Correspondence with the South Russian Bureau of the Marxist Labour Party


Regular readers of the IBRP press in English will already have come across the South Russian Bureau of the Marxist Labour Party (MLP). In Revolutionary Perspectives 12 we published their “Appeal for an International Party of Workers’ Self-Government”. Since then the MLP has been in direct contact with us, the initial letters of which are published here.

The MLP’s understandable confusion over the differences between the groups in the camp of the Communist Left, specifically between ourselves and the ICC, evoked a long reply from the CWO on behalf of the IPRP. We are publishing this in the hope that it will be enlight-ening to the growing number of corres-pondents who are asking us about the differences between our two tendencies.

On the crucial issue of the Russian Revolution the discussion between us is still in its infancy. We totally disagree with the MLP’s view that the revolution was the fulfilment of the Bolshevik’s pre-1917 programme - a programme which essentially envisaged two stages to the revolution with the proletariat completing the supine Russian bourgeoisie’s democratic tasks. To justify this analysis the MLP have to reject the glaring fact that the very purpose of Lenin’s April Theses was to persuade the Bolshevik Party to reject their old two-stage analysis. (They do this in the German text referred to in the correspondence.) What Lenin saw was that the Russian Revolution was the first step in a European, eventually worldwide, proletarian revolution and it is ONLY in this international context that the enigma of what the Russian state and society became can be solved.

If this was part of an overall analysis whose logic was to condemn the Bolshevik Party as having acted against the interests of the working class then we could simply dismiss the MLP out of hand. But this is not the case. The MLP, along with a growing number of groups in the ex-USSR, is clearly striving to revive revolutionary marxism after the terrible lies and distortions of Stalinism. In true internationalist spirit they are hungry for contact and discussion with revolution-aries in the rest of the world. The MLP is part of a wider process of political questioning and clarification in Russia which gives us confidence that the future international party will be formed with elements who have particularly poignant reasons to understand the fate of that Revolution which, despite everything, remains an inspiration for the world working class today.

Russian letter

Dear Comrades

We received three printed matters sent to us ... and we’d like to thank you heartily for them! Unfortunately we’ve been very busy since then and weren’t able to respond to your materials, so we ask your for pardon. - Don’t blame us very much for this delay, OK?

To tell you the truth it wasn’t so easy for us to understand what kind of organization we had to do with in your person so to say, for you mentioned two names in fact - those of the CWO and the IBRP. Besides we read about some Int. Com. Current in your pages. Ultimately we decided that there were two organizations closely connected (CWO and IBRP) and a “brother” one apart - the ICC, were we right?

It must be said that after your printed matters we received a lot of materials from the ICC ...

We started studying your materials and their ones, trying to compare them, but many things still remain blurred. For instance, when comparing your and their positions we liked yours better, but then we read the Int. Communist no. 16 (the documents from the VIth Congress of Batagglia Comunista) and the difference between your and their views escaped us again...

Then the ICC sent us two booklets on the history of the European Communist Left where they elucidated in particular the ideology of A. Bordiga and criticised it but on the contrary we did like his ideology.

After that we re-read the materials of the VI Congress and those of the joint meeting of the Communist Left, “In defence of the October Revolution” (printed in no. 9 of Rev. Persp.) and were again disappointed.

We share your views as regards the “centrally planned state capitalism in Russia in the 1920s and after” (though we maintain that they tried to realise the conceptions of Duhring, Rodbertus, Schmoller and other German adherents of “state socialism”) but we cannot agree that the October Revolution was the socialist or the pure proletarian one, as well as we disagree that there was established a dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia. - No, there was established the “revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” - just as the Bolsheviks had planned before the year 1917. Correspondingly, the October Revolution was the workers and peasants’ one but not yet socialist! The Bolsheviks attempted to “drive” it into a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat” (= the alliance of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry) but they failed and had to yield to the middle peasantry putting an end to the activity of the committees of poor peasants in the countryside.

The committees of poor peasants were fused with the all-peasant soviets, the “factory and plant committees” were fused with the statified trade unions etc. - what “dictatorship of the proletariat” can we talk about? (If we don’t confuse the power of the Bolshevik Party with the dictatorship of the proletarian class of course!)

As for the genuine dictatorship of the proletariat (= the socialist, mono class one), it has not yet been established anywhere in the world, to our mind!

In the ICC booklet (we dispose of the French edition only) entitled “Russie 1917 - Debut de la revolution mondiale. La plus grande experience revolutionnaire de la classe ouvriere. Polemique dans le milieu revolutionnaire” we read about “le sainte dualite” selon la foi Bordiguiste” and “la revolution double” and we liked these conceptions (though no less we liked the conceptions of the councils current.) And we regret that the ICC, as far as we can understand it, rejected the most reasonable and productive marxist ideas on the true nature of the October Revolution, which had been elaborated by both the bordigists and the councilists back in 20s and 30s, instead of trying to reintegrate namely them.

