Marxism or Idealism - Our Differences with the ICC

The Communist Left has a long and honourable history in fighting capitalism in all its forms, as well as the distortions of socialism by both Social Democrats and Stalinists. Our tendency can arguably claim the longest lineage in the Communist Left, as the historical part of the article which follows, shows. This in itself is no claim to virtue since we look to the future and not the past. Occasionally though we have to defend that past from the innacurate polemics and partinost attacks of others. This document was written in January 2011 by our comrades of the Gruppe Internationaler Sozialistinnen, German affiliate of the ICT. The comrades were moved to write it after some unfortunate incidents involving the ICC in Germany revealed the sectarian attitude they still maintained towards the rest of the Communist Left. - A Document from Our German comrades of the Gruppe Internationaler Sozialistinnen

Left communist positions are rarely known in this part of the world. We are often asked what exactly our differences with the ICC (International Communist Current) consist of, as this is an organisation which claims to stand in the tradition of the Communist Left. After long consideration, we have therefore decided to sketch out the most important differences. As our divergences with the ICC are really comprehensive, we have endeavoured to be as brief as possible and to especially select the questions which are of immediate importance for the activity of revolutionaries. Some may consider this to be a petty squabble between revolutionary groups. But such an attitude underestimates the need for debate. Without sharp discussions, that political clarification which enables us to develop a workable programme for the overthrow of capitalism will not be possible. Equally, the following text has emerged against a regrettable background: the sectarian hardening of the ICC, which has sometimes expressed itself in open hysteria (1) and the use of questionable methods against our organisation (2). This has compelled us to give up our previous reserve. Obviously, the ICC is of the opinion that it can utilise the widespread lack of knowledge about the history of the communist left and the revolutionary working class to falsely depict our positions, to lie (3) and to bring all sorts of skewed assertions into the world. Such politics on behalf of a supposedly revolutionary organisation is not just shabby, but is built on sand. The ICC’s lies won’t get far and history’s revenge is sometimes more terrible than the horror stories of an "all-knowing" Paris Central.

Historical Roots

We will start with the historical origins of the ICC and the ICT. The roots of our Tendency go back to the struggle of the left fraction inside the Italian Socialist Party and the resultant foundation of the Italian Communist Party. When the Communist Party of Italy was founded in 1921, the worldwide wave of class struggles was, however, about to ebb away. This circumstance facilitated the process of Stalinisation, which, in Italy, was pushed forward with Gramsci and Togliatti in the lead. The Party thus progressively became an obedient and loyal tool of Moscow. The Left Fraction tried to resist this. In the wake of the worldwide counter-revolution they were nevertheless pushed out of their Party positions and finally expelled. By 1928 the militants of the Communist Left were in fascist prisons, in illegality or in exile, where they published periodicals like Bilan, Prometeo and Octobre.

In 1943 the activists of the Left working in the underground around Onorato Damen, who had been released from prison, took the initiative and founded, under the pressure of a great strike wave which had gripped Italy, the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (PCInt). From the very beginning the PCInt represented an uncompromising revolutionary defeatism:

Workers! Against the slogan of a national war which arms Italian workers against English and German proletarians, oppose the slogan of the communist revolution, which unites the workers of the world against their common enemy - capitalism (5).

The PCInt was the single relevant organisation which defended class autonomy without qualifications and denounced all sides in the Second World War as imperialist. The basic positions of the PCInt are as valid for us now as they were then:

  1. Rosa Luxemburg and not Lenin was right on the national question.
  2. The old Communist parties (now fully stalinised) were not centrist but bourgeois.
  3. The Unions had become irrevocable supports of bourgeois order and could not be reconquered for the proletariat.
  4. The USSR was a state-capitalist formation, in which the working class was exploited as in every other capitalist country.
  5. To overthrow capitalism the proletariat needs a political party. Nevertheless, the Communist Party cannot exercise power for the working class as its representative. The proletariat cannot delegate its power to others - not even its own Party.

