1926, Last Fight in the Communist International

The Communist Left in the Third International – Bordiga at the 6th Enlarged Executive Meeting of the Communist International

Since the Russian Revolution is the first great stage of the world revolution it is also our revolution, Its problems are our problems, and every militant in the revolutionary International has not only the right, but also the duty, to collaborate in their solution.

Amadeo Bordiga, at the 20th session, 15th March 1926

Seventy years ago the wave of proletarian strife and insurrection which had brought the lst World War to a close was all but over. Instead of being strengthened and supported by the establishment of a European soviet republic and beyond, the Russian proletariat had been left high and dry. Today, in the light of historical hindsight, it is easy to see that what had been salvaged from the great Russian Revolution was the skeleton of a once heroic revolutionary party that was now being transformed into the central arm of a brutal state apparatus. Two years after the death of Lenin, Stalin was already well on the way to establishing himself as the sole unquestioned leader in the party and the state. Ever since the 10th Party Congress in 1921 (at the time of the Kronstadt uprising and the introduction of NEP) factions had been officially disavowed inside the Russian Party. By 1926 all genuine political debate about the key issue of what had happened to the Revolution and the prospects for the working class had been stifled by appeals for Party unity supplemented by the intervention of the political police. Meanwhile, in the upper echelons of the Party there was an increasingly byzantine but no less vicious struggle for control over the Party apparatus amongst Stalin, Trotsky and the other Old Bolshevik leaders. (At the beginning of 1926 it was Zinoviev's turn to be muzzled by Stalin's manoeuvres and the short-lived Joint Opposition led by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky was in the process of formation.)

This sorry and unsavoury progression of the counter-revolution in Russia was echoed inside the Communist International where, from 1924, the policy of “Bolshevisation” of its constituent parties was a pseudonym for turning them into loyal and unquestioning clones of the Russian Party. Along with Stalin's theorisation of “socialism in one country”, it was the means by which the Communist Left was effectively gagged. Moreover it closed off any discussion on what was happening in Russia itself within what was supposed to be the executive body of the party of the international proletariat. The Communist International was being turned into the Comintern – a foreign policy arm of the Russian state.

We are taking the occasion of the seventieth anniversary to publish extracts from the interventions of Amadeo Bordiga, the spokesman for the Italian Communist Left, during the course of the meetings of the 6th Enlarged Executive of the Communist International held between 17th February and 15th March, 1926. During the various sessions Bordiga eloquently denounced the political degeneration of the International, focussing in turn on the tactics of the united front and workers' government, “Bolshevisation” and the hunting down of factions, as well as touching on the necessity for the International as a whole to discuss what was happening to the Russian Revolution.

However, he was never able to fully develop this last point in the open sessions – Stalin had already made sure of that. Only in a closed session between Stalin and the Italian delegates was he able to astonish Stalin when, after quizzing him about the relative situations of the Russian proletariat and the peasantry and the nature of the opposition groupings within the Communist Party, he directly asked whether

Comrade Stalin thinks the development of the Russian situation and the internal problems of the Russian Party are linked to the development of the international proletarian movement?

Evoking the profound response from the Great Man:

Never till now has this question been put to me. I would never have believed that a communist could put it to me. May god forgive you for having done so.

There was to be no World Congress of the whole International in 1927 as Bordiga proposed in his summing up at the plenary session. Needless to say, when the 6th Comintern Congress was held (in 1928) neither was there any discussion of the Russian question.

As it was, however, Bordiga managed not only to put forward the positions of the Italian Left as they had just been propounded at the recent Congress of the Italian Party.(1) He also managed to broach the central issue of whither Russia. When it came to the “Theses on the Current Questions of the International Communist Movement” Bordiga's voice – on behalf of the Italian Communist Left – was the only one raised in opposition.

