On the Future International

On the Future International

The following article is intended to be part of a longer document or pamphlet of the Internationalist Communist Tendency (ICT) and has been drafted by the CWO for further discussion in the ICT. It should thus be read in the context of earlier documents which we have already published on the party and class issue which put the issue in its wider context.

Particularly relevant is the document from Revolutionary Perspectives 08 on the role and structure of the revolutionary organisation at leftcom.org as well as a document subsequently published on our site at leftcom.org. We hope with these articles to stimulate a discussion amongst the new elements who have recently come to the tradition of the communist left ideas as well as to state clearly for those we have discussed for some time the basis of our perspectives on the issue of party and class.

On the Future International

Today we find ourselves with a capitalism in deep crisis and a proletariat so fragmented and disorganised 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 recognise 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 (c. 1948-71) we have now lived through the slowest bust. This almost stagnant economic system has been sustained by an unprecedented state intervention which 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 re-forming 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, becomes more pronounced. As the path the working class takes becomes clearer the demand for the creation of a political organisation 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 which 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 overthrowing the state and going on to found a new way of organising 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 these forces 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, whilst 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. The Russian working class were not taken in by this, and more and more, put their trust in the one organised body 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 (aided by the other so-called socialist parties) 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 the Polish workers’ struggle became the victim of an inter-imperialist rivalry.

We know too that amongst 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 capitalism 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 organisational shape, and seeks to operate within the wider working class, the more 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 programme 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 (Pekin 1975 edition) p.49) (our emphasis)

From its earliest days the modern communist movement has centred 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 trades 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 organisation.

It was to be another twenty 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 which 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 marginalised by the rising power of the Social Democratic trades 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. 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. 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, 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 (stabilising) 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. The latter 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 recognise the need to overthrow the system before others. It is only natural that this minority form a political organisation to express their conscious aim of creating a new society.

Under social democracy the working class was organised 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 marginalised 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 “bolshevisation” 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 programme. 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 centralised 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 it 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 it political party.”

This is our vision of the shape of the future International but where do we start from today? After forty years of restructuring the fragmentation of the class today is reflected in the dispersal of revolutionary energies. Some have been discouraged by the divisions amongst 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 counter-revolutionary legacy of the failure of the post-World War One revolutionary wave. Over time some differences have come to be recognised 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 programme 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 organisation 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 organising anti-capitalist resistance, a key strategy put forward by the Internationalist Communist Party was that of factory groups which included members of the party and non-members in several workplaces (including FIAT). However with the decline of the huge factory concentrations of workers these are no longer the basic tools for organising in the class. Instead “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 organisation must still aim to exist in the places where the mass of the class itself is present. The party is not only not an entity which is formed at the last minute but it is also 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 realise 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 programme 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 organisations 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 programme are based only on the revolutionary lessons of the class struggle so far. Within that framework all debate is possible and the party is organised 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 factions and tendencies over issues which have not already been settled or when new aspects of the existing programme 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 which history has not yet answered for us. The health of the organisation depends on the robust exchange of opinions. Ultimately this is also the healthy way in which the party can develop if it is to act as a centralised 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 “Bolshevisation” (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.

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 of its revolutionary consciousness we will be facing yet more defeats in the future. Our earnest hope is to engage with those new forces which do come to a consciousness of the need to overthrow the system, to give them a political compass, something to rally around, whilst at the same time, we seek dialogue with those forces which already exist 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.

Draft document for the Internationalist Communist Tendency

Communist Workers’ Organisation

December 2017


Mar 15 2018 18:48

1921 reference - same year Gorter and the already existing KAPD argued for a 4th Communist Workers International separate and in opposition to then 'Moscow' International. Not sure all the lessons have been learn't as yet although the opposition to any concept of 'party government' and the stress on Internationalism (or better still anti-nationalism) in both spirit and organisation is welcome in this.
Worth mentioning this as well:
with some clarifications in the discussion as it is not included in the ICT blog series on this site.