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The text we reproduce here dates back to June 1948. It was published in the review Internationalisme #38 of the Gauche Communiste de France. We present this text On the Nature and the Political Function of the Political Party of the Proletariat for the reflection of present generations of revolutionaries. For our part, we agree with the basic points developed here on the political dimension of the proletariat's struggle as the main characteristic of this struggle, on the central and indispensable role of “class consciousness” in the development of this political aspect, and the fact that this “class consciousness” is expressed above all, and in the most evolved, developed, and clearest way, by the political communist minorities which the proletariat brings forth in its historical struggle, and especially in the communist party. Thus, we adopt this text as our own. What’s more important, we think it should be up to communist groups and minorities to defend the political lessons presented here by putting forward the dimensions (political, class consciousness, Party) and the cohesion which unifies them in class struggle against the relentless attacks (particularly today) of bourgeois ideology, in its various shapes and forms.
We find that the political position of this text ties in with the continuity and lineage of the historical struggle of the “Left” against the anarchist visions (which Marx and Engels fought against), the “economist” visions (fought by Lenin) and not long ago councilism, fought particularly by the “Italian” Left, and today by the political forces siding with “partidistes” in the ideological and political battle over class consciousness. It’s no coincidence that in this text, Internationalisme, of which the ICC has always claimed to be the continuity, pronounces in favour of Lenin - and the vision underlying “What Is to Be Done ?” - “against” Rosa Luxemburg’s understanding of development of class consciousness. In this sense, it is a continuation of the contributions and fundamental lessons that the current of the so-called “Italian” Left had previously developed, particularly in “the Thesis of Roma” (1922) adopted by the Communist Party of Italy, as well as in the Thesis of Lyon2.
The few reservations or disagreements we have today with this text are, in our opinion, secondary, having more to do with particular post-war conditions: dashed hopes for the international renewal of the workers struggle; isolation and dispersion of the communist groups; the confirmation of the continuation of the worst period of counter-revolution.
However, there is a disagreement which must be noted since it continues to represent a political stake at the level of the struggle for the present regroupment of communist forces; in particular within the Communist Left. In point 13, Internationalisme criticizes the constitution of Partito Comunista Internazionalista in Italy in 1943-1945. Without going into detail, or into the arguments, we consider that this point of view which the ICC has largely participated in diffusing (while silencing the fact that the militants who were to set up the GCF [the Communist Left of France] had pronounced themselves in favour of the constitution of the Party at that time), is wrong and omits the concrete reality with which Left militants were confronted in Italy. Moreover it is regrettable that the GCF, followed by the ICC, never came back on that initial stance in favour of the adhesion to the newly formed Party. The fact remains that this “divergence”, if it is understood and defended in a sectarian way as a dogma touching on a supposed “historical legitimacy” to the detriment of the other current, in particular by the ICC, remains an important obstacle to the development of a fraternal relationship and debate between the two historical currents today represented by the ICT - Battaglia Comunista in Italy - and the “historical” ICC.
70 years later, such a “disagreement” can in no way justify a policy against the regroupment of Communist Left forces.
December, 2013, the IGCL.
I - The idea of the need for an acting political organism of the proletariat, for the social revolution, seemed to be acquired within the socialist workers movement.
It is true that anarchists have always protested against the term “political” given to this organism. But the anarchist protest came from their narrow understanding of the term “political action” as synonymous with action for legislative reforms: participation in elections and bourgeois parliament, etc. But, neither the anarchists, nor any other current of the workers movement, deny the need for socialist revolutionary regroupment in associations which, through action and propaganda, take on the task of intervention and the orientation of workers' struggle. Now, any group - that takes on the task of orienting social struggles, in a certain direction is a political group.
In this sense, the struggle of ideas around the political or non-political character of these organisations is just a debate of words which basically hides under general phrases, concrete divergences on the orientation, on the intended goal and how to get there. In other words, precisely political divergences.
