The Fraction-Party Question in the Italian Left

The document which follows was originally written in 1979, and translated in 1981 in handwritten form for discussion inside the Communist Workers’ Organisation on the tradition of the Italian Communist Left. It has recently been published in the online journal Intransigence but the introduction here is a much expanded.

The original article was written during the period of the International Conferences of the Communist Left (1977-80) which had been called by the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt). It was partially a reply to the claims of the International Communist Current (ICC) that the Italian Fraction of the International Communist Left around the journal Bilan was the highest expression of the Italian Left. The Fraction (made up of comrades exiled in France and Belgium) was part of the history of the entire Italian Communist Left (a fact denied only by the various International Communist Parties of Bordigist inspiration) but was not its highest expression. Most of its members returned to Italy and joined the PCInt at the end of the Second World War but many issues even then had not been clarified. It could hardly have been otherwise. Given the extent of and form of the counter-revolution in which a one-time proletarian organisation, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) became the agent of counter-revolution it took time to understand and draw the lessons. The CPSU had not only created a state capitalist monster against the working class in Russia but had turned the Communist International into a tool of its increasingly imperialist interests but the Fraction failed to grasp many issues. They did not, for example have an analysis of the class nature of the USSR an issue only resolved by the comrades who founded the PCInt.

However the article which follows is not about a “bilan” (balance sheet) on Bilan. Its purpose is much more precise. It explains that the experience of the Italian Fraction of the Internationalist Communist Left abroad refers to a particular historical phase, that of fascism in Italy that forced many militants of the left to flee abroad. The term Frazione was used in 1928 and was intended to indicate political continuity and unity with the old “party of 1921” just as the communists had formed a fraction inside the old Socialist Party before breaking with it. The militants of the Left had founded this Communist Party of Italy, Section of the Third International (to give it its full title) and they still claimed political and organizational continuity with the Communist International while being physically detached from it. Hence why they saw themselves as an internationalist “fraction”. They also knew that the Comintern and the Italian Party under Gramsci and Togliatti were on the road to counter-revolution but, until they finally got there, they were designated as “centrist” and the main efforts of the fraction, as their name suggests, were directed against them in an attempt to turn them back to revolutionary politics.

In 1935, when it became obvious that the degeneration of the USSR, the Comintern and all its parties had finally taken them into the arms of the class enemy, the Fraction was faced with a new dilemma. It could no longer remain a fraction of a party that was lost to the class but they could not decide at what point they should launch a new party. Vercesi, in particular, thought they should wait until the conditions for a mass party would arise again. As the article below shows, this was contested by a number of members of the Fraction. Hence, the Fraction became paralyzed at the start of the Second World War, and eventually dissolved. It was only in 1943, with political and economic chaos looming that gave rise to a post-war potentially revolutionary class struggle, that the Party issue would be resolved in the birth of the Internationalist Communist Party before the end of the war.

In short, what the article argues is that the experience of the Fraction was unique to a specific historical situation. Anyone who claims to be a fraction today has to answer the question “fraction of what”? These old parties no longer exist. The old battles have been fought and the problems surrounding the issues of their time have been decided. Today we are not in the same position. Whilst we take all that the proletarian experience of the past offers us, we take it to build on for a future international. We do not lock ourselves into a long-past political experience although, as Marx noted in the Eighteenth Brumaire, there is a tendency, even amongst revolutionaries, to look too much to the past.

At the very time when [we] appear engaged in … in bringing about what never was before, at such very epochs of revolutionary crisis do [we] anxiously conjure up into their service the spirits of the past, assume their names, their battle cries, their costumes to enact a new historic scene in such time-honored disguise and with such borrowed language.

Today we are setting out on a new road with a newly formed proletariat creating groups which are the nuclei of a future party not fractions of a long dead one.

This is also true for the question of the so-called “historic course” which Vercesi (the main spokesman for the Italian left abroad) did not recognise despite his insistence that the formation of the party would have to wait until the working class was already moving. The idea of the “historic course” was though promoted by others, notably Marc Chirik, the future founder of the ICC. In his view, which is the view of the ICC, today any attempt to form the class political is doomed if the “historic course” is towards counter-revolution. Like Vercesi the argument is that the actual balance of class forces is the decisive factor in the formation of the class political party. Chirik decided that the historic course was towards war and counter-revolution and thus refused to join the PCInt unlike most of the rest of the Fraction. It was very similar to the position initially taken by Bordiga a few years later in 1948-52 when he began to question the very formation of the Internationalist Communist Party (founded 1943). This had been formed at a time of a massive strike wave in Northern Italy, alongside other signs of working class ferment elsewhere, and seemed to presage a post-war revolutionary wave, like that at the end of the First World War. However, by 1948 it was clear that capitalism had weathered that particular storm. Bordiga now insisted that this was “not the time” to have a party and even initially suggested that the PCInt should be dissolved. This was at a time when it still had over 4000 members in Italy alone!

For the defenders of the “historic course” the counter-revolution was not over and thus the question of the party should not have been posed at that time. Marc Chirik was not alone in seeing that the Cold War was creating a new threat to the working class but he was the only one to decide that its consequences would be a nuclear holocaust and abandon Europe for Venezuela at the outbreak of the Korean War. World War Three did not happen. The PCint, despite the split with the Bordigists in 1952, despite declining numbers, continued the patient work of fighting inside the working class against the imperialist forces on both sides. For them the idea of a “historic course” was simply an intellectual construct which also served as a justification for abandoning the task of trying to keep revolutionary organisation alive.

Marc Chirik and his followers shared the same methodology as those in the Fraction in the 1930s who argued that the question of the party should wait until the time when the objective conditions are ripe. This underlines both the position of the “wait and see” tendency in the Fraction and the defenders of the “historic course” idea. The error here is to assume that the party should only be formed when it had the instant possibility of becoming a mass party. Not only is this a nod to social democratic (and Comintern) conceptions of the nature of a proletarian party but is not even borne out by history.

Despite being a tiny minority of the Russian working class (8000) after they separated from the Mensheviks in 1912 the Bolsheviks were already present, and sufficiently known, to be accepted by the class in 1917 when it became clear that they were the one organized force which defended soviet power. This contrasts sharply with the German Spartakists who did not even form a distinct organization during the First World War but were swallowed up as a fraction inside the centrist USPD. Only AFTER the proletarian revolt in November 1918 did they actually consider forming a communist party which soon succumbed to putchism, opportunism and was torn between revolutionary and conservative policies.

As the article below states, the political party cannot be set up over night. It needs a lot of preparation, not just in theoretical work but to establish its political message (programme) and a way of working, which prepares every one of its members to act in a revolutionary manner in any given situation. The party is the subjective part of the equation, a tool for liberation, which is forged in struggles before any revolutionary outburst. As Onorato Damen stated, the working class, whatever its immediate hopes and condition has a permanent need for a party and the Fraction was only a unique historic interlude at a time of acute confusion brought about by a historic betrayal.

When the first signs of the end of the post-war boom were becoming evident in the late 1960s Marc Chirik, working from the premise that the historic course was now reversed, returned to Europe. The return of the economic crisis due to the fall in the rate of profit meant that the capitalists had to step up their attacks on working conditions and wages. Workers put up a resistance but this was largely on the basis of corporate struggles controlled by unions. Internationally there were notable attempts to go beyond this framework but they were exceptions. However, they were enough for Marc Chirik to proclaim that the counter-revolution was over and that now was the time to form new revolutionary organisations (the existing ones being “sclerotic”). A number of formerly councilist groups (many of recent formation) were joined together in 1975 into the International Communist Current, which now proclaimed that it was “the pole of regroupment” for revolutionaries. Now that the counter-revolution was over the ICC believed that the working class was already revolutionary and only needed to be “demystified” since the “historic course” was now towards proletarian revolution. Once workers were told that the unions were against the working class the scales would fall from their eyes and the road to revolution would be open. Unsurprisingly the course of history proved a good deal more complicated. The 1970s like the 1940s was another period where a revival of class struggle did not naturally translate into revolutionary consciousness amongst the broad masses of the working class. Those who insisted the new wave of struggle did not signal the “end of the counter-revolution” but was evidence of the new crisis of capitalism were to be condemned as “rudderless” by the ICC for the next 25 years. Armed with the certainties of the “historic course the ICC were convinced that they were the “pole of regroupment” around which the rest of the communist left should regroup.

As the 1980s opened, the ICC announced that these were “the years of truth”, of growing class confrontation. In some ways this turned out to be true as the restructuring brought on by the crisis was leading to the wholesale writing off of capital in the old industrial centres as production was transferred to low wage economies like China (unacknowledged at the time by the ICC). Workers fought a desperate rearguard action, but striking to save a job when the capitalists are already prepared to write off constant capital, is never a comfortable position. Demoralisation set in and the class began to retreat. However, the supporters of the idea that the “historic course” was towards greater class confrontation did not see this and it was only with the collapse of the USSR and its bloc that they saw the need to re-evaluate the theory. There was no suggestion though that the idea of the “historic course” had ever been wrong. For the ICC it was just that neither the working class nor the capitalists had succeeded in imposing their agendas on each other. The fact that workers’ living standards have declined consistently since 1979, that restructuring had destroyed whole communities, does not seem to enter into this balance sheet.

