The CCC were a Belgian communist armed struggle group that was active in the mid-eighties. They did not only place bombs but they also produced a lot of propaganda material, that intellectually fed their different campaigns and they kept writing and publishing during their imprisonment. Upon a few of these documents, this article aims at reflecting on how the group conceived itself and the use of armed struggle as part of a larger communist revolution.
libcom.org rejects vanguardist armed struggle and reproduces this text for reference.
The Belgian Cellules Communistes Combattantes (Communist Combatant Cells, CCC) have widely caught attention, especially in mainstream media, for their use of armed struggle as a mean to fight capitalism and trigger a socialist revolution. They were active in the mid eighties and attracted media attention through several bombings, that attacked capitalist and imperialist institutions such as production sites linked to the military industry (which were targeted within “the anti-imperialist October campaign”, 1984-1985), the Belgian employers organisation (the attack of may 1st 1985) or key-buildings of the Belgian financial sector (“the Karl Marx campaign”, 1985). Grown out of the experiences of armed struggle of the German RAF, the CCC developed their own ideological line that had taken example on the Red Brigades, who developed armed struggle on the grounds of Marxist-Leninist theory.
Even though their bombings never targeted humans, one car bomb accidentally caused the death of two fire fighters – partly due to the non-intervention of the police –, which gave rise to an anti-communist media campaign in Belgium, that was quick to portray the CCC as a violent terrorist group.
Yet, the CCC have in several communications expressed their regrets of being systematically reduced to this dimension of their action, recuperated by the journalistic thirst for sensationalism, taken out of its ideological context, and leading to confusions with any other group that made use of armed struggle. Based upon the archives of the CCC that collects pamphlets, declarations, interviews, this article aims at reflecting on how the group conceived itself and the use of armed struggle as part of a larger communist revolution.
Theoretical principles of the CCC: Marxism-Leninism
The political line of the CCC is based on Marxism-Leninism (a term coined by Joseph Stalin, official state ideology during his rule, which is why some might call this line “Stalinist”, even though this term is rarely vindicated by Marxist-Leninist groups themselves), meaning – very roughly speaking – that the historical class antagonism created by capitalism had to lead to a communist revolution that would abolish the ruling bourgeois class through expropriation in order to establish socialism. Historically necessary, this revolution would yet not come up “by itself”, it required active organisation of revolutionary forces. The role of developing a social consciousness within the masses and of leading their struggle was to be held by the revolutionary vanguard, organised in a Party. The vanguard Party’s task was to lead the masses to an upheaval that would allow them to emancipate from their economic oppression and take power over the state. Having this in mind, one might wonder how a small armed action group related to such a broad theoretical background. To what extent did the CCC see themselves as the revolutionary vanguard ? How did they consider armed struggle as a mean to give rise to a revolutionary process ?
CCC as part of mass movements
First of all, the CCC presented their activities as situated in a specific moment of social struggles and integrated their activities into the existing movements. They mainly tried to act upon two front lines : the anti-austerity struggles and the anti-war-movement.
In the beginning of the eighties Belgium was struck by an economic crisis. In order to stimulate growth the social-Christian and liberal government adopted austerity policies that allowed the companies to see their profit rate rise again. But for most Belgians, these austerity-politics just meant less social protection and a loss of purchasing power. The worker’s movement reacted with strikes and demonstrations. The anti-austerity movement peaked in a strike of the public sector in 1983, but due to the new pressure of economic globalisation that weakened the classical leverage of workers’ movements, the conflict evolved towards a hardening of the front-lines. Yet, in the context of growing international competition between capitalist companies, the trade unionist strategies proved to be powerless, and many times exhaustive strikes ended up in a closure of working sites. The CCC concluded upon this:
The degradation of the living conditions of the masses, the reactivation of the general crisis of the capitalist production mode, the negative outcome of reformist politics and of traditional, pacifist, legal and other forms of action create the objective conditions to impulse a revolutionary struggle.
At the same time, the anti-war movement grew stronger. It mainly opposed the installation of 48 US-American atomic missiles in Belgium, as part of a broader plan aiming at reinforcing nuclear military presence of the US in Western Europe. In the context of the Euromissile crisis, the gravity and the probability of a nuclear war became palpable. As a consequence of that, huge demonstrations were organised, that in 1981 attracted 200.000 demonstrators in Brussels, the number even doubled in 1983 – becoming the countries largest mass demonstration since Belgium’s liberation from German occupation in 1944. Disregarding this massive opposition, the 48 missiles were installed on the military basis of Florennes in 1985. The attacks of the CCC fought the war-politics in their way, trying to link their attacks to the broader movement:
The political-military campaigns of the Cells in 1984 and 1985 formed part of the large popular and proletarian movements, and were fed by important theoretical-political writings that aimed at opening the door to contradictory, critical debates, in order to let right analyses and ideas triumph over the wrong. For example, regarding the implantation of US missiles in Florennes in 1985, the Cells described the imperialist war as an unavoidable manifestation of capitalism and opposed the illusions of the petit-bourgeois pacifists. But there has been no debate. We received only injuries, lies, and even police attacks by political groups that wave black or red flags.