Today, if tendencies arise again, putting into question the need for a proletarian political organism, it is a consequence of the degeneration (and their transition into capitalism's service) of parties which in the past were organizations of the proletariat: the socialist and communist parties. Political terms and political parties are discredited even in the bourgeois milieu. Nevertheless, what has led to resounding failures is not politics in general, but specific politics, since politics is nothing other than the orientation that human beings undertake in the organization of their social life. To divert from this action is to renounce the will to orient social life and, therefore, the willingness to transform it; it means to submit to and to accept the present society.
2 - The concept of class is essentially historical-political and not simply an economic classification. Economically, all human beings are part of the same system of production in a given historical period. The division, based on the distinct positions that human beings occupy in a system of production and distribution and which does not exceed the framework of this same system, cannot become the postulate of historical necessity for its overthrow. Division in economic categories is then only a moment of the constant internal contradiction which develops along with the system but which remains confined within its limits. Historical opposition is somewhat “external” in the sense that it goes up against the system as a whole; and this opposition realizes itself in the destruction of the living social system and its substitution with one based on a new mode of production. The class is the personification of this historic opposition, while at the same time being the social and human force which realizes it.
As class in the very meaning of the term, the proletariat exists only in the orientation it sets to its struggles, not for the improvement of its conditions of life within the capitalist system but in its historical opposition against the living social order. The change from category to class, from economic struggle to political struggle, is not an evolutionary process, one of an immanent continuous development, where historical opposition rises up automatically and naturally, having been contained within the economic position of workers. From one to another, there is a dialectical leap to be made. It consists in becoming conscious of the historical necessity of doing away with the capitalist system. This historical necessity coincides with the proletariat's aspiration for the liberation from its condition of exploitation and containment.
3 - All social transformations in history had as their fundamental and determining condition the development of productive forces that became incompatible with the constrictive structure of the former society. It’s also the impossibility of maintaining control over the productive forces it has developed, that capitalism attributes to its own end and the reason for its collapse, thus bringing the conditions as well as the theoretical justification for socialism to overcome it.
But, besides this condition, the differences in the course of previous revolutions (including bourgeois revolution) and socialist revolution remain decisive and necessitate a thorough study by the revolutionary class.
For bourgeois revolution, for instance, the forces of production incompatible with feudalism still find the condition for their development within the system of property of a propertied class. So, capitalism develops its foundations economically, slowly, over a prolonged period within the womb of the feudal system. Political revolution follows the economic fact that establishes it. Thereby, the bourgeoisie has no overriding need of a conscious economic and social movement. Its action is propelled by the pressure of the laws of economic development which act upon it as blind forces of nature, determining its volition. Consciousness remains a secondary factor. It lags behind the facts, more a recording than an orientation. Bourgeois revolution lies in humanity's prehistory in which the still underdeveloped productive forces dominate human beings.
On the contrary, socialism is based on the development of productive forces incompatible with any individual or social property of a class. Resulting from this, socialism cannot establish economic bases within capitalist society. Political revolution is a primary condition for a socialist orientation of the economy and society. Thus, socialism can only be brought about through the consciousness of the aims of the movement, as a consciousness of its realization and a conscious will for action. Socialist consciousness precedes and conditions the revolutionary action of the class'. Socialist revolution is the beginning of history where humanity is called upon to dominate the productive forces that it has already strongly developed, and it is from this domination that socialist revolution arises.
4 –For this reason, all attempts to establish socialism on practical realizations within capitalist society are, by the very nature of socialism, doomed to failure. Socialism requires at times an advanced development of productive forces, with the entire planet as its domain and as primordial condition the conscious willingness of human beings. The experimental demonstration of socialism within capitalist society cannot surpass, in the best case, the level of a utopia. And persistence along this path leads from utopia to a position of conservation and strengthening of capitalism3. Socialism can never offer more than a theoretical demonstration under capitalism, its materialization can only take the form of an ideological force and its realization takes the form of revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against the social order.
