Third (Communist) International
|Fifth Session, February 23, 1926
Ninth Session, February 25, 1926
Fourteenth Session, March 4, 1926
Sixteenth Session, March 8, 1926
Nineteenth Session, March 14, 1926
Twentieth Session, March 15, 1926
Fifth Session, February 23, 1926
Continuation of the Discussion on the Report of Comrade Zinoviev.
[Position of the Left]
In the past years, in the various sessions of the C.I., I had the chance to endorse theses and statements that were at that moment very good and satisfactory; not always, though, in the development of the International’s activity facts have followed the hopes that such statements had aroused in us. It is therefore necessary to discuss and subject to a critical examination the development of the International, from a triple point of view: the events that took place after the last congress, the perspectives of the C.I., and the tasks it must set to itself.
We have a situation in the International which cannot be considered satisfactory. In a certain sense we are in a state of crisis. This crisis did not start today; it has been there for a long time. This statement does not stem from us and other comrades of the extreme left. The facts prove that the existence of this crisis is acknowledged by all. Very often – especially in the critical moments of our general activity – watchwords are launched which after all contain the admission that a profound change of our work methods is necessary. It is true that, in this very moment, it is stated that it is not the case to carry out a revision, that nothing needs to be changed. But this contains a clear contradiction. And to demonstrate that the existence of deviations and of a crisis within the International is here acknowledged by all and not just by the ultra-leftists, we want here to rapidly go over again the history of our International and of its different stages.
After the disaster of the Second International the formation of the Communist International was accomplished on the strength of the slogan: Formation of Communist Parties. Everyone agreed that the objective relations of forces were favourable to the final revolutionary struggle, but we were minus the organ of this struggle. It was said: the objective revolutionary conditions exist, and if we can have communist parties really capable of developing a revolutionary activity, then all necessary conditions for a complete victory will be present.
At the Third Congress, after the experience of many events and especially of the March Action in Germany in 1921, the International was compelled to admit that the formation of Communist Parties alone was not sufficient. Fairly strong sections of the Communist International had been formed in all the most important countries, but the problem of revolutionary action had not been solved. The German party had believed that it was possible to enter the field and start an offensive against the enemy, but was defeated. The Third Congress, having to face this problem, had to realize that the presence of communist parties is not sufficient when the objective conditions for the struggle are missing. The fact that, when we move to such an offensive attitude, the support of large masses should be assured, was not taken into consideration. Not even the strongest communist party is able, in a generally revolutionary situation, to create the conditions and factors needed for an insurrection by a sheer act of will, unless it has been able to rally large masses under its leadership.
This was therefore a stage at which the International realized that a lot had to be changed. It is always maintained that in the speeches of the Third Congress the idea of the united front was already present; the idea was eventually formulated in the meetings of the successive Enlarged Executive, in accordance with the political situation as illustrated by Lenin at the Third Congress. This is not completely correct, as in the meantime the situation had changed. In the period in which there existed an objectively favourable situation, we haven’t been able to utilize in the right way the good method of the offensive against capitalism. After the Third Congress it was no longer the matter of simply launching a second offensive after having previously conquered the masses. The bourgeoisie had preceded us; it had opened, in the most important countries, the offensive against the workers’ organizations and the communist parties; and the tactics of the conquest of masses for the offensive, dealt with at the Third Congress, was turned into defensive tactics against the action launched by capitalist bourgeoisie. These tactics are elaborated, together with the program to carry out, by studying the character of the enemy’s offensive, and by determining the concentration of the proletariat; this being the necessary condition for the conquest of masses by our parties and the passing, in a not distant future, to counter-offensive. In this sense was then conceived the United Front tactics.
No need to say that I have nothing to object to the theses of the Third Congress on the necessity for mass solidarity: I only mention this issue to show that the International was once more forced to admit that it was not sufficiently mature to lead the struggle of the world proletariat.
The application of the United Front led to right wing errors, and these errors became increasingly clear after the Third Congress and especially after the Fourth Congress. These tactics, which can be applied only in a period of defensive struggle, i.e., in a period in which the decomposition of capitalism is no more acute, these tactics we adopted gravely degenerated. In our opinion, these tactics were adopted without any attempt at making their real meaning perfectly clear. We were not able to guarantee the maintenance of the specific character of the communist party. It is not my intention here to repeat the critique we had made of the tactics of the United Front as the majority of the Communist International applied them. We had nothing to object as long as it was a question of making the economic and immediate demands the basis of these tactics, demands that sprang up owing to the offensive of the enemy. But when, under the pretext that it was just a bridge to continue our path towards proletarian dictatorship, the United Front was based on new principles, which directly concerned the central State power and the Workers’ Government, we opposed this, declaring that this slogan made us exceed the limits of good revolutionary tactics.
We communists know very well that the historical development of the working class must lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat, but this is an action, which must influence the broad masses, and these masses cannot be simply won by our ideological propaganda. To the full extent to which we can contribute to the formation of the masses’ revolutionary consciousness, we shall do it by the strength of our position and our stance at each stage of the unfolding of events. This is why this stance cannot – and must not – be in contradiction with our position concerning the final struggle, in other words the goal for which our party was specifically formed. Agitation around a slogan like that of workers’ government, for instance, can only sow disarray in the consciousness of the masses and even of the party and its general staff. We criticized all this from the beginning, so I shall content myself here with recalling in its broad outlines the judgment we expressed at the time.
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. Nevertheless, the theses were revised and a quite different formulation given to the workers’ government.
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. But for our part, we looked beyond the words and foresaw what would happen after the Fifth Congress, that is why we could not declare ourselves satisfied.
I would like here to establish the following: on more than one occasion, the comrades have been obliged to recognize the necessity of a radical change of line. The first time, the question of winning the masses had not been understood. The second time, it was the question of the United Front tactic, and at the Third Congress a complete revision was carried out of the line followed up to that time. But this is not all. At the Fifth Congress, and at the Enlarged Executive meeting of March 1925, it was once again perceived that everything was going badly. It was said: six years have passed since the foundation of the International, but none of its parties have succeeded in making the revolution. To be sure, the situation had deteriorated and we are now confronted by a certain stabilization of capitalism. Nevertheless, it was explained that many things in the activity of the International would have to be changed. There was still no understanding of what had to be done, so the slogan of Bolshevization was launched. It is incomprehensible. What, eight years have gone by since the victory of the Russian Bolsheviks, and we are now obliged to acknowledge that the other parties are not Bolshevik? That a profound transformation is necessary in order to raise them to the level of Bolshevik parties? Had nobody noticed this before?
Why did we not raise a protest against the slogan of bolshevization at the time of the Fifth Congress? Because nobody could be opposed to the statement that other parties must attain the revolutionary capability which made the victory of the Bolshevik Party possible. But now it is not just a question of a mere slogan, a mere watchword. We are dealing with facts and an experience. Now it is necessary to draw up the balance sheet of bolshevization and see what it has consisted in. I maintain that this balance sheet is negative, from several points of view. There has been no resolution of the problem which had to be resolved. The method of bolshevization applied to all parties has not secured their progress. I must examine the problem from various standpoints. First of all, from that of history.
We have only one party, which has achieved the revolutionary victory – the Russian Bolshevik party. The essential thing, for us, is to follow the same path as that which the Russian party adopted to attain its victory, quite right, but that is not enough. It is undeniable that the historical route followed by the Russian party cannot display all the features of the historical development awaiting other parties. The Russian party – it is a fact – fought in specific conditions, in a country in which the feudal autocracy had not yet been overthrown by the capitalist bourgeoisie. Between the fall of the feudal autocracy and the conquest of power by the proletariat, too short a period intervened to be able to compare this development with that which the proletarian revolution will have to achieve in other countries. There was not enough time for a bourgeois state apparatus to be constructed on the ruins of the Tsarist and feudal state apparatus. The course of events in Russia does not offer us the basic experience we need, in order to know how the proletariat is to overthrow the modern, liberal, parliamentary, capitalist state, which has existed for many years and possesses a great defensive capability.
Once these differences are stated, the fact that the Russian Revolution has confirmed our doctrine, our program, and our conception of the role of the working class in the historical process, is theoretically all the more important insofar as the Russian Revolution – even in these specific conditions – accomplished the conquest of power, and the dictatorship of the proletariat realized through the communist party. The theory of revolutionary Marxism found therein its most grandiose historical confirmation. From the ideological point of view, this is of decisive historical importance. But so far as tactics are concerned, it is not enough. It is indispensable for us to know how to attack the modern bourgeois state, which defends itself in armed struggle even more effectively than did the Tsarist autocracy, but which in addition defends itself with the help of ideological mobilization and a defeatist education of the working class by the bourgeoisie. This problem does not appear in the history of the Russian Communist Party.
If "bolshevization" is understood to mean that one may expect to find a solution to all the strategic problems of revolutionary struggle in the revolution achieved by the Russian party, then this concept of bolshevization is inadequate. The International must formulate a broader conception. It must find solutions to our strategic problems outside the Russian experience. The latter must be exploited to the full, none of its characteristic features must be neglected, it must be kept constantly in view, but we also need complementary elements deriving from the experience of the working class in the west. This is what must be said about bolshevization from a historical and tactical point of view. The experience of tactics in Russia has not shown us how the struggle against bourgeois democracy must be waged. It has given us no idea of the difficulties and tasks which the development of the proletarian struggle holds in store for us.
