The experience of the Italian Left
When fascism brought in the Exceptional Laws, after the Matteotti crisis, the Communist Party of Italy was almost caught by surprise. To make the defeat worse, beside the lack of organizational preparation by the Ufficio Uno (a clandestine office run by Bruno Fortichiari) and the entire Party structure, the constantly shifting ambiguity of the Third [Communist] International’s policy towards the old socialist parties played a decisive role. This further disoriented the Italian proletariat and denied the centrist party itself any real possibility of limiting the damage by a more orderly withdrawal.
On the night of November 8, 1926, almost the entire parliamentary group was arrested. Ferrari, Picelli, Riboldi, Alfani, Molinelli, Borin, Srebnic, Maffi, Losardo, Fortichiari, Damen, and Gramsci were secured in Mussolini’s prisons, only Grieco, Gennari, and Bendini managed to save themselves. In the previous months the fascist reaction had already got rid of Bordiga, Scoccimarro, Terracini, Oberti, Bagnolati, Allegato, Flecchia and Roveda; Togliatti and Gnudi only escaped because they were in Moscow. Thus, in one fell swoop, the old Left and the centrist leadership of Gramsci and Togliatti, were eliminated. The Mussolini regime now had a free hand to dismantle the whole organizational structure of the party, composed of hundreds of intermediary cadre operating on a national scale. In the space of a week, in Rome, amongst all those arrested were six thousand Communist militants who fell into the hands of the regime’s police. In Milan there were more than two thousand arrests, in Turin three hundred and fifty, in Padua two hundred, and in Verona two hundred and sixty. With the “show trial” in Rome (May 1927), another 570 militants were arrested, including Licausi, recently coopted to the new leadership, Stefanini (secret courier) and R. Ferragni (Red Aid lawyer). The Exceptional Laws and their practical consequences marked the highest point of the counterrevolution in Italy in the twenties, not only in its most obviously repressive aspect, but also for the process of political decomposition that it set in motion. Furthermore and above all this took place within the PCd’I under the pressure of international events (especially in Russia) with tragically rapid consequences.
The hammer blow of Italian bourgeois reaction, which in those years was in the vanguard of a similar process throughout Europe, was compounded by the progressive isolation of the soviet experience with its consequent sliding towards counterrevolutionary positions. On the basis of this class isolation that lasted for a decade, the tactical expedients of the Bolshevik Party, and of the Communist International (Comintern), gradually took on a strategic vision which completely distorted the revolutionary purpose for which they had arisen. Until the Second Congress, the Comintern it had acted as the emerging point of the class struggle on a world scale, linking all its tactics to a single strategic goal: the international revolution. The Russian experience was not considered as a fixed and established reference point but as the first breach in the international imperialist order, that in order to survive and progress needed other similar experiences to occur in Europe, especially in the most industrialized countries. Not only did this not happen, but the Comintern itself, in the face of an objectively negative situation, adopted a series of tactical resolutions, from the Third Congress onwards, which in the space of a few years went from opportunistic expedients to a definite counter-revolutionary political approach.
So, the international revolutionary perspective, the theoretical elaboration of the pitiless struggle against social democracy, and for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the only forms and instruments to guarantee the construction of socialism, was abandoned in congress after congress. Instead we got the attempt to implement the compromising politics of the united front, of the workers’ government, and last but not least, the possibility of building, in the face of proletarian internationalism, socialism in an isolated Russia.
The Exceptional Laws came only a few months after the Sixth Enlarged Executive of the Comintern, by which time this political decomposition was already an established fact. Within the Comintern, as well as in the Bolshevik Party itself, the Bukharin-Stalin Right was about to finally gain the upper hand over the Trotsky-Kamenev-Zinoviev Left, with the consequent possibility of bringing about an economic policy of a capitalist type in Russia and to pass it off, through their “centrist appendices” across the world, as building “socialism in one country.”
Neither the Italian nor the European proletariat, were aware of what was happening in Russia in those years or of the struggle that left-wing minorities were leading against the absurd tactics of Stalin and his comrades. Few thus knew what the real motive was when, in June 1923, on the recommendation of J.H. Droz, Bordiga, with almost all of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Italy, who were not willing to accept Moscow’s tactical line, were replaced by individuals of proven right-wing faith, such as Vote, Tasca, and Togliatti, and at the same time invited to enter the Presidium of the Comintern. Even the often fierce criticism that Bordiga articulated within the Comintern, was very often silenced, as in the final resolution of the work of the Sixth Expanded Executive, where the exponent of the Italian Left repeated his criticisms about Russian and international issues, about the relationship between the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) and the Bolshevik Party, and about the united front and the concept of the workers’ state. For Moscow, as for the centrist leadership, it was important, in order to isolate the Left of the Party, that certain problems and certain discussions were only partially reported so that they did not fully reach the Party rank and file. In this regard, the letter that Togliatti sent to the Party secretariat is significant:
The study of the Russian question has convinced me that it concerns topics that are of fundamental importance for the perspectives and tactics of the proletariat in the present moment. It is not possible not to pose these problems to the masses without running the risk of detaching ourselves from the masses themselves.1
He was right to be worried if we take into account that even in 1926, despite the success centrism gained at the Third Party Congress in Lyon, the new leadership seemed to be a head still detached from a Party body which, although confused and disoriented, was more likely to listen to the political demands of the Left rather than the tightrope tactics of the new leadership. It should also be remembered that, almost a year after the first restructuring at the top of the party, at the Como conference of the responsible cadres of the organization (1924), thirty-five out of forty-five Federation secretaries sided with the positions of the Left, as they did a year later, towards the initiative of Repossi, Damen, and Fortichiari for the Committee of Agreement (Comitato d’Intesa). In addition to the individuals of the Left, entire federations such as Milan, Turin, Rome, Naples, Cremona, Pavia, Alessandria, Novara , Trieste, Foggia, and Cosenza supported it. It is at this point that Gramsci, in preparation for the Third Party Congress, used the iron fist, by requiring the members of the Committees of Agreement to renounce the initiative, under penalty of expulsion, and blackmailing all those who had sided with the positions of the old leadership created at Livorno.
On June 4, Gramsci summoned the interregional secretaries and set them a dilemma: either follow the line of the center, which meant, on the practical side, to stay within the organization, taking advantage of its financial support as a party official, or be expelled, with all the consequences that fascism would quickly demonstrate if the opportunity arose. Naturally individuals like Gramsci and Togliatti, had every interest in not saying what was happening in Russia (the Trotsky case), whilst striking with all means against the most active members of the Left. After the Exceptional Laws and the Rome show trial, the break between the center and the Left, went beyond polemics, to more or less official recalls, to blackmail and expulsions. It became a fact that came to define the character of the specific conditions of general demobilization.
Inside the prisons, in the places of police controlled internal exile, in the penal colonies, the two sides confronted each other both on the political and organizational level; even in the hours of “free time,” this attitude of intransigence did not diminish. Centrism reproduced in the jails, as far as was objectively possible, that minimum of organizational ties of increasingly blind and uncritical adhesion to the Comintern. This included unending attempts to politically discredit and isolate the Bordigists or Trotskyists, who within a few years, would be synonymous as “agents of imperialism.” The Left, trapped in this centrist-fascist grip, learned to fight on the edge of the abyss that had opened up, transforming, wherever it was possible, the fascist jail into a real university of Marxism, with moments of proselytism, in the tough and laborious work of forging revolutionary cadres. Others managed to escape abroad, particularly to France or Belgium, giving rise to the phenomenon of political migration that was very important in the debate between the leftist oppositions that arose in those years both inside and outside the Comintern.