Theses of the Damen-Tendency at the 1952 Congress of the PCInt

Through its active intervention in strike campaigns the PCInt won thousands of adherents. After the end of the war, most of the activists returning from exile joined the Communist Left of the PCInt. Finally, even Amadeo Bordiga, the former leader of the Communist Party of Italy, worked with the PCInt, without formally joining it. Bordiga had withdrawn from active political life in 1930 and had refused to meet his former comrades until the end of the war.

Only a small group in Marseilles refused to join the PCInt, on the basis that the time was not ripe for the foundation of an internationalist party. This group was the Gauche Communiste de France (GCF), under the leadership of Marc Chirik, the later founder of the ICC. This Fraction, under the influence of the Korean War, reached the conclusion that a third world war was on the agenda, which would lay Europe waste once again. Their most important cadre, Marc Chirik, therefore betook himself to South America, in order to "rescue the ideas there“. Shortly thereafter, the GCF disappeared from the scene.

The PCInt too saw itself increasingly confronted by problems as the post-war boom established itself and capitalism stabilised. Bordiga now began to argue against the basis for the foundation of the Party. One of these differences of opinion consisted of Bordiga’s insistence that the Party represented the class and not just its most conscious part. After three years of discussion, Bordiga split the Party and his adherents took the name International Communist Party. Since then, they have split many times and now there are several Bordigist Parties, all of which claim to be "The Party“, that is, the true representative of the working class.

The ICC was founded in 1975 and claims to stand in the tradition of the Italian Left, which does not, however, prevent them from borrowing eclectically from the German and Dutch currents of council communism. In 1977 the PCInt (Battaglia Comunista) called the first series of international conferences, which lasted until 1980. Following these conferences, the British group, the "Communist Workers’ Organisation“ more and more shared the positions of the PCInt, and it even came to an agreement that these two groups would found the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP, the predecessor of the ICT). Before the constitution of the IBRP, the international conferences had come to a standstill when the ICC refused to accept a new criterion for participation which said that the international conferences should represent part of the work of discussion between revolutionary groups for the co-ordination of their active political intervention in class struggle. From then on, the IBRP and the ICC followed separate paths (even if informal contacts were kept up, and we, for example, sold their press at the "Fête“ of Lutte Ouvrière when the ICC were banned from it).

Questionable Prophets: the ICC and their Concept of the "Historic Course"

We find ourselves in the imperialist epoch of capitalism, the epoch of wars and revolutions. In this, the end of the accumulation cycle brings two distinct but interconnected alternatives with itself: war or revolution. Whether it comes to war or revolution depends on the relation of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The precise understanding of this relation of forces is essential for the activity of revolutionaries. This requires thorough-going analysis to avoid falling into black-and-white thinking and schematicism. In no case can it be a question of a revolutionary organisation playing Nostradamus and building its politics on abstract predictions. But it is precisely this error that the ICC makes with its concept of the "historical course". Here, it is a matter of a borrowed (from the old GCF) either-or schema, according to which the historic period must be stamped either revolutionary or counter-revolutionary on the basis of abstract observations of the conditions of the working class. So, according to the view of the old GCF it was false (and opportunist) to build up the PCInt in Italy in 1943 during the Second World War as the period was counter-revolutionary (6). According to the ICC’s views, this period ended in 1968 and a new period opened, in which the "historic course" was going in the direction of a sharpening of class confrontations (7). The ICC deduced from this that, at the time, neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat were successful in imposing their solution to the crisis of capitalism (that is, war or revolution). In the eyes of the ICC, the proletariat was still holding the bourgeoisie back from war, as it was undefeated and therefore a "barrier to war". In the face of all reality and the numerous events which spoke against such a way of viewing things, the ICC clung to this view. Since the collapse of the Eastern bloc a wave of wars has broken across the whole world, which the working class has not been able to stop. To the same extent, the ICC does not see the obvious incapacity of the proletariat to react to the bourgeoisie’s sharpened attacks in a commensurate fashion. We, on the contrary, take these present weaknesses of the working class very seriously and place great weight on thoroughly analysing the problems of the class. The worsening contradictions of capitalism may smooth the way for the mass of the working class to take up the aims set by communism. This, however, will in no way be an automatic and spontaneous linear process. There is neither an automatic connection between crisis and class struggle, nor between militant struggles and revolution. For this reason, we see the task of the revolutionary organisation as the creation of this link through the active participation in the class struggles. The ICC doesn’t see things in this way, and that, in the end, is why the international conferences of the Communist Left collapsed.

