The publication of the Opere complete1 of Giorgio Cesarano, which commenced in the summer of 1993 with the publication of the first comprehensive edition of Critica dell’utopia capitale,2 is the fruit of the activity of a group of individuals who were directly inspired by the radical critique of which Cesarano was one of the pioneers.
In 1983, a group of comrades who came from the “radical current” founded the Accademia dei Testardi,3 which published, among other things, three issues of the journal, Maelström. This core group, which still exists, drew up a balance sheet of its own revolutionary experience (which has only been partially completed), thus elaborating a preliminary draft of our activity, with the republication of the work of Giorgio Cesarano in addition to the discussion stimulated by the interventions collected in this text.4
In this work we shall seek to situate Cesarano’s activity within its historical context, contributing to a critical delimitation of the collective environment of which he formed a part. We shall do this for the purpose of more effectively situating ourselves in the present by clarifying our relation with the revolutionary experience of the immediate past. This is a necessary theoretical weapon for confronting the situation in which we find ourselves today, which requires the ability to resist and endure in totally hostile conditions, similar in some respects to those that revolutionaries had to face at the beginning of the seventies.
The republication of texts from this period is playing a particularly important role in the discussions in which we are currently engaged at the Centro d’iniziativa Luca Rossi,5 and in the relationship we would like to establish with the revolutionary presence (although a very limited one) in the vicinity. In the first place, as we have already pointed out, we are directly inspired by the central theoretical expression of the last period of acute social conflict in our country (the decade of the so-called “rampant May” of 1968 to 1978). In the second place, we have no intention of claiming any historical continuity that does not exist: the “radical current” reached the high point of its direct participation in the revolutionary movement between 1968 and 1970. After that time the reflux of the social movement had such a powerful impact that the radical current was incapable of taking advantage of the occasion offered by the unforeseen explosion of 1977, nor was it capable of recovering from the failure of that outburst. We shall therefore study, integrate and attempt to derive profound lessons from the contents this brief historical period have produced, in order to thereby provide its contributions with a definitive historical demarcation. Although for us, at the present time, the balance sheet of this crucial historical period is fundamentally positive, it is necessary to settle accounts with the past. The historical horizon that we now face has changed so much compared to the sixties and seventies, that the revolutionary experience of that epoch is already “history”.
2. The “radical current” and the suicide of Giorgio Cesarano
The reader of Critica dell’utopia capitale cannot but be impressed by the suicide of Giorgio Cesarano, at the age of forty-seven, precisely when he was struggling to produce his most important work. At the time of his suicide his theoretical work had reached its high point. His death interrupted research that was still underway, at a time when bitter controversies were in progress, and when fruitful collaboration and new encounters were still possible. 1977 was just around the corner and Cesarano had already considered the possibility of a personal “practical” compromise that would have opened up the doors to action, which for him was more urgent than theoretical communication. At the time he had already participated in Puzz (a journal published by the informal group known as Situazione Creativa de Quarto Oggiaro) and he wanted to continue to pursue this collaboration.
In the spring of 1975 the young people of Quarto Oggiaro had already committed themselves to the street battles (together with a nascent Autonomia Operaia6 ): although it was only for a few days, barricades reappeared in Milan. Throughout 1975 and 1976, spontaneous groups of “radicals” emerged on various occasions, which already constituted a point of reference for various publications that appeared during this period in various cities in Italy. The veterans of the long cycle of struggle of the sixties were finally joined by a good number of young people. The “radical current” began to make its presence felt, and also attracted many dissidents from Autonomia Operaia, the university, the assemblies and the streets; and on the eve of 1977 it once again began to be a central critical presence that was based on a widespread network of contacts.
In this generally quite favorable environment, Cesarano became aware of its shortcomings: numerical increase did not entail a corresponding theoretical-critical advance. Critica dell’utopia capitale, had it been completed and disseminated in time, would have played the role of a valuable antidote against many of the ideological poisons, above all those of a transalpine provenance (the “French ideology”), which infected the so-called “creative wing” of the movement of 1977 from its very inception. Furthermore, Cesarano’s coherence and lucidity would have made a decisive contribution to correcting the mistakes in which the “radical current” had become mired.
Beyond his personal history, this desperate act was based in the limitations of a current that a short time later would undergo its own crisis.