Degeneration of the Third International
The process of political degeneration of the Comintern that involved with greater or lesser rapidity all the communist parties, sprang rapidly from in the negative evolution of events in Europe. From 1921 to 1926 there was no episode of defeat or failure that did not increase Moscow’s readiness to partially or totally change the programmatic points issued by its Second Congress.
Just as the episodes of the Spartacist Revolt and the Hungarian revolution confirmed the need for a policy and a tactic which, in order to be victorious on the revolutionary level, would have had to be based on a more authentic concept of political and organizational autonomy of revolutionaries, for the achievement of the only possible end, the dictatorship of the proletariat, without intermediate stages, so the failed attempt to export the revolution by force in Poland (defeat of the Red Army at Warsaw, August 1920), the revolutionary failure in Italy after the factory occupations (September 1920) and the gradual extinction of the Ruhr miners’ uprising (March 1921), the persistence, after five years, of the isolation of the Russian revolution, with a catastrophic internal situation, both economically and in terms of dealing with social tensions, led to the germination of a U-turn in ECCI’s tactic.
At the Third Comintern Congress (Moscow, June- July 1921) and in the subsequent Enlarged Executive, while considering the situation was still likely to produce revolutionary solutions,2 on the important issue of a mass following for the newborn communist parties, the Comintern answered with the tactical formula of the united front with the forces of social democracy for a coalition, temporary “workers government,” with the false pretext of unmasking the opportunist and objectively counterrevolutionary attitude of the “workers’ parties” linked to the Second International in the eyes of the workers.
In fact, the theories of the united front and the workers’ government were not a tactical, “necessarily” dangerous retreat, in order to pave the way for the various communist parties to conquer the masses still linked to the old social democratic parties, but the first step in a much more drastic and irreversible process of political revisionism which made the occurrence of a revolutionary event on an international scale all the more unlikely. The confirmation came at the Fourth Comintern Congress (Moscow and Petrograd, November-December 1922) in which the social democracy of Kautsky, Turati, and Van der Velde ceased to be a bastion of conservatism, the “left wing of the bourgeoisie” (Zinoviev) and even less “the little sister of fascism” (Stalin), but was relabeled an “important sector of the labor movement.” Along these lines, the united front, a momentary instrumental alliance, was declared the most suitable instrument for the project of unification between the two sections of the labor movement in a single organizational structure that could better recover the ground lost in relation to the masses by ending their confusion and disorientation.
But for such a project to have any chance of success, it demanded the impossible. The adherents of the old socialist parties would not accept reunification on the basis of a revolutionary program that had been, two years earlier, the basis for the split. It was also necessary that the “workers’ government” had to become a two-faced Janus that would support both the democratist and progressivist ravings of the socialists and reassure the rank and file that the content of the new slogan was revolutionary, and that the workers’ government would be a necessary step towards the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The effects of the change of course were not long in appearing. In October 1923 in Germany, the KPD, under the leadership of Brandler, put into practice the tactical line of the Comintern by participating in coalition governments in Thuringia and in Saxony. This ended in a resounding failure which further confused the German proletariat. The failure of the German revolution nourished the formation of oppositions that had already manifested themselves, more or less openly, at the time of the Third Congress.
To what extent could the basic contradiction — proletarian power exercised in an economy that, with the NEP, was officially marching, even if “under control,” towards the strengthening of capitalist relations of production — have been contained by a more flexible policy, and how far could the exceptional nature of the situation have avoided its negative impact, not only on Russia’s problems but also on the European Communist parties? Apart from the disastrous episode of the German October, the Comintern had shown that it had embarked on a dead-end road. Instead of insisting on the most absolute tactical-strategic intransigence as the only guarantee for the resolution of the problems of the international and therefore Russian proletariat, it put Russia and its enormous contradictions first, as it was the only country in which the proletarian revolution had been victorious. The Comintern was thus at the center of a process which, from being revolutionary, was now just looking like an instrument of defense of the proletarian state, reversing the real terms of the question by 180 degrees. And it was precisely on the basis of what was happening in Russia in those crucial years, on the significance of the new tactics regarding the expectations of the international revolution, that within the Bolshevik Party itself, as well as in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, the first oppositions were organized. Though starting from a common preoccupation with subsequent events, they took different and in some cases opposing paths.
In this sense the changes that were enacted at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern (Moscow June-July 1924) were worthless. The echo of the German defeat had been enormous. For the Comintern it was necessary to retreat, even if only formally. Brandler and Radek were accused of misinterpreting the party line on the united front and of being, therefore, the only ones responsible for the defeat. Zinoviev was once again embarrassed enough to shuffle the cards on the table. In his speech, social democracy, previously “an important part of the workers’ movement,” became “social fascism,” from which a new interpretation of the united front was handed down. From being a organizational reunification of a hierarchical type with the Social Democrat leadership, it was transformed into a united front of the working class masses from below. The same sort of argument applied to the workers’ government which, from being an intermediate step towards the proletarian dictatorship, now became synonymous with this, as if it were just a question of terminology.
The fascists are the right hand and the social democrats the left hand of the bourgeoisie. Here is the new fact… The essential fact is that social democracy has become a wing of fascism.
The worker and peasant government is nothing but a method of agitation, propaganda and mobilization of the masses… a pseudonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat.3
Bordiga expressed himself well in this regard at the Congress:
But what can worker or a simple peasant understand of the workers’ government when, after three years, we, leaders of the labor movement, have not yet managed to understand and give a satisfactory definition of what this worker government is? I simply ask for a third-class funeral for the tactic and with it for the slogan of a workers’ government.4
Even though the Fifth conference ended leaning to the left, the Comintern continued to march on the road it had taken at the Third and, as far as tactics were concerned, the process ended in the Sixth and Seventh Enlarged Executive with the theorization of socialism in one country. It was at this final stage that Stalin definitively took over, laying the foundations of the construction, piece by piece, of state capitalism, smuggling it in as socialism.
The failure of the European revolution to arrive to extract the Soviet government from its mess, and the beginning of a process of economic transformation, of capitalist production relations, from the NEP onwards, led to the creation of a political and administrative superstructure with perspectives that were totally different from the original revolutionary one. This led to ever greater disagreements and splits, which were increasingly difficult to reconcile the more rapid and irreversible these contradictions themselves developed.