... Chaos and Decomposition

After the collapse of the USSR the ICC suddenly declared that this collapse had created a new situation in which capitalism had reached a new stage, which they called "decomposition". In their lack of understanding of the way capitalism works, for the ICC almost everything that is bad - from religious fundamentalism to the numerous wars which have broken out since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc - is simply the expression of Chaos and Decomposition. We think that this is tantamount to the complete abandonment of the terrain of Marxism, as these wars, just like the earlier wars of capitalism’s decadent phase, are the result of this imperialist order itself. Most of this way of seeing things rests on the conception of the ICC majority, which sees the closing of non-capitalist markets in 1914 as summoning the decadence of capitalism. However, this analysis cannot explain why, in decadent capitalism there have been cycles of boom and crisis. We, on the other hand, represent the stand point that these wars have all been the outcome of the immanent laws of capitalist production. An overproduction of capital and commodities, which is cyclically called forth by the tendential fall of profit rates, leads to economic crises and to contradictions which, in their turn, engender imperialist war. As soon as enough capital is devalued and means of production are destroyed (through war), then a new cycle of production can begin. Since 1973, we have been in the final phase of such a crisis, and a new cycle of accumulation has not yet begun. Thus, capital flies to state debt and speculation and resorts to this to support production. This cannot, however, end the crisis of accumulation.

The Crisis

At the end of the '60s and the start of the '70s the post-war boom closed. With this began a period of progressively sharpening (economic) crisis, but the capitalist system did not collapse. The ICC cannot understand why the structural crisis of capitalism sharpened, because they do not recognise that even decadent capitalism runs through cycles of accumulation. The ICC rejects the Marxist recognition that the way in which the law of value operates represents the core explanation for the capitalist crisis. Instead, the ICC takes a Luxembergist position in this question. Rosa Luxemburg’s theory misconstrues the way the law of value works. While Marx argued that capitalism’s periodic crises were called forth by the law of the tendential fall in the profit rate (for Marx the most important law from an economic viewpoint), Rosa Luxemburg rejected this. According to Luxemburg, capital accumulation could not take place in a closed system. She insisted that the real causes of the capitalist crisis lay outside the system. Her view was that capitalism can no longer continue the accumulation process when there are no longer any non-capitalist markets. This makes no sense in many ways. According to Rosa Luxemburg, capitalism had supplanted all non-capitalist markets. And yet capitalism still grows today (even if at enormous cost to humanity). But how can Luxemburgist analysis explain the cycles of accumulation which have occurred since 1914, for example, the phase of economic boom after the Second World War? The ICC simply ignores this problem, and says that in the 20th century capitalism was not subject to cyclic accumulation. In reality, capitalist production has clearly grown, which, according to Luxemburg is just not possible. Marx regarded the crisis as a result of the growing organic composition of capital, which, at a certain point, becomes so large that there is insufficient profit at hand for reinvestment in the production process. At this point there entered the crisis. This crisis appeared as a crisis of overproduction, but its underlying causes are located in the tendential fall of the profit rate.