What would you say, dear comrades? Could you send us some booklets or magazines (journals) reflecting the original, bordigist analysis of the October revolution and of the USSR’s nature (especially of its base, i.e. economy)?

Do you know of any left communists in Europe who would not recognise the socialist character of the October Revolution nowadays as we do? How to contact them?

In any case we consider ourselves ideologically as part of your “coterie” common with the ICC and perhaps we shall join your International Bureau for the Revolutionary International party after a thorough analysis of the actual positions of the whole spectrum of the International Communist Left. We are ready and open for the most complete information before to judge and to make any conclusions!

We can write English, French and German, read in any other Roman languages.

NB. We cannot send you our detailed positions right now, but we did it for the ICC (in German - for their Switzerland section in Zurich) and they haven’t replied to us adequately. If you exchange information with the ICC you could inquire them about it, if not - let us know, we’ll try to make and English version for you though it isn’t so simple since we haven’t got a computer yet and we live in the provinces.

Our South Bureau of the Marxist Labour Party is a grouplet of marxists in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia. We study marxism and try to project true marxist views especially among youngsters. But it’s a hard work - youngsters in Russia join nazis or anarchists more willingly! Sure, we try to cooperate with the anarchists in these circumstances. ...

Hoping to hear from you soon, dear comrades, and with communist greetings to all!

South Bureau of the MLP

PS. Any of your newspapers and magazines are most welcome, of course. If you read Russian, then we can send you two issues of our local newspaper, Left Turn, next time,

Comradely yours, F.

IBRP Letter to the Southern Bureau of the Marxist Labour Party (Russia)

Dear Comrades of the MLP

Thanks for your letter of July ’98 ... we are glad that you have received our publications and that they are of interest to you ...

We can imagine your difficulties in working out the differences amongst the groups of the Communist Left, particularly between ourselves and the ICC. Basically the organisations which comprise today’s Communist Left are the political heirs of those revolutionary marxists who fought against the political degeneration of the Third International and held true to the communist programme against the Stalinist and later Trotskyist perversions of it. Historically there are two main strands - the German/Dutch council communist strand associated with the names of Hermann Gorter and Anton Pannekoek and the Italian Left strand which is often, inaccurately, solely equated with Amadeo Bordiga and which is generally regarded as the “partyist” tendency.

The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP) is a specific tendency which shares the same political platform (have you a copy?) and which at present comprises the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO) in Britain and the Internationalist Communist Party (the PCInt. also known by its paper, Battaglia Comunista) in Italy. The CWO publishes a quarterly journal, Revolutionary Perspectives and Workers Voice, currently in the form of an occasional broadsheet. As well as Battaglia Comunista, the PCInt. publishes a theoretical journal, Prometeo (Prometheus).We also have comrades and close sympathisers in France and the USA (including Los Angeles Workers’ Voice and Internationalist Notes(. Our platform is within the tradition of the Italian Left but we are not Bordigist in the sense that this term is known today.

The CWO was formed in 1975, more or less the same time as the ICC, the result of a regroupment between a semi-councilist group, Workers Voice, based in Liverpool and Revolutionary Perspectives, a group of ex- “libertarian communists” who - like the comrades who formed World Revolution and went on to join the ICC - had split from Solidarity, a group which had no class analysis and followed the “order givers-order takers” view of society as expounded by Paul Cardan (Castoriadis), an ex-Trotskyist. It was the early days of the capitalist crisis and a time of reawakening of working class struggle. Politically there was a lot of questioning of bourgeois ideology, especially of the idea that the working class no longer existed and that marxism was irrelevant. Nobody had heard of the communist left but the return of economic crisis to what we had been told in the Fifties was a crisis-free capitalism and the de facto evidence of mass class struggle led to a search for political clarification. There was a renewed interest in marxism and in the revolutionary history of the working class, especially of the revolutionary wave after World War 1, including the lessons of the German Revolution and, of course the Russian Revolution. (Was it proletarian? When did it end? Why was it defeated? etc.) Some of the splitters from Solidarity were directly influenced by Revolution Internationale and their group Council Communism, later World Revolution, went on to help form the ICC. The rest of us were more influenced by our reading of the German Revolution and identified with the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) - hence the name Communist Workers Organisation. We also had theoretical differences with the ICC (see below) which more or less remain today. It is true to say that the birth of left communism in Britain was very much influenced by council communism and the German Left tradition.