They soon revealed themselves in aspects of the political agitation of Comintern bodies (abandoning of principles, revisionism, opportunism in foreign policy), but linking these events to the objective factors that determined them, should have been the primary task, in that historical phase, of the various oppositions that arose throughout Europe for a time. It was easy to blame the centralism of the Bolshevik Party, or the party structure as such, for its gradual departure from the revolutionary line, and therefore of the impossibility of building socialism, as if, in Russia in the 1920s, this huge problem was just created by the organizational form, by greater or lesser democratic accountability or by errors of tactics. In fact, in Russia the process of economic transformation in the socialist sense was not carried out, not because the Communist Party of Lenin and Trotsky suppressed the councils or exercised the dictatorship over the proletariat rather than being its highest expression, or because it eliminated (after bitter struggles) every form of internal opposition. On the contrary, the isolation of the Soviet republic and the consequent practical impossibility of carrying out any transformation, were the main causes of the degeneration that took hold of the party, and the structures of the state, opening up an increasingly deep gulf between the working class and its organs of power. This error of dialectical interpretation was, to greater or lesser degrees, the basis of some left oppositions, such as the anarcho-syndicalists who took root all over Europe for a while, particularly in France, as well as the Dutch councilists, Gorter and Pannekoek, and also in part of the KAPD in Germany, and there were those who would reach hasty conclusions as in the case of Korsch and his tendency.5
Apart from the sometimes subtle but often very substantial ideological differences between the various leftist oppositions in 1929, after the expulsion of Trotsky from Russia, the panorama of the oppositions was already very wide and covered an arch that ranged from the most prohibited anarcho-syndicalism of the Sorelian kind to the most intransigent reaffirmation of the Leninism of the Bolshevik October.
This is the summary picture of the most important oppositions of the left and their matrix.6
- Holland: The aforementioned councilist opposition from Gorter to Pannekoek who took the move after the Third Congress of the Comintern.
- Russia: Apart from the workers’ opposition of Kollontai and Miasnikov, the one that gave a greater political imprint was the opposition of Trotsky (from 1924 to 1929 on Soviet territory, from 1929 to 1940 beyond its borders).7
- France: Syndicalists (Monatte and Rosmer), who published Proletarian Revolution. Trotskyists (Naville and Rosmer), who organized mainly in the Communist Party.8
- Germany: Katz Group (anarcho-syndicalist), published the magazine Spartaco. Schwarz Group. It was a group of mainly workers’ which was joined by the remains of the dissolved KAPD and which published the Decisive Left. Korsch Group. After first joining the Schwarz group and the positions of KAPD, Korsch founded an autonomous formation, “Communist Politics.” Urbans Group. Composed of the old left of KPD who opposed Brandler-Radek’s opportunist tactics on the occasion of the failure of the German revolution in October 1923. Led by Maslov, Fischer, Sholen, and Urbans all published the Flag of Communism.
- America: A left opposition led by [James] Cannon was established, basing its political program on Trotsky’s intervention at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern in July 1924.
The Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy
As mentioned in the first part of this document, after the Exceptional Laws for those in the Italian Left who were not “guests” of the fascist prison system, continuing to do politics meant taking the path of exile. France and Belgium were the two countries where, mostly for reasons of geographical proximity (rather than official tolerance by the regime), served as a refuge for Italian political émigrés.
In April 1928, the groups that were already politically active in the Paris, Lyon and Marseilles areas, together with the “Belgian” elements, constituted in Pantin, in the suburbs of the French capital, the “Fraction of the Italian Left.” In June of the same year the first issue of Prometeo came out, as a political organ of the Fraction.9
From an ideological point of view, the Fraction continued the political battle the Left had fought against the progressive departure from revolutionary principles of the Comintern and the centrist party of Gramsci and Togliatti. It was an attempt to save from the general collapse what was positive and politically indispensable in the international workers’ movement until the Comintern’s Second Congress. They refused to unconditionally surrender to the party line issued by the Lyon Congress on fundamental issues such as the analysis of social democracy, the tactical meaning of the united front and the workers’ government, the bolshevization of the party, the possibility of developing a socialist economy within a single country. Their reply was revive all the theoretical work that the “Left” expressed before and after Livorno, in the “Theses of Rome” and in the initiative of the “Committee of Understanding.”
For the Fraction, the reasons that led the revolutionary movement of the 1920s to break all links with reformism and to create an autonomous political and party-like organization that was the right instrument for the working class to reach the ultimate goal of the class struggle — the institution of the proletarian dictatorship — continued to exist, since tactical solutions, linked to the unfolding of events of that moment could only be considered guiding principles of the class struggle, valid for the entire capitalist historical period. On the other hand, the new course of the Comintern had done nothing but a collection of disastrous failures.
After the failed German insurrection of October 1923, the Chinese proletariat, was also militarily disarmed and politically disorganized by the tactic of the united front. This led to their massacre, at the hands of that Chang Kai-Shek who was presented in Stalinist propaganda as the leader of the Chinese communist revolution. The slaughter in Canton and Shanghai in 1927, virtually put an end to a period of social upheaval and revolutionary expectations that started with the crisis created by the First World War.
The new situation brought further problems for the Fraction. Almost everyone accepted that, apart from the experience of the Bolshevik October, world capitalism had emerged practically unscathed from the serious period of postwar crisis, and was heading towards a long period of economic reconstruction.
Within the Comintern, even before the tragic events in China occurred, Bukharin’s report in the Sixth Enlarged Executive put forward the theory that capitalist stabilization would put an end to any attempt at revolutionary revival with the consequent result that the international proletariat, defeated and disoriented, would enter more or less as a whole into the economic mechanisms of the new cycle of accumulation.
Whilst for the leaders of ECCI, the new phase only confirmed the correctness of their previous tactical line, for the left oppositions new and more complex problems opened up. For the Fraction, the basic question was no longer simply ideologically oppose all Moscow’s deviations from revolutionary Marxism. On the contrary a precise answer to what was happening in the country where the proletarian revolution had been victorious; to the significance of the opportunism that had taken hold of the centrist parties; and to the role that the leftist oppositions had to assume in this particular historical phase, was needed. In other words, answers were needed to those questions that the Russian revolution had posed but not resolved:
- Up to what point, at a time of reflux in the struggle could the contradiction between the victorious revolution in one country and its total isolation from the rest of the international proletariat have remained within the bounds of a class experience, and on the other hand to what extent could it been resolved beyond these limits? This would have allowed for the understanding of what the economic content of a proletarian policy was, rather than taking the form of political opportunism generated by the capitalist characteristics of the “outside world.”
- The process of political degeneration that had developed in the Comintern and in the centrist parties could have been halted in the event of a resumption of the class struggle. On the other hand it had to be regarded as an irreversible process, which went much faster and deeper, the longer the isolation of the Soviet Republic continued.
- What should have been the correct relationship between the International Center, ever more concerned with safeguarding its interests as a proletarian state, and the remaining Communist Parties.
- What attitude should have been taken by the leftist oppositions, which arose on an international scale against the centrist parties from which they had left or been expelled from.
Bordiga had tried to give an answer as early as September 192410 to the first three questions and immediately after the Fifth Congress of the Comintern. where he dealt with these problems:
We should discuss the operation and tactics of the whole International, based on the report of activity of its maximum organ, the Executive, between the two Congresses. The directing center of the International should submit itself to a very searching examination. In reality this examination of the Executive never takes place. On the contrary it is always the Executive Committee which puts each party, each section on trial.11
In the aforementioned article of 1924, Bordiga, as he identified the development of opportunism in the stagnation of the class struggle on the European front, thus linked every possibility of recovery to the recovery of the same; if not, nothing could stop the process of degeneration.
In February 1926, on the occasion of the Sixth Extended Executive, Bordiga reiterated the same problems, emphasizing the Russian question in relation to the international situation and denouncing the false relationship that had been established between the ECCI and the Russian Communist Party.