Idealism and Conspiracy Theories

In the ICC’s mindset the working class is always tendentially revolutionary and only led into error by bourgeois ideology. The ICC traces the present lack of class struggle back to confusion-sowing and deceptive manoeuvres carried out by the bourgeoisie, instead of the difficult material conditions to which the working class is exposed due to the crisis. The weakness of this analysis is connected to the way of seeing things which says we only have to unmask bourgeois deceptions and then the working class will be on the path to revolution. In the eyes of the ICC, it is the task of revolutionaries to free, through propaganda, the class from the traps of bourgeois ideology and thus to open the road to revolution. This ICC way of seeing things represents pure idealism. We do not accept this perspective and do not think that we should dissociate and isolate ourselves from the practical struggles of the working class. The central task of revolutionaries is to actively participate in all class struggles insofar as our organisation strength allows this. The ICC rejects this active intervention and sees their tasks as pure propaganda. Because of their incapacity to understand the dynamic of struggle and the development of class consciousness, the ICC continually acts as an analytical changling. Either struggles are glorified or are damned on the basis of conspiracy theories. Thus, for example, the ICC came to the conclusion that the 1995 strike wave in France was merely a widely applied bourgeois manoeuvre aimed at recreating workers’ illusions in the unions. This condemnation of concrete class struggle by the ICC was also continued by their position on Argentina. Here the ICC spoke of a futureless, inter-classist revolt, in which the petty bourgeoisie had succeeded in making the working class sacrifice itself for the petty bourgeoisie and yoke itself to the latter’s interests. The ICC’s view of the suburban riots in France is just as much on the wrong side, as they see them as the senseless revolts of degenerate and criminal youth who have nothing to do with the proletariat. This list could be continued at length. For us, on the other hand, the fact that the capitalists manouevre through the unions to bring strikes under control does not represent an astonishing invention, as the ICC reports. The manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie and the unions (for the ending of strikes, etc.) should never lead us to reject and condemn social struggles. We should criticise these struggles for their weaknesses and imprisonment within in captialist ideology and attempt to take them outside the framework which the state accepts. The ICC, on the contrary, is not in a condition to relate to the real movement of the class struggle, no matter how weak it may be.

Class Consciousness and the Role of the Party

Marx recocognised that in every epoch the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas. But how can the workers then free themselves from the shackles of capitalist ideology? In the first place, under the conditions of bourgeois domination, it will be a minority of the working class which develops and defends the communist programme. The working class is a propertyless class of collective producers. The economic struggle of the working class certainly poses the problem of exploitation, but does not by itself offer the answer to the question of how exploitation can be overcome. Only through the political organisation of those workers who have recognised the character of capitalism as a historic and surpassable exploitative society, can the ruling ideas, which are always also the ideas of the ruling class, be broken with and fought. The revolutionary party constructs itself out of the most conscious parts of the class. This does not, however, mean that the revolutionary party is separate from the class, as the council communists opine, or that the party is the working class (as the Bordigists would have it). It is the organisation expression of the conscious Marxist minority of the class, whose task is to actively participate in the struggles of the class. In that it politically generalises the elements of consciousness which emerge from the daily struggle, such an organisation can contribute to communist theory becoming a "material force" and putting an end to the capitalist state and exploitation. As preparation, today we must begin the construction of a revolutionary organisation within the working class. This organisation must actively participate in the struggles of the class, that is, it must be part of the class, and not just represent an intellectual avant garde. In the ICC’s way of seeing things, the party, however, receives no practical and organisational significance. It sees its tasks as primarily lying in propaganda. However, revolutionary consciousness does not simply develop through communist propaganda: on the contrary, only through the practical revolutionary movement itself. Thus, Marx emphasised, in his "German Ideology":

Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can take place only in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fit to found society anew.

Communist consciousness cannot - as the ICC imagines it - be already present in a "subterranean" form in struggles, but must first develop in these class struggles. At the start of all important class struggles and revolutions (The Paris Commune, the February Revolution, etc.), extremely limited demands are put. The class struggle is always part of, and is the point of departure for the movement for communism. Consequently, it is of central importance that revolutionaries actively participate in class struggle, in order to fight for the implementation of the communist programme and revolutionary perspectives.