Armed struggle as a militant communist strategy
Their objective was to give an example of radical action and to push the existing struggles further. After their attack on the headquarter of Belgian employers (the Federation of Belgian Companies) the first may 1985 the CCC published a text titled “About armed struggle”. In this piece, they exposed how they thought armed struggle would contribute to the revolutionary process:
- Most obviously, the bombings lead to the immediate destruction of physical fractions of the bourgeois domination. This destruction represented a little victory in itself, a little victory of the working class against the ruling class. Yet, the CCC regretted that this is, many times, the only meaning given to their attacks.
- Just as important to them was to stimulate, through the attacks, the class consciousness, by showing that the working class could reach victories on its own: “For the first time, after so many years, it’s not us, workers and activists, any longer who are being damaged”. Even though these victories might seem ephemerals, or even vain considering the harsh repression activism faces, “the slightest victory counts, since it teaches us how it was won, opening thereby the doors to more victorious fights”.
- They also considered a strong potential of struggle for communist propaganda: “This strength resides in the fact that it represents a radical rupture with the democratic circus which will always follow a script written by the bourgeoisie. Causing direct destruction on the side of the enemy, it draws clear front lines, and makes it impossible for ideologues, appointed by the ruling class, to appropriate the struggle: ‘facts are stubborn’.”
- Armed struggle would prepare for larger fights, and give experience to the working class for future confrontations: “The class movement, drenched in guerrilla fighting, will arrive at the decisive moment in history with enough experience and organisation, with the necessary forces that come from political, organisational and subjective maturity.”
- It allowed to uncover false friends of the working class who withdraw their support as soon as a revolutionary turmoil shows its threat in a serious way: “Armed struggle anticipates the concrete working class power, it unmasks kolaborationist [sic] and peacekeeping politics of trade unionist and reformist treaters”.
- Most of all, to the CCC, armed struggle expressed true proletarian internationalism, since the necessary international unification of the working classes required a revolutionary fight that attacks the enemy on all fronts: “At a time when so many people around the world fight the beast with weapons in their hands, the revolutionaries in the metropolis have to attack the center of the imperialist machine with just as much determinism.”
Therefore, the CCC considered the use of bombs and weapons as a necessary mean to equip, strengthen and radicalise the class movement. In an interview with the Anarchist Black Cross Gent (ABC) in 1998, during their detention, the CCC-prisoners took a stand on the reasons that made these military forms of actions seem unavoidable to fight a very well armed ruling class:
As for our militant engagement we never felt attracted to violence or to armed struggle as an aim in itself. Communism is peace, fraternity, this is the world we’re fighting for. But if we really want to live in a world without war, without weapons, a brotherly world, we have to start to fight the bourgeoisie – which is armed to the teeth – through class struggle. All the rest is just hypocrisy.
The CCC and the question of the revolutionary vanguard
In the same interview, the CCC are confronted to the criticism they faced for presenting themselves as the leaders towards the revolution. Indeed, the CCC have been seen as self-declared leaders of the revolutionary movement, given that their propaganda material many times referred to the role of “leadership”, “direction” or “vanguard”. Answering to the question, the CCC explain what role they considered to play, regarding the Marxist-Leninist ideal of a vanguard Party :
There have been many misunderstandings. The CCC never pretended to assume the responsibility of the vanguard party as conceived by Leninism, neither did they claim authority over such a party. The term “cell” rather describes a modest, partial reality, that cannot yet assume the unifying role of the Organisation. The Cells have from the very beginning highlighted the fact that the first duty of the movement – and to which they tried to contribute – was to push further the reflection, its theoretical and political construction.
Hence the Cells were not the Party… because they meant to contribute to its edification, they pursued its creation. Due to their objective of organizational construction, their activity of armed propaganda and their search for political confrontation with all tendencies that consider themselves part of the class struggle, the Cells came to think of themselves as the most advanced group among them – so objectively, a position of vanguard – on a theoretical and practical level in the country. As far as we are concerned, we still think this way – in spite of the defeat.
This solid ideological grounding lead the CCC to take distance from French Action Directe and German RAF. In 1985, the RAF and AD appealed to the creation of an “Front of West-European guerrilla”. This appeal crystallised a conflict that divided RAF and AD on the one side, who privileged anti-imperialism as a common fighting motive, and CCC with other Marxist-Leninist formations on the other, who focused on the organised class struggle perspective. The CCC opposed the purely anti-imperialist line of AD and RAF for not sufficiently taking into account the organisation of the working class. Rejecting their approaches as “opportunistic” and “mouvementist”, they criticised the “frontist” line for creating an illusion of strength, grounded on vague principles such as auto-determination, liberation, and subjectivity – while negating the objective weakness of the movement:
We are communists. Our purpose is not to resist the bourgeoisie and their system, neither to give an existential meaning to our struggle against it. Our goal is to provoke a historical process that would push a social class, the proletariat, to take control over the state and build up socialism.