Trotsky also went into the matter. In January 1924, the Bolshevik leader began a harsh controversy with the Party’s top leaders on the relationship between democracy and centralism, on the impossibility of political coexistence between the old Bolshevik cadres and the new party cadres and on the growing bureaucratization that pervaded the ruling nerve centers of the organization.12 In 1926, immediately after the conclusion of the work of the Sixth Extended Executive,13 Trotsky touched all the key points that were affecting Russian political life, from the interpretation of NEP to foreign policy problems.
- Defense against workers’ interests towards rich peasants (NEP).
- Development of the socialist sector in the economy and greater control over the free market.
- Tax tightening towards kulaks (rich peasants).
- Attack on bureaucracy and defense of democracy inside the party.
- Right-wing deviationism in foreign policy.
- Rejection of the theory of socialism in one country.
Trotsky also inextricably linked the possibility of economic transformation of the Soviet republic in a socialist direction to international revolution.
But at the beginning of the thirties, when all these problems could not only be enunciated or denounced, but “resolved” on the level of analysis and political practice, the Fraction found itself facing this immense task practically alone, with a Bordiga who had withdrawn from activity14 and a Trotsky ever more willing to play the wrong cards in attempts to organize the unity of international oppositions.15
Problems of the fraction
At a European level, the greatest political weight was exercised by the Russian opposition. The enormous personal prestige which the figure of Trotsky carried, had the power to influence the fractions of the left that arose at the turn of the thirties, on the basis of a not always clear political program and very often linked to changed events on an international scale.
At the beginning of 1930 Trotsky tried to organize the union of the Left Opposition on the basis of coalition committees whose main purpose was to turn centrist parties round. This did not preclude the possibility that the Opposition might reenter organizations linked to the International (entryism) in order to better carry out this type of work.
After 1933, with the ascent of Hitler to power, it seemed to Trotsky that centrism was no longer in a position to provide a valid defensive barrier for Russia. In Trotsky’s eyes the birth, or worse, the multiplication of fascist governments on the borders of Russia, or in any case in Europe, meant increasing the isolation of the revolution with the consequent acceleration of the process of bureaucracy within the party and the workers’ state. From now on the tactics of international oppositions needed to change: no longer the reform of centrism, but the creation of new parties with the participation of the healthy elements of the leftist oppositions and socialist parties, based on the program of the first four Congresses of the International, with the perspective of creating a Fourth International to act as a counterpart to that of Stalin and his associates. It is in this eventful period that the Fraction, in opposition to the Trotskyist opposition, faced and resolved in part the biggest political problems that then troubled the workers’ movement. It was evident that in those years, characterized by the ebb and flow of class struggles, with an economic recovery under way and, above all, with a politically leaderless workers movement, it was necessary not only to safeguard the positive in a revolutionary sense, but also to give a political sense of what was happening inside and outside the Soviet state, inside and outside the Comintern-aligned parties.
In the current situation, we must begin to say clearly that the terrible crisis that the labor movement is going through comes from the fact that problems have arisen that Lenin himself could not foresee. To these problems, centrism has given a counterrevolutionary solution in the theory of socialism in one country. In 1927 the proletariat suffered a terrible defeat by failing to prevent the counterrevolutionary success of centrism within the communist parties. If it had won its battle within the parties, it would have ensured the continuity of the party for the realization of its task, since it would have resolved the new problems posed by the proletarian exercise in the USSR in a revolutionary direction.16
Apart from the relations between the ECCI. and the CPSU, between the International and the Communist Parties, and the Bukharin-Stalinist concoction (mystification, lies, deception: note for the non-Italian comrades, ed.) of socialism in one country, themes already contained in Trotskyist polemics, the Fraction set about providing a solution to a twofold problem: how to characterize the opportunism that had taken hold of the Communist Parties and, at the same time, what role and function to assign to the leftist oppositions. This was not an easy issue, if we take into account the fact that Moscow’s “official communism” — closed in its ill-omened perspective of a “homemade” socialism, to the point of turning proletarian internationalism on its head, providing tactical lines which were useless for a revolutionary assault (united front, workers’ government, collusion with social democracy) but capable of creating leftist governments which were tolerant towards the Soviet state, since, in Stalin’s perspective, only the strengthening of socialism in Russia would guarantee a socialist development in the rest of Europe as well — had opened a phase of political disintegration from which the workers’ movement is still carrying the scars.
The fact remained however, that regardless of the opposition’s polemics which attempted, with more or less success, to pose a solution to these closely related questions, we had to start from the analysis of what Russia represented in those years of counter-revolutionary predominance. We had to establish whether the cancer of opportunism, which was growing massively within the communist parties, had already completed its devastating work, making it the time to organize in new parties or whether to carry on as a Fraction. In the latter case this posed the issue of what kind of relationship should be established with the centrist parties, and what the functions and limits of the political activity of the fraction should be. This only made sense if, at the same time, we established whether the long-discussed objective contradictions of the Bolshevik Revolution could still be labelled a degenerated workers’ state, or if that economic and political degeneration had now put an end to the first attempt at a communist revolutionary experience. It was therefore natural that the Fraction should be start with the “Russian question” in order to arrive at a definition of its future tasks. In the polemic with the Trotskyists on whether or not to create new parties, the Fraction followed this political path without falling into the error of getting lost in the maze of immediatist tactics which are always full of opportunistic dangers, thus laying the groundwork for its lasting achievements.
The Third International is directed by a party that controls a workers’ state that remains such as long as the relationship between the relations of production, and its social relations, are based on the fundamental socialization of the means of production.17
If this was the position towards the Soviet state, a position that the Fraction maintained until 1935, it followed that communist parties which were linked to it by a thousand threads, not least ideological and financial ones, were pregnant with the opportunism that would lead them to counterrevolution: “centrism is the force that will lead to the betrayal of the communist parties,”18 but at that stage could not be considered as organizations that had definitively broken, in all respects, with the interests of the working class. The very fact of being, even if on an opportunist level, the long arm of a workers’ state that had not yet definitively degenerated, placed them on the road to the abandonment of the historical interests of the proletariat. However until this process was complete, until centralism had not gone over to the interests of the class enemy, it was not yet possible to speak of definitive betrayal, but only that it was impossible for them to be considered the right political tool to lead the proletariat towards the conquest of power by the only route possible, the revolutionary one.