Another side of the problem of Bolshevization will be found in the question of the reorganization of Parties. In 1925, all of a sudden, was said: the entire organization of the sections of the International was wrong. The ABC of organization had not yet been applied. All problems have already been posed, but the essential has not been done yet, that is, the problem of our internal organization has not been solved. It is therefore acknowledged that we have been marching in a completely wrong direction. I know very well that there is no intention to confine the bolshevization watchword to a mere and simple organizational problem. But this issue has an organizational side, and here it has been stressed that it is the most important one. Parties are not organized as the Bolshevik party was and is organized, as their organization is not based on the principle of the workplace; they maintain the territorial type organization, which is supposed to be absolutely irreconcilable with the duties of a revolutionary party, but rather instead characteristic of the socialdemocratic parliamentary parties. If it is deemed necessary to transform in this sense the organization of our parties, and if this transformation is presented not as a practical measure suited to different countries in given conditions, but as a general and fundamental measure for the whole International, as the correction of a basic error, as a necessary premise for the development of our parties into really communist parties – then we cannot agree. Very strange, after all, that one should not have noticed this before. It is maintained that the passage to factory cells was already present in the theses of the Third Congress. Then it is quite odd that we have waited for four years, from 1921 till 1925, before putting into practice what it is alleged was decided.
The thesis according to which the Communist Party must be unconditionally organized on a factory nucleus basis is theoretically wrong. According to Marx and Lenin, and according to a principle that has been known and formulated in a very accurate way, the revolution is not a matter of the form of organization. Devising an organizational formula is not sufficient to solve the problem of the revolution. The problems facing us are of force, not of forms. The Marxists have always fought against the syndicalist and semi-utopian schools which said: let’s regroup the class in a given organization, trade union, cooperative, etc., and the revolution will be done. Today it is said, or at least a campaign is waged in this sense: we must build the organization based on factory nuclei, and all problems of the revolution will be solved. And it is added: the Russian party was able to make the revolution, because it was constructed in this way.
It will certainly be said that I am exaggerating; but numerous comrades will be able to confirm that the campaign was conducted with such theses. What interests us is the impression that these watchwords leave in the working class and in party members. As concerns the nucleus work, the impression was given that this is the infallible recipe of true communism and of revolution. I contest that the communist party should necessarily be constructed on the basis of factory cells. In the organization theses brought forward by Lenin at the Third Congress, it is repeatedly stated that in questions of organization there can be no solution which is equally good for all countries and all times. We do not contest that the situation in Tsarist Russia was such as to justify the Russian Communist Party to organize itself on a factory nucleus basis. I don’t want to dwell too much on this issue; in the exhaustive discussion before the Italian Congress we have already acknowledged that in Russia existed several historical conditions supporting the structuring of organization on such basis.
But we believe that nuclei present certain disadvantages in other countries, if compared to the Russian situation. Why? Above all, because a group of workers organized as a nucleus cannot have the opportunity for discussing all political questions. In the very Report of the C.I. Executive to this Plenum is admitted that in almost no country factory nuclei have been able to deal with political problems. It is said that there have been exaggerations, that parties’ reorganization was made in a hurry; but that it is just a practical, secondary error. But the fact can’t be denied that the party has been deprived of its fundamental organization, an organization capable of discussing political problems, and this is not a mere nothing; nor that the new organization, after an year of existence, is not yet performing this vital task. If such a result is obtained, what we are facing are not individual errors, but rather a wrong approach to the whole problem. And this is not a thing to take lightly. The issue is very important. In our opinion, the fact that factory nuclei do not discuss political problems is not casual, as in a capitalist country workers grouped in the small and narrow boundaries of their enterprise do not have the possibility to face general problems and to connect immediate requests with the ultimate end of communism. In a meeting of workers, who are interested in the same immediate small problems, and who don’t belong to different trades, the issues concerning such immediate demands are widely discussed, but in this assembly there aren’t the conditions for a discussion on general problems, on the problems that concern the whole working class; that is, a class political work, which would be the task of a communist party, cannot be made.
You will probably say that we demand what is demanded by all Right elements, that is to say, the organization of workers into territorial sections where the intellectuals lead in all discussions with never ending speeches. But this danger of demagogy and deceit by chiefs will always exist, it exists since the very inception of the proletarian party; but neither Marx or Lenin, who seriously studied this problem, have ever thought of solving it by boycotting intellectuals and non proletarians. On the contrary, they repeatedly stressed the historically necessary role of deserters from the ruling class in the revolution. It is well known that, as a rule, opportunism and treason penetrate within the party and the masses through certain leaders; but the struggle against this danger must be led in other ways. Even if the working class could do without ex bourgeois intellectuals, it could not renounce to leaders, agitators, journalists, etc., and would have to look for them in the ranks of workers.
But the danger of corruption and demagogy inherent to these elements once they become leaders is as great with them as with the intellectuals. But the danger of corruption and demagogy of these workers become leaders cannot be distinguished from that of corruption and demagogy of intellectuals. In certain cases, ex-workers have played the most ignominious role in the labor movement, and this fact is universally known. Moreover, does organization on a factory nucleus basis as realized today put an end to the role of the intellectuals? It is true to the contrary. It’s the intellectuals that constitute at present, together with ex-workers, the entire apparatus of the Party. The role of these social elements hasn’t changed; on the contrary, it has become even more dangerous. We can admit that these elements can be corrupted by their position as officials, and this problem exists because we gave them a position of far more responsibility, if compared to the past: as a matter of fact, in the small factory nuclei meetings, workers virtually have no freedom of movement, they do not have a sufficient basis to exert an influence on the party thanks to their class instinct.
The danger we are warning against does not therefore lie in the possible influence of intellectuals, but rather in the fact that nuclei workers get involved in the immediate needs of their companies, and do not see the great problems of the general revolutionary development of their class. The new form of organization is therefore less suited to proletarian class struggle in the most serious and broadest sense of the term.
In Russia, the great general problems of revolutionary development, the problem of the State, of the seizure of power, were at all time on the agenda, because the feudal and tsarist state apparatus was irremediably doomed, and because each individual group of workers was placed, by its position in the social life and by the administrative pressure, in front of these problems. The opportunist deviations did not represent in Russia a particular problem, as the conditions for a corruption of the proletarian movement were absent; conditions that exist within the capitalist state, which is well trained in the use of the arms of democratic concessions and collaborationist illusions.
In addition, there is a difference of a practical nature.
We must of course give to our party’s organization the form that better suits the need to oppose retaliations. We must protect ourselves against the attempts of police to disband our party. In Russia the organization by factory nuclei was the best form to this purpose, because in the streets, in towns, in public life, worker’s movement activities were made impossible by extremely strict police regulations. It was therefore materially impossible to organize outside the factory. Only in the factory workers were able to meet to discuss, without surveillance, their problems. Besides, it was only in the firm that class problems were brought on the terrain of antagonism between capital and labor. The small economic issues concerning the firm, such as the problem of fines raised by Lenin, represented from an historical point of view progressive demands, together with the liberal demands workers and bourgeoisie jointly agitated against the tsarist autocracy; but, if compared to the question of the seizure of power in the struggle against bourgeois democracy, for a new form of State, immediate proletarian demands become of a secondary importance. But, as the question of the conquest of power could be raised only after the fall of tsarism, it was necessary to shift the centerthe of struggle in the workplace, that is, on the only terrain on which the autonomous proletarian party could appear and act.
Although in Russia bourgeoisie and capitalists were tsar’s allies, they also were at the same time those who had to bring him down, those who represented the premise to the fall of the autocratic power. That is why there has not been in Russia so complete a solidarity between industrialists and the State, as is the case in modern countries. In these countries a complete solidarity between the state apparatus and the employers exists: it is their State, their political apparatus. And it is the state apparatus to prove to be historically an instrument of capitalism, and to make available for employers the ad hoc instruments it created. When a workman endeavors to organize the others in a firm, the employer resorts to police, espionage, etc. That is why in modern capitalist States party work in factories is far more dangerous. It is an easy matter for the bourgeoisie to find out what work is done in the factory. That is why we propose to have the basic organization of the Party not in factories and workshops, but rather outside. Let me mention here a minor episode. In Italy today new police officers are being enrolled. The conditions for admittance are very strict. But for those who have a trade and can work in a factory admittance is far easier. This demonstrates that the Police are looking for people able to work in the different branches of industry, in order to utilize them to discover the revolutionary work in the factories.
Besides, we also learnt that an international anti-bolshevik association has decided to organize on the nuclei structure, to counterbalance the communist movement.
Another issue. It has been said here that another danger has appeared, the danger of workers’ aristocracy. Clearly this danger is distinctive of the periods when we are threatened by opportunism and by the role it tries to exert in the corruption of the labor movement. But the simplest way to infiltrate the influence of workers’ aristocracy within our ranks is by no doubt that of the factory nuclei based organization; this because the influence of the worker who has an higher position in labor hierarchy unavoidably dominates in workplace meetings.
For all these reasons, and without making it a matter of principle, we ask that the basic organization of the party, for political and technical reasons, remains the territorial organization.
Does this attitude of ours mean that we will neglect Party work in the factories? Do we deny that communist work in the factories is an important basis for our connection with the masses? Certainly not. The Party must have its own organization in the factories, but it must not form the basis of the Party. It is essential to have Party organization in the factories, subjected to Party’s political direction. It is impossible to be in contact with the working class without a factory organization, but this organization must be the communist fraction. To corroborate my thesis, let me say that in Italy, when fascism did not yet exist, we had created such a network of fractions, and considered this activity as the most important for us. In practice, were the communist fractions in firms and in trade unions that always responded to the specific duty of bringing us near to the masses; at the same time, the connection with the party gives these organs of work the political and class elements in the broadest sense of the term, elements that are not limited by the narrow ambience of trade and factory. We therefore favor a network of communist organizations in factories; but, in our opinion, the political work must be carried out within territorial organizations.