Despite this courageous stand, on his return to Italy Bordiga virtually withdrew from political life. During the remainder of 1926 his only political text was a letter he wrote to Karl Korsch in October. Here he argued there was a “sense of reality” about the tactics of the current Trotsky-Zinoviev opposition in Russia and advised a cautious policy towards the Comintern, asserting that the Left “still needs to receive further blows before passing to the open offensive”. In November he was arrested and confined on the island of Ustica before being incarcerated at Ponza until the end of 1929. In vain did the exiled Left Fraction (or Trotsky for that matter) which had been formed in 1927 try to persuade him to join them abroad. “Wait and see” became his personal political stance as he distanced himelf completely from political work both inside Italy and internationally. Thus, as Onorato Damen put it,

Subsequent political events, at times of historic importance, passed by this disdainful outsider without receiving any echo: The Trotsky/Stalin conflict; Stalinism; our Fraction which abroad – in France and Belgium – continued to develop the politics and ideology of the Livorno Party; the civil war in Spain and the Second World War; and, finally Russia's line up on the imperialist war front. Not a word nor a line....

So it fell on the shoulders of others to draw up a balance sheet of the Russian experience and its worldwide counter-revolutionary aftermath. But that is another story. If his intervention at the Comintern in 1926 had been his sole political act he would have made a lasting contribution to the platform of the Communist Left.(2)

Bordiga's speech at the 5th session: 23rd February 1926

We communists know very well that the historical development of the working class must lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat, but this is an action which must influence the broad masses, and these masses cannot be simply won by our ideological propaganda. To the full extent to which we can contribute to the formation of the masses' revolutionary consciousness, we shall do it by the strength of our position and our stance at each stage of the unfolding of events. This is why this stance cannot – and must not – be in contradiction with our position concerning the final struggle, in other words the goal for which our Party was specifically formed. Agitation around a slogan like that of workers' government(3), for instance, can only sow disarray in the consciousness of the masses and even of the Party and its general staff. We criticised all this from the beginning, so I shall content myself here with recalling in its broad outlines the judgement we expressed at the time.

When it was confronted by the errors which this tactic had provoked, and above all when the defeat of October 1923 occurred in Germany, the International recognised that it had been mistaken. It was not just a secondary accident, it was an error which cost us the hope of winning another great country beside the first in which the proletarian revolution had won – something which would have been of enormous importance for the world revolution.

Unfortunately, all that was said was: there is no question of radically revising the decisions of the 4th World Congress, it is merely necessary to remove certain comrades who made mistakes in their application of the united front tactic, it is necessary to find those responsible. They were found in the right wing of the German Party. Nobody was willing to acknowledge that it was the International as a whole which bore the responsibility. Nevertheless, the theses were revised and a quite different formulation given to the workers' government.

Why did we not agree with the theses of the 5th Congress? In our opinion, the revision was not sufficient, the new formulations should have been brought out more clearly. But above all we were opposed to the measures of the 5th Congress because they did not eliminate the serious errors, because we thought it was not right to restrict the question to proceedings against individuals, and that a change was necessary in the International itself. But the majority refused to follow this healthy and courageous path. We have frequently criticised the fact that among us, in the milieu in which we work, a parliamentarist and diplomatist state of mind tends to develop. The theses are very left-wing, even those against whom they are directed approve them – thinking in that way to win immunity. But for our part, we looked beyond the words and foresaw what would happen after the 5th Congress, that is why we could not declare ourselves satisfied.


I would like here to establish the following: on more than one occasion, the comrades have been obliged to recognise the necessity of a radical change of line. The first time, the question of winning the masses had not been understood. The second time, it was the question of the united front tactic, and at the 3rd Congress a complete revision was carried out of the line followed up to that time. But this is not all. At the 5th Congress, and at the Enlarged Executive meeting of March 1925, it was once again perceived that everything was going badly. It was said: six years have passed since the foundation of the International, but none of its parties have succeeded in making the revolution. To be sure, the situation had deteriorated and we are now confronted by a certain stabilisation of capitalism. Nevertheless, it was explained that many things in the activity of the International would have to be changed. There was still no understanding of what had to be done, so the slogan of Bolshevisation was launched. It is incomprehensible. What, eight years have gone by since the victory of the Russian Bolsheviks, and we are now obliged to acknowledge that the other parties are not Bolshevik? That a profound transformation is necessary in order to raise them to the level of Bolshevik parties? Had nobody noticed this before?

