This article originally appeared in Revolutionary Perspectives 11, journal of the Communist Workers Organisation (UK), affiliate of the Internationalist Communist Tendency, as well as on the website of the ICT. — Eds.

Today, we find ourselves with a capitalism in deep crisis and a proletariat so fragmented and disorganized that it only resists the imposition of war, austerity and increased poverty in sporadic fashion. It may thus seem premature to be contemplating a process by which we might arrive at a future working class International. However, even in this dire situation there are many new elements around the world who recognize the stagnation, if not bankruptcy, of the system. They are debating and discussing online and face to face in small groups here and there precisely how, if ever, the proletariat will emancipate itself. In doing so, they are, like us, attempting to re-acquire the experience of past workers struggles. What follows is our contribution, based on what we consider to be the historical lessons learned by the proletariat, to that necessary discussion.

The current cycle of capital accumulation entered its downward spiral more than 40 years ago. After the longest boom in capitalist history (1948-71), we have now lived through the slowest bust. This almost stagnant economic system has been sustained by an unprecedented state intervention that has allowed the system thus far to avoid total meltdown. Much of this time, it has reduced the average wage of the majority of workers, but their losses have not been enough to stimulate recovery, let alone prevent the massive accumulation of debt, the widespread creation of fictitious capital, and mini-booms and busts throughout that time.

It has also produced the dislocation and disorientation of the one class that constantly stands in objective opposition to the capitalist system. Many lament that, throughout this period, revolutionaries have not done more to unite, as if revolutionaries had an existence independent of the rest of the working class. The divisions amongst revolutionaries until now have largely been a function of the weakness of the class movement as a whole. This has not happened just in this epoch, but throughout working-class history. When the class is reforming itself in new conditions after a period of retreat the first responses are inevitably stumbling and various. It is only when the movement really begins to become widespread and take on a mass form that a tendency for revolutionaries to bury past differences and abandon old shibboleths[1] becomes more pronounced. As the path the working class takes becomes clearer, the demand for the creation of a political organization of the class with a clear vision of communism becomes louder.

Some will argue that this is not necessary. They will argue that the “spontaneous” movement of the class will be enough to take it to victory. We have great confidence in the emergence of an elemental movement of a working class that will finally decide one day that it can no longer go on living in the old way and under the old conditions. The first assault on the system will inevitably be unforeseen and of this nature. Such a movement can go far, but that is not the end of the matter. The forces acting against it will not give up easily. They will seek all means possible to derail the movement from both overthrowing the state and going on to found a new way of organizing economic and social life. At a certain point they will put on masks, adopt false ideologies and attempt to direct the movement onto a course consistent with the continuation of the system.

We know this from history. If they are not fought politically by the working class, then they derail the movement. Let’s take two contrasting examples. In the Russian Revolution, the spontaneous movement overthrew the tsar in February but while the workers were still fighting on the streets the bourgeoisie and its allies were setting up a government which intended to rob the workers’ soviets of the fruits of their victory. But the workers were not taken in by this and more and more put their trust in the one organized presence which unambiguously supported soviet power and internationalism — the Bolshevik Party. Although it was a small minority, it had existed in the working class for years before the revolution, and two-thirds of its members were workers. Its slogans helped orient the movement to go beyond the parliamentary system that the capitalist class was trying to impose. Ultimately, the working class made the Bolshevik Party their instrument and, after it had gained a majority in the soviets across the country, it became the spearhead of the revolutionary insurrection.

Contrast this with Poland in the 1980s. Here the workers spontaneously occupied shipyards and rejected the authority of the Stalinist state. However, in a supposedly communist country there was no revolutionary political party they could turn to. Into this vacuum came the Catholic Church and Polish nationalists (and behind them all the CIA). They directed the movement away from being about workers to being about “democracy.” In short, their struggle became the victim of an inter-imperialist rivalry.

We know, too, that among the working class its awareness of the need to destroy capitalism will strike some (a minority) before others and any coming together of these rejectionists of capital will remain a minority. The domination of the bourgeoisie over the means of production (including of ideas) means that the political instrument of the class-conscious workers will always remain a minority before the outburst of revolution. The more this minority delivers a consistent political message with a coherent organizational shape and seeks to operate within the wider working class, it can become part of the living class movement. When the movement needs to be clear about its aims and the direction it needs to take, the revolutionary minority, or in other words the political party, has a key role to play in combating bourgeois ideology by putting forward a program before the whole class based on the historical lessons and acquisitions of its own previous struggles.

