On the Future International

The following article was originally published as draft for discussion by the CWO in Revolutionary Perspectives 11. After further discussions and revisions the version published here has now been adopted by the Internationalist Communist Tendency (ICT) as a whole. As originally stated it is intended to be part of a longer document or pamphlet of the ICT. It should thus be read in the context of earlier documents which we have already published on the party and class issue which put the issue in its wider context. Particularly relevant is the document from Revolutionary Perspectives 08 on the role and structure of the revolutionary organisation at leftcom.org as well as a document subsequently published on our site at leftcom.org. We hope with these articles (and others to follow) to stimulate a discussion amongst the new elements who have recently come to the tradition of the Communist Left, as well as to state clearly for those we have discussed with for some time the basis of our perspectives on the critical issue of party and class.

Today we find ourselves with a capitalism in deep crisis and a proletariat so fragmented and disorganised that it only resists the imposition of war, austerity and increased poverty in sporadic fashion. It may thus seem premature to be contemplating a process by which we might arrive at a future working class International. However, even in this dire situation there are many new elements around the world who recognise the stagnation, if not bankruptcy, of the system. They are debating and discussing online and face to face in small groups here and there precisely how, if ever, the proletariat will emancipate itself. In doing so they are, like us, attempting to re-acquire the experience of past workers' struggles. What follows is our contribution, based on what we consider to be the historical lessons learned by the proletariat, to that necessary discussion.

The current cycle of capital accumulation entered its downward spiral more than 40 years ago. After the longest boom in capitalist history (c. 1948-71) we have now lived through the slowest bust. This almost stagnant economic system has been sustained by an unprecedented state intervention which has allowed the system thus far to avoid total meltdown. Much of this time it has reduced the average wage of the majority of workers, but their losses have not been enough to stimulate recovery, let alone prevent the massive accumulation of debt, the widespread creation of fictitious capital and mini-booms and busts throughout that time.

It has also produced the dislocation and disorientation of the one class that constantly stands in objective opposition to the capitalist system. Many lament that throughout this period revolutionaries have not done more to unite as if revolutionaries had an existence independent of the rest of the working class. The divisions amongst revolutionaries until now have largely been a function of the weakness of the class movement as a whole. This has not happened just in this epoch but throughout working class history. When the class is reforming itself in new conditions after a period of retreat the first responses are inevitably stumbling and various. It is only when the movement really begins to become widespread and take on a mass form that a tendency for revolutionaries to bury past differences and abandon old shibboleths becomes more pronounced. As the path the working class takes becomes clearer the demand for the creation of a political organisation of the class with a clear vision of communism becomes louder.

Some will argue that this is not necessary. They will argue that the “spontaneous” movement of the class will be enough to take it to victory. We have great confidence in the emergence of an elemental movement of a working class which will finally decide one day that it can no longer go on living in the old way and under the old conditions. The first assault on the system will inevitably be unforeseen and of this nature. Such a movement can go far, but that is not the end of the matter. The forces acting against it will not give up easily. They will seek all means possible to derail the movement from both overthrowing the state and going on to found a new way of organising economic and social life. At a certain point they will put on masks, adopt false ideologies and attempt to direct the movement onto a course consistent with the continuation of the system.

We know this from history. If they are not fought politically by the working class then they derail the movement. Let’s take two contrasting examples. In the Russian Revolution the spontaneous movement overthrew the Tsar in February but whilst the workers were still fighting on the streets the bourgeoisie and its allies were setting up a government which intended to rob the workers’ soviets of the fruits of their victory. But the workers were not taken in by this and more and more put their trust in the one organised presence which unambiguously supported soviet power and internationalism – the Bolshevik Party. Although it was a small minority it had existed in the working class for years before the revolution, and two thirds of its members were workers. Its slogans helped orient the movement to go beyond the parliamentary system that the capitalist class was trying to impose. Ultimately the working class made the Bolshevik Party their instrument and after it had gained a majority in the soviets across the country it became the spearhead of the revolutionary insurrection.

Contrast this with Poland in the 1980s. Here the workers spontaneously occupied shipyards and rejected the authority of the Stalinist state. However in a supposedly communist country there was no revolutionary political party they could turn to. Into this vacuum came the Catholic Church and Polish nationalists (and behind them all, the CIA). They directed the movement away from being about workers to being about “democracy”. In short, their struggle became the victim of an inter-imperialist rivalry.