The victory of opportunism deprives the party, so transformed, of the capacity to lead the proletariat towards revolution but does not at the same time suppress the class position of the party. The party loses this at the very moment in which it turns to supporting the interests of another class.19
This approach meant that if the workers’ state, despite the insolubility of its contradictions, still had to be considered as such, based on the socialization of the means of production, and that if the communist parties in spite of the opportunistic disease they suffered from had not yet been passed, bag and baggage, went into the service of the class enemy. The construction of a new party was not yet on the agenda, and it would only become necessary when this had happened: “In our opinion, the historical condition for the creation of a second party lies in the betrayal of the old parties.”20
Not only that, but the same Vercesi did not exclude the possibility of returning to the old parties, on the condition that the proletariat succeeded in removing their bureaucratic encrustation, an event however that was judged to be difficult if not impossible: “We will return to the parties only if the centrist proletarians succeed in driving out the bureaucracy that has expelled us.”21
But until the old party occupied a “position based on a program that no longer responded to the interests of the working class but which does not yet represent the interests of the class enemy,”22 revolutionaries must not undertake unrealistic adventures, by adopting an organizational form prematurely. Instead its should continue in the role of a fraction which “is historically the only place where the proletariat can continue its work to organize itself as a class.”23
Transformation of fraction into party
Therefore, the fraction occupied the historical space until it was decided that the definite betrayal by centrism had taken place, until the fundamental contradiction which had given the chance and the means for opportunism to conquer the communist parties and to marginalize the Left was resolved. At that point and only under those conditions could new parties come into existence. In further deepening the issue, the Fraction (which always speaks through Vercesi’s mouth) proposed two solutions, both linked to the change in objective conditions and to the change in the balance of power within the class struggle.
Either these conditions
reside in the revolutionary victory of a proletariat directed by a fraction of the Left that succeeds in sweeping away centrism in the very fire of insurrection [or] centrism will be an essential factor in leading the proletariat to war and so the Fraction’s purpose will be completely extinguished.24
In other words, with the prospect of a resumption of the class struggle, the centrist parties either rediscovered their revolutionary strategy thanks to the work of the fractions, with the fractions replacing the centrist leadership, or the parties led by centrism will, after all their treachery, drag the proletariat into a new world slaughter tragically defending the interests of the bourgeoisie. The fractions will then form themselves into the party. Meanwhile, the fraction’s tasks were, developing the political program, preparing cadres and intervening in those spaces that the opportunism of the centrist parties, in conflict with the interests of the working class, continually opened.
above all has a role of analysis, education, preparation of the cadres, which achieves the maximum clarity in the phase in which it acts to form itself into the party, when the clash of classes sweeps away opportunism and makes the Fraction look like a political school and, consequently, as an organization of struggle that shows the path of victory [to the class].25
Up to this point the issue seems sufficiently clear. The fraction-party problem was “programmatically” solved by the dependence of the former on the degenerative process that was taking place in the latter, so that the definition of the role and tasks of a fraction remained that previously outlined. The fraction form was not adopted by virtue of some abstract theory of revolutionary organization which claimed it was an invariant political form, valid for all the historical phases of stagnation of the class struggle, but was conditioned by the opportunist parties which remained, even if in the process of degeneration, the political organs of the class struggle. The perspective of the transformation of the fraction into a party only in “objectively favorable” situations, i.e. in the presence of a resumption of the class struggle, was based on the calculation that only in, or approaching, such a situation would the final confirmation of the definitive betrayal of the communist parties be revealed. At that stage the dilemma would be resolved, albeit negatively, with a possible rekindling of class antagonisms given the impossibility of capitalism resolving its own contradictions, and with a proletariat without its fundamental political instrument, the party, because it now identified with the interests of the class enemy. In such a situation it would have been suicide to delay the transformation [of the Fraction into the Party — translator], and with it all the resulting political and organizational tasks.
It was in the second half of 1935, on the basis of a careful analysis of the increased contradictions of international capitalism, on the exacerbation of inter-capitalist tensions and on the change of course of centrist parties (their participation in government ), and on Stalin’s declaration of July 14 (calling on communist parties to support capitalist governments “against fascism” — translator), that in the eyes of the elements of the Fraction it seemed that the moment had arrived to concretely launch that process of transformation, which until then had only been a theory.
In this sense, the economic crisis had already given an idea of what roles political forces, parties and states, would assume as the Second World War approached with the possible resumption of the class struggle, before, during and after it. This was particularly true of the workers’ state and its centrist appendices. Even before the Spanish Civil War offered a practical example of imperialist moves on the European chessboard, in a game of shifting alliances and conflicts for and against the “totem” of democracy, anticipating the formal ideological justifications for the Second World War, the Fraction already understood that:
Fascists, democrats, socialists and centrists have completed their work: after having, in different ways, closely collaborated in the work of dismantling and strangling the world proletariat, they join and fraternize to crown this work in the only way that a regime based on division into classes can allow: war. Oh! Everyone, from Stalin to Van der Velde, from Mussolini to Hitler to Laval and Baldwin, would like to avoid falling over the cliff edge, after having for years on end, dug it with the bones of massacred proletarians.26
It goes on:
Soviet Russia’s recent industrial development does not make its problems as acute as in other states where they are insoluble outside war, and where the socialization of the means of production is based on the progressive accumulation of surplus value and not on the increase in the standard of living of the producers. Soviet Russia eliminates the cycles of production, and the intermediate rhythm of crises, which lead directly into the war, but it operates at the very heart of imperialist rivalries and does not hesitate to link up with those sides which it considers more useful to protect its interests. Soviet Russia does not hesitate to call the workers to unite around those “peaceful” forces that today appeal to the defense of the English imperialism and that tomorrow will appeal to the principle of justice in the interests of those states that were victors at Versailles.
At the same time, our congress expressed the response of the Italian proletariat to the communist parties’ betrayal, and the its revival by preparing to resume its place in the struggle of the world working class after fourteen years of fascist torture. To Stalin, the congress responded that the tombstone he placed on the communist parties, which were handed over to the enemy opens up the period leading to the transformation of our Fraction into a party with a view to the foundation of a new International, which will rise from revolutionary victory.27
It should be noted that among the premises and conclusions that have led to the change of judgment about centrism, the economic analysis of Russia appears to be still blurred. If there were no qualms about denouncing Stalin’s foreign policy as imperialist, if in the perspective of a second world war the Soviet Republic’s counterrevolutionary role seemed increasingly clear, the judgment on the dominant economic form in Russia was not so clear. After the introduction of NEP and after, above all, almost twenty years of absolute isolation passed in the vain expectation that other revolutions would come to the aid of a working class that, despite having created the political premises for a socialist development of society, had not, by itself, the objective possibility of achieving it.
In practice, this was like the Trotskyist misunderstanding based on the division into watertight compartments between an economy that remained “socialist,” as it was based on the socialization of the means of production, and a degenerate and opportunist political management, whose most obvious effects were to be seen in a bureaucratic “metastasis,” a right-wing deviationism in foreign policy and an economic policy designed to favor the interests of the kulaks at the expense of the masses of poor peasants and urban proletariat.
It was only in the midst of the Spanish Civil War that the Fraction arrived, albeit in a confused way, at a concern to link the revisionist attitude to a counterrevolutionary economic model:
Centrism in Russia is the political expression of an economic structure which, being based on the law of capitalist accumulation, defines the exploitation of the proletariat. The fact that the beneficiary of this exploitation, the class that can use it in the interest of its own organization is not within the borders of the Soviet state, but is international capitalism, does not change the effects of a productive mechanism based on the increasing extraction of surplus-value and the value of labor.28
The confusion or embarrassment stemmed from the difficulty of theoretically explaining the apparent paradox of a capitalist economic development alongside the socialization of the means of production and in the absence of a class that administered the surplus value extorted from the working class.29
Independent of any attempt to resolve this highly pressing issue, the Congress of the Fraction (September 1935), took up the task of responding to the new political phase, characterized by the betrayal of the centrist parties. According the the scheme developed in previous years, this event should have meant the work of the Fraction was over, that it was time to move to the construction of a new party. But in practice, even though this perspective was still accepted, within the Fraction some tendencies tried to postpone the problem rather than to solve it in practical terms.
