was the slightest chance of it existing. So a unitary party organization then: as unitary as our program, and as devoid of the clash of conflicting interests as the world we are fighting for. Centralism and discipline derive from monolithicity of programme. Rather than being construed as administrative or terrorist coercion, discipline in the party is, and can only be, spontaneous; the natural way of life of an organisational body which is entirely focused on one end, and well aware of the route and all the detours and dangers on the path to achieving that end. Discipline in the strongest sense, organic discipline, is only possible in the communist party; that is why – as opposed to within organisations of the dying class society – the call for discipline within the party doesn’t have recourse to coercion, since all that could be assumed, in any non-individual lack of discipline, was that it had to be something about the party’s work at a deeper level which was causing it to stray from its historical path. Since the birth of new schools or ideologies inside the communist movement is ruled out at a theoretical level, we take the position that internal political struggle, and fractions battling amongst themselves, can be banned inside the party. Whenever the party is divided into two groups, it leads to the death of that party and the birth of a new organization in reaction to the degeneration of the old. Events from the past, and recent, history of our movement show this only too clearly.
The concept of the communist party outlined in the Theses rejects all localism, and contingentism, in the work of defending the program or in the party’s external propaganda. They are stale residues of petty-bourgeois social strata, who, restricted by the narrow horizon of the club, or local “study” group, think they can “make their own way to the party”. But these winding and tortuous new paths, compared to the broad highway of the old, tried and tested and impersonal method of the party, are impassable and they lead precisely nowhere.
Within the party, and only within the party, we see the social relations typical of the future society realized. Firmly resisting the powerful influences of the external environment, it is only within the party that the bourgeois superstition of the “person” is rejected as a false abstraction of the ascendant bourgeoisie; and condemned along with its mercantile accessories of careers, rewards and competition.
In the belief that the consignment of the historical party, not as “revealed dogma”, but as the synthesis of past proletarian experience, confirmed by past and present events, constitutes the continuous furrow along which the militant organization has to channel its energies, in Thesis 7 of Part IV it is stressed that:
3 - Characteristic Theses of the Party, 1951
IV. 7... 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.
Another separation of party forces took place in 1966, and organizational continuity was maintained then by a decisive reconfirmation of the norms of internal party relations drawn from the balance sheet of the Third International’s degeneration, as specifically recalled by the Theses of 1965-66. As in 1951, another, separate organization was formed which distanced itself from the party and went off in a different direction to ourselves; where to we’ve never been particularly interested in finding out.
On this basis, the party which would be identified with its organ Il Programma Comunista would arise, and carry out its work, until 1973. Then another, ’dirty’ split as we would call it, would take place; dishonest because those who were betraying the party at the time didn’t have the nerve to proclaim their intention of abandoning the plotted course; or only after the event, once militants had already been deceived. On the contrary – and the history of formal parties has taught us this is the rule for all revisionisms – they did it while making a show of reverence, as formal as it was hypocritical, for the great names of illustrious men and for abstract principles kept on ice to be brandished at the right moment. Unlike former splits, the one in 1973 was particularly murky and deeply felt because, for the first time since 1951, crisis and fractionism involved the steering centre of the organization too.
In 1973, the material fact of the expulsion from Programma of a significant part of the organization in itself provoked the existence of two separate parties, each of them following their own path. The historical impossibility of the positions of the Left coexisting with any kind of opportunism explains why this irrevocable split was so clear cut. The new organization, publishers of the periodicals Il Partito Comunista, Comunismo, Communist Left, and periodicals in other languages, now had the chance to weigh up this latest crisis of the formal party; a crisis which, even though occurring at a very paltry level, we nevertheless deemed “rotten to the core”. We would proceed to brand the deviation as opportunist, and the result of voluntarism and impatience as regards practice. Describing our accusers as activist, we would turn against them the very label they had conjured up to describe our non existent fraction.
Since the possibility of the party’s existence is not something we make mechanically dependent on particular force relations between the classes, or the number of available militants; but rather on everyone’s absolute acceptance of the unique, unchanging and monolithic program, our party, small though it was, pressed on with the “serious work” it had embarked on in 1951: that of preventing defections and the impending pressure of the bourgeois world from breaking the “thread of time” which, continuous and intact, is passed on from one generation of militants to the other. In 1973 we weren’t just fighting over a couple of deviations, or just about some of the more vexed questions; above all we were defending our very concept of the communist party; and that was the ultimate test insofar as keeping the conscious proletarian organization alive is both the most important revolutionary action of all, and a scorching theoretical defeat for our enemy towering above us.
Therefore, from the moment of separation from the old organization we have had nothing more to do with it, and felt no obligation to pronounce judgement on how it has gradually distanced itself from the Left.
Over recent decades the party has «persevered» – in the Theses of Naples sense – «in ’sculpting’ the distinctive features of its doctrine, action, and tactics with the same unique method, over space and time», in the certainty that the present day work of the party, if it survives, will be in the future a very powerful factor in accelerating the reconstruction of the large scale party of the Revolution. And let us not rule out the possibility of a future rebirth of the proletarian party, in other countries or continents, anywhere, exclusively through a rediscovery and rereading of the texts and of history. We maintain however that this process, otherwise long and tortuous, can be made far shorter, and more direct, by the presence of a party, even a small one, capable of handing down the thread, and the norms and the formulae which are synthetic and conclusive in the historical sense, of our science.
The current state of society being no worse than in 1951, the party is proud to have been able to maintain, throughout the longest ever reflux of the world revolution, this “small continuance” of left wing Marxism, and not just as “theses and texts” but also as a living and active organ. Since our movement now lacks famous men, from whose now “useless” genius there is no further enlightenment to be drawn, impersonal and collective party work is the only way we can really get to grips with proletarian social science and hope to see beyond the mists of the present amorphous environment.
We don’t believe we need to change our theses or add to them. Away from a stupid “organizational arrogance” devoid of programmatic content (typical of all opportunism by the way, including recent examples) and not emotionally attached to any particular organization per se, we confirm our claim – alone against all the various updaters and re-considerers – to full and exclusive continuity with these theses; and with that party which had the revolutionary instinct, and dialectical strength, to proclaim itself as such in the face of the stammerings of spontaneistic rationalism and realpolitick scepticism.
The final part of the present work, the fifth, is dedicated to the crucial issue of tactics, the practical action of the party at various times and in different places; the knotty problem which needs unravelling in preparation for the revolutionary attack and which, conversely, of all the areas in which the party organization operates, is the most delicate and complex because conducted in the white heat of the social struggle.
As in the previous sections there is an introduction to the fifth part which provides a synthetic overview of the party’s general tactical plan. This is followed by an ample set of quotations, subdivided into six chapters, drawn from the fundamental texts of revolutionary communism and from our uncorrupted tradition of struggle against Stalinism and opportunism, which clearly demonstrate the invariance of the filo rosso, wending its way through generations of men and political formations.
The tactical sphere, like the organizational one dealt with in the preceding sections, has always been one of the points of ’major criticality’; the starting point for some of the party’s most dangerous deviations. Many party structures founded or re-founded on very solid doctrinarian and organizational bases, and even on the wave of a victorious revolution, have been distorted out of all recognition in the space of a couple of years because they thought that possession of “sound principles” made the use of any manoeuvre permissible, or worse still, that a “strong and disciplined” organization made any tactical about-face permissible. That the painful corollary of such a tactical ’dégringolade’ is that it is then inevitably accompanied by a degeneration of relations within the Party, by the appearance of fractionism from above, by methods of organizational coercion and by out and out political struggle; this is something the century old history of the class organ ’Party’ has taught us; and it is a definitive lesson.
Similarly having a rigid framework to contain the shortlist of tactical options bolsters and reinforces unity, compactness, and therefore discipline within the entire party collective; which no longer has to be subjected to the tactical inventions of the movement’s leadership because the latter in its turn is obliged to respect norms and cardinal rules as binding on the rank and file as on the leadership; norms and cardinal rules shared by all and known by all, and on whose basis the Party itself was formed. Therefore, it is not to consultative assemblies, battles between minorities and majorities, or to more or less brilliant leaders that the carrying out of tactical plans will be entrusted, but to an organ of anonymous appearance, substantiated by an anonymous, impersonal and collective work considered as a task of the entire party collective, all the more efficient inasmuch as it is firmly connected to that tradition, and that historical method, which the Party has understood and made its own.
The “group of statements” which are brought together in the first chapter cover a 40 year time-span, and within them, in the powerful dialectic and historical sense which we attribute to our doctrine, is combined the authority of the past, present and future revolutionary militants who are the cornerstone of the “tactics” which, one could almost say, supports the entire life of the party. The Party lives and “exists” for the outside world, for the class which it historically defines partly through its tactics; i.e., through its set of rules for action, which are necessarily the reflection, or rather the consequent accomplishment, of its being, of its program and of its historical principles; existing above and beyond changing historical circumstances or its more or less brilliant leaders.
Tactics cannot be improvised; tactics cannot be changed on the whim of some leader, or due to unforeseen circumstances. They must remain within the set parameters prescribed by the party’s historical experience, under pain of destruction of the party itself and the defeat of the revolutionary movement. What’s more, good tactics involves the party being ready and prepared to apply them, and turn them into weapons to fight the enemy.
We emphasize the fact that our thesis on the Party’s absolute autonomy (which we alone subscribe to) which is discussed in the second chapter, and in the third in reference to the Rome Theses, sums up the Party’s characteristics in the most complete and unmistakable way, distinguishing what makes it entirely distinctive and unique compared to every other organisation, not only of the proletariat, but every other organisation which humanity as a whole has so far expressed; to the extent in fact that in the living reality of today it represents the link between primitive communism and the advanced communism of the future.
The proletariat can do without the kind of party which is only capable of leading it to new defeats. The proletariat needs a Party which has learnt all it can from the past and is capable of leading it to the final victory against capitalism. The central question of tactics, therefore, is as follows: only the Party possesses the kind of tactics which enable it to tackle the questions of what action it should take in a conscious way, and that is why, in given historical conditions, it can deploy a greater force than the capitalist State itself. It is a well-known fact that we often express this distinctive feature, this defining characteristic of the party by the term “reversal of praxis”; by which the relationship between action and consciousness is turned on its head and the action of the Party organ can become conscious, something denied to any other organism, and especially the individual militant.
The thesis of the Party’s absolute autonomy from all other parties, even self-styled proletarian or “revolutionary” ones, is clearly contained in the above: if the Party were to mingle with other organisations its would inevitably dilute its strength, insofar as any numerical increase in its membership would limit its compactness and unitarity. Clearly absolute Party autonomy is an essential requirement, not just in the geo-historical areas of direct revolution, but also in those of double revolution; and the fact that in the latter case the possibility of revolutionary alliances remains, whilst in the former case it does not, is the only difference between them.
That conscious action is attributed to the Party is therefore at the heart of the communist conception of the Party; a Party whose action can be accurately predicted and coordinated with the required goals precisely because its action is collective rather than individual; and, moreover, it isn’t a simple sum total of individuals but rather a collectivity, which, by unitarily connecting itself, specifically by means of Party action, to the whole proletarian historical experience, expresses a power a hundred times stronger than its merely numerical strength. Consequently, this implies that Party action is characterized by an essential unity in the conduct of its members, which is only possible if the requirements for action are «summed up in clear rules of action», which the entire membership finds it possible to go along with, independently of their individual consciousness.
From this there follows two characteristics both of which are
which define the nature of the Party:
- precision, clarity and the absolute autonomy of its tactical plan;
- prefiguration of the future communist society, already a living reality within the Party.
Such a Party cannot be improvised, it can only be the result of a long and difficult effort on every level: on the fundamental one of defence and continual appropriation of theory; in terms of coherent action and participation in all proletarian struggles, and in terms of fraternal consideration of all comrades. Therefore there is no way that its absolute autonomy towards any other party or movement can be compromised, as it would be tantamount to rejecting the only support the proletariat has in the revival of its revolutionary struggle and the only organ capable of leading it to victory over the capitalist monster.
In chapter 4 we take a small selection of quotations from our texts of the 1922-1945 period in order to re-propose this central thesis: the Party’s tactical plan entirely rules out the possibility of participating in the united front, i.e., we rule out any convergence of the party’s directives on communist proletarian action and activity of its militants with those of other parties, outside of a well defined sphere: that is, anything outside the sphere of proletarian direct action; where action is actual movement, not ideological statements and mere propaganda; where direct is according to the methods of class struggle – non-parliamentarian, non-pacifist, and not a matter of opinion; and where proletarian means proletarian objectives, and mobilizing the proletariat separate from other classes. This action, moreover, will not take shape outside the union organization. Since the united front between the communist Party and other parties is no longer possible, it can only be realised in practice within the union fractions present in the fighting organizations. Underlying this tactic is the materialist view that «the defence of immediate interests can only be achieved by going on the offensive, with all its revolutionary ramifications».
Outside this sphere of activity, which, although sharply defined will nevertheless be crucial on the road to the revolutionary recovery, «the party rejects the manoeuvres, combinations, alliances and coalitions which traditionally get formed on the basis of contingent postulates and slogans agreed on by a number of parties». Outside the realm of proletarian direct action and of union organization, the Party cannot join with other parties in issuing tactical directives «which involve attitudes and watchwords which can be accepted by opportunist political movements».
The theses then move on to condemn the misapplication of the united front tactic by the degenerated parties of the Third International, erroneously extended to include convergence of “proletarian” or “revolutionary” parties for openly governmental or parliamentarian purposes.
We do not judge parties by what they say about themselves, nor on the basis of the classes from which they recruit their members. Parties recruiting proletarians today which are not the communist party are bourgeois parties, and not only are they anti-revolutionary and anti-communist, but anti-proletarian too.
Although it may be true that not all governments are the same vis à vis their effects on the development of class struggle, it must nevertheless be taken into account that the accession of “left” governments has often had a more destructive effect on the revolutionary movement than openly bourgeois governments; and that if we believe it useful for proletarians to see the social-democrats for what they are when they take up the levers of governmental power in the first person, this will only be true if the Party hasn’t previously compromised itself in the operation and hasn’t confused proletarians by pushing them into fighting for it; if the Party has kept out of it and all the while issued counter-propaganda advocating struggle and organization.
Communist tactical positions as concerns the united front do not have any moral, ethical or aesthetic character but are adopted for essentially historical reasons. We maintained:
4 - Nature, Function and Tactics of the Revolutionary Party of the Working Class, 1947As regards areas of double revolution we would elaborate further:
At the time when the capitalist class had not yet initiated its liberal period, when it still had to destroy the old feudal power, or still had to run through considerable stages and phases of its own expansion in the major countries, and when it was still laissez-faire in terms of economic processes and democratic in terms of the functioning of the state, a transitory alliance between the communists and parties that were in the first instance openly revolutionary, outside the law and organized for armed struggle, and in the second instance carried out a task which assured useful and genuinely “progressive” conditions, was both understandable and acceptable – because the capitalist regime would accelerate the historical cycle that will lead to its downfall (...)
As a result, the tactic of insurrectionary alliances against the old regimes came to its historic end with the great fact of the Russian Revolution, which eliminated the final imposing military state apparatus of a non-capitalist character. After this historical phase, the still theoretical possibility of tactical blocs must be considered formally and centrally denounced by the international revolutionary movement.
5 - Platform of the International Communist Party, 1945
21 -... Within the framework of present world history, if by chance a residual role should still be retained by any bourgeois democratic group due to the partial or possible survival of the requirements of national liberation, or the need to liquidate backward islands of feudalism and similar historical relics, such tasks would not be carried out in a more resolute and conclusive way (with a view to clearing the way to the final cycle of bourgeois crisis) by having the communist movement relinquish its positions and passively accommodate itself with postulates that aren’t its own, but rather by an implacable, searing opposition of communist proletarians to the inevitable weakness and slothfulness of petty-bourgeois groups and bourgeois left wing parties.
Since 1945 we alone have defended the thesis (given ample treatment in our text Nature, Function and Tactics of the Revolutionary Party...) which states that the current phase of capitalist power presents peculiar economic and political features indicative of the final phase of the unitary and thoroughly rotten capitalist mode of production. This phase, which began at the end of the 19th century and peaked during World War I, does indeed display peculiar features, but they are not such as to modify the mode of production since they merely represent the development of certain aspects already present in the earlier, liberal-democratic, phase of capitalist power. As concerns economy, in the first phase free competition prevails, although due to its nature the development of free competition leads to monopoly, which instead characterizes the imperialist phase. Similarly in politics, allowing for a time lag due to the fact that the political-legal framework is slower to change than the economic structure, we have a transition from the multi-party, demo-liberal State to the totalitarian State, a transformation which is best exemplified by the World War One. Our thesis, which we will support here using quotations from chapter 5, is that «for as long as it survives the capitalist world will no longer be able to use liberal forms to order its affairs; rather it will organise itself as monstrous State units, the pitiless expression of economic concentration».
During the imperialist phase we have therefore the ordering along totalitarian lines of all States, both those which defend liberal State forms and the openly fascist ones. The return of the ex-fascist States to liberal forms after World War II was not a return to the liberal State of the first phase. Despite its much vaunted liberal appearance, many features of the post-fascist democratic State are of a totalitarian character, namely strict social control, unitary political leadership and a strongly centralized hierarchical structure.
The two phases (disregarding here the phase in which the revolutionary bourgeoisie fights against the feudal regime) are characterized by different attitudes of the bourgeoisie towards the proletariat: during the first, the bourgeoisie’s stance towards the revolutionary proletariat is defensive; during the second, the bourgeoisie takes the offensive because only by controlling the proletariat, both with economic concessions and political subjugation, is it able to hamper its revolutionary attempts.
Here is why, to the great surprise and disgust of all pseudo-revolutionary intellectuals, we certainly do not consider democracy as a “supreme value” to be defended against fascism (in fact if anything the latter is less of a threat to revolution insofar as it doesn’t conceal the use of direct violence): as a matter of fact, the sequence as we see it is not fascism, democracy, socialism; it is democracy, fascism, proletarian dictatorship.
One of the tactical issues which received most attention in the period immediately after the creation of the Communist International was that relating to the participation of Communist Parties in democratic elections, a subject we cover in chapter 6. As is well known, the matter was discussed at length at the C.I.’s Second Congress, and the Left, after having outlined the case for abstentionism, would apply Lenin’s Theses on so called “parliamentarianism”. The Left asserted at the time that the latter tactics, even if carried on with undeniable revolutionary intention (Lenin believed that it was the best instrument to destroy the bourgeois parliament), would on the contrary contaminate all the communist parties which had just been formed, or were about to be like the Italian one, and cause them to degenerate. Historical confirmation of this assertion still needed to be provided, as eventually it would be in great abundance. It was therefore possible, back then, for the Left to accept a tactic it considered – and which actually was – wrong, as it would always be possible to correct it after the inevitable historical verifications: the important and essential thing at that time was the formation of the revolutionary Party on the basis of unquestioned faithfulness to the Marxist doctrine; as in fact actually occurred at the International’s Second Congress.
All this abundantly proves that the only way to tackle the issue of tactics, and remain true to revolutionary principles, is that proposed by the Left in the early years of the International: since there is a close connection between tactical norms and programmatic guidelines, the former have to be anticipated and defined by deducing them from principles and from an examination of the historical situation.
The Left maintained that the tactics of “revolutionary parliamentarism” were ill-adapted to the new historical situation opened up by the First World War. The imperialist war had unmasked the bourgeoisie once and for all, demonstrating that their offensive stance towards the proletariat was now permanent and based exclusively on the open use of violence; hence any “parliamentarist” tactic, which in the past had been justified by the progressive function the most radical section of this same bourgeoisie still retained, had now become counterproductive, and would remain so for the rest of the historical cycle which will be completed by the world proletarian revolution.
In fact it was under the banner of the struggle for Parliament that the revolutionary bourgeoisie fought against absolutist and feudal States, a struggle in which the proletariat would prove its most resolute ally, despite the fact that parliament does not embody and never has embodied the form of proletarian power, as the Commune and the Soviet would later demonstrate.
In the period of peaceful capitalist development, from the end of the 19th century to the early 20th, the young socialist parties, using correct revolutionary tactics, participated in the democratic elections in order to attain greater influence within the proletarian class; in this respect, they did not disdain to use bourgeois legality. This was justifiable not only on the basis that improvements in proletarian economical conditions might be won, but also that certain political aims it shared with the most radical and progressive part of the bourgeoisie might also be achieved. Such tactics, nevertheless, as clearly stated by Engels at the founding of the Second International, attributed no intrinsic value to any such conquests (as would occur when the reformist degeneration had gathered pace); their sole objective was the strengthening of the revolutionary movement, in anticipation of the bourgeoisie itself moving onto revolutionary terrain by abandoning legality, forced to do so by ineluctable material necessity. The world bourgeoisie would finally enter onto that terrain in 1914, and the world proletariat would lose an important battle, but the historical class war is not over, and the proletariat can still prevail if it links up with its natural organ, the class Party.
The events of the 20th century, proletarian defeats included, have not been in vain, and today, «in the present situation and with the current balance of forces, the Party is not interested in democratic elections of any description or taking part in them».
And our position today, as it was when we explained it to Lenin,
not derive from anti-Marxist theoretical errors of the
type, but rather from a practical, tactical and organizational
We declare that any party, be it the most revolutionary one can
possibly imagine, is nevertheless bound to degenerate if it practices
(referring of course to political electoralism not to possible
mechanisms adopted by economic organizations composed of proletarians
and the reason for this is because at the present time, in the depths
the imperialist epoch, «electoralism is conceivable only as a promise
of power; of scraps of power».
Although we’ve had several requests for "texts" from ex-members and people we don’t know, the text which follows, like the letter-circulars leading up to it, is addressed exclusively to party members. Clearly we haven’t satisfied the curiosity which has been aroused over the last few months by the notorious ’communiqués’ in Programma Comunista, culminating in that ’frosty warning’ which should be consigned to some museum of monstrosities.
Rejected by the Centre as total and absolute rubbish, this work is a modest contribution which amplifies a proposal made some years ago. Maybe if the ’compass’ hadn’t spun out of control, it would have appeared in the columns of Programma Comunista, instead of all those dubious articles on ’organisation’.
Comrades will note that nine tenths of the work is composed of excerpts from our fundamental texts, arranged according to subject, covering a fifty year time span, and standing in confirmation of the continuity and invariance of the positions of the Communist Left, ever faithful to revolutionary Marxism.
But the task doesn’t stop there. Marx and Lenin need to be studied too. Indeed the work is already well underway, and will soon be the subject of a second pamphlet.
As the continuer of the tradition bearing the names of Marx and Lenin, referring to the Communist Left should suffice; but with things they way they are, when the next falsification, manipulation or arbitrary interpretation may occur at any time, and, moreover, be committed by those from whom you least expect it, we are forced to go back to the basics on all questions, grasping the ’thread of time’ as far back as we can. And that, in fact, is the classical method we have always subscribed to.
The text, then, merely proposes to correctly restate postulates we all know and we all once accepted, even if we didn’t always agree with them; postulates worked out by generations of past and present militants with the aim of strengthening and spreading the fighting party organisation; a party whose continuous development is assured by this continuous and unremitting work.
That, then, is the road we need to take. There is no other way. There are no ’new decisions’ to be taken, ’restructurings’ to be carried out, or ’modifications’ to be made under the specious and ever dubious pretext of impending ’new situations’. The party forges its organs through action, in the measure that the various forms of action require them, adapting or substituting them with more suitable ones out of organic necessity; it doesn’t claim that the perfection of these organs, their automatism, can be a surrogate for correct action; as though everything was to do with organisation – a typical error of the activist variety in the field of organisation. The party organisation does not arise in vitro, in the fallacious laboratory of the brain, independent from the class struggle’s actual development. That would mean creating a lovely little model of a party, but not a real "compact and powerful" party whose instruments of battle are forged in the furnace of social struggle.
The feverish pursuit of perfectionism and automatism entails an error which spreads from the organisational field to the tactical one and affects the nature and functioning of the party. Pointed out many times by the Left to the International, the error consisted in the belief that a strong organisation can achieve anything (with ’strong’ meaning subordinate to any centralism whatsoever and ready to lend itself to any manoeuvre). Give us a ’Bolshevik’ organisation and everything is permitted. Let’s build a disciplined, all-purpose party and victory will be assured.
With the Left we know for certain that the party alters under the impulse of its own action; we know that indiscriminate use of tactics corresponds to changes in the organisation. Inevitably, then, any ’model’ of the party gets shattered into a thousand pieces. For example, the recognition of electionism, even on a temporary basis, even every now and again, is no longer permissible; nor can we delude ourselves that it won’t corrupt the essential nature, function and anti-democratic structure of the party. And another example, of an ’internal’ nature: nowadays, you can’t launch ’political struggles’ with impunity inside the organisation, and claim not to know that that way of working is bound to become ’the norm’, a handy way of resolving every problem with periodic splits in the organisation as the consequence. You would descend into the famous ’fractionism from above’. Regarding that as ’Leninism’ would be to caricature Leninism.
The party’s correct functioning can neither be referred to special organisational structures nor to the use of political means within the organisation.
The party’s strength doesn’t depend on organisation per se. The correct formulation is that the organisation is strong and functional in the measure that it adheres strictly to the programme and consequently develops ’correct revolutionary policies’. The opposite of that, i.e., that ’correct revolutionary policies’ and a stricter adherence to the programme are established in the measure that the organisation is ’strong’ and ’functional’ is false. It’s Stalin. It’s one of the features of opportunism.