We know too that amongst the working class its awareness of the need to destroy capitalism will strike some (a minority) before others and any coming together of these rejectionists of capital will remain a minority. The domination of the bourgeoisie over the means of production (including of ideas) means that the political instrument of the class conscious workers will always remain a minority before the outburst of revolution. The more this minority delivers a consistent political message with a coherent organisational shape and seeks to operate within the wider working class it can become part of the living class movement. When the movement needs to be clear about its aims and the direction it needs to take, the revolutionary minority, or in other words the political party, has a key role to play in combating bourgeois ideology by putting forward a programme before the whole class based on the historical lessons and acquisitions of its own previous struggles.

These acquisitions tend to be forgotten over time. One of the key elements in the Communist Manifesto was

The communists are distinguished from the other proletarian parties by this only:
1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independent of all nationality.
2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

Communist Manifesto, 1848, our emphasis

From its earliest days the modern communist movement has centred on the universal and internationalist character of the working class. When the First International was founded in 1864 Marx and Engels considered it to be their greatest achievement. Marx announced that at last the working class had an instrument independent of all bourgeois parties which could now boast that “the emancipation of the working class will be the task of the workers themselves”. However this was a little premature. The First International was riven by divisions between English trades unionists, Proudhonist mutualists and the shadowy rivalry of Bakunin’s Alliance for Social Democracy. Some individual Internationalists played a role in the Paris Commune but by then it had virtually ceased to exist as a real organisation.

It was to be another twenty years before its successor, the Second International, emerged. This was explicitly based on national sections which were far more dominant than the International Socialist Bureau which nominally coordinated it. It brought together various traditions in the workers' movement and was not exclusively Marxist. Indeed the Marxist wing of the movement was increasingly marginalised by the rising power of the Social Democratic trades unions. In the end it dissolved into its national components as party after party (with the exception of the Russian, Polish, Rumanian, Serbian and Bulgarian parties) all voted war credits to their respective nations at the start of the First World War.

Despite efforts to reunite socialists against the war (Zimmerwald and Kienthal) no new international arose to replace the Second International. It was only with the triumph of the Russian proletariat and the October Revolution as the first step in the world revolution that the question of a new international was once again seriously posed. However in war-torn Europe establishing a revolutionary or Communist International was not easy, and it was not until 1919 that it held its first meeting in Moscow.

The new International promised much. Under the influence of the Russian Revolution communist parties began to appear across the world which then sought affiliation to the International on the basis of its 21 conditions. However these parties were largely new, often with young leaders and certainly in awe of the achievements of the Russian comrades. As a result the Russian party dominated the International from the start (just as the German Social Democratic Party was seen as “the Party” (Trotsky) of the Second International). This was to have disastrous consequences for the Third International and its constituent parties.

As the revolution in Russia retreated from its original promise – mainly due to the fact that new revolutions, especially in Europe, did not come to its aid – the Russian Communist Party increasingly saw the International as a means for garnering support for “Russia” – i.e. the new Russian state order that was ambivalently and ambiguously equated with the Russian Revolution. But support for a state whose priority was increasingly to survive in the (stabilising) capitalist world order increasingly meant abandoning the goal of world revolution. World revolution was the only thing that could have revived the revolutionary potential in Russia. In 1921 the International adopted the policy of going “to the masses” which in practice meant trying to make a common front with the various social democratic parties of the revived Second International. They had stood as the bulwark of capitalism against the workers’ revolution in every country (especially in Germany where they were complicit in the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht and hundreds of communist workers). A year later the Comintern transformed “going to the masses” into the policy of the “united front” which demanded that the new young communist parties seek alliance with those that they had just split from a few months before. The Third International thus became a tool of the new rising class in Russia and ceased to be a vehicle for international revolution.

What does the experience of the last revolutionary wave demonstrate? By its very nature the struggle of the working class to overcome capitalism will be a lot different from that of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against feudalism. The bourgeoisie developed its form of property under feudalism and built up its wealth and power inside the old system before it replaced it. The proletariat’s revolution is different. We have no property to defend. Our strength comes from our capacity for common collective action. And the proletarian revolution cannot come about through a mere chasing of immediate interests. The proletarian revolution has to be a conscious revolution. Under capitalist conditions though, some workers will come to the recognition of the need to overthrow the system before others. It is only natural that this minority form a political organisation expressing their conscious aim of creating a new society.