Why did we not raise a protest against the slogan of Bolshevisation at the time of the 5th Congress? Because nobody could be opposed to the statement that other parties must attain the revolutionary capability which made the victory of the Bolshevik Party possible. But now it is not just a question of a mere slogan, a mere watchword. We are dealing with facts and an experience. Now it is necessary to draw up the balance-sheet of Bolshevisation and see what it has consisted in.(4) I maintain that this balance-sheet is negative, from several points of view. There has been no resolution of the problem which had to be resolved. The method of Bolshevisation applied to all parties has not secured their progress. I must examine the problem from various standpoints. First of all, from that of history.

We have only one Party which has achieved victory – the Russian Bolshevik Party. The essential thing, for us, is to follow the same path as that which the Russian Party adopted to attain its victory, quite right, but that is not enough. It is undeniable that the historical route followed by the Russian Party cannot display all the features of the historical development awaiting other parties. The Russian Party – it is a fact – fought in specific conditions, in a country in which the feudal autocracy had not yet been overthrown by the capitalist bourgeoisie. Between the fall of the feudal autocracy and the conquest of power by the proletariat, too short a period intervened to be able to compare this development with that which the proletarian revolution will have to achieve in other countries.

There was not enough time for a bourgeois state apparatus to be constructed on the ruins of the Tsarist and feudal state apparatus. The course of events in Russia does not offer us the basic experience we need, in order to know how the proletariat is to overthrow the modern, liberal, parliamentary, capitalist state, which has existed for many years and possesses a great defensive capability.

Once these differences are stated, the fact that the Russian Revolution has confirmed our doctrine, our programme, and our conception of the role of the working class in the historical process, is theoretically all the more important insofar as the Russian Revolution – even in these specific conditions – accomplished the conquest of power, and the dictatorship of the proletariat realised through the communist party. The theory of revolutionary marxism found therein its most grandiose historical confirmation. From the ideological point of view, this is of decisive historical importance. But so far as tactics are concerned, it is not enough. It is indispensable for us to know how to attack the modern bourgeois state, which defends itself in armed struggle even more effectively than did the Tsarist autocracy, but which in addition defends itself with the help of ideological mobilisation and a defeatist education of the working class by the bourgeoisie. This problem does not appear in the history of the Russian Communist Party.

If “Bolshevisation” is understood to mean that one may expect to find a solution to all the strategic problems of revolutionary struggle in the revolution achieved by the Russian Party, then this concept of Bolshevisation is inadequate. The International must formulate a broader conception. It must find solutions to our strategic problems outside the Russian experience. The latter must be exploited to the full, none of its characteristic features must be neglected, it must be kept constantly in view, but we also need complementary elements deriving from the experience of the working class in the west. This is what must be said about Bolshevisation from a historical point of view. The experience of tactics in Russia has not shown us how the struggle against bourgeois democracy must be waged. It has given us no idea of the difficulties and tasks which the development of the proletarian struggle holds in store for us...

Internal regime of the Party and the International

I shall now move on to another aspect of Bolshevisation: the internal regime of the Party and the CI. Here, a new discovery has been made: what all our sections lack is the iron discipline of the Bolsheviks, as exemplified by the Russian Party. An absolute ban is proclaimed on factions, and it is decreed that all Party members are obliged to participate in common work, whatever their opinion may be. In this domain too, I think the question of Bolshevisation has been posed in a very demagogic way.

If we put the question like this: does just anyone have the right to form a faction? – then every communist will answer – no! But the question cannot be put in this way. There are already results showing that the methods used have served neither the Party nor the International. This question of internal disciplince and factions must be approached from a marxist viewpoint, in a quite different and more complex way. We are asked: what do you want? Do you want the Party to resemble a parliament, in which everyone has a democratic right to bid for power and strive to secure a majority? But this is the wrong way to pose the question. If it is posed like this, there is only one possible answer, of course, we would be against such a ridiculous regime.