These acquisitions tend to be forgotten over time. One of the key elements in the Communist Manifesto was:

The communists are distinguished from the other proletarian parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independent of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. (Communist Manifesto [Peking 1975 edition], p. 49; our [ICT’s] emphasis)[2]

From its earliest days, the modern communist movement has centered on the universal and internationalist character of the working class. When the First International was founded in 1864 Marx and Engels considered it to be their greatest achievement. Marx announced that at last the working class had an instrument independent of all bourgeois parties which could now boast that “The emancipation of the working class will be the task of the workers themselves.” However, this was a little premature. The First International was riven by divisions between English trade unionists, Proudhonist mutualists and the shadowy rivalry of Bakunin’s Alliance for Social Democracy. Some individual Internationalists played a role in the Paris Commune, but by then it had virtually ceased to exist as a real organization.

It was to be another 20 years before its successor, the Second International, emerged. This was explicitly based on national sections, which were far more dominant than the International Socialist Bureau that nominally coordinated it. It brought together various traditions in the workers movement and was not exclusively Marxist. Indeed, the Marxist wing of the movement was increasingly marginalized by the rising power of the social-democratic trade unions. In the end, it dissolved into its national components as party after party (with the exception of the Russian, Polish, Rumanian, Serbian and Bulgarian parties) all voted war credits to their respective nations at the start of the First World War.

Despite efforts to reunite socialists against the war (Zimmerwald and Kienthal), no new international arose to replace the Second International[3]. It was only with the triumph of the Russian proletariat and the October Revolution, as the first step in the world revolution, that the question of a new International was once again seriously posed. However, in war-torn Europe, establishing a revolutionary or Communist International was not easy, and it was not until 1919 that it held its first meeting in Moscow.

The new International promised much. Under the influence of the Russian Revolution, Communist parties began to appear across the world, which then sought affiliation to the International on the basis of its 21 Conditions[4]. However, these parties were largely new, often with young leaders and certainly in awe of the achievements of the Russian comrades. As a result, the Russian party dominated the International from the start (just as the German Social-Democratic Party was seen as “the Party” [Trotsky] of the Second International). This was to have disastrous consequences for the Third International and its constituent parties.

As the revolution in Russia retreated from its original promise — mainly due to the fact that new revolutions, especially in Europe, did not come to its aid — the Russian Communist Party increasingly saw the International as a means for garnering support for “Russia” — i.e., the new Russian state order that was ambivalently and ambiguously equated with the Russian Revolution. But support for a state whose priority was increasingly to survive in the (stabilizing) capitalist world order increasingly meant abandoning the goal of world revolution. World revolution was the only thing that could have revived the revolutionary potential in Russia. In 1921, the International adopted the policy of going “to the masses,” which in practice meant trying to make a common front with the various social democratic parties of the revived Second International. They had stood as the bulwark of capitalism against the workers’ revolution in every country (especially in Germany where they were complicit in the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht and hundreds of communist workers). A year later, the Comintern transformed “going to the masses” into the policy of the “united front,” which demanded that the new, young Communist parties seek alliance with those that they had just split from a few months before. The Third International thus became a tool of the new rising class in Russia and ceased to be a vehicle for international revolution.

What does the experience of the last revolutionary wave demonstrate? By its very nature, the struggle of the working class to overcome capitalism will be a lot different from that of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against feudalism. The bourgeoisie developed its form of property under feudalism and built up its wealth and power inside the old system before it replaced it. The proletariat’s revolution is different. We have no property to defend. Our strength comes from our capacity for common collective action. And the proletarian revolution cannot come about through a mere chasing of immediate interests. The proletarian revolution has to be a conscious revolution. Under capitalist conditions, though, some workers will come to the recognition of the need to overthrow the system before others. It is only natural that this minority form a political organization expressing their conscious aim of creating a new society.

Under social democracy, the working class was organized in national parties which acknowledged their membership of the Second International. But this International was a mere postbox rather than a coordinated leadership of an international class. In any case, it built a mass movement overwhelmingly dedicated to reformism. The revolutionaries in it were largely marginalized, as the outcome in August 1914 demonstrated. This left the revolutionary working class without an International until the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The Third International arrived too late to act as it was intended — as the vanguard of the world revolution. Given the enormous prestige of the one working class that had succeeded in throwing over its ruling class, and thus became the beacon of world revolution, it was not unnatural for the Russian party to wield considerable influence in the International. But as the Russian Revolution turned in on itself, the International very quickly abandoned world revolution for policies to defend a Russian state which by now was detached from its original class base. The imposition of “Bolshevization”[5] on the new parties denuded them of their real revolutionaries and turned the International into just another agency of the USSR in its fight for a place amongst the “concert of nations.”
The lesson is clear. In advance of any revolutionary outbreak anywhere there needs to be an International of some kind. This

“cannot be a Federation of more or less independent parties with differentiated policies based on claims for different national situations. Therefore, it is more correct to speak of an International Party. The nature, structure and statutes of this International Proletarian Party must homogeneously shape each and every national section. Its political platform must be the common patrimony, homogeneously developed together by all sections and all militants.” (M. Stefanini, “The New International Will be the International Party,” in Internationalist Communist 20 [2001])