I cannot here dwell on the deductions drawn on our behavior on this issue in the course of the pre-congress discussions in Italy. At the congress and in our theses we have developed in an exhaustive way the theoretical question of the nature of the party. It has been asserted that our point of view is not a class point of view; we are supposed to have pretended that the party let heterogeneous elements, such as intellectuals for instance, develop a greater activity. That is not true. We do not combat the organization based solely on factory nuclei because in that way the party will only be composed of workers. What scares us is the danger of laborism and workerism, the worst anti-marxist danger. The party is proletarian because it is on the historical path of the revolution, of the struggle for the ultimate ends to which only the working class aspires. This is what makes of a party a proletarian party, not the automatic criterion of its social composition.
The character of the party is not compromised by the active participation of all those who take part to its work, accept its doctrine, and are willing to fight for its class ends.
All that can be said on this terrain in favor of factory nuclei is common demagogy which, although resting on the watchword of Bolshevization, straightforwardly leads us to repudiate the struggle of Marxism and Leninism against the trite mechanical and defeatist conception of opportunism and Menshevism.
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.
If we put the question like this: does just anyone have the right to form a faction? – Then every communist will answer – no! But the question cannot be put in this way. There are already results showing that the methods used have served neither the party nor the International. This question of internal discipline and factions must be approached from a Marxist viewpoint, in a quite different and more complex way. We are asked: what do you want? Do you want the party to resemble a parliament, in which everyone has a democratic right to bid for power and strive to secure a majority? But this is the wrong way to pose the question. If it is posed like this, there is only one possible answer; of course, we would be against such a ridiculous regime. 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. Within the working class, it is the economic relations in which the various groups exist which determine the actions and initiatives of the class struggle. The political party has the role of gathering together and uniting whatever these actions have in common, from the point of view of the revolutionary goals of the working class of the world as a whole. Unity inside the party, the suppression of internal differences of opinion, the disappearance of factional struggles, will be a proof that the party is on the best path for carrying out its tasks correctly. 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.
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.
The theses proposed here contain a few fine phrases in this respect. A little more freedom is conceded. But perhaps this comes somewhat late. Possibly, it is thought safe to give a little more freedom to people who have been "crushed" and can no longer stir hand or foot. But let us move away from the theses and consider the facts. It has always been said that our parties should be built on the principle of democratic centralism. It would perhaps be no bad thing if we could find another expression instead of democracy – but the formula was provided by Lenin. How is democratic centralism to be achieved? Well, of course, through the eligibility of all leading comrades and consultation of the mass of the party on certain key questions. Obviously, there may be exceptions to this rule in a revolutionary party. It is permissible for the leadership on occasion to say: comrades, the party would normally be consulting you, but since the struggle against our enemies has just entered a dangerous period and there is not a minute to lose, we are acting without consulting you. But what is dangerous is to give the impression of a consultation, when what is really involved is an initiative taken from above. That is to abuse the leadership’s control of the party apparatus and press to pursue its own ends. In Italy, we said that we accept dictatorship, but detest such "Giolittian" methods. For is bourgeois democracy anything but a method of trickery? And can this be the kind of democracy you are granting us within the party? Can this be what you are striving to achieve? Then we say that a dictatorship would be better, which at least does not mask itself hypocritically. What must be introduced is a genuine form of democracy, in other words, one that allows the leadership to take advantage of the party apparatus only for good ends. Otherwise, there cannot fail to be malaise and dissatisfaction, especially amongst the working class. We must have a healthier regime in the party.
It is absolutely indispensable that the party should be allowed to form an opinion and express it with frankness. At the congress of the Italian party I said that the mistake had been not making a distinction, within the party, between agitation and propaganda. Agitation is carried out among a large mass of people to make clear a given number of very simple ideas; propaganda, by contrast, concerns a relatively limited stratum of comrades to whom we set out a greater number of complex ideas. The error that we succumbed to was to limit ourselves to agitation within the party; to consider the mass of party members, in principle, as mentally handicapped; to treat them as elements that can be set in motion, and not as an active factor of the common effort. An agitation based on formulae learnt by heart is up to a certain extent conceivable when it is intended to set the broad masses in motion, and if initiative and consciousness play a secondary role. But within the party things are completely different. We ask that, within the party, these methods are stopped. The party must gather within itself that part of the working class which possesses class consciousness and in which class consciousness prevails – unless you advocate precisely the elitist theory that previously served as an accusation (and a baseless accusation) against us. It is necessary that the mass of the party members develops a collective political consciousness, that they study the problems that the communist party faces in depth. In this sense, it is a matter of the utmost urgency to change the internal regime of the party.
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; it is not a history of attacks against their existence.
When a fraction is being organized, one must have evidence before saying that it is, directly or indirectly, bourgeois schemes to insinuate inside the party. I don’t think that, as a rule, this kind of maneuvers takes such forms. At the congress of the Italian party the issue was posed by us with reference to the party left. We all know the history of opportunism. When does a group become the representative of bourgeois influences within a proletarian party? In general, such groups have found a fertile ground among union officials, or among party members of parliament, that is, among comrades who, with reference to questions of party strategy and tactics, behaved as the spokesmen of class collaboration, of the alliance with other political and social line-ups. 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 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. 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.
Let us take for example, the crisis of the French Party. What was the procedure in this Party against the fractions? A very bad procedure, for instance, with respect to a syndicalist fraction which is on the point of formation. Certain comrades, expelled from the Party, have returned to their former affections and are publishing a periodical to explain their ideas. They are, of course, wrong, but what has caused them to do so. The naughty boys, Rosmer and Monatte, did not act on the impulse of a caprice. The causes for their action are to seek in the errors of the French Party and of the entire International.
When we entered the field on the ideological ground against the syndicalist errors, we were able to wring large layers of workers from the influx of syndicalist and anarchist elements. Now these concepts emerge again at the surface. Why? The internal party regime, its excessive Machiavellism, participated in giving a bad impression to the working class, and made the resurgence of those theories possible, and of the prejudice that the political party is in itself something dirty, and that only the economical struggle can save the proletarian class. These fundamental errors threaten to reappear within the proletariat because the International and the Communist Parties have not been able to demonstrate by deeds and by simple theoretical statements the enormous difference which exists between a policy conceived in a revolutionary and Leninist spirit and that of the old Social Democratic Parties, whose degeneration before the War had caused as a reaction the birth of syndicalism.
Within the French proletariat the old theories of economic action, and of opposition to any political activity, had some success; this was due to a number of mistakes made in the political line of the communist party.
Semard: - You say that fractions have their causes in the errors of party’s leadership. But the right fraction in France was formed in the very moment when the Central acknowledged and corrected its errors.
Speaker: - Comrade Semard, if you are planning to meet the Lord with the sole merit of having acknowledged your errors, then you won’t have done enough for the salvation of your soul.
I believe, comrades, that it is necessary, with our proletarian strategy and tactics, to expose the errors these anarcho-syndicalists make. Within the working class the impression has developed that in the communist party there are the same deficiencies existing in all other political parties; that is why certain diffidence still exists towards our party. This diffidence is originated by the methods and maneuvers applied in our ranks. One would say that we act, not only towards the outside of the party, but also in the party’s internal political life, as if good "politics" was an art, a technique common to all parties. As if we were to work while carrying in our pocket a Machiavellian manual of political cleverness. But the party of the working class has the duty of introducing a new form of politics, which has nothing in common with the base and deceitful methods of bourgeois parliamentarism. If we can’t demonstrate this to the proletariat, we will never be able to acquire a useful and vigorous influence on it, and anarcho-syndicalists will have the upper hand.
The Right Fraction in France, I do not hesitate saying so, is a healthy phenomenon; it does not in itself represent the permeation of petty bourgeois elements in the party.
The theory and tactics it advocates are wrong, but in part they are a very useful reaction to the political errors and the unsatisfactory internal regime of the Party. The responsibility of these errors, though, does not only fall upon the central of the French party. It is the general line of the International to determine the formation of fractions. Indeed, on the question of the united front, I am on a completely antithetical position with respect to the point of view of the French right, but I believe it is right when it is said that the deliberations of the Vth congress are not at all clear, that they are completely unsatisfactory. On the one hand, in many instances the united front from above is admitted; on the other, it is added that the social democracy is the left wing of the bourgeoisie and that our task must be to expose its leaders. This position is untenable. The French workers are sick and tired of an application of the united front as that made in France. Of course, numerous leaders of the French opposition are moving on a wrong way, diametrically opposed to the really revolutionary attitude, when they draw their conclusions in the sense of a "loyal" united front and of a coalition with social democracy.
It is obvious that, when the problem of the right is confined to the question whether it is acceptable to collaborate to a magazine that is out of party control, there can be only one answer. But this is not the way to solve the problem. We must try and correct our mistakes, and subject the political line of the French party to a thorough exam; the same should be done, in many occasions, with the International’s line. The problem is not solved by applying against the opposition, against Lariot, etc. the rules of a petty catechism on personal behavior. To correct errors it is not sufficient to chop off heads, one should rather find out and eliminate the initial errors, which cause the discontent and determine the formation of fractions.