It is true we must have an absolutely united communist party, excluding internal differences of opinion and disparate groupings. But this statement is not a dogma or a priori principle. Rather, it is a goal to be aimed at during the development of a genuine communist party. But this is only possible if all ideological, tactical and organisational questions are correctly posed and correctly resolved. Within the working class, it is the economic relations in which the various groups exist which determine the actions and initiatives of the class struggle. The political party has the role of gathering together and uniting whatever these actions have in common, from the point of view of the revolutionary goals of the working class of the world as a whole. Unity inside the party, the suppression of internal differences of opinion, the disappearance of factional struggles, will be a proof that the party is on the best path for carrying out its tasks correctly. But if differences of opinion do exist, this will prove that the party is marred by errors; that the party does not have the capacity to radically combat the degenerative tendencies of the working class movement, which normally manifest themselves at certain crucial moments in the general situation. If one is faced by cases of indiscipline, this is a symptom showing that this fault still exists in the party. Discipline, in fact, is a result, not a point of departure, not some kind of unshakeable platform. Moreover, this corresponds to the voluntary nature of entry into our organisation. This is why a kind of party penal code cannot be a remedy for frequent episodes of lack of discipline.

In recent times, a regime of terror has been established in our parties, a kind of sport, which consists in intervening, punishing, annihilating – and all of this with a special pleasure, as if this were precisely the ideal of party life. The champions of this splendid operation even seem to be convinced that it constitutes a proof of revolutionary capacity and energy.

I think, on the contrary, that the true and good revolutionaries are generally those comrades who are the object of these extraordinary measures, and who bear them patiently in order not to destroy the party. I consider that this squandering of energy, this sport, this struggle within the party has nothing to do with the revolutionary work we should be carrying out. The day will come when we shall have to strike down and destroy capitalism, and in this domain the party will have to give evidence of its revolutionary energy. We do not want anarchy in the party, but neither do we want a regime of continuous reprisals, which is the very negation of party unity and cohesion.

For the moment, things are presented as follows: the central leadership will always exist and can do what it wants, for when taking measures against anybody who speaks against it, or “annihilating” intrigue and opposition, it is always in the right. But merit does not lie in repressing rebellion, the important thing is for there to be no rebellion. Party unity is to be recognised by the results obtained, not by a regime of threats and terror. We need sanctions in our statutes, that is clear. But they must be exceptions, not a normal and general procedure inside the party. If some elements flagrantly abandon the common path, measures must be taken against them. But if recourse to a code of sanctions becomes the rule in a society, that means the society is not exactly perfect. Sanctions must only be used exceptionally, they must not constitute a rule, a sport, or the leadership's ideal. If we wish to form a solid bloc, in the true sense of the term, this must all change.

The theses proposed here contain a few fine phrases in this respect. A little more freedom is conceded. But perhaps this comes somewhat late.

Possibly, it is thought safe to give a little more freedom to people who have been “crushed” and can no longer stir hand or foot. But let us move away from the theses and consider the facts. It has always been said that our parties should be built on the principle of democratic centralism. It would perhaps be no bad thing if we could find another expression instead of democracy – but the formula was provided by Lenin. How is democratic centralism to be achieved? Well, of course, through the eligibility of all leading comrades and consultation of the mass of the party on certain key questions.

Obviously, there may be exceptions to this rule in a revolutionary party. It is permissible for the leadership on occasion to say: comrades, the party would normally be consulting you, but since the struggle against our enemies has just entered a dangerous period and there is not a minute to lose, we are acting without consulting you.

But what is dangerous is to give the impression of a consultation, when what is really involved is an initiative taken from above. That is to abuse the leadership's control of the party apparatus and press. In Italy, we said that we accept dictatorship, but detest such “Giolittian” methods. For is bourgeois democracy anything but a method of trickery? And can this be the kind of democracy you are granting us within the party? Can this be what you are striving to achieve? Then we say that a dictatorship would be better, which at least does not mask itself hypocritically. What must be introduced is a genuine form of democracy, in other words, one which allows the leadership to take advantage of the party apparatus only for good ends.

Otherwise, there cannot fail to be malaise and dissatisfaction, especially amongst the working class. We must have a healthy regime in the party. It is absolutely indispensable that the party should have the possibility of forming an opinion and expressing it openly. ...