So how did the CWO come to be in the same camp as Battaglia Comunista? Well, by a slow process of learning from harsh experience and through political work and discussions with the comrades of Battaglia. As the initial burst of workers’ struggles died down the Liverpool section - almost all industrial workers - split. There was no political debate but essentially it was a rebellion against the perceived “domination” of theoreticians and a retreat back into local activism. This was when we began to realise that the question of political organisation is not just a question of having the correct platform or a community of like-minded comrades who share the same understanding of the communist programme. We had prided ourselves on having set out to build a “party of a new type” (KAPD) which was “hard as steel and clear as glass” but, poetical as Hermann Gorter’s words were, they did not mean much in practice. What we had meant was that we were not going to be a Stalinist or reformist organisation, above all we were not going to “substitute” ourselves for the working class. (Which genuine revolutionary party has ever set out to do that?) Even though we were not “pure” councilists - in that we recognised that the existence of soviets in themselves is no guarantee that the working class will follow a revolutionary path, it’s also necessary that the revolutionary party has the leadership of them - we had not yet recognised that the political organisation of today has to be able to relate to the daily concerns of the working class, no less than communist delegates in the soviets of the future. Of course, outside of a revolutionary situation this is very hard but the loss of the Liverpool section made us begin to realise the importance of maintaining and building a presence inside the day-to-day lives of the working class.

It was around this time that Battaglia Comunista learned of our existence and got in touch with us. Despite the CWO having the KAPD as its reference point we found we had much in common, for example we both explained the return of capitalism’s global economic crisis in terms of the falling rate of profit. The CWO, in true Anglo-Saxon empiricist fashion, was also attracted to Battaglia’s strategy of forming workplace groups of internationalists - BC members and sympathisers - who were organised round a factory group platform. At that time BC had thriving workplace groups in Fiat car factories in northern Italy which produced their own bulletin, Lotta di Classe. We saw that this was a means of establishing a communist focal point where it matters most, i.e. where the working class daily confronts capital. Over time we also came to appreciate the wider ramifications of Battaglia’s theoretical framework and the concept of the political organisation/party returning the communist programme to the working class. (The ICC’s response, by the way, was - and is - to dismiss workplace groups, or any other attempt to organise on a wider basis than purely party members, as opportunist and the factory group platform was dismissed as a watering down of communist politics.)

As you would expect Battaglia’s origins and political heritage are in the Italian Left. This goes right back to the formation of the original Communist Party of Italy in 1921 when the “far left” split from both the outright reformists and the so-called Centrists (Serrati) of the Social Democratic Party. Bordiga was the unquestioned spokesman and leader of the new Party which Lenin and the Russian delegates from the International already thought was a split “too far to the left” and would soon be redressed by the re-admittance of the Centrists. This was opposed by the PCd’I and became part of a longer and wider battle against the increasing opportunism and behind-the-scene manoeuvring of the Moscow-dominated International which led up to the policy of “bolshevisation”. Ironically the new party in Italy, which had emerged from a split over the very question of the necessity for each constituent party to follow the policies of the International as a whole, almost immediately found itself up against the attempts by the Bolshevik leaders to find a quick way to overcome their isolation. While Bordiga and his party could accept a policy of “go to the masses” they could not accept a return to an accommodation with social democracy. The Rome Theses of the Party’s 2nd Congress in 1922 - which accepted the possibility of a “united front from below” but rejected any deals or alliances with the social democratic parties - brought down the full weight of the Russian “big guns” against the PCd’I, as did Bordiga’s insistence that the only possible way to interpret the “workers’ government” slogan was as a synonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Neither was there room in this analysis for an “anti-fascist” alliance with bourgeois democratic parties and the Rome Theses spell out that fascism=capitalism just as much as democracy. The arrest of Bordiga and nearly all the rest of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Italian Party in early 1923 gave Moscow the opportunity to bring in a more pliant leadership under instructions from Gramsci, now in Vienna, and who himself was under Russian tutelage. To the dismay of many inside the Party, Bordiga’s response was to advise the EC to resign in protest and therefore dissociate itself from the policies being imposed by Moscow. This kind of pacifism was characteristic of the later Bordiga and it marks the beginning of the distinction between the Bordigist tradition and the history of our comrades in the PCInt. Although Bordiga went on to make an admirable and historic intervention at the Enlarged Executive of the Comintern in 1926 (1) (astonishing Stalin by arguing that the problems of the Russian Revolution were problems to be discussed by the International as a whole) he took no initiative in organising opposition to bolshevisation and the Comintern’s policies inside the Italian Party. The first sign of such an opposition was the appearance of the "Committee of Intesa" whose Platform Bordiga eventually signed but which had been instigated by others, one of whom was Onorato Damen who would later form the PCInt. (2) This was in 1925. The Committee of Intesa was dissolved under threats from Moscow. The impossibility of open debate in Italy as Mussolini clamped down on communist activity helped the “Centrists” to claim a majority in the party at the 3rd Congress, which had to be held in France for security reasons. (1926) For the first time the theses of the Left, presented by Bordiga, were defeated. After 1926 thousands of PCd’I members went into exile abroad, especially to France and Belgium. Thousands of others were imprisoned inside Italy. Damen was one of them.