One of the characteristic themes elaborated by the author of the Manuale di sopravivenza is the need to pass the “test” that, in periods lacking social tension, is imposed on every revolutionary: to resist, as long as the “intermission” of the revolution lasts, the homicidal assault of the ghosts of guilt, the solitude that leads to confusion, the hallucinations and deviations that lead to madness, and the return to the habitual roles of economic and family life that were thought to have been left behind. Giorgio Cesarano, profoundly affected by the suicide of his beloved friend and comrade Eddie Ginosa, vividly demonstrates the risks encountered by the revolutionary when he cannot define his identity in a process of social struggle and loses himself in the hallucinatory and ubiquitous reality of the process of capitalist valorization, with respect to which he perceives himself as an irreducible other. In this situation reality can be perceived as something alien and one can experience one’s own rage, and one’s own revolt, as something complete, exclusive and unique, that is, pathologically. This is why isolation can be a mortal danger, against which the revolutionary must have the lucidity and the distance necessary in order to find his own reasons, and to understand that his reasons are the same ones that everyone else has:
“[…] the biological function of the revolt born from each individual experience is that each person recognizes his practice as generic and alien to any particular theory. Men lack neither the power nor the lucidity of practical criticism. There is no ‘person’ who does not himself know the contours of the nightmare that, despite everything, we call life. What is apparent, as appearance, cannot even retain the least trace of a glance that can penetrate the false wall of the suffering individual, who clings, between the ego and the ego that designates you, the terrible signs of the destruction of life, the cracks through which one can finally make out what is always obvious, visible: the identity of the mutilation that is paradoxically accepted by everyone in the name of the identity of each person as different and specific. The trivial truth of the fact that all of us are absolutely stripped of real identity—an identity with the need to exist, with the desire to love—in exchange for an absolutely carceral identity, numinous in its form but numerical in its substance. The need to exist is the elemental, and banal need; the suffering of not existing is likewise elemental and banal. The problem is ‘the others’, the labyrinthine “reign” that is not the life of anything or anybody, which claims to be the life of the whole, and everything for everyone….”7
… in order to remove from them unhappiness and desperation, granting them the incommensurable power of a revolutionary initiation to passion and to life.
Due to the fact that it addressed the totality and focused its interest on the critique of everyday life and the experimentation that leads to ecstasy, the radical current had to pay a very high price to the counterrevolution, inexorably suffering the self-destruction of the most passionate individuals, those who most genuinely enjoyed life and who were most incapable of adapting to the night without hope of everyday life under capital. Unlike other tendencies of that time—which are now our “enemies”—the radical communist tendency was not massacred by the repression, nor did it count among its ranks deranged loners and lowlifes: taken as a whole, it has not renounced its principles. With the exception of the very few who “betrayed” the movement in order to formally cooperate with the political ideologies and organizations of capital, most of us who have abandoned the revolutionary perspective did so out of inertia and conformism, or from an accumulated resentment (towards the proletariat that did not want to become revolutionary, or towards our more brilliant and admired comrades in whom we bestowed our confidence and who too often were not faithful to their unyielding, sometimes ruthless, critique of what exists, nor did they have enough effectiveness to arm their rage). But those who considered the revolutionary passion as a “biological” force, an energy that is profoundly rooted in their being, have continued to weave the shroud of Penelope of theory and experiment with solutions that allow us to survive and escape, in whatever manner, the invasion of an opaque and deceptive present. Some plunged into “romantic” adventures in exotic countries, without, however, taking refuge in the touristic ideology of “adventure”. Others have satisfied their nostalgia by resorting to crime. Many have died; some are in jail. Most have, in any case, “come to a bad end”, as must happen to people without money or savoir vivre, and who, in any event, never had the least interest in being successful in this world.
For the radical current, the impact of direct repression was relatively secondary, compared to the veritable massacre caused by self-destruction or by discrete forms of social liquidation (police and therapeutic routines; settling of accounts within the family; forced marginalization equivalent to exile in the underworld, to a murder of passion). This experience taught us a lesson that is of vital importance, above all in an epoch that is as ruthlessly cynical and nihilist as this one is, when the values of capital are brutally and directly exalted, and when revolutionaries are taking an obsessive ideological pounding which leads them to meditate, with bitterness and pessimism, upon their own obsolescence.