And since the existence of socialism can only manifest itself primarily in socialist consciousness, the class which brings it about and personifies it, has no historical existence except through this socialist consciousness. The formation of the proletariat as an historical class is only the formation of its socialist consciousness. These are two aspects of the same historical process, which are impossible to separate since one can’t exist without the other.
Socialist consciousness does not follow from the economic position of workers; it is not a simple reflection of their salaried condition. For this reason, socialist consciousness does not arise simultaneously and spontaneously in the minds of all workers nor only in their brains. Socialism as ideology appears separately and parallel to workers economic struggles, they do not generate one another even though they find their roots in the historical development of capitalist society.
5 –If workers become “a class in itself and for itself” (according to the expression of Marx and Engels) it’s only through socialist consciousness that we can say that the process of class constitution identifies with the process of the formation of groups of revolutionary socialist militants. The proletariat's Party is neither a selection, nor a “delegation” of the class but the mode of existence and life of the class itself. As we can't comprehend the matter from outside the movement, we can't comprehend the class outside its tendency to set up political organisms. “This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party” (Communist Manifesto) is no haphazard expression but rather expresses the depth of Marx and Engels's thought. A century of experiences has magnificently confirmed the validity of this method of conceiving the notion of class.
6 –Socialist consciousness does not come about through spontaneous generation but reproduces itself ceaselessly; and once it has appeared, it becomes in opposition to the living capitalist world, the determining and accelerating active principle, in and through the action, of its own development. However, this development is conditioned and limited by the development of capitalism's contradictions. In this sense, Lenin's thesis about “socialist consciousness introduced to the workers” by the Party, in opposition to Rosa Luxemburg's thesis on “spontaneity” where consciousness is produced in the course of a movement arising from economic struggle to ending in the revolutionary socialist struggle, is certainly more accurate. The thesis of “spontaneity” which is apparently democratic has as its basis a mechanical tendency of rigorous economic determinism. It comes from a cause and effect relationship in which socialist consciousness would only be the result, the effect of a first movement, namely the economic struggle of the workers that generates it. Furthermore its nature would be fundamentally passive in relation to the economic struggles which would be the active factor. Lenin's conception restores to socialist consciousness and to the Party which materializes its nature as a factor and as an essentially active principle. It does not separate it but involves it in life and in the movement.
7 –The fundamental difficulty of socialist revolution lies in this complex and contradictory situation: on one hand, revolution can only realize itself through conscious action of the great majority of the working class; on the other hand, this development of consciousness comes up against the conditions imposed on workers in capitalist society, conditions which relentlessly prevent and destroy amongst workers the growing consciousness of their revolutionary historical mission. This difficulty cannot be totally overcome only by the theoretical propaganda regardless of the historical circumstances. But even less than in pure propaganda, the difficulty cannot find the condition of its solution through the economic struggles of workers. Left to their own internal development, workers' struggles against capitalist conditions of exploitation can at best lead to outbreaks of revolt; that is negative reactions, entirely inadequate for the positive action of social transformation which is only possible through consciousness of the final aims of the movement. This factor can only be this political element of the class which takes its theoretical substance, not from the contingencies and the particularism of the workers' economic situation, but from the movement of the historical possibilities and necessities. Only the intervention of this factor allows the class to pass from the level of negative reaction to the level of positive action, from revolt to revolution.
8 –But it would be absolutely wrong to substitute these organisms - manifestations of class consciousness - for the class itself and to consider the class only as an undefined mass destined to serve as materials to these political organisms. This would substitute a militarist conception to the revolutionary conception of the relation between consciousness and being, between the Party and the class. The historical function of the Party is not like a military chief of staff directing the class’s action as if it would be an army, ignoring the final goal, the immediate aims of the operations and the movement of an “ensemble” of maneuvers. Socialist revolution is in no way comparable with military action. Its realization is conditioned by the consciousness that the workers themselves have of their decisions and their own actions.