Instead, the ICC joined the post-modern scene and came up with their own ideological constructs of “chaos” and “decomposition”. Capitalism was now decomposing (a metaphor, which suggests that “decadence” was not enough – now it was really, really decadent). For the ICC “chaos” and “decomposition” was always a stop gap theory to cover the collapse of their perspective that the “historic course” was towards revolution. We are not denying that there are increasing signs of capitalism’s decline but this is rooted in the one material factor ignored by the ICC (for them the economic crisis of capitalism is “permanent”) and that is that the capitalist crisis has not gone away, and intensifies the longer it is prolonged.

Capitalism has had mechanisms to try to either manage the crisis or raise the rate of profit over the decades. But, the one single factor which remains as stubborn today as it was in 1971 is that the over-accumulation of capital means that a new revival of its cycle of production can come about only through the devaluation of capital. Today only, the massive destruction of a widespread war or series of wars can achieve this. This brings us back to the perspective that we have had since the imperialist epoch opened – war or revolution is the only solution to the increasing contradictions of the system. Those who dance about claiming that the situation is not urgent and that we do not need to start working for an international proletarian party based on the experience of the communist left have their heads in the sand.

This may now include the ICC. We say “may” because we are not sure where they stand today so confused has been there more recent reponses. In 2014 the ICC went through some kind of internal crisis but it was never made clear, even to their sympathizers, what the nature of that crisis was. Instead in 2016 they produced a new balance sheet entitled “Forty Years of the ICC” in International Review 156. They now criticized some of their past positions. We can only summarize some of them here. They include, in their words:

  • its analyses of the balance of forces between the classes: the tendency to see the proletariat constantly “on the offensive”
  • a “catastrophist” vision
  • a tendency to retain the illusion that the deepening economic crisis and attacks against the working class would necessarily, and in a mechanical way, provoke “waves of struggle” that would develop with the same characteristics and on the same model as those of 1970-80

The ICC is not the only organisation to have made errors over the years (those who make no errors make nothing in general) but these errors are all the consequences of their insistence that the “historic course was” towards proletarian revolution. Whilst this re-examination is to be welcomed (even if it does not come with the recognition of the real cause of their problem) the article quoted was followed in the same issue by another entitled “Report on the Role of the ICC as a Fraction”. This is a very confusing document which has caused some discussion on the ICC’s Forum. In World Revolution 376 (2017) one sympathizer, Link, asked about the document.

The ICC appears to be now adopting a role as a Fraction but I am struggling to understand the reasons and the possible consequences. What does this role mean and what is the political justification for this change i.e. what is the analysis of current situation leading to this outcome.
I have previously made the statement on this forum that the ICC has given up on its role as ‘pole of regroupment’ and drew no criticism or rebuttal. The ICC has simply avoided explaining or clarifying its direction. It would appear however to tie in with this new role of the Fraction.

In response the ICC offer only more obfuscation and a little rewriting of history but to the key question posed by Link there is no straight answer. Do they now consider themselves a fraction (and if so of what?) and what does that mean for their work. When Link asks why they have not responded to his criticism they deflect this into a criticism of the rest of the communist left camp.

The low morale of the left communist milieu in general may help to explain the background to the dearth of response to the 40 year self-critique of the ICC.

We can assure the ICC that those of us who have muddled along “rudderless” for so long are in good heart. They should not project their own apparent current demoralisation onto others. We did not have a chiliastic vision of a “course of history” to define our work. The capitalist mode of production is inherently crisis ridden but the final outcome is not a given. It is still the same as that enunciated by Marx in the Communist Manifesto “either the revolutionary reconstitution of society or the common ruin of the contending classes”, or in later forms “socialism or barbarism”, “war or revolution”.

Revolutionaries have no crystal ball and unlike in Hegelian teleology history always offers more than one possibility. Currently, we as a class are losing the class war but that may not always be the case. Since the bursting of the speculative bubble, which had previously maintained the fraudulent idea that capitalism was booming, things are beginning to slowly shift. Communists can now talk openly of “capitalism” without being laughed at, new mass movements which ask questions of capital, but which cannot themselves answer them because of their lack of class basis (from the Indignados to yellow vests), underline the failures of the system and, as even the ICC notice, a new generation of young revolutionaries are coming to the communist left in numbers not seen since the early 1970s. All this makes us all the more determined to widen the revolutionary internationalist camp whilst at the same time doing what we have always done, and stare reality in the face

The fundamental condition for the formation of the future party is of course the class struggle itself. But, it is also dependent on the real active work of revolutionaries in the class struggle today. Placing the revolutionary minority into a passive category of history is to close off any real understanding of the complex dialectical relations between two active poles. It is like claiming that history will solve these problems itself and forgets that real human beings make history. It is a retreat into passive observation. And at a time when the capitalist crisis looks more like worsening rather than improving, when capitalism is developing its own preparations for its “solutions”, when the ecological degradation of the planet demonstrates daily capitalism’s threat to our existence, and when many of the younger generation are looking for answers, the last thing we need to do is to “wait and see”.


from Prometeo 2 Series IV July 1979

When Fascism brought in the Exceptional Laws, after the Matteotti crisis, the Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I) was almost caught by surprise. To make the defeat worse, besides the lack of organisational preparation by the Ufficio Uno (a clandestine office run by Bruno Fortichiari) and the entire Party structure, the constantly shifting ambiguity of the Third [Communist] International's policy towards the old socialist parties played a decisive role. This further disoriented the Italian proletariat and denied the centrist party itself any real possibility of limiting the damage by a more orderly withdrawal.

On the night of 8 November, 1926 almost the entire parliamentary group was arrested. Ferrari, Picelli, Riboldi, Alfani, Molinelli, Borin, Srebnic, Maffi, Losardo, Fortichiari, Damen and Gramsci were secured in Mussolini’s prisons, only Grieco, Gennari and Bendini managed to save themselves. In the previous months the fascist reaction had already got rid of Bordiga, Scoccimarro, Terracini, Oberti, Bagnolati, Allegato, Flecchia and Roveda; Togliatti and Gnudi only escaped because they were in Moscow. Thus, in one fell swoop, the old Left and the centrist leadership of Gramsci and Togliatti, were eliminated. The Mussolini regime now had a free hand to dismantle the entire organisational structure of the party, composed of hundreds of intermediary cadre operating on a national scale. In the space of a week, in Rome, amongst all those arrested were six thousand Communist militants who fell into the hands of the regime’s police. In Milan there were more than two thousand arrests, in Turin three hundred and fifty, in Padua two hundred, and in Verona two hundred and sixty. With the Rome “show trial” (May 1927), another 570 militants were arrested, including Licausi, recently co-opted to the new leadership, Stefanini (secret courier) and R. Ferragni (Red Aid lawyer). The Exceptional Laws and their practical consequences marked the highest point of the counter-revolution in Italy in the twenties, not only in its most obviously repressive aspect, but also for the process of political decomposition that it set in motion. Furthermore, and above all this took place within the PCd'I under the pressure of international events (especially in Russia) with tragically rapid consequences.

The hammer blows of Italian bourgeois reaction, which in those years was in the vanguard of a similar process throughout Europe, was compounded by the progressive isolation of the Soviet experience with its consequent sliding towards counter-revolutionary positions. On the basis of this class isolation that lasted for a decade, the tactical expedients of the Bolshevik Party, and of the Communist International (CI), gradually took on a strategic vision which completely distorted the revolutionary purpose for which they had arisen. Until the Second Congress, the CI it had acted as the emerging point of the class struggle on a world scale, linking all its tactics to a single strategic goal: the international revolution. The Russian experience was not considered as a fixed and established reference point but as the first breach in the international imperialist order, that in order to survive and progress needed other similar experiences to occur in Europe, especially in the most industrialised countries. Not only did this not happen, but the CI itself, in the face of an objectively negative situation, adopted a series of tactical resolutions, from the Third Congress onwards, which in the space of a few years went from opportunistic expedients to a definite counter-revolutionary political approach.

So, the international revolutionary perspective, the theoretical elaboration of the pitiless struggle against social democracy, and for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the only forms and instruments to guarantee the construction of socialism, was abandoned in Congress after Congress. Instead we got the attempt to implement the compromising politics of the united front, of the workers' government, and last but not least, the possibility of building, in the face of proletarian internationalism, socialism in an isolated Russia.

The Exceptional Laws came only a few months after the VIth Enlarged Executive of the CI, by which time this political decomposition was already an established fact. Within the CI, as well as in the Bolshevik Party itself, the Bukharin-Stalin Right was about to finally gain the upper hand over the Trotsky-Kamenev-Zinoviev Left, with the consequent possibility of bringing about an economic policy of a capitalist type in Russia and to pass it off, through their "centrist appendices" across the world, as building “socialism in one country”.