3. Bordiguists and anarchists
In Italy there was not just one historical element that reconstituted the classical current of the ultraleft.8 This is because it was the Communist Party of Italy itself that assumed a “leftist” position,9 and clashed with Lenin and later with the Communist International led by Zinoviev. Although the disputes with the omnipotent Bolsheviks quickly led to the expulsion of Bordiga, Repossi, Fortichiari, Damen, etc.—who represented 90% of the membership of the party—of all the party factions, the leftists who remained in the organization refused to break with the International, unlike the German and Dutch councilists, and instead adopted the role of a disciplined opposition fraction within the world party, and thus managed to postpone their expulsion until the advent of the Stalinist era.
The Italian Left under Bordiga, because it considered the creation of a new party outside the Communist International to be illusory and counterproductive, shared the central position of the ultraleft, that is, the refusal to allow itself to be absorbed by the centrist social democracy in order to instill life into the mass party imposed by Lenin and Zinoviev, and later by Stalin. However, the Italian Left differed considerably from the international council current not only in its organizational aspect, but also because it preserved a substantial fidelity to the work of Marx, always harshly criticizing the utopia of self-management (which possessed a certain importance for other “extremist” tendencies) and always focusing its critique on the law of value, and the process of capitalist exploitation, whose abolition constitutes the content of the communist revolution.
After World War Two, the Italian Left founded the Internationalist Communist Party and produced an important corpus of critical theory (which among other things revealed the capitalist social nature of the USSR). Strictly faithful to the revolutionary schemas of the past, this current completely ignored the movement of 1968, and since then has never had anything to do with the “radical current” (which it would nonetheless profoundly influence through the French journal, Invariance).
Another reason why the ultraleft and councilist tendency would not find an expression in postwar Italy, was the existence of a formidable anarchist and anarchosyndicalist movement (FAI-USI), which was very active and radical until the fascist seizure of power. After the Second World War, anarchism emerged with greater numerical stability, although in terms of theory it was much weaker than the veteran Bordiguist current.
The anarchist movement that experienced the storm of 1968 was incredibly fossilized and advocated openly “pro-democratic” positions. Its activity had a purely symbolic character, and remained trapped in the internal logic of its own movement, very much conditioned by the Spanish experience of the thirties and by the “trauma” of fascism and Bolshevism (demonstrations against the repression of Spanish comrades, ritual commemorations, an exasperated anti-Bolshevism and anti-Marxism, the nightmare of Lenino-Stalinist authoritarian communism; unofficial support for the “anti-fascist front” together with the DC and the PCI). Furthermore, its theory was confused and superficial, and was mired in the debate on “anti-authoritarian organization” that dated from before the war. The anarchist movement, however, unlike the Bordiguists, was not only unable to ignore 1968, but was seriously affected by it: first it had to adjust to the vigorous uprising of its younger component,10 and then to the revolt of its organized groups, which would sooner or later separate from the anarchist organizations in order to join the confluence of the incipient radical communist adventure, either identifying with that movement or else supporting a councilist-workerist position.
4. International Precedents
Strictly speaking, the Italian radical experience had no precedents in Italy itself. For this reason one must consider it as the result of the cycle of struggles of 1967-1970 (a cycle heralded by an ostensible rejuvenation of the class struggle, held at bay by the PCI and the CGIL after 1960).
The antecedents of the struggle and of the Italian radical current are entirely international.
First of all, France, which exploded in May-June 1968 at the same time as Italy, but which had very important precursors from the theoretical-organizational point of view: Socialism or Barbarism and, most importantly, the Situationist International. From the very first moment the situationists made their name as protagonists of certain famous episodes of contestation in the universities11 that were to some extent echoed in Italy, where radical theory was first disseminated in the occupations of the high schools and universities at the end of 1967.
The American social movement of 1964-1967 also had a decisive impact on the Italian situation. Especially the black movement in its two versions. On the one hand, the violent movement, expressed as Black Power with Malcolm X, the SNCC of Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown, but above all the “mute” revolt of the ghetto in Watts,12 which culminated in a veritable insurrection in the working class city of Detroit, pinning down the military forces of the United States in a week of house to house fighting. On the other hand, the pacifist and integrationist version, represented by Martin Luther King.