We see in the latter the phenomenon of ‘bolshevisation’ in reverse. Before, organisational distortions were the result of errors made in the tactical field; now these distortions make for tactical errors. And recalling the reciprocal influence between both orders of questions, we would witness the progressive collapse of the party in all fields.
But as long as this process of ’slippage’ prompts a robust response from the party which induces it to return to correct positions, we believe it shouldn’t be considered irreversible,. That is what we are striving for, and developing this approach should be considered the duty of comrades of the Left.
Such is the aim of the preambles which introduce each group of quotations; all of which are directly deduced from the texts, and from which, as comrades can establish at their leisure, no arbitrary conclusions or polemics have been drawn.
Everything is predictable and well-known. All the same, we are sure we can do better. It is a modest contribution of our time, effort and revolutionary passion.
In conclusion, to prepare itself for the revolution the party has no need of polemics or ’political struggle’ among comrades
Through its collective work, through an amalgamation of its forces
the ’dictatorship of the programme’, the party grows stronger, from
top to bottom, and weaves together its various fibres tending towards
indispensable minimum of ’executive discipline’, and an optimum of
The following text uses quotations drawn from the most significant texts of the last fifty years (1920-1970) to re-propose the Marxist conception of the party and of the party’s tasks, functions and organic dynamics. Under the crushing blows of the Stalinist counter-revolution and no less fetid post-Stalinism, only the Communist Left of Italy managed to keep this conception in line with that of Marx, Lenin and the III International, by constantly defending and restoring it in the face of every deviation, and codifying it in theses and texts which constitute the objective result of the historic experience of the proletarian struggle and the world communist movement.
The text presents the quotations in chronological order and subdivided according to topic. In each chapter there is an introduction which serves to place them in their relevant context and highlight the implications and consequences of the thought they express. Since in fact the statements contained in each of the parts constitute an inseparable whole, a unity of positions running in perfect continuity along the thread of time, the subdivision into chapters and titles is of a purely technical and functional character.
For the most part the quotations are drawn from the following texts, to which we refer readers and militants who wish to read them in their entirety:
As the reader can see, it is all the historical patrimony of the Communist Left and of the International Communist Party which arose on the basis of Communist left’s positions in 1952, and it is here reclaimed and restated in its entirety.
The necessity for a comprehensive restating of this historic
is linked to the troubling events which have affected the organisation
of the International Communist Party over the past few years, prompting
the need for a new party organ, Il Partito Comunista, to be set
up as the organisational point of reference for all those wishing to
on the Left’s positions. Only in total allegiance to these positions
can the International Communist Party arise, develop and survive; that
is, only on these genuinely Marxist foundations can the compact and
World Communist Party, indispensable organ of the proletarian
and the class dictatorship which will follow, be organised.
In order to tackle the problem of how to characterise the party organ, the following thesis, which sets out the only genuine and distinctly Marxist vision of the problem, must first be established: the class political party is the indispensable organ of the proletarian struggle, before, during and after the violent revolution and the conquest of power. The party is the sole organ that can wield the proletarian class dictatorship, which therefore, according to the correct Marxist vision, cannot be transferred to other forms of proletarian organisation even if composed solely of proletarians (trades unions, soviets or any other type of immediate proletarian organisation). The political party will therefore wield the dictatorship, exclusively and directly, and operate the levers of the dictatorial State of the proletariat, bringing under its control all other forms of proletarian organisation, which are able to carry out a revolutionary function only insofar as they follow and are influenced by the party. From as far back as the 1848 Manifesto, the Marxist conception has held that the proletariat only really becomes a class when its political party arises. Without the party the class is just a statistical entity incapable of taking unitary action to achieve revolutionary objectives, insofar as it is only due to the party that consciousness of the class’s general historic interests and consequent objectives can arise. The class’s consciousness resides in its party alone, not within proletarians taken individually or as a statistical mass. All these concepts can be found in Marx, Lenin and within the entire tradition of the revolutionary communist movement.
6 - Party and Class, 1921An important Marxist thesis, which necessarily follows on from our comprehensive theoretical vision and its inevitable consequence – the primary function of the party – is that the party must possess a centralised and disciplined organisation. This organisation must achieve a very strict unity of movement in space and time. And that means the party organisation must possess organs of direction and co-ordination of its activity as a whole, to whose orders is owed absolute discipline from all its adherents. It would be completely absurd, and would contradict everything we have ever said about the function of the party, to allow any autonomy to the local and national sections, or any ‘liberty’ of action on the part of individuals or groups within the party. In the Communist Party all militants are bound to observe maximum discipline towards central regulations, and to the execution of orders issuing from the centre of the organisation.
We should perceive the concept of class as dynamic, not static. When we detect a social tendency, or a movement oriented towards a given end, the class exists in the true sense of the word; because then the class party must also exist, in a material if not yet in a formal way.
A living party goes hand in hand with a living doctrine and a method of action. A party is a school of political thought and consequently an organisation of struggle. The former is a factor of consciousness, the latter of will, or more precisely of a striving towards a final objective.
Without these two characteristics, we do not yet fulfil the definition of a class. We repeat, the cold recorder of facts may detect certain affinities in the living conditions of strata large or small, but it won’t leave its mark on historical developments.
Only within the class party do we find these two characteristics condensed and concretised.
... Including only a part of the class, it is still only the party which gives it unity of action and movement, because it amalgamates those elements who, by having overcome the limitations of locality and job category, are sensitive to the class and who represent it.
... However if it is only remembered that the remaining individuals who compose the great masses have neither class consciousness nor class will, and live just for themselves, their trade, their village, or their nation, then it will be realised that in order to secure the action of the class as a whole in the historical movement, it is necessary to have an organ which inspires, unites and leads it – in short which officers it; it will be realised that the party is actually the vital nucleus, without which there would be no reason to consider the remaining masses as a mobilisation of forces.
The class presupposes the party, because to exist and to act in history it must have both a critical doctrine of history and a historical purpose.
The only true revolutionary conception of class action is that which delegates its leadership to the party. Doctrinal analyses, along with an accumulation of historical experience, allow us to easily reduce any tendency that denies the necessity and predominance of the party’s function to the level of petty bourgeois and anti-revolutionary ideology.
There follow a number of quotes that clearly demonstrate how this
always been the thinking of the Communist Left and our party, in line
Marx and Lenin, in open opposition to the spontaneists, anarchists, and
various types of autonomists who have infested the workers’ movement.
7 - Theses on the Role of the Communist Party in The Proletarian Revolution, 2nd Congress of the Communist International, 1920
13.... The Communist Party must be built on the basis of an iron proletarian centralism (...) The Communist Party must create an iron military order in its own ranks (...) Without the strictest discipline, complete centralism and full comradely confidence of all the party organizations in the leading party centre, the victory of the workers is impossible.
14.... The unconditional and indispensable binding authority of all directives from the higher bodies to the lower, and the existence of a strong party centre whose authority cannot be contested by anybody, are essential principles of centralisation.
15.... The Communist Party (...) is forced to give its leading centre the right whenever necessary to make important decisions which are binding on every party member.
16. The advocacy of widespread ’autonomy’ for the individual local party branches can only weaken the ranks of the Communist Party.
8 - Party and Class, 1921
... A living party goes hand in hand with a living doctrine and a method of action. A party is a school of political thought and consequently an organisation of struggle. The former is a factor of consciousness, the latter of will, or more precisely of a striving towards a final objective (...)
Revolution requires an ordering of the active and positive forces, bound together by one doctrine and one final purpose (...) The class sets out from an immediate homogeneity of economic conditions that appear to us to be the prime mover of the tendency to go beyond, and destroy, the present mode of production. But in order to assume this great task, the class must have its own thought, its own critical method, its own will bent to achieving ends defined by research and criticism, its own organisation of struggle which with the utmost efficiency channels and utilises every effort and sacrifice. All this is the Party.
9 - Party and Class Action, 1921
... The political party is the only organism which possesses on one hand a general historical vision of the revolutionary process and of its necessities and on the other hand a strict organisational discipline ensuring the complete subordination of all its particular functions to the final general aim of the class (...)
The indispensable task of the party is therefore presented in two ways, as factor of consciousness, and then as factor of will: the former translates into a theoretical conception of the revolutionary process which all members must share; the second into the acceptance of a precise discipline that ensures a co-ordinated effort and thus the success of the relevant action.
10 - The Democratic Principle, 1922
... Democracy cannot be a principle for us: centralism indisputably is, since the essential characteristics of party organisation must be unity of structure and action.
11 - Theses on Tactics at the 2nd Congress of the P.C. d’I (Rome Theses), 1922
I, 2. The integration of all elemental thrusts into a unitary action occurs by virtue of two main factors: one of critical consciousness, from which the party draws its programme; the other of will, expressed in the instrument with which the party acts, its disciplined and centralized organization.
12 - Theses of the P.C. d’I on Tactics of the C.I. at the IVth Congress, 1922
... In order to carry out its task of unifying proletarian struggles in every country around the final objective of the world revolution, the Communist International has first of all the duty to ensure its own programmatic and organisational unity. In virtue of having adhered to the principles of the Communist International, every section and every militant must be committed to the common programme of the Communist International.
The International organisation, by eliminating every vestige of the old international’s federalism, has to ensure maximum centralisation and discipline.
13 - General Guiding Norms, 1949
... The forces on the periphery of the party and all party members are bound by the movement’s customary practice not to take local initiatives or contingent decisions that don’t originate from the central organs, nor to resolve tactical problems in a different way from the rest of the party. Similarly the leading central organs, when making decisions and issuing instructions on behalf of the entire party, mustn’t abandon their theoretical principles nor modify the means of tactical action, not even when a situation presents unexpected or unforeseen factors which affect the party’s outlook. The history of the proletarian movement is littered with examples showing that when these two reciprocal and complementary processes are lacking, statutory measures are not enough and a crisis results.
As a consequence of this, whereas the party requires all members to participate in the continual process of elaboration which consists in analysing events and social facts and clarifying the party’s tasks and the most appropriate methods of action; and whereas it aims to achieve such participation in the most appropriate way, whether via specific organs or via its general periodic consultations at congresses, it nevertheless absolutely does not allow groups of adherents to meet together as distinct organisations and fractions within the party in order to conduct their studies, and make their contribution, by means of networks of internal and external connections and correspondence and propaganda which are nevertheless different from the party’s unitary way.
14 - Marxism and Authority, 1956
29.... No Marxist can disparage the need for centralism. The party would cease to exist if it was admitted that its various parts could operate on their own account. No autonomy of the local organisations with regard to political procedure. These are old struggles conducted before within the parties of the 2nd International, against for example self-determination of the party’s parliamentary group with regard to its tactical manoeuvring; against the local sections and federations operating on a case by case basis in the communes and the provinces, and against individual members of the party operating on a case by case basis in the various economic organisations, and so on and so forth.
15 - ‘Extremism’, Condemnation of the Renegades to Come, 1961
III. -... Before Lenin explains the vital necessity of the discipline factor, suspected and contested by so many, and defines as befits him the meaning of discipline within both party and class, we’ll jump ahead to quote a passage in which the fundamental communist concept of discipline is placed in parallel with the no less essential concept of centralisation, keystone of any Marxist construction.
“I repeat: the experience of the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia has clearly shown, even to those who are incapable of thinking or have had no occasion to give thought to the matter, that absolute centralisation and rigorous discipline in the proletariat are an essential condition of victory over the bourgeoisie”.
Lenin knew at the time that, even amongst those who described themselves as ‘left’, hesitations existed about those two particularly bitter-tasting formulae: “absolute centralisation” and “iron discipline”.
The resistance to these formulae derives from the bourgeois ideology diffused throughout the petty bourgeoisie and which dangerously overflows into proletariat; the real danger, in fact, that prompted this classic text.
16 - Notes for the Theses on the Question of Organisation, 1964
1 -... Such a current was strongly represented at the 2nd Congress, especially by the English, Americans and Dutch, and also by the French syndicalists and even the Spanish anarchists. The Italian Communist Left considered it important to immediately differentiate itself from these currents which, as well as failing to understand the theses on the party, hadn’t assimilated correctly the ones on centralisation and strict discipline which even Zinoviev had vigorously defended at the time.
17 - Our Perception of the Theses, Then and Now, 1965
... According to the left’s conception of organic centralism, congresses shouldn’t pass judgement on the work of the centre or decide who does what, rather it should make decisions about questions of general orientation in a way that is consistent with the invariant historical doctrine of the world party.
The formula used by Lenin to define the structure and dynamic of the party organ was ‘Democratic Centralism’. If such a term described the 2nd International parties very accurately, our current didn’t think it adequately defined how the communist parties that formed in the post 1st World War period, which were distinguished by the definitive separation of coherently Marxist revolutionaries from the reformists, were going about things, and we would counter it with the more appropriate term, ‘organic centralism’. But the quotations which follow show that Marxists have never understood the term ‘democratic centralism’ to indicate a praxis and dynamic by means of which the party would somehow mitigate absolute centralism (considered necessary for it to perform its functions and responding fully to the Marxist conception of historical progress) by applying a praxis of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty’ inside the organisation. Nowadays there is not a single pseudo Marxist group which doesn’t interpret Lenin’s formula as ‘centralism mitigated by democracy’, whilst Lenin himself took it as meaning that the use of formal democratic mechanisms were required in order to obtain maximum centralism and organisational discipline in the party, which in the socialist and social-democratic parties of the 2nd International was the case.
We will cover this problem more fully, but meanwhile we affirm that,
as far as authentic Marxists are concerned, the sole organisational
principle is centralism and the application of democratic mechanisms has merely been an episode that was historically necessary to achieve maximum organisational centralisation. To show that we Marxists oppose all demands for ‘autonomy’ or ‘liberty’, and are in favour of unqualified centralism, let us line up the evidence. There’s the struggle of the ‘authoritarian’ Marxists against the ‘libertarians’ at the time of the 1st
there’s Lenin’s battle to establish ‘bureaucratic centralism’ against
the Mensheviks from 1903 onwards; and there’s our position: “Those
who devote themselves to protesting against unqualified centralism are
nothing other than aiders and abetters of the bourgeoisie”.
18 - The Fundamentals of Marxist Revolutionary Communism, 1957
III - It’s the same old controversy (...) Their ultimate heart-felt cry is always "Bureaucratic centralism, or class autonomy?" If such indeed were the antithesis, instead of Marx and Lenin’s "capitalist dictatorship or proletarian dictatorship", we would have no hesitation about opting for bureaucratic centralism (oh, horror of horrors!), which at certain key historical junctures may be a necessary evil, and which would be easily controllable by a party which didn’t "haggle over principles" (Marx), which was free from organisational slackness and tactical acrobatics, and which was immune to the plague of autonomism and federalism. As to "class autonomy", all we can say is that it is complete and utter crap.
19 - Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today, 1957
114 -... It was then that Lenin, in the interests of the internal life of the International, presented his historic theses containing the expression ‘democratic centralism’. We in the Italian Left proposed – and yet again events have proved us right – replacing this term, which we considered dangerous, with ‘organic centralism’. We will explain this shortly, but you compel us to write as a matter of urgency that he who tries to get rid of centralism, unqualified centralism, violates Marx, Lenin and the revolutionary cause, and becomes just another aider and abetter of capitalist conservation.
Asserting the necessity of disciplined and centralised party
clearly implies, amongst other things, a hierarchical differentiation
sees individual militants assigned different roles of various levels of
importance. The party needs leaders and persons to fulfil various
There need to be order givers and order takers and there must be
differentiated organs to perform these functions. Our conception of the
party organisation is of a many-faceted structure, which we define as
in which all of the impulses deriving from the various points of the
converge towards one central node, from which emerges the regulation
direction of the entire organised network. The natural and organic way
in which the different organs are differentiated and militants placed
different roles and on different rungs of the hierarchical ladder,
bears no relation to the practice of bourgeois careerism or involves
attempt to mimic it, we will go on to explain. But if we want to talk
centralised organisation and show that this isn’t just the Communist
Left’s vision, but also Marx and Lenin’s, it will suffice for now to
set out the relevant quotations.
20 - Lenin on the Path of Revolution, 1924
... The organisation as a party, which allows the class to truly be such and live as such, can be viewed as a unitary mechanism in which the various ‘brains’ (not just brains of course, but other individual organs as well) perform different tasks according to aptitude and capacity, all of them in the service of a common goal and interest which progressively unifies them ever more intimately ‘in time and space’ (...) Therefore, not every individual in the organisation occupies the same position or is at the same level. The gradual putting into practice of this division of tasks according to a rational plan (and what goes for today’s party-class will be the case for tomorrow’s society) completely excludes those higher up having privileges over the rest. Our revolutionary evolution isn’t heading towards disintegration, but towards an ever more scientific mutual connection between individuals.
21 - General Guiding Principles, 1949
... The party isn’t an inanimate lump composed of identical particles, but a real organism brought into being and determined by social and historical requirements, with networks, organs and centres differentiated to carry out its various tasks. Establishing a good relationship between such real requirements and the best way of working leads to good organisation, but not vice versa.
22 - Original Content of the Communist Program..., 1958
19 -... The party, which we are sure to see arise again in a more radiant future, will be composed of a vigorous minority of proletarians and anonymous revolutionaries who will carry out different functions as though organs of the same living being, but all will be linked, from the centre to the base, to inflexible party norms which are binding on all as regards theory, organisational rigour and continuity, and a precise method regarding strategic action, in which the range of allowable possibilities, and corresponding vetoed possibilities, is drawn from terrible historical lessons about the havoc which opportunism wreaks.
23 - Reunion of Milan: Supplementary Theses..., 1966
8 - Owing to its necessity of an organic action, and to be able to have a collective function, that goes beyond and leaves out all personalism and individualism, the party must distribute its members among the various functions and activities that constitute its life. The rotation of comrades in such functions is a natural fact, which cannot be regulated by rules similar to those concerning the careers within bourgeois bureaucracies. In the party there are not competitive examinations, in which people compete to reach more or less brilliant or in the public eye positions; we must instead aim at organically achieving our goal, which is not an aping of the bourgeois division of labour, but the natural adaptation of the complex and articulated organ (the party) to its function.
We have described the form and the structure of the organ ‘Party’: centralized structure, existence of differentiated organs and a central organ capable of coordinating, directing, and issuing orders to the entire network; all members of the organization observing absolute discipline with respect to carrying out orders issued by the centre; non-autonomy of the sections and local groups; rejection of communication networks which diverge from the unitary one which connects the centre to the perimeter, and perimeter to centre.
This centralized structure is not a typical feature of the world communist party alone, but also of other organisations. The railways must operate in accordance with a similar centralized structure or else grind to a halt, and the same applies to the big capitalist factories. The strongly centralized structure which the revolutionary bourgeoisie laid claim to in its fight against feudal autonomy is a feature of both the bourgeois and proletarian States; the Stalinist parties are famous for their rigid centralization and the iron and terrorist discipline imposed on their militants; the fascist party has made the same boast of absolute centrality, as does the catholic church, etc. Hence, the recognition that a centralized organizational structure exists is not enough to set the class party apart from other parties and organisms. It is not the centralized organizational structure alone that characterizes the class party. Centralism is not an a priori category, a sort of metaphysical entity or principle that can be applied to various historical stages, to various classes and class organisms. If this were the case, we could conceive of historical development as a progressive affirmation of the principle of authority or, vice versa, as a constant, immanent struggle of the principle of authority with that of freedom and autonomy.
Such a view would mean substituting Marxist materialism with the most hackneyed idealism. According to Marxism there are no fixed and immanent principles regulating the real development of history; neither the authority principle, nor the democratic and libertarian principle.
From the materialist point of view it can be ascertained that, over the course of history, all economic, social or political organisms have always had an organized structure, the features of which depend on the functions they are required to fulfill. Hence it is correct to uphold, as Marxists do, that whereas both the bourgeois State and the proletarian State have a centralized, despotic and repressive structure, they are, nevertheless, in total opposition to one another. And this is due not only to the social strata on which they rest, and the functions they are required to carry out, but also, as a consequence of these factors, to the way these structures manifest themselves and perform their functions. If, from a structural point of view, the proletarian State were identical to the bourgeois State, just expelling the bourgeoisie from the management of the State machine and installing the proletarian party in its place – with possibly only proletarians allowed to vote – would suffice. But the fact of the matter is that the bourgeoisie realizes centralism with its own means, forms and features, just as in the future the proletariat will achieve State centralism with forms, methods, instruments that are characteristic of the proletarian class. This is true to the extent that Marxism does not only predict the violent conquest of the bourgeois State machine but its complete destruction and substitution with another, completely different, State machine; even if that too will be utilized for the purposes of dictatorship, violence and terror.
For the petty bourgeois, whose historical impotence prevents them from seeing beyond appearances, it is impossible to understand that the structure of the party machine set up by Mussolini or by Hitler was a very different thing to the equally centralized machine formed by the Bolshevik party in Russia in Lenin’s time; a difference due not just to the social basis and the objectives and principles to which the two organisms responded, and which were completely opposed to one another, but also, as a consequence, due to the methods, instruments, praxis and organic dynamics of the two organisms. Thus Mussolini and Lenin are associated in the mind of the democratic petty bourgeois with the terrifying, for them, spectre of dictatorship and terror.
For us Marxists there is a direct relationship between the social class of which a given movement is an expression, its principles, its objectives, and the means needed to achieve the latter, and the distinctive features, the means, and the methods it must use to achieve a centralized and unitary action and structure. Consequently, it is correct to say that the bourgeois State realizes its own centralism, inherent in its class nature, on the basis of the farce of the periodically consulted popular will, but in reality by creating an enormous bureaucratic and military machine, kept together not by consensus, but rather by coercion and money. The proletarian State will not realize its centralism with democratic elections, whether by involving the “people” as a whole, or just proletarians; rather it will achieve this through an ever increasing participation in the actual functioning of the State, and, as a consequence, through the progressive disappearance of the bureaucratic apparatus. We will therefore have repression, class violence and absolute centralization, but no bureaucracy or permanent army: this is the lesson of the Paris Commune, which Marx would reproach for not having been sufficiently terrorist and centralist, but which he also praised for managing to have leaders, leaderships with absolute power and class terrorism, but no bureaucrats or professional military bodies. The equation, centralism equals bureaucratism, is therefore false. What is historically true for the bourgeois State is not true for the proletarian State unless we wish to renounce Marxism altogether.
Primitive communities realized a very strict centralism and an absolute discipline of the single individual to the social group without the need for coercion or any specific mechanisms. This was because it was founded exclusively on an identity of interests, and the solidarity of all, in the struggle against the adverse natural environment and other social groups. The primitive community is an example of centralized and differentiated organization without coercion. In the future communist society it will be the same. Indeed a fundamental Marxist thesis holds that only when an irreconcilable conflict of interests arose among members of a social group was it necessary to have a special coercive structure in order to obtain the same centralization that in the primitive community was obtained in a natural, spontaneous and organic manner.
That the centralistic execution of functions and the existence of a bureaucratic and coercive apparatus are definitely not the same thing is a concept only the social-democrats, pilloried by Lenin in State and Revolution, are incapable of understanding; they, that is, who used to maintain that the need for a State machine was eternal, as otherwise individual interests would cause social breakdown, whereas, on the contrary, both a principle, and a goal, of communism is a stateless society in which there is no coercion of men; in which centralization will be total and far more complete than in present society, and founded on a natural and spontaneous solidarity among men.
But in communist society won’t everyone be the same? Won’t everyone be more or less a carbon copy of everyone else throughout the entire species? It is an old bourgeois refrain, similar to the one about production collectively grinding to a halt if people aren’t forced to work. There will be Individuals with different characteristics, more or less endowed with different physical and mental capacities; society will see a diversification of its various functions and the relevant organs to perform them, and will distribute the various individuals naturally and organically across these functions. What there will be no more of will be the social and technical division of work, and society will ensure that all men will be capable of carrying out all essential functions (Engels: Antidühring). The means of production and of life will be the property of society as a whole and, as a consequence, the possibility of more gifted individuals assuming privileges in relation to others will be forever excluded; on the contrary, anyone with “superior” capacities will be of benefit, and of service, to society.
If, then, these considerations are to remain in line with the Marxist tradition, it isn’t enough to perceive the party as a centralized organization, with all of its members responding as one man to impulses issuing from one central point. It is neither enough to say, as the anarchists were wont to do, that communists are “authoritarian” too, and that the “freedom” of the individual needs to be defended against them; nor is it enough to stupidly maintain that, vice versa, we are for subjection to the principle of authority, and that consequently any centralism is good for us as long as it is centralism, any discipline goes as long as it is discipline. All this is something we have denied a thousand times over in the course of our party’s history.