Neither the Italian nor the European proletariat, were aware of what was happening in Russia in those years or of the struggle that left-wing minorities were leading against the absurd tactics of Stalin and his comrades. Few thus knew what lay behind J.H.Droz’s recommendations in June 1923 that Bordiga, with almost all of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Italy who were not willing to accept Moscow’s tactical line, be replaced by individuals of proven right-wing faith, such as Vote, Tasca and Togliatti, and at the same time invited to enter the Presidium of the CI. Even the often fierce criticism that Bordiga articulated within the CI, was very often silenced, as in the final resolution of the work of the VIth Expanded Executive, where the exponent of the Italian Left repeated his criticisms about Russian and international issues, about the relationship between the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) and the Bolshevik Party, and about the united front and the concept of the workers' state. For Moscow, as for the centrist leadership, it was important, in order to isolate the Left of the Party, that certain problems and certain discussions were only partially reported so that they did not fully reach the Party rank and file. In this regard, the letter that Togliatti sent to the Party secretariat is significant:

The study of the Russian question has convinced me that it concerns topics that are of fundamental importance for the perspectives and tactics of the proletariat in the present moment. It is not possible not to pose these problems to the masses without running the risk of detaching ourselves from the masses themselves.(1)

He was right to be worried if we take into account that even in 1926, despite the success of centrism at the IIIrd Party Congress in Lyon, the new leadership seemed to be a head still detached from a Party body which, although confused and disoriented, was more likely to listen to the political demands of the Left rather than the tightrope tactics of the new leadership. It should also be remembered that, almost a year after the first restructuring at the top of the party, at the Como conference of the responsible cadres of the organization (1924), 35 out of 45 Federation secretaries sided with the positions of the Left, as they did a year later, with the initiative of Repossi, Damen and Fortichiari for the Committee of Agreement (Comitato d’Intesa). In addition to individuals on the Left, entire federations such as Milan, Turin, Rome, Naples, Cremona, Pavia, Alessandria, Novara, Trieste, Foggia and Cosenza supported it. It is at this point that Gramsci, in preparation for the IIIrd Party Congress, used the iron fist, by requiring the members of the Committee of Agreement to renounce the initiative, under penalty of expulsion, and blackmailing all those who had sided with the positions of the old leadership created at Livorno.

On 4 June, Gramsci summoned the inter-regional secretaries and set them a dilemma: either follow the line of the centre, which meant, on the practical side, to stay within the organisation, taking advantage of its financial support as a party official, or be expelled, with all the consequences that fascism would quickly demonstrate if the opportunity arose. Naturally individuals like Gramsci and Togliatti, had every interest in not saying what was happening in Russia (the Trotsky case), whilst striking with all means against the most active members of the Left. After the Exceptional Laws and the Rome show trial, the break between the centre and the Left, went beyond polemics, to more or less official recalls, to blackmail and expulsions. It became a fact that came to define the character of the specific conditions of general demobilisation.

Inside the prisons, in the places of police controlled internal exile, in the penal colonies, the two sides confronted each other both on the political and organisational level; even in the hours of "free time", this attitude of intransigence did not diminish. Centrism reproduced in the jails, as far as was objectively possible, that minimum of organizational ties of increasingly blind and uncritical adhesion to the CI. This included unending attempts to politically discredit and isolate the Bordigists or Trotskyists, who within a few years, would be synonymous as “agents of imperialism”. The Left, trapped in this centrist-fascist grip, learned to fight on the edge of the abyss that had opened up, transforming, wherever it was possible, the fascist jail into a real university of Marxism, with moments of proselytism, in the tough and laborious work of forging revolutionary cadres. Others managed to escape abroad, particularly to France to Belgium, giving rise to the phenomenon of political migration that was very important in the debate between the leftist oppositions that arose in those years both inside and outside the CI.

The Degeneration of the Third [Communist] International

The process of political degeneration of the CI that involved all the communist parties, with greater or lesser rapidity, sprang rapidly from the negative evolution of events in Europe. From 1921 to 1926 there was no episode of defeat or failure that did not increase Moscow’s readiness to partially or totally change the programmatic points issued by CI’s Second Congress.

The Spartacist Revolt and the Hungarian revolution confirmed the need for a policy and a tactic which, for a revolutionary victory, would have had to be based on a more authentic concept of political and organisational autonomy of revolutionaries, in order to arrive, without intermediate stages, at the only possible outcome, the dictatorship of the proletariat. However with the failed attempt to export the revolution by force in Poland (defeat of the Red Army at Warsaw, August 1920), the revolutionary failure in Italy after the factory occupations (September 1920) and the gradual extinction of the Ruhr miners’ uprising (March 1921), the persistence, after five years, of the isolation of the Russian revolution, with a catastrophic internal situation, both economically and in terms of dealing with social tensions, led to the germination of a u-turn in ECCI’s tactic.

At the Third Comintern Congress (Moscow, June/July 1921) and in the subsequent Enlarged Executive, while considering the situation was still likely to produce revolutionary solutions, (2) on the important issue of a mass following for the newborn communist parties, the CI came up with the tactical formula of the united front with the forces of social democracy for a temporary coalition, a “workers government”, with the false pretext of unmasking the opportunist and objectively counter-revolutionary attitude of the "workers' parties" linked to the Second International in the eyes of the workers.

In fact, the theories of the united front and the workers' government were not a tactical, "necessarily" dangerous retreat, in order to pave the way for the various communist parties to conquer the masses still linked to the old social democratic parties, but the first step in a much more drastic and irreversible process of political revisionism which made the occurrence of a revolutionary event on an international scale all the more unlikely. The confirmation came at the Fourth Comintern Congress (Moscow and Petrograd, November-December 1922) in which the social democracy of Kautskv, Turati and Van der Velde ceased to be a bastion of conservatism, the “left wing of the bourgeoisie” (Zinoviev) and even less “the little sister of fascism” (Stalin), but was re-labelled an "important sector of the labor movement". Along these lines, the united front, a momentary instrumental alliance, was declared as the most suitable instrument for the project of unification between the two sections of the labour movement in a single organisational structure that was better placed to recover the ground lost in relation to the masses by ending their confusion and disorientation.

But for such a project to have any chance of success demanded the impossible. The adherents of the old socialist parties would not accept reunification on the basis of a revolutionary programme that had been, the basis for the split only two years earlier. It was also necessary that the “workers' government” had to become a two-faced Janus that would support both the democratist and progressive ravings of the socialists and reassure the rank and file that the content of the new slogan was revolutionary, and that the workers’ government would be a necessary step towards the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The effects of the change of course were not long in appearing. In October 1923 in Germany, the KPD, under the leadership of Brandler, put into practice the tactical line of the CI by participating in coalition governments in Thuringia and in Saxony. This ended in a resounding failure which further confused the German proletariat. The failure of the German revolution nourished the formation of oppositions within the CI which had already manifested themselves, more or less openly, at the time of the Third Congress.

To what extent could the basic contradiction – proletarian power exercised in an economy that, with the NEP, was officially marching, even if “under control”, towards the strengthening of capitalist relations of production – have been contained by a more flexible policy, and how far could the exceptional nature of the situation have avoided its negative impact, not only on Russia’s problems but also on the European Communist parties? Apart from the disastrous episode of the German October, the CI had shown that it had embarked on a dead-end road. Instead of insisting on the most absolute tactical-strategic intransigence as the only guarantee for the resolution of the problems of the international, and therefore Russian, proletariat, it put Russia and its enormous contradictions first, as it was the only country in which the proletarian revolution had been victorious. The CI was thus at the centre of a process which, far from being revolutionary, now just looked like an instrument for the defence of the proletarian state, reversing the real terms of the question by 180 degrees. And it was precisely on the basis of what was happening in Russia in those crucial years, on the significance of the new tactics regarding the expectations of the international revolution, that within the Bolshevik Party itself, as well as in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, the first oppositions were organised. Though starting from a common preoccupation with subsequent events, they took different and in some cases opposing paths.

In this sense the changes that were enacted at the Fifth Congress of the CI (Moscow June/July 1924) were worthless. The echo of the German defeat had been enormous. For the CI it was necessary to retreat, even if only formally. Brandler and Radek were accused of misinterpreting the party line on the united front and of being, therefore, the only ones responsible for the defeat. Zinoviev once again embarrassed enough to shuffle the cards on the table. In his speech, social democracy, previously "an important part of the workers' movement", became "social fascism", from which a new interpretation of the united front was handed down. From being an organisational reunification of a hierarchical type with the Social Democrat leadership, it was transformed into a united front of the working class masses from below. The same sort of argument applied to the workers' government which, from being an intermediate step towards the proletarian dictatorship, now became synonymous with this, as if it were just a question of terminology.

The Fascists are the right hand and the social democrats the left hand of the bourgeoisie. Here is the new fact ... The essential fact is that social democracy has become a wing of fascism.(3)

The worker and peasant government is nothing but a method of agitation, propaganda and mobilisation of the masses ... a pseudonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat.(4)

Bordiga expressed himself well in this regard at the Congress (5):

But what can worker or a simple peasant understand of the workers' government when, after three years, we, leaders of the labor movement, have not yet managed to understand and give a satisfactory definition of what this worker government is? I simply ask for a third-class funeral for the tactic and with it for the slogan of a workers’ government.

Even though the Vth conference ended leaning to the left, the CI continued to march on the road it had taken at the IIIrd and, as far as tactics were concerned, the process ended in the VIth and VIIth Enlarged Executive with the theorization of socialism in one country. It was at this final stage that Stalin definitively took over, laying the foundations of the construction, piece by piece, of state capitalism, smuggling it in as socialism.

The Leftist Oppositions

The failure of the European revolution to extract the Soviet government from its mess, and the beginning of a process of economic transformation, of capitalist production relations, from the NEP onwards, led to the creation of a political and administrative superstructure with perspectives that were totally different from the original revolutionary one. This led to ever greater disagreements and splits, which were increasingly difficult to reconcile, the more rapid and irreversible these contradictions themselves developed.