The testimonials and news reports from the uprising in Detroit gave the exciting impression that a revolution was underway: one of the principle industrial and working class centers of the time—Detroit had not yet fallen into the abyss of desperation and criminality created by the restructuring and deindustrialization of the eighties, but was still one of the vital centers of world capital, like Turin and Milan—had fallen into the hands of the desperados of the ghetto who had risen in an armed uprising, inflicted a crushing defeat on the local forces of repression and now confronted an enormous display of military power. Although the workers occupied the factories, they were ultimately incapable of leaving them in order to join the insurrection, and were bogged down in a dead end and thus revealed the shortcomings of the self-management conducted by the workers councils, shortcomings that would later be manifested as well in the French May. The extent of this rebellion was demonstrated, negatively, by the desperate violence that followed the repression of that great outburst of enthusiastic activity.
The hot summer of 1967 lit the match of the student movement in Europe. It also had a great emotional impact on the demonstrations of the civil rights movement, which Martin Luther King—who would pay with his life—began to orient towards social questions (support for strikes and demands of black workers, who generally performed the hardest and lowest paid work).
Finally, the movement of the hippies and the white students against the war in Vietnam—within which radical elements were to be found—led the critique of everyday life towards a practice without mediations. The hippies and the students experimented with communitarian ways of life, sexual liberation, rejection of work, critique of the family and social roles, the illegal use of drugs that “expanded consciousness”, nomadism, and the rediscovery of certain religious traditions for the attainment of ecstasy. But the original power of the American youth movement must not be confused with later imports, on the part of more or less specialized workers, of the values of the underground that under the aegis of a “novel” ideology played an essentially demobilizing and disintegrative role, directed against a movement that had already attained a considerable level of consciousness and radicality.13
Prior to 1967 the Italian “underground” was composed of a few countercultural and communitarian groups (Onda Verde, Barbonia City, occupied houses in the countryside, the spread of “communes” in the cities), which had the merit of introducing for the first time the critique of everyday life (above all in relation to sexual liberation, the refusal of military service, soft drugs). This critique would later be taken up, in other terms, by the revolutionaries, who incorporated it together with that of the Situationist International. Such was the origin of the revolution in customs that, in the provincial and intolerant Italy of the 1960s, would end up irreversibly changing the life of an entire generation, leaving its mark on all of society.
5. The Italian Radical Current Emerges from the Student Movement of 1968
The radical current in Italy was a product of the movement of 1967-1968. This was especially true of the first core groups of radical communists that arose from the turbulence that was unleashed by the high school and university occupations. Some of these groups had already been influenced by the Situationist International (which had at that time formed an ephemeral “Italian Section”); others came directly from anarchism, which had received a rejuvenating impulse from May 1968. In any event, the anarchist movement was incapable of retaining in its ranks the most astute and determined elements, who, in the heat of the struggle, considered the anarchist movement’s fervent anti-Marxism to be unacceptable.
In Genoa, for example, the movement found a place to meet at the Rosa Luxemburg Club, a group that had split from the PCI, many of whose members had also been involved, like Cesarano, with the group, Classe Operaia, which was distinguished by its emphatic anti-Leninism. The movement was also very open to new anti-bureaucratic ideas. Overall, its most characteristic feature was its spontaneity, exemplified in Genoa by the Worker-Student League.
Everyone—except, of course, those who refused to do so out of faithfulness to an ideological schema, like the three tiny Bordiguist parties14 --considered 1968 to be the expression of a vast revolutionary wave that was sweeping along in its wake individuals, groups and masses, inciting them to take action and to abandon all previous forms of political and ideological attachments.
Regardless of their origins and backgrounds, the most radical elements of 1968 were those who were most prepared to question, first themselves, then the total organization of life. This was because, above all, they wanted to experience and to enjoy life, and to escape from a future without hope or adventure that was decreed in advance by the adults and by a social mechanism to which they did not want to adapt.
1968 offered the chance to strike the first blows against the high-school/university institution, by demonstrating its antidemocratic function (its “authoritarianism”) and its injustice (“eligibility based on class”), that is, its class nature.
From this attack, the requirement for theoretical elaboration would emerge, born from the need to create instruments for self-expression and writing, in order to pursue the struggle with greater clarity and coherence.