From a Marxist point of view, having once established that the party organ, in order to realize the tasks history requires of it, needs an absolutely centralized structure, it is still necessary to analyze how this structure can exist in a particular organism like the communist party. We therefore have to study the physiology of this organism, the dynamics of its development and activity, its diseases and degenerations, and discern what influence the historical events of class struggle have on it. Only then will we be able to give a less superficial description of the essence of the centralism and discipline typical of this particular historical organ: the organ that is the communist party. But not any old centralism or any old discipline, a trivial description of which could be summed up in one phrase: “there must be a centre which rules and a rank and file which obeys”; although we should add that, since we are antidemocratic, we don’t want head counts or leadership elections either, and that total rule by a small committee, or even by one man without the need for his power to be sanctioned by the democratically consulted majority of members, holds no fear for us. All these things we accept, but it doesn’t help explain the real dynamics by which the organ ’party’ realizes its maximum centralization or, vice versa, loses it and degenerates during less favourable phases of the revolutionary class struggle; nor does it help us understand how the organ ’party’ strengthens, grows and consolidates itself so as to be able to rid itself of the diseases that may affect it. All this needs to be explained if we are to reach an understanding of the essence of centralism and of communist discipline.
As is the case with all our theses, and the 1965 Naples theses in particular, it is not a matter of providing an organizational recipe (the ’recipe’ here being expressed by the very term ’centralism’), but rather of describing the communist party’s actual life, the ups and downs of its long history, the diseases that over and over again have afflicted it and the efficacy of the remedies we thought to apply on each occasion in order to effect a cure. We must study the party’s history from 1848 to the present, perceive it as moving through real historical events, traversing both the attacking and retreating phases of the revolution as it unfolds on the global scale. Only by doing this can we draw lessons which may, indeed must, be assimilated to good purpose by today’s party, making it stronger and better able to resist those material, negative events which destroyed three Internationals, and a proletarian revolutionary movement which seemed set to win a spectacular victory on a planet-wide scale in the post WW1 period.
Palming us off with the paltry doctrine that everything boils down to a lack of centralism, and claiming the only lesson to be drawn is the need for a structure even more centralized than the Bolshevik Party and the Third International, is tantamount to betraying the party and falsifying its entire tradition. How to obtain maximum centralization of the party? What diseases undermine absolute centralization and absolute discipline? Is it by having a cast of leaders who are even more rigid and totalitarian than, say, Lenin, Trotzky and Zinoviev? By having militants in the rank and file who are yet more disciplined, more devoted to the cause of communism, more obedient and heroic than the militants of the always under-centralized German party? Or is it by providing better instruction in historical Marxist doctrine to each of our militants, in the infernal sequence according to which a militant who has not properly studied all the party texts, who is not ’programmed’, cannot serve in the organization in a disciplined way?
These questions can be answered by analyzing party history and the
derived by the Left from it; lessons that are codified in texts and in
theses that we cannot modify, update, or simply forget to quote as they
are part of a continuous line that extends from 1912 to 1970. For over
50 years that is, and during that time the problem of the life,
and degeneration of the party organ has always been formulated and
in the same way. Let us therefore start by examining the
of this party organ. That is the only way we will come to understand
best ways of achieving a really centralized and disciplined party, or,
vice versa, of how to disrupt and destroy it.
As recalled in our 1965 theses, it was Marx who first made use of the distinction between the party understood in the historical sense and the contingent or formal party, that is, the various organised formations of revolutionary combatants in which, over the course of history, the doctrine, the program and the principles of the communist party have been incarnated. It is, in other words, the entrenchment, the barricade established by history over a hundred years ago on which successive generations of revolutionary proletarians, with varying degrees of success, have taken their stand. It wasn’t today that the proletariat arose as a revolutionary class, it wasn’t today that it expressed its class party for the first time, expressed the political organ without which it is incapable of unitary action in pursuit of a common goal, without which it isn’t a class. The party was expressed by the proletariat at the dawn of capitalist society, in far-off 1848, when it was able, on the one hand, to launch the first armed insurrections, and on the other to embrace a theory brought to maturity by the development of the productive forces and human theoretical thinking; a theory which, by its very nature, was only useable by a revolutionary class which could see in the complete destruction of the capitalist regime its own road to emancipation. From then on the meeting of Marxist theory with the burning reality of the social struggle has brought into being the communist party as a phalanx of revolutionary militants, which, collectively endowed with the powerful weapon of the Marxist interpretation of history, is capable, as a consequence, of deriving useful experiences and lessons not only from proletarian victories, but also from its defeats. “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”: that is Lenin’s thesis. And the party exists insofar as a large or small nucleus of revolutionaries, impelled to fight against the present society by obscure social determinations, grasps the weapon of theory and uses it as a guide to action.
When we say that class consciousness exists in the party, and only in the party, we refer to the consciousness which consists of historical lessons, derived from proletarian struggles on a worldwide scale stretching back to the earliest times, interpreted with the key of the unique and invariant theory which present and future revolutionary formations have the duty to grasp and to respect it in its entirety, using this lengthy, global experience – which Marxism alone is able to interpret correctly, and which remains darkly obscure to all non-Marxist ideologies and doctrines – to illuminate action.
There have been times, due to various pressures and influences, when this historical inheritance – comprising theory, principles and final goals but also historical experience, derived from the relentless march of the revolution – has been abandoned. Every time this has happened the formal party, that is, the fighting organisation of a given epoch and given proletarian generation has inevitably abandoned the correct path and found itself, eventually, on the side of the class enemy. For us, then, the party exists, and grows, and marches towards victory only insofar as it is capable of remaining faithful to its base in the historical party. If this base is even so much as scratched then you have all those betrayals and desertions of which the history of the formal party is so full. Now the fact of the revolutionary organisation remaining faithful to the cardinal principles of the historical party from which it emanates isn’t guaranteed by factors of the cultural or didactic variety, according to which, once you’d learnt a couple of theses by heart, you’d have satisfied all the historical party’s requirements or some-such rubbish. The party’s historical heritage, even on a day-to-day basis and with regard to strictly limited actions, has to shape and permeate the entire activity of the formal party. And this continuous transfusion of historical experience into the current activity of the party is first of all something done collectively by the organisation, not on an individual basis by particularly enlightened or brainy people. What must become an absolutely essential part of our heritage is the notion of the existence of this strict connexion between the militant organisation’s action, between what they say and do today, and its theories, principles, and past historical experience; and that it is the latter (theory, principles, etc.), and not individual or even collective opinions which will always be the final arbiter as regards all party questions. Who gives the orders in the party? We have always maintained that the historical party, to which we owe unswerving obedience and loyalty, effectively gives the orders. And through what microphone does the historical party transmit its orders? It could be one man, or a million men; it could be the leadership of the organisation, or even the rank-and-file recalling the leadership to observance of that data without which the very organisation ceases to exist.
In the party – we quote a text from 1967 – no-one commands and everyone is commanded; no-one commands, because it is not in one individual’s head that the solution of the problem is sought; and everyone is commanded, because even the best of Centres mustn’t give orders that depart from the continuous line of the historical party.
Dictatorship of the principles, traditions and aims of communism
everybody, from rank-and-file to Centre; legitimate expectation of the
Centre to be obeyed without opposition as long as its orders respond to
this line – a line which must be evident in everything the party does;
expectation of the rank-and-file not to be consulted about every order
it is given, but to carry them out only if they follow the impersonal
of the historical party which everyone accepts. In the party there are
therefore leaders and hierarchies; it is a case of technical
that the party cannot do without, because every action it takes must be
unitary and centralised, must aspire to maximum efficiency and
But the course of action is not decided by party organs on the basis of
flashes of genius issuing from particular brains; they in their turn
to submit to decisions taken, above all, by history; decisions which
become the collective and impersonal inheritance of the organ ‘party’.
24 - Marxism and Authority, 1956
29 -... Regarding the question of the general Authority on which revolutionary communism necessarily depends; we go back to finding the criteria in economic, social and historical analysis. It isn’t possible to get the dead and alive and the yet to be born to cast votes. And yet, in the original dialectic of the organ class party, such an operation becomes a genuine and fruitful possibility, even if it is a long, hard road, with tremendous struggles and challenges along the way.
25 - Considerations on the Organic Activity of the Party when the General Situation is Historically Unfavourable, 1965
12 -... When we infer from the invariant doctrine that the revolutionary victory of the working class can be achieved only by the class party and its dictatorship, and then go on to affirm, supported by Marx’s writings, that the pre revolutionary and communist party proletariat may be a class as far as bourgeois science is concerned, but isn’t by Marx or ourselves, then the conclusion to be deduced is that for victory to be achieved it will be necessary to have a party worthy of being described both as the historical and as the formal party, i.e., a party which has resolved within active historical reality the apparent contradiction – cause of so many problems in the past – between the historical party, and therefore as regards content (historical, invariant programme), and the contingent party, concerning its form, which acts as the force and physical praxis of a decisive part of the proletariat in struggle.
13 -... If the section arisen in Italy from the ruins of the old party of the Second International was particularly prone, not by virtue of particular persons certainly, but for historical reasons, to feeling the necessity of welding the historical movement to its present form, this was due to the hard struggles it had waged against degenerated forms and its consequent refusal to tolerate infiltrations; which were attempted not only by forces dominated by nationalist, parliamentary and democratic type positions, but also by those (in Italy, maximalism) influenced by anarcho-syndicalist, petty-bourgeois revolutionism. This left-wing current fought in particular to establish more rigid membership conditions (construction of the new formal structure), and it applied them fully in Italy; and when they gave imperfect results in France, Germany etc., it was the first to sense the danger to the International as a whole.
The historical situation, in which the proletarian State had only been formed in one country, whilst the conquest of power had not been achieved in any of the others, rendered the clear organic solution, that of leaving the helm of the world organisation in the hands of the Russian section, highly problematic.
The Left was the first to notice that whenever there were deviations in the conduct of the Russian State, both in relation to domestic economy and international relations, a discrepancy would arise between the policies of the historical party, i.e. of all revolutionary communists throughout the world, and those of the formal party, which was defending the interests of the contingent Russian State.
14. Since then the abyss has deepened to the extent that the “apparent” sections, which are dependent on the Russian leader-party, are now involved, in the ephemeral sense, in a vulgar policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie that is no better than the traditional collaboration of the corrupted parties of the Second International.
This has produced a situation in which the groups derived from the struggle of the Italian Left against Moscow’s degeneration have been given the chance (we don’t say the right) to better understand the road which the real, active (and therefore formal) party must follow in order to remain faithful to those features which distinguish the revolutionary, historical party; a party which has existed, at least in a potential sense, since 1847, whilst from a practical point of view it has established itself in key historical events as a participant in the tragic series of revolutionary defeats.
26 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
11 -... Undoubtedly in the course of party evolution the path followed by the formal parties, which is characterised by continuous U-turns, ups and downs and ruinous precipices may clash with the ascending path of the historical party. Left Marxists direct their efforts towards realigning the broken curve of the contingent parties with the continuous and harmonious curve of the historical party...
The Communist Left has always considered that the way its long battle against the depressing contingent alternation of the proletariat’s formal parties has been conducted is by affirming positions that are linked together continuously and harmoniously in the luminous wake of the historical party, which continues unbroken over the years and centuries, running from the first statements of the nascent proletarian doctrine to the society of the future; a society we know very well, insofar as we have thoroughly differentiated the tissue and ganglia of the present hateful society, which the revolution must sweep away.
Just as we deny that the party is a collection of brainy people, of apostles or heroes, so the correct Marxist view denies that joining the party occurs through an act of rational comprehension on the part of individuals, who having once understood the party’s positions choose to work in their defence. Our thesis is that not only are rational comprehension and action inseparable from one other, but, as far as the individual is concerned, action always comes before understanding and consciousness. And so it is for individuals who join the party too. For us there exists first of all the development of the productive forces, which determines the division of society into classes and forces people to take positions in relation to this conflict, which they are conscious of to varying degrees, and never completely.
If Marxism maintains that societies are not identifiable by the consciousness they have of themselves but rather that it is necessary to analyse the economic anatomy of these societies in order to understand their idealised expressions, then this is also the case for historical classes that have carried out a revolutionary role, since the consciousness of their historical role has inevitably been mystified and distorted. Only the modern proletariat has been able to forge for itself a scientific consciousness of historical progress, of how it operates and where it is heading. But this consciousness isn’t possessed by all workers, whether considered individually or collectively, who are propelled unconsciously into battle by material causes; and nor does it exist within particular individuals who are members of the class party, since they, in like manner, are predisposed to line up on the front of communism by material and social factors, just as these same factors can also cause individuals to abandon the fight.
The historical struggle is one which sees two social classes arrayed, each with interests which no-one can reconcile or eliminate because the struggle is rooted in the productive mechanism of the present society, which in turn causes individuals to line up on one or the other front independently of their own particular awareness of how the troops are arrayed or of the overall battle plan. It is material, social and historical forces that propel individuals to join the party, even if they have never read a word of Marx or Lenin, and to accept what we have always referred to as the unequivocal unity of theory and action that constitutes the party.
Consciousness doesn’t reside within the individual person either before or after they join the party, or even after a very long time as a militant, but in the collective organ which is composed of old and young, educated and uneducated, and which performs a complex and continuous action in line with a doctrine and a tradition which is invariant.
It is the organ ‘party’ that possesses class consciousness, because this possession is denied to the individual, and this consciousness can only exist in an organisation which is able to align its every act, its behaviour, its internal and external dynamics to the pre-existing lines of doctrine, programme and tactics, and which is able to grow and develop on that foundation; which is accepted en bloc even without having been preventively understood. Having a ‘mystical’ side to joining the party is a notion that only scares the Enlightenment influenced petty bourgeois, convinced, as he is, that everything can be learned from books.
In 1912 we opposed the culturists who wanted to transform the Young Socialist Federation into a ‘party school’ according to the ill-fated formula: “Learning first, then action”. We pointed out that it is enthusiasm, instinct and faith that cause young people to join our battlefront, not cultural reasons. And that such is pure materialism is clear even to the bourgeois, who knows that his mighty educational system is incapable of getting anything taught unless the students are ‘interested’, that is, unless there are material incentives to get them to learn.
Within the party, ideas are understood and clarified by participating in the complex collective work, which is carried out on three levels: defence of and ‘sculpting’ of theory, active participation in mass struggles, and organisation. Comprehension and understanding cannot be attained without participating in the actual work of the party. Inside the party we engage in a continuous work of theoretical preparation, of close examination of the party’s programmatic and tactical features, and of explanation, in the light of the doctrine, of events taking place in the social arena, and contemporaneously and seamlessly we carry out the practical, organisational work of penetrating the proletariat and battling alongside it. The militant learns from actively participating in this complex work and by becoming totally immersed in it. There is no other way to learn, and our theses have always asserted how deadly it is to place theoretical and practical activity into separate compartments, not only for the party but also for each individual militant.
Having described the way in which the party-organ transmits its revolutionary theory and revolutionary traditions from one generation to the next, and allows itself to be permeated by said theory and tradition, we can see that it is plainly incompatible with the type of educational scheme according to which young people drawn to the party should first of all be indoctrinated as quickly as possible by expert teachers of Marxism and invited to attend ‘short courses’, and only after that move on to become party militants and participate in real battles. We envisage instead a collectivity, that studies whilst it fights and fights whilst it studies, which learns in the study and on the battlefield; we envisage, that is, an active collectivity, an organ whose survival depends on partaking in a complex and varied activity whose various aspects are inseparable the one from the other. And young people are attracted to and become committed to this complex work, become immersed in it, and, organically find their role within it, precisely by getting involved and taking part in it. Nobody needs a degree either before or after they join, and neither need they sit any exams: everyone is tested instead by the work they do, which selects individuals in an organic way for particular tasks.
To join the party it requires more than a ‘Marxist’ education and a personal knowledge of our doctrine; it requires those gifts that Lenin described as courage, abnegation, heroism and a willingness to fight. It is through verifying these qualities that we come to discriminate between the sympathiser or prospect, and the militant, the active soldier of the revolutionary army; and we certainly don’t define the sympathiser by the fact he doesn’t yet ‘know’, whilst the militant does. Were this not so the entire Marxist scheme would collapse, because during times of revolutionary tumult the communist party is an organisation which has to organise millions of people who don’t have time to attend courses on Marxism, whether short or not, and nor do they need to; they will join us not because they know, but because they feel, “in an instinctive and spontaneous way, without attending even the briefest of brief courses of study which mimic educational qualifications”. And it would not only be anti-Marxist but just plain stupid to consider that these “late arrivals” should serve as “rank-and-file” whilst only those who had had time to “learn” and “prepare themselves” should be leaders. You get yourself ready in one way, and one way alone: by taking part in the collective work of the party. As far as we are concerned you don’t have to know all about the doctrine and programme to be a party militant; a party militant is someone who “has managed to forget, to renounce, to wrench from his heart and his mind the classification under which he is inscribed in the registry of this putrefying society; one who can see and immerse himself in the entire millenary trajectory linking the ancestral tribal man, struggling with wild beasts, to the member of the future community, fraternal in the joyous harmony of the social man” (‘Considerations...’, Il Programma Comunista, no.2/1965, point 11).
One thing is for sure, those who think you need to know everything
understand everything before you can act, or who see the party as an
for training ‘cadres’, have wrenched precisely nothing from their
or minds. They are still up to their necks in the most putrid myth of
putrefying society: the one which holds that the individual, with his
little brain, can learn about, or make decisions about, anything other
than that which has already been dictated by those astute manipulators
of culture and ideas: the ruling classes.
27 - Motion by the Left Current on “Education and Culture”, Bologna, 1912
This Congress, taking into consideration that under the capitalist regime the school represents a powerful weapon of self-preservation in the hands of the dominant class, whose aim is to give young people an education which instils in them a sense of loyalty and resignation toward the present regime, and prevents them from seeing its essential contradictions, highlighting therefore the artificial character of today’s culture and official teachings throughout all its successive phases, and believing that no trust should be placed in a reform of the schools, in a lay and democratic sense (...) believes that the attention of young socialists should rather be turned towards the development of socialist character and sensibility;
Taking into consideration that the proletarian milieu alone can provide such an education when it is dedicated to the class struggle in the sense of preparation for the proletariat’s ultimate victory, rejecting the scholastic definition of our movement and all discussion about its so-called technical function, it believes that, just as young people find in every proletarian class protest the best terrain in which to develop their revolutionary consciousness, so also can workers’ organisations benefit from the active participation of their youngest and most enthusiastic elements in order to draw on that socialist faith that alone can save them from utilitarian and corporativist degeneration;
It affirms, in short, that young people learn more through action than in study which is regulated by quasi-bureaucratic norms and systems, and in consequence it exhorts all members of the young socialist’s movement:
a) To meet together much more often than prescribed by the statutes in order to discuss the problems of socialist action, passing on the results of your observations and personal readings to others and increasingly habituating yourselves to the moral solidarity of the socialist milieu;
b) To take an active part in the life of the trade organisations.
28 - Carlylean Phantoms, 1953
3 -... Theoretical consciousness – staunchly defended by the Left as common patrimony of the party and of the youth movement – mustn’t be used as a condition to paralyse all those who are simply moved to fight under the impulse of the socialist sentiments and enthusiasm which social conditions provoke in the natural course of things. Those who were incapable of understanding such a dialectical position, and who even saw it, as far as the driving forces acting within in a young soul are concerned, as putting faith and ‘fanaticism’ before science and philosophy talked total and absolute rubbish, and spoke of it as reviving the cult of the hero, and... of dropping Marx for Carlyle!
29 - Marx and ‘Primitive’ Communism, 1959
... As the great Marxist Lenin masterfully demonstrated in What is to be Done?, what is required of the communist militant before orientation of thinking and consciousness is the will to fight.
30 - It’s Easy to Laugh, 1959
... When at a certain point our banal opposer (...) tells us that this is tantamount to us constructing our own mysticism (setting himself up, poor man, as one who has overcome all faiths and mysticisms) and mocks us with religious terminology, saying we are prostrating ourselves before Mosaic or Talmudic, Biblical or Koranic, evangelical or catechistic tables, to him we reply that not even that will make us feel obliged to go on the defensive, and in fact – leaving aside the usefulness of annoying the new crop of philistines which every age throws up – we have no reason to be offended by the statement that our movement, until such time as has triumphed in reality (which precedes according to our method every subsequent conquest of human knowledge) may still need a mysticism, or if you wish, a myth.
31 - ‘Left-wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder’, a Condemnation of the Renegades to Come, 1961
18 -... The basis of discipline comes in the first place from the “class consciousness of the proletarian vanguard”, i.e., of the proletarian minority gathered in the party; Lenin then immediately goes on to draw attention to the qualities of such a vanguard using “passionate” rather than rational language, by pointing out, like in many other of his writings (What is to be Done?) that the communist proletarian joins the party instinctively rather than rationally. Such a thesis had already been defended by Italian socialist youth back in 1912 against the “immediatists” (who like the anarchists are always “educationalists”) in the battle between the culturalists and the anti-culturalists, as they were called at the time. In this battle the latter, by requiring faith and passion from young revolutionaries rather than exam results, proved to comply with strict materialism and with the rigour of party theory. Lenin, who’s holding an enlistment rather than teaching in an academy, refers to qualities of “devotion, tenacity, self-sacrifice, and heroism”. We, his distant pupils, have recently, with dialectical resolve, dared to openly refer to the fact of joining the party as a “mystical” occurrence.
32 - Considerations on the Organic Activity of the Party when the General Situation is Historically Unfavourable, 1965
11 - The violent sparks flashing between the rheophores of our dialectics have taught us that a revolutionary and militant communist comrade is one who has managed to forget, to renounce, to wrench from his heart and his mind the classification under which he has been inscribed in the registry of this putrefying society; one who can see and immerse himself in the entire millenary trajectory linking the ancestral tribal man, struggling with wild beasts, to the member of the future community, fraternal in the joyous harmony of the social man.
The party is an organisation made up of
an old and undeniable definition.
The fighting organisation is composed of individuals with different traits and capacities, emanating from different social backgrounds and bringing with them different individual experiences. It is a matter of knowing what unites these people together in one organisation: evidently what unites them is adherence to the sum of the theory, principles, final aims and line of action that has historically typified the communist party organ, and which the individual members, from wherever they originate, accept as such and are led to obey. What unites them is their adherence to a battle position; a front line that history has set out before them and to which they owe absolute faith.
The individuals who compose the party aren’t individually conscious of this historical patrimony, rather they adhere to it in an instinctive way, indeed in a mystical way as we have stated elsewhere.
Consciousness is possessed by the collective organ, not only in the sense of the common activity of all party members, an activity that is both theoretical and practical, but in the broader sense of collective activity on the basis of tactical, programmatic and theoretical norms, and of aims that pre-exist in the collectivity itself operating at a given time and in a given place.
One thing alone is required of this working collectivity: that it remain true, in all that it does, to the continuous thread linking the past to the future, changing nothing, inventing nothing, discovering nothing. Of the individual members of the collectivity it is asked that they contribute their mental and physical energies to ensure that the organisation remains true to its founding postulates, which are binding on all. But who then decides party policy? What is the party collectivity supposed to say and do? This is decided by translating the party’s programme, aims, principles and theory into activity; the activity of study, research and interpretation of social events and actively intervening within them. It is from this collective activity that the practical decisions emerge; decisions that mustn’t in any way be at odds with the historical foundations on which the party stands. It is the world centre which issues orders to the rest of the network and although it is a role which can be performed by one person or by a group of people, the centre itself is a function of the party, is the product of the collective activity of the party, and orders don’t emerge from it as result of its greater or lesser cerebral capacity, rather they constitute the nodal point within an activity that involves the entire organisation and which must be based on the historical party.
In our scheme, the orientation of the party is neither decided by the totality of individuals who compose it, nor by the group that happens to be performing the role of centre, which only expresses decisions that are binding on all militants insofar as they derive from the party’s historical patrimony, and are the result of the work of, and contributions from, the organisation as a whole. Our thesis, therefore, is that it is not individuals who are responsible for how well the party performs, and nor indeed are they to blame if the party falls apart. We will never consider the question as one of finding “the best people” to guarantee the work is carried out correctly; nor will we ever attempt, in accordance with our theses, to remedy a mistake by juggling individuals around within the party’s hierarchical structure. As to individuals separately considered our theory denies them consciousness, merit or blame and considers them exclusively as more or less valid instruments of the collective activity; likewise it considers their actions, whether right or wrong, not as the fruit of their personal intentions but due to impersonal and anonymous determinations. It is the collective work itself, based on sound tradition, which selects individuals for the various levels in the hierarchy and for the various roles and tasks that define the party organisation. But the guarantee that the tasks will be performed correctly cannot be provided by the brain-power and will-power of an individual or a group: it is, on the contrary, the result of the development of the party work as a whole.
33 - Theses on Tactics at the 2nd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Rome Theses), 1922
I, 2.... It would be erroneous to consider these two factors of consciousness and will as powers that can be obtained by, or are to be expected of, individuals since they are only realisable through the integration of the activity of many individuals into a unitary collective organism.
III, 16. Any conception of the party organism based on the requirement of perfect critical consciousness and a complete spirit of sacrifice on the part of each of its members, individually considered (...) would be totally erroneous.
34 - Communist Organisation and Discipline, 1924
... Orders emanating from the central hierarchies are not the starting point, but rather the result of the functioning of the movement understood as a collective. This is not to be understood in a foolishly democratic or legalistic way but in a realistic and historical sense. We are not defending, by saying this, “the right” of the communist masses to devise policies which the leaders must then follow: we are noting that the formation of a class party presents itself in these terms, and that an examination of the question must be based on these premises. That is how we tentatively sketch out a set of conclusions with regard to this matter.