The Transitional Society

The communist mode of production cannot develop within the capitalist system. Its precondition is the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie through the conscious and active struggle of the class. As communism cannot be introduced by decree, it demands the self-activity of the working class. The central lesson that the Communist Left drew from the October Revolution and the counter-revolutionary process is that the proletariat cannot excuse itself from this role and delegate its power and the task of realising communism to others, not even to its own class party. Just as us, the ICC drew the conclusion that the revolutionary party must never coalesce with the state apparatus. So far, so good. However, simultaneously with this, the ICC cobbled together a simply grotesque picture of the transitional society. In the ICC’s view, the state in the transition period should not base itself on the Soviets and their organs (delegates, etc.), but should exist alongside and independently of them. Concretely, the ICC imagines that there will be a threefold division into State, Soviets (as organs of the working class) and party (the embodiment of consciousness). These three things exist, in the conception of the ICC, independently of each other. In the ICC’s opinion, the state of the transition period

cannot identify itself with any economi­cally dominant class because there is no such class in the society of the period of transi­tion (8).

The ICC way of seeing things results in the following consequences:

  • the state in the transition period is not the dictatorship of the proletariat;
  • the transitional state should, thanks to the magical power of the Holy Spirit made flesh by the alliance of all non-exploiting classes, all of which stand with equal right on the same level as the remnant of the bourgeoisie, merge into socialism;
  • the dicatorship of the proletariat is according to this no such thing, as it exercises force on behalf of no specific class.

What the ICC has delivered here is nothing other than a grotesque re-invention of the Leviathan. For us, this puts them outside the tradition of the Communist Left. Ultimately, it is obvious that this transitional state conceived by the ICC, and standing beyond all classes, will necessarily imply counter-revolutionary developments. A state structure separated and set free from the working class and its Soviet organs would escape all control from below, take a life of its own and, in an instant, would not give a toss about the decisions of the Soviets. If we say that the proletariat must not delegate or transfer its power to anyone in the transition period, obviously this is also and especially valid for the transition state dreamt up by the ICC.

Organisation Self-Image

The ICC views itself, together with its organisational structure, as the anticipation of a future World Party. In contrast with this, we assume that the future struggles of the working class will give birth to new lessons and forces, which will make their own positive contribution to the creation of a World Party of the Proletariat. We hope to find the correct ways and means of entering into close contact and discussion with these elements, and thus make substantial steps forward. Of course, we want to play a great role in this process and to win other communists for our positions. At the same time, we stress once again: we are "for the Party", but we are not the Party, the nucleus of the Party and not even the anticipation of the Party. To claim something like that would not only be absurd, given our present weakness, but would also require the assumption that the Party could simply emerge through the will of a handful of people. We conceive of ourselves as an international organisation whose members want to participate in the fight for a centralised Party and to struggle, discuss and work in common for this aim. One of the ICC’s favourite accusations against our organisation consists of the (false) claim that we are organised as a federation. This misrepresentation, too, has no basis. It is true, that we consider the centralism argued for by the ICC to be premature in the present stage, and, in the completely particular case of the ICC, an artificial franchise concept. The groups of the ICT work on the basis of a high degree of political homogeneity and the principles of democratic centralism. We are aware that the demands of the class struggle will place us up against new problems, to which we must react in a suitable way. For the sake of our own existence, it has never (in contrast to the ICC) been our aim to create post-boxes or mere distribution agencies, which just parrot the orthodoxies of the most dominant and experienced organisations. We start from the point that our organisational nuclei in each country can only develop into real communist organisations when they are in the position to learn their own lessons and, through this, to enrich the practice of a future Party. As explained above, we count on the class struggle giving birth to new political elements, and we hope to be able to further develop ourselves through a process of discussion and re-groupment. As concerns the position and perspectives of the so-called "proletarian milieu" (that is, the spectrum of groups which relates to Left Communist positions), our evaluation remains sober. Just like the Bordigist case, the ICC’s obvious confusions and their internal organisation leads to a series of splits. Some of the splitting groups claim to represent the "true inheritance of the ICC", others return to the council communist roots of the ICC and yet others brood in a sterile academic existence.