It is said to us: to find the mistakes in our machinery of bolshevization we have the International; the majority of the International must intervene whenever a party central makes a mistake; this is the guarantee against deviations within national sections. But in practice this system has failed. Germany provides an example of this kind of International intervention. The central of the KPD had become omnipotent, and made impossible any opposition in the party: still, there has been someone above it that, at a given moment, has condemned all crimes and errors perpetrated by this central: Moscow’s Executive, with its Open Letter. Is this a good method? No, it certainly isn’t. What reflexes does such an action have? We had an example of it in Italy, during the discussion for the party congress. A good comrade, a literally orthodox one, is delegated to the congress of the German party. He sees that all goes perfectly, that an overwhelming majority voted for the theses of the International, and that the new central is elected in universal agreement, with the exception of a negligible minority. The Italian delegate comes back and gives a very favorable report on the German party. He also writes an article in which he depicts it as a model of Bolshevik party. It might well be that, as a consequence of that, several comrades of our opposition have become supporters of bolshevization. But, two weeks later, comes the Open Letter of the Executive It states that the internal life of the German party is very bad, that it is run dictatorially, that its whole tactics is completely wrong, that serious mistakes have been made, that grave deviations have occurred, that the ideology is not Leninist. It is forgotten that at the Vth congress the Left leadership of the C.P.G. had been proclaimed the most authentically Bolshevik; now it is pitilessly overthrown by employing with them the same methods formerly used with the right. At the Vth congress the watchword was: "It’s all Brandler’s fault!" Now it is said: "It’s all Ruth Fisher’s fault!" I maintain that in this way we cannot draw the support of the working class. It can’t be said that a couple of comrades are to be blamed for the mistakes. The International was there, to follow the development of events; it could not, it should not ignore both the competency of the leaders and their political deeds. Now some will say that I am defending the German left, just as the Vth congress I was accused to defend the right. But I don’t solidarize, politically speaking, with any of the two; I only am of the opinion that, in both cases, the International must assume the responsibility of the mistakes that have been made; yes, the International, which had solidarized in full with these groups, which had presented them as the best leadership, which entrusted to them the party.
The intervention of the International center in the affairs of national sections has thus in several cases been less than fortunate. The question is: which are the International’s methods of work, its relations with the national sections and its way of forming their leading bodies?
I already criticized our methods of work at the last congress. There is no genuine collective collaboration in our leading bodies and congresses. The International center appears quite alien to our sections, managing discussion within them and choosing in each a faction to support. This center is backed on every question by all the other sections, which hope in this way to assure themselves of better treatment when their own turn comes. At times those who place themselves on such "horse dealings" are merely personal groupings of leaders.
People tell us: the international leadership derives from the hegemony of the Russian party, which is justified by the fact that it made the revolution and harbors the International’s headquarters. That is why it is necessary to accord determinant importance to decisions prompted by the Russian party, which is our leader. But then the problem arises of how the Russian party resolves international questions. This is a question we all have every right to pose.
Since the most recent events, since the last discussion, this fulcrum of the whole system is no longer sufficiently stable. In the latest discussion in the Russian party, we have seen comrades who claim to have an identical knowledge of Leninism, and who unquestionably have an identical right to speak in the name of the Bolshevik revolutionary tradition, each using quotations from Lenin against the other in argument and each interpreting Russian experience in his own favor. Without going into the substance of the discussion, it is just this undeniable fact which I want to establish here.
Who, in this situation, will decide in the last instance on international problems? One can no longer answer: the Bolshevik Old Guard, for this reply leads in practice to no solutions. Thus the fulcrum of the entire system resists objective investigation. But this means it is clearly necessary to seek a different solution. We may compare our international organization to a pyramid. This pyramid must have an apex and sides which mount towards that apex. This is how we may represent our unity and necessary centralization. But today, as a result of our tactics, the pyramid is standing dangerously on its apex. It must therefore be reversed and stood back on its base, so that it is stable again. Hence, our conclusion on the question of bolshevization is that we must not be satisfied with mere modifications of a secondary nature, but the whole system must be modified from top to bottom.
Having thus summed up the past action of the International, it is essential to give an appreciation of the present situation and of the future tasks. The general statement concerning stabilization has been accepted by everyone; it is not therefore necessary to dwell on it. The decomposition of capitalism is at present in a less acute stage. There have been certain vacillations with respect to the development of the general crisis of capitalism. We have before us the perspective of the definite decay of capitalism, but in my opinion certain errors of appreciation have crept in with respect to the perspective. There are several ways to face the problem of the perspective. Comrade Zinoviev has reminded us of a few useful things when he spoke of the double perspective of Lenin.
If we proceed like a scientific society for the study of social events, we can arrive at objective conclusions of a more or less optimistic or of a more or less pessimistic character, and this is a manner which does not take events into account. But such a purely scientific perspective will not do for a revolutionary Party which participates in all events, which is in itself a factor of them, and which cannot express its function in a metaphysical way: on the one side as concerns its exact knowledge of phenomena, and its function in them, on the other as to will and action. Therefore our party must stay all the time directly connected to its ultimate ends. The Party cannot renounce its final task, its revolutionary will, even if the cold, scientific perspective is unfavorable. It was not a banal scientifical error the fact that Marx expected the revolution in 1848, 1859 and 1870, and that Lenin after 1905 prophesized it for 1907, exactly ten years before its triumph; this rather demonstrates the sharpness of the revolutionary vision of these great chiefs. Nor was it infantile exaggeration, according to which the revolution is all the time knocking at the door; it is instead the real revolutionary attitude, which remains unchanged in spite of all hardships of historical development. The issue of the perspective has for our parties an enormous interest, and it would deserve far more attention. I consider insufficient that one says: "The situation has changed in a way that is unfavorable for us; we no longer have with us the situation of 1920, and this justifies the internal crisis in certain Sections and in the International." No, this can help to explain the causes of some errors, but it does not justify them. From a political point of view, this is not enough. We cannot, we must not accept and consider unchangeable the present, defective, regime within our parties, just because the external situation is unfavorable. In this way, the question is incorrectly presented. It is obvious that, while our party is a factor of events, it is at the same time a product of them; this also if we succeed in creating a really revolutionary world party. Now, in which sense do events reflect in this party? In the sense that the number of our members increases, and our influence on masses grows, when the crisis of capitalism engenders a situation favorable to us. If, on the contrary, at a given moment the situation becomes unfavorable, it may well be that our forces get reduced in number; but when that occurs we must not allow our ideology to suffer from it; not just our tradition, and our organization, but also our political line must remain intact.
If we believe that, to prepare the parties to their revolutionary task, we must exploit the situation of increasing crisis of capitalism, we are going to give ourselves a scheme of perspectives that is completely wrong; as the economical situation should do us the favor of remaining revolutionary for a longer time so that we can at the right moment pass from preparation to action. If, after a period of uncertain economical situation, the crisis gets suddenly acute, we will be unable to exploit it because, owing to this wrong attitude, our parties will find themselves in a state of bewilderment, confusion, impotence. This demonstrates that we are not able to make good use of the experience of opportunism in the IInd International. We can’t deny that, before the world war, there had been a period of capitalist blossoming, and a favorable economical situation. But, while it can in a sense explain the opportunist decomposition of the IInd International, it does not justify opportunism. We have fought this idea, and refused to believe that opportunism is a necessary fact, historically imposed by events. We asserted the thesis that the movement should resist this fatalist view, and the Marxist left has fought opportunism as far back as before 1914, by advocating the creation of healthy and revolutionary proletarian parties.
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. 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.
There is another scheme of perspective which must be fought against and which confronts us when we turn our attention from the purely economic analysis to that of the social and political forces. It is generally accepted that we must consider the fact that a left petty-bourgeois party is in power as a political situation favorable to our preparation and to our struggle. This wrong perspective is first of all a contradiction of the first because it most frequently happens in the state of economic crisis favorable to us that the bourgeoisie organizes a right government for a reactionary offensive, which means that objective conditions become unfavorable to us. To get to a Marxist solution of the problem these commonplaces must be abandoned.
Generally speaking, it is not true that the existence of a left bourgeois government will be favorable to us: the contrary may be the case. Historical examples have shown us how absurd it would be to imagine that in order to lighten our task a so-called middle class government with a liberal program would make its appearance, a government which would enable us to organize an effective and united struggle against a weakened State apparatus.
Here, too, we are faced by the influence of an erroneous interpretation of the Russian experience. In the revolution of February 1917, after the fall of the former state apparatus, a government was constituted that based itself on the bourgeoisie and liberal petty-bourgeoisie. But that was not a solid state apparatus able to substitute tsarist autocracy with the economical rule of capital, and a modern parliamentary representation. Before such an apparatus could be created the proletariat, led by the communist party, was able to successfully attack the government and seize the power. It can be believed that in other countries things will develop similarly, that one fine day the government will pass from the hands of the bourgeois parties to those of the intermediate parties, that in such a circumstance the state apparatus will be weakened and that, consequently, it will be easy for the proletariat to overthrow it. But this simplified perspective is completely wrong. What is the situation like in all other countries? Can we consider a change of government, by which a left government takes the place of a right government (for instance the left coalition in France in place of the national bloc), as a historical change of the state foundations? It is possible that the proletariat exploits this period to strengthen its positions. But if what we have is the mere and simple passing from a right to a left government, then the situation favorable to communism, of a general break-up of the State apparatus, is not there. Do we have concrete historical examples to illustrate the alleged development according to which a left government would pave the way to the proletarian revolution? No, we don’t.
In 1919 we witnessed in Germany the access of a left bourgeois bloc to power. We even witnessed the management of affairs in the hands of the Social Democrats. In spite of the military defeat of Germany, in spite of the terrible crisis, the state apparatus did not undergo any substantial transformation able to make proletarian victory any easier; not only the communist revolution failed, the Social Democrats were its executioners.
After we shall have promoted, by our tactics, the access to power of a Left Government, will we have obtained more favorable conditions for ourselves? No, this is not at all the case. It is a Menshevik conception to imagine that the State machine will be different in the hands of the lower middle classes to what it is in the hands of the big bourgeoisie, and to consider such a period as a transition period leading to the epoch of the seizure of power. Certain parties of the bourgeoisie have an appropriate program and bring forward appropriate demands with the object of attracting the lower middle classes. Generally speaking, this is not a process in which power passes from one social group to another, it is only a new defensive method of the bourgeoisie against us, and when this takes place we cannot say that this is the most propitious moment for our intervention. This change can be utilized but only provided our preceding position has been perfectly clear and we have not invoked the success of a Left Bloc element.