There is no mechanical discipline that can reliably ensure that orders and regulations from on high "whatever they are" will be put into effect; there is however a cluster of orders and regulations responding to the real origins of the movement which can guarantee the maximum of discipline, that is, unitary action of the whole organism, whereas there are other directives which if issued from the centre could compromise both discipline and organisational solidity.
It is, therefore, a matter of demarcating the duty of the leading organs. But who is supposed to do that? The whole party should do it, that’s who, the whole organisation, and not in the trite and parliamentary sense of a right to be consulted about the "mandate" to be conferred on the elected leaders and how restricted it will be, but in a dialectical sense that takes into consideration the movement’s traditions, preparedness, and real continuity in its thinking and action.
35 - Lenin on the Path of Revolution, 1924
The role of the leader
... The way individuals develop and the roles they take on are determined by general environmental conditions and by society, including the latter’s history. Whatever is processed in a person’s brain has been previously prepared in the course of relations with other men and is due to the existence of other men, including in an intellectual sense. Some privileged and practised brains, better constructed and perfected mechanisms that they are, better translate, express and elaborate a wealth of knowledge and experiences that wouldn’t exist if not supported by the life of the collective.
The leader’s brain is a material instrument functioning as a result of its links to the class and to the party. The formulations that the leader dictates in his capacity as theoretician and the norms he prescribes as practical leader are not his own creations but clarifications, precise specifications based on a knowledge whose material components, the products of immense experience, belong to the class-party. Not all of this data presents itself to the leader in the form of mechanical erudition, and this provides a realistic explanation for certain phenomena of intuition deemed to be divinatory but which, far from giving evidence of the transcendence of some individuals over the mass, demonstrate instead the correctness of our assumption that the leader is the operating instrument, rather than the motor force, of collective thinking and common action (...)
The organisation into a party, which allows the class to truly function as such and to live as such, can be viewed as a unitary mechanism in which the various ‘brains’ (not just brains of course, but other organs as well) perform different tasks according to aptitude and capacity, all of them in the service of a common goal and interest which progressively unifies them ever more intimately ‘in time and space’ (a convenient expression meant in an empirical rather than a transcendent way). Therefore, not every individual in the organisation occupies the same position or is at the same level. The gradual putting into practice of this division of tasks according to a rational plan (and what goes for today’s party-class will be the case for tomorrow’s society) completely excludes those higher up having privileges over the rest. Our revolutionary evolution isn’t heading towards disintegration, but towards an ever more scientific mutual connection between individuals.
It is anti-individualist insofar as it is materialist. It doesn’t believe in the soul, or that individuals have metaphysical or transcendental content, but rather assigns the individual, according to his or her role, a place within the collective framework, creating a hierarchy which tends ever more towards an elimination of coercion, which it replaces with technical rationality. The party is already an example of a coercion-free collective (...)
The question doesn’t present itself to us as a juridical matter but as a technical problem uncompromised by the philosophemes of constitutional law, or worse still, of natural law. There is no reason, in principle, why ‘Leader’ or ‘committee of leaders’ should be inscribed in our statutes. In fact it is on these premises that a Marxist solution to the question of choice is based: choices are made, more than anything else, by the dynamic history of the movement and not by the humdrum routine of consultative elections. We prefer not to include the word ‘leader’ in our organisational rules because individuals of the calibre of Marx or Lenin won’t always be among us. In conclusion: if an exceptional person, an exceptional ‘instrument’ should appear, the movement will make use of them. But the movement lives on even when there are no such eminent personalities. Our theory of the leader is very different from the cretinous rubbish used by theologians and official politicians to demonstrate the need for priests, kings, ‘first citizens’, dictators and Duces, all wretched puppets convinced it is they who make history.
Furthermore: this process of elaboration of material belonging to a collectivity, which we see manifesting in the person of the leader as he draws energy from the collective, developing, transforming it and then returning it, cannot therefore be removed from the circle on his passing. The death of the organism Lenin certainly doesn’t mean his role is over, especially since, as we have shown, the material he elaborated is in fact sure to continue to remain a vital source of nourishment for the class and the party.
36 - The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Lyon Theses), 1926
I, 3 -... The organ in which, on the contrary, is summed up the full extent of volitional possibilities and initiative in all fields of activity is the political party. Not just any old party though, but the party of the proletarian class, the communist party, linked as though by an unbroken thread to the ultimate goals in the future. The party’s power of volition, as well as its consciousness and theoretical knowledge are functions that are exquisitely collective. Marxism explains that the leaders in the party itself are given their job because they are considered as instruments and operators who best manifest the capacity to comprehend and explain facts and to lead and will action, with such capacities nevertheless maintaining their origin in the existence and character of the collective organ. By way of these considerations, the marxist conception of the party and its activity, as we have stated, 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.
37 - Speech by the Left’s Representative to the Sixth ECCI Plenum, 1926
... This also relates to the question of leaders that comrade Trotsky raised in the preface to Nineteen Seventeen, in an analysis of the causes of our defeat, and I entirely agree with the conclusions he came to. Trotsky does not speak of leaders as though Heaven needs to delegate men for this purpose. On the contrary, he approaches the problem quite differently. Even leaders are the result of party activity, of party working methods, and a product of the confidence the party is able to inspire. If the party, in spite of changeable and often unfavourable circumstances, follows the revolutionary line and fights opportunist deviation, then the selection of leaders, the formation of a General Staff, will go well; and during the final struggle we will have, if not always a Lenin, at least a compact and courageous leadership-something that today, given the current state our organizations are in, we have little cause to expect.
38 - Force, Violence and Dictatorship in the Class Struggle, 1948
V... Neither does this task of possessing the theoretical consciousness fall to a band or group of superior individuals whose mission is to help humanity. It falls instead to an organism, to a mechanism differentiated within the mass, utilizing the individual elements as cells that compose the tissue and elevating them to a function made possible only by this complex of relationships. This organism, this system, this complex of elements each with its own function, (analogous to the animal organism with its extremely complicated systems of tissues, networks, vessels, etc.) is the class organism, the party, which in a certain way defines the class before itself and gives it the capacity to make its own history.
39 - The Reversal of Praxis in Marxist Doctrine (Rome Meeting), 1951
10... In the party, the contribution made by all the individual and class influences which flow into it from below are shaped into the means of establishing a critical and theoretical view, and a will to act, which makes it possible to instil into individual proletarians and militants an explanation of situations and historical processes, and an ability to make correct decisions about actions and struggles.
11 - Thus, whilst determinism denies the individual the possibility of achieving will and consciousness prior to action, the reversal of praxis does allow this within the party, and only within the party, as a result of a general historical elaboration. However, although will and consciousness can be attributed to the party, it is not the case that the party is formed by a concurrence of the consciousness and will of individual members of a group; and nor can such a group be in any way considered as free of the determining physical, economic and social factors weighing on the class as a whole.
12 - The so-called analysis, which alleges that all the conditions for the revolution are in place but a revolutionary leadership, is therefore meaningless. It is correct to say that an organ of leadership is indispensable, but its arising depends on the general conditions of struggle themselves, and never on the cleverness or bravery of a leader or vanguard.
40 - Characteristic Theses of the Party (Florence Theses), 1951
II. 5... The Party is not formed on the basis of individual consciousness: not only is it not possible for each proletarian to become conscious and still less to master the class doctrine in a cultural way, but neither is it possible for each individual militant, not even for the leaders of the Party. Consciousness consists in the organic unity of the Party alone.
In the same way, therefore, that we reject notions based on individual acts or even on mass action when not linked to the party framework, so we must reject any conception of the party as a group of enlightened scholars or conscious individuals. On the contrary, the Party is the organic tissue whose function inside the working class is to carry out its revolutionary task in all its aspects and in all its complex stages.
41 - The Dogs’ Legs, 1952
... Put bluntly, this is our position: new facts do not lead us to correct the old positions, nor to supplement or rectify them. Today we interpret the original Marxist texts in the same way as we did in 1921 and even before that; and we interpret later facts in the same way; the old proposals regarding methods of organisation and action remain valid.
This work is neither entrusted to individuals nor committees, much less so to bureaus. In timing and quality, it is part of a unitary operation that has been unfolding for over a century, going well beyond the birth and death of generations. It is not inscribed in anyone’s curriculum vitae, not even of those who have spent an extremely long time coherently elaborating and mulling over the results. In this work of elaboration of key texts, and also of studies interpreting the historical process that surrounds us, the movement prohibits, and has to prohibit, personal, extemporary and contingent initiatives being taken.
The idea that some obliging bloke, with pen and inkwell and an hour or so to spare, starts writing texts from scratch, or else, the ‘Cyrenic’, long-suffering "base" is urged to do so by some circular letter or by some ephemeral academic meeting, whether noisily public or in secret, well, it is just childish. The results of such efforts should be disqualified from the outset; especially when such an array of dictates is the work of those who are obsessed with the effect of human intervention in history. Is it men in general, particular men, or a given Man with a capital M who intervenes? It’s an old question. Men make history, it’s just that they have very little idea how and why they make it. As a rule, all the ‘fans’ of human action, and those who mock what they allege to be fatalist automatism, are generally the very people who privately nurture the idea that their own wee bodies contain that predestined Man. And they are the very ones who do not and cannot understand anything at all: they fail to see that whether they sleep like logs, or realize their noble dream of rushing around like men possessed, history will not be affected one iota.
With icy cynicism, and without the least pity for any of these super-activist specimens who are more or less convinced of their own importance, to them, and to every assembly of innovators and would-be helmsmen, we repeat: "Go back to sleep!" You can’t even set an alarm clock.
The task of setting the Theses in order and straightening out all the dogs’ legs veering off on all sides – a task which always arises when least expected – needs considerably more than a short speech or an hour or so at some little congress. It isn’t easy to compile an index of all the places where it is necessary to plug the holes, a work evidently seen as inglorious by those born to "pass into history", whose style, rather than patching up, is to totally destroy. Still, we think a small index might be useful, even though it obviously won’t be perfect and will contain repetitions and inversions. We will compare correct with erroneous theses: we won’t however call the latter anti-theses since such a term is easily confused with antithesis, which suggests two different theses side by side in opposition. We prefer to use the term counter-theses.
Also, purely for clarity’s sake, we will divide the points we wish to make into three obviously interconnected sections, namely: History, Economy and (in inverted commas) Philosophy (...)
Further elucidation of these synthetic outlines is scattered throughout numerous party writings and in conference and meeting reports.
Putting a break on dangerous improvisations isn’t a task that should be considered a monopoly, or an exclusive right, of anyone in particular.
There is still room for improvement in the presentation of the arguments; the exposition can be made clearer and more effective. Another seven years work and study, seven hours a week, and maybe it will have improved a bit.
If little groups of whiz-kids do then show up, it will be proper to say (as we recall the cold Zinoviev once saying) that people have arrived who only appear once every five hundred years; and he was referring to Lenin.
We will wait for them to be embalmed. We don’t feel we deserve such an honour.
42 - Politique D’abord, 1952
... Once respect for the party’s principles, theses and norms of action, considered as an impersonal entity, has been replaced by blind faith in a name; once the ingenuous support of the masses and even of militants has ensured the influence of some particular individual, who as well as exhibiting burning ambition, latent or otherwise, is also endowed with a certain intelligence, culture, eloquence, ability or courage (although ninety nine times out of a hundred these gifts are entirely spurious) only then does it become historically possible for those phenomenal upsets to occur, those incredible changes of direction in which we see entire parties and major party factions breaking their doctrinal, traditional line, and getting the revolutionary class to abandon its battle front, sometimes even by swapping sides.
Incredibly, many militants and masses of proletarians have accepted these astonishing formulaic and prescriptive changes, and when not fooled, they have got bogged down in ruinous indecision. For example, Mussolini’s attempt to draw the Italian socialist party into the war hysteria failed, but when the socialist section in Milan unanimously expelled him in October 1914, in his parting shot he had the nerve to shout out: you hate me because you love me!
So, our long, tragic experience should have taught us that whilst it is necessary to utilise everyone’s particular skills and aptitudes in party operations, ‘it is not necessary to love anyone’; indeed we need to be prepared to chuck anyone out, even if they’ve spent eleven out of twelve months in prison every year of their life. At important junctures, decisions about the course of action to follow have to be made without relying on the personal ‘authority’ of teachers, leaders or executives, and on the basis of rules of principle and of conduct that our movement has fixed in advance. A very difficult concept, we know, but without it we cannot see how a powerful movement will reappear.
The exaltation of the ‘res gestae’, of the glorious deeds of this or that alleged captain of the masses, the oceanic fluctuations following his speeches and attitudes have always paved the way to the most surprising manipulations of the movement’s principles. On countless occasions both followers and leaders have become so involved in the dramatic externalisms of the struggle that they have ignored, forgotten, or maybe never really understood, the ‘tables’ of theory and conduct without which there is no party, and therefore no ascent and victory for the revolution. Thus it is that when the leader deceives both himself, and others, by ‘reinterpreting’ these tables, confusion and disorientation almost inevitably results.
43 - The Battilocchio in History, 1953
... Let us put a stop to this tendency right now and, as far as is practically possible do away, not with men, but with the Man with such and such a Name, with such and such a curriculum vitae...
I know the easy riposte that ingenuous comrades will come up with. Lenin. All right, it is indisputable that after 1917 we won many militants to the revolutionary struggle because they were convinced that Lenin had known how to fight and win the revolution. They came, fought and later deepened their understanding of our programme. By this expedient proletarians and entire masses who might otherwise have remained dormant were awoken. I admit it. But later on? The same name is used to support the total opportunist corruption of the proletariat: we are reduced to a situation where the class vanguard is much weaker than before 1917, when few had heard that name.
So I say that in the theses and directives established by Lenin is summed up the best of the collective proletarian doctrine, of the political class reality, but that the name, as such, presents a debit balance. Evidently it has gone too far. Lenin himself was fed up to the back teeth with his personal importance being inflated. It is only insignificant little people who believe they are historically indispensable. He used to laugh whole-heartedly when he heard such nonsense. He was followed, adored and misunderstood.
Have I managed to give you an idea of the problem with these few words? A time is bound to come when there will be a strong class movement with the correct theory and practice but without any need to exploit a fondness for names. I believe it will come. Whoever does not believe this must lack confidence in the new Marxist vision of history, or even worse, be a leader of the oppressed who has sold out to the enemy.
... Certainly the bourgeois revolution has to have a symbol and a name even though, in the final instance, it too is made up of anonymous forces and material relations. It is the last revolution to be unaware of its anonymity: thus we think of it as a romantic revolution.
Our revolution will appear when there is no more kow-towing to individuals, cowardly and confused for the most part, and when as the instrument of its own class power it has a party which has melded together all its doctrinal, organizational and militant characteristics; a party within which names and individual merit count for nothing; a party which denies that the individual possesses consciousness, will, initiative, merit or blame, in order to fuse everyone together into its unified and sharply defined whole.
44 - Croaking about Praxis, 1953
19 - (...) Activity is down to the workers; consciousness exists in their party alone. Activity, praxis, is direct and spontaneous whilst consciousness is delayed, reflected; it is anticipated only in the party, and only when the latter exists and is operational does the class cease to exist in a coldly statistical sense and become an active force in the ‘age of subversion’, attacking a hostile world with actions directed towards a known and desired end; known and desired not by individuals, be they followers or leaders, soldiers or generals, but by the impersonal party collective; a collective which encompasses distant countries and successive generations, and which isn’t, therefore, a patrimony which is enclosed in one head (testa), but rather within texts (testi) – since no better technical means of conducting a ‘sifting process’ of soldiers and above all of generals is available to us; whereas the idea of an inherent conflict existing between those who give orders and those who follow them – the latest insipid blague from across the Alps – is really very banal.
The right-wing of the Russian party would like party members to be drawn from the workers’ professional or factory groups federated to the party (the Russians used to call the trade unions ‘professional associations’). But it was in a polemical sense that Lenin forged the historic expression of the party being, above all, an organisation of professional revolutionaries. The latter are not asked: are you workers? What is your trade? Are you a mechanic, a tinsmith, a carpenter? They are as likely to be factory workers as students, or even sons of nobles; they will reply; I’m a revolutionary, that’s my trade. Only Stalinist cretinism could interpret the phrase to mean revolutionary in a career sense, of being on the party payroll. Such a useless formulation still leaves the question unanswered of whether the employees of the apparatus should be drawn from amongst the workers, or from other classes as well,. But it wasn’t really anything to do with that anyway.
45 - ‘Racial’ Pressure of the Peasantry; Class Pressure of the Coloured Peoples, 1953
Freedom neither in theory nor in tactics. This key concept of the Left must be clearly understood.
The party’s substantive, organic unity-diametrically opposed to the formal, hierarchical unity of the Stalinists-must be understood as a requirement of doctrine, programme and of so-called tactics. If we understand by tactics means of action, these can only be decided upon by undertaking the same kind of investigation that led us, on the basis of the data of past history, to decide upon our final, integral programmatic demands.
The means cannot vary or be dispensed indiscriminately, either at a later time or worse still by distinct groups, without a corresponding change in the programmatic goals and the path one intends to pursue to achieve them.
It is obvious that the means are not chosen out of any regard to their intrinsic qualities: according to whether they are nice or nasty, gentle or harsh, mild or severe. However, rather than simply depending on ‘whatever seems right at the time’, being able to make a rough forecast of the sequence of tactics likely to be applicable is an essential tool in the collective party armoury. This is an old warhorse of the Left. And therein also lies the organisational formula that the so-called ‘base’ can only be counted on to execute actions indicated by the centre insofar as the Centre is restricted to ‘a shortlist’ of previously anticipated potential moves corresponding to a no less anticipated range of eventualities. Establishing this dialectical link is the one thing that allows us to rise above the paltry level achievable by applying internal consultative democracy, an exercise we have repeatedly shown to be absolutely pointless. Indeed everyone defends internal democracy within organisations; just as everyone, from top to bottom, is ready to make a exhibition of themselves in the strange, convoluted power games and coup de theatres that take place within them.
46 - Dialogue with the Dead, 1956
74 -... Marxism-and here we need to embark on a short historico-philosophical treatise-sees neither the great individual, nor any collective system of individuals, as the subject of historical decision. This is because Marxism draws out historical relationships and the causes of events from the relationships of things with people, in such a way that the results brought to light are common to every individual, regardless of particular individual attributes.
Since in resolving ‘the social question’ Marxism rejects any ‘constitutional’ or ‘juridicial’ formulation as premise to the concrete historical course, it refuses to express a choice when faced with the badly framed question: should one person, a college of persons, the party as whole, or the class as a whole decide everything? First of all nobody decides but rather a ‘field’ of economic-productive relations common to large human groups. It is not a case of forcing history along a certain path, but of deciphering it, of discovering the currents that exist within it, and the sole means of participating in their dynamic motion is to obtain a certain level of scientific knowledge regarding them, the extent to which this is possible differing greatly according to the historical phase.
So, who is the best at deciphering history? Who can explain it scientifically and see what we need to do? It depends. One individual may be better than a committee, the party, or the class. The consultation of ‘all the workers’ gets us no further forward than consulting all citizens with stupid ‘head counts’. Marxism fights against labourism and workerism in the sense that it knows that in most cases the resolutions will be counter-revolutionary and opportunist... As for the party, even after screening out those who reject its doctrinal ‘corner stones’ as a matter of principle, its historical mechanism still doesn’t boil down to ‘the rank-and-file is always right’. The party is a real historical unit, not a colony of men-microbes. The Communist Left has always proposed that the ‘democratic centralism’ formula ascribed to Lenin should be replaced with that of organic centralism. Finally, as regards committees, countless historical examples have demonstrated the futility of ‘collegial’ or joint leaderships: suffice to recall the relationsip between Lenin and the party and Lenin and the central committee in April 1917 and October 1917.
The best detector of the revolutionary influences in history’s force field, in the context of given social and productive relations, may be the mass, the crowd, a committee, or just one individual. But the discriminating element lies elsewhere.
75 -... In quoting from Lenin they didn’t notice a magnificent synthetic passage that goes way beyond... Central Committees.
«The working class... in its worldwide struggle... needs authority... in the way that the young worker needs the experience of veteran fighters against oppression and exploitation, of those who have organised many strikes, have taken part in a number of revolutions, who are wise in revolutionary traditions, and have a broad political outlook. The proletarians of every country need the authority of the worldwide struggle of the proletariat... The collective body of the progressive class-conscious workers immediately engaged in the struggle in each country will always remain the highest authority on all such questions».
At the heart of this passage lie the concepts of time and space taken to their ultimate extent, i.e., the historical tradition of struggle, and the international field within which it operates. Let us also include within our tradition the future, the programme of tomorrow’s struggles.
Converging from every continent, and unbounded by time, how will this Leninite collective body, to which we give supreme power within the party, come together? It is composed of the living, the dead and the yet to be born. So, this isn’t a formula we ‘came up with’; it’s in Marxism, it’s in Lenin’s writings.
Who can chatter idly now about power and authority entrusted to a leader, to an executive committee, to such and such a consultative body in such and such an area? Any decision is fine by us as long as it remains in line with that broad, global vision. Maybe one person will see it, maybe a million will.
This theory of Marx and Engels grew out of an explanation they gave, in contradistinction to the libertarians, of the authoritarian nature of the process of class revolutions, in which the individual, with all his claims to autonomy, disappears and becomes a negligible quantity but, nevertheless, is not subordinated to a chief, to a hero, nor to a hierarchy derived from bygone institutions.
47 - Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today, 1956
35 -... Everything that Lenin declares and inscribes on the pages of those historic theses is terribly opposed to what they did in Russia; not just to what the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties did, but to what the workers’ parties and even his own party did as well. But at the same time it is entirely consistent with what had already been written, with the course plotted out by Marx and Engels in 1848 and a hundred times confirmed and with the course marked out by Lenin himself from 1900 onwards in Russia.
Those who are impatient, who get all excited every time they hear about a new modern directive, should understand this: we defend the immutability of the road ahead, yes, but not its rectilinearity. It contains many twists and turns. But, as Trotsky said, these aren’t figments of the leader’s imagination. The word ‘leader’ in fact signifies a driver, but the party leader isn’t a car driver, who can grab the wheel and drive off wherever he wants, rather he is a train or tram-driver. His strength lies in recognising that the railway track is already in place, even though certainly not always straight, and he knows the stations he’ll be passing through, the bends and the slopes, and the destination towards which he is headed.
And of course not just the leader alone knows this. The historical route map doesn’t belong to one, thinking head but to an organisation that transcends individuals, above all in temporal sense; an organisation composed of living history, and of – a word you won’t like – codified doctrine.
If this is renounced we have as good as abandoned the struggle and the next Lenin will be unable to save us. Clutching our posters, books and Theses it will be off to the pulping plant, with us solely to blame for our own complete bankruptcy.
48 - ‘Left-wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder’, a Condemnation of the Renegades to Come, 1961
14 -... From which microphone does such a collective force broadcast its orders? We have always denied that a mechanical and formalistic rule could decide. It isn’t the fifty-plus-one-per-cent who have the right to speak, although such a bourgeois method can often be useful; and neither do we accept the metaphysical rule of ‘head counts’ in the party, trade union, councils or class: sometimes the decisive voice will be that of the restless masses, at other times that of a group within the party structure (Lenin, as we have seen, isn’t afraid of using the word oligarchy), sometimes that of just one individual, a Lenin, as in April 1917 and even October itself, against the opinion of ‘all’.
49 - The Great Light was Obscured, 1961
... The party requires more than just theoretical strength to develop the link between class doctrine and class action to its fullest extent. Amongst party militants there may well exist conviction and enthusiasm, but they can’t always generate it amongst the masses simply through their activity as orators, agitators and writers. It isn’t a rhetorical process that prompts the masses to rally around the party, nor the latter having in its possession an elect group, the famous ‘leaders’ whose impact on history, or rather ‘headline grabbing’, is entirely lamentable. The process is rather one of social physics. One doesn’t provoke the facts, one records them.
We consider the thesis that it isn’t a matter of choosing a group of people to form the party’s ‘general staff’ as an enormously important one: that is, it isn’t a case of ‘casting for the big roles’, of finding the right people to constitute some kind of ‘brain trust’. It is best to steer well clear of this contemptible and highly superficial attitude. It is an illusion that has never been encouraged in good faith and it is simply the external manifestation of careerism: that curse of the political democracies by which certain individuals, whose defining qualities are craftiness and enslavement to pathological ambition, or to anyone above them, elbow their way to the top of the pile, and in all cases it is the pushiest ones who get there. All vain people are cowards.
And the story of the Comintern’s miserable decline, after its memorable but all too brief ascent, is precisely characterised by a frantic search for the right people. In time we denounced unreservedly what was in fact a negative, back-to-front selection. Maybe in certain cases the Russian comrades believed that these components of the party machine could soon enough be put aside after the expected rapid burn out. But we didn’t accept this criterion, accusing it of relying far too much on an extremely artificial voluntarism.
50 - Considerations on the Party’s Organic Activity when the General Situation is Historically Unfavourable, 1965
9 -... As we all know, when the situation becomes radicalised huge numbers of people, acting instinctively and unencumbered by the need to ape academia and attain qualifications, will immediately take our side.