Thus, the Party does not substitute itself for the class. It does not call for “confidence” in the bourgeois meaning of the word, but rather sets out as a delegation to which the fate and the destiny of society is entrusted. Its unique historical function is to act towards enabling the class to acquire its own consciousness of its mission, of its goals and means which are the basis of its revolutionary action.
9 - As vigorously as we must fight against this conception of the Party as a chief of staff acting on behalf of and in place of the class, we must also reject this other conception which, starting from the premise that “the emancipation of the working classes must be the work of the workers themselves” (Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Workingmen’s Association, 1867), claims to link the role of the militant and the revolutionary party. Under the very laudable pretext of not imposing their will on the workers, these militants slip away from their task, dodge their own responsibilities and put revolutionaries at the tail-end of the workers movement.
The first situate themselves outside the class by denying it and by substituting themselves for it, the others place themselves outside the class, as well, by denying the specific function of class organization which is the Party, and by denying themselves as a revolutionary factor and by excluding themselves through the interdiction they declare for their own activity.
10 - A proper conception of the conditions for socialist revolution must start from the following elements and embrace them :
A) Socialism is only a necessity due to the fact that the development reached by the forces of production is no longer compatible with a society divided in classes.
B) This necessity can only become reality through the willingness and the conscious action of the oppressed class whose social liberation merges with humanity's liberation from its alienation by the forces of production to which it has been subjugated to until the present day.
C) Socialism, being at once an objective necessity and a subjective will, can only express itself through revolutionary action conscious of its finality.
D) Revolutionary action is inconceivable without a revolutionary program. As well, the elaboration of the program is inseparable from action. And since the revolutionary party is “a body of doctrine and a will for action” (Bordiga), it is the most accomplished concretisation of socialist consciousness and the fundamental element of its realization.
11 –The tendency toward the constitution of the proletariat's Party has existed since the birth of capitalist society. But, as long the historical conditions for socialism are not sufficiently developed, the proletariat's ideology as well as the constitution of the Party can only remain at an embryonic stage. It is only with the “Communist League” that an accomplished type of proletariat’s political organization appears for the first time.
When we look closely at the development of the constitution of the class parties, it immediately appears that organization into a party does not follow as constant progress, but rather passes through periods of great developments alternating with others during which the party disappears. Thus, the organic existence of the party does not seem to depend solely upon the will of the individuals who compose it. It’s existence is based on objective conditions. As essentially an organism of revolutionary class action, the Party can exist only in situations where working class action appears. In the absence of conditions of working class action (capitalism's economic and political stability or after profound defeat of workers struggles), the Party cannot live on. It dislocates organically or is forced to survive, that is to say, to maintain an influence, to adapt to new conditions which deny revolutionary action; then inevitably the Party fills itself up with new content. It becomes conformist, in other words, it stops being the revolutionary Party.
Marx understood the conditioning of the Party's existence better than anyone. On two occasions, he was the architect of the dissolution of great organizations: in 1851, soon after the defeat of the revolution and the triumph of reaction in Europe, a second time in 1873 after the Paris Commune's defeat, he spoke frankly for the dissolution, first of the Communist League and then of the 1st International.
12 - The experience of the 2nd International confirms the impossibility of the proletariat maintaining its party in a prolonged period of a non-revolutionary situation. The final participation of the parties of the 2nd International in the imperialist war of 1914 only revealed the extensive corruption of the organisation. The permeability and penetrability of capitalist ruling class ideology, always possible and in effect within proletarian political organizations, takes on such depth in prolonged periods of stagnation and reflux of class struggle, that bourgeois ideology ends up substituting itself for that of the proletariat, so that inevitably the Party empties itself of class content [...] becoming the class tool of the enemy.