They soon revealed themselves in aspects of the political agitation of Comintern bodies (abandoning of principles, revisionism, opportunism in foreign policy), but linking these events to the objective factors that determined them, should have been the primary task, in that historical phase, of the various oppositions that arose throughout Europe for a time. It was easy to blame the centralism of the Bolshevik Party, or the party structure as such, for its gradual departure from the revolutionary line, and therefore of the impossibility of building socialism, as if, in Russia in the 1920s, this huge problem was just created by the organisational form, by greater or lesser democratic accountability or by errors of tactics. In fact, in Russia the process of economic transformation in the socialist sense was not carried out, not because the Communist Party of Lenin and Trotsky suppressed the councils or exercised the dictatorship over the proletariat rather than being its highest expression, or because it eliminated (after bitter struggles) every form of internal opposition. On the contrary, the isolation of the Soviet republic and the consequent practical impossibility of carrying out any transformation, were the main causes of the degeneration that took hold of the party, and the structures of the state, opening up an increasingly deep gulf between the working class and its organs of power. This error of dialectical interpretation was, to greater or lesser degrees, the basis of some left oppositions, such as the anarcho-syndicalists who took root all over Europe for a while, particularly in France, as well as the Dutch councilists, Gorter and Pannekoek, and also in part of the KAPD in Germany, and there were those who would reach hasty conclusions as in the case of Korsch and his tendency. (6)

Apart from the sometimes subtle but often very substantial ideological differences between the various leftist oppositions in 1929, after the expulsion of Trotsky from Russia, the panorama of the oppositions was already very wide and covered an arc that ranged from an anarcho-syndicalism of the Sorelian kind to the most intransigent re-affirmation of the Leninism of the Bolshevik October.

This is the summary picture of the most important oppositions of the left and their matrix. (7)

  • Holland. The aforementioned councilist opposition from Gorter to Pannekoek who took their position after the IIIrd Congress of the CI.
  • Russia. Apart from the workers' opposition of Kollontai and Miasnikov, the one that gave a greater political imprint was the opposition of Trotsky (from 1924 to 1929 on Soviet territory, from 1929 to 1940 beyond its borders). (8)
  • France. Syndicalists (Monatte-Rosmer), who published La Révolution prolétarienne. Trotskyists (Naville-Rosmer), who organized in the Ligue communiste. (9)
  • Germany. The Katz Group (anarcho-syndicalist), published the magazine Spartakus. The Schwarz Group was a group of mainly workers which was joined by the remains of the dissolved KAPD and which published the Entschiedene Linke. The Korsch Group. After first adhering to the Schwarz group and the positions of KAPD, Korsch founded an autonomous formation, Kommunistische Politik. The Urbahns Group. Composed of the old left of the KPD who opposed Brandler-Radek's opportunist tactics on the occasion of the failure of the German revolution in October 1923. Led by Maslov, Fischer, Sholen and Urbahns, it published the Fahne des Kommunismus.
  • America. A leftist opposition led by Cannon was established, which based its political programme on Trotsky's intervention at the Vth Congress of the CI.

The Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy

As we mentioned in the first part of this document, after the Exceptional Laws for those in the Italian Left who were not “guests” of the fascist prison system, being politically active meant taking the path of exile. France and Belgium were the countries that, for reasons of geographical proximity rather than for regime tolerance, served as a refuge for Italian political emigration.

In April 1928, the groups that were already politically active in the Paris, Lyon and Marseilles areas, together with the “Belgian” elements, constituted in Pantin, in the suburbs of the French capital, the “Fraction of the Italian Left”. In June of the same year the first issue of Prometeo (Prometheus) came out, as a political organ of the Fraction. (10)

From an ideological point of view the Fraction continued the political battle the Left had fought against the progressive departure from revolutionary principles of the CI and the centrist party of Gramsci and Togliatti. It was an attempt to save from the general collapse what was positive and politically indispensable in the international workers' movement until the CI’s IInd congress. They refused to unconditionally surrender to the party line issued by the Lyon Congress on fundamental issues such as the analysis of social democracy, the tactical meaning of the united front and the workers' government, the bolshevization of the party, the possibility of developing a socialist economy within a single country. Their reply was to revive all the theoretical work that the "Left" expressed before and after Livorno, in the "Theses of Rome" and in the initiative of the "Committee of Understanding" (Comitato d’Intesa).

For the Fraction, all the reasons that led the revolutionary movement of the 1920s to break all links with reformism and to create an autonomous political and party-like organisation that was the right instrument for the working class to reach the final goal of the class struggle – the institution of the proletarian dictatorship – continued to exist, since tactical solutions, linked to the unfolding of events of that moment could only be considered guiding principles of the class struggle, valid for the entire capitalist historical period. On the other hand, the new course of the CI had been nothing but a collection of disastrous failures.

After the failed German insurrection of October 1923, the Chinese proletariat, was also militarily disarmed and politically disorganised by the tactic of the united front. This led to their massacre, at the hands of that Chang Kai-Shek who was presented in Stalinist propaganda as the leader of the Chinese communist revolution. The slaughter in Canton and Shanghai in 1927, virtually put an end to a period of social upheaval and revolutionary expectations that started with the crisis created by the First World War

The new situation brought further problems for the Fraction. Almost everyone accepted that, apart from Bolshevik October, world capitalism had emerged practically unscathed from the serious period of post-war crisis, and was heading towards a long period of economic reconstruction.

Within the CI, even before the tragic events in China took place, Bukharin’s report in the VIth Enlarged Executive put forward the theory that capitalist stabilisation would put an end to any attempt at revolutionary revival, with the consequent result that the international proletariat, defeated and disoriented, would largely be forced to accept the economic imperatives of the new cycle of accumulation.

For the ECCI leaders, the new phase only confirmed the correctness of their previous tactical line, but for the left oppositions new and more complex problems opened up. For the Fraction, the basic question was no longer simply to ideologically oppose all Moscow’s deviations from revolutionary Marxism. On the contrary a precise answer to what was happening in the country where the proletarian revolution had been victorious; to the significance of the opportunism that had taken hold of the centrist parties; and to the role that the leftist oppositions had to assume in this particular historical phase, was needed. In other words, answers were needed to those questions that the Russian revolution had posed but not resolved.

a) Up to what point, at a time of reflux in the struggle, could the contradiction between a victorious revolution in one country and its total isolation from the rest of the international proletariat have remained within class lines, or to what extent could it been resolved beyond these limits? This would have allowed for the understanding of what the economic content of a proletarian policy was, rather than taking the form of political opportunism generated by the capitalist characteristics of the “outside world”.

b) In the event of a resumption of the class struggle, the process of political degeneration that had developed in the CI and in the centrist parties might have been halted. On the other hand, the longer the isolation of the Soviet Republic continued, the more the process had to be regarded as irreversible.

c) What should have been the correct relationship between the International Centre, ever more concerned with safeguarding its interests as a proletarian state, and the remaining Communist Parties?

d) What attitude should the international leftist oppositions have taken against the centrist parties from which they had left or been expelled from?

Bordiga tried to give an answer as early as September 1924 (11) to the first three questions and immediately after the Vth Congress of the CI. where he dealt with these problems:

We should discuss the operation and tactics of the whole International, based on the report of activity of its maximum organ, the Executive, between the two Congresses. The directing centre of the International should submit itself to a very searching examination. In reality this examination of the Executive never takes place. On the contrary it is always the Executive Committee which puts each party, each section on trial.(12)

In the aforementioned article of 1924, Bordiga, as he identified the development of opportunism in the stagnation of the class struggle in Europe, thus linked every possibility of recovery to its revival; if not, nothing could stop the process of degeneration.

In February 1926, on the occasion of the Sixth Extended Executive, Bordiga reiterated the same problems, emphasising the Russian question in relation to the international situation and denouncing the false relationship that had been established between the ECCI and the Russian Communist Party.

Trotsky also went into the matter. In January 1924, the Bolshevik leader began a harsh controversy with the Party's top leaders on the relationship between democracy and centralism, on the impossibility of political coexistence between the old Bolshevik cadres and the new party cadres and on the growing bureaucratisation that pervaded the ruling nerve centres of the organisation (13). In 1926, immediately after the conclusion of the work of the Sixth Extended Executive (14), Trotsky touched all the key points that were affecting Russian political life, from the interpretation of N.E.P. to foreign policy problems.

  • Defence against workers' interests towards rich peasants (N.E.P.).
  • Development of the socialist sector in the economy and greater control over the free market.
  • Tax tightening towards kulaks (rich peasants)
  • Attack on bureaucracy and defence of democracy inside the party
  • Right-wing deviationism in foreign policy.
  • Rejection of the theory of socialism in one country.

Trotsky also inextricably linked the possibility of the economic transformation of the Soviet republic in a socialist direction to international revolution.

But at the beginning of the 30s, when all these problems could not be just articulated or denounced, but needed to be "resolved" on the level of analysis and political practice, the Fraction found itself facing this immense task practically alone, with a Bordiga who had withdrawn from activity (15) and a Trotsky ever more willing to play the wrong cards in his attempts to organise the unity of international oppositions (16).

The Problems of the Fraction

At a European level, the greatest political weight was exercised by the Russian opposition. The enormous personal prestige which the figure of Trotsky carried, had the power to influence the fractions of the left that arose at the turn of the 30s, on the basis of a not always clear political programme and very often linked to changing events at an international level.

At the beginning of 1930 Trotsky tried to organise the union of the Left Opposition on the basis of coalition committees whose main purpose was to turn the centrist parties round. This did not exclude the possibility for the Opposition to re-enter the organizations linked to the International (entryism) to better carry out this type of work.