The works of Marx ultimately became the most appropriate theoretical tool for an in-depth critique of capitalist society. However, the Marxist organizations had proven that they were nothing but bureaucratic machines, devoted to mediation, negotiations, and compromise, which is why they were abandoned in favor of certain kinds of assembly forms of organization, or, more precisely, unconsciously councilist forms of organization, even though they were oriented towards a practical application of anarchism.
Thus, in 1968 many anarchists still considered themselves to be anarchists without participating in any way in the life of the official superannuated movement, and formed improvised groups in the form of student leagues, libertarian committees, etc.
In this manner, the opposition between Marx and Bakunin was superseded in practice, as the situationists had demonstrated in theory.
Naturally, during 1968 the events in France gave a new impulse to the movement in Italy and favored the introduction of newer and more radical ideas.
Even Cohn-Bendit’s March 22 Movement, which was the object of a spectacular media campaign that characterized it as the supreme expression of “extremism” (it must be recalled, however, that during this period the space occupied by the information-spectacle was minimal compared to its current ubiquity in today’s television-dependent society), had a libertarian component. In any event, the mere fact that the TV news showed black flags waving in the marches in Paris refuted the political spectacle that was occupied across its entire breadth by the Stalinist screen (which had been modernized “by force” by the USSR), its Third-Worldist tendency and the resulting swarm of Marxist-Leninist sects, which were flourishing during those years.
The libertarian group that published the journal Noir et Rouge also had direct contacts with the young dissidents of the Italian anarchist movement, and Cohn-Bendit himself attended the anarchist congress at Carrara.15
At around the same time, the Situationist International began to attract attention, and the most influential aspect of its work was its “critique of everyday life”. This dimension of the struggle clearly went beyond the limits of politics and reaffirmed the feeling that, more than anything else, characterized 1968: the feeling that everything had to be subjected to criticism.
6. Workers and Students
Giorgio Cesarano left us a novel about 1968, I giorni del dissenso, in which he describes, in a delicate and sensitive way, the atmosphere of the “student spring”. Although he was not yet a revolutionary when he wrote this book—which is an autobiographical account of some episodes of 1968 that took place in Milan—his pages reflect the experiences that would gradually lead him towards the heart of the movement, which at that time he was still observing with the detachment and the sympathy of a left wing intellectual who felt terribly more adult than the students with whom he participated in protest marches.
The pages of this book also unequivocally convey a sense of the extent and the greatness of this movement that was making the world tremble. At that time the workers were soon to be inspired by the student and youth movements, and revolutionaries managed to insert themselves into the point where these two movements intersected—although, generally, they remained separated, once again, from the mass of the workers, who provisionally accepted the “external support” for their autonomy offered by the PCI. Worker-Student Base Committees sprang up everywhere, which were in fact open to all revolutionaries.16
Active and autonomous participation in the movement, under the most diverse group names although generally anonymous, without either organization or party, was the most distinctive feature of the radical experience in Italy, which situated it in the center of the most crucial events and moments.
The Italian movement, compared to the French movement that was much more radical, had the merit of lasting much longer: in fact, it endured, and continued to grow, throughout all of 1969, receiving the decisive support of the southern proletarian masses, who waged impressive battles against the apparatus of repression. This had a tremendous repercussion throughout the entire country, and culminated in the great struggles in the factories of the north, during the “hot autumn”.
In 1969 Ludd was formed (Giorgio Cesarano was a member from its inception), a group that participated actively in the movement, above all in Genoa, where it attained an extraordinary stability. At the end of 1969, the elements of the movement that were still linked to the left and which expressed various degrees of Marxist-Leninist and workerist ideologies, organized into formal political groups. As a result, Ludd had to act as an opposition, differentiating itself from the rest of the groups and fighting a rearguard battle. Although this was not a crucial conflict at the time, it still profoundly marked the experience of the radical current during the following years.
At the end of 1969, the State, in order to reassert its authority, had to resort to bombings. From that moment on, everything that happened in Italy took place in an environment of assassinations and armed actions. This obliged the revolutionaries to open up another front, very much on the defensive, in order to demystify the violence of the State and an armed fraction that began to separate itself from the proletarian movement.
During the next few years, all of this would have a determinant impact on the activity of the revolutionaries, who had to commit their energies to the struggle against repression and to sustained efforts of exposure and demarcation. This ultimately had a retarding effect on the development of their revolutionary potential.