The history of the Communist Parties of the 3rd International has again demonstrated the impossibility to safeguard the Party in a period of revolutionary reflux and its degeneration in such a period.
13 –For all that, the constitution of parties of an International by the Trotskyists since 1935 and the recent constitution of an Internationalist Communist Party in Italy are artificial formations and can only be undertakings of confusion and opportunism. Instead of being moments of the constitution of the future class Party, these formations are obstacles, discredited through the caricature they represent. Far from expressing a maturation of consciousness and a supersession of the former program, they only reproduce the old program converted into dogma. Not surprising that these formations sink back into the former Party's backward and outdated positions continuing to make them even worse as with the tactic of parliamentarism, unionism, etc.
14 –But the breaking of the organizational existence of the Party does not mean a break in the development of class ideology. In the first place, revolutionary withdrawal indicates the immaturity of the revolutionary program. The defeat is a sign of the need for a critical re-examination of the previous programmatic positions and the obligation to supersede them based on the living experience of the struggle.
This positive critical work of programmatic elaboration develops through organisms coming from the former Party. They constitute the active element in a period of withdrawal for the constitution of the future Party in a new period of revolutionary flux. These organisms are the groups and Left fractions coming from the Party after its organizational dissolution or its ideological distortion. Such were Marx's fractions in the period going from dissolution of the League to the constitution of the 1st International, the Left currents within the 2nd International (during the 1st World War) which gave birth to new parties and the International in 1919; such are the Left fractions and the groups which carry on their revolutionary work since the degeneration of the 3rd International. Their existence and their development are the condition for the enrichment of the revolutionary program and of the reconstruction of the Party of tomorrow.
15 –The former party, once dragged down and having passed into the service of the class enemy, definitively ceases being a milieu for the elaboration and development of revolutionary thought and the formation of the proletariat’s militants. Also, to expect that currents coming from social-democracy and stalinism can serve as material for the construction of the new class party is to ignore the notion of the concept of party. The Trotskyists - adhering to the parties of the 2nd International where they continue the hypocritical practice of infiltration into those parties in order to create within them anti-proletarian milieus, “revolutionary” currents with which they want to set up the new party of the proletariat - thus reveal themselves to be nothing more than a dead current, expression of a [...] future.
The new revolutionary party cannot constitute itself on the basis of a program which is surpassed by events; as well, it cannot construct itself with elements which remain organically attached to organisms that will never again be working class organizations.
16 –Never has the history of the workers movement known a darker period and a deeper withdrawal of revolutionary consciousness as in the present. If the economic exploitation of workers appears as an absolutely insufficient condition to raise consciousness of their historical mission, it turns out that this development of consciousness is infinitely more difficult than revolutionary militants had thought. Maybe, for the proletariat to pull itself together, humanity has to go through the nightmare of the 3rd World War and the horror of world chaos, and that the proletariat [...] faced with this “do or die” dilemma [...] finds the condition for its recovery.
17 –It is not for to us, in the framework of this thesis, to find the precise conditions necessary for the development of the proletariat's consciousness, nor what will be the conditions of the regroupment and the unitary organization that the proletariat will put into place for its revolutionary struggle. What we can advance on this matter and what the experience of the last 30 years allows us to state categorically, is that neither the economic demands, nor the whole set of so-called “democratic” demands (parliamentarism, right of nations to self-determination, etc.) can serve as a foundation for the historical action of the proletariat. Regarding the form of organization, it becomes even more obvious that it can't be that of the unions with their vertical, professional, corporatist structure. All these forms of organization will have to be relegated to history's museums and belong to the past of the workers movement. But, in practice, they absolutely must be abandoned and overtaken. The new organizations will have to be unitary, that is, embrace the great majority of workers and to supersede the particularist compartmentalization of professional interests. Their foundation will be at the social level, their structure, will be local; workers councils the likes of which surged in 1917 through Russia, in 1918 in Germany, appearing as the new type of unitary class organization. It is through workers councils like these, and not through rejuvenation of the unions, that the workers will find the most appropriate form of their organization.