The birth of a faction shows that something is wrong. To remedy the ill, it is necessary to seek out the historical causes which gave birth to the anomaly, and which determined the formulation or tendency to form the faction in question. The causes lie in the ideological and political errors of the party. The factions are not the sickness, but merely the symptom, and if one wishes to treat the sick organism, one must not combat the symptoms but try to discover the causes of the sickness. Besides, in most cases what was involved was groups of comrades who were making no attempt to create an organisation or anything of the kind. What was involved were currents of opinion, tendencies, which sought to express themselves in the normal, regular and collective activity of the party. The method of faction-hunting, scandal campaigns, police surveillance and mistrust of comrades – methods which, in reality, represents the worst factionalism developing in the higher levels of the party – can only result in worsening the situation of our movement and pushing all objective criticism onto the path of factionalism. Such methods cannot ensure the inner unity of the party, they only paralyse it and render it impotent. A radical transformation of such methods of work is absolutely indispensable.

If we do not put an end to all this, the consequences will be very serious. ...

The intervention of the International centre in the affairs of national sections has thus in several cases been less than fortunate. I blame the International's methods of work for this, its relations with the national sections and its way of forming their leading bodies. I already criticised our methods of work at the last Congress. There is no genuine collective collaboration in our leading bodies and congresses. The International centre appears quite alien to our sections, managing discussion within them and choosing in each a faction to support.

This centre is backed on every question by all the other sections, who hope in this way to assure themselves of better treatment when their own turn comes. The various leadership groupings are formed on the basis of such “horsedealing”. People tell us: the international leadership derives from the hegemony of the Russian Party, which is justified by the fact that it made the revolution and harbours the International's headquarters. That is why it is necessary to accord especial importance to decisions prompted by the Russian Party, which is our leader. But then the problem arises of how the Russian Party resolves international questions. This is a question we have every right to pose.

Since the most recent events, since the last discussion, this fulcrum of the whole system is no longer sufficiently stable. In the latest discussion in the Russian Party, we have seen comrades who claim to have an identical knowledge of Leninism, and who unquestionably have an identical right to speak in the name of the Bolshevik revolutionary tradition, each using quotations from Lenin against the other in argument and each interpreting Russian experience in his own favour. Without going into the substance of the discussion, it is just this undeniable fact which I want to establish here. Who, in this situation, will decide in the last instance on international problems. One can no longer answer: the Bolshevik Old Guard, for this reply leads in practice to conflicting solutions. Thus the fulcrum of the entire system resists objective investigation.

But this means it is clearly necessary to seek a different solution. We may compare our international organisation to a pyramid. This pyramid must have an apex and sides which mount towards that apex. This is how we may represent our unity and necessary centralisation. But today, as a result of our tactics, the pyramid is standing dangerously on its apex.

It must therefore be reversed and stood back on its base, so that it is stable again. Hence, our conclusion on the question of Bolshevisation is that we must not be satisfied with mere modifications of a secondary nature, but the whole system must be modified from top to bottom. The left government ... What are our tasks for the future? This assembly cannot concern itself seriously with this problem without confronting, in its full dimensions and all its gravity, the fundamental question of the historical relations between Soviet Russia and the capitalist world. Alongside the problem of the revolutionary strategy of the proletariat, the problem of the international peasant movement, and the problem of colonial and oppressed peoples, the question of the Russian Communist Party's state policy is today the most important of all for us. The Russian Party must assess the interplay of class relations inside Russia, take the necessary steps to check the influence of the peasants and the bourgeoning petty bourgeois strata, and defend itself from external pressures including of a military kind. Since a revolutionary overturn has not yet occurred in other countries, it is necessary to coordinate policy in Russia as closely as possible with the overall revolutionary policy of the proletariat.

I do not intend to go fully into this question here, but I maintain that in this struggle, yes, we must certainly base ourselves first and foremost upon the Russian working class and its communist party, but it is of fundamental importance that we also base ourselves upon the proletariat of the capitalist states, whose class sense is determined by direct contiguity with its capitalist adversary. The problem of Russian policy cannot be resolved within the narrow limits of the Russian movement alone, the direct collaboration of the whole CI is absolutely essential. Without such collaboration, not only revolutionary strategy in Russia, but also our policies in the capitalist states will be seriously threatened. A tendency may emerge to water down the character and role of the communist parties. We are already in fact under attack in this sense, not from within our own ranks, but from social democrat and opportunist circles. Related to this is the question of our campaign for international trade union unity and our attitude to the 2nd International. We are all agreed here that the communist parties must unconditionally maintain their revolutionary independence. All the same, it is necessary to warn of the possible emergence of a tendency to replace communist parties with organisms of a less explicit kind, which would not have strict class aims but be politically more neutral. In the present situation, it is our unquestionable duty to defend the international and communist character of our party organisation against any liquidationist tendency.