The CCC did not adhere to concepts such as resistance, liberation, anti-imperialism in the way AD and RAF did. For sure, a unity could be built up (and actually occurred at some points) behind these concepts, but for the CCC, the communist revolution required a different kind of agreement on shared beliefs, and by the end of the day, for the CCC, the goal must remain the construction of the party:
[For revolutionary communists] who have a strict consideration of a social class, a historic goal, principles and methods that dialectically link one to the other, only one line and one strategy can guide the proletariat and its vanguard. In the same way, only one direction and one organisation can exist : the Party.
In that sens, even though commonly thrown together with other guerrilla fighters, the CCC had a quiet precise theoretical conception of armed struggle, that even lead to divisions with other left-wing-groups who had taken up arms. Analyzing their activities without taking this background into account can only lead to a simplistic and superficial understanding of their organisation. To the CCC, armed struggle only made sens as long as it would strengthen class conflict lines, and needed eventually to find its place within a party, according to the Marxist-Leninist theory.
 This is the clear answer to the question “which is the ideological basis of the CCC ?” in “La flèche et la cible” (“The arrow and the target”), written by the collective of CCC-prisoners in 1993-1994 : http://www.cellulescommunistescombattantes.be/fleche2.htm#1
 La chute du niveau de vie des masses, la réactivation de la crise générale du mode de production capitaliste ( dont la caducité apparaît plus crûment ), le bilan négatif des politiques réformistes et des formes de luttes traditionnelles, pacifiques et légales, etc., sont alors autant d’éléments qui créent des conditions objectives favorables pour l’impulsion d’une initiative de lutte révolutionnaire. (“La flèche et la cible”, 1993-1994)
 Les campagnes politico-militaires des Cellules en 1984 et 1985 s'inscrivaient dans le cadre de grandes mobilisations populaires et prolétariennes, elles étaient soutenues par une importante production théorico-politique qui appelait au débat contradictoire, critique, au triomphe des analyses et idées justes sur les fausses. Par exemple, sur la question de l'implantation des missiles US à Florennes en 1985, les Cellules décrivaient la guerre impérialiste comme une manifestation inévitable du capitalisme et elles dénonçaient les illusions contraires répandues par les pacifistes petits-bourgeois. Mais il n 'y a pas eu de débat. En retour, seulement des injures, des calomnies et même des attaques policières de la part des formations brandissant des drapeaux rouges ou noirs. (“La flèche et la cible”,1993-1994)
 “Nous détruisons le siège du patronat. A propos de la lutte armée”, 1985 : http://cellulescommunistescombattantes.be/apropos2.htm
 Au niveau de l’engagement militant, nous n'avons jamais été attirés par la violence ou la lutte armée pour elles-mêmes. Le communisme c'est la paix, la fraternité, c'est pour ce monde-là que nous nous battons. Si nous voulons vraiment un monde sans guerre et sans arme, un monde fraternel, il faut commencer par battre la bourgeoisie — armée jusqu'aux dents — dans la guerre des classes. Le reste n'est qu’hypocrisie. (ABC interview, 1998 : http://cellulescommunistescombattantes.be/ABC.htm )
 Les Cellules n'étaient donc pas le Parti... parce qu'elles entendaient œuvrer à sa construction, qu'elles visaient à terme sa fondation. Cet objectif de construction organisationnelle, leur pratique de la propagande armée et leur recherche de confrontation politique avec tous les courants se réclamant de la lutte de classe, ont amené les Cellules à penser qu'elles occupaient la position la plus avancée — une position objectivement d'avant-garde — sur le terrain théorique et pratique dans le pays. Pour notre part, nous le pensons toujours — malgré la défaite. (ABC interview, 1998)
 Nous sommes des communistes. Notre souci n'est pas de résister à la bourgeoisie et à son système ni de faire de la lutte contre eux une démarche existentielle. Notre but est d'animer un processus historique menant une classe sociale, le prolétariat, à la conquête du pouvoir d'État et à l'édification du Socialisme. (“Brève chronologie 1983-1986”, http://cellulescommunistescombattantes.be/chronologie.htm)
 Dans ce cadre, qui considère rigoureusement une classe sociale, un but historique, des principes et méthodes liant dialectiquement l'une et l'autre, une seule ligne et une seule stratégie justes s'imposent pour guider le prolétariat et ses avant-gardes. De la même manière que s'imposent une seule direction et une seule organisation : le Parti. (“Brève chronologie 1983-1986”)