14 -... The transmission of this un-deformed tradition into efforts to form a new international party organisation without any historic breaks, may not, in an organisational sense, be based on men chosen because they would be best at it or most knowledgeable about the historical doctrine, and yet, in an organic sense, such a transmission nevertheless has to remain totally faithful to the line connecting the actions of the group which first gave expression to it forty years ago to the line as is exists today. The new movement should expect neither supermen nor messiahs, but must be based on a rekindling of as much as it has been possible to preserve over the long intervening period, and the preservation cannot be restricted to just theses and documents but must also include the living instruments who constitute the old guard, entrusted with the task of handing on the uncorrupted and powerful party tradition to the young guard.
51 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
11-... Naturally we won’t disavow ourselves by committing the childish error of seeking salvation in a search for the best people, or in the choice of leaders and semi-leaders, all of which we hold to be baggage characteristic of the opportunist phenomenon, historically opposed to the march of left revolutionary Marxism.
52 - Supplementary Theses... (The Milan Theses), 1966
9 -... Amongst the many tasks within the party’s difficult brief is its current effort to free itself, once and for all, from the treacherous impulse that seems to emanate from well-known people, and from the despicable function of manufacturing, in order to attain its aims and victories, a stupid fame and publicity through other big names. The party in every one of its various twists and turns must never waver in its decision to fight courageously and decisively for such an outcome, considering it to be the true anticipation of the society of the future.
53 - Preface to the ‘post 1945 Theses’, 1970
Organisation, same as discipline, isn’t a point of departure but a point of arrival; it has no need of statutory codification and disciplinary regulation; it recognises no contradiction between the ‘base’ and the ‘summit’; it excludes the rigid barriers of a division of labour inherited from the capitalist regime not because leaders’ and ‘experts’ in specific areas aren’t needed, but because these are, and necessarily have to be, committed (in the same way as the most ‘lowly’ of its militants, only more so) to a program, a doctrine and to a clear and unequivocal definition of tactical norms shared by the entire party, known to each of its members, publicly affirmed and above all translated into practice in full view of the class as whole. And just as leaders and experts are necessary, they are likewise dispensable as soon as they cease to fulfil the role which, via natural selection rather than by stupid head counts, the party had entrusted to them; or when, worse still, they deviate from the path which had been marked out for all to follow. A party of this type (as ours tends and strives to become; without however making any anti-historical claim to ‘purity’ or ‘perfection’) doesn’t adapt its entire internal life, its development, its – let’s say it – hierarchy of technical functions to fit in with whimsical decisions made on the spur of the moment or decreed by a majority, but rather it grows and is reinforced by the dynamics of the class struggle in general and by its own intervention within it in particular. The party creates its instruments of battle, its ‘organs’ at all levels, without predicting them in advance; it doesn’t need – apart from in exceptional circumstances – to expel, after ‘a proper trial’, those who no longer feel like following our immutable, common road because it has to be capable of eliminating them from within itself in the same way a healthy organism spontaneously eliminates its waste matter.
‘Revolution isn’t a question of forms of organisation’. On the contrary, organisation, in all its various forms, is constituted in response to the various demands of the revolution with not just the outcome forecast, but the path leading up to it forecast as well. Consultations, constitutions and statutes are characteristic of societies divided into classes, and of the parties that, in their turn, express not the historic trajectory of a class but the intersection of the divergent or not fully convergent trajectories of several classes. Internal democracy and ‘bureaucratism’, worship of individual or group ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘ideological terrorism’ are terms that are not so much antithetical as dialectically connected: unity of doctrine and tactical action, and organic character of organisational centralism. They can equally be two sides of the same coin.
From what we have said about the
of the party organ it should have become evident, as regards its
dynamics and the relationship between the various organs and molecules
of which it is composed, that the party prefigures the future classless
and stateless communist society.
The party, actor and subject of the violent revolution and the dictatorship, isn’t just any old party; it is the communist party; thus a party linked to a specific historic perspective from which it derives its programme and activity; a perspective which is the expression of a particular class, whose struggle doesn’t aim to re-establish the rule of one class over other classes but to destroy society’s division into classes altogether. The ultimate goal is a society without classes; a society without exchange values; a society in which individual interests and those of the species no longer stand in opposition; a society in which each will give according to their ability and receive according to their need; a society, in short, in which the adherence of every individual to the general social interest will be obtained without coercion, organically and spontaneously.
The violent class struggle, which the party must have no qualms about leading, just as it must have no qualms about personally directing State violence and terrorism, appears, therefore, not as an end in itself but as a means to achieving an end already anticipated within the party’s internal dynamics. Indeed within the party, which expresses the interests of a single class that is fighting to eliminate classes altogether, there are no conflicts of social interests; consequently it is able to achieve a hierarchy of organic functions without the need to resort to coercive machinery or to any kind of legalistic apparatus. In the party, relationships of a mercantile type no longer exist and the cement that holds the organisation together is the voluntary commitment of all of its cells to the struggle and to sacrifice for a common end. The cement that keeps the various members of the organisation together and which links the centre to the periphery and, vice versa, which ensures that everybody obeys orders is the reciprocal trust and solidarity between comrades, all of whom recognise one final goal; all of whom work in common for a common end (Lenin, What Is To Be Done?).
The party will have to be the general staff of the revolution and the dictatorship, but it will be so only insofar as it has managed to establish an internal dynamic that shuns all those relations between people which are typical of present-day society. The less that internal relations are based on individual squabbles and battles between different groups (the expression of class interests) the less will hierarchies be formal, mechanical, democratic and bureaucratic; the less will the allocation of roles to the various members of the organisation mimic the bourgeois division of labour; the less will individual names count for anything, and the more will there predominate a solid and rational research into the best solutions; the more will there prevail a spontaneous and natural discipline to an approach which is supported by all as a common goal prevail; and the more will there be realised an anonymous, impersonal and collective work of all the cells of which the party organism is composed.
Only insofar as all political struggle ceases within the party can it be an effective organ of the political struggle between classes; only insofar as there is no repression or dictatorship inside the party can it function as an effective organ of dictatorial repression.
The party meanwhile acts as “general staff” insofar as it foreshadows the natural and spontaneous organisation that will distinguish future communist humanity. If the party were to lose this characteristic, if internal struggles between competing interests, coercion, bureaucracy, formalism, careerism and the worship of big names, etc., were to gain the upper hand then its primary function as a political organ, as the general staff of the proletarian revolution, would be weakened. Does this mean the party should be conceived of as “a phalanstery encircled by insurmountable walls”, as “an island of communism in the viscera of present society”? Absolutely not! And why not? Because the party has to exist within the society it is fighting against, and it is exposed to its influence. Thus its organic mode of functioning, its foreshadowing of the future human society, doesn’t arise from a statutory formula premised as the basis on which to organise but as the fruit of a continuous party struggle, from a continuous work directed towards making this a reality; an accomplishment which, same as discipline, is not a point of departure but rather a point of arrival.
Our thesis, which is dynamic rather than static, is that the party grows and becomes stronger in the measure that it manages to realise the mode of functioning appropriate to it; it is weakened in the measure that specific historical situations prevent it from doing so; it dies whenever it ceases to pursue this path or strive for this end, or even if, as in the case of the 3rd international after 1923, it theorizes as appropriate for itself a dynamic typical of societies divided into classes and the parties which represent them.
54 - Lenin on the Path of Revolution, 1924
The party organisation, which allows the class to truly exist as such and lead a life as such, can be viewed as a unitary mechanism in which the various ‘brains’ (not just brains of course, but other organs as well) perform different tasks according to aptitude and capacity, all of them in the service of a common goal and interest which is progressively unified ever more intimately ‘in time and space’.
It is anti-individualist insofar as it is materialist. It doesn’t believe in the soul, or that individuals have metaphysical or transcendental content, but rather assigns the individual, according to his or her role, a place within the collective framework, creating a hierarchy which tends ever more towards an elimination of coercion, which it replaces with technical rationality. The party is already an example of a coercion-free collective.
55 - Powerhouse of Production or Commercial Swamp?, 1954
15 - (...) In one sense the party is the advance depository of reliable knowledge about a society that is yet to come into existence, indeed one that won’t arise until after the political victory and dictatorship of the proletariat. Neither is there anything magical about this, considering that the phenomenon is historically observable in every mode of production, including the bourgeoisie’s, whose theoretical precursors and early political fighters carried out a critique of the forms and values of the time by defending theses which later became generally accepted, whilst in the environment which surrounded them the real bourgeois themselves followed ancient and conformist faiths, not recognising their own palpable material interests in these theoretical enunciations.
56 - Russia and Revolution in the Marxist Theory, 1955
II, 39 - (...) To be exact, there never will be a proletarian consciousness. There is a doctrine, communist knowledge, but this is found within the proletarian party, not in the class (...) Its possession of the revolutionary doctrine makes the party act as the reservoir of the attitudes and positions that the communist social person of the future will adopt.
57 - The Fundamentals of Marxist Revolutionary Communism, 1957
III - (...) The way to overcome this short-coming – which will involve many battles along the way – is through forming organs which avoid modelling themselves on those drawn from the bourgeois world, and which can be nothing but the proletarian party and the proletarian State, within which the society of tomorrow crystallizes in advance of its actual historical existence. Within those organs which we define as "immediate", which copy and bear the physiological imprint of present-day society, nothing can occur but a crystallization and perpetuation of this society.
58 - Original Content of the Communist Programme..., 1958
10 - (...) The capacity to describe in advance and hasten the arrival of the communist future, dialectically sought neither in the individual nor in the universal, may be found in a formula that synthesises the party’s historical potential: the political party, actor and subject of the dictatorship.
If ‘the personality’ represents a danger – in fact he is nothing but a millennial delusion arising from men’s ignorance, separating them from their history as a species – the only way to fight such a danger lies in the qualitatively universal ‘unitarity’ of the party, within which the revolutionary concentration of forces is accomplished, transcending local and national limitations, professional or job categories and the workplace-prison of the wage-earners; the party within which the future society without classes and without exchange already exists.
59 - The Struggles of Classes and States in the Non-white People’s World..., 1958
13 - (...) The Communist Party has no big names or stars, not even Marx and Lenin. It is a force that draws its strength and potential from the humanity which is yet to arise, and whose one life will be a collective and species life, from the simplest of manual roles up to the most complex and arduous mental activities. We define the party as follows: the projection of tomorrow’s Mankind-Society into the present.
That is what we mean in our other texts when we write about the party foreshadowing a future society without classes and without exchange; within which individualism, and any personal ideology or praxis, will die away.
60 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
13 - (...) That within the party there is a tendency to try and create a fiercely anti-bourgeois environment, broadly anticipating the character of communist society, has long been stated, for instance, by the young Italian communists back in 1912.
But such a worthy aspiration should not lead us to consider the ideal party as a phalanstery encircled by insurmountable walls.
That “The Communist Party is not an army, nor a state machine” is a point emphasised continually in our writings. It appears both in the theses we drew up to combat the ‘organisational voluntarism’ which took hold of (and then wrecked) the 3rd international from 1923 onwards, and in the theses, drawing on that tragic experience, which underpinned the life of the party following its reconstitution after the Second World War. On the contrary, the party is a ‘voluntary’ organisation; not in the sense that members make a free rational choice to join, a notion which we reject, but rather in the sense that any militant is “materially free to leave whenever they want”, and “even after the revolution we do not envisage enforcing compulsory membership”. Members of the organisation are required to observe iron discipline in the execution of orders from above, but transgressions of this rule can only be eliminated by the Centre expelling the transgressors. The Centre has no other material sanction by which it can enforce obedience.
Using this basic definition as our point of departure we can identify the elements most likely to guarantee the greatest degree of party discipline; a simple observation which already precludes the achievement of discipline in the party by means of a set of bureaucratic commands or through the use of coercive measures.
What is it the party militant make a commitment to? He make a commitment to a combination of doctrine, programme and tactics, he makes a commitment to an active and fighting front that he instinctively believes everyone else who has joined the party has made. What is it that can keep the militant on the battlefront and make him abide by the orders filtering down to him? It certainly isn’t being compelled to carry out orders, but rather the recognition that these orders arise from this same shared common ground and are consistent with the principles, the final goals, the programme, and with the plan of action which he signed up to.
Thus it is to the extent that the party organ bases its activity on these historical foundations and has the capacity to make them it its own, thoroughly integrating them into the organisation and shaping its entire activity, that the real conditions arise such as to allow for a really solid and discipline. Inasmuch as the latter takes place breaches of discipline not ascribable to individual issues occur less and less and the party acquires the capacity to act in a univocal way. The effort to create an organisation that is truely centralised and capable of responding at all times to unitary instructions therefore essentially involves a continual work of clarification and refinement of the theoretical, programmatic and tactical cornerstones and a continual aligning of the party’s actions and methods of struggle onto these cornerstones.
So, what is prioritised in the party are the clarifications and
of the basic tenets on which the organisation’s very existence depends.
And, in order to finally put a stop to centralism being stupidly
with bureaucratism, we will refer back to some citations from the
of the 3rd World Congress; which in our 1964 Notes on the Theses on
Organisation were revisited and subjected to a detailed commentary.
61 - Notes on the Theses on the Organizational Question, 1964A series of quotes from our core theses now follows. Divided into chapters and set out in chronological order, they show how the Left, deriving lessons from a tragic historical experience, discovered how discipline and centralization might be “guaranteed” within the party organ; not absolutely guaranteed of course, since the party is both a product of and maker of history and consequently its consolidation, development and centralization and conversely its disintegration and extinction, is in the first place either hindered or encouraged depending on the historical situation. Nevertheless, it was able to indicate what might favour the realisation of the maximum level of centralization and discipline, and what might, on the contrary, favour indiscipline, fractionism, and organisational disintegration.
7 -... The following passages already show how dangerous a false interpretation of the formulas democratic centralism and proletarian democracy can be. For example, the centralization of the communist party «does not mean formal, mechanical, centralization, but the centralization of Communist activity, i.e., the creation of a leadership that is strong and effective and at the same time flexible. Formal or mechanical centralization would mean the centralization of power in the hands of the Party bureaucracy, allowing it to dominate the other members of the party or the revolutionary proletarian masses which don’t belong to the party». The thesis proves that the way our centralism has been portrayed by our adversaries is entirely false.
The division between the “bureaucracy” and the “people”, i.e., between the active functionaries and the passive masses, a dualism that also exists in the organisation of the bourgeois State, is then deplored as a defect of the old workers’ movement. Unfortunately these tendencies to formalism and dualism, which the Communist Party must totally eradicate, were somehow ‘passed on’ to the workers’ movement from the bourgeois environment. The ensuing passage, which highlights the two conflicting dangers, the two conflicting extremes of anarchism and bureaucratism, clarifies to what extent communists were prepared to seek salvation in the democratic mechanism: «purely formal democracy within the party cannot get rid of either bureaucratic or anarchistic tendencies, because it is precisely on the basis of such democracy that anarchy and bureaucratism have been able to develop within the workers’ movement. For this reason, all attempts to achieve the centralization of the organization and a strong leadership will be unsuccessful so long as we practice formal democracy» The remaining theses, from the third section onwards, give an outline of communist tasks, propaganda and agitation and the organization of political struggles, and they emphasise that the solution is to be sought in practical action not in organizational codification. The explanation of the link between legal and illegal work is particularly detailed.
The first set of quotations, under the heading “the model organization”, clearly specifies that the “guarantee” that the party will act in a centralized and disciplined manner doesn’t actually reside in any organizational “model”, which once applied to the party would render fractionism and indiscipline impossible. To declare, a priori, that the structure of the party must be such and such, and that indiscipline, disputes and dissent consequently all arise from not conforming to said model structure is to relapse into idealism and voluntarism. A thesis of ours, oft repeated in many contexts, is that the organized and centralized party structure comes about and develops on the basis of the entire complex activity of the party, as its consequence and as its instrument. In 1967 the question was set out in the following way:
«A real force operating within history and characterised by its rigorous continuity, the party’s life and activity rests not on the possession of a statutory patrimony of rules, precepts and constitutional forms (as hypocritically aspired to by bourgeois legalism, or ingenuously dreamt up by the pre-Marxist utopianism, architect of highly planned structures which were to be inserted ready made into the reality of the historical dynamic) but on its nature as an organized body; a body formed in the course of a long succession of theoretical and practical battles, and along the guiding thread of a continuous forward march; as we wrote in our Platform in 1945: “The party’s organisational rules are in keeping with the dialectical conception of its function. They don’t rely on legal recipes or control by regulations, and they transcend the fetish of the consultation of the majority”».It is in the execution of all of its functions, not just one of them, that the party creates its various organs and mechanisms; and in executing them it likewise dismantles and recreates them, adhering not to metaphysical dictates or constitutional paradigms but to the real, in fact organic requirements of its own development. None of these internal workings, these organisational “cogs” within the party machine is “theorisable” either before or after their appearance; nothing entitles us to say – to give a very down to earth example – that the best guarantee that any one of these mechanisms will correspond to the purpose for which it came into being resides in the way it is deployed by one or several militants; all one can ask is that it is deployed, whether by two or by twenty – if there are that many – as though with one will, in full consistency with the party’s past and future historical course, and that if deployed by just one militant, that he do so using his hands and his brain to express the impersonal and collective power of the party. And any judgement about whether or not such a requirement has been fulfilled is provided by praxis, by history, and not by articles in a rulebook. The revolution is not a question of form, but of force; the same goes for the party in its real life, in relation both to its organisation and its doctrine. Even the organisational criterion we defend, namely of the territorial rather than the “cellular” type, is neither deduced from abstract “timeless” principles, nor held up as the perfect “timeless” solution; we adopt it only because it is the other side of the party’s primary function as a synthesiser (of the different groups, trades and elementary impulses).
The second set of quotations establishes, given the party organism is based on a voluntary membership, that the “guarantee” that it will respond to really strict discipline must be sought in a clear definition of the tactical norms which are unique and binding on all, in the consistency of the methods of struggle and in clear organisational rules. When the Left saw fractionism and insubordination tearing the International apart, it didn’t draw the conclusion that improved organisational mechanisms or a stronger centre which was better at repressing the autonomist aspirations of the individual sections was needed. Instead it learnt the lesson that the splits, lack of discipline and resistance to orders were due to tactical norms not having been properly articulated due to a lack of consistency in the party’s methods of action, and due to the increasingly shapeless form the organisation was assuming by way of fusions, filterings and infiltrations of other parties, etc, etc.
The Left’s thesis was that unless the essential preconditions for any kind of organization were re-established on a firm basis, then no amount of ingenuity would establish a strong and disciplined organisational structure, or a strong world centre of proletarian action. And from this would derive such frequently reiterated statements of the Left as: «discipline isn’t a point of departure but a point of arrival» and, «discipline is the reflection and product of the activity of the party based on its doctrine, its programme and on its unitary and homogeneous tactical norms».
The third set of quotations use historical experience to prove that rising dissent and fractionism in the party doesn’t mean “the bourgeoisie is infiltrating” but rather that «some aspect of party work or party life is out of kilter». Fractions are a symptom of a sickness in the party, not the sickness itself. The actual sickness consists in the disintegration, for any number of reasons, of that homogeneous foundation of principles, programme and tactics on which unity and organisational discipline are based.
A «senseless exasperation of hierarchical authoritarianism» won’t,
therefore, prevent disagreements and fractions from multiplying, and
will exerting disciplinary and organisational pressure, shifting people
and groups of people around, resorting to trials and convictions; nor,
much less, will relying on «discipline for discipline’s sake».
restrictions, expulsions, the liquidation of local groups and
terror all tend to disappear if the party organism is healthy:
these features tend to become more common and the general rule of party
functioning if the process of degeneration and self-destruction is
well underway. This is what is emphasised in the fourth set of
whereas the next set culminates in a definition of the internal life of
the party, asserting that it consists not so much in a struggle between
men and groups and between currents and fractions battling it out in a
bid for party leadership, but rather in an effort of continuous
and rational definition of the theoretical, programmatic and tactical
on which the organisational activity of the party must rely. Inside the
party, homogeneity and discipline are achieved not by “internal
struggle” but by working collectively and rationally to integrate and
describe ever more effectively the cornerstones which form the basis of
party action and which everybody shares and accepts. No internal
Having established the fact that out of the
very necessity for the communist party to take action before, during
after the conquest of political power, it must have a centralised and
structure to support its tactical unicity, it is incumbent upon us to
the real dynamic by which such a structure comes about and can be
We entirely agree with Lenin’s statement in What is to be Done?:«Without
a strong organisation skilled in waging political struggle under all
and at all times, there can be no question of that systematic plan of
illumined by firm principles and steadfastly carried out, which alone
worthy of the name of tactics». Without a centralised and unitary
one cannot be said to have achieved unitary tactics; it is only by
organisation as the material instrument of action that tactical
can arise. But the main, crucial statement found constantly throughout
our writings, and one which fully corresponds with the thinking of
in What is to be Done? and at the Third Congress of the
is that this organisation doesn’t first arise as a ‘template’ in
someone’s head, to be then introduced into the real dynamic of the
There is no such thing as a ‘Bolshevik model’ or a ‘Left’ model,
which is capable of being theorised and determined at an abstract level
in advance, and on which the structure of the party can be modelled.
aprioristic hypothesis of such a ‘model’ underpins the so-called
of the 3rd International which served the purpose not of forming
parties, but of destroying communist parties after the First World War.
From 1924 onwards the stance of the Moscow centre, by then already in a state of decline, was that: “the communist parties of Europe are powerless to exploit revolutionary opportunities and apply the correct revolutionary policy because they don’t possess the Russian Bolshevik party’s organisational structure”. Thus the problem was turned on its head, inasmuch as the realisation of the party’s revolutionary path was entrusted to the existence, or lack, of a particular organisational structure, of a model in other words. And this would sound the death knell of the parties and of the International. If it is in fact true that discipline is not a starting-point but a point of arrival – the point of arrival being the collective activity of the party being conducted on the basis of its theory, programme, and unique and homogeneous tactics – it is also true that an organised party structure is “a point of arrival and not a starting point” too; a point to head for, the reflection of the party’s complex activity taking place on the basis of its theoretical, programmatic and tactical tenets within given political, social and historical circumstances. The Bolshevik party’s factory cell organisation certainly wasn’t in response to some organisational model invented by Lenin or any other fairy tale organizer; it was just an organisational reflection of the activity of a collective organ, firmly grounded on revolutionary Marxism, working within the political, social and historical conditions of tsarist Russia. And this structure allowed the Bolshevik party to triumph in Russia, not because it corresponded to a model of what the communist party should be like, but because it best suited the requirements of the political struggle being conducted under Russian conditions; it best reflected the needs of party activity in Russia. The same structural form, once applied to Western Europe, inevitably gave entirely negative results and instead of strengthening the organisation it undermined it.
However the ‘territorial’ structure adopted by the Western parties wasn’t a ‘model’ either, and it was no better or worse than the Bolshevik one.
It was simply a product of history, a historical fact. In an organic way the activity of the Western Communist parties took on the form of territorial sections instead of factory cells, and for a hundred and one material reasons it soon became clear that this form appeared to be the best adapted to accomplish the tasks the party was called on to perform. The most we can say is that having a structure organised into territorial sections responded best to what we consider to be a key task of the party organ: to synthesise the spontaneous and partial impulses which arise at a local, trade and group level. But this is not a principle or an a priori model either. The party organisation is in fact a product of its activity in determined conditions, “it arises and develops on the basis of consistent and coherent party activity undertaken in pursuit of its revolutionary tasks”, whose necessary technical instrument, permitting of no substitute, it is. That is why it is anti-Marxist and wrong to claim that the party of Lenin is the ‘model party organisation’ and why it would be just as wrong to seek a model in the structure of any other party, our own included.
In the period after the 2nd World War, the Left professed to be building a centralised party organisation without recourse to the utilisation of democratic mechanisms internally and, consequently, without statutory and legal codifications. But this too wasn’t in response to the ‘left model’ but to a correct evaluation of the historical development that allows today’s parties to do without the instruments and practices that had to be adopted by the old parties. Right from the start our party had, or rather built, a ‘structural form for its activity’, that is, a centralised structure adapted to the activity the party was required to carry out; the structural form wasn’t a response to an ‘invention’ or to a ‘model’, but to the following given elements: homogeneous and unitary tactical and programmatic foundation (not an ensemble of circles and currents as in Russia in 1900), tactical plan which is unique and defined from the start, as far as its underlying principles are concerned, on the basis of historical lessons (rejection of “revolutionary parliamentarism”, obligation to work in the trade unions, rejection of political united fronts, uncompromising tactics in areas of double revolution). These given elements allowed the organisation to create a structure which from the very start was based around a single newspaper which advocated one political line, thereby enabling the organisation’s various parts to appear not as ‘local circles’ but as territorial sections of a single organisation, with orders and instructions emanating, from the very start, from one, single point (the international centre).
Other elements which characterised the organisational structure were: theoretical activity 99%, external activity amongst the proletariat 1%; number of party members limited to a couple of dozen or couple of hundred. Clearly factors these which were outside anybody’s control. The party organisation, its ‘working’ structure, was what it needed to be and what it only could be as a consequence of these given elements and nothing to do with how Tom, Dick or Harry may have liked it to be. It was an organic structuring of party activity undertaken in real given conditions with a given number of participants. This structuring will change, without prejudice to the historically acquired factual results (theoretical, programmatic and tactical homogeneity; elimination once and for all of all democratic, and thus ‘bureaucratic’, internal party mechanisms) to the extent that the material conditions within which the party conducts its activity also change; to the extent that the quantitative relationship between the various sectors of party activity undergoes change in response to the upsurge of the proletarian struggle, in the measure that party membership increases, etc, etc.
