CWO Introduction to the translations of texts from Battaglia Comunista

We are reproducing here some of the articles which our comrades in the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) published during and after the events in Hungary (and also Poland - see Revolutionary Perspectives 40) in 1956. They are introduced by a text written on the thirtieth anniversary of the rising by our late comrade Mauro Stefanini to explain the factual background to the events. We have added this introduction to explain the significance of the texts and added some footnotes to clarify some issues which are not so well remembered today.

Hindsight often offers perspectives which were not available to the participants but in this case what our comrades were arguing at the time has been fully born out by subsequent experience. And just as hindsight can offer greater understanding, the fading of memory sometimes makes us forget just how significant was the analysis our comrades made in 1956. Here we just want to stress two points.

The first is that our comrades of Battaglia Comunista were virtually the only organisation in existence in 1956 who held that the eventual outcome of the Russian Revolution was not the victory of the proletariat but its defeat, and that the proletariat’s loss of power meant that there could be no rupture with capitalist relations of production within the framework of the Stalinist state. Instead the PCInt was the only organisation in existence at that time which consistently and coherently maintained that the so-called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a regime based on capitalist relations of production. In the USSR the proletariat was still producing surplus value for an exploiting class which disposed of that surplus value in both the national and their own personal interest. Money remuneration was the expression of this exploitation and the surplus value was alienated to a ruling class which existed on privileges which even included the private inheritance of supposedly state property. What the USSR demonstrated was not a new society, with very hybrid forms leading to a new mode of production, as many Trotskyists at the time maintained, but that capitalist exploitation can take many forms. The USSR was the most fully formed capitalist command economy ever known.

At the same time the Western powers themselves in the epoch of imperialism and monopoly capitalism were not immune to state capitalist pressures. The states of Western Europe, but also the USA, had to adopt various forms of social security in order to maintain social peace in the face of rising workers’ militancy after the horrors of the Second World War. This had a major impact on Trotskyism. Whilst Raya Duneyevskaya and CLR James (together known as the Johnson-Forrest tendency) would conclude that the USSR was state capitalist (thus ensuring their expulsion from the Trotskyist mileu) official Trotskyism continued to argue that the relations of production in the USSR were basically socialist even if the “bureaucracy” had hi-jacked the regime. This unmarxist analysis was severely questioned by the establishment of Soviet imperialist domination of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. Whilst the majority of Trotskyists managed to stand reality on its head to defend what Trotsky had argued in 1936 (but surely would not have in 1946!), many Trotskyists and leftists now began to look to alternative solutions which took them outside Marxism. James Burnham, Daniel Bell and even Max Schachtman, all now argued that there was a convergence between Western capitalism and Stalinist society. Novelties such as the “end of ideology”, “bureaucratic collectivism” and “the managerial society” all purported to explain the new reality. The final Trotskyist renegade in this vein was Cornelius Castoriadis (aka Paul Cardan or Pierre Chaulieu) who now abandoned Marxism altogether (bringing out pamphlets like Modern Capitalism and Revolution to “prove” that capitalism could not have a crisis due to the falling rate of profit). Cardan abandoned any class understanding of how the world worked and instead decided that it was all a question of political power. Thus instead of the motive force of history coming through the struggle between classes we now were offered the struggle between “order-givers” and “order-takers”. Such generalities could reduce all human history to this vapid formula and the whole methodology of historical materialism vanished before you could say “EEC bureaucrat”. Cardan, who founded the group Socialisme ou Barbarie, thus avoided any attempt to understand the economic nature of the Soviet Union and this is the target of the article by Luciano Stefanini in this small collection.

However this was not the main thrust of our comrades’ analysis in 1956 which was directed towards the events themselves. And, pace Cardan, heroic class struggle was at the centre of those events.

Here we have three points to make. The first is that our comrades saluted the achievement of the Hungarian proletariat in establishing the basic class wide organs of any revolutionary democracy. The reappearance of workers councils in Hungary evoked memories of the same bodies which had spearheaded the Russian Revolution itself almost forty years earlier. The importance of the emergence of workers councils cannot be underestimated. Marx had refused to give a blueprint drawn up in abstraction of how a communist society could operate and draw in huge masses of active participants. The bourgeoisie frequently taunted socialists that such a notion was utopian. The answer was given by the very movement of the working class itself. Beginning as a way of coordinating strike committees the formation of workers’ councils demonstrated a higher order of social organisation. Not only were these economic bodies but they were also political bodies. They were also unique in that they replaced the bourgeois idea of representation with an entirely proletarian one. Gone was the idea where someone was elected for a fixed term as a representative who could vote how he or she liked in parliament. Now political activity was based on carrying out the mandate of those who had elected the delegate. If the delegate could not do so they had to return and explain themselves and face being immediately replaced. This is the real democracy of the proletariat and it is now surprising that the bourgeoisie, even today, finds it terrifying.

However our comrades were not blind to the fact that the re-emergence of such essential organs of workers’ democracy are not the same thing as the establishment of socialism itself. The councils were the only forum where the struggle for socialism could take place. Here we come to out second point. Councils in themselves are not the same thing as the taking of power of the class unless the class destroys the existing state organs. This did not happen despite the heroic deaths of so many against the superior forces of the Soviet and Hungarian Army. Another key obstacle in the path of the councils was their lack of a clear class programme. Our comrades did not condemn this because they understood that the whole idea of making a socialist revolution against a regime which claimed to be socialist (but was in fact imperialist) was fraught with confusion. This method of not condemning workers in struggle even when nationalist elements were beginning to confuse the movement is part of our class approach today.

However the lack of a clear programme for the struggle in 1956 also reflected the lack of a real centre of communist consciousness within the working class. This is our third point. The proletariat, so long deceived by Stalinism, had not had the time or opportunity to establish its class party, the collective memory of the proletariat. Just as the councils are indispensable in the successful creation of a new society based on proletarian principles so too is the class party. This carries from one generation to the next the collective memory of the lessons of the struggles of the working class. The party is not outside the working class but part of it, the most conscious part (which is why we sometimes refer to it as the vanguard of the class). It is not the government in waiting but the revolutionary guide of the class. However the fact that the Russian revolution ended in Stalinism led many would-be proletarian revolutionaries to conclude with Otto Ruhle that “all parties are bourgeois”. This is why our comrades often make their points against those councilists who think that the revolution only needs the council form to succeed. What we maintain is that they also need a revolutionary communist content and this is what the party carries with it and brings to the struggle. We have added some informational footnotes to the English translation and would welcome any response from readers.

CWO, November 2006