In the report by Jacobs which the debate should have been based on, the betrayal of centrism was the slogan launched by the Fraction to leave the communist parties, as were no longer considered political bodies of historical or immediate interest for the working class, but instruments which had fallen into the hands of the class enemy. However this should not imply
the reentry of the Fraction and therefore its transformation into a party, nor does it represent the proletarian solution to the betrayal of centrism which will be provided by the events of tomorrow for which the Fraction is preparing itself today, but it is a position that can lead to the distortion of the principles of Fraction [inasmuch as] the conclusion of the centrist betrayal is not a result of revolutionary struggles, but of the dissolution of the proletariat which will once again find itself in the catastrophe of war.30
If it was true that the damage caused by centrism had ended up delivering the politically disarmed class into the hands of capitalism and that in the event of world conflict the various bourgeoisies would have had an easy time, in the absence of revolutionary organizations, to drag the international proletariat onto the war terrain of capitalist interests, it was equally true that the only hope of organizing some opposition to the attempt by imperialism to resolve its contradictions in war would come from the reconstruction of new parties, which would have had the task of operating in the same spaces and times where centrism was so that the alternative war or revolution was not just a slogan to exercise your jaw.
All the theoretical and analytical work of the Fraction on the betrayal of centrism, on the prospects of a new world conflict that also predicted Russian participation would have been useless, if the necessary consequences of the plan were not followed. Lenin’s teaching that, “in the absence of a revolutionary solution every capitalist crisis will have a bourgeois solution,” or in the worst of cases “transform imperialist war into a civil war,” should have been taken more seriously. It is even more perplexing that ideas of this kind came from elements who had grown in the Leninist tradition. However, for the rapporteur the answer to the problem of the crisis of the workers’ movement, caused by the imperialist engagement of Russia, where the incipient crisis of capitalism with its sharpening trade wars and open aggression towards the underdeveloped countries were already harbingers of the inevitable second world conflict, did not lie in the effort to weave together the thin thread of revolutionaries to give the proletariat its indispensable political organ, the party. This was all the more important due to the greater political disorientation caused by centrism, and more necessary than the slogan ‘leave the communist parties’ without another alternative, because “there is no immediate solution to the problem that this betrayal poses.”
It is natural to ask oneself what kind of slogan was needed. Assuming that the proletariat had followed it, it would have found itself in complete disorientation halfway between the old parties that had fallen into the bourgeois pit and organizations that refused to represent a concrete alternative in a political and organizational sense just because this was not the time for a revolutionary assault. Or it would have been launched in the certain knowledge that the proletariat would not have moved, because it remains entangled in the tentacles of centrism, and then the doubt arises that the slogan in question had been launched with the intimate hope that the proletariat listen to not create problems that go against the abstract scheme of the speaker.
According to this scheme, which stinks of mechanical thinking from any angle you look at it, parties would only be built when the prospect of the seizing power was on:
Can we say that the party can be founded outside of a historical perspective in which the problem of power is raised? It is obvious that if the party is founded on the notion of the struggle against the capitalist state. If the conditions for this struggle disappear temporarily, or for a certain period, the problem of the party cannot be posed, because, for a Marxist, when a problem arises it also poses the elements to solve it.
So in every other situation in which the weakness of the class is manifested, there is only room for fractions. In other words, the party and fraction would be the expression of the political life of the proletariat respectively in the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary phases. Everything is fine in theory, but when we try to interpret the problems of class struggles in a formal-logical way, we not only move away from Marxism but risk falling into dangerous vicious circles from which it is difficult to get out.31
Jacobs’ theses created within the Congress of the Fraction a strong opposition that, while agreeing “that the class struggle is not the result of maneuvers of individuals or parties, but the product of historical clashes that undermine the foundations of capitalist society”32 diverged on the speaker’s “wait and see” analysis. For Gatto, beyond the validity of the slogan proposed by Jacobs and the need to change the name of the Fraction to show it had further distanced itself from centrism, it was urgent to clarify the relationship Fraction-party relationship without mechanical formulas, but rather to make the tasks that the new situation required clear:
We agree that we cannot immediately move to the foundation of the party, but on the other hand situations will arise that will confront us with the need to move to its constitution. The exasperation of the speaker can lead to a kind of fatalism.33
This was no idle concern, since the Fraction was still waiting when it dissolved in 1945.
Thus, for Tullio,34 the party problem could not be left to the Greek calends, since there was a danger of being overtaken by events plus there was the other, no less serious danger, of preventing the working class from having a guiding body even in counterrevolutionary periods:
The class party is not just created on the eve of the seizure of power. If we say that when the class party is missing, the guide is also missing, we mean that it is equally indispensable in a period of defeat.35
Also Piero,36 as is clear from the minutes of the congress “does not agree with the definition of the constitution of the class party only during the period of proletarian recovery.” Romolo is “convinced that if a revolutionary situation developed before the transformation of the Fraction into a party took place, we would undoubtedly move towards a new defeat.”37
To cut the Gordian knot Vercesi intervened, who, while leaning towards the position of Jacobs, proposed to transform the name of the Fraction from the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy to the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, in the perspective that the resumption of the class struggle would place the creation of the party on the agenda. On this basis the congress found a fake unity that soon led to the resumption of the debate.
In the few years that followed before the Second World War, the Fraction was paralyzed by the clash of the two tendencies. The result being that it was overtaken by events, while at the same time suffering dangerous deviations. It should be noted that the “partyist” current, even in this period of the most absolute immobility, stuck coherently to the positions expressed at the congress, while in the “wait-and-see” camp, and particularly in its most prestigious exponent, Vercesi, there were many hesitations and changes of course. In 1935 Vercesi saw the need to begin the process of transforming the Fraction into a party in connection with the coming war since capitalism’s “evolution is destined to lead to the war from which the resumption of the proletarian struggle will arise in a more advanced form.”38
In 1936, in settling the dispute between the “wait-and-seer” [attendista] Bianco39 and the “partyist” Piero-Tito [partitista], he inclined more toward the latter:
We must consider that, in the current situation, although we do not have and can not yet have a mass influence, we are faced with the need to act no longer as a fraction of a party that has betrayed us but as a miniature party.40
In practice, at this stage, Vercesi seems to have abandoned the mechanical vision of delegating to the war the task of moving the masses to allow the Fraction to guide them and to become the party. He now was close to the positions of 1933, in which the party-class-fraction relationship was based on a more dialectical vision, where, in place of the betrayal of the centrist parties a new party had to come into being, not to unrealistically claim to lead the masses (which were not there yet) towards the conquest of power, nor to invent struggles that capitalism’s contradictions had not yet produced. Its task was to represent a class continuity that had been interrupted, to fill the political void that had opened up, to give back to the workers that indispensable political reference point even in periods of retreat, capable, even if tiny, to grow with events and not to messianically await them. But in 1937 he retraced his steps, to repropose in his “report on the international situation” the fraction as the only possible political expression of the moment, with the implicit renunciation of any kind of transformation into a party.