But what are the new forms of unitary class organization, they don't in the least change the problem of the need for the political organism which is the party, nor the decisive role it must play. The party will remain the conscious factor of class action. It is the indispensable ideological driving force to the proletariat's revolutionary action. In social action, it plays a role similar to the energy in production. The reconstruction of this class organism is at the same time conditioned by a tendency, emerging from the working class, to break with capitalist ideology and to practically embark into a struggle against the existing regime. As well, this reconstruction is a condition for the acceleration and deepening of this struggle and the determining factor in its triumph.
18 –We cannot deduce from the non-existence, in the present period, of the conditions required for the party's reconstruction, that any immediate activity by revolutionary militants is useless and impossible. Between the empty “activism” of party-builders and individual isolation, between adventurism and powerlessness [...], the militant will have no choice but to fight them as totally alien to revolutionary spirit and harmful to the cause. The militant must also reject the voluntarist conception of militant action which presents itself as the unique determining factor of the class movement and the mechanist conception of the party, as simple passive reflection of the movement. He must consider his action as one factor which, in the interaction with other factors, conditions and determines class action. It is from this conception that the militant finds the basis for the need and value of his activity as well as the limit of his possibilities and his impact. To adapt his activity to the conditions of the present circumstances is the only means to make it efficient and fruitful.
19 –The desire to build the new class party, hastily and at any cost, despite violent and unfavourable objective conditions, is a matter of adventurist and infantile voluntarism and a false estimate of the situation and its immediate perspectives; and finally of a total lack of knowledge of the notion of the party and the relationships between the party and the class. Therefore, all these attempts are inescapably doomed to failure since, even in the best case, they can only create opportunist groupings dragging in the wake of the great PARTIES of the 2nd and 3rd International. The only reason which then justifies their existence is nothing but the internal development in the spirit of a clique and a sect.
So, all these organizations are not only dragged down, in their positivity, by their immediate “activism” into an opportunist chain of events, but they also produce, in their negativity, a narrow spirit peculiar to the sects, a parochial patriotism, a timorous and superstitious attachment to its “leaders”, to the caricatured reproduction of the (...) great organizations, to the deification of the organizations rules and of submission to “freely consented” discipline as tyrannical and intolerable as it is in adverse proportion to their numbers.
In its double outcome, the artificial and premature construction of the party leads to the negation of the construction of the class political organism, to the destruction of cadre and to the inevitable loss, sooner or later, of the exhausted militant, completely demoralized in the emptiness.
20 –The disappearance of the party, whether through diminishing numbers and organizational dislocation as was the case of the 1st International, or by its passage to capitalism's service as was the case for the parties of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals, expresses in both cases the end of a period in the proletariat's revolutionary struggle. The disappearance of the party is then inevitable and no amount of voluntarism nor the presence of a more or less brilliant leader can prevent it.
Marx and Engels have twice seen the proletariat's organization whose life they took part in a preponderant way, breaking up and dying off. Lenin and Luxemburg were helpless in the face of the betrayal of the mass social-democrat parties, Trotsky and Bordiga could do nothing to transform the degeneracy of the communist parties and avert their transformation into capitalism's monstrous machine as we’ve known them since.
These examples reveal not the party's futility as emphasized by a superficial and fatalist analysis, but merely that this necessity which is the class party, exists not as a uniformly continuous and ascending line, that its very existence is not always possible, that its development corresponds with its existence and is closely linked to the proletariat's class struggle that brings it into being and gives it expression. That's why the revolutionary militants' struggle, within the party, throughout its degeneration and before its death as a workers party, has a revolutionary meaning; but not the vulgar one that the various Trotskyist oppositions have given it. For the latter, it was a matter of redressing; and for this redress, above all it mattered that the organization and its unity would not be at risk. It mattered for them to maintain the organization in its past glory when objective conditions weren’t exactly conducive for it and the organization's glory could be maintained only at the cost of a continual increasing distortion of its revolutionary and class nature. They sought remedies through organizational measures to save the organization without understanding that organizational collapse is always the expression and the reflection of a period of revolutionary reflux and often a solution preferable to survival [...]. In any case, what the revolutionaries had to save was not the organization but the class ideology, which was in danger of sinking with the collapse of the organization.
