For the Party to live a real life – in, with and for the class – well, this does not depend only on our will and abilities, on the contrary, it depends on the class itself.
The First Congress of the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) was held in Florence in 1948, following the National Convention of Turin (1945). The congress approved the Party theses, however some comrades accepted these with reservations.
The following years highlighted the presence of two different tendencies within the PCInt which would definitively separate in 1952 (the internationalist split), the year of the Second Congress. The instigators of the split gave birth to Programma Comunista. If at the Turin Conference differences on individual issues – such as the trade union question – were such as to fall within the normal dialectic of a revolutionary organisation, in Florence, a different atmosphere could already be felt: comrades had to fight against the liquidationist tendencies of Vercesi1 (the main spokesman of the Fraction and later among the leading doubters within the organisation who were having second thoughts, basically supporting Bordiga's opposition to the existence of the Party, which led to the split of 1952) and his flip-flopping on the union question, typical of the Bordigism of the future. Nobody contested the fact that the unions, as an organisational form, were no longer useful in workers' struggles and that the differences between them were the reflection of the Cold War. Nobody thought they could conquer the leadership of the CGIL. The idea that whether – and if – any other body could replace the union as a mass organ of the "economic" struggle was left open. The congress in Florence was very clear in this regard and linked the evolution of the union to the transformations of capitalism, not to ideological factors: for example, the question of "treacherous" leaders. If unions were considered lost to the workers' cause, this was no reason to advocate not taking part in strikes just because they were called by the CGIL. On the contrary, internationalists have to stay where the class is, inside or outside the unions – but, in this case, without being part of the latter’s hierarchical structure – to distance the class from the control of the bourgeoisie.
All this was written clearly, but from 1948 onwards several comrades began to question theoretically and practically not only the perspective regarding trade unions but also regarding the Party, the class character of the USSR, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and national liberation struggles. For these comrades, the Party was no longer the political leader of the revolution and of the transition to communism, dialectically intertwined with the bodies of proletarian power – the councils – which would exclusively exercise that power. They gave the Party the role which only belonged to the councils themselves. The Soviet Union was not for them a state capitalist country, but an unidentified “something else" which, in any case, could not be labelled capitalist, but "state industrialist". The political repercussions were profound, stemming from the fact that, for these comrades, Soviet imperialism had to be considered a secondary imperialism compared to the number one imperialism to be opposed openly; that of the USA. The very nature of wars of national liberation and, therefore, the attitude of revolutionaries towards them, were revised, in the name of a schematic reading of Marxism and an equally uncritical acceptance of the slippery positions of the Third International on "colonial peoples”. The struggles for independence in the French and English colonies were considered, in summary, as a rerun of the struggles conducted by the European bourgeoisie until 1870 against feudal vestiges, because of which it was necessary to support, albeit critically, the local bourgeoisies at the helm and, we add, future beneficiaries in the shape of the imperialist rivalries involved. Thus, they abandoned the position that national liberation struggles were no longer progressive for the purposes of the proletarian revolution.
Finally, to return to the perhaps more controversial, and less understood, question for our critics and opponents, the comrades who founded another Party (they were yesterday’s liquidationists!), namely the union question. With a Party bearing the same name as their newspaper, Il Programma Comunista – they took contrary positions involving everything: from the reconquest of the CGIL to the foundation of the red union and, even, the “experiment” of abandoning strikes. It is no coincidence that those unresolved issues continued to simmer inside the body of the new organisation, causing cracks and self-inflicted wounds until the vessel broke in the shape of the deep crisis of Programma Comunista in 1982.
The rift in 1952 had serious consequences within the internationalist camp, greatly limiting its ability to intervene and, therefore, the possibility of physical replacement of its militants. Of course, the transformations produced by the post-war boom, what we call the third cycle of capital accumulation, played a significant role in minimising internationalist forces, but the demoralising effects caused by the split should not be underestimated.