After 1939, at the end of this descending curve, he concluded with the classic “there is nothing to be done” since in wartime the proletariat disappears as a class. Once again he turned the issue on its head.
Apart from the personal convulsions of Vercesi,41 with the outbreak of war the Fraction became practically inoperative. All publications (internal bulletin, Prometeo, Bilan, and Octobre) ceased to appear, and contact between the French and Belgian sections almost ceased to exist. In 1945 the Fraction dissolved without having resolved in practice one of the most important problems which had given rise to it at Pantin in 1928. The party was born the same at the end of 1942 by the work of those of the Left who had remained in Italy (the Internationalist Communist Party) and many elements of the dissolved fraction flowed into it after the war ended.
At this point, it seems appropriate to enter into the merits of the fraction-party relationship, not only to comment on the positive or negative aspects expressed within the Italian left, but also to make our contribution to a problem which continues even today sometimes with apparently contradictory features.
The problem of how revolutionaries should organize themselves in a particular historical phase where a process of degeneration was taking place both in the country that had experienced the first and only class experience of the international workers’ movement, and in the communist parties ideologically linked to it, made sense as long as the objective and subjective factors facing the political forces operating on the level of the superstructure, had not substantially changed. The Fraction was right in disagreeing with the other oppositions of the left, and particularly with Trotskyism. Any attempt to breathe life into new party organizations could only come about when centrism had reached the end of the road by definitively abandoning class interests in order to out itself at the service of the counterrevolution and the economic and historical “needs” of the class enemy. Until then the only serious possible way to safeguard the political continuity of the class lay in the work of the Fraction. Trying to escape the contradictions centered on the isolation of the Soviet republic in a capitalist world beginning a new cycle of accumulation, could lead to either the idealistic voluntarism of Trotskyism, which tended to anticipate historical events which did not evolve in the way it expected, or we arrive at the most abstract mechanistic theory, expressed by the Jacobs-Vercesi trend, which had a tendency to continually postpone the problem to “more favorable situations,” with the only result being that they were themselves overtaken by events.
For all aspects of the life of the workers’ movement, but especially for the party problem, these idealistic and mechanistic ideas have always represented the extremes of the correct dialectical relationship between the party and the class.
What is the point of linking the notion of party only and exclusively to the concept of taking power or the possibility of leading the masses, denying the existence of the political organ of the class struggle except in revolutionary phases, and then delegating to never well-defined bodies or surrogates the task of representing class interests in the counterrevolutionary phases? The party, precisely because it is a political instrument of the class struggle, is not an episodic, contingent moment in the life and interests of the proletariat, but is historically called to carry out its functions of leadership and as a political reference point until objective economic conditions make the irreconcilability of class interests clear. Tasks, functions, major or minor possibilities of intervention, the link with the masses themselves cannot be decided by a party, which chooses to “be” or “not be,” to do or not to do, to engage with the masses or stay away from them. Objective conditions themselves will determine the absence or presence of these problems and the tactical methods for dealing with them.
The dialectic of things teaches us that the party is born as an instrument of class struggle. It is a political necessity, a moment of synthesis and aggregation that is at the same time a determined and determining structure in the antagonism between the classes. In historical periods in which the bourgeoisie seems to have almost complete supremacy over the proletariat, the party-class relationship is destined to become almost extinct. However, in periods when the increasing contradictions of the system drives the working class to raise its head, the greater the chances for the link between party and class to be renewed, or strengthened. Outside this dialectical vision that puts the party and the class as constant historical factors with in relation to the existing economic system that defines them, there is only room for confusion.
To argue that the party can only arise when the situation is revolutionary or the question of power is on the agenda, while in counterrevolutionary phases the party “must” disappear or give way to fractions, means not only to deprive the class in its darkest and most fragile periods of a minimal political reference point, but it ends up favoring the conservative game of the bourgeoisie by deliberately creating empty spaces devoid of a political presence that can hardly be filled in the space of twenty-four hours. As history has amply shown, economic crises have the power to move the masses to greater radicalization and readiness to fight, but they have never allowed time for revolutionary vanguards to resolve, in a necessarily short space, all the political and organizational problems typical of these very delicate phases. The great tragedy of the Russian revolution came in the years 1918-1919, when there was the highest degree of spontaneity of the working masses in Europe, but the revolutionary vanguards were still undecided about the recovery of the socialist parties or on the need to constitute new ones based on the political positions of the III International. When the communist parties emerged at the end of 1920, or even in 1921, the crisis of capitalism was still going on, but the masses were no longer likely to be led into frontal confrontation with the bourgeoisie.
In Italy, for example, the Communist Party founded at Livorno in 1921, was faced with a working class that had given its all in the previous two years, and unable to perform the function for which it had arisen, found it difficult to carry out an orderly retreat. With a party detached from the great masses, with a proletariat weakened and disappointed from its previous battles, the bourgeoisie, with their reactionary schemes, and playing on this occasion in the colors of fascism, had a good game. Thus, in the period of the second great cycle of accumulation that brought capitalism from the First to the Second World War, thanks also to the negative role played by centrism, the oppositions of the left did not understand the need or did not want to make a timely effort to create new, indispensable political bodies of revolutionary assault. Instead they were bound up in false schematic issues whilst the march of history went on its inevitable course, and against them. As far as the experience of the Italian left fraction is concerned, except for the Jacobs-Vercesi tendency, which also succeeded in inhibiting the further development of the whole organization on the basis of a sterile problem, we can say that all the essential points were already present because mistakes of this kind were promptly avoided. From the analysis of opportunism to the maturing of the conditions for the coming world conflict, and the need to move to the creation of new parties at the very moment when the old had consummated their class betrayal, are all part of the Fraction’s political heritage that must be recognized. Among others, Candiani was not wrong at the 1935 Congress to report that “Vercesi made a serious statement when he said that the extinction of the class also means the extinction of the party. On the contrary, the party remains in operation thanks to its theoretical and organic activity even in a period of retreat.”
This means that, in the historical development of the workers’ movement in general, and not just in the specific period from 1928-1935, the idea that the Fraction was the political expression of the class struggle in counterrevolutionary periods and the party only in periods of the assault on power, was just not credible. But if this important issue made sense and had relevance in that particular situation characterized by the troubled but inconclusive process of centrism’s progress towards counterrevolution, to reintroduce the same idea today, detached from the circumstances that produced it, is an even bigger mistake.
Parties are not born overnight, do not just turn up at the appointment with the “favorable situation” with the inexperience and anxiety that a young apprentice might have on his first day at work. Nor is it valid to argue for such a notion by reversing the experience of history and considering the Bolshevik party itself to just have played the role of a “fraction” of Russian social democracy until 1917.42
Russia was the only European country, involved in the war crisis of 1914-1918, in which, despite less favorable conditions than elsewhere, a proletarian revolution manifested itself, precisely because there was a party that operated as such, at least from 1912 onwards. Bolshevism, from its origins, did not limit itself to political fighting against Menshevik opportunism, to theoretically elaborate the principles of revolution, to construct cadres and to proselytize, but operated within the urban working class, poor peasantry. The Tsarist army, creating in the darkest period of Romanov fascism, those first thin threads of contact between party and class destined to later become later, in the fire of a developing revolutionary situation, real channels of contact between the spontaneity of the class and the party’s tactical-strategic program.