After the criticisms we have made, can we consider the International, such as it exists today, adequately armed for this double task – of working out a correct strategy both for Russia and for the other countries? Can we demand, for instance, immediate discussion of all Russian problems by this assembly? To this question we must, alas, reply in the negative. It is absolutely essential to carry out a serious revision of the internal regime of our parties, and to include on their immediate agenda the problems of tactics on a world scale and state policy in the USSR. But tackling these questions requires a new course, with completely different methods. In the report and the theses which have been proposed, we find no adequate basis for resolving these matters. What we need is not official optimism. We have to understand that it is not little correctives – of the kind we have more than once seen introduced into the internal regimes of our parties – which can equip us to carry out the grandiose tasks which confront the general staff of the world revolution.

Speech to the 9th session, 25th February

... I am finishing, comrades. As regards our internal regime and reversing the “pyramid”, and on the question of factions, I cannot reply here to what comrade Bukharin said. But I ask the following, will there be a change in future in our internal relations? Does this session of the plenum show that a new path is being taken? At the very moment when we are being assured here that internal terror will behalted, we hear statements from the French and Italian delegates which fill us with doubt. We shall wait to see you at work.

I think, for my part, that the hunt for so-called factionalism will continue, and will produce the same results as it has up to now. We can see this from the method adopted to settle the German question and others. I must say that, in my view, this method of personal humiliation is a deplorable one, even when it is utilised against political elements who have to be combatted vigorously. I do not consider it to be revolutionary, and I think that the majority which today proves its orthodoxy by scoffing at persecuted and broken sinners may very well be made up of former disgraced opportunists. We know that these methods have been applied – and will be again – to comrades who not only have a revolutionary past, but remain precious elements for our future struggles. This mania for self-destruction must cease, if we truly aspire to the leadership of the proletariat's revolutionary struggle.

That is why the spectacle of this session of the plenum has filled me with dark forebodings, so far as the impending changes within the International are concerned. I shall, therefore, vote against the draft resolution which has been presented.

Motion proposed at the 20th session

I wish to put my position on the discussion of Russian matters in written form. It is legitimate to note that this plenum has not discussed Russian questions, and has neither the possibility nor the requisite preparation to do so. This gives me every right to conclude that this is one result of the International's incorrect general policy, with its rightist deviations.

This is exactly what I observed in my first speech, during the general political discussion.

Concretely, I propose that the World Congress should be convened next summer, and that its agenda should be precisely the question or relations between, on the one hand, the revolutionary struggle of the world proletariat and, on the other, the policy of the Russian state and the Soviet Communist Party. It goes without saying that the discussion of these problems must be properly prepared, in all sections of the International.

(The above motion was unanimously referred to the Praesidium) .

(1) This had been held in the French town of Lyons in January. The Lyons Theses of the Left had been rejected by the Italian Party leadership of Togliatti and Gramsci, now thoroughly “Bolshevised” in its political positions and method of work.

(2) Our introduction is partly drawn from the work of the PCInt. whose collection of documents and extracts from previous texts, entitled Per una analisi critica del tardo bordighismo e dei suoi epigoni, we recommend to anyone who is able to read Italian.

(3) For more on the Italian Left's attitude to the workers' government slogan (and their general political framework) see The Rome Theses which were adopted by the CPd'I in 1922 and reprinted in Revolutionary Perspectives 22 (Series 2).

(4) The implications of Bolshevisation for the Italian Party and the response of the Left is dealt with in the CWO's pamphlet, Platform of the Committee of Intesa, 1925. The Platform is also available in Italian in Onorato Damen, Gramsci tra Marxismo e Idealismo, available from the PCInt.'s address.