Contrary to legend, the PCInt never retreated into a sectarian attitude, hostile in principle to other currents located, at least subjectively, on revolutionary terrain, but remained open to the possibility of their maturing to coherently communist positions through political confrontation, a precondition for any collaborations on a practical level. Between 1952 and 1953, the party established relations in terms of meetings and discussions with the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Partito Operaio Comunista (a Trotskyist group mainly based in Puglia). In 1956 until the beginning of 1957, the party engaged in discussions with the Gruppi Anarchici di Azione Proletaria (animated by Cervetto and Parodi), Azione Comunista and Gruppi Comunisti Rivoluzionari (Trotskyist) to see if, and to what extent, it would have been possible to undertake common work. The judgement on those experiences can of course vary depending on perspective, but there is no doubt that there were no attempts to bring together different groups to "act" at the expense of revolutionary principles and coherence. Our comrades participated in, and animated, those attempts without preconceptions, but also without illusions, in no case were they ever prepared to sell out our political history in exchange for easy, but confused, groupings. The goal was always to provide a political instrument for the class, so as not to waste its anti-capitalist potential, which would otherwise be reabsorbed within the system. This was the same goal that motivated the Party, in September 1960, to issue the proposal to Programma Comunista and to Azione Comunista to meet to discuss the pressing need to build an effective pole of reference for the class. Programma did not accept, unlike Azione, but even with this latter organisation, things did not get very far.
Inevitably, swimming systematically against the current led our party to be "forgotten" by academia, but, more importantly, it precluded the possibility of it having a significant impact on the course of events that spewed from the capitalist volcano. Obviously, this did not mean refraining from intervention, far from it, but, in the final analysis, it is the general historical conditions that determine the degree of political impact of the Party. This was also the case for '68. The guiding ideas, so to speak, of the movement were firmly rooted in the mythology of the Third, decadent, International or in the idealistic paraphernalia of the anarchist, councilist, "Frankfurt"2 matrix, which left few interstices for our politically strong, but numerically weak, forces. Of course, we too enlarged our area of influence and recruitment, but nothing comparable to the "groups", which then sprang up like mushrooms after a rainy day. Quite simply, it is not enough to be correct – or more correct than others – to be recognised by the masses, indeed, experience, illuminated by historical materialism, says that the opposite is almost always true. Where – and we are talking about the "Two Red Years" of 1968-69 – many saw the opening of a revolutionary phase, summarised by the slogan "Bosses, bourgeoisie, a few months left", it goes without saying we judged the seething of factories and schools, the numerous episodes, but limited and short-lived, of worker insubordination towards the union (as well as towards the bosses) positively. However, we also clearly saw the huge political limits, the overall unpreparedness of the class and, therefore, its inability to break with the "left" and trade unions. The Fourth Party Congress, of December 1970, devoted largely to the Hot Autumn, in particular to the trade union question, demonstrated this.
Between 1977 and 1981 we initiated the International Conferences of the Communist Left. These achieved the goal they had set themselves: the delimitation of what was called the "proletarian political camp". In 1983 the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party was founded with the British Communist Workers' Organisation, due to our agreement on the fundamental issues. As we have said a thousand times, the IBRP (today the Internationalist Communist Tendency) is not and does not pretend to be the International Party ready for action, although we certainly believe that our history, our theoretical-political background, can make a fundamental contribution – when and if – there is a process to bring together the revolutionary vanguard worldwide.
In issue 12/1971 of Battaglia Comunista we read that "the crisis is far from having hit bottom and [...] far from having created the conditions for a revolutionary change": unfortunately, it was not a wrong diagnosis. The crisis had just begun. With the rejection of the Bretton Woods agreements by the American President Nixon, on 15 August 1971, the long post-war boom came to an end thus beginning the crisis, which continues to this day.
Capital put in place the necessary measures – what Marx calls counter-tendencies – to try to raise the rate of profit to a level that would restart the accumulation process or at least slow its decline. "Neoliberalism" (an improper term) was the path taken forty years ago, also called (again improperly) globalisation, the characteristics of which we have repeatedly analysed. They include significant reduction of large worker concentrations – in the West – relocation of entire industrial sectors to where labour costs are much lower, where employer despotism reigns supreme; subjecting the workforce – manual and non-manual – to a process of "Manchesterisation" of the proletariat (and even sectors of the petty bourgeoisie), i.e. a massive return to "nineteenth-century" working conditions, of which rampant precariousness and the devaluation of wages (even below the value to maintain the workforce: such wages run out before the end of the month) are key aspects. Added to this we see the abnormal development of the financial sphere, which imposes and directs the music of the world economy.