It is no accident that the favorable ground for the basis of Bolshevik October had been prepared by a party force.
In 1902, Lenin had already laid the tactical-organizational foundations on which the alternative to the opportunism of the Russian social democracy, the party alternative, should be constituted, unless one wants to disguise What is to be Done? as just the principles of a good fractionist. Trotsky himself, in the first months after the victorious Bolshevik revolution, in rejecting the idealistic theses of every stripe, dressed in red for the occasion, according to which the revolutionary event of October was inevitable or “natural” or something that was matured in the air by spontaneous germination, showed how that great event had its objective basis in the world crisis of capitalism and in war, but it also had in the long preparatory work of Lenin’s party the subjective condition favorable to victory.
The great strength of the bourgeoisie has always consisted in making the masses believe that it is impossible to break the economic and political structures of capitalism by force. They elevate this productive form to a unique and universally valid system, with the aim of making the revolutionary solution appear impractical, as well as utopian as a political perspective. Marxism has shown us scientifically how capitalism is a transitory productive form born of the impossibility of the feudal economy to develop productive forces and destined to disappear when, once its historical task has been exhausted, it becomes an obstacle to the further development of those productive forces which it had helped to establish. But this disappearance or overcoming of capitalism cannot be considered as an inevitable historical event, or even worse, placed in a predetermined temporal space, without the return of the economically determined subjective element of the class struggle with the consciousness of a revolutionary strategic aim. In this sense Marxism has always considered the capitalist crisis as the favorable condition for making its overthrow possible. However it has also maintained that even if the crises entail economic instability, the collapse of traditional institutions, social instability and radicalization of the masses, as necessary conditions for the final confrontation — they are not at the same time sufficient in themselves.
We need the consciousness of our goal, the homogeneity of the tactic towards a single strategic aim, we need the willingness of the masses to struggle, due to a single economic crisis situation that unites them, but due to their different interests, motivations and intensity of radicalization, we need to find a common political denominator — the class party. Not only that, but it is necessary for the party to know how to link itself to the masses in these situations, to know how to act as a political reference point for the spontaneity of the class. Otherwise it would end up being marginalized by the unfolding of the class struggle itself, would only act as a current of opinion without having any weight in the ongoing process. All this is possible on the sole condition that the political vanguard has previously learned how to grow with the maturing events, creating the premises of that dialectic link between party and masses that “objective situations” favor but do not determine mechanically. Leaving issues like the dissolution of institutions, the radicalization of the masses and, at the same time, the birth of the party and the link between the latter and the masses itself, to the “circumstances” of the time also implies the opposite error, that of believing you can have a mass party even in counterrevolutionary situations.
1 Letter of Togliatti (Ercoli) of July 9, 1926.
2 At the Third Comintern Congress the analysis of the international situation and prospects was given by Trotsky.
3 From the report of the Fifth Comintern Congress.
4 From the intervention of Bordiga at the Fifth Comintern Congress.
5 Karl Korsch arrived, at the end of 1925-1926, in one of the most delicate moments for the birth of the leftist opposition, at the conclusion that the one of October 1917 was not a proletarian revolution, but only a bourgeois-democratic one. On this issue see Bordiga’s letter to Korsch of October 28, 1926, in which the exponent of the Italian Left refutes this thesis. The only full version of this letter in English is an appendix to the English translation of Onorato Damen’s Bordiga Beyond the Myth.
6 We limit ourselves in this brief overview to only indicating the most important left oppositions originating in Europe and America in the late 1920s.
7 After the expulsion of Trotsky, a leftwing current was organized in Russia that survived the Stalinist purges. Some Trotskyists disguised themselves in this current “the Reiss tendency.” Reiss himself, a GPU agent in Europe, was assassinated by Stalin’s agents when he broke with the leadership of the Party and joined the Fourth International.
8 Alfred Rosmer, after getting his start in syndicalism, broke with the current of Monatte, to give rise to the Trotskyist opposition in France.
9 Prometeo was already a theoretical journal of the PCd’I created and managed by the left. It was suppressed by Togliatti at the end of 1924 for “administrative reasons.” In reality, and it was Togliatti himself who informed Moscow, the reasons were political: “Prometeo might become a fractional organ.” J.H. Droz also mentions this in his book The Clash Between the PCd’I. and the III Internazionale (Italian edition, Feltrinelli).
10 “The opportunist danger and the International.”
11 From the intervention of Bordiga at the Fifth Comintern Congress.
12 Trotsky’s open letter, published in Pravda on January 23, 1924.
13 July 1926, at a meeting of the Central Committee.
14 In 1926 Bordiga was arrested and then confined on the island of Ponza. During his stay in confinement he performed his “last” political act, signing a declaration adhering to Trotsky’s positions in the fight against Stalin. After his 1929 release, Bordiga retired to private life refusing any contact with the elements of the international opposition and the Italian fraction, declining Trotsky’s invitation to organize an international opposition center.
15 After his expulsion from Russia, Trotsky organized an International Bureau with the aim of bringing together the various leftist oppositions (Paris, April 1930).
16 Article of Vercesi (pseudonym of Ottorino Perrone) taken from Bilan № 1, theoretical magazine of international discussion of the Fraction. Publication lasted from 1933 to 1938. Subsequently the Fraction published in the first months of 1939, Octobre, of which five issues were produced.
17 Taken from a document signed by CE of the Fraction of the Left of the PCd’I which appeared on the Fraction’s Information Bulletin in February 1933.
21 Internal Bulletin of the Fraction, № 1, February 1931.
22 Bilan № 1, 1933.
25 From Bilan № 17, 1935: “Draft Resolution on Problems of the Fraction of the Left Presented by Jacobs.”
26 From the “Manifesto of the Italian Fraction” of the communist left, which appeared in Bilan № 23, Sept-Oct. 1935.
28 From the “Report on the International Situation Presented by Comrade Vercesi to the Congress of the Fraction,” in Bilan № 41, May-June 1937.
29 In this regard it should be remembered that the Fraction could not emerge with sufficient clarity from the indeterminacy of the analysis, and how Bordiga himself in the fifties was entangled in the false problem of state capitalism (that is, for him it was “state industrialism”). It was left to the comrades of the left in Italy, those who formed the heart of the war, the Internationalist Communist Party, to give a definitive place to the Russian economy. In this regard, consult the Damen-Bordiga controversy on Russia in Prometeo № 3, April 1952 (now in Onorato Damen, Bordiga Beyond the Myth).
30 Jacobs’ intervention from the report of the Fraction congress, in Bilan № 23, Sept-Oct. 1935.
31 We postpone comment on these positions to the conclusion in the following paragraph.
32 Gatto Mammone, pseudonym of Virgilio Verdaro.
33 From the intervention of Gatto at the congress of the Fraction.
34 Tullio, pseudonym of Aldo Lecci.
35 From Tullio’s intervention to the Congress of the Fraction.
36 Piero Corradi.
37 Romolo, pseudonym of Renato Pace.
38 From the report of the Congress of the Fraction.
39 Pseudonym of Bruno Bibbi.
40 From the article of Vercesi which appeared in Bilan, February-March 1936.
41 During the war, Vercesi would join an antifascist committee in Brussels.
42 Thesis supported by the ICC in RI № 3 1978