After 1933, with Hitler’s ascent to power, it seemed to Trotsky that centrism was no longer in a position to provide a valid defensive barrier for Russia. In Trotsky's eyes the birth, or worse, the multiplication of fascist governments on the borders of Russia, or in any case in Europe, meant increasing the isolation of the revolution with the consequent acceleration of the process of bureaucracy within the party and the workers' state. From now on the tactics of international oppositions needed to change: no longer the reform of centrism, but the creation of new parties with the participation of the healthy elements of the leftist oppositions and socialist parties, based on the programme of the first four Congresses of the International, with the perspective of creating a IVth International to act as a counterpart to that of Stalin and his associates.

It is in this eventful period that the Fraction, in opposition to the Trotskyists, faced and partially resolved the biggest political problems that then troubled the workers' movement. It was obvious that in those years, characterised by the ebb and flow of class struggles, with an economic recovery under way and, above all, with a politically leaderless workers movement, it was necessary not only to safeguard the positive in a revolutionary sense, but also to give a political sense of what was happening inside and outside the Soviet state, inside and outside the CI-related parties.

In the current situation, we must begin to say clearly that the terrible crisis that the labour movement is going through comes from the fact that problems have arisen that Lenin himself could not foresee. To these problems, centrism has given a counter-revolutionary solution in the theory of socialism in one country. In 1927 the proletariat suffered a terrible defeat by failing to prevent the counterrevolutionary success of centrism within the communist parties. If it had won its battle within the parties, it would have ensured the continuity of the party for the realisation of its task, since it would have resolved the new problems posed by the proletarian exercise in the USSR in a revolutionary direction.(17)

Apart from the relations between the ECCI. and the CPSU, between the International and the Communist Parties, and the Bukharin-Stalinist concoction (of mystification, lies, deception: note for non-Italian comrades, ed.) of socialism in one country, themes already contained in Trotskyist polemics, the Fraction set about providing a solution to a twofold problem: how to characterise the opportunism that had taken hold of the Communist Parties and, at the same time, what role and function to assign to the leftist oppositions. This was not easy issue, if we take into account the fact that Moscow’s “official communism” – closed in its ill-omened perspective of a "homemade" socialism, to the point of turning proletarian internationalism on its head, providing tactical lines which were useless for a revolutionary assault (united front, workers' government, collusion with social democracy) but capable of creating leftist governments which were tolerant towards the Soviet state, since, in Stalin's perspective, only the strengthening of socialism in Russia would guarantee a socialist development in the rest of Europe as well – had opened a phase of political disintegration from which the workers' movement is still carrying the scars.

The fact remained however, that regardless of the opposition’s polemics which attempted, with more or less success, to pose a solution to these closely related questions, we had to start from the analysis of what Russia represented in those years of counter-revolutionary predominance. We had to establish whether the cancer of opportunism, which was growing massively within the Communist Parties, had already completed its devastating work, making it the time to organise new parties or whether to carry on as a Fraction. In the latter case this posed the issue of what kind of relationship should be established with the centrist parties, and what the functions and limits of the political activity of the Fraction should be. This only made sense if, at the same time, we established whether the long-discussed objective contradictions of the Bolshevik Revolution could still be labelled a degenerated workers’ state, or if that economic and political degeneration had now put an end to the first attempt at a communist revolutionary experience. It was therefore natural that the Fraction should start with the "Russian question" in order to arrive at a definition of its future tasks. In the polemic with the Trotskyists (18) on whether or not to create new parties, the Fraction followed this political path without falling into the error of getting lost in the maze of immediatist tactics which are always full of opportunistic dangers. It thus laid the groundwork for its lasting achievements.

The Third International is directed by a party that controls a workers' state that remains such as long as the relationship between the relations of production, and its social relations, are based on the fundamental socialisation of the means of production.(19)

If this was the position towards the Soviet state, a position that the Fraction maintained until 1935, it followed that Communist Parties which were linked to it by a thousand threads, not least ideological and financial ones, were pregnant with the opportunism that would lead them to counter-revolution: “... centrism is the force that will lead to the betrayal of the Communist Parties”(20), but at that stage could not be considered as organisations that had definitively broken, in all respects, with the interests of the working class. The very fact of being, even if on an opportunist level, the long arm of a workers' state that had not yet definitively degenerated, placed them on the road to the abandonment of the historical interests of the proletariat. However until this process was complete, until centrism had not gone over to the interests of the class enemy, it was not yet possible to speak of definitive betrayal, but only that it was impossible for them to be considered the right political tool to lead the proletariat towards the conquest of power by the only route possible, the revolutionary one.

The victory of opportunism deprives the now transformed party of the capacity to lead the proletariat towards revolution but does not at the same time suppress the class position of the party. The party loses this at the very moment in which it turns to supporting the interests of another class.(21)

This approach meant that the workers' state, despite the insolubility of its contradictions, still had to be considered as such, based on the socialisation of the means of production, and that the communist parties in spite of the opportunistic disease they suffered from had not yet passed, bag and baggage, into the service of the class enemy. The construction of a new party was not yet on the agenda, and that it would only become necessary when this had happened.

In our opinion, the historical condition for the creation of a second party lies in the betrayal of the old parties.(22)

Not only that, but the same Vercesi did not exclude the possibility of returning to the old parties, on the condition that the proletariat succeeded in removing their bureaucratic encrustation, an event however that was judged to be difficult if not impossible.

We will return to the parties only if the centrist proletarians succeed in driving out the bureaucracy that has expelled us.(23)

But until the old party occupied a "position based on a programme that no longer responded working class interests but which does not yet represent the interests of the class enemy" (24), revolutionaries must not undertake unrealistic adventures, by adopting an organisational form prematurely. Instead it should continue in the role of a fraction which “is historically the only place where the proletariat can continue its work to organise itself as a class". (25)

The Transformation of the Fraction into the Party

Therefore, the Fraction occupied the historical space until it was decided that the definite betrayal by centrism had taken place, until the fundamental contradiction which had given the chance and the means for opportunism to conquer the Communist Parties and to marginalise the Left was resolved. At that point and only under those conditions could new parties come into existence. In further deepening the issue, the Fraction (which always speaks through the mouth of Vercesi) proposed two solutions, both linked to the change in objective conditions and to the change in the balance of power within the class struggle.

Either these conditions ...

reside in the revolutionary victory of a proletariat directed by a fraction of the Left that succeeds in sweeping away centrism in the very fire of insurrection [or] centrism will be an essential factor in leading the proletariat to war and so the Fraction’s purpose will be completely extinguished.(26)

In other words, with the prospect of a resumption of the class struggle, the centrist parties either rediscovered their revolutionary strategy thanks to the work of the fractions, with the fractions replacing the centrist leadership, or the parties led by centrism will, after all their treachery, drag the proletariat into a new world slaughter tragically defending the interests of the bourgeoisie. The fractions will then form themselves into the party. Meanwhile, the Fraction’s tasks were, developing the political programme, preparing cadres and intervening in those spaces that the opportunism of the centrist parties, in conflict with the interests of the working class, continually opened.

The Fraction ...

above all has a role of analysis, education, preparation of the cadres to achieve the maximum clarity in the phase in which it acts to form itself into the party, when the clash of classes sweeps away opportunism and makes the Fraction look like a political school and, consequently, as an organisation of struggle that shows the path of victory (to the class, ed.).(27)

Up to this point the issue seems sufficiently clear. The fraction-party problem was "programmatically" solved by the dependence of the former on the degenerative process that was taking place in the latter, so that the definition of the role and tasks of a fraction remained that previously outlined. The fraction form was not adopted by virtue of some abstract theory of revolutionary organisation which claimed it was an invariant political form, valid for all the historical phases of stagnation of the class struggle, but was conditioned by the opportunist parties which remained, even if in the process of degeneration, the political organs of the class struggle. The perspective of the transformation of the fraction into a party only in "objectively favourable" situations, i.e. in the presence of a resumption of the class struggle, was based on the calculation that only in, or approaching, such a situation would the final confirmation of the definitive betrayal of the communist parties be revealed. At that stage the dilemma would be resolved, albeit negatively, with a possible rekindling of class antagonisms given the impossibility of capitalism resolving its own contradictions, and with a proletariat without its fundamental political instrument, the party, because it now identified with the interests of the class enemy. In such a situation it would have been suicide to delay the transformation [of the Fraction into the Party – translator], and with it all the resulting political and organisational tasks.

It was in the second half of 1935, on the basis of a careful analysis of the increased contradictions of international capitalism, on the exacerbation of inter-capitalist tensions and on the change of course of centrist parties (their participation in government ), and on Stalin's declaration of 14 July (calling on CPs to support capitalist governments “against fascism” – translator), that in the eyes of the elements of the Fraction it seemed that the moment had arrived to concretely launch that process of transformation which until then had only been a theory.