Homogeneity here does not mean a total identity of agreement on every issue but does mean agreement on a common platform and ultimately a common program. This can only be thrashed out by the widest discussion within the International. The International Party (or whatever it comes to be called) has to have a centralized unity in action to defeat the class enemy but a meaningful unity is not arrived at without constant dialogue between its members. The Bolshevik Party, contrary to Stalinist mythology, was full of factional debate but, despite all the differences, this did not prevent its various sections from demonstrating their capacity for initiative or from becoming the vehicle the working class seized upon and transformed into the spearhead of revolution. On the contrary it was the fact that so much debate had been created by the direct and concrete connection that the mass of the members had inside the working class that helped it to become an instrument of the wider working-class movement in 1917. Members of the future International thus cannot contribute to the real movement of emancipation unless they have direct links to the class as a whole. Communists have to win the right to be listened to.

The militants of this International will participate and attempt to guide any future revolution, to encourage the autonomy of the workers’ struggle through the establishment of class wide organs. They will participate at every level as far as possible but the International will not be a government in waiting. Its task remains the spreading of world revolution. This means that although its militants may accept delegation by the class wide bodies in any area the International as a body does not rule. As Onorato Damen wrote in the 1952 Platform of the Internationalist Communist Party:

“There is no possibility of working-class emancipation, nor of the construction of a new social order, if this does not emerge from the class struggle…. At no time and for no reason does the proletariat abandon its combative role. It does not delegate to others its historical mission, and it does not give power away, not even to a political party.”[6]

This is our vision of the shape of the future International, but where do we start from today? After 40 years of restructuring, the fragmentation of the class today is reflected in the dispersal of revolutionary energies. Some have been discouraged by the divisions among revolutionaries, which they put down to each defending their own parochial views. However, these differences have been real differences and are based on the various efforts that have been made to deal with the counterrevolutionary legacy of the failure of the post-World War I revolutionary wave. Over time, some differences have come to be recognized as less important than they once seemed, but the road back to a revolutionary revival of the working class is a long one. This should not be seen as a negative factor but as a necessary part of the process of the development of class consciousness. Along the way, important debates have been, and are still, necessary. Without sharp debate to clarify issues, the proletariat will never be in a position to have a solid program on which to fight the next big onslaught on capitalism.

At the same time, the tenuous links between revolutionaries and the mass of the class have to be deepened and strengthened. Each local political organization has to adopt means to maintain its contact with wider layers of workers who may not yet consider themselves revolutionary, but do know that they want to fight the misery that capitalism brings. In the post-war boom, in the light of their understanding that the trade unions are antagonistic to organizing anti-capitalist resistance, a key strategy put forward by the Internationalist Communist Party was that of factory groups that included members of the party and non-members in several workplaces (including Fiat). However, with the decline of the huge factory concentrations of workers, “territorial groups,” sometimes comprising a collective of militant groups from local workplaces, sometimes groups fighting on other issues (e.g. war, housing and jobs), have been adopted. The key here is that the political organization must still aim to exist in the places where the mass of the class itself is present: The Internationalist groups are not spontaneous creations by the class, but rather political tools adopted by the party to root itself in the life of the class, where it acts as a guide and intervenes wherever it can. The party is not an entity which is formed at the last minute and not something that only turns up when a struggle takes place. It has to be part of the life of the class, but without succumbing to the cancer of reformism to make artificial short-term gains.

At present, the presence of revolutionaries in the class is very embryonic, but as the crisis deepens, as more workers come to realize that there are no capitalist solutions to their problems, then the possibility to work more widely will present itself to revolutionaries. Once the working class begins to move, then the practical movement will tend to take on board that program which most meets its real needs. However, this does not mean that revolutionaries wait around with folded arms until the great day. There will be no great day unless those who are already communists struggle for that perspective as widely as possible inside the fighting organizations the working class itself creates.

The International (or at least a large nucleus of it) has to be in existence in advance of the outbreak of the revolutionary crisis. It is “narrow” in the sense that its Platform and program are based only on the revolutionary lessons of the class struggle so far. Within that framework, all debate is possible, and the party is organized along democratic centralist lines (i.e., ultimately all issues are voted on by the members). At the same time, the party will also allow for the existence of different tendencies over issues that have not already been settled or when new aspects of the existing program arise. They must have the full right of debate and publication of minority opinion, since there will be many new challenges on the road to revolution and there are still many issues that history has not yet answered for us. The health of the organization depends on the robust exchange of opinions. Ultimately, such exchanges should resolve themselves into a common policy, but where a debate forces a vote then the minority accept the verdict of the majority in order not to undermine the unity of action of the organizations. This is the only healthy way in which the party can develop if it is to act as a centralized force when required to by the situation of the world revolution.