Under social democracy the working class was organised in national parties which acknowledged their membership of the Second International. But this International was a mere postbox rather than a coordinated leadership of an international class. In any case it built a mass movement overwhelmingly dedicated to reformism. The revolutionaries in it were largely marginalised as the outcome in August 1914 demonstrated. This left the revolutionary working class without an International until the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The Third International arrived too late to act as it was intended – as the vanguard of the world revolution. Given the enormous prestige of the one working class that had succeeded in throwing over its ruling class and thus became the beacon of world revolution it was not unnatural for the Russian party to wield considerable influence in the International. But as the Russian Revolution turned in on itself the International very quickly abandoned world revolution for policies to defend a Russian state which by now was detached from its original class base. The imposition of “bolshevisation” on the new parties denuded them of their real revolutionaries and turned the International into just another agency of the USSR in its fight for a place amongst the “concert of nations”.

The lesson is clear. In advance of any revolutionary outbreak anywhere there needs to be an International of some kind. This:

cannot be a Federation of more or less independent parties with differentiated policies based on claims for different national situations. Therefore it is more correct to speak of an International Party. The nature, structure and statutes of this International Proletarian Party must homogeneously shape each and every national section. Its political platform must be the common patrimony, homogeneously developed together by all sections and all militants

The New International will be the International Party of the Proletariat, 2001

Homogeneity here does not mean a total identity of agreement on every issue but does mean agreement on a common platform and ultimately a common programme. This can only be thrashed out by the widest discussion within the International. The International Party (or whatever it comes to be called) has to have a centralised unity in action to defeat the class enemy but a meaningful unity is not arrived at without constant dialogue between its members. The Bolshevik Party, contrary to Stalinist mythology, was full of factional debate but, despite all the differences, this did not prevent its various sections from demonstrating their capacity for initiative or from becoming the vehicle the working class seized upon and transformed into the spearhead of revolution. On the contrary, it was the fact that so much debate had been created by the direct and concrete connection that the mass of the members had inside the working class that helped it to become an instrument of the wider working class movement in 1917. Members of the future International thus cannot contribute to the real movement of emancipation unless they have direct links to the class as a whole. Communists have to win the right to be listened to.

The militants of this International will participate and attempt to guide any future revolution, to encourage the autonomy of the workers’ struggle through the establishment of class wide organs. They will participate at every level as far as possible but the International will not be a government in waiting. Its task remains the spreading of world revolution. This means that although its militants may accept delegation by the class wide bodies in any area the International as a body does not rule. As Onorato Damen wrote in the 1952 Platform of the Internationalist Communist Party:

There is no possibility of working class emancipation, nor of the construction of a new social order, if this does not emerge from the class struggle … At no time and for no reason does the proletariat abandon its combative role. It does not delegate to others its historical mission, and it does not give power away to anyone, not even to its political party.

Political Platform of the Internationalist Communist Party, 1952

This is our vision of the shape of the future International but where do we start from today? After forty years of restructuring the fragmentation of the class today is reflected in the dispersal of revolutionary energies. Some have been discouraged by the divisions amongst revolutionaries which they put down to each defending their own parochial views. However these differences have been real differences and are based on the various efforts that have been made to deal with the counter-revolutionary legacy of the failure of the post-World War One revolutionary wave. Over time some differences have come to be recognised as less important than they once seemed but the road back to a revolutionary revival of the working class is a long one. This should not be seen as a negative factor but as a necessary part of the process of the development of class consciousness. Along the way important debates have been, and are still, necessary. Without sharp debate to clarify issues the proletariat will never be in a position to have a solid programme on which to fight the next big onslaught on capitalism.

At the same time the tenuous links between revolutionaries and the mass of the class have to be deepened and strengthened. Each local political organisation has to adopt means to maintain its contact with wider layers of workers who may not yet consider themselves revolutionary but do know that they want to fight the misery that capitalism brings. In the post-war boom, in the light of their understanding that the trade unions are antagonistic to organising anti-capitalist resistance, a key strategy put forward by the Internationalist Communist Party was that of factory groups which included members of the party and non-members in several workplaces (including FIAT). However, with the decline of the huge factory concentrations of workers, “territorial groups”, sometimes comprising a collective of militant groups from local workplaces, sometimes groups fighting on other issues (e.g. war, housing and jobs) have been adopted. The key here is that the political organisation must still aim to exist in the places where the mass of the class itself is present: the Internationalist groups are not spontaneous creations by the class, but rather political tools adopted by the party to root itself in the life of the class where it acts as a guide and intervenes wherever it can. The party is not an entity which is formed at the last minute and not something that only turns up when a struggle takes place. It has to be part of the life of the class but without succumbing to the cancer of reformism to make artificial short term gains.