In 1928 political exiles in France formed the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy. The Italian language journal, Prometeo, was published in Brussels. When Trotsky formed the International Left Opposition the Fraction was ready to engage in discussions with that current, even though they had a fundamental disagreement over the united front. The relationship was fruitless, however, since Trotsky’s method of manoeuvring for the leadership inside the existing parties instead of spelling out a distinct platform was fundamentally different. In fact there was a crucial difference between the two currents - summed up as the distinction between support for the first three Congress of the International (the Italian Left) and support for the first Four (Trotsky). Whilst the latter led Trotsky and his supporters towards entryism, anti-fascist united fronts, apology for the supposedly more progressive, democratic side in imperialist war (the war in Spain, China against Japan), the transitional programme and eventually support for Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state”, the Fraction followed an entirely different trajectory. In 1933, after the breakdown of relations with Trotsky, the Fraction began to produce their own journal in French - Bilan - which aimed to try and draw the lessons of the recent revolutionary struggles and defeats of the proletariat. Although they still defined Russia as a degenerated workers’ state they saw that there was nothing proletarian about it. By 1935, after Russia had joined the League of Nations and with the launching of the Popular Front by the 7th Comintern Congress, they recognised that Russia had become part of world capitalism’s imperialist set-up and there could be no hope of revolutionising either the Comintern or the Russian state. In recognition of the need to form a completely new party they changed their orientation from a fraction of the Communist Party of Italy to the Italian fraction of the Communist Left. However, the Fraction itself experienced problems over the war in Spain - not only was there a split over whether communists should intervene to try and turn it into a revolutionary struggle (a minority went off to Spain to form the first international brigade - the International Lenin Column) but Bilan became increasingly confused as to the significance of the war. No-one had any doubt that the working class had become embroiled in an imperialist proxy war yet some of the comrades thought that the level of working class involvement meant that this signalled a revival of working class struggle. This was what lay behind the abandoning of Bilan in favour of l’Octobre and the attempt to form an International Bureau of the Fractions of the Left. The perspective was for a return to revolutionary struggle and the outbreak of the 2nd World War appears to have taken the Fraction by surprise. The organisation all but disintegrated.

Meanwhile in Italy, unlike Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, the fascist prisons proved to be “schools of communism” for many left communists, such as Onorato Damen (expelled from the PCd’I in 1933) who discussed and debated the nature of the counter-revolution in Russia and the Comintern. Like their comrades abroad they realised that the Russian state and the Party which now controlled it would have to be overthrown; that the Comintern was now a tool of the reactionary regime in Russia and the Communist Parties counter-revolutionary. In 1943, with the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, there was a political amnesty and Damen, Maffi and others were released from gaol by the new Badoglio government which lasted 45 days before northern Italy came under German occupation. The comrades promptly got together with others who had been in exile, such as Stefanini, to form the PCInt. Their expectation was that there would be a revolutionary wave as after World War One and the first issue of a new series of Prometeo (November 1943) coincided with a mass strike in Turin which spread throughout the industrial north. By the beginning of 1944 the strikes in northern Italy (where militants of the PCInt. played a leading role) were echoed by miners in Belgium and textile and aircraft workers in Britain. While Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist Party, broadcasted radio messages to the Italian working class from Moscow, enjoining them to join the anti-fascist committees of national liberation (CLN) and declaring that the PCI was ready to accept a place in the post-war Italian government “with or without the abdication of the King”, Prometeo pointed out to workers that this was no aberration: it was totally in keeping with Moscow’s imperialist collaboration with the Anglo-American war front and denounced the CLN as imperialist and counter-revolutionary. In June 1944 the PCInt. issued a manifesto calling for workers to desert the war on all fronts in favour of a revolutionary class struggle and the Party tried to get working class partisan fighters to see that the fight for a democratic Italy was not the same as the struggle for proletarian power. Two of their comrades who were working inside the partisans were subsequently killed by the Stalinists. (The ICC says this served them right and that Battaglia were opportunist to attempt such work.)

All this was in the north of Italy. The south, where Bordiga lived, was under Allied occupation and communication between the two zones was difficult. Bordiga himself had withdrawn into private life during the Thirties and had refused all attempts by the Fraction abroad to join them in their work of drawing up a political balance sheet (bilan). Even so there was a Communist Left fraction organised in the south which looked to Bordiga for direction. He proved a confused and contradictory counsellor. In articles he wrote for various journals of the Fraction between March 1944 and June 1945 Bordiga betrayed how out of touch he was with regard to the class nature of not just the Stalinist PCI but also the social democratic party (PDS).

Thus in Proletarian of 15.7.44 he wrote that the aim of the Fraction is

1. Where possible, to bring back the parties to class politics.
2. When it proves impossible to set straight the existing parties, to transform it [the fraction - trans.] into an autonomous party.

Quoted from Battaglia’s Introduction on the Birth of the PCInt. for their reprint of accounts of the 1945 Turin Convention and the Florence Congress of 1948.

Thus the southern Fraction participated in the 1944 Convention of the Stalinist PCI. And even though Bordiga could write of the “absolute identity between the Fraction of the Left and the Internationalist Communist party which struggles in northern Italy” (September 1944) he still advised a kind of entryism into the PCI so that potential comrades would not “become easy prey to diseducation and corruption”. The net result was that only part of the Fraction in the south joined the PCInt. Others went back into the PCI and even the PSI or joined the Trotskyists. Bordiga himself elected to work with the PCInt.