The work of the party requires organs, instruments of centralisation, of co-ordination and of policy; these instruments, mechanisms, etc, are the expression of real demands that arise as a result of its activity. It is the party’s action which needs a suitable structure and which provides the impulse, the urge, to build it, to realise it. This isn’t, on the other hand, a specific structural type that can be imposed on living reality and shape the party as though it were distinct from its activity. To claim that the party, in order to consider itself as such, must possess at every moment of its existence a specific structure, particular organs, etc, is to fall back into the most abstract, anti-Marxist voluntarism. It’s not just us saying this, all our theses say it, and Lenin does as well, when he’s not being misread by philistines searching for sure-fire recipes for success. Because, as we’ve already said, presupposing an ‘organisational model’ necessarily brings in its wake another, even more serious, departure from sound materialism: it leads to recognising in the existence or achievement of this structural type the ‘guarantee’ that the party is pursuing the ‘correct revolutionary policy’. Our classic sequence is turned on its head and organisational structure ends up as the guarantor of tactics, programme and even principles.
For Marx, Lenin and the Left, the sole means of ‘guaranteeing’ that the complex and robust organisation the party needs can exist and be strengthened is by carrying out party work on the base of homogeneity of theory, program and tactics. For idealists of all times, and for the Stalinists, party centralisation, discipline and organisational structure are taken as a priori elements and it is these which ‘guarantee’ the unicity and homogeneity of theory, program and tactics. According to Lenin, organisation is the arm without which tactics cannot be put into effect: one organisation as reflection and organic product of an activity performed on the basis of unique presuppositions and a unique line. For ‘Leninists’ of the Stalinist variety the one organisation, centralism and discipline constitute the initial premise from which one then obtain correct tactics and a unique line of action.
The Marxist declares: if the movement accepts a single theory, a single program and a unitary tactical plan, then by having the party’s activity conducted on such foundations it is possible to develop a centralised and disciplined organisational structure. But if these foundations are found to be wanting, then discipline, centralisation and organisation will accordingly be undermined, and there are no organisational remedies in existence which can head off total collapse.
Stalin maintains you can have divergent tactics which are unclear, variable and subject to change, but, as long as you have centralisation and organisational discipline, everything is fine: divergences, disagreements, currents and fractions can all be eliminated using organisational measures, by reinforcing the organisational structure and by equipping the party with organisational tools and mechanisms which have an inherent capacity to keep the party on the right path. As we can see the process has been completely turned on its head, and it appears that ‘Leninists’ of the Stalinist variety have only read the last chapter What is to be Done?, doing so because they subscribe to the petty-bourgeois myth of the model party; a party whose structure can guarantee it against errors and deviations, today, tomorrow and forever more. The petty bourgeoisie is always looking for reassurance... that the revolution will definitely succeed!
62 - The Democratic Principle, 1922
... None of these considerations are hard and fast rules, and this brings us to our thesis that no constitutional schema amounts to principle, and that majority democracy understood in the formal and arithmetic sense is but one possible method for co-ordinating the relations that arise within collective organisations; a method to which it is absolutely impossible to attribute an intrinsic character of necessity or justice, since such terms actually having no meaning for Marxists, and besides which our aim is not to replace the democratic apparatus criticised by ourselves with yet another mindless project for a party apparatus inherently free of all defects and errors (our italics).
63 - Back to Basics: the Nature of the Communist Party, 1925
... The upshot of all this is we need to recover the fundamental Marxist thesis which holds that the party’s revolutionary character is determined by relations of social forces and political processes and not by empty frameworks, by the type of organisation (...) An anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist utopianism is at the back of all these demonstrations insofar as rather than tackling problems by setting out from an analysis of the actual social forces, it draws up elaborate constitutions, organisational projects and sets of rules. The fallacious ideological approach to the question of fractions, whereby everything is reduced to codifying on paper how fractions are to be prohibited and crushed, draws on a similar misconception.
64 - The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Lyon Theses), 1926
I, 2 -... As regards the perils of degeneration of the revolutionary movement, and of the means to guarantee the required continuity of the political line in its leaders and members, these dangers can’t be eradicated with organisational formulae.
65 - Force, Violence and Dictatorship in the Class Struggle, 1948
V -... The position of the Italian Communist Left on what we could call "the question of revolutionary guarantees" is first of all that no constitutional or contractual provision can protect the party against degeneration.
66 - General Guiding Principles, 1949
... The correct functioning relationship between the central and peripheral organs of the movement isn’t based on constitutional schemas but on the entire dialectical unfolding of the historical struggle of the working class against capitalism.
67 - Notes for the Theses on the Question of Organisation, 1964
6 -... A preliminary paragraph deals with the generalities, and establishes that the issue of organisation cannot be regulated by immutable principles but has to accommodate the purpose behind party activity and the circumstances within which this takes place, both during the phase of revolutionary class struggle and during the following period of transition towards socialism – the first stage of communist society. The different conditions pertaining in different countries have to be taken into account, but within certain prescribed limits. «This limit (today ignored by all) is prescribed by the similarity of the conditions under which the proletarian struggle takes place in the different countries and in the different phases of the proletarian revolution, which is, beyond all individual circumstances, the matter of essential importance for the communist movement. It is this similarity which provides the common basis for the organisation of the communist parties in all countries: it is on this basis that we must develop the organisation of the communist parties and not by striving to create a new model party to replace what already exists, or by seeking a formula for the absolutely perfect organisation, with perfect statutes».
68 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
11 -... The Left staunchly defends another of Marx and Lenin’s fundamental theses, that is, that a remedy for the alternations and historical crises which will inevitably affect the party cannot be found in constitutional or organizational formulae magically endowed with the property of protecting the party against degeneration. Such a false hope is one amongst the many petty-bourgeois illusions dating back to Proudhon and which, via numerous connections, re-emerge in Italian Ordinovism, namely: that the social question can be resolved using a formula based on producers’ organizations. Over the course of party evolution the path followed by the formal parties will undoubtedly be marked by continuous U-turns and ups and downs, and also by ruinous precipices, and will clash with the ascending path of the historical party. Left Marxists direct their efforts towards realigning the broken curve of the contingent parties with the continuous and harmonious curve of the historical party. This is a position of principle, but it is childish to try to transform it into an organizational recipe. In accordance with the historical line, we utilize not only the knowledge of mankind’s, the capitalist class and the proletarian class’s past and present, but also a direct and certain knowledge of society’s and mankind’s future, as mapped out by our doctrine in the certainty that it will culminate in the classless and Stateless society, which could in a certain sense be considered a party-less society; unless one understands by ’party’ an organ which fights not against other parties, but which conducts the defence of mankind against the dangers of physical nature and its evolutionary and eventually catastrophic processes.
The Communist Left has always considered that its long battle against the sad contingencies of the proletariat’s succession of formal parties has been conducted by affirming positions that in a continuous and harmonious way are connected on the luminous trail of the historical party, which continues unbroken along the years and centuries, leading from the first declarations of the nascent proletarian doctrine to the society of the future, which we know very well, insofar as we have thoroughly identified the tissue and ganglia of the present avaricious society which the revolution must sweep away (... )
But equally futile, maybe more so, is the idea of constructing a model of the perfect party, an idea redolent of the decadent weaknesses of the bourgeoisie, which, unable to defend its power, to maintain its crumbling economic system, or even to exert control over its doctrinal thinking, takes refuge in distorted robotic technologisms, in order, through these stupid, formal, automatic models, to ensure its own survival, and to escape scientific certainty, which as far its epoch of history and civilization is concerned can be summed up in one word: Death!
Arranged in date order from 1922 to 1970, the quotations in this chapter follow a continuous line in the communist conception of organisational questions. According to this line the centralised and disciplined organisation of the party is based not on democratic consultation of majority opinion, and less still on the edicts of leaders or group of leaders, but instead on the clarity and continuous clarification of its line on doctrine, principles, programme, aims and on the ever deeper acquisition of these positions by the organisation. It is based, as a consequence, on the demarcation of clear tactical norms, which all members of the organisation need to be aware of along with a clear understanding of all of their possible implications. The work of organisation-building is therefore an indispensable task whose constant aim is to render clear and unequivocal, to the whole organisation, the historical patrimony of experiences and dynamic balance sheets of which the existing organisation is but the current expression. If there exists homogeneity within, and the acceptance by all members, of the theoretical, programmatic and tactical foundations, then there will also necessarily exist, as a result, homogeneity within the realm of organisational discipline; namely, a general and spontaneous obedience to orders issued by the centre.
In the absence of such homogeneity, attempts to resolve differences by applying disciplinary pressure, compelling obedience to the centre’s orders, or through a strong central organ capable of forcing its decisions on the periphery will be entirely in vain. It will be necessary instead to rebuild the homogeneous base by sculpting and honing the party’s doctrinal, programmatic and tactical lines in the light of our tradition. Now this isn’t the same as saying, ‘the party should have no central organs with absolute and non-negotiable powers’; it means that the ensuring that the orders of the centre are obeyed rests not on the latter’s capacity to punish the disobedient, but on it operating in such a way that there are no disobedient people; and such a situation is obtained not by organisational sanctions but through continuous ongoing work on the part of the entire organisation to integrate its doctrinal, programmatic and tactical bases.
When people say that: “divergences on theoretical, programmatic and
tactical questions arise because we don’t have enough organisational
centralisation, because the centre isn’t able, by hook or by crook, to
impose its own solutions on the organisation”, they are turning the
on its head, and veering away from the historical path mapped out by
Left. What is more, the party is destroyed, because what should be at
end of the process is placed at the beginning. Discipline isn’t a point
of departure but a point of arrival, and if at such and such a time the
centre’s orders meet with resistance from within the organisation, this
means that either they are at odds with the traditional foundations on
which the organisation rests (in which case such resistance is
or else the organisation hasn’t fully acquired and incorporated these
traditional foundations. In both cases, enforcement,
measures, and punishment may serve the immediate needs of the party and
get it moving, but it certainly won’t resolve the situation. It is a
cheap shot against the Left to state that having theoretical,
and tactical homogeneity in place doesn’t automatically lead to
centralised organisation. The organisation has to be built, for sure,
it needs to be supported on the foundations we looked at earlier. And
the building of the organisation becomes a purely technical matter; a
consequence in terms of the acquisition of practical instruments that
to coordinate, harmonise and direct the party’s activity. We will have
need of an operational central organ which plans and issues
we will need people to take responsibility for various areas of party
we will need a centralised and efficient communications network; we
need hundreds of operational instruments, and setting them up won’t be
easy. Certainly! But it will all be for nought unless it rests on the
basis. But woe betides us if it is ever thought that these formal
bestow an ultimate guarantee of the good functioning of the party and
its internal discipline. It is a matter of technical instruments that
party has to use in order to act in a co-ordinated and centralised
but these absolutely do not guarantee the actions themselves, or
69 - Theses on Tactics at the 2nd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Rome Theses), 1922
29 - (...) Since the party programme cannot be characterised as a straightforward aim to be achieved by whatever means but rather as a historical perspective of mutually related pathways and points of arrival, the tactics adopted in successive situations must be related to the programme, and thus the general tactical norms adopted in successive situations need to be clearly specified within not too rigid limits, becoming clear and clearer and fluctuating less and less as the movement gains in strength and approaches the final victory. Only such a criterion as this can allow us to approach ever closer to the optimum level of genuine centralization within the parties and the International needed to direct action effectively; in such a way that orders emanating from the centre will be willingly accepted, not just within the communist parties but also within the mass movement they have managed to organise. One mustn’t however forget that, having once accepted the movement’s organic discipline, there is still the factor of initiative on the part of individuals and groups which is dependent on how situations develop and what arises out of them; and on a continual, logical advance in terms of experiences, and changes to the course being followed, to discover the most effective way of combating the conditions of life imposed on the proletariat by the existing system. Thus it is incumbent upon the party and the International to explain the ensemble of general tactical norms in a systematic manner since it might eventually call on its own ranks, and the strata of the proletariat which have rallied around them, to put these tactical norms into practice and to make sacrifices on their behalf.
70 - Theses of the P.C.d’I on the Tactics of the C.I. at the IVth Congress, 1922
(...) In order to avoid crises of discipline and eliminate the danger of opportunism, the Communist International needs to bolster its organisational centralisation with clear, precise tactical resolutions which exactly specify which methods are to be applied.
A political organisation, that is, one based on the voluntary adherence of each of its members, can only respond to the requirements of centralised action when all of its members are aware of, and accept, the array of methods which the centre may order them to apply in various different situations.
The authority and prestige of the centre, which relies on psychological factors rather than material sanctions, depends entirely on the clarity, firmness and continuity of the programmatic proclamations and methods of struggle. The assurance that the proletarian international is able to form a centre of effective unitary action rests solely on this.
A robust organisation can arise only on the sound basis that its organisational norms provide; by assuring each individual that these norms will be applied impartially, rebellions and desertions are reduced to a minimum. The organisational statutes, no less than the ideology and the tactical norms, need to impart a sense of unity and continuity.
71 - Speech by the Left’s Representative at the IV Congress of the C.I., 1922
(...) We support total centralisation and investiture of power within the supreme central organs. But what is needed to ensure compliance with the leading centre’s initiatives isn’t just solemn sermons about discipline on the one hand, and heartfelt pledges to respect it on the other (...) The assurance there will be discipline must be sought elsewhere if we bear in mind, in the light of the Marxist dialectic, the nature of our organisation, which is not a machine, which is not an army, but a real unitary whole, whose development is first of all product and secondly a factor of the developing historical situation. Discipline can only be ensured by specifying the limits within which our methods of action are applicable and by clearly defining our programmes and fundamental tactical resolutions, and our organisational measures.
72 - Communist Organisation and Discipline, 1924
To consider total, perfect discipline, such as would ensue from a universal consensus also in the critical consideration of all the movement’s problems; to consider such discipline not as an end result, but as an infallible means which should be employed with blind conviction, would effectively be saying, in short: “the International is the world Communist Party, and every pronouncement of its central organs must be faithfully followed”. This would surely be to turn the problem, a bit sophistically, on its head.
We must remember, at the start of our analysis of the question, that the communist parties are organisations whose membership is "voluntary". This fact is rooted in the historical nature of parties (...) The fact of the matter is, we cannot force anyone to become a card carrying member, we cannot conscript communists, we cannot impose sanctions on those who do not comply with internal discipline: every member is free to leave whenever he or she wishes (...)
As a consequence we cannot adopt the formula, although it is not without its advantages, of total obedience in the execution of orders from above. The orders which emanate from the central hierarchies are not the starting point, but the result of the functioning of the movement understood as a collectivity (...)
There is no mechanical discipline that can reliably ensure that orders and regulations from above whatever they are" will be put into effect. There is however a set of orders and regulations which respond to the real origins of the movement that can guarantee maximum discipline, that is, of unitary action by the entire organisation; and, conversely, there are other directives which, emanating from the centre could compromise discipline and organisational solidity (...)
In the belief that we remain faithful to Marxist dialectics, we summarise our thesis as follows: the party’s action, and the tactics it adopts, i.e., the way the party acts on the "outside world", has in its turn consequences on the organisation and on its "internal" structure. Anyone who claims the party should be ready, in the name of some kind of limitless discipline, to take part in “any” kind of action, tactic or strategic manoeuvre, i.e., outside the well-defined limits known to all party militants, would fatally compromise the party.
We will only arrive at the maximum desirable level of unity and disciplinary solidity in an efficacious way by confronting the issue on the basis of this platform, not by claiming that it is already prejudicially resolved by a banal rule of mechanical obedience.
73 - Speech by the Left’s Representative at the V Congress of the C.I., 1924
(...) We want real centralisation and real discipline. And for this to happen our tactical directives need to be clear, and the stance of our organisations towards other parties needs to be consistent.
74 - The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Lyon Theses), 1926
I, 3 - (...) Rejecting the possibility, and necessity, of predicting tactics in their broad outlines – not predicting situations, which is much less possible with any degree of certainty, but predicting what we should do in various hypothetical scenarios based on the progression of objective situations – means rejecting the party’s role, and rejecting the only guarantee we can give that party militants and the masses, in all circumstances, will agree to take orders from the leading centre. In this sense the party is not an army, nor is it a mechanism of the State, that is, an organ in which hierarchical authority prevails and voluntary adhesion counts for nothing; we state the obvious in noting that a way is always left open to the party member, incurring no material sanctions, not to obey orders: leaving the party itself. Good tactics are such that, should the situation change, and the leading centre doesn’t have enough time to consult the party and still less the masses, they don’t lead, within the party and the proletariat, to unexpected repercussions which could undermine the success of the revolutionary campaign. The art of predicting how the party will react to orders, and which orders will go down well, is the art of revolutionary tactics; which can be relied upon only to the extent it makes collective use of the experiences of the past, summed up in clear rules of action (...) We have no hesitation in saying that since the party itself is something which is perfectible but not perfect. Much has to be sacrificed for the sake of clarity, to the persuasive capacity of the tactical norms, even if it does entail a certain schematisation (...) A good party doesn’t makes good tactics, good tactics makes a good party, and good tactics can only be ones which are understood and agreed by all in their basic outlines.
75 - Speech by the Left’s Representative at the VI Enlarged Executive Committee of the C.I., 1926
(...) It is true we must have an absolutely homogeneous communist party, without differences of opinion and different groupings within it. But this statement is not a dogma, it isn’t an a priori principle; it is an end for which we can and must fight, in the course of development which will lead to the formation of the true communist party, on condition, that is, that all ideological, tactical and organizational questions have been correctly posed and resolved.
76 - Nature, Function and Tactics of the Revolutionary Party of the Working Class, 1947
(...) The cause of these failures must lie in the fact that successive tactical slogans rained down on the parties and through their cadres with the character of unexpected surprises, without any preparation of communist organization to the various outcomes. In order to foresee the full spectrum of situations and responses, the tactical plans of the party cannot and must not become an esoteric monopoly of supreme hierarchies, but must be rigidly coordinated with theoretical coherence, with the political conscience of militants, in the traditions of the movement’s development, and must permeate the organization in such a way that they are prepared in advance and can foresee what will be the reactions of the unitary structure of the party to the favorable or unfavorable sequence of events in the struggle’s development. To expect something more and different from the party, and to believe that the party will not be smashed by unexpected turns of the helm, is not the same thing as having a more comprehensive and revolutionary concept, but clearly, as demonstrated by concrete historical comparisons, it is the classic process that ends up in opportunism, whereby the revolutionary party either dissolves and is shipwrecked against the defeatist influence of bourgeois politics, or is more easily exposed and disarmed in the face of repressive initiatives.
77 - Force, Violence and Dictatorship in the Class Struggle, 1948
V - (...) The relationship between the militant and the party is based on a commitment, and our conception of this commitment, which avoids the undesirable adjective ‘contractual’, we may define simply as dialectical. It is a dual relationship which flows both ways: from the centre to the base and from the base to the centre. If the action of the centre goes in accordance with the good functioning of the dialectical relationship, it is met by healthy responses from the base.
The celebrated problem of discipline thus consists in setting a system of limitations on rank-and-file militants which is a proper reflection of the limitations set on the action of the leadership.
78 - Marxism and Authority, 1956
29 - (...) The adjective ‘democratic’ acknowledges that at congresses decisions are made, after the the rank-and-file organisations, by counting votes. But is counting votes enough to ensure that the centre will obey the base and not vice-versa? Knowing as we do the inauspiciousness of bourgeois electoralism, does this really make sense?
We will just recall the guarantees so often suggested by ourselves and highlighted again in the Dialogue with the Dead. Doctrine: this was established right at the start in the movement’s classical texts and the Centre isn’t allowed to change it. Organisation: internationally unique, it doesn’t diversify by means of aggregations or fusions but only through the admission of individuals; members cannot belong to other movements. Tactics: potential manoeuvres and actions must be anticipated in decisions made at international congresses using a closed system. The rank-and-file must not initiate actions without the go ahead from the centre: the centre must not give new factors as a pretext for inventing new tactical manoeuvres. The link between the rank-and-file of the party and the centre takes on a dialectical form. If the party is exercising the class dictatorship inside the State, and against those classes against which the State is taking action, there isn’t dictatorship of the centre of the party over the rank-and-file. Such a dictatorship isn’t negated by means of a mechanical and formal internal democracy, but by respecting those dialectical links.
79 - Dialogue with the Dead, 1956
77 - (...) Our guarantees are simple and well-known.
1 - Theory - As we said it doesn’t appear in every phase of history, nor does its appearance depend on Great Men, on Geniuses. It appears only at certain key junctures, and regarding its ‘general particulars’ we know its date of birth, but not its paternity. Our theory necessarily appeared after 1830 on the basis of the English economy. It provides a guarantee (even admitted that perfect truth and science are unattainable goals, and struggling against the scale of the error is all one can realistically expect) insofar as it constitutes the backbone to an entire system. There are only two historical paths open to it: it is either realised or it disappears. The party’s theory consists of a set of laws that govern history and its past and future course, and the guarantee we therefore propose is: no revisions or ‘improvements’ of the theory allowed. No creativity.
2 - Organisation - It must have historical continuity, both as far as remaining faithful to the theory itself is concerned, and continuity in terms of handing on experience derived from the struggle. Only when throughout vast areas of the world and over long periods of time this has been achieved will the great victories come. The guarantee against the centre is that the latter doesn’t have the right to be creative in the orders it issues, and only to have them obeyed to the extent that its battle orders fall within the precise limits of the movement’s doctrine and historical perspective, as established throughout the world and over a long period. The guarantee lies in holding back from exploiting ‘special’ local or national situations, the unexpected emergency, or particular contingencies. Either history allows certain general connections to be established between distant points in space and time, or it is pointless to talk of a revolutionary party, which is fighting to create a future society. Same as we have always dealt with, there are great historical and ‘geographical’ sub-divisions which fundamentally shape the action the party takes: over fields extending across continents and centuries; no party leadership can announce sudden changes of the type that alter from one year to the next. Thousands of examples have confirmed the following theorem of ours: he who announces ‘a new course’ is always a traitor.
The guarantee against the base and the masses lies in the fact that unitary and centralised action, the famous ‘discipline’, is achieved when the leadership is firmly committed to the aforementioned canons of theory and practice, and local groups are not allowed to ‘create’ their own autonomous programmes, perspectives and movements. This dialectical relationship between the base and the apex of the pyramid (which in Moscow thirty years ago we wanted to overturn, to turn on its head) is the key which ensures that the party, as impersonal as it is unique, has the exclusive faculty of reading history, the possibility of intervening in it, and of indicating when such a possibility has arisen. Going from Stalin to a committee of under-Stalinists, nothing has been turned on its head.
3 - Tactics - the mechanism of the party forbids ‘creative’ strategies. The plan of operations is out in the public domain and the precise limits of the territorial and historical fields within which it is to be applied are described. An obvious example: since 1871 the party hasn’t backed any war between States in Europe. Since 1919, the party hasn’t participated (or shouldn’t have...) in any elections in Europe. In Asia and the East, up to now, the party has supported democratic and national revolutionary movements and a fighting alliance between the proletariat and other classes including the local bourgeoisie. We give these crude examples to prevent it being said that there is one rigid scheme which we apply everywhere and always; and to avoid the famous accusation that this construct, which is a completely historical materialist one, derives from immobile postulates which are ethical, aesthetic or even mystical. The party and class dictatorship will not degenerate into a discredited form such as an oligarchy on the condition that it is openly and publicly declared for what it is and set in the context of a broad arc of historical time; making its existence conditional not on a hypocritical majority control, but solely on the strength of the enemy forces. The Marxist party isn’t ashamed of the clear conclusions that emerge from its materialist doctrine; and it won’t be prevented from drawing them by sentimental views or for the sake of appearances.
The programme must contain a clear outline of the future society’s structure, insofar as it is a total negation of the present structure, and this must be our point of arrival everywhere and at all times. Describing present society is only a part of the revolutionary task. Slandering it and deprecating it is not our concern, and neither is the construction of future society within the precincts of the old. But the ruthless destruction of the present relations of production must occur according to a clear programme, which scientifically predicts how over those broken obstacles there will arise the new forms of social organisation, commented on by the party doctrine in such detail.
80 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
13 - (...) The screening of party members in the organic centralist scheme is carried out in a way we have always declared to be contrary to the Moscow centrists. The party continues to hone and refine the distinctive features of its doctrine, of its action and tactics with a unique methodology that transcends spatial and temporal boundaries. Clearly all those who are uncomfortable with these delineations can just leave.
81 - Introduction to “The P.C.d’I’s Theses on Tactics at the IVth Congress of the Communist International”, 1965
(..) Some points relate to the question of organisation. Every tradition of federalism must be eliminated to ensure centralisation and unitary discipline. But this historic problem won’t be resolved with mechanical expedients. The new International too, if it is to avoid opportunist dangers and internal disciplinary crises, must base its centralisation not just on a clear programme, but also on clear tactics and working practices. As early as at the IV Congress we already insisted that this is the sole guarantee on which the Centre can safely base its authority.
82 - Supplementary Theses (...) (Milan Theses), 1966
7 - (...) Within the revolutionary party, as it moves inexorably towards victory, obeying orders is spontaneous and total but not blind or compulsory. In fact, centralised discipline, as illustrated in the theses and associated supporting documentation, is equivalent to a perfect harmony between the duties and actions of the base and those of the centre, and the bureaucratic practices of an anti-Marxist voluntarism are no substitute for this.