At present the presence of revolutionaries in the class is very embryonic but as the crisis deepens, as more workers come to realise that there are no capitalist solutions to their problems, then the possibility to work more widely will present itself to revolutionaries. Once the working class begins to move then the practical movement will tend to take on board that programme which most meets its real needs. However this does not mean that revolutionaries wait around with folded arms until the great day. There will be no great day unless those who are already communists struggle for that perspective as widely as possible inside the fighting organisations the working class itself creates.

The International (or at least a large nucleus of it) has to be in existence in advance of the outbreak of the revolutionary crisis. It is “narrow” in the sense that its platform and programme are based only on the revolutionary lessons of the class struggle so far. Within that framework all debate is possible and the party is organised along democratic centralist lines (i.e. ultimately all issues are voted on by the members). At the same time the party will also allow for the existence of different tendencies over issues which have not already been settled or when new aspects of the existing programme arise. They must have the full right of debate and publication of minority opinion since there will be many new challenges on the road to revolution and there are still many issues which history has not yet answered for us. The health of the organisation depends on the robust exchange of opinions. Ultimately such exchanges should resolve themselves into a common policy but where a debate forces a vote then the minority accept the verdict of the majority in order not to undermine the unity of action of the organisations. This is the only healthy way in which the party can develop if it is to act as a centralised force when required to by the situation of the world revolution.

Without a shared understanding of the general lines of march (even if there is not totality of agreement) no meaningful policy will be carried out. At the same time, discussion and debate prepares each individual party member to act autonomously as a revolutionary should when required by the immediate local situation. There is no statutory mechanism for ensuring this. It lies in the preparation and consciousness of individual members and this can only come about through a party which has a lively culture of education and discussion.

Although we have adopted these principles in our statutes the Internationalist Communist Tendency, as we have repeated many times, is not that party, nor even the sole nucleus of a future party, since the conditions for it do not yet exist. However, we have not just appeared from nowhere. We are in the tradition of the Communist Left of Italy which founded the Communist Party of Italy, section of the Third International in 1921. When our predecessors were then removed from leadership of that party by the process of so-called “Bolshevisation” (in reality the antithesis of everything that was revolutionary about Bolshevism) they continued to fight for internationalism and revolutionary politics in the factories of France and Belgium as well as the prisons of Fascist Italy. It was from the confluence of these two currents that the Communist Left reunited in the Internationalist Communist Party in Italy in 1943. It kept alive and even developed revolutionary politics despite attempts to annihilate it by the henchmen of Stalin and survived through the post-war boom to act as a focal point for the establishment of the Internationalist Communist Tendency. The Internationalist Communist Party has a long history of trying to find common ground with other groupings and tendencies and even though these did not often result in agreement the door to dialogue has always been kept open. It is in that tradition that the Internationalist Communist Tendency operates today.

Because of this political heritage the ICT is a component of the future party as it hopes to keep alive the lessons from the working class struggles of the past for new generations. This is so they do not have to go through all the past errors of the working class before understanding what they should do next. At the same time we recognise that the situation of the working class today, and in the future, is and will be, different to that of the past. This why we are open to new thinking in view of the problems that the future revolutionary wave will pose to any political minority of the class.

The ICT does not consider itself a mere centre for discussion, but one core of the future international party, which is why it looks closely at other experiences that can contribute to its construction. The ICT's adherence to a common and clear political platform, its constant attempt to keep in touch with the wider class and become rooted in it, within the obvious limits of the existing objective and subjective conditions, defines its work towards the creation of such a party.

In our fight for communism we have constantly raised the issue of the International, or International Party. Unless the world working class forges this political tool as part of the rise in its revolutionary consciousness it will face yet more defeats in the future. Our earnest hope is to engage with new groups who become conscious of the need to overthrow the system, to give them a political compass to rally around. At the same time we seek dialogue with existing groups, to actively cooperate where possible, agree to disagree where necessary, and ultimately to unite as history inexorably moves on and a real class movement develops.

Internationalist Communist Tendency
June 2018
Friday, June 22, 2018


I wonder if a minimum definition of a communist would be a useful starting point. This I would envisage as the bare minimum of agreement. It could be a very short document, but an effective starting point.

What is a communist?

Communism seeks the abolition of all classes. We see that as being only possible if the essential product of capitalist society, the working class, takes all the power which, at the moment, is in the hands of the capitalist ruling class, and expropriates the capitalists of the means of production. But to do so it cannot simply capture the capitalist state, it must create its own organs which are open to the entire working class.