For instance, in Italy, can it be said that Fascism is the triumph of the Right bourgeoisie over the Left bourgeoisie? Certainly not, fascism is something more than that, it is the synthesis of two methods of defense of the bourgeois class. The recent acts of the Fascist Government have clearly shown that the semi-bourgeois and petty-bourgeois composition of fascism does not prevent the latter being a direct agent of capitalism. As a mass organization (the fascist organization has a million members) it is endeavoring not only to strike down ruthlessly its opponents – especially the adversaries who dare attack the State machine – but also to mobilize the masses by means of Social Democratic permeation methods.
On this field fascism has suffered evident defeats. This bears out our point of view on the class struggle; but what is most forcibly shown by all this is the absolute impotence of the middle classes. During the last few years they have accomplished three complete evolutions: in 1919-20 they crowded our revolutionary meetings; in 1921-22 they formed cadres of "black shirts"; in 1924 they went over to the Opposition after Matteotti’s assassination; today they are coming back to Fascism. Always with the strongest is their motto.
Another fact deserves to be remarked. In the programs of almost all left parties and governments is the principle that, although all should have the fundamental liberal "guarantees", it is necessary to make an exception for those parties pursuing the overthrowing of state institutions, that is, for the communist parties.
The wrong conception of the advantages which we could derive from the access to power of a Left Bloc Government consists in imagining the middle classes capable of an independent solution of the problem of power. In my opinion, there is a very serious error in the so-called new tactic which has been applied in Germany and in France and with which the proposal made by the Italian Party to the Aventino anti-fascist opposition is connected. I cannot understand how a Party, so rich in revolutionary traditions as our German Party, can take seriously the accusation of the Social Democrats that it was playing Hindenburg’s game by bringing forward an independent candidature. Generally speaking, the plan of the bourgeoisie for the counterrevolutionary mobilization of masses consists in substituting the class contrast between bourgeoisie and proletariat with a political and historical dualism; the communist party instead insists on class dualism, not because it is the only possible dualism in the social perspective and with reference to the modifications of parliamentary power, but rather because it is the only dualism that is historically able to lead to the revolutionary overthrow of the class State apparatus and to the formation of a new State. But we cannot bring home this dualism to the consciousness of the masses merely by ideological declarations and abstract propaganda. We can only do so by our actions and by the evidence and the clarity of our political position. When it was proposed to the anti-fascist bourgeoisie in Italy to constitute itself as an anti-parliament in which Communists would have participated – even if it was stated in our press that no confidence should be placed in these Parties, even if the pretence was made to expose them by this means – in reality we contributed to encouraging the masses to expect the overthrow of fascism by the Aventino, to make them believe in the possibility of a revolutionary struggle and the formation of an anti-State not on a class basis, but rather on a basis of collaboration with the petty bourgeois elements and even with entirely capitalist groupings. In view of the failure of the Aventino this maneuver did not result in bringing the masses into a class front. This new tactic was not only alien to the resolution of the Fifth Congress, it was in my opinion even alien to the principles and the program of Communism.
What are our tasks for the future? This assembly cannot concern itself seriously with this problem without confronting, in its full dimensions and all its gravity, the fundamental question of the historical relations between Soviet Russia and the capitalist world. Alongside the problem of the revolutionary strategy of the proletariat, the problem of the international peasant movement, and the problem of colonial and oppressed peoples, the question of the Russian Communist Party’s state policy is today the most important of all for us. The Russian party must assess the interplay of class relations inside Russia, take the necessary steps to check the influence of the peasants and the bourgeoning petty bourgeois strata, and defend itself from external pressures, which are today merely economical and diplomatic, but which tomorrow might assume a military aspect. Since a revolutionary overturn has not yet occurred in other countries, it is necessary to coordinate policy in Russia as closely as possible with the overall revolutionary policy of the proletariat. I do not intend to go fully into this question here, but I maintain that in this struggle, yes, we must certainly base ourselves first and foremost upon the Russian working class and its communist party, but it is of fundamental importance that we also base ourselves upon the proletariat of the capitalist states, whose class sense is determined by direct contiguity with its capitalist adversary. The problem of Russian policy cannot be resolved within the narrow limits of the Russian movement alone, the direct collaboration of the whole C.I. is absolutely essential.
Without such collaboration, not only revolutionary strategy in Russia, but also our policies in the capitalist States will be seriously threatened. A tendency may emerge to water down the character and role of the communist parties. We are already in fact under attack in this sense, not from within our own ranks, but from social democrat and opportunist circles. Related to this is the question of our campaign for international trade union unity and our attitude to the IInd International. We are all agreed here that the communist parties must unconditionally maintain their revolutionary independence. All the same, it is necessary to warn of the possible emergence of a tendency to replace communist parties with organisms of a less explicit kind, which would not have strict class aims and would exert a function of political weakening and neutralization. In the present situation, it is our unquestionable common duty to defend the international and communist character of our party organization against any liquidationist tendency.
After the criticisms we have made, can we consider the International, such as it exists today, adequately armed for this double task – of working out a correct strategy both for Russia and for the other countries? Can we demand, for instance, immediate discussion of all Russian problems by this assembly? To this question we must, alas, reply in the negative. It is absolutely essential to carry out a serious revision of the internal regime of our parties, and to include on their immediate agenda the problems of tactics on a world scale and State policy in the USSR. But tackling these questions requires a new course, with completely different methods.
In the report and the theses which have been proposed, we find no adequate basis for resolving these matters. What we need is not official optimism. We have to understand that it is not small methods – of the kind we have too often seen employed here – which can equip us to carry out the grandiose tasks which confront the general staff of the world revolution.
This version is taken from the Comintern publication International Press Correspondence,
Vol. 6, No. 20, 17th March 1926, produced in Vienna.
Ninth Session, February 25, 1926
[Discussion on the report of the executive]
(Bordiga starts to speak again)
Comrades, in my speech I dealt with the general issues of the politics of the International. Several speakers did not confine themselves to discuss my general statements, and spoke also of the Italian problems I had absolutely not touched on. I am therefore compelled to answer very briefly to the things that have been said here.
Let us speak, first of all, of the famous system, of the new theory, of the Italian left. It is said “the system of Bordiga, the theory of Bordiga, the metaphysics of Bordiga” and it is established that here I am completely alone, that I always and only defend my personal views and my personal critique. My attitude is presented as of an absolutely individual nature. But although only recently the “official” defeat of the Italian left has been acknowledged, something on which I will say here a few more words, I must again repeat that I am not going to entertain this audience with individual intellectual products; I instead represent the thought of a group within the Italian communist movement. Some will say that that it is an insignificant group, a small minority; but this I believe is not correct. A comrade, a worker of the left who lives in Russia, told me days ago a few quite interesting things: “In a certain way we are playing an international role, because the Italian people are a people of migrants in the economical and social sense of the word, and after the advent of fascism also in a political sense”. And actually, after the March on Rome, thousands of good comrades were dispersed throughout the world and tried and give their best in different parties. The same comrade made a naïf statement which I find extremely interesting: “it happens to us as with the Jews, and if in Italy we have been defeated, we can be consoled by the fact that although Jews are not strong in Palestine, they are strong elsewhere”
What I am representing here are not, therefore, merely personal ideas, but rather the expression of the thought of a whole group.
Let’s take a look at the famous system of the Italian left. In the course of the discussion for our party’s congress, it appeared that, with reference to several fundamental issues such as nature of the party, role of the party, relationship between party activity and general situation, between us and (it is stated) Marxism and Leninism. Of course I can’t dwell at large on the great theoretical questions. All the material of the Italian congress is available, and from it can be seen that, although we openly admit to systematically diverge in given tactical issues from the International’s guidelines (with particular reference to the development of the revolutionary strategy in the passage from the Russian revolution to world revolution), we assume a completely correct theoretical position from the Marxist point of view with reference to the general and programmatic questions, the issue of the nature of the party and of its historical role, of the relationship between party and masses. What’s more, we believe that precisely those who are criticizing us are about to deviate from such correct positions. When, for instance, comrade Ercoli, of the official majority of the Italian party, approaches the issue of factory nuclei with the argument that, thanks to nuclei, the connection between party and mass is achieved; that they represent the most important terrain for party activity; and that they even absorb the whole of our work, then I am of the opinion that we are facing a very serious deviation. In the Italian discussion we have tried to characterize (with a complete and deep analysis) many deviations of the group to which comrade Ercoli belongs. If we believe that all party work consists in establishing a tie with the masses, after which all the rest comes automatically, then we have arrived at an out and out Menshevism. The tie with the masses is necessary, but part of the problem lies in the possibility for the masses to find in our party a centre around which to rally, a centre that is able to lead them towards the final revolutionary objectives. We have examples of parties that, in spite of having the masses with them, not being really revolutionary parties have led those masses to defeat.
It can’t be denied that situations exist in which the masses are motivated to act according to a non communist politics. In this case the theory of Ercoli is absolutely opportunist. If in place of aiming at the conquest of masses we start from the conquest of masses as the supreme principle, we are facing the purest Menshevism. The matter is not to establish whether or not the nuclei give us a large connection with the masses, an issue on which there is still plenty to discuss, the problem to solve is if this connection is of a revolutionary nature. If any organic connection with the masses must be in itself revolutionary, this only proves the rightness of our statement, that the organization based on factory nuclei leads to workerism and laborism.