In this sense, the economic crisis had already given an idea of what roles political forces, parties and states, would assume as the Second World War approached with the possible resumption of the class struggle, before, during and after it. This was particularly true of the workers' state and its centrist appendices. Even before the Spanish Civil War offered a practical example of imperialist moves on the European chessboard, in a game of shifting alliances and conflicts for and against the "totem" of democracy, anticipating the formal ideological justifications for the Second World War, the Fraction already understood that:

Fascists, democrats, socialists and centrists have completed their work: after having, in different ways, closely collaborated in the work of dismantling and strangling the world proletariat, they join and fraternise to crown this work in the only way that a regime based on division into classes can allow: war. Oh! Everyone, from Stalin to Van der Velde, from Mussolini to Hitler to Laval and Baldwin, would like to avoid falling over the cliff edge, after having for years on end, dug it with the bones of massacred proletarians.(28)

It goes on:

Soviet Russia’s recent industrial development does not make its problems as acute as in other states where they are insoluble outside war, and where the socialisation of the means of production is based on the progressive accumulation of surplus value and not on the increase in the standard of living of the producers. Soviet Russia eliminates the cycles of production, and the intermediate rhythm of crises, which lead directly into the war, but it operates at the very heart of imperialist rivalries and does not hesitate to link up with those sides which it considers more useful to protect its interests. Soviet Russia does not hesitate to call the workers to unite around those "peaceful" forces that today appeal for the defence of the English imperialism and that tomorrow will appeal to the principle of justice in the interests of those states that were victors at Versailles.

And concludes:

At the same time, our congress expressed the response of the Italian proletariat to the communist parties’ betrayal, and the its revival by preparing to resume its place in the struggle of the world working class after 14 years of fascist torture. To Stalin, the congress responded that the tombstone he placed on the communist parties which were handed over to the enemy opens up the period leading to the transformation of our Fraction into a party with a view to the foundation of a new International which will rise from revolutionary victory.(29)

It should be noted that among the premises and conclusions that have led to the change of judgment about centrism, the economic analysis of Russia appears to be still blurred. If there were no qualms about denouncing Stalin's foreign policy as imperialist, if in the perspective of a second world war the Soviet Republic’s counter-revolutionary role seemed increasingly clear, the judgment on the dominant economic form in Russia was not so clear. After the introduction of NEP and after, above all, almost twenty years of absolute isolation passed in the vain expectation that other revolutions would come to the aid of a working class that, despite having created the political premises for a socialist development of society, had not, by itself, the objective possibility of achieving it.

In practice, this was like the Trotskyist misunderstanding based on the division into watertight compartments between an economy that remained "socialist", as it was based on the socialisation of the means of production, and a degenerate and opportunist political management, whose most obvious effects were to be seen in a bureaucratic "metastasis", a right-wing deviationism in foreign policy and an economic policy designed to favour the interests of the kulaks at the expense of the masses of poor peasants and urban proletariat

It was only in the midst of the Spanish Civil War that the Fraction arrived, albeit in a confused way, at a concern to link the revisionist attitude to a counter-revolutionary economic model:

Centrism in Russia is the political expression of an economic structure which, being based on the law of capitalist accumulation, defines the exploitation of the proletariat. The fact that the beneficiary of this exploitation, the class that can use it in the interest of its own organisation is not within the borders of the Soviet state, but is international capitalism, does not change the effects of a productive mechanism based on the increasing extraction of surplus-value and the value of labour.(30)

The confusion or embarrassment stemmed from the difficulty of theoretically explaining the apparent paradox of a capitalist economic development alongside the socialisation of the means of production and in the absence of a class that administered the surplus value extorted from the working class. (31)

Independent of any attempt to resolve this very important issue, the Congress of the Fraction (September 1935), took up the task of responding to the new political phase, characterised by the betrayal of the centrist parties. According to the scheme developed in previous years, this event should have meant that the work of the Fraction was over and it was time to move to the construction of a new party. But in practice, even though this perspective was still accepted, within the Fraction some tendencies tried to postpone the problem rather than to solve it in practical terms.

In the report by Jacobs which the debate was based on, the betrayal of centrism was the slogan launched by the Fraction to leave the communist parties, as they were no longer considered political bodies of historical or immediate interest for the working class, but instruments which had fallen into the hands of the class enemy. However this should not imply ...

the re-entry of the Fraction and therefore its transformation into a party, nor does it represent the proletarian solution to the betrayal of centrism which will be provided by the events of tomorrow for which the Fraction is preparing itself today, but it is a position that can lead to the distortion of the principles of Fraction [inasmuch as] the conclusion of the centrist betrayal is not a result of revolutionary struggles, but of the dissolution of the proletariat which will once again find itself in the catastrophe of war.(32)

If it was true that the damage caused by centrism had ended up delivering the politically disarmed class into the hands of capitalism, and that in the event of world conflict the various bourgeoisies would have had an easy time in the absence of revolutionary organisations, to drag the international proletariat onto the war terrain of capitalist interests, it was equally true that the only hope of organising some opposition to the attempt by imperialism to resolve its contradictions in war would come from the reconstruction of new parties, which would have had the task of operating in the same spaces and times where centrism was, so that the alternative war or revolution was not just a slogan to exercise your jaw.

All the theoretical and analytical work of the Fraction on the betrayal of centrism, on the prospects of a new world conflict that also predicted Russian participation would have been useless, if the necessary consequences of the plan were not followed. Lenin's teaching that, "in the absence of a revolutionary solution every capitalist crisis will have a bourgeois solution", or in the worst of cases "transform the imperialist war into a class revolution", should have been taken more seriously. It is even more perplexing that ideas of this kind came from elements who had grown up in the Leninist tradition. However, for the rapporteur [Jacobs – translator] the answer to the problem of the crisis of the workers' movement, caused by the imperialist engagement of Russia, where the incipient crisis of capitalism with its sharpening trade wars and open aggression towards the underdeveloped countries were already harbingers of the inevitable second world conflict, was not to be found in weaving together the thin thread of revolutionaries to give the proletariat its indispensable political organ, the party. This was all the more important due to the greater political disorientation caused by centrism, and more necessary than the slogan 'leave the communist parties' without another alternative, because "there is no immediate solution to the problem that this betrayal poses".

It is natural to ask oneself what purpose such a slogan would serve. Assuming that the proletariat had followed it, it would have found itself in complete disorientation halfway between the old parties that had fallen into the bourgeois void and organisations that refused to represent a concrete alternative in a political and organisational sense just because this was not the time for a revolutionary assault. Or, it would be launched in the certain knowledge that the proletariat would not move because it remained entangled in the tentacles of centrism, and then the doubt arises that the slogan in question was launched with the secret hope that the proletariat would not listen and create problems that went against the abstract schema of the speaker.

According to this schema, which stinks of mechanical thinking from any angle you look at it, parties can only be built when the prospect of seizing power is on:

Can we say that the party can be founded outside of a historical perspective in which the problem of power is raised? It is obvious that if the party is founded on the notion of the struggle against the capitalist state, if the conditions for this struggle disappear temporarily, or for a certain period, the problem of the party cannot be posed, because, for a Marxist, when a problem arises so too do the elements needed to solve it.(32)

So in every other situation in which the weakness of the class is manifested, there is only room for fractions. In other words, the party and fraction would be the expression of the political life of the proletariat respectively in both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary phases. Everything is fine in theory, but when we try to interpret the problems of class struggles in a formal-logical way, we not only move away from Marxism but risk falling into a dangerous vicious circle from which it is difficult to get out. (34)

Jacobs' theses created within the Congress of the Fraction a strong opposition that, while agreeing "that the class struggle is not the result of maneuvers of individuals or parties, but the product of historical clashes that undermine the foundations of capitalist society"(35) diverged on the speaker’s “wait and see” analysis. For Gatto (Mammone), beyond the validity of the slogan proposed by Jacobs and the need to change the name of the Fraction to show it had further distanced itself from centrism, it was urgent to clarify the Fraction-party relationship without mechanical formulas, but rather to make clear what tasks the new situation required:

We agree that we cannot immediately move to the foundation of the party, but on the other hand situations will arise that will confront us with the need to move to its constitution. The exasperation of the speaker can lead to a kind of fatalism.(36)

This was no idle concern, since the Fraction was still waiting when it dissolved in 1945.

For Tullio (37) too, the party problem could not be left to the Greek calends, since there was a danger of being overtaken by events. There was also the other, no less serious danger, of denying the working class a guiding body even in counter-revolutionary periods:

… the class party is not just created on the eve of the seizure of power. If we say that when the class party is missing, the guide is also missing, we mean that it is equally indispensable in a period of defeat.(38)

Also Piero (39), as was clear from the minutes of the congress ...

…. does not agree with the definition of the constitution of the class party only during the period of proletarian recovery.

Romolo (40) was ...

… convinced that if a revolutionary situation developed before the transformation of the Fraction into a party took place, we would undoubtedly move towards a new defeat.

To cut off the head of the bull [to loosen the knot, to cut the Gordian knot: for non-Italian comrades, ed.] Vercesi intervened, who, while leaning towards the position of Jacobs, proposed to transform the name of the Fraction from the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy to the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, with the perspective that the resumption of the class struggle would place the creation of the party on the agenda. On this basis the congress found a fake unity that soon led to the resumption of the debate.