Before this happens, communists, those who have the foresight to see its necessity and actively seek to bring about this working-class power and expropriation, gather as revolutionaries in a revolutionary organisation which is distinguished by the fact that it seeks the abolition of capitalism, not its reform. This means the end of wage labour, money, production of commodities for the market, and the division of the world between competing fractions of the ruling class, i.e. the end of the nation state system.

Thus, the brief description of the communist has two facets.

Firstly, the ruthless critique of the entirety of the capitalist world, every existing power, the totality of its political and economic relations. The communist cannot support in any way any capitalist formation, in power or not, any capitalist project, realised or planned.

Secondly, the communist supports only the absolute power of the working class expressed through its own organs. These have been revealed in the revolutionary attempts of the past as local council type structures which centralise through recallable delegates to higher bodies. This means as communists we reject the capitalist structures of representation whereby parties or coalitions or even individuals take on power for various periods of time and are not subject to recall. We reject any separate power, including that of the revolutionary organisation itself.

These pillars, which essentially boil down to contributing to the project to realise the power of the working class unmediated by any separate power, define the communist.

The previous comment is an interesting attempt at minimal "credo". The second half, in particular, seems to provide a useful starting point. The first half seems to beg some questions about "praxis".

One aspect that needs addressing is around the historic experience that Communists do certainly join organisations. However they only "realise their essence" in contact wih the rest of the class - in other words, Communist Interventionism appears as a crucial corollary.

The statement certainly deserves further consideration.

Mmmm....paragraph 2 .....

Before this happens, communists, those who have the foresight to see its necessity and actively seek to bring about this working-class power and expropriation, gather as revolutionaries in a revolutionary organisation which is distinguished by the fact that it seeks to propagate within the wider working class the perspective of the abolition of capitalism, not its reform. This means the end of wage labour, money, production of commodities for the market, and the division of the world between competing fractions of the ruling class, i.e. the end of the nation state system.

Does that address it?

We reject any separate power, including that of the revolutionary organisation itself.

This is veering towards councilism. It tends (only tends) to place the Party outside of the class, rather than conceive of it as the political organ of the class. The only "guarantee" of a successful revolution is the adoption on a massive scale of the communist program (the doctrine of the objective historical interests of the working class) by the international proletariat. This naturally implies that communists will win the leading positions in the organs of the proletarian dictatorship, becoming the effective vanguard of the revolutionary class. Communists must squarely face this responsibility and not fear offending the anti-authoritarian sensibilities of anarchists (instead we must convince them to come to revolutionary positions).

You veer where you like but this is nothing different from what our current has said since at least 1952. Taking one sentence out of context is a lamentable practice and not worth serious response.

Some formulations are better than others. I particularly salute the following formulation, from the article The Party Question: "the party is not just a factor of theory and will, but also the political instrument of the class struggle_"_. I'm not just cherry-picking here either. This quote is consistent with the general content of the article.

You would agree that it matters on what emphasis is placed. If we're talking about "minimum requirements" for what constitutes a communist, which was suggested as a useful starting point by stevein, I would rather the emphasis be on the role of the party as "political instrument of the class struggle" rather than a statement that says the revolutionary organization must not be a "separate power".

By the way, I wasn't I wasn't taking a sentence of context. I was suggesting an amendment to a statement with which I agree (stevein7 on Mon, 2018-07-02 10:56), not to change it's meaning but to clarify it. The party being the political instrument of the class struggle is consistent with the party not being a separate power. The quote from The Party Question is the positive way of formulating it. Stevein's is the negative.

The discussion of "direct links with the class" is only part of the tasks of the class party of the future but it tells us more about the ICGL than it does as a critique of our document. Issuing "orientations and slogans" only aimed at impressing other left communists is a sterile exercise to which countless sects down the years have been dedicated to. The wider working class needs those orientations and slogans more than does the small world we currently all inhabit.

I have heard formulations such as

"the need for the construction of the class party so the class can be formed into a party" and such phrases seem confusing in my opinion. A class party will not all of a sudden mean that the working class is a single-minded unit. I think there are grounds to debate the possibility of a split working class, a certain percentage remaining loyal to the capitalists, talk of revolution being (initially) made by minorities and the possibilities of bloody civil wars and the need for large scale military forces to defend the revolution. Some may argue that a split working class would spell certain defeat.

Using the word party to describe an organisation of revolutionary militants and to describe the class in general seems to me at best ambiguous.