But this would not become evident until some time had passed. For one or two years it was very difficult to recognize the undeniable fact that a retreat was underway, and that a period of reflux was commencing.
7. The Content of Radical Communism
The one aspect that is most indicative of the specific content of the radical communist current is its conviction of having entered an era in which the development of the productive forces now made possible the direct affirmation of communism, thus situating its position beyond the problems of the transition and socialism: the development of science, technology, mechanization and automation render a radical liberation of labor possible. The accumulated wealth of capital would allow for the immediate realization of communism.
This basic idea corresponds to the general feeling of the movement that “revolutionizes the revolutionaries”, which shatters the limits of their lives and which opens up for them a practice that is no longer adjusted to the traditional schemas of tactics/strategy, economic struggle/political struggle, party/trade union. For example, on the basis of the abstract demand of the right to hold assemblies in the schools, serious problems affecting the entire educational system were brought to light, through strikes, occupations, interruptions of classes, sabotage, the practice of free love and the revolt against the family.
This reversal of perspective was also reflected in the idea that now the goal was to stop the destructive capitalist machinery for as long as possible. It was no longer a matter of reconstructing, transforming or reforming anything, but essentially that of destroying, irreversibly, all the aspects of the current state of affairs: the structure of production and classes, as well as customs and attitudes. The new world would arise by itself, spontaneously, as a demand for existence in the midst of the struggle, in a condition of permanent conflict that would impose a radically different use of space and resources.
All of this also presupposed an effort to modernize the content of the ultraleft, even if this would essentially take place on the practical level, since it did not then have a precise knowledge of historical councilism (not by chance, one of the concerns of Ludd was precisely the clarification of the “councilist ideology”).
The critique of democracy—a legacy of Bordiguism—was practically expressed in the conviction that, with regard to the “political capacity” conquered by the workers and the students, what was important was the relation of forces, the content that was sought for the struggle, its capacity for destroying the existing relations and, at the same time, to affirm communism in the immediate present. If they did not abide by this orientation, the assemblies and struggles would fall into the hands of the reformist conciliators or the Marxist-Leninist ideological militants, who would sterilize them and lead them towards co-management or destruction.
The unitary concept of organization invoked the AAUD-E17 and the historical struggle of the anarchosyndicalists and anarchists. It is not by chance, as we have already pointed out, that in 1968 the Marxism-anarchism juxtaposition appeared to have become obsolete.
Also, there was a reemergence of the critique of Leninism and the bureaucratic degeneration of the revolutionary movement, a critique that tackled both the starting points as well as the consequences of the October revolution. The denunciation of the capitalist character of the USSR, China and Vietnam distinguished the “radicals” from all the other sectarian currents that were being formed, even the Trotskyists (the latter would not have the kind of importance in Italy that they had in France, for example: the specifically “Italian ideology”, in fact, was always distinctly Stalinist).
The “radicals” identified themselves in a more or less immediate way with a set of contents and practices which in their time had characterized the Dutch-German ultraleft and to some extent the Italian left. These contents included direct action, the autonomy of the struggle, the denunciation of parties and trade unions as representatives of capital, the defense of the Workers Councils and intransigence towards any mediation effected by reformists and progressives.
- 1“Complete Works” [Translator’s Note].
- 2“Critique of the utopia of capital” [Translator’s Note].
- 3“Academy of the Obstinate” [Translator’s Note].
- 4This activity was carried out at a time when the principle texts of the “radical current” were finally being made available. In this connection, we must particularly emphasize the appearance of the first complete translation into Italian of the journal Internationale Situationniste, published this past year by Nautilus, in Turin.
- 5This center was named for a leftist militant who was murdered in February 1986 by the police in a confused automotive incident in the streets of Milan (the police who killed him claimed to have shot him “in self-defense”). The website of this organization can be found at: http://www.ecn.org/lucarossi/625/
- 6Workers Autonomy [Translator’s Note].
- 7Giorgio Cesarano, Critica dell’utopia capitale (Opere complete, Vol. III), Colibri, Paderno Dugnano, 1993, pp. 125-126.