In the few years that followed before the Second World War, the Fraction was paralysed by the clash of the two tendencies. The result being that it was overtaken by events, while at the same time suffering dangerous deviations. It should be noted that the "partyist" current, even in this period of the most absolute immobility, stuck coherently to the positions expressed at the congress, while in the "wait-and-see" camp, and particularly in its most prestigious exponent, Vercesi, there were many hesitations and changes of course. In 1935 Vercesi saw the need to begin the process of transforming the Fraction into a party in connection with the coming war since capitalism’s "evolution is destined to lead to the war from which the resumption of the proletarian struggle will arise in a more advanced form". (41)

In 1936, in settling the dispute between the “attendista” (wait-and-seer) Bianco (42) and the “partyist” Piero-Tito (partyist), he inclined more toward the latter:

… we must consider that, in the current situation, although we do not have and can not yet have a mass influence, we are faced with the need to act no longer as a fraction of a party that has betrayed us but as a miniature party.(43)

In practice, at this stage, Vercesi seems to have abandoned the mechanical vision of delegating to the war the task of moving the masses to allow the Fraction to guide them and to become the party. He now was close to the positions of 1933, in which the party-class-fraction relationship was based on a more dialectical vision, where, in place of the betrayal of the centrist parties a new party had to come into being, not to unrealistically claim to lead the masses (which were not there yet) towards the conquest of power, nor to invent struggles that capitalism’s contradictions had not yet produced. Its task was to represent a class continuity that had been interrupted, to fill the political void that had opened up, to give back to the working class that indispensable political reference point even in periods of retreat, capable, even if tiny, to grow with events and not to messianically await them. But in 1937 he retraced his steps, to re-propose in his "report on the international situation" the fraction as the only possible political expression of the moment, with the implicit renunciation of any kind of transformation into a party.

After 1939, at the end of this descending curve, he concluded with the classic “there is nothing to be done” since in wartime the proletariat disappears as a class. Once again he turned the issue on its head.

Apart from the personal convulsions of Vercesi (44), the Fraction became practically inoperative with the outbreak of war. All publications (internal bulletin, Prometeo, Bilan, and Octobre) ceased to appear, and contact between the French and Belgian sections almost ceased to exist. In 1945 the Fraction dissolved without having resolved in practice one of the most important problems which had given rise to it at Pantin in 1928. The party itself (the Internationalist Communist Party) was born at the end of 1942 through the work of those of the Left who had remained in Italy and many elements of the dissolved fraction flowed into it after the war ended.


At this point, it seems appropriate to enter into the merits of the fraction-party relationship, not only to comment on the positive or negative aspects expressed within the Italian Left, but also to make our contribution to a problem which continues even today sometimes with apparently contradictory features.

The problem of how revolutionaries should organise themselves in a particular historical phase where a process of degeneration was taking place both in the country that had experienced the first and only class experience of the international workers' movement, and in the communist parties ideologically linked to it, made sense as long as the objective and subjective factors facing the political forces operating on the level of the superstructure, had not substantially changed. The Fraction was right in disagreeing with the other oppositions of the left, and particularly with Trotskyism. Any attempt to breathe life into new party organisations could only come about when centrism had reached the end of the road by definitively abandoning class interests in order to out itself at the service of the counter-revolution and the economic and historical “needs” of the class enemy. Until then the only serious possible way to safeguard the political continuity of the class lay in the work of the Fraction. Trying to escape the contradictions centered on the isolation of the Soviet republic in a capitalist world beginning a new cycle of accumulation, could lead to either the idealistic voluntarism of Trotskyism, which tended to anticipate historical events which did not evolve in the way it expected, or we arrive at the most abstract mechanistic theory, expressed by the Jacobs-Vercesi trend, which had a tendency to continually postpone the problem to “more favorable situations”, with the only result being that they were themselves overtaken by events.

For all aspects of the life of the workers' movement, but especially for the party problem, these idealist and mechanist ideas have always represented the extremes of the correct dialectical relationship between party and class.

What is the point of linking the notion of party only and exclusively to the concept of taking power or the possibility of leading the masses, denying the existence of the political organ of the class struggle except in revolutionary phases, and delegating to never well-defined bodies or surrogates the task of representing class interests in the counter-revolutionary phases? The party, precisely because it is a political instrument of the class struggle, is not an episodic, contingent moment in the life and interests of the proletariat, but is historically called to carry out its functions of leadership and as a political reference point until objective economic conditions make the irreconcilability of class interests clear. Tasks, functions, major or minor possibilities of intervention, the link with the masses themselves cannot be decided by a party, which chooses to "be" or "not be", to do or not to do, to engage with the masses or stay away from them. Objective conditions themselves will determine the absence or presence of these problems and the tactical methods for dealing with them.

The dialectic of things teaches us that the party is born as a tool of the class struggle. It is a political necessity, a moment of synthesis and aggregation which is at the same time a determined and determining structure in the conflict between the classes. In historical periods in which the bourgeoisie seems to have almost complete supremacy over the proletariat, the party-class relationship is destined to become almost extinct. However, in periods when the increasing contradictions of the system drives the working class to raise its head, the greater the chances for the link between party and class to be renewed, or strengthened. Outside this dialectical vision that puts the party and the class as constant historical factors in relation to the existing economic system that defines them, there is only room for confusion.

To argue that the party can only arise when the situation is revolutionary or the question of power is on the agenda, while in the counter-revolutionary phases the party "must" disappear or give way to fractions, means not only to deprive the class in its darkest and most fragile periods of a minimal political reference point, but it ends up favoring the conservative game of the bourgeoisie by deliberately creating empty spaces devoid of a political presence that can hardly be filled in the space of 24 hours. As history has amply shown, economic crises have the power to move the masses to greater radicalization and readiness to fight, but they have never allowed time for revolutionary vanguards to resolve, in a necessarily short space, all the political and organizational problems typical of these very delicate phases. The great tragedy of the Russian revolution came in the years 1918-19, when there was the highest degree of spontaneity of the working masses in Europe, but the revolutionary vanguards were still undecided about the recovery of the socialist parties or on the need to constitute new ones based on the political positions of the III International. When the communist parties emerged at the end of 1920, or even in 1921, the crisis of capitalism was still going on, but the masses were no longer likely to be led into frontal confrontation with the bourgeoisie.

In Italy, for example, the Communist Party founded at Livorno in 1921, was faced with a working class that had given its all in the previous two years, and unable to perform the function for which it had arisen, found it difficult to carry out an orderly retreat. With a party detached from the great masses, with a proletariat weakened and disappointed from its previous battles, the bourgeoisie, with their reactionary schemes, and playing on this occasion in the colors of fascism, had a good game. Thus, in the period of the second great cycle of accumulation that brought capitalism from the First to the Second World War, thanks also to the negative role played by centrism, the oppositions of the left did not understand the need or did not want to make a timely effort to create new, indispensable political bodies of revolutionary assault. Instead they were bound up in false schematic issues whilst the march of history went on its inevitable course, and against them. As far as the experience of the Italian left fraction is concerned, except for the Jacobs-Vercesi tendency, which also succeeded in inhibiting the further development of the whole organization on the basis of a sterile problem, we can say that all the essential points were already present because mistakes of this kind were promptly avoided. From the analysis of opportunism to the maturing of the conditions for the coming world conflict, and the need to move to the creation of new parties at the very moment when the old had consummated their class betrayal, are all part of the Fraction’s political heritage that must be recognized. Among others, Candiani was not wrong at the 1935 Congress to report that:

Vercesi made a serious statement when he said that the extinction of the class also means the extinction of the party. On the contrary, the party remains in operation thanks to its theoretical and organic activity even in a period of retreat.

This means that, in the historical development of the workers' movement in general, and not just in the specific period from 1928-35, the idea that the Fraction was the political expression of the class struggle in counter-revolutionary periods and the party only in periods of the assault on power, was just not credible. But if this important issue made sense and had relevance in that particular situation characterized by the troubled but inconclusive process of centrism’s progress towards counter-revolution, to re-introduce the same idea today, detached from the circumstances that produced it, is an even bigger mistake.

Parties are not born overnight, do not just turn up at the appointment with the "favorable situation" with the inexperience and anxiety that a young apprentice might have on his first day at work. Nor is it valid to argue for such a notion by reversing the experience of history and considering the Bolshevik party itself to just have played the role of a "fraction" of Russian social democracy until 1917. (45)

Russia was the only European country, involved in the war crisis of 1914-18, in which, despite less favorable conditions than elsewhere, a proletarian revolution manifested itself, precisely because there was a party that operated as such, at least from 1912 onwards. Bolshevism, from its origins, did not limit itself to political fighting against Menshevik opportunism, to theoretically elaborate the principles of revolution, to construct cadres and to proselytize, but operated within the urban working class, poor peasantry. the tsarist army, creating in the darkest period of Romanov fascism, those first thin threads of contact between party and class destined to later become later, in the fire of a developing revolutionary situation, real channels of contact between the spontaneity of the class and the party's tactical-strategic programme.

It is no accident that the favorable ground for the basis of Bolshevik October had been prepared by a party force.

In 1902 Lenin had already laid the tactical-organizational foundations on which the alternative to the opportunism of the Russian social democracy, the party alternative, should be constituted, unless one wants to disguise What is to be Done? as just the principles of a good fractionist. Trotsky himself, in the first months after the victorious Bolshevik revolution, in rejecting the idealistic theses of every stripe, dressed in red for the occasion, according to which the revolutionary event of October was inevitable or "natural" or something that was matured in the air by spontaneous germination, showed how that great event had its objective basis in the world crisis of capitalism and in war, but it also had in the long preparatory work of Lenin's party the subjective condition favorable to victory.

The great strength of the bourgeoisie has always consisted in making the masses believe that it is impossible to break the economic and political structures of capitalism by force. They elevate their mode of production to a unique and universally valid system, with the aim of making the revolutionary solution appear impractical, as well as utopian as a political perspective. Marxism has shown us scientifically how capitalism is a transitory productive form born of the impossibility of the feudal economy to develop productive forces and destined to disappear when, once its historical task has been exhausted, it becomes an obstacle to the further development of those productive forces which it had helped to establish. But this disappearance or overcoming of capitalism cannot be considered as an inevitable historical event, or even worse, placed in a predetermined temporal space, without the return of the economically determined subjective element of the class struggle with the consciousness of a revolutionary strategic aim. In this sense Marxism has always considered the capitalist crisis as the favorable condition for making its overthrow possible. However it has also maintained that even if the crises entail economic instability, the collapse of traditional institutions, social instability and radicalization of the masses, as necessary conditions for the final confrontation – they are not at the same time sufficient in themselves.