Against this background the so-called proletarian milieu resembles an absurd theatre, in which tiny isolated groups confirm themselves in their respective fantasies through mutual hostility and abstract appeals. The hysterical and simply bizarre reaction of the ICC to its splits has not been unimportant in contributing to this situation (10). In the light of this situation, the request for a new cycle of conferences of the Communist Left would be a summit of the vanities with extremely limited entertainment value. Even if we sometimes conducted and conduct polemics, we have never had an orientation towards existing political groups no matter how close they might stand to us on paper, but, instead, towards the working class as a whole. We therefore place the pivot of our work in active intervention in the class struggle, in order to further develop ourselves both politically and organisationally. We would be glad to meet the comrades of the ICC in this process. However, we are more than sceptical in this regard. As presently constituted, the ICC is weaker in the theory than it is in practice.

GIS

(1) In this way, the ICC considers it necessary "to discredit [our organisation] so that it disappears from the political scene". Furthermore, the ICC views as its "most important international priority" to "counteract, especially in Germany" our "negative influence on the milieu" (Resolution on activity of the 16th Congress of the ICC).

(2) Here, we only mention the changing of our Wikipedia entry by members of the ICC.

(3) One of the ICC’s favourite lies is the claim that our Italian sister organisation, PCInt (Battagla Comunista) is "Bordigist", and that it claims to be the sole nucleus of a future revolutionary Party. In every edition of their paper, our comrades stress: "Noi siamo per il partito, ma non siamo il partito, ne`l´unico suo embrione" ["We are for the party, but we are not the party, nor its sole embryo”].

(4) Thus, the ICC claims, for example, that the PCInt worked in the partisan movement, and/or supported it. This is a vile slander. The truth is that comrades of the PCInt were murdered under the orders of the Stalinist leader Togliatti while they tried to push back the Stalinist influence on the working class and (partially successfully) to win workers away from the partisans for an internationalist perspective.

(5) Quoted from Prometeo, 1st November 1943.

(6) As always, the ICC’s argument is knitted together as simply as thinkable: as there was no revolution after the Second World War, the foundation of the PCInt was mistaken and the GCF was correct. This forgets that the PCInt emerged within an important wave of class struggle. To the chagrin of the ICC, the PCInt still exists today and has further developed politically. The GCF, on the other hand, became a victim of its own schematism and disappeared from the scene. The predicted war in Europe hasn’t (up until now) happened. Probably that’s enough said over the analytical utility of the "historic course".

(7) Superficially, that sounds convincing. In some parts of the world there were actually a series of workers’ struggles (Italy 1969, Poland, Spain, Argentina, Great Britain 1972-4, etc.), which, now and again, favoured the emergence of new communist groups. Our Italian sister organisation, PCInt (Battaglia Comunista) was also encouraged by the emergence of these struggles to develop new initiatives on the international level. Against the ICC, which, in the light of the "wave of struggle" slipped into near-euphoria, the PCInt, however, stressed that the ideological dominance of capital over the working class was very far from being broken. The end of the counter-revolution and the development of class consciousness would have to also express itself organisationally in the emergence of an international class party. Despite all the myths of the ICC, revolutionary groups were only able to develop in a very modest way. Instead, openly reformist and social democratic organisations grew stronger. In the same way, the pseudo-revolutionary Trotskyist movement registered growth and could further play their role as the left defenders of the capitalist system with and even partially within social democracy. Simultaneously, many communist groups collapsed again or were weakened, which should have given the ICC cause to think.

(8) Resolution of the Third Congress of the ICC on the State in the Period of Transition.

(9) Trapped in their own fantasy world, the ICC sometimes goes further, and assesses itself with certainty: "only the ICC today is laying the basis for the future Party, which the class must bring forth" (Resolution on Activity of the 16th Congress of the ICC)

(10) In this way, the ICC splits and the critics of the ICC have been labelled with the social-racist concept of "parasitism". In the meantime, the ICC’s delusion has progressed so far that they claim to have the power of defining who belongs to the "proletarian milieu“ and who doesn’t. As in the ICC’s distorted world picture there is finally almost no-one is left within the milieu, it has needed no miracle for the ICC to begin to suck up to anarchist groups recently. This shows again, how closely opportunism and sectarianism are related in the ICC.

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