Letter from Amadeo Bordiga to Karl Korsch

Karl Korsch.
Karl Korsch.

Letter written by Amadeo Bordiga in Naples, in October 1926 to German left communist Karl Korsch about his platform.

Submitted by libcom on August 15, 2016

Naples, 28 October 1926

Dear Comrade Korsch,

The problems we face today are so important that we should really be discussing them face to face in detail. This unfortunately is not a possibility at the moment. Also I won't be covering all the points in your platform in this letter, some of which could give rise to useful discussions between us.

For example I don't think "the way you express yourself" about Russia is correct. We can't say that "the Russian revolution was a bourgeois revolution". The 1917 revolution was a proletarian revolution, even if generalising about the "tactical" lessons which can be derived from it is a mistake. The problem we are presented with now is this: What will become of the proletarian dictatorship in one country if revolutions don't follow elsewhere. There may be a counterrevolution, there may be an external intervention, or there may be a degenerative process in which case it would be a matter of uncovering the symptoms and reflexes within the communist party.

We can't simply say that Russia is a country where capitalism is expanding. The matter is much more complex; it is a question of new forms of class struggle, which have no historical precedents; it is a question of showing how the entire conception of the relations with the middle classes supported by the Stalinists is a renunciation of the communist programme. It would appear that you rule out the possibility of the Russian Communist Party engaging in any other politics than that which equates with the restoration of capitalism. This is tantamount to a justification of Stalin, or to support for the inadmissible politics of "giving up power". Rather it is necessary to say that a correct and classist policy for Russia would have been possible if the whole of the "Leninist old guard" hadn't made a series of serious mistakes in international policy.

And then I have the impression - I restrict myself to vague impressions - that in your tactical formulations, even when they are acceptable, you place too much value on influences arising from the objective circumstances which may today appear to have swung to the left. You are aware that we, the Italian lefts, are accused of not taking the situation into account: this is not true. And yet we do aim to construct a left line which is truly of a general, rather than of an occasional, application; one which remains intact during the various phases and developments of situations into the distant future.

I'm of course approaching the subject of your tactics. Whilst aiming to express myself in precise terms rather than with ... official formulas, I would say that they still seem to me, as regards the party's international relations, too elastic and too ... bolshevik. All the reasoning with which you justify your attitude toward the Fischer group, that is that you counted on pushing it to the left, or if it refused, to devalue it in the eyes of the workers, leaves me unconvinced, and it seems to me that de facto good results have not come of it. In general I think that the priority today is not so much in the realm of organisation and manoeuvres, but in the elaboration of a political ideology; one which is left- wing and international and based on the revealing experiences undergone by the Comintern. Weakness in this respect will mean that any international initiative will be very difficult.

I am also enclosing some notes regarding our position on questions pertaining to the Russian left. It is interesting that we see things differently: you who used to be highly suspicious of Trotsky have immediately subscribed to the programme of unconditional solidarity with the Russian opposition, betting on Trotsky rather than on Zinoviev (a preference I share).

Now that the Russian opposition has had to "submit", you talk of us having to make a declaration attacking it for having lowered the flag, something I wouldn't agree to do since we didn't believe in the first place that we should "merge" under the international flag unfurled by the Russian opposition.

Zinoviev and Trotsky are eminently realistic men, they understand that they will have to take a lot of punches before passing openly onto the offensive. We haven't yet arrived at the moment of definitive clarification, neither about the situation inside Russia or about its foreign policy.

1. We share the Russian left's positions on the state political directives of the Russian communist party. We don't agree with the direction taken by the Central Committee, which has been backed by a majority within it. It will lead to the degeneration of the Russian party and the proletarian dictatorship, and away from the programme of revolutionary Marxism and Leninism. In the past we didn't contest the Russian communist party's state policy as long as it remained on terrain corresponding to the two documents, Lenin's speech on the Tax in Kind and Trotsky's report to the 4th World Congress. We agree with Lenin's theses at the 2nd Congress.

2. The Russian Left's stance on the Comintern's tactics and politics, leaving aside the question of the past responsibility of many of its members, is inadequate. It is far removed from what we have been saying since the formation of the Communist International on the relationship between parties and masses, tactics and situation, between communist parties and other parties which allegedly represent the workers, on the evaluation of the alternating trends in bourgeois politics. They are closer to us, but not completely, on the question of the International's method of working and on the interpretation and functioning of international discipline and fractionism. Trotsky's positions on the German question of 1923 are satisfactory, as is his appraisal of the present world situation. The same cannot be said of the rectification made by Zinoviev on the questions of the united front and the International Red Union, or on other points, which have occasional and contingent value and place no trust in a tactic that avoids past error.

3. Given the politics of pressure and provocation from the leaders of the International and from its sections, any organisation of national and international groups, which are against the rightist deviation, involves the perils of secessionism. We needn't aspire to a splitting of the parties and the International. Before a split is possible, we need to allow the experience of an artificial and mechanical discipline, with the resulting absurd practices, to run their course, never renouncing however our political and ideological positions or expressing solidarity with the prevailing line. The groups which subscribe to a completely traditional left ideology aren't able to solidarise unconditionally with the Russian opposition but neither can they condemn its recent submission; which didn't indicate a reconciliation but rather conditions under which the only other alternative would have been a split. The objective situation both in Russia and elsewhere is such that to be hounded out of the Comintern would mean having still less chance of modifying the course of the working-class struggle than by being inside the party.

4. A solidarity and community of political declarations would not in any case be admissible with elements like Fischer and co. who, in other parties as well as the German one, have had recent involvement within party leaderships of the right and centre, and whose passage to the opposition coincided with the impossibility of preserving a party leadership in agreement with the international centre, and with criticisms made by the International of their work. This would be incompatible with the task of defending the new method and course of international communist work, which has to succeed to that of parliamentary-bureaucratic type manoeuvring.

5. All means which don't exclude the right to remain in the party must be used to denounce the prevailing trend as one leading to opportunism and in contrast with faithfulness to the programmatic principles of the International, principles which other groups apart from ourselves also have the right to defend provided they set themselves the problem of seeking out the initial deficiencies - not theoretical, but tactical, organisational and disciplinary ones which have rendered the Third International still more susceptible to degenerative dangers[...]

I will try and send you items on Italian matters. We haven't accepted the declaration of war, which consists in the suspension of some leading left-wingers; the matter hasn't led to measures of a fractionist character. The batteries of discipline have fired into the wadding so far. It isn't a very satisfactory line and we aren't happy about it, but it is the least bad option possible. I'll send you a copy of our speech to the International.

In conclusion. I don't go along with your view that we should make an international declaration and neither do I believe it to be a practical possibility. What I do believe on the other hand is that it would be useful to issue in various countries declarations which have an ideological and politically parallel content regarding the Russia and Comintern questions, without though going to the extreme lengths of offering up a fractionist "conspiracy", with each fraction freely elaborating their own thoughts and experiences.

As regards this internal question, I subscribe to the tactic that more often than not it is best to let matters take their course, which certainly as regards "foreign" affairs is very dangerous and opportunistic. I believe this to be the case especially with regard to the extraordinary play of the mechanism of internal power and the mechanical discipline which I persist in believing is destined to break down of its own accord. I'm aware this is inadequate and not very clear. I hope you'll excuse me and in any case I extend to you my cordial greetings.

A. Bordiga

Source: "Communist Left", No.9, p.32-34. See also, the correspondence between Bordiga and Trotsky