- 8By the term, “ultraleft”, we mean the international “extremist” opposition within the “left” (Bolsheviks-KPD), as opposed to the pacifist “center” (Kautsky-Bernstein-PSI) and the social patriotic “right” (Ebert-Scheidemann-Noske-Kerensky-Bissolati), which arose during the revolutionary movement that shook all of capitalist Europe between 1917 and 1923. This current spread all the way to Russia, as an opposition to the Bolsheviks, where it made the defense of the workers councils (hence the term, “council communists” or “councilists” that is applied to the ultraleftists) the rallying cry of their activity.
By way of an introductory note regarding the problematic of the historical ultraleft we reproduce below an excerpt from a 1974 text by Pierre Nashua (Pierre Guillaume), which represents a typical example of how this historical experience would be analyzed by the radical current after May 1968:
“One of the most noteworthy aspects is that the German revolution was conducted under the slogan: ‘Get out of the trade unions!’. Although they had not broken with the trade unions and with social democracy before the war, the organizations of the ultraleft grouped hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of workers around revolutionary positions. Political organizations such as the KAPD (Communist Workers Party of Germany) were at one time mass structures more powerful than the Communist Party that was linked to the Communist International.”
“On the one hand, the trade unions had given their total support to the war, as was also the case in the other countries, to various degrees. Ludendorff had to render homage to them by declaring that the war effort would never have been possible without the collaboration of the trade unions and the Social Democratic Party. On the other hand, the left communists insisted on recommending the abandonment of the trade unions for the purpose of forming another kind of union. This slogan corresponded to a total rejection of the trade union form of organization, and was accompanied by practical creation by part of the proletariat of very different organizations: the ‘unions’ controlled by the rank and file. One of the acquisitions of this period is in fact the rejection of the separation between political and economic organizations (party/trade union) (….) Groups such as the KAPD, from their very inception, published profoundly correct analyses of Russia and the cycle of the world revolution. It must be said that they were the only ones who militarily and effectively supported, by way of insurrections, attacks on military convoys, etc., the Russian Revolution, despite their harsh critique of the orientation of the Bolsheviks and the Communist International. The growth of these groups provides an illustration of the entire problem of revolutionary organization. These groups rapidly disappeared when the revolution was defeated and the proletariat retreated towards desperate defensive positions (purely reformist ones: integration into capitalist society). The appearance of new problems led these groups to collapse in every aspect of their activity, with the usual reactions: terrorism as a result of desperation, activism…. It must not be forgotten that the German revolution was crushed by Social Democracy: the entire history of Germany after the war, including the rise of fascism, would be incomprehensible if we do not take this defeat into account. The growth of fascism does not make any sense if it is not considered in relation to the German revolution, since fascism was its executor. The revolutionaries and the most radical fractions of the working class (especially the unemployed) were all crushed, but the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), initially created and inspired by the social democracy and the trade unions, was incapable of imposing order on the economy and of satisfying the demands of the unemployed, thus leading to the unification of German national capital: only fascism could provide work for all, giving a new impetus to the longing for ‘community’ by offering it an alternative (in its way), and disciplining all social groups within the framework of the interests of the now-unified national capital. Fascism satisfied, in a mystical way, the demands (material and ideological) of the revolution of 1919, which social democracy had liquidated because it was incapable of fulfilling its aspirations in a lasting way, or even of successfully achieving the political unification of Germany. Faced with this situation, from the beginning of the twenties the revolutionaries were gradually reduced to the status of a sect, and only those who accepted the perspective of a very long counterrevolution were capable of offering theoretical resistance. (….) In the German revolution the radical minorities had addressed the problem of revolution, but the class as a whole remained imprisoned within a reformist attitude. The German left was basically the theoretical expression of what the revolutionaries—often workers without any previous theoretical training—had experienced. This expression was the result of the entire experience, and the defeat, of the most important revolution in modern times, as well as of the limitations of the situation in Germany. This dual legacy was expressed by the groups that survived, for the most part grouped around one or two émigrés. The only elements of any importance were the Dutch communist left (GIK-H, Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten-Holland [The International Communist Group of Holland]) and Paul Mattick, a frequent contributor to various American journals (International Council Correspondence, Living Marxism, New Essays). A distinction must be made between the texts that were published during the revolutionary period and those that were published afterwards. The first are very rich due to the concrete experience that produced them. It was often the case that those who arrived at these theoretical “discoveries” that had arisen from the struggle were not prepared for them. For example, the critique of the Russian Revolution was carried out from the basis of a vast concrete experience, based on the reports of the delegates to the Communist International, practical measures adopted to support Russia and the International, etc. Numerically insignificant, the surviving groups would not, so to speak, have any influence on any important struggles; despite their regular contacts with the workers, they were profoundly isolated. Together with the “Italian Left”, however, thanks to a network of relations that did not involve many people but were complex and extensive, they were able to play an absolutely fundamental theoretical role. In the various groups and tendencies (although not directly linked to this tradition) that have since existed (for example, Socialisme ou Barbarie, in France) one may generally find the signs of the influence of one or two of the members of the German Left. There is continuity between the latter, the Italian Left and the “Left” as a whole” (Pierre Nashua, Perspectives sur les Conseils, la gestion ouvrière et la Gauche allemande, Éditions de l’Oubli, Paris, 1977, pp. 7-9).