83 - Introduction to “The P.C.d’I’s Theses on Tactics at the IVth Congress of the Communist International”, 1970
(...) As a consequence, the foundations of a genuine international discipline, which is not mechanical, not based on the exegesis of civil or penal law, but organic, collapse when they are replaced by a formal discipline imposed by an organ which is both deliberative and executive; whose capacity to maintain the line of theoretical, practical and organisational continuity, within the complex and unpredictable game of manoeuvres, is supposedly conferred on it a priori by the belief that it has somehow been permanently immunised (...)
Discipline is the product of homogeneous programme and consistent practice: once you start introducing the independent variable of improvisation, you end up having to surround it with a whole host of restrictive clauses. At the end of process there is just the knut. Or, if you prefer, Stalin.
84 - Introduction to “The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I. (Lyon Theses), 1970
It is therefore necessary to lay the basis of discipline by supporting it on the firm pedestal of clarity, firmness and invariance of principles and tactical directives. Back in those years whose very brilliance makes them seem a long time ago, discipline was created in an organic way and rooted in the granite-like doctrinal force and practice of the Bolshevik Party; today, either it will be rebuilt on the collective foundation of the world-wide movement, in a spirit of seriousness and fraternal sense of the importance of the hour, or all will be lost (...)
Discipline towards the programme in its original, clear and precise form was not observed; it was said that the confusion arising from this lack of discipline could be prevented by recreating "genuine Bolshevik parties" in vitro. And we all know how these caricatures of Lenin’s party turned out under Stalin’s heel. At the 4th Congress they warned: “Discipline can be guaranteed only by defining the boundaries within which our methods are applicable, by clearly defining our programmes and fundamental tactical resolutions, and through our organisational measures”. At the 5th Congress we repeated that it was pointless pursuing dreams of a trouble free discipline if clarity and accuracy was lacking in the fields on which all discipline and organisational homogeneity depended; that indulging in dreams of a single world party would be in vain if the continuity and the prestige of the international organ was continually being destroyed by conceding, not only to the periphery but to the leaders, the “freedom to choose” the principles which determined practical action and therefore action itself; and that it was hypocritical to invoke the idea of "bolshevisation" if it didn’t signify intransigent ends, and adherence of the means to these ends.
85 - Introduction to the ‘Post 1945 Theses’, 1970
(...) If the party is in possession of such theoretical and practical homogeneity (possession which isn’t guaranteed for all time, but rather a reality to be defended tooth and claw, and if necessary to be won back as many time as it takes), then its organisation, which is simultaneously its discipline, arises and develops organically on the unitary rootstock of program and practical action, and expresses in its diverse forms of explication, in the hierarchy of its organs, a perfect connectedness of the party with the sum of all of its functions.
The Left, therefore, views the appearance within the party of dissent and fractions as the symptom, as the outer manifestation of a sickness that has infected the party organ. Consequently it is a matter not so much of fighting the symptoms but of finding the causes of the illness, which are always to be found in some wrongly conducted aspect of the party’s collective work and its central functions. The party’s activity is veering away from the historical line on which it is based; the organisation’s assimilation of the theoretical, programmatic and tactical foundations is inadequate: consequently different evaluations and fractions may arise. That is the Left’s thesis. Or, the party is going though a degenerative process caused by opportunism and the formation of fractions is the party organ’s healthy reaction to the deviation. Diametrically opposed, as you know, to the thesis continually being rammed home by the current centre, according to which it is the fractions which bring opportunism into the party. The Left’s thesis leads to a practical conclusion: the formation of fractions should set off alarm bells; they indicate that something is not right in the general functioning of the party; that it is necessary, therefore, to find out what it is in the way the party is working that has led to the appearance of fractions. Once the party’s activity is set back on its classical foundations, fractions disappear and there is no further need for them. Here, as well, the accent is placed on the correct method of acting in the theoretical, programmatic and tactical spheres; on achieving clarification within the party by working on the substantive resolution (that is, within the theoretical, programmatic and tactical spheres) of the disagreements that crop up within the party. The present centre’s theses lead to the opposite conclusion: it is fractions which are the disease, and they are due to the opportunist and petty-bourgeois virus trying to penetrate the party; it is consequently necessary to expel, destroy and eradicate fractions; once the instigators of the fractions have been expelled, party life returns to normal. The Left on the other hand believes that opportunism penetrates the party under the banner of unity, of prostration before leaders, of discipline for discipline’s sake. The centre believes that opportunism penetrates the party under the banner of fractionism, of lack of discipline, etc. The Left believes that it isn’t the duty of the party to repress fractionism but to prevent it through “correct revolutionary politics”. The centre believes the main duty of the party should be repressing fractionism, discipline for discipline’s sake, and absolute obedience to the central hierarchies. The Left believes the C.P. could be underwritten with the slogan: “against the causes that allowed fractionism to appear”; the centre believes it should read “against fractionism”. The Left doesn’t believe it is the infected leg infecting the entire organism, but the sick organism infecting the leg. The centre believes amputating the leg would restore the organism to health. The consequences of these opposed views are necessarily as follows: the Left believes that disciplinary measures, organisational pressure, ideological terror and repressive energy are not only not a remedy for fractionism, but are actually a symptom of latent opportunism; the centre believes, on the contrary, that hunting down fractionism, forceful repression, disciplinary measures and mutual mistrust between comrades are indicators of the party organ’s vitality and power. The Left believes that disciplinary measures should be resorted to less and less, finally arriving at a point where they have disappeared altogether. The centre believes that such “ignoble baggage” should become part of the party’s standard mode of functioning. The Left believes the party is functioning well when there is no need to adopt repressive measures. The centre believes the party is functioning well to the extent it has the capacity to adopt measures of this type.
The party’s current centre is therefore going down a path that
from that of revolutionary Marxism and of the Left; its behaviour,
on a perpetual eradication of fractions, is in fact, according to the
a symptom of latent opportunism.
86 - Theses of the P.C.d’I on the Tactics of the C.I. at the 4th Congress, 1922
(...) To the extent that the International applies such expedients [that is, adopts ‘abnormal organisational norms’ that allow the communist parties to fuse with different groups, and thus formally admit fractions from the outset] manifestations of federalism and breakdowns in discipline are bound to occur. If the process were to be reversed or halted in an attempt to eliminate such abnormalities, or if the latter were to become the norm, there would be an extremely serious risk of a relapse into opportunism.
87 - Declaration of the Left on the Organisational Proposals set out at the 4th Congress of the C.I., 1922
(...) I must however emphasise that if we wish to achieve real centralisation, that is a synthesis of the spontaneous forces of the vanguard of the revolutionary movement in the various countries, so we can eliminate the disciplinary crises we see today, we have to centralise our organisational apparatus, sure, but at the same time we must consolidate our methods of struggle and define precisely everything which relates to the C.I’s programme and tactics. We must be able to explain to every group and comrade who belongs to the C.I. exactly what is meant by the duty of unconditional obedience which they sign up to when they enter our ranks.
88 - Communist Organisation and Discipline, 1924
(...) Precisely because we are antidemocratic, we believe that a minority may have views that correspond better to the interests of the revolutionary process than those of the majority. Certainly this only happens in exceptional cases and it is extremely serious when such a disciplinary inversion occurs, as happened in the old International and which we sincerely hope will not occur within our ranks again. But even if we omit to consider this extreme case, there are however other less critical situations when the contribution which groups make by calling on the leading centre to refine or modify its instructions is useful, in fact, indispensable.
89 - The Left’s Motion at the Como National Conference of the P.C.d’I, 1924
10 - It is beyond dispute that in the International, functioning as world Communist Party, organic centralisation and discipline must exclude fractions or groups from taking over the leadership of the national parties, as is happening now in all countries. The Left of the P.C.d’I believes this objective must be achieved as quickly as possible, but considers that it will not be achieved with mechanical impositions and decisions, but rather by ensuring the correct historical development of the International Communist Party, which must run parallel with the clarification of political ideology, the unambiguous definition of tactics, and in conjunction with an organisational consolidation.
90 - The Left’s Response to Zinoviev at the 5th Congress of the C.I., 1924
(...) I said exactly the same thing in that article, namely: “The fact of the matter is that within the International, in all countries, there are fractions battling it out at the congresses to conquer the leadership of their respective parties. We too are of the opinion that these fractions shouldn’t exist if the International is to become a truly centralised world communist party. But what is necessary to achieve this objective? Blaming particular individuals or enforcing discipline to a greater or lesser degree is not enough to get us there: what is needed instead is to carry out the task in the way we have suggested, that is, by impressing on the Communist International a unitary and consistent organisational line. If that happens, fractions will disappear. If this path isn’t followed, but the opposite one is, then the disappearance of the international fractions will not be achieved and the formation of an international fraction will have to be taken into account”.
91 - The International and the Danger of Opportunism, 1925
(...) We can’t see any major drawbacks deriving from an excessive preoccupation with the danger of opportunism. Certainly criticism and alarmism indulged in as a sport is deplorable; but they could also be – when not actually an accurate reflection of “something not working well” or an intuition of impending serious deviations – simply the product of the lucubrations of militants, and certainly these can’t do that much serious harm to the movement and can easily be overcome. Meanwhile, it is extremely dangerous if, on the contrary, as has unfortunately happened on some occasions, the opportunist disease gets worse before anyone dares to energetically sound the alarm. Criticism when errors aren’t being made is a thousand times less harmful than no criticism when errors are being made.
92 - The Platform of the Left, 1925
(...) The emergence and growth of fractions indicates that the party itself is sick; it is a symptom of the vital functions of the party failing to correspond with its aims and it is combated by pinpointing and eliminating the illness, not by abusing disciplinary powers in order to resolve the matter in an inevitably formal and provisional way.
93 - The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Lyon Theses), 1926
II, 5 - Another aspect of the watchword "Bolshevisation" is entrusting the guarantee of the party’s effectiveness to centralised discipline and a strict prohibition of fractionism.
The final court of appeal for all controversial questions is the international central organ, with hegemony being attributed, if not hierarchically, at least politically, to the Russian Communist Party.
Such a guarantee doesn’t actually exist, and the whole approach to the problem is inadequate. The fact of the matter is that the spread of fractionism within the International hasn’t been avoided but has been encouraged instead to assume masked and hypocritical forms. Besides which, from a historical point of view, the overcoming of fractions in the Russian party wasn’t an expedient or a magical recipe applied on statutory grounds, but was the outcome, and the expression of, a sound approach to the questions of doctrine and political action.
The disciplinary sanction is an element that can guarantee against degenerations, but only on condition that its application is restricted to exceptional cases and doesn’t become the general rule, or perhaps even the ideal, of how the party should function (...)
The communist parties must accomplish an organic centralism, which, whilst including as much consultation with the base as possible, ensures the spontaneous elimination of any grouping which starts to differentiate itself. This cannot be achieved by means of the formal and mechanical prescriptions of a hierarchy, but, as Lenin says, by means of correct revolutionary politics.
The repression of fractionism isn’t a fundamental aspect of party evolution, but the preventing of it is.
Since it is fruitless and absurd, not to say extremely dangerous, to claim that the party and the International are somehow mysteriously ensured against any relapse or tendency to relapse into opportunism, which could just as well depend on changing circumstances or on the playing out of residual social-democratic traditions, then we must admit that every difference of opinion not reducible to cases of conscience or personal defeatism could well develop a useful function in the resolution of our problems and serve to protect the party, and the proletariat in general, from the risk of serious danger.
If these dangers accentuate then differentiation will inevitably, but usefully, take on the fractionist form, and this could lead to schisms; not however for the childish reason of a lack of repressive energy on the part of the leaders, but only in the awful hypothesis that the party fails and becomes subject to counter-revolutionary influences (...)
Historically the peril of bourgeois influence on the class party doesn’t appear as the organisation of fractions but rather as a shrewd penetration which stokes up unitary demagoguery and operates as a dictatorship from above, immobilising initiatives by the proletarian vanguard.
The identification and elimination of such a defeatist factor is achieved not by posing the issue of discipline against fractionist initiatives, but rather by managing to orientate the party and the proletariat against such an insidious danger when it takes on the aspect not just of a doctrinal revision, but of an express proposal for an important political manoeuvre with anti-classist consequences.
94 - Speech by the Left’s Representative at the 4th Enlarged Executive Committee of the C.I., 1926
(...) But when differences of opinion do arise, this means that errors of party policy have occurred, that the party does not have the capacity to successfully fight those deviationist tendencies which, at given moments, tend to appear in the working class movement. When cases of non-observance of discipline arise, they are symptomatic of the fact that the party has still not achieved this capacity. Discipline then is a point of arrival, not a point of departure, not a platform that is somehow indestructible. Moreover, this corresponds to the voluntary nature of entry into our organization. So the remedy for the frequent cases of lack of discipline cannot be sought in some kind of party penal code (...)
And now I will come on to fractions. I take the view that to raise the problem of fractions as a moral problem, from the point of view of a penal code is not the correct line of action. Is there any example in history of a comrade forming a fraction for his own amusement? Such a thing has never happened. Is there a historical example of opportunism insinuating itself into the party through a fraction, of the organization of fractions serving as the basis for a defeatist mobilization of the working class and of the revolutionary party being saved thanks to the intervention of the fraction-killers? No. Experience has shown that opportunism always infiltrates our ranks under the guise of unity. It is in its interest to influence the largest possible mass, and it is therefore behind the screen of unity that it puts forward its most deceitful proposals. Moreover, the history of fractions goes to show that if fractions do no honour to the Parties in which they have been formed, they do honour to those who formed them. The history of fractions is the history of Lenin; it is the history not of attacks against the existence of parties, but of their crystallisation and of their defence against opportunist influences (...)
The birth of a fraction shows that something has gone wrong in the party. To remedy the ill, it is necessary to seek out the historical causes which gave rise to it, that gave rise to the fraction and that prompted it to take shape. The causes lie in the ideological and political errors of the party. The fractions are not the sickness, but merely the symptom, and if you want to treat a sick organism, you have to try to discover the causes of the sickness, not combat the symptoms. Besides, in the majority of cases, what one was faced with was groups of comrades who were not in fact making any attempt to create an organization or anything of the kind, but rather seeking to express currents of opinion and tendencies within the normal, regular and collective activity of the party.
95 - Force, Violence, Dictatorship, in the Class Struggle, 1948
V - (...) When such a crisis occurs, precisely because the party is not a short term, reactive organisation, an internal struggle ensues, tendencies form, splits occur, and in such cases these serve a useful purpose, like the fever which frees an organism of disease but which nevertheless "constitutionally" one cannot admit, encourage or tolerate.
So to prevent the party from succumbing to a crisis of opportunism or having to necessarily react against it by forming factions, there are no rules or simple recipes. There is however the experience of many decades of proletarian struggle which have allowed us to identify certain conditions for preventing it, and the study, defence, and realization of these conditions must be an unremitting duty of our movement.
96 - Dialogue with the Dead, 1956
76 - (...) The class has a guide in history, inasmuch as the material factors that set it in motion are crystallised in the party, insofar as the latter possesses a comprehensive and continuous theory, and an organisation in its turn both universal and continuous, which doesn’t break apart and re-form at every turn with mergers and splits; although these are the feverish reactions of such an organism when experiencing a pathological crisis.
97 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
10 - (...) Nevertheless dozens of examples from previously cited texts evidence that the Left, in its underlying thinking, has always rejected elections, and voting for named comrades, or for general theses, as a means of determining choices, and believed that the road to the suppression of these means leads likewise to the abolition of another nasty aspect of politicians’ democraticism, that is, expulsions, removals, and dissolutions of local groups. On many occasions we have openly argued that such disciplinary procedures should be used less and less, until finally they disappear altogether.
If the opposite should occur or, worse still, if these disciplinary questions are wheeled out not to safeguard sound, revolutionary principles, but rather to protect the conscious or unconscious positions of nascent opportunism, as happened in 1924, 1925, 1926, this just means that the central function has been carried out in the wrong way, which determined its loss of any influence on the base, from a disciplinary point of view; and the more that is the case, the more is phoney disciplinary rigour shamelessly praised.
11 - It has always been a firm and consistent position of the Left that if disciplinary crises multiply and become the rule, it signifies that something in the general running of the party is not right, and the problem merits study. Naturally we won’t repudiate ourselves by committing the infantile mistake of seeking salvation in a search for better people or in the choice of leaders and semi-leaders, all of which we hold to be part and parcel of the opportunist phenomenon, historical antagonist of the forward march of left revolutionary Marxism.
The Left’s view, the result among other things of the bloodstained balance sheet of the Stalinian counter-revolution, is this: since organisational discipline is dependent on the collective organisation’s mastery of its tactical, programmatic and theoretical positions, which is not achieved once and for all but which must involve the party in a continuous, daily work of defending, clarifying, explaining and ’fine-tuning’ these cardinal principles; since the appearance in the party of disagreements, acts of insubordination and factional phenomena is just the symptom of this work not being carried out correctly, and is thus a healthy reaction to an inadequate and incorrect approach, then clearly the need for disciplinary pressure will tend to disappear to the extent that the party is in sound health and its struggle is supported on its classical foundations
Clearly these organisational methods are bound to become rare exceptions and eventually disappear; clearly they resolve nothing and guarantee nothing. Likewise it is clear that when such methods become the norm, and almost the preferred mode of internal party functioning, then the party itself is no longer guaranteed against anything, and consequently really does (precisely then!) find itself exposed to opportunist deviations.
Now, on this basis, the Left places another link in our unalterable chain in its correct position: the role of party members, leaders and hierarchies. The latter are bound to exist as technical instruments to coordinate and direct the party’s work as a whole, but their existence does not guarantee the party against errors and deviations. Consequently, when mistakes and deviations occur, they won’t be resolved by judging what people have done, by selecting better people, or by swapping one set of people for another set of people. The solution lies in the collective organ of the party making an honest and rational attempt to reconnect with the historical line which the mistake or deviation caused to be broken. The men can remain the same (unless they are traitors) as long as the party organ gets back on track.
The Left considers, therefore, the ‘personification of mistakes’, the ‘selection of more suitable men’, and the swapping of one person for another, insofar as they are attempts to resolve mistakes and deviations, as the symptom of a distorted view of the dynamics and the life of the party organ. The Left points to the fact that other phenomena inevitably accompany this wrong method, which unfortunately we are presently  encountering in our own organisation, namely: careerism, bureaucratism, and the kind of blind, official optimism which, whilst maintaining everything is fine, arrogantly considers any doubter as a nuisance to be got rid of as quickly as possible; and finally, the superimposing over a passive and terrorized rank and file of a body of functionaries selected solely for their blind faith in the party’s centre.
Faction-hunters and faction-eliminators rampaging through the organisation; spying on each other; systematic lack of trust between comrades; resorting to internal diplomacy: all these phenomena, which have already appeared within our organisation, are just the inevitable corollary of having turned the concept of the party, and its correct functioning, on its head.
The Left doesn’t view the party as a colony of human microbes. The
Left believes the party should apply an organic, functional approach to
allocating the various technical roles to its members, including that
the central role of leadership which, whether it is one person or more
than one person, cannot be expected to provide an absolute guarantee
the party will remain on the correct path. Once again, we will let our
uncorrupted party tradition speak for itself.
98 - The International and the Danger of Opportunism - 1925
(...) In the way of thinking that is gaining ground amongst the leading elements of our movement, we begin to see a clear risk of defeatism and latent pessimism. Instead of manfully facing up to the various difficulties which confront communist action at this time, of courageously discussing the various dangers and using the vital reasoning of our doctrine and our method to tackle these problems, they take refuge instead in an inviolable system. Their greatest pleasure is to discover, with ample use of “he badmouthed Garibaldi” type accusations, with investigations into alleged ideas and not yet expressed personal intentions, that Tom, Dick and Harry have not followed the recipes in the official rulebook, so they can then scream: they are against the International! they are against Leninism! (...)
Such would be the real, worst liquidationism of the party and of the International, accompanied by the characteristic, well-known phenomena of bureaucratic philistinism. The Symptom of it is blind official optimism: everything is fine, and anyone who allows themselves to doubt it is just a nuisance who should be got rid of as soon as possible. We oppose this bad practice precisely because, having remained faithful to the communist cause and to the international, we don’t believe the latter should lower itself to squandering ‘its patrimony’ of power and political influence in such a vulgar fashion (...)
But let us go into this matter of bolshevisation a bit more, and be more specific about what our openly held suspicions are. It is because in practice it takes the form of a cellular form of organisation, over which towers an omnipotent network of officials, selected according to the criterion of blind deference to an official ‘Leninist’ rulebook, who use a tactical and political method of working which it is mistakenly believed will achieve the best response to the highly erratic orders issued by the Executive; who have adopted a historical approach to world communist action in which the last word always has to be sought in precedents set by the Russia party, interpreted by a privileged group of comrades.
99 - The Platform of the Left - 1925
(...) Likewise, we pose the question of discipline as a channelling and utilisation of the party’s growing membership, which the organisational system must be capable of harmonising. In that sense new experiences become the patrimony of the party, which interprets and assimilates them; they don’t become the discovery of a few functionaries who impose them on a passive party, on the basis of interpretations which are mostly plain wrong. Disciplinary sanctions thus become repressions of sporadic cases and not general constrictions imposed on the whole of the party; they should constitute rather a kind of bulwark against individual aberrant manifestations.
100 - The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Lyon Theses) - 1926
II, 5 - (...) Disciplinary sanctions are one of the elements that prevent degeneration, but on the understanding they are only applied in exceptional cases, and do not become the norm and become almost the ideal of how the party should function (...)
The repression of factionalism isn’t a fundamental aspect of the evolution of the party, although preventing it is (...)
The consequence of this method is damaging both to the party and to the proletariat and delays the attainment of the "true" communist party. This method, applied in several sections of the International, is in itself a serious indication of a latent opportunism.
101 - Speech by the Left’s Representative at the VI Enlarged Executive Committee of the C.I. - 1926
(From the Introduction in Il Programma Comunista no.17/1965):
(...) We have selected the passages which refer to the tactical errors and the defeat in Germany, and the famous high pressure disciplinary campaign, known as ‘bolshevisation’, which claimed to outlaw factionalism.
(...) When we were faced with the mistakes to which this tactic had led, above all when the October 1923 defeat in Germany occurred, the International recognized it had been wrong. It wasn’t just a case of a minor mishap: it was a case of an error we would have to pay for, having already acquired the first country for the proletarian revolution, with the hope of conquering another great country; something which, from the perspective of the world revolution, would have been of enormous importance.
Unfortunately, all the International had to say about it was that it is not a question of radically revising the decisions of the Fourth World Congress, it is merely necessary to remove certain comrades who misapplied the united front tactic; it is necessary to seek out those responsible. And they would be found on the right wing of the German party, as nobody was willing to acknowledge that the International as a whole bore the responsibility (...)
However, if we were opposed to the decisions of the Fifth Congress it is above all because they didn’t address and resolve the major errors, and because, in our view, it is not right to limit the question to individuals being put on trial, when what is necessary is a change in the International itself. But they didn’t want to take this robust and courageous path. We have frequently criticized the fact that amongst ourselves, in the milieu within which we work, a parliamentarist and diplomatist state of mind is encouraged. The theses are very left-wing, the speeches are very left-wing, even those against whom they are directed vote for them, because they believe that that way they can immunise themselves (...)
I shall now move on to another aspect of bolshevisation: that of the internal regime which holds sway inside the party and the Communist International. Here, a new discovery has been made: what all of our sections lack is the iron discipline of the Bolsheviks, as exemplified by the Russian party. An absolute ban on factions is proclaimed, and it is decreed that all party members must participate in the common task, whatever their opinions may be. In this field too, I think the question of bolshevisation has been posed in a very demagogic way (...)
A regime of terror has recently established itself in our parties; a kind of sport which consists in intervening, punishing and annihilating, and all of it conducted with great gusto, as though it were precisely the ideal of party life.
The heroes of these brilliant operations even seem convinced that they themselves constitute a proof of revolutionary capacity and energy. I, on the contrary, maintain that real revolutionaries, the best revolutionaries are, in general, those comrades who are the victims of these extraordinary measures, and who patiently put up with them so as not to destroy the party. I consider that this squandering of energy, this sport, this struggle within the party has nothing to do with the revolutionary work we should be carrying out. The day will come when we shall strike down and destroy capitalism; it is in on that terrain that the party will give evidence of its revolutionary power. We do not want anarchy in the party, but neither do we want a regime of continuous reprisals, which is the very negation of party unity and cohesion.
At present the official point of view is as follows: the present leadership is eternal, it can do as it likes because, whenever it takes measures against those who speak out against it, whenever it annihilates intrigue and opposition, it is always right. But there is no merit in repressing revolts because they shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Party unity is evidenced by what it achieves, not by a regime of threats and terror. Clearly we do need sanctions in our statutes; but they should only be applied in exceptional circumstances and not become the normal and general procedure inside the party. When there are elements who flagrantly abandon the common path then clearly action must be taken against them. But when, in an organisation, recourse to a code of sanctions becomes the rule, it means that organisation is not exactly perfect. Sanctions should be used in exceptional cases and not become the rule, a kind of sport, the ideal of the party leadership. This is what has to change, if we want to form a solid ‘bloc’ in the true sense of the word (...)