When the post-war revolutionary wave did not materialise as the comrades had expected (in part due to the Marshall Plan) and the PCInt. inevitably lost many worker militants with the decline of the class struggle, the old differences with Bordiga re-emerged and became more substantial, eventually leading to the split of the Bordigists’ in 1952. The break came over:

  1. The nature of Russia. Bordiga would not accept that it was state capitalist and posited some sort of in-between society, either “state industrialist” or “moving towards capitalism”.
  2. Imperialism. Although Bordiga accepted that the USSR was imperialist he argued that it was the lesser imperialist power and that somehow this meant it was a more progressive force in relation to the US. He argued that there could not be another revolution until the working class in the USA rose up against what was the first imperialist power.
  3. The role of the trade unions. Following debate and discussion on the nature of trade unions, the PCInt. concluded that their role is to preserve capitalist relations and therefore communists cannot work to gain the leadership of them. The Bordigists did not accept this.

The Bordigists went on to form Programma Comunista (Communist Programme) which still exists after several splits, notably in the 1960’s when a faction in favour of forming “red trades unions” seceded to form Il Partito Comunista and in the 1980s there was a big split over the question of support for national liberation struggles. They all regard themselves alone as the true (intransigent) proletarian party and defenders of the communist programme. In general do not engage in discussion with other groups of the Communist Left and since they don’t exist in the Anglo-Saxon world it is difficult to give you more detailed information. (Although our Italian or French comrades could!)

The ICC (International Communist Current), by contrast, claims continuity with both the German and Italian Left. In fact its origins are in a split from the Italian Left. Although today it is much less councilist than in its early years the ICC still has not clarified how it sees the relationship of the political party to the working class and maintains its peculiar views of the essentially conservative nature of the future proletarian “semi-state” where the proletariat will not have a monopoly of power. In its heyday the ICC saw itself as the organisational precursor of the future international party, in its words the “pole of regroupment” to which other emerging and existing organisations of the Communist Left will and must join. The motive force for the formation of such an international current - in 1975 - was the French group Revolution Internationale (RI) which had been formed in 1967 by a comrade known as Marc and the young acolytes he brought with him on his return from Venezuela. In fact Marc (or Marco) was originally a Trotskyist emigre from the RSFR (Moldova) who some time in the Thirties joined the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left. Whilst still belonging to the Italian Fraction he helped form the French fraction of the Communist Left in Marseille (December 1944). When the Italian Fraction voted to dissolve itself in May 1945 - in order that its members join the Internationalist Communist Party which had emerged in Italy - Marc broke with the Italian Left. The Gauche Communiste de France opposed the formation of the PCInt. and searched round for other currrents to relate to, from Trotskyism to councilism. (They issue a joint leaflet with Trotskyists (May Day, 1945), went on to establish fraternal relations with the Dutch council communists and later Socialisme ou Barbarie.) In the words of the ICC itself, “The GCF was definitively constituted as a group organisationally separate from the Italian Left.” (ICC pamphlet, The Italian Communist Left 1926-45 p.158 - English edition.) The GCF published a journal, Internationalisme until its dissolution in 1952 when the advent of the Korean war led its founder to emigrate to Venezuela. Using the same method that the ICC adopts today, Marc had concluded that a third imperialist war between the US and the USSR was on the horizon and revolutionary political work was therefore impossible. When world war did not occur after all he revived politically and in 1964 (according to the ICC’s own history) he formed Internacionalismo in Venezuela and began a project to create an international organisation which had some success. Following the creation of a group in the USA - Internationalism - he returned to Europe with a couple of young acolytes and in 1967 Revolution Internationale was formed in France. By the time the ICC was formed in 1975 there were other groups to add to the list, notably World Revolution in the UK and, if we are not mistaken, Accion Proletaria in Spain. (3) For Marc and the ICC as a whole the growth of their organisation was an expression of the historic revival of the class struggle. They theorised that the events of May ’68 marked the end of the world-wide counter-revolution and that now the course of history was moving exclusively towards revolution. (See the latest issue of Revolutionary Perspectives for our criticisms of this at a recent public meeting we attended of the ICC on the significance of May 68.) Apart from the gross over-optimism, we have always argued that this theorisation of a single historical outcome to the capitalist economic crisis is undialectical and unmarxist. The conditions for both war and revolution mature with the development of the crisis and the two eventualities are not mutually exclusive as the ICC maintain. In itself this rather abstract difference has little significance but it is part of a whole panoply of rigid schemas which distinguish the ICC’s method and which are partly responsible for their present organisational impasse - an unhealthy preoccupation with the self-styled problem of “parasitism” and a failure to relate to the real problems and struggles of the working class. It would take pages to outline all our differences one by one. They range from economics (the ICC has a semi-Luxemburgist analysis of the crisis as being due to saturated markets and they cannot explain the development of the economic crisis - why markets which were saturated in 1968, or 1914 for that matter, are now “more saturated”); to the question of the state in the period of transition to communism (the ICC argues that the proletariat will not have the monopoly of power in the post-revolutionary semi-state) and the question of class consciousness and the role of the political organisation/future international party. These issues were all debated in a series of international conferences initiated by Battaglia Comunista in 1977, conferences which basically collapsed three years later over the question of organisation.