To establish an automatic relationship between the social basis – in the strictest sense of the term – and the political character of the party, is tantamount as saying that any party that organizes the working class must be, by virtue of it, a revolutionary party; which belongs to the very nature of Menshevism. Although I won’t go any deeper into this problem, I maintain that therefore we are not those who have abandoned the terrain of the theory of Marx and Lenin.
Comrade Bukharin has criticized my speech in a very warm and friendly way. There’s no need to say here that comrade Bukharin is a good polemist. But this time he behaved in his usual way, i.e., he passed my statements off in his own way and in the sense of the legend, long widespread, of Bordiga’s theories. I do not pretend to be handsome, but the portrait Bukharin made of me is horrible. He ascribes to me certain formulations, attacks them and crumbles them. In his speech he tells us that the internal regime of the International must be changed; but the ways he has in polemizing authorize us to be extremely pessimist as to the perspectives of a recovery of our internal regime. Bukharin is here making agitation. Therefore agitation is not only made among workers and in the party, it is even made at the Plenum of the Enlarged Executive. Allow me to say that maybe it is far easier to make agitation among you than among workers.
Comrade Bukharin simplifies ideas. To be able to simplify positions and to present them in a few words is certainly a great merit; but even more difficult is to carry out this simplification without confining oneself to mere agitation, and participating to the really serious work, to the common work to which we all must give our contribution according to our energies.
To simplify without agitation demagogy – here is the great revolutionary problem. This kind of maestros of simplification is quite rare. Undoubtedly comrade Bukharin has exceptional qualities, of which he should make use to operate in this sense within the International. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that after the speeches of several great leaders of the Russian revolution, we are not going to listen sufficiently often to expositions that perform the great duty of simplifying without demagogy.
A few words on some objections of comrade Bukharin... He puts forward the following argument: Bordiga’s contradictions originate from the idea that the revolution is not a matter of organizational forms; nevertheless, he eventually dealt with bolshevization uniquely from the point of view of organization, suggesting as a solution for the whole problem a change of a purely organizational nature, that is, the reversal of the famous pyramid. But all this is not true. First of all, I spoke of bolshevization from several viewpoints; I criticized it from the theoretical, historical and tactical points of view. This proves that I do not consider the bolshevization activity as a mere organizational problem; I rather consider it a political problem of the International’s activity and tactics. Besides, you must admit that all our opposition was on tactical problems, and that it is above all for these problems that we suggest solutions, which are different from those accepted in the world congresses. It is absolutely clear that to solve a problem a simple organizational change is not enough. We therefore expect that, through action and tactics, be demonstrated that we really possess a sound revolutionary direction.
Another argument of comrade Bukharin: Bordiga is against the mechanical transfer of Russian experiences to other countries but, having forgotten the specific character of the situation in the various countries of Western Europe, he is himself guilty of a mechanical transposition. Actually, my thesis is quite different. I said: any Russian experience is in general useful, and we must not, and cannot, forget it; but that is not enough. Consequently, I don’t reject the utilization of the Russian experience; I maintain however that the experience of the Russian party cannot contain the entire solution of the problems of revolutionary tactics. Which is the peculiar character of revolutionary strategy in the west that I am supposed to have forgotten? Comrade Bukharin says that in my speech the existence of large social-democratic parties and trade unions is not mentioned; which is precisely the difference on which I insisted. To illustrate the differences as regards the relationships with the state apparatus, in the Russian revolution and in the west, I said that in the western countries there has been for a long time a very stable bourgeois democratic state apparatus, playing a role that the history of the Russian movement does not know. Such a role may determine the possibility of a mobilization of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie in an opportunist sense, through the trade unions and the social-democratic parties. My analysis makes reference to this essential aspect of the situation in the west. The possibility to ideologically mobilize the working class is far greater in countries with liberal traditions than it was in Russia, and this explains the development of social-democratic organizations in the west. Comrade Bukharin cannot therefore say that I contradict myself, that I am guilty of a mechanical transposition. Sure enough, I do not agree with him when he says that, according to the Russian experience, it is precisely the tactic of the united front the one that should be transplanted on a larger scale in the west. I believe that on this issue the Russian comrades are making a mistake. Certain maneuvers which could be successful when dealing with the Menshevik and social-revolutionary parties, which were not so tightly connected to the state apparatus, cannot be harmlessly transferred to the western countries. If we insist in doing so, we will find an obstacle in the possibility for the bourgeoisie to mobilize the proletariat, and will be bitterly disappointed. I am not going to go any deeper in this analysis, also because I’ve already dealt with it in my first speech. I only note that the contradictions comrade Bukharin has denounced do not exist.
To solve our tactical problems we need much more than bolshevization, much more than the conviction that it is sufficient to study the history of the Bolshevik party to find the solutions to all problems. We need additional experiences, and such experiences the International must draw them from the world workers’ and communist movement.
Another objection: when I spoke of the differences as to the question of nuclei in Russia and in the west, I am alleged to say, according to Bukharin, the question of the state, that is the central political problem, which in Russia was set by history, would not be posed by history in the west. Comrade Bukharin therefore maintains that I have a pessimist perspective, of the social-democratic type. What I actually stated is that the communist workers, when they confine their activity to the frame of the factory nucleus, run the risk of forgetting the central problem of the conquest of power. I believe that this problem is posed by history also in the west, but our role of communist parties consists precisely in giving the proletariat the means to solve this problem in a unitary sense. The party must avoid to make maneuvers that save the bourgeoisie. It must avoid relapsing in that laborism that has already helped several times the bourgeoisie to stay in power. The problem has been already posed, but we have not been able to exploit its elements; it is not sufficient, then, that the problem is set by history. Also this objection is therefore unjustified.
Let’s move to the Italian question. As concerns the critique I made of the tactics, vis à vis the antifascists and the proposals of the anti-parliament, comrade Ercoli said that this critique is wrong as I don’t take into account the analysis of the situation, while the central of the Italian party is fortunately relying on an exact analysis of the new situation. Now, I am stating that that analysis was false. We have in our hands a document on which during the preparation of the congress has been discussed a lot: the report of comrade Gramsci to the central, written in September 1924 (Matteotti had been killed in June). This report contains a completely wrong perspective: it asserts that fascism has already been beaten by the bourgeois opposition and that the monarchy itself would be about to liquidate fascism on the parliamentary terrain.
(Interruption of Ercoli: we only foresaw a compromise between fascism and Aventino, which actually took place).
You foresaw Mussolini’s dismissal. The force relation between fascism and opposition has been evaluated in a completely erroneous way, and also the analysis of the situation was consequently completely erroneous. Therefore there was an error in the perspective and an error in the party maneuver. The formula was used: the situation is democratic. A really astonishing study of the situation: if the situation is reactionary, for the communist party there’s nothing to do; if the situation is democratic, there’s work to do for the petty-bourgeois parties. In this way our party, the communist party, completely vanishes from the stage.
Another argument of Ercoli: the maneuver was good, because it obtained successes. In the first place, the criticism the comrades of the Left made to the tactics of anti-parliamentarism was, to a certain extent, considered correct by the comrades of the Center themselves. It is said, for instance, that the decision to get back to the parliament should have been taken long before, and not after the parliament holidays. We say more than that: from the very beginning we should not have tailed behind the bourgeois opposition, have participated to its meetings, nor leave together with it the House. The comrades of the Center say: we did well, because we obtained successes, because party influence grew. But the situation is as follows: complete collapse of the bourgeois and semi-bourgeois anti-fascist opposition. In such a situation the communist party should have gained a decisive influence, above all within the working class and the peasantry; it should, with its tactical line, have proved to be up to the role of the third, independent factor of the political struggle. But the development of events was not exploited in this manner. The success Ercoli talks about consisted in the increase of the membership. But the two issues cannot be tightly connected. Presently our membership is decreasing, but the central maintains that it is a numerical loss accompanied by an increase of influence. I was speaking of the party as the political factor of the situation. I’d like to be able to be optimist, but everything is proving that we did not obtain anything, and that we did not exploit a situation that was very favorable to us.
And now the last issue I wanted to talk about, i.e., the party’s internal situation. We are accused to be a fractionist organization and on this campaign was constructed the whole building of the congress preparation. I am here asserting that the Left fraction has, since the beginning of the Italian congress, made a statement in which it questioned the validity of the congress, and requested the judgment of the International. I’m not trying to evoke here certain polemics, but I am formally asking that organs of the International examine given questions, such as, for instance, the incredible accusations comrade Ercoli made from this tribune against the comrades of the Left. We never solicited party officials to leave the party and to assume positions in the Comitato d’Intesa. We never did it because it would have been a gross mistake. The document on which this accusation is grounded still has to be presented. There is only the letter of the comrade who is supposed to have received such a request, and it is maintained that also the letter exists in which he was invited to act in that sense. But this letter has never been exhibited. They assert today that this letter exists somewhere; but, due to the gravity of the accusation, we have the right to require that it is grounded on evidence. And we will be able to prove that such a charge is completely false.
But let’s forget about all that. The activity of the Left has been discussed. It has been said, for instance, that we have been beaten in the strongest federations, that the party got weakened in the federations in which we have influence. The very opposite is true. The federations Ercoli talks about, Milano, Torino and Napoli, are exactly those in which the Left is strongest.
As concerns the way the congress was prepared, it must be said that a system of party consultation has been discovered according to which even I, Bordiga, as a member of a party organization, have voted for the theses of the central! How was that possible? We will discuss this another time. But it is enough to give an idea of the value of the figures provided by the congress.
Of all this, though, we don’t worry too much. I only want to tell the comrades that in our polemics within the congress we criticized ordinovism, the ideological and political position of our central. Finally, with regard to the fact that we were forced to be part of the central, we have made a very accurate statement.