We need the consciousness of our goal, the homogeneity of the tactic towards a single strategic aim, we need the willingness of the masses to struggle, due to a single economic crisis situation that unites them, but due to their different interests, motivations and intensity of radicalization, we need to find a common political denominator – the class party. Not only that, but it is necessary for the party to know how to link itself to the masses in these situations, to know how to act as a political reference point for the spontaneity of the class. Otherwise it would end up being marginalized by the unfolding of the class struggle itself, would only act as a current of opinion without having any weight in the ongoing process. All this is possible on the sole condition that the political vanguard has previously learned how to grow with the maturing events, creating the premises of that dialectic link between party and masses that "objective situations" favor but do not determine mechanically. Leaving issues like the dissolution of institutions, the radicalization of the masses and, at the same time, the birth of the party and the link between the latter and the masses itself, to the "circumstances" of the time also implies the opposite error, that of believing you can have a mass party even in counter-revolutionary situations.

Fabio Damen


(1) Letter of Togliatti (Ercoli) of 6/9/1926.

(2) At the Third Comintern Congress the analysis of the international situation and prospects was given by Trotsky.

(3) From the report of the Fifth Comintern Congress.

(4) Ibidem.

(5) From the intervention of Bordiga at the Fifth Comintern Congress.

(6) K. Korsch arrived, at the end of 1925-26, in one of the most delicate moments for the birth of the leftist opposition, at the conclusion that the one of October 1917 was not a proletarian revolution, but only a bourgeois-democratic one. On this issue read Bordiga’s letter to Korsch of October 28, 1926, in which the exponent of the Italian Left refutes this thesis. The only full version of this letter in English is an appendix to the English translation of Onorato Damen’s Bordiga Beyond the Myth. This is now a pdf on our website.

(7) We limit ourselves in this brief overview to enunciate only the most important leftist oppositions that originated in Europe and America in the late 1920s.

(8) After the expulsion of Trotsky, a left-wing current was organized in Russia that survived the Stalinist purges. Some Trotskyists disguised themselves in this current "The Reiss Tendency". Reiss himself, a GPU agent in Europe, was assassinated by Stalin's agents when he broke with the leadership of the Party to join the IV International.

(9) A. Rosmer, after starting off in syndicalism, broke with the current of Monatte, to give rise to a Trotskyist opposition in France.

(10) Prometeo was already a theoretical journal of the PCd’I. created and managed by the left. It was suppressed by Togliatti at the end of 1924 for "administrative reasons". In reality, and it is Togliatti himself who informed Moscow, the reasons were political: "Prometeo might become a fractional organ". J.H. Droz also mentions this in his book "The clash between the PCd'I. and the III Internazionale "(Italian edition, Feltrinelli).

(11) "The opportunistic danger and the International".

(12) From the intervention of Bordiga at the Fifth Comintern Congress.

(13) Trotsky's open letter, published in Pravda on January 23, 1924.

(14) July 1926, at a meeting of the Central Committee.

(15) In 1926 Bordiga was arrested and confined on the island of Ponza. During his stay in confinement he performed his "last" political act by signing a declaration of adhesion to Trotsky's positions in the fight against Stalin. After his release (1929), Bordiga retired to private life refusing any contact with the elements of the international opposition and the Italian fraction and declining Trotsky's invitation to organize an international opposition center.

(16) After his expulsion from Russia, Trotsky organized an International Bureau with the aim of bringing together the various leftist oppositions (Paris, April 1930).

(17) Article of Vercesi (pseudonym of Ottorino Perrone) taken from Bilan n. 1, theoretical magazine of international discussion of the Fraction, whose publication lasted from 1933 to 1938. Subsequently the Fraction published in the first months of '39, Octobre, of which 5 issues were produced.

(18) In this specific case, with the League of Internationalist Communists of Belgium.

(19) Taken from an article-document signed by C.E. of the Fraction of the Left of the PCd.I. which appeared on the Fraction’s Information Bulletin in February 1933.

(20) Ibidem.

(21) Ibidem.

(22) Ibidem.

(23) Internal Bulletin of the Fraction, n. 1, February 1931.

(24) Bilan n. 1, 1933.

(25) Ibidem.

(26) Ibidem.

(27) From Bilan n. 17, 1935: "Draft resolution on problems of the fraction of the left presented by Jacobs".

(28) From the “Manifesto of the Italian Fraction of the communist left” which appeared in Bilan n. 23, Sept-Oct. 1935.

(29) Ibidem.

(30) From the "Report on the international situation presented by Comrade Vercesi to the Congress of the Fraction", in Bilan n. 41, May-June 1937.

(31) In this regard it should be remembered that the Fraction could not emerge sufficiently clearly from the indeterminacy of the analysis and how Bordiga himself in the 50s was entangled in the false problem of State Capitalism (that is, for him it was "state industrialism" "). It was left to the comrades of the left in Italy, those who formed the heart of the war, the Internationalist Communist Party, to give a definitive place to the Russian economy. In this regard, consult the Damen-Bordiga controversy on Russia in Prometeo n. 3, April 1952 (now in Onorato Damen, Bordiga Beyond the Myth).

(32) Jacobs' intervention from the report of the Fraction congress, in Bilan n. 23, Sept-Oct. 1935.

(33) Ibidem.

(34) We postpone the comment of these positions to the conclusions in the following paragraph.

(35) Gatto Mammone, pseudonym of Virgilio Verdaro.

(36) From the intervention of Gatto at the congress of the Fraction.

(37) Tullio, pseudonym of Aldo Lecci.

(38) From Tullio's intervention to the Congress of the Fraction.

(39) Piero: Piero Corradi.

(40) Romolo, pseudonym of Renato Pace.

(41) From the report of the Congress of the Fraction.

(42) Pseudonym of Bruno Bibbi.

(43) From the article of Vercesi which appeared on Bilan in February-March 1936.

(44) During the war, Vercesi joined an anti-fascist committee in Brussels.

(45) Thesis supported by the ICC in R.I. no 3 1978

Saturday, December 22, 2018


If I understand correctly, in line with the article, the existance of the Party is not tied to a favourable situation, numerical strength and the like because the working class always needs this reference no matter how tiny the minority willing to listen.

Given this premise, why would we not recognise the present PCint as the Party we need? Why, given its political compass remains good and true, should it have ever lost its status?

But we do need a more organic link to the class (and today this means world wide). The ICT was born as a bridge from the past programme we have acquired from the struggles of the class and the future movement. Back in the 1940s the PCInt had that link (although not as much as was hoped for) with 4000 members, its own papers in many towns across Italy and offices in most of the big cities. The post-war boom saw that dwindle and the last 40 years of working class retreat have not helped either. The name remains as a reference to the past but no-one seriously considers it to be the Party. Today the ICT is not based in one country and this is part of what the new class movement needs. But it has to be more widespread and with deeper roots in the wider working class than currently. In the meantime we are not content just to build up our existing organisations but also are working to encourage the formation of nuclei of the class across the world. These are not fractions of some past organisation or circles of the chattering academics but nuclei of the future world party who already "think to the party". We have a lot more of this work to do but are currently very encouraged by the progress we are seeing across the world especially as the initiative seems to be coming from a new generation. If our perspectives are correct (and we expect only more attacks on the class) there is plenty for us to do. Prematurely announcing we are the party would achieve nothing and we would end up in the ridiculous position of the Bordigists (who have 4 International Communist Parties who all claim to be the only legitimate holder of that title!).

What do you mean by as a bridge from the past programmed differences with fractions of some past organization? In my opinion just the sound is different. The two – ICT , ICC – have same backgrounds

You have misunderstood by sliding two separate statements from the above post into one. We are not fractions of past organisations we are nuclei of future ones. The ICC today as the article points out seem to be saying that fraction work is all that is possible today. It is also totally untrue that the ICT and ICC have the same backgrounds. The founder of the ICC Marc Chirik always rejected the founding of the PCInt in 1943 and did everything he could to discredit it thereafter (which even fooled the CWO comrades for a few years).

Is it necessarily the case that the already theoretically advanced communist groups will in fact be the nuclei (suggesting centrality) of anything? Is it not possible that a broader political umberella will arise within which we will have to participate as a minority at least initially?

I am not saying this is necessarily the case or even likely, but I suspect it may be. Why are there so few of us at least in the orbit of the existing proletarian organisations which themselves cannot come to an agreement, thus maintaining what the CWO calls "The extremely fragmented nature of the revolutionary left"? Is this not evidence of the formidable barriers to revolutionary class consciousness which at every turn is diverted down ultimately dead ends by capitalism or the misguided?

Perhaps I am trying to predict the unpredictable, but it seems to me that theoretical clarity is not enough to ensure any sort of transition for the tiny microgroups of today to the global giants of tomorrow. I don't discount the possibility, but do question its certainty.

Like it or not, I think that the working class will possibly answer the "extremely fragmented nature of the revolutionary left" by setting up a political structure which will simply aim to create the conditions for the questions to be posed.