Without a shared understanding of the general lines of march (even if there is not totality of agreement), no meaningful policy will be carried out. At the same time, discussion and debate prepares each individual party member to act autonomously as a revolutionary should when required by the immediate local situation. There is no statutory mechanism for ensuring this. It lies in the preparation and consciousness of individual members and this can only come about through a party which has a lively culture of education and discussion.

Although we have adopted these principles in our statutes, the Internationalist Communist Tendency, as we have repeated many times, is not that party, nor even the sole nucleus of a future party, since the conditions for it do not yet exist. However, we have not just appeared from nowhere. We are in the tradition of the Communist Left of Italy which founded the Communist Party of Italy, section of the Third International, in 1921. When our predecessors were then removed from leadership of that party by the process of so-called “Bolshevization” (in reality the antithesis of everything that was revolutionary about Bolshevism), they continued to fight for internationalism and revolutionary politics in the factories of France and Belgium, as well as the prisons of Fascist Italy. It was from the confluence of these two currents that the Communist Left reunited in the Internationalist Communist Party in Italy in 1943. It kept alive and even developed revolutionary politics despite attempts to annihilate it by the henchmen of Stalin, and survived through the post-war boom to act as a focal point for the establishment of the Internationalist Communist Tendency. The Internationalist Communist Party has a long history of trying to find common ground with other groupings and tendencies even though these did not often result in agreement the door to dialogue has always been kept open. It is in that tradition that the Internationalist Communist Tendency operates today.

Because of this political heritage, the ICT is a component of the future party as it hopes to keep alive the lessons from the working class struggles of the past for new generations. This is so they do not have to go through all the past errors of the working class before understanding what they should do next. At the same time, we recognize that the situation of the working class today, and in the future, is and will be different to that of the past. This [is] why we are open to new thinking in view of the problems that the future revolutionary wave will pose to any political minority of the class.

The ICT does not consider itself a mere center for discussion, but one core of the future International Party, which is why it looks closely at other experiences that can contribute to its construction. The ICT’s adherence to a common and clear political platform, its constant attempt to keep in touch with the wider class and become rooted in it within the obvious limits of the existing objective and subjective conditions, defines its work towards the creation of such a party.

In our fight for communism, we have constantly raised the issue of the International, or International Party. Unless the world working class forges this political tool, as part of the rise in its revolutionary consciousness, it will face yet more defeats in the future. Our earnest hope is to engage with new groups who become conscious of the need to overthrow the system, to give them a political compass to rally around. At the same time, we seek dialogue with existing groups, to actively cooperate where possible, agree to disagree where necessary, and ultimately to unite as history inexorably moves on and a real class movement develops.

Internationalist Communist Tendency, June 2018


Notes:

[1] A shibboleth is a phrase or word that notes the difference between groups of people. In political terms, a shibboleth is a specific position or viewpoint that separates one organization from another. Political sects often latch on to a shibboleth, like a series of historical events or decisions made by people in the past, to explain what makes them “unique” from other organizations with similar politics or histories. Some sects take their shibboleths to the extreme, insisting that they must be adopted on a mass scale for significant social progress to be made. [ICT Note]

[2] The same words can be found in the more well-known version of the Manifesto found in the Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 6 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 497. [ICT Note]

[3] This sentence is a little confusing. What the ICT appears to be saying here is that, despite the two conferences of antiwar socialists, held in 1915 (Zimmerwald) and 1916 (Kienthal), no new International arose directly out of these gatherings. However, the conferences did lay the groundwork for creating a new, Third, International after the war. [Class Line note]

[4] The 21 Conditions, formally known as the “Theses on the Conditions of Admission to the Communist International,” were adopted at the International’s Second Congress in 1920. They were designed to set standards for each Communist Party seeking to join as a national section. They can be read in full at: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch07.htm#v1-p303. [ICT Note]

[5] Bolshevization was a policy undertaken by the Communist International, beginning in 1925, that was meant to aid in the eradication of “right-wing social-democratic tendencies and … left deviations in the communist movement” through a thoroughgoing adoption of “Marxism and Leninism” by the Communist parties. In reality, this meant the purging of all those who dissented from the line put forward by Moscow (i.e., by Stalin’s faction in the International, propped up by the bureaucrats and “specialists” controlling the Soviet state apparatus), especially its policy of building “socialism in a single country.” Bolshevization was the extension of the ongoing process of purging oppositional views from the Russian Communist Party that began in 1921, which targeted the proletarian opponents of the emerging ideology of “Marxism-Leninism” and aided in the consolidation of the petty-bourgeois bureaucracy as the ruling class in Russia. [Class Line note]

[6] This document is not currently available online. [ICT Note]

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