At that time the ICC was a much more councilist organisation than it is now and would not accept that the revolutionary party has to take an organisational lead in the working class struggle. Even today, when it formally places much more importance on the “organisation question” (too much, in our view) the ICC’s conception of the role of the political organisation in the development of class consciousness is essentially that of cheer leader - their favourite phrase is that the party “generalises class consciousness” and even when they acknowledge that the party is an “active factor” they do not have any perspective of developing an organisational life inside the working class. They see their role as one of “demystifying” the working class, i.e. exposing bourgeois ideology to what would otherwise be a class conscious proletariat, ready to embark on the road to revolution, but we think this is idealist. Without a practical political alternative before it the working class as a whole will always succumb to bourgeois ideology. The problem is how do revolutionaries build such an alternative inside today’s working class when the old “easy” option of working as a revolutionary wing of social-democratic organisations - parliamentary parties and the trades unions is no longer open to us. (Since social democracy has established itself as part of capitalism.) The ICC refuses to see there is a problem and is content to answer that the only permanent organisation that the proletariat can have in this epoch is the revolutionary party (or its political predecessors) and to leave the question of how the party itself will develop to the spontaneity of the working class. Meanwhile they are showing an increasing tendency to ignore the actual class struggle while they wait for a class-wide movement to spontaneously occur outside of trade union and social democratic or Trotskyist control. (See our criticisms of the ICC in the French strike movement of the winter of 1995-96.) (4) In short, we think that the ICC, which was formed on the basis of a sort of messianic euphoria that world revolution was round the corner and that successive waves of class struggle would lead to their becoming the international party, is finding it exceptionally difficult to face the reality of political isolation and the low level of class struggle which has been typical of the 1990’s.

This is not to say that any of us find swimming against the political current easy. However, we don’t think it’s an accident that the IBRP has weathered the storm of the defeats of the 1980’s and the general retreat of the working class which has accompanied the heightening severity of the economic crisis. So, we’d better say something about ourselves!

In 1982 the CWO and Battaglia Comunista (the PCInt. or Internationalist Communist Party), along with comrades in France, formed the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party. It was our attempt to move beyond the stalemate which the international conferences of the communist left had reached on the question of organisation. No Bordigist group had taken part in the conferences so the main point of contention was with the ICC which, as we have said, used to be more councilist than today and would not accept that

The international party is the indispensable organ which politically guides the revolutionary class movement and the proletarian power itself.

Resolution of the PCInt. which the ICC found unacceptable.

The CWO was the only other group to support Battaglia’s resolution and since we both shared the view that one of the major lessons from the last revolutionary wave is that the international party must be formed before the revolutionary upsurge of the class (and not be a belated product of the “last minute” as spontaneists assert) we agreed that it was necessary to work together now towards the formation of that party. Again our perspective and approach differs from the ICC. While we might see ourselves as the international ‘pole of regroupment’ in the programmatic sense, we don’t believe the organisational basis for the future party yet exists because this presupposes much stronger proletarian forces world wide than currently live. In other words, it is not a question of new groups or grouplets simply joining an already-established organisation - even if it does pretend to give itself a centralised international structure a la ICC. The International Bureau is for the party, but we cannot claim to be the party in embryo. Our aim is to encourage and help in the political clarification of groups and individuals who are ready to move towards the communist programme (and obviously our own political platform).

However, accepting the communist programme in the abstract is only the first step towards creating a vibrant political organisation. The most important and most difficult task of all is giving life to that programme inside the working class. We have to be able to demonstrate that what we are saying is relevant to today’s circumstances wherever we happen to be and that means attracting grass root militants who are engaged in the concrete, day-to-day struggles of the class. Only when there is such an organisation can we begin to talk about the existence of a class party in the full sense of the term. Our Italian comrades describe it as the problem of returning the communist programme to the working class, a problem which cannot be overcome purely by revolutionary will because it is a product of historical and objective circumstance. Even so, without a strategy for breaking down our isolation from the working class - a strategy which starts from the concrete issues facing the class - the communist programme will remain for ever an abstract set of points for debate amongst intellectuals. The International Bureau does not claim to have a fail safe formula for how to build a revolutionary organisation but we do try to have strategies which are adaptable and appropriate for local circumstances, whether it be workplace groups, community or territorial groups, study groups or youth groups - all of which the ICC criticises as opportunist. For our part we criticise the ICC for not wanting to “dirty their hands”, for waiting for a “pure” class movement to come to them and for expecting what they call the “proletarian political milieu” (i.e. the small numbers of us who are already inscribed in a political organisation) to take up and debate their increasingly outlandish political concerns. Although the ICC’s bravado about the number of sections it has world wide and its (dubious) claim to being the largest revolutionary group may be good for membership morale its Potemkin villages of a handful of comrades faithfully echoing the bizarre and insular concerns of Paris (currently parasitism and free masonry) are no substitute for the arduous task of cultivating resilient communist sections out of the local political soil.