Comrades, I am getting to the conclusion. As far as the internal regime and the reversal of the pyramid are concerned, I cannot here reply to what comrade Bukharin has said on this issue and on fractions. But I am asking: will a change in the future take place as to our internal relations? Does this plenary meeting demonstrate that a new way will be followed? While it is asserted here that the regime of internal terror must cease, the statements of the French and Italian delegates raise for us some doubts, although the theses speak of the realization of a new lifestyle within the party. We are waiting to see you at work.
I believe that the hunt to the so-called fractionism will continue, and will give the same results as we’ve had so far. We see it also in the way it is attempted to solve the German issue and several other problems.
I must say that this method of personal humiliation is a deplorable method, even when adopted towards political elements who deserve to be bitterly fought. I don’t think it is a revolutionary method. I think that the majority, who is today giving proof of its orthodoxy by having fun at the expense of the persecuted sinners, is most likely made of humiliated ex-opponents. We know that such methods have been used, and probably will be employed again, with comrades who not only have a revolutionary tradition, but who still are precious elements for our future struggles. This mania of self-demolition must end, if we really intend to qualify for the direction of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.
The sight of this plenary session justifies gloomy perspectives as to the changes about to occur within the International. I will therefore vote against the project for a resolution that has been presented.
(German protocol, pp. 283-289)
Fourteenth Session, March 4, 1926
[Discussion on the Losowsky report on the Trade union issue]
Bordiga: Comrades, I would like today to deal with two issues: international trade union unity and trade union tactics in Italy.
When, at the Vth Congress, a new proposal was made for our trade union strategy, i.e., the proposal for world trade union unity, I opposed it, although not as resolutely as today. The reason is, at that time the issue had just been outlined, and the various delegations did not have the time to develop on it a serious discussion. I asserted at that time that the C.I. had often changed the general solutions to the problem of the relationship between economic movement and political movement on an international scale.
At the time of the IInd Congress Profintern did not exist yet, and we decided to give to certain, left oriented, trade union organizations, which were on the way to getting closer to us, the possibility to be represented at the Congress by a delegation. At that time I was against the admission of trade union organizations to a world Congress of political parties.
At the IIIrd Congress of the C.I. another solution of the problem was reached, i.e., it was decided to found the Red International of Trade Unions as an antithesis to the Amsterdam Trade-Union International, for the reasons you are well aware of. At the Vth Congress there was another change of mind. And now there is the proposal not to give up the R.I.T.U., and to merge it with the International of Amsterdam.
It is obvious today that this is not just a watchword to conquer the masses, and to organize them in the R.I.T.U.; it is clear that the objective is not just an agitation maneuver, it is something more. The objective is to create a Unitary Trade Union International, as the definitive solution of the problem of the relations between trade union movement and political movement of the world proletariat.
It is true: it is asserted that a long period of preparation will be necessary; that unity can be achieved only in given conditions; that certain guarantees must obtained before undertaking the unification work. But in reality the objective is a new system. There will be a C.I., and there will be a unitary Trade Union International, within which we’ll have a fraction, directed by the political International, to be able one day to seize the leadership of the unitary Trade Union International. According to arguments that appear of an extreme simplicity, this solution seemed to be the most logical. Since we have in each country a unitary trade union central, since we are against trade union scissions even if the central of a given country is in the hands of the yellows, why should not this solution of the problem of unity be the best one also on a world scale?
I believe that it is not difficult to answer this question. In what does the difference lie between our tactic in the national field and our tactic in the international field? In a very simple fact.
If we work for trade union unity on a national scale, and if we obtain this unity, it is done because it allows us to penetrate in the unions, to settle into them, and to bring large masses under our influence; this in view of conquering one day the leadership of organisms like the unions, which in the struggle for power are an extremely important factor for success. The thing has, under all points of view, an enormous importance, because in this way we will take root in these organizations which are destined to play an important role both in the struggle for power and after. Our insertion within the unions as fractions will necessarily lead us, in the period of the final struggle, to take in our hands the central trade union apparatus. When masses will be in motion, and if the struggle will have a favorable development, we will be able, with a congress or with other means (including a coup de main), to conquer the whole trade union apparatus, and reformists will have no other means of defense but the solidarity of the bourgeois state. When we’re dealing with the international movement, however, the issue assumes a quite different aspect, because on an international scale the struggle for the conquest of power, and conquest of power itself, take on completely different forms. We can’t certainly believe that we will enter the arena for the definitive conquest of power at the same time in all countries. The proletariat can only seize the power in stages, one country after another. The international trade union central apparatus will not therefore fall in our hands at once; the social democrats will save it by moving it, as the revolution progresses, in countries that are as far as possible from the country of the victorious proletarian revolution.
That’s why we must continually repeat to workers that Amsterdam’s trade union international is not a mass proletarian organization, but rather an organ of bourgeoisie, an organ that keeps the closest ties with the Bureau International du Travail and with the Society of Nations, an organ that cannot be conquered by the proletariat and by its revolutionary party. I therefore believe that the old watchword “Moscow against Amsterdam” has been, for the conquest of masses, far better and more useful.
But, as this subject may appear too abstract, I’ll move on topics that refer to the present situation.
Which are the most important events of the trade union movement? Which are in general our perspectives in this field?
From the report of comrade Losowsky it results that we are convinced that the development of the capitalist crisis is creating today a situation very favorable for us. Why then, in this very moment, are we willing to change tactics – a change that corresponds to a pessimist perspective, to a pessimist sum total of our autonomous trade union movement?
Another event is the movement in the Orient. The speaker has underlined the great importance of the trade union movement in China, which already involves one million of organized workers. Such a formation of a movement characterized by a clear and marked class character in the colonial countries and among the oppressed peoples has an enormous importance; it represents the fundamental background for our tactics in the colonial and national question. In this way we can be sure to be able to win to the R.I.T.U. the overwhelming majority of the trade union movement in the colonial and oriental countries. This is another argument that should convince us to let exist the R.I.T.U. central at the side of the C.I., and renounce to liquidate it.
A last event is the influence of America, which grows day by day, both as concerns the resistance of capitalism to the revolutionary forces, and with reference to the penetration of bourgeois influence in the workers’ masses and the development of class collaboration.
I believe this confirms what I just said. The more the influence of American capital in Europe grows, the more will also grow – as Losowsky said – the influence of American trade unions within Amsterdam’s International. The center of gravity will increasingly shift towards the American trade unions, and this confirms my argument, that the international yellow trade union central will move in the country where reaction and opportunism are strongest.
Therefore, if we don’t have a pessimist perspective we shouldn’t permit the unification with Amsterdam’s International. Quite the opposite, the R.I.T.U. must stay intact, and through it we must not rule out vast actions in order to widen our influence among the masses. We can, and we should, make to Amsterdam’s International proposals for a united front. The Anglo-Russian committee must continue the activity it has started, and precisely in the form of a committee for the united front of Russian and English trade unions, trying to add to this committee also trade unions of other countries. This is extremely important as a means of propaganda and agitation, and in this way very satisfactory results can be obtained. On the other hand, however, it is necessary to give a clear perspective to the development of the struggle.
For our tactics in England it is of a decisive importance that not all our attention, and that of the proletariat, is absorbed only by the left trade union movement. We must never forget the communist party, even if it is today a small party; we must stress that in the development of the social crisis in England, and in the struggle, it will necessarily be the leader of proletarians, and the general staff of the revolution.
I would like now to say a few words on the trade union activity of our party, on which it has been discussed at length at our IIIrd congress. The situation in which is today the Italian trade union movement is well known to all. The fascist reaction has destroyed the old apparatus of class trade unions, and is now trying to create a network of fascist trade unions. Fascism has made two attempts to solve the problem. The first method they used was of voluntary enrollment in fascist trade unions, opposed to non fascist unions. Of course fascist unions were openly supported by the state, while non fascist unions had to endure the harsh abuse of reaction. Nevertheless, fascism had to acknowledge that its plans were failing. It was not able to influence the working masses as it had been able to do with the peasant masses, as the latter had been directly subjected to fascist terror. Factory proletariat is too concentrated to allow to be oppressed and subjugated as had been the case with the rural population. At the elections for internal commissions, for instance, in spite of all difficulties and reprisals, it was almost always the class lists to be voted on, and to win. Fascism realized that, and to put a remedy to it completely changed its trade union policy.
Thanks to a special law, fascist trade unions have become the only unions recognized by the State, all workers activities have been forbidden by law, and an out and out fascist monopoly of trade unions has been created, by which the fascist unions have made a pact with the bosses’ organizations. According to the new law, only fascist trade unions have the right to negotiate with the employers; hence for the free trade unions, which are in theory admitted by the State, it is absolutely impossible – apart from all other difficulties – to carry out any work.
In this second period our trade union tactics should have been completely different. The former situation offered to us the possibility, on the occasion of the elections for Internal Commissions, to wage a struggle against fascist unions in the name of class unions. This was a permanent achievement of the united front and, in the firms where both fascist and class lists were presented, the majority of workers, in spite of the fascist regime, voted for the class unions. According to the new provisions of the law, the Internal Commissions have been disbanded, and in the factories no legal activity is now present. It’s true that the right to existence for free trade unions is proclaimed, but such an acknowledgment is purely theoretical; in practice, their offices, their libraries, etc., are under distraint. Our activity had therefore to be concentrated in the workplace, where we still have a possibility to maintain a contact with the working masses. For the new tactic to be adopted two proposals existed, on which it has been discussed at length in our congress. The number of union members decreases day by day. The majority of workers are unorganized, but our aim must be to set in motion the whole working mass. This must take place in the name of the trade unions; and our point of view is that in this work we must not renounce to the flag of the free unions, of the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro. It is necessary that we work under the banner of these organizations, which so many times have led the Italian workers to the struggle. It is true that these organizations carry out almost no activity at present; it is true that what is left of them is in the hands of reformists, who are always ready for a compromise with fascists – a compromise that has not occurred yet for the sole reason that fascism does not consider it of any value. But nevertheless we must bear in mind that, when the proletariat will resume its struggle, when the working class will be able to breathe a bit more freely, we will have to lead the struggle under the standard of free unions, whatever the causes and conditions of the battle. If we leave the banner to reformists, they will be able, as soon as the pressure is reduced, to rise again and recover space among the working masses; they will reopen the legal seats of their organizations and will isolate us from the masses.