- 9V. I. Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder.
- 10The FAGI was formed in [XXXX] and dissolved in [XXXX] (sic). Eddie Ginosa was a member of this group, and, together with Cesarano, Gallieri and Fallisi, presented his text, “Tattica e strategia del capitalismo avanzato nelle sue linee di tendenza”, provoking lively polemics (this text, which was later discussed and re-elaborated within Ludd, was published in the third issue of Ludd-Consigli Proletari). [The FAGI, formed in 1965, was a group of autonomous youth disenchanted with the two large Italian anarchist organizations—Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 11[Note on the Strasbourg Scandal and “On the Misery of Student Life” by Mustapha Khayati] (sic).
- 12See “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy”, in Internationale Situationniste, No. 10, March 1966 (English translation: “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy”, in Ken Knabb, ed., Situationist International Anthology, Bureau of Public Secrets, Berkeley, 1981, pp. 153-160).
- 13The movement of rebellion that took shape in America from the end of the 1940s to the second half of the 1960s was deeply rooted in the social traditions of the oppressed of the continent: black culture, indigenous worldviews and the workers movement of the Wobblies, which would be displayed in its literature, its music and in the way of life that inspired the young people. Naturally, such “cultural” expressions increasingly converged with the social insubordination expressed above all by the movement against the war in Vietnam. The political and public relations recuperation of this movement, in the form of the “underground” (in addition to the bloody repression of some of the most radical elements) exhibited a few revealing moments: the rapid decline of the counterculture district of Ashbury Heights in San Francisco; the autistic Woodstock festival and the incidents at Altamont, where “flower power” was transformed into a violent pitched battle among drug-addled hippies; the sinister history of intrigues involving Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas and the “SCUM Manifesto”; etc. These episodes took place at the same time that the MH/CHAOS and COINTELPRO operations of the CIA were underway, both of which were designed to neutralize the dissident movement. It is known, for example, that the CIA maintained very close relations with underground personalities like Timothy Leary and Gloria Steinem (apostles of psychotropic liberation and feminism, respectively) and that it played a major role in the proliferation of destabilizing drugs and reactionary culture disguised as emancipatory trends. With regard to this theme, we recommend, "Operation CHAOS: The CIA’s War Against the Sixties Counter-Culture", by Mae Brussell, 1976 (on the internet); the book, The Beat Generation, by Bruce Cook; and of course the revelatory texts on the underground written by Servando Rocha. [Note by the Spanish Translator]
- 14The International Communist Party (Il Programma comunista); the International Communist Party (La Rivoluzione comunista); and the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia comunista).
- 15In 1968, in the city of Carrara, an international anarchist congress was held, where the International of Anarchist Federations (the IAF) was founded. This was one of the high points of the history of the anarchist movement since the end of the Second World War. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 16One must distinguish the Unitary Base Committees (CUBs), which were completely self-managed institutions during 1968-1969, from the institutions with a similar name that existed during the early 1970s, which were dominated by Avanguardia Operaia (a group based mostly in Milan, of Trotskyist origin but later converted to Maoism, and which later spawned Democrazia Proletaria, and finally combined with the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista).
- 17The AAUD-E was a councilist organization formed in the 1920s in Germany by militants who had split from the KAPD, including Otto Rühle. They emphatically opposed the separation between workers organizations at the workplace, on the one hand, and revolutionary political organizations, on the other. [Note of the Spanish Translator]