Having outlined where we diverge with the ICC, there remains the fact that we share key points of a common political platform. One of these is that the October Revolution was proletarian - the first and only successful attempt by the working class to seize power during the period of revolutionary upsurges in Europe after World War One. Defending this position, of course, means defending the Bolshevik Party of 1917 as a party of the working class and as crucial to the success of the revolution. This is just the starting point before today’s revolutionaries can begin to discuss how the proletariat lost power, the decline of the soviets, how the Bolshevik party ended up exercising state power over the proletariat, and the thousand and one problems that the Russian experience presents to us. But we thought it appropriate to reaffirm this starting point with the ICC at the present time when, after the collapse of the USSR, disillusioned Trotskyists, neo-libertarians and post-modernists alike are doing the work of the bourgeoisie by blaming the “nasty”, power-hungry Bolshevik Party for the defeat of the working class and the institution of a totalitarian party dictatorship. It may sound melodramatic but this is the lesson the bourgeoisie would like us to draw - i.e. that a political party which professes to stand for communism or internationalism is dangerous and its real aim is to establish a brutal dictatorship over the working class. Unfortunately the meeting didn’t go on to discuss the problems posed by the Russian Revolution and its significance for today and in that sense we agree it was rather limited.

However, the ICC did pass on a copy of the letter you sent to them in German and one of our comrades has translated it into English for us as best he could because part of it was illegible. Anyway we’ll try to answer some of the points you have raised there and in your July letter to us.

As you will have gathered by now, we think that the USSR was state capitalist and we cannot see any reason to call it state socialist since all the basic aspects of capitalism: wage labour and the exploitation of the working class, production of surplus value, accumulation of capital, commodity production, etc. remained intact. It is not only idealist and unmarxist to see the October Revolution as the incarnation of (mistaken) Bolshevik ideas - of Rodbertus - but the term “state socialism” doesn’t have any meaning unless we are talking about the proletarian semi-state of the period of transition to communism. Yet you are very well aware that the USSR was not a society on the way to communism.

It would be stupid to deny that there were internal causes for both the February and October Revolutions in Russia and specific socio-economic/cultural circumstances which helped to determine the nature of the counter-revolution. However, we think that neither October itself nor the counter-revolution can be explained properly outside of the international context of world imperialist war and the prospect of world revolution which came in its wake. We have to give Lenin the credit (in his Imperialism...), even before 1917, of understanding the historical significance of the War - i.e. that it signalled the end of capitalism’s progressive development, confirming the opening up of a new era and the objective possibility of world socialist revolution. This was the foundation stone of the Communist International. Do you think there would have been an October Revolution if Lenin had not argued for his April Theses and persuaded the Bolshevik Party that they must change their whole orientation from the narrow, national democratic revolution to seeing the Russian revolution as the first step in a world proletarian revolution? We don’t think this is a Trotskyist myth. Instead of seeing the revolution in purely Russian terms Lenin saw that the world war which had “brought mankind to the brink of a precipice” had created the conditions for international proletarian revolution. If he had simply seen the Bolshevik’s task as being “to lead the internal, bourgeois-democratic revolutionary process to its end” why call for all power to the soviets and why dissolve the Constituent Assembly? Indeed, why have the October insurrection at all? The reason Lenin had so much difficulty persuading the Old Bolsheviks to accept the April Theses was that they were clinging to precisely that old, now obsolete conception. That is why he insisted on not participating in the Provisional Government. (We can’t really believe it, but are you really saying that “Lenin insisted that the revolutionary Social Democrats should enter the Provisional Revolutionary Government”, as our translation states? If so we can only disagree and ask you when and where he said so.) Historically the end of the bourgeois democratic revolutionary process was parliamentary democracy. It couldn’t ever have been “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, no matter what the old Bolshevik programme had been. In this sense the conundrum of the Russian Revolution which had existed since 1905 - when the proletariat showed it was capable of making its own revolution but when there was still only the national democratic revolution on the historical agenda - was resolved with the change in historical circumstance. It was one of Lenin’s great contributions to see that the new, international context of the revolution which the imperialist war had defined, changed the very nature of the Russian Revolution.