This is the thesis of the left of our party as regards the work that today must be carried out on the union terrain. We have proposed to establish in each firm union sections. The trade unions must not die, they must resist against the difficult situation in which they have been put because, sooner or later, they will be able again to play their own role. We therefore should, in our opinion, create in every factory secret committees in charge of workers’ organization; these factory sections must be directly connected to the unions even if these are led by reformists. If eventually we will have the possibility to breathe more freely, the skeleton of a mass organization will be already available, and we will exert on it a greater influence than social democrats. The Committees within the factories should also work with the unorganized masses; they should, at every conflict between workers and bosses, create provisional agitation committees that will include the whole factory’s workforce. This is our proposal!
But our Central has devised another solution. It is very difficult to define clearly this solution, as the thesis of the Central was not clearly expressed in our precongress debate. It was eventually modified after the resistance it encountered at the congress, and found a very ambiguous formulation in the report of comrade Ercoli and in the Theses. At any rate, the whole theoretical line of our Central shows that it has on these issues a conception that, in our opinion, is neither Marxist nor Leninist. For the Central – although it is not clearly stated – a new organization should be created, a new network of factory organs that should substitute the old trade unions destroyed by fascism, and even the still existing trade unions.
The point of view of the Central has clashed with a lively opposition
in the Congress, and we believe that the representatives of the International
at the Congress rather share our position. The trade union tactics of our
Central evoke the danger of a split. In what do these tactics consist?
In the creation of agitation Committees for trade union unity as permanent
organs with their own network. At first only agitation Committees had been
mentioned; then, due to the harsh criticism moved to this watchword, “for
trade union unity” was added. If we aim at creating a network of permanent
organs, which comprises both union organized and unorganized workers, an
organization with local and provincial committees, congresses, etc., then
we give reformists a good pretext to exclude communists from the Confederazione
Generale del Lavoro. We are therefore threatened by the danger of being
out of important organizations in the moment when a more favorable situation
is in view, and of having in their place an organization of our own, a
new organization founded by our party and comprising only a minority of
workers. It is not just the matter of two diverging watchwords, but rather
of a vital issue for the work of the Communist Party of Italy, and on this
we want to draw the attention of the Communist International.
Sixteenth Session, March 8, 1926
[After Zinoviev’s conclusions]
(Speaks Bordiga, to give a brief statement)
Due to reasons I have explained in my two speeches given during the general discussion, I am voting against the proposed resolution.
It contains the mention of a necessary modification of the internal regime of the International; but, as the proceedings of the Plenum represent neither the expression of a new method, nor the opening of new ways in the life of Comintern, I am forced, also on this occasion, to maintain my oppositional point of view. I express at the same time the wish that facts will be able to demonstrate a serious improvement.
I neither present here theses, nor a resolution, but I make reference to both the theses presented at the Vth Congress and to those that the left of the Communist Party of Italy submitted to the last congress of the party.
I am asking the executive to make known to the VIth Congress the general part of such theses.
(German protocol, p. 517).
Nineteenth Session, March 14, 1926
[Another short statement]
(Bordiga, after a report of Bukharin on behalf of the German commission, in which mention is also made of the critique moved by the Italian left to the methods of the International):
Since comrade Bucharin has been so kind as to expound once more in this session the critiques I made in the commission, I am forced to further clarify the two points that I had formerly developed within the commission. I complained against the method of internal struggle utilized in the resolution, and which consists in extracting separate quotations from statements of comrades, out of their logical context, to demonstrate with them the same comrades’ deviations. I believe that this method of struggle is not favorable to an ideological clarification within the masses.
In addition, when in the commission I decidedly opposed the exaggerated use of ideological terror, i.e., against the fact that whenever we contact simple party members, before informing them of given political issues, they are told that if they take position against the political content of such issues the way it is presented by the Central Committee and by the Executive, then they are to be considered as enemies of the Executive, as enemies of communism, etc. It is not sufficient to declare that a distinction is made between left wing leaders and left wing workers; this method of ideological terror must be given up, and start making clear for the workers the political content of the questions. I did not request that an exhaustive study be started on the works of the left comrades, but I would like to warn the Executive and the comrades here present against neglecting the connection with the masses. True, I have been accused of having often neglected or underestimated the tie with the masses, but I nevertheless desire to draw the attention of comrades to the need of not losing this connection.
(German protocol, p. 577).
Twentieth Session, March 15, 1926
[A second statement]
(During the discussion on the report of the German commission, and after a speech of Ercoli, the representative of the Italian left makes a second statement):
The discussion on the report of the German commission has reached a point where I find myself compelled to make a second statement, a very clear statement, especially as comrade Ercoli has said that the tone of Bordiga in his statements has become increasingly more aggressive.
I first of all declare that in my opinion a right danger actually exists. Comrade Ercoli states that in the course of political discussions an exact analysis was made and that it could be established that the right danger resides in France. I wonder if an analysis which claims to be able to give us even the address of the right danger can be considered a serious application of the Marxist method; it is alleged to have fixed its domicile at 96 Quai de Jemmapes, or at 123 Rue Montmartre, that is in the offices of the Révolution Prolétarienne or of the Bulletin Communiste. Maybe it will be added that the right danger receives from six to eight p.m. The analysis should be approached in quite a different manner. The right danger is present, it exists not only in the resolutions written on paper, but first of all in the facts and in the political attitude of the Comintern, as I explained in my speech on the political question.
This danger is also contained in the resolutions so far formulated, both on the general political question, and on the issues dealt with reference to individual parties, namely, the German party and the French party. This danger is also expressed by the fact that here, before the forum of the enlarged executive, the Russian problem has not been subjected to discussion. In my speech I have already mentioned the fact that the sections of the Comintern, as they are today, do not have any possibility to deal with the Russian question, and in that I found a confirmation of my critique. It is absolutely necessary that the International deals with the central problem of the relations between the revolutionary struggle of the world proletariat and the policy of the proletarian State and the communist party in Russia; it is necessary that the International acquires the capacity to discuss these problems.
It is advisable that against the right danger is erected a left resistance, I’m not saying a fraction, rather a left resistance on an international scale; But I must quite frankly say that this sound, useful and necessary resistance cannot, and must not take the shape of a maneuver or of a plot. I agree with comrade Ercoli when he defines absurd the behavior of comrades who in the political discussion have fully approved the report and the theses and now, at the last moment, make opposition – not against the international right deviation, but against the resolution on the German question. These comrades, who are not able to raise any objection to the general political line, pass several times to the opposition because, as groups, as chiefs or ex chiefs, are not satisfied with the resolutions concerning their party or their country. For this reason I cannot declare myself in agreement with these comrades, with this self-styled ultra left opposition. I am not certainly saying this to conquer the sympathy of the majority, to which I attribute the responsibility of precisely this system, all the more so as today’s opponents have been formerly supported by this very majority, which considered them the best possible leaders.
I conclude: as far as the German question is concerned, I am of the opinion that we should warn the good left revolutionary German workers that they should be on their guard against two false lines – on the one hand the defeatism and mistrust towards the International and the Russian revolution which are hidden under unanimously accepted resolutions, on the other the blind optimism which wants to avoid any discussion and any contrast, which does not want a real exploitment of experiences and a collaboration within the communist vanguard of the proletariat, but rather pays homage to religious and dogmatic points of view. I explained why this latter attitude is equally dangerous as the former for the relations between the world proletariat and the Russian revolution. The Russian party and soviet Russia have the largest revolutionary experience, they alone, fighting, have conquered the revolutionary victory; but also the revolutionary workers of Germany have their own experience. They also have to rely on the teachings their struggles and their defeats have produced. We must allow their tradition and their class instinct to be consulted with reference to the right dangers by which they have been harshly hit in the course of the very last battles. This workers’ vanguard must take a clear position both on party tactic, as it is expressed today through its more than doubtful maneuvers against social democracy and the famous campaign for the plebiscitum, and on the general line of the Comintern and on the problems of the Russian party’s policy, which is at the center of the politics of the world revolution. Since the Russian Revolution is the first great stage of the world revolution it is also our revolution, its problems are our problems, and every militant in the revolutionary International has not only the right, but also the duty, to collaborate in their solution.
(German protocol, p. 609-611).
(In the same session, after the vote on the resolution on the German question, unanimous with the only exception of the contrary votes of Hansen and Bordiga (the latter eventually will also vote against the resolution on the American question), the president Geschke reads the following Bordiga motion):
I want to formulate in writing my position with reference to the Russian problems. I have the right to ascertain that the plenum hasn’t discussed the Russian question, that it neither has the possibility nor the preparation to do it, and that this fact gives me the right to draw the conclusion that we are facing one of the results of the International’s wrong general policy and of the right deviations of this policy. I had made the same observation in my first speech in the course of the general discussion.
In the concrete, I suggest that the world Congress be convoked for the next summer, having on the agenda precisely the question of the relations between the revolutionary struggle of the world proletariat and the politics of the Russian State and of the communist party of the Soviet Union, holding well that the discussion on these problems must be adequately prepared in all the sections of the International.
(The motion is transmitted, by unanimous vote, to the Presidium of the International).
(German protocol, p. 651).