In this context we saw the fall of the "socialist" bloc, which was, in fact, not socialist. The collapse of one of the two imperialist poles has not at all brought inter-bourgeois contradictions to an end. On the contrary: under the goad of the crisis, the fight for or against the role of the dollar as a world reference currency stemming from the price of oil, for the control of energy flows, for a better position on the world imperialist chessboard, has continued as, and more intensely, than before. The failure to link "neoliberalism" with the nature of the process of accumulation, with the historical phase of today's capitalism, has rendered the widespread activism of the anti-globalisation movement sterile, thanks to its reformist illusions. The Genoa massacre of 2001 cannot be explained simply by the ferocious, obtuse arrogance of political leaders, but with their aim to say directly and clearly that the questioning of the social order can in no way be tolerated, not even in the meek and harmless form of the Rete Lilliput.3 Our uncompromising political critique of the enormous limits of the anti-globalisation movement has not prevented us, however, from being actively present (without prejudice, it goes without saying, to our political-organisational autonomy) where masses of rebellious youths have tried, confusedly, to oppose a state of things hostile not only to their present, but, even more so, to their future and the future of a large part of humanity.
So, what is the balance sheet on over seventy years of life? From the theoretical-political point of view, we believe we have passed the test, although we do not hide errors, just as we do not console ourselves with the confirmations of our analysis. It is not uncommon for revolutionaries to sometimes analyse reality with perspectives from the past, which no longer work due to transformations that have occurred in the meantime. For decades, we thought that the US-USSR confrontation would lead to a Third World War. Instead the crisis caused the implosion of one of the two blocs, which, together with the huge devaluation of constant capital produced by the introduction of the microprocessor in the production processes and "neoliberalism", has given capitalism further decades of life, however troubled. In fact, the crisis had the effect of a war on self-styled “real socialism”, from which emerged the winner in the shape of the "national" capitalism best equipped from an economic, not military, point of view. But mistakes can be repaired if one is methodologically equipped and we, all in all, believe that we are not lacking in that regard, that we have maintained our sharpness. The reasons for the survival of capitalism, both economic as well as social and political, have been and are abundantly analysed, not least the substantial passivity or, at least inadequacy, of the proletarian response to the "thermonuclear war" waged by the bourgeoisie against the working class for decades.
Having been able to resist in such a hostile environment is already a positive fact, because the survival of a political organisation is linked, also and certainly not least, to the matching of its analysis to such a complex and changing reality as that of capitalism. Of course, surviving is not enough. For the Party to live a real life – in, with and for the class – well, this does not depend only on our will and abilities, on the contrary, it depends on the class itself. As long as the class accepts the bourgeoisie's authority, its pervasive ideology, without, or almost without, a fight, our voices will inevitably be overpowered by the background noise of bourgeois ideology. But that does not mean it will always be so.
Saturday, January 4, 2020
- 1Vercesi (Ottorino Perrone) was a founder member of the Communist Party of Italy in 1921, fought against the degeneration of the Comintern, suffered persecution from the Italian fascist regime and in exile became principal editor of Bilan and Prometeo, publications to the Belgian and French fractions of the internationalist communist left. Up to August 1939 he denied the imminence of a second World War and maintained that the task at hand was working towards a new Communist International, but with the outbreak of that war he abandoned this perspective and theorised the proletariat was defeated. For an in depth analysis see: leftcom.org
- 2The “Frankfurt School”, or the Institute for Social Research, has its origins in 1920s Germany. Theorists such as Adorno and Marcuse saw the working class as fully integrated into capitalism and looked to other sections of society for force to overthrow capitalism.
- 3Rete Lilliput is a network of associations and citizens critical of "neoliberalism", founded in 1999. Their aim is to implement a "just economy".