Already, after the February Revolution Lenin was acknowledging the “rising world Socialist revolution of the proletariat” but this is not to say that he thought the proletariat in Russia had already embarked on a slow process of socialist transformation of society. On the contrary, he saw that the situation of dual power had to be resolved by the proletariat taking political power: that revolution first of all is a political act. After October he made a lot of speeches on the difference between proletarian and bourgeois democracy and in the April theses he talks about the “emergent new democracy” which obviously refers to the post-insurrectionary proletarian semi-state. He also, however, says that the term “democracy” is scientifically incorrect and that it put blinkers

on the eyes of the revolutionary people and prevent(s) them from boldly and freely, on their own initiative, building up the new: the Soviets of Workers, Peasants, and all other Deputies, as the sole power in the “state” and as the harbinger of the “withering away” of the state in every form.

We don’t read this as Lenin saying that the proletarian state existed but that there were two potential state powers, one proletarian the other bourgeois, contending for existence. The situation had to be resolved first of all politically. Yet even after the seizure of power the question of socialism could hardly begin to be materially and practically posed without support from a successful proletarian revolution elsewhere in Europe, especially given the economic devastation and the strength of the peasantry in Russia. We don’t think that at the outset either Lenin or Trotsky saw the world revolution in terms of the expansion of the Russian national proletarian revolution to Europe. Rather the opposite. They saw soviet Russia as a bastion where the proletariat had to hang on to power by all means until the world revolution, in the first instance the German proletariat, could come to the rescue. Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin all agreed that “without a German Revolution we are doomed” (Lenin, 1918). Only later, as the isolation continued and the situation became even more desperate with the civil war and famine, was the “Bolshevik experience” invoked as a model to follow for the European proletariat. By the time Stalin (who had never understood the April Theses) was proclaiming socialism in one country the counter-revolution was in full reign but this doesn’t mean that Lenin set out in October from an essentially social democratic framework. Even if we willingly concede that the country-by-country approach to the socialist revolution is a social-democratic hangover that would impede the revolutionary process and which the formation of a truly international party beforehand would resist, we cannot expect the revolution to occur simultaneously the whole world over. There will always be the problem of a proletarian outpost having to “manoeuvre and retreat until we obtain reinforcements” (Lenin on the aftermath of Brest-Litovsk, May 1918).

Finally, we’d like to comment on your equation of a “pure proletarian revolution” with “pure socialist revolution”. Clearly in a sociological sense the October Revolution was not “purely” proletarian but politically and organisationally this was a revolution led by the proletariat and the evidence for this above all is that the Bolshevik Party was at the helm, despite the talk of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. We agree that the alliance with the rural proletariat and poor peasantry gave way to an accommodation and concessions to the richer peasantry with a food surplus. The question is, why? We don’t think this was because the Bolsheviks were simply carrying out the old programme but that there was a limit to how long the proletariat could survive in Russia without such concessions - that is unless proletarian revolution broke out in a more advanced capitalist state and could come to the aid of the working class in Russia. We agree that expeditions of the urban proletariat to seize grain from the peasantry was a sign of proletarian power, power which was undermined by the creation of all-peasant soviets, but even more by the decimation of the cream of the proletariat in the civil war and the impossible material situation facing the working class.

Even today, in a much more globalised capitalist world where the proletariat is a more significant class world wide, it is hard to imagine a totally ‘pure’ proletarian revolution. Moreover, there is not a single country, not even the richest, where the proletariat could survive alone without making concessions to capitalism, especially capitalist farmers. This surely is not the point. The point is whether the world revolution is going forward for there is only a limited period before a period of retreats and concessions of an isolated bastion become an outright defeat. This can only have meaning in terms of whether it is advancing towards socialist relations - a process which is not a straightforward, “pure” process but which has its ups and downs, its difficulties and its retreats right up until the end of the transition period and the disappearance of the state. In this sense we don’t think there can ever be a “pure” socialist revolution. One of the questions for the Russian Revolution is when and how did the period of retreats and concessions turned into a definitive defeat? The answer cannot be found inside Russia alone.

We realise this letter only scratches the surface of the problem of the counter-revolution, which if it was felt most brutally and sharply in Russia, had world wide ramifications. This is not least because of the initial success of the Revolution: the example of how soviet democracy can form the basis for a proletarian semi-state, the Bolsheviks’ call for world revolution and the formation of the International. (On re-reading your letter this is what seems to us most missing from your analysis.) However, we will have to leave that for future correspondence. In the meantime, we hope this long but short-circuited account has some interest and meaning to you...

We look forward to further correspondence.

Internationalist greetings

E.R. (ppIBRP)

(1) Substantial extracts from this speech have been translated into English by the CWO and published with an introduction in Internationalist Communist #14.

(2) The Platform of the Committee of Intesa is available in English as a pamphlet with an introduction by the CWO. Send to the group address.

(3) In fact for years Accion Proletaria was simply a publication of the ICC produced in Paris after the grouping of that name refused to join the Current at the last minute. The ICC preferred to maintain the fiction of having a “political presence” in Spain whilst keeping quiet about the split.

(4) See IC #14, “Reflections on the French Public Sector Workers’ Strikes” and the follow-up correspondence in Revolutionary Perspectives #5.