Before talking about fractions that need to be crushed, one should at least be able to prove they are in contact with the bourgeoisie, or linked to bourgeois circles or milieus, or are based on personal relations with them. If such an analysis is not possible, then we need to find the historical reasons for the birth of the fraction rather than condemning it a priori (...)
The resort to faction-hunting, muck-raking campaigns, police surveillance and the sowing of mistrust between comrades – a method which in fact constitutes the worst factionalism developing in the higher echelons of the party – has only made our movement’s situation worse and pushed all considered and objective criticism towards the path of factionalism.
Such methods cannot ensure party unity: they paralyse and render it impotent instead. A radical transformation of our methods of work is absolutely indispensable. If that does not happen, the consequences will be extremely serious.
102 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
3 - (...) [At the 4th Congress of the 3rd international, the Left denounced the united front between communist and socialist parties, and the watchword of the "workers’ government”]. The Left thirdly denounced, and even more vigorously in the years that followed, the rising opportunist danger; this third issue concerns the International’s method of internal work, with the centre (represented by Moscow’s Executive) using against parties – or sections of parties falling into political errors – methods involving not only "ideological terror", but above all organizational pressure; which constitutes a wrong application and eventually total falsification of the correct principles of centralization and discipline without exception. This method of working was everywhere exacerbated, but particularly in Italy in the years after 1923 (where the Left, with the whole party behind it, displayed exemplary discipline by handing the leadership over to the rightist and centrist comrades appointed by Moscow) when there was much abuse of the spectre of "fractionation", and the constant threat of expelling from the party a current cunningly accused of preparing a split, with the sole aim of ensuring that dangerous centrist errors could predominate in party policy. This third vital point was thoroughly discussed in international Congresses and in Italy, and is no less important than the condemnation of opportunist tactics and of federalist-type organizational formulae (...)
4. - (...) Along with the awkward influence of money, which will disappear in communist society, but only after a long chain of events in which the achievement of the communist dictatorship is but the first step, was added the wielding of an instrument of manoeuvre which we openly declared to be worthy of parliaments and bourgeois diplomacy, or of the extremely bourgeois League of Nations, that is, the encouragement or inculcation, according to the circumstances, of careerism and vain ambition amongst the swarming ranks of petty government officials, so that each of them would be faced with an inexorable choice between immediate and comfortable notoriety, after prostrate acceptance of the theses of the omnipotent central leadership, or else permanent obscurity and possible poverty if he wished to defend the correct revolutionary theses which the central leadership had deviated from.
Today, given the historical evidence, it is beyond dispute that those international and national central leaderships really were on the path of deviation and betrayal. According to the Left’s unchanging theory, this is the condition that must deprive them of any right to obtain, in the name of a hypocritical discipline, an unquestioning obedience from party members.
103 - Introduction to the “The Speech of the Left’s Representative at the 5th Congress of the C.I.” - 1965
(...) The Italian Left’s position was that we shouldn’t be hitting out at individuals, but rather at a false tactical method, denounced by us before at the 4th Congress in 1922, for which the entire International was responsible.
104 - Introduction to “Force, Violence and Dictatorship in the Class Struggle” - 1966
(...) The passages quoted here appear in the concluding part, and make two points crystal clear: that democratic control from below cures nothing and is a classic device of opportunism, whereas the cold and cynical application of disciplinary pressure from above must likewise, with its equally inauspicious history, be eradicated from our party’s methodology and internal life.
105 - Supplementary Theses on the Historical Task, the Action and the Structure of the World Communist Party - ("Milan Theses") - 1966
7 - Another lesson we can draw from events in the life of the Third International (in our writings these are repeatedly recalled in contemporary denunciations by the Left), is that of the vanity of “ideological terror”, a horrible method in which it was attempted to substitute the natural process of diffusing our doctrine’s via contact with harsh reality in a social setting, with forced indoctrination of recalcitrant and confused elements, either for reasons more powerful than party and men or due to a faulty evolution of the party itself, by humiliating them and mortifying them in public congresses open even to the enemy, even if they had been leaders and exponents of party action during important political and historical episodes. It became customary to compel such members (mostly with the threat of demotion to less important positions in the organization’s apparatus) to publicly confess their errors, thus imitating the fideistic and pietistic methods of penance and mea culpa. By such totally philistine means as these, smacking of bourgeois morality, not a single party member ever improved, nor was a cure found for the party’s impending decadence.
Within the revolutionary party, as it moves inexorably towards victory, obeying orders is spontaneous and complete but not blind or compulsory. In fact, centralised discipline, as illustrated in our theses and associated supporting documentation, is equivalent to a perfect harmony of the duties and actions of the rank-and-file with those of the centre, and the bureaucratic practices of an anti-Marxist voluntarism are no substitute for this (...)
The growing abuse of such methods just marks the disastrous triumphal path of the latest wave of opportunism.
106 - Introduction to ‘Theses of the P.C d’I on Tactics at the 4th Congress of the C.I.’ - 1970
(...) Secondly, and for the same reasons, the Left warned that we needed to get off this tortuous path soon or we’d inevitably be swept down the slippery slope. One expedient would lead to another, maybe contradicting the first; then the responsibility and finally the ‘blame’ for the failure of the first expedient would be sought not in its inherent divergence from the final aim, but in its ‘mishandling’ by individuals or groups, frantically running around trying to remedy the situation with brusque twists and turns and impromptu crucifixions of ‘leaders’, deputy leaders and followers. And thus it would undermine the very basis of that essential, not merely formal, international discipline that we, quite rightly, wanted to install (...)
The alarm about a possible relapse into opportunism, which the Left would sound with ever greater insistence from 1922 onwards, related to (this for us, particularly young militants, is another lesson of primary importance,) a phenomenon which was not subjective but objective, and for which not even the Bolsheviks were to blame, because the rise of opportunism cannot be explained as merely due to Tom, Dick or Harry’s ‘mistakes’, but rather through understanding that Tom, Dick and Harry act in the way the path the have taken impels them to act (...) We didn’t want anyone’s head, even when they wanted, and got, ours: we did everything we could to ensure that brain and brawn could get back to working on the one track which we never expected would or should ever be put into question (...)
We have no wish to lower ourselves, and can credit ourselves with not having lowered ourselves, into the infernal cycle of pitting one person against another, into which Trotsky allowed himself to be swept up after 1927 by his more than legitimate disdain for the Stalinist demon. Let us defend Marxism, which is no-one’s intellectual property; let us condemn a deviation and its ineluctable consequences, not the man in the pillory put there for the dubious satisfaction of the judge and the morbid pleasure of the crowd (...)
It is an old corollary of ‘guarantees’ that when they unfortunately have to be applied, the question arises, “who will guarantee the guarantors?” Either the leadership and the “base” are linked by a higher, common tie (and this has to be the programme, invariant and binding on all) or there must arise a judicial apparatus of lower, middle and higher courts, along with a gaggle of lawyers, public prosecutors and, of course, professors of constitutional law. And this apparatus is no metaphysical entity, it is the superstructure of the organisation that theoretically ought to examine and sit in judgement: judge and defendant in one person. So, nothing remains but to subject it, as well, to the supreme authority; but not of the good God (who, at least at present, is debarred) but of the policeman, then the questore, and finally the maresciallo.
107 - Introduction to “The Left’s Theses at the 3rd Congress of the P.C.d’I. ("Lyon Theses") - 1970
(...) The 5th Congress of the Communist International, taking place between 17th June - 8th July 1924, on the one hand reflected the profound confusion of the various parties after two disastrous years of abrupt tactical about-turns and ambiguous edicts (...) and on the other, reaffirmed the practice of crucifying the leaders of the national sections on the altar of the Executive’s infallibility. Once again, the Left raised its lone voice, firmly but calmly shunning local and personal fripperies. If it had ever been in the habit of congratulating itself on the correctness of its predictions, the proletarian blood spilled in vain being the terrible proof of it; or of calling for the heads of "guilty" and "corrupt" leaders to roll to make way for more “innocent” and “incorruptible” heads, then this was the moment. But that wasn’t what the Left asked for or wanted: what it asked for and wanted was for the scalpel to be courageously applied, to surgically remove those deviations from principle of which those "errors" were the inevitable product and the “heads” merely the chance expression (...)
Now that a whole series of tactical innovations was being reeled off and breathing life into the centrifugal currents which lay dormant within every party, with the string of sudden changes generating confusion and disillusionment amongst even the most hardened militants, the question of "discipline" was inevitably posed not as the natural and organic product of a prior theoretical homogeneity and a healthy convergence of practical action, but as a sick reflection of the operational discontinuity and the lack of doctrinal harmony. To the same degree that errors, deviations and capitulations were identified, and attempts made to remedy them by rearranging Central Committees and Executives, the "iron fist" was also applied, and idealized as the standard method within the Comintern and its sections; and used as a highly effective antidote not against adversaries and false friends, but against fellow comrades. The era of the infernal merry-go-round of trials against... ourselves, had begun, which the Left would describe at the 6th Enlarged Executive, as: "the sport of humiliation and ideological terrorism" (often instigated by "humiliated ex-opponents"): and you don’t get trials without gaolers.
Discipline towards the programme in its original, clear and precise form was no longer observed; it was said that any confusion arising from this lack of discipline could be prevented by recreating "genuine Bolshevik parties" in vitro. And we all know how these caricatures of Lenin’s party turned out under Stalin’s heel (...)
We extended the question to include a much wider and more general problem which in 1925-26 incorporated all the questions destined to consume the Russian Party during its internal struggle, we denounced – before it was too late – the frantic and manic "struggle against factionalism"; the witch-hunt that would celebrate its saturnalias during the ignoble campaign against the Russian Left in 1926-28 (...) a witch-hunt which had been shunned by the Bolshevik party in its glorious heyday, even against the open enemy (destroyed if necessary, but not subjected to the cowardly act of mud-slinging) and which, spreading beyond the borders of the Russian State, would produce first the obscene figure of the public prosecutor, then the professional informer, and finally the executioner (...)
“And if, despite everything an internal crisis does occur,” we declared at the 4th Enlarged Executive, “its causes and the means to cure it must be sought elsewhere, that is, in the work and the politics of the party”. But in the eyes of an International, whose congresses would eventually end up as shabby court rooms, where parties, groups and individuals were called to account for the tragic setbacks in Europe and the World, all was now explained as the product of "unfavourable circumstances", of "adverse" situations.
The following quotes will demonstrate that within the correct Marxist vision of the Left the way the Communist Party acts, its internal dynamic, is not that of political struggle, clashes between different positions, one of which has to prevail over the other and dictate its terms to the Party. The prevalence of such a dynamic in the Party indicates that it is no longer the homogeneous and unitary expression of a single class, but rather that of contrasting interests of a variety of classes, which obviously express different political orientations. Internal political struggle shaped the dynamics of the parties of the Second International, precisely because within them a proletarian revolutionary tendency coexisted with a reformist and gradualist petit-bourgeois wing. And when a dynamic of political struggle became dominant in the Third International, this meant its gradual conquest by the counter-revolutionary tendency.
The Left did not conduct any internal political struggles in the Third International, on the contrary, in 1923 it voluntarily allowed itself to be replaced in the direction of the Italian party by the centrists, limiting itself to explaining what the errors and weakness of the international party on various important problems were, and the dangers to which it was exposing itself. It continually called for a rational and objective study on the part of the whole International to find the best solutions to the problems of the party and the “Tesi di Roma” (Rome Theses) of 1922 not only respect absolute centralised executive discipline to the Moscow Centre, but are not intended to be opposed to the positions of the Centre; they are rather a contribution of the Italian section towards a rational solution of tactical questions, in line with the common principles.
Only after 1923 did the Left, by identifying the dangers of falling back into opportunism that the International was evincing ever more evidently, sound the possibility that, if Moscow’s Line wasn’t reversed, an International faction of the Left would need to be constituted to defend the International from the resurrected opportunist wing.
Only in 1926 at the Lyon Congress did the Left present a body of theses completely opposed to that of the Italian Centre, identifying in the latter an amalgamation of elements that had never been grounded in Revolutionary Marxism and counter-posing its tradition as the only one adherent to Communism and Marxism. For the Left, although the Communist Party constitutes itself on the basis of a sole doctrine, of a single programme, of principles clearly enunciated and forming the basis of the individual’s adherence to the Party; and although it is on this homogeneous base the grand scheme of tactics becomes rationally defined, nevertheless the Party never ceases to confront hard and complex questions, which it must resolve every day of its life. But the homogeneity of the foundation on which the Party rests enables it to find solutions to these problems through a method of work and research that is common to all of the Party, a constant clarification of the cardinal points which all militants declare they have accepted and from which the solution to any problem must never diverge. The fact that at certain times a variety of answers can present themselves to the same question, with militants taking up different positions in a search for a solution, cannot induce us to forget the shared heritage on which the Party rests, and to which any and all answers must be bound. Thus the solution to a problem that the centre of the Party decides to apply should not come about as the expression of balances of power between different groups within the Party and of the prevalence of one over the other, but due to its compliance with the line laid down by doctrine, by the programme, and by the tactics of the Party, and this loyalty to the common tradition must be demanded for any formulation of any problem. The solution to the issues that assail the Party thus becomes delegated to a collective work carried out on a united foundation that everybody accepts and is thus susceptible to an objective and rational study.
Towards the centre there must be a total obedience and executive discipline, not insofar as it is the expression of a majority of individual viewpoints, but insofar as it proves to be along the lines of this continuity,
The occurrence of dissent on a determined tactical question or practical work, while it does commit all the members of the organisation to keep loyally carrying out the central orders, does not sanction anyone to say that the Party is divided into currents and fractions that fight between themselves, insofar as the two positions on the problem, that is the object of dissent, are the fruit of the same method of work, and in accordance with the common Party tradition. Thus the errors that may occur in resolving a problem do not authorize anyone to argue that they are due to the presence in the party of a general tactical divergence from the norm, or to accuse people or groups of having committed them because they are dissenters from general Party line.
The Left did not conclude, from the fact that the leadership in Moscow applied the tactic of the united political front, or that of the workers government, that there was a wing of the party that diverged from the general line or had views on the key issues that differed from ours, and when these tactics proved to be wrong in practice, we did not ask for any heads to roll, nor for the leaders of the Parties or of the International to be changed.
The Left always set out, when disagreeing with the International’s solutions to various problems, from the "idealist" and "metaphysical" conception that both we and the supporters of the united front policy and of the workers government were in principle comrades, who accepted a common foundation and who claimed that the solution was to be found in the clarification and explanation of this foundation.
To deny this notion that in the Communist Party we are all in
comrades even when some are wrong and lead the whole party astray
therefore, denying the whole tradition of the struggle of the Left in
International, it means no longer finding answers to the following
– Why didn’t the Left ever ask for the replacement of Moscow Centre, supporter of the united front policy, with another Centre that supported the correct positions?
– Why did the Left spontaneously surrender, into the hands of supporters of the united front and of workers’ government, the leadership of the Italian party, although it was completely on the Left’s positions?
– Why didn’t it accuse Zinoviev, or even Lenin himself, of being an undercover agent in the party?
It is known that the Left asked for none of this, but requested instead that correct tactical positions, binding for all, be sought in a collective work of clarification and definition of the common heritage of us all. In the putting on trial of the men who had made mistakes, in the personification of errors, in the critiques and self-critiques, the Left saw a departure from this healthy dynamic and, consequently, the risk of a relapse into opportunism.
Having to deal with people who love to forget too easily, we are forced to give a practical example. In our small party a dispute over the union issue has led to a confrontation in which a group of comrades has been defined as suffering from activism and voluntarism, and consequently all efforts to resolve the issue (so to speak) were directed towards depriving this section of its duties and responsibilities and passing them to the healthy part. From a possible tactical error such as the "defence of the CGIL" the inference was drawn that we were in the presence of an "anarcho-syndicalist" current within the party and that it was necessary not only to correct the error, but also to unmask this current of which the error was but a reflection.
From 1922 to 1926 the leadership of the Communist International ruined a Party of millions of people and "objectively" sabotaged the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat throughout Europe and the world; but never by pen or by mouth did the Left ever state over those four years, or even afterwards, that the International was led by anti-Marxists and opportunists and that it was necessary to take the leadership of the organization from those who were guilty of fatal errors.
Neither in any of the writings or speeches of the Left will any statement be found that we were fighting against the Executive in Moscow from whose tactical errors it had to be inferred that it was an opportunistic current infiltrated into the Party. We said nothing, even in 1926 when all was lost. And we did not personify Zinoviev’s or Kamenev’s or Trotsky’s errors by sticking labels on them that are only useful to those outside the party; not out of any foolish respect for "personal dignity”, but because we believed, and still believe, that these "errors" were not determined by men.
This is a position completely opposed to the one which says: "we fight against wrong positions, but when they become radicalised we also fight the men who are the carriers of these positions," which is wrong on both counts, because our work in the International was never a political fight, but was about making a contribution and providing clarification. We never fought a political battle either against the wrong positions, or the spokesmen of these positions. We demonstrated that the positions were wrong and tried to set up a collective and impersonal endeavour to find – on the basis of mutual trust, in an environment free of bargaining, diplomacy, conflicts, pressures – the right position in the light of our principles.
Either the premise of our work was that both Amadeo Bordiga, and
"were first and foremost comrades", even when they came up with two
or divergent solutions to the same problem, and that therefore it was
a matter of "condemning" Zinoviev’s solution but of seeking a valid
for the entire Communist movement, or the entire history of the Left
be chucked in the bin.
108 - The Policy of the International - 1925
But then, you’ll say, are you asking in principle that at the next Communist Congress there be struggle and open and violent dissent without the possibility of a common solution?
We respond immediately that if unanimity is reached by the study and advanced objective consideration of the problems, this would be ideal; but artificial unanimity is far more harmful than open dissent during Congressional consultations, provided that executive discipline is always assured.
109 - Communist Organisation and Discipline - 1924
But to be sure that it is actually advancing in the best possible way in the desired direction, and to adapt such a goal to our activity as communists, we must combine our faith in the revolutionary nature and capacity of our glorious world organisation with an ongoing work based on the control and rational evaluation of what goes on within our ranks and of party policy.
110 - Draft Theses Presented by the Left at the III Congress of the C.P.of I. (Lyon Theses) - 1926
I.3 - (...) Basically, what we are rejecting is that the party’s difficult work of collectively defining its tactical norms should be stifled by demands for unconditional obedience to one man, one committee, or one particular party of the International, and its traditional apparatus of leadership.
II.5 - (...) One negative effect of so-called bolshevization has been the replacing of conscious and thoroughgoing political elaboration inside the party, corresponding to significant progress towards a really compact centralism, with superficial and noisy agitation for mechanical formulas of unity for unity’s sake, and discipline for discipline’s sake.
III.10 - The campaign which culminated in the preparations for our 3rd Congress was deliberately launched after the 5th World Congress not as a work of propaganda and elaboration of the directives of the International throughout the party, with the aim of creating a really collective and advanced consciousness, but as an agitation aiming to get comrades to renounce their adherence to the opinions of the Left as quickly as possible and with minimum effort. No thought was given to whether this would be useful or damaging to the party with regard to its effectiveness toward the external enemy, the only objective was to attain this internal objective by any means.
111 - Speech of the Left’s Representative at the Sixth Enlarged Executive Committee of the C.I. - 1926
The issue must therefore be approached in a different way. Even if the current situation and economic prospects do not favour us, or at least are relatively unfavourable, we must not resign ourselves to accepting opportunist deviations and justifying them under the pretext that their causes are to be found in the objective situation. And if, despite everything, an internal crisis takes place, its causes and the means to heal it must be sought elsewhere, i.e., in the party’s activity and political line, which today is not what it should be.
112 - Politique d’abord - 1952
Polemics about persons and between persons, and the use and abuse of personal names, must be replaced by the checking and verification of the statements on which the movement, during successive difficult attempts at reorganisation, has based its work and its struggle.
113 - ’Racial’ Pressure of the Peasantry, Class Pressure of the Coloured Peoples - 1953
We must make this fundamental concept of the Left clear. The substantial and organic unity of the Party, diametrically opposed to the formal and hierarchical unity of the Stalinists, is to be seen as required for doctrine, programme, and the so-called tactics. If by tactics we mean the instruments for action, the latter can only be defined by the same research which, based on the data of past history, led us to establish our final and integral programmatic aims.
114 - Theses on the Historical Duty, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party... (’Theses of Naples’), 1965
5. (...) Having adopted the old watchword "on the thread of time", our movement devoted itself to setting before the eyes and minds of the proletariat the meaning of the historical outcomes which marked the course of the painful retreat. It was not a matter of restricting our function to cultural diffusion or propagandising petty doctrines, but of demonstrating that theory and action are dialectically inseparable fields, and that teachings are not book-learned or academic, but are derived from (we want to avoid the word experiences, today fallen prey to Philistines) the dynamic results of confrontations between real forces of considerable size and range, including those cases in which the final result was a defeat of the revolutionary forces. According to the old classical Marxist criteria we called these: "lessons of counter revolutions".
7. Since it was a case of a transition, a hand over, from a generation which had lived through the glorious struggles of the first post-war period and the Livorno split to the proletarian generation which had to be freed from the mad elation which followed the collapse of fascism, and have its consciousness restored in the autonomous action of the revolutionary party against all other parties, and especially against the social-democratic party; since this transition had to take place in order to reconstitute a force which was committed to the prospect of the proletarian dictatorship and terror against the big bourgeoisie and all of its obnoxious consequences, the new movement, in an organic and spontaneous way, came up with a structural form for its activity which has been subjected to a fifteen-year-long test (...)
8. The working structure of the new movement, convinced of the importance, difficulty and historical duration of its task, which was bound to discourage dubious elements motivated by career considerations because it held no promise, indeed ruled out, any historical victories in the near future, was based on frequent meetings of envoys sent from the organized party sections. Here no debates or polemics between conflicting theses took place, or anything arising out of nostalgia for the malady of anti-fascism, and nothing needed to be voted on or deliberated over. There was simply the organic continuation of the serious historical work of handing on the fertile lessons of the past to present and future generations; to the new vanguards emerging from the ranks of the proletarian masses (...)
This work and this dynamic is inspired by the classic teachings of Marx and Lenin, who presented the great historical revolutionary truths in the form of theses; and these reports and theses of ours, faithfully grounded in the great Marxist tradition, now over a century old, were transmitted by all those present – thanks partly to our press communications – at the local and regional meetings, where this historic material was brought into contact with the party as a whole. It would be nonsense to claim they are perfect texts, irrevocable and unchangeable, because over the years the party has always said that it was material under continuous elaboration, destined to assume an ever better and more complete form; and in fact all ranks of the party, even the youngest elements have always, and with increasing frequency, made remarkable contributions that are in perfect keeping with the Left’s classical line.
115 - Supplementary Theses on the Historical Task, the Action and the Structure of the World Communist Party (Theses of Milan) - 1966
2. The existing small movement perfectly realizes that the dreary historical phase it has traversed makes it very difficult, at such a great historical distance, to utilize the experiences of the great struggles of the past, and not just those of resounding victories but also those arising from bloody defeats and inglorious retreats. The forging of the revolutionary programme, shaped by the correct and un-deformed outlook of our current, isn’t confined to doctrinal rigour and deep historical criticism; it also needs, as its vital life-blood, to connect with the rebellious masses at those times when, pushed to the limits, they are forced to fight. Such a dialectical connection is particularly unlikely today, with the thrust of masses dampened and assuaged, due both to the flacidity of senile capitalism’s crisis, and the increasing ignominy of the opportunist currents. Even admitting the party’s restricted dimensions, we must realize that we are preparing the true party, sound and efficient at the same time, during a historical period in which the infamies of the contemporary social fabric will compel the insurgent masses to return to the vanguard of history; a resurgence which could once again fail if there were no party; a party not plethoric but compact and powerful, and the indispensable organ of revolution.
The sometimes painful contradictions of this period will be overcome by drawing the dialectical lesson that comes from the bitter disappointments of past times, and by courageously making known those dangers which the Left gave timely warnings of and denounced, along with all the insidious forms that the ominous opportunist infection periodically assumes.
116 - Foreword to Draft Theses Presented by the Left at the III Congress of the C.P.of I. (Lyon Theses) - 1970
(...) A curious deduction: in the eyes of an International whose congresses had eventually ended up as shabby trials where parties, groups and individuals would be called to account for the tragic setbacks in Europe and the World, which all came to be explained as the product of "unfavourable circumstances" and "adverse" situations.
In fact it wasn’t trials which were needed but a radical critical revision based on impersonal facts which aimed to uncover the infinitely complex play of cause and effect between objective and subjective factors, and which showed that although the influence of party on these objective facts – considered for a moment in themselves independently of our collective action – was limited, it was still in our power to safeguard, even at the price of unpopularity and lack of immediate successes, the sole conditions under which the subjective factors would be enabled to influence history and stimulate it to bear fruit.
The party would be nothing if it weren’t, objectively and subjectively, both for its militants and the undifferentiated working class, the uninterrupted conducting thread which remains intact through the flux and reflux of varying circumstances, or, even if broken, which remains unaltered. The struggle to keep the thread from breaking, the struggle to keep it intact during the long years of victorious stalinism, the struggle to preserve it and reconstruct the World Party of the Proletariat around it, therein lies the meaning of our battle.