Failing to comprehend the objective causes of the inescapable loss of the former party, one could not understand the militants' tasks in that period. From the failure to save the former class party, one could conclude the necessity of immediately building a new party. The misunderstanding could only be compounded with adventurism, the whole based on a voluntarist conception of the party.
A true study of reality enables the understanding that the death of the former party precisely implies the immediate impossibility of building a new party; it indicates the non-existence, in the present period, of the necessary conditions for the existence of any party, the old as well as the new.
In such a period, only small revolutionary groups manage to survive, a solution ensuring continuity, less organizational than ideological, condensing within their ranks the past experience of the movement and the class struggle, bridging the party of yesterday with that of tomorrow, between the height of the struggle and the maturity of class consciousness in the past period of flux towards its supersession in the new period of flux in the future. In these groups, continue the ideological life of the class, the self-criticism of its struggles, the critical re-examination of previous ideas, the constant elaboration of its program, the maturation of its consciousness and the formation of new militants for the next step of its revolutionary assault.
21 –Our present period is the product on one the hand of the defeat of the first glorious revolutionary wave of the international proletariat which ended the 1st imperialist World War and reached its height in the October 1917 Russian revolution and in the Spartakist movement of 1918-1919; and on the other hand in the profound transformations taking place in the economic and political structure of capitalism towards its final and decadent form: state capitalism. Moreover, a dialectical relation exists between this evolution of capitalism and the revolution's defeat.
Despite their heroic combativeness, despite capitalism’s permanent and insurmountable crisis and the unprecedented and growing deterioration of workers living conditions, the proletariat and its vanguard could not stand up against capitalism’s counter-offensive. Faced not with classical capitalism, they were surprised by its transformations that raised problems for which they were unprepared either theoretically or politically. The proletariat and its vanguard - having long and frequently confused capitalism with private appropriation of the means of production, socialism with state control - found themselves bewildered and derailed in front of modern capitalism's tendencies towards the state concentration and planning of the economy. In their great majority, workers were swayed by the idea that this evolution presented an original mode of societal transformation from capitalism to socialism. They got behind this undertaking, giving up their historical class mission to become the most steadfast architects in the conservation of capitalist society.
There are historical reasons that shape the proletariat’s present features. And as long as these conditions prevail, as long as state capitalism's ideology occupies workers' minds, there can be no question of rebuilding the class party. Only through bloody cataclysms which punctuate the phase of state capitalism, will the proletariat fully grasp the abyss that separates liberating socialism from the present monstrous state regime, when it will express in its ranks a growing tendency to turn its back on this ideology which imprisons and annihilates it, that the path will reopen to the “organization of the proletariat as a class, thus into the political party”. The proletariat would have made this step more quickly and easily had the revolutionary nucleus been able to make the necessary theoretical effort to respond to the new problems raised by state capitalism and to help the proletariat recover its class solution and the means for its realization.
22 - In the present period, revolutionary militants can only survive by forming small groups dedicated to the patient work of propaganda, which is unavoidably limited in its extension, and a relentless effort of theoretical research and clarification.
These groups will only carry out their task through the search for contacts with other groups at national and international levels, on the basis of the delimitative criteria of class frontiers. Only such contacts and their proliferation as a result of the confrontation between positions and the clarification of problems, will enable the groups and the militants to physically and politically resist the terrible pressure of capitalism in the present period and allow all efforts to be a real contribution to the proletariat's liberating struggle.
23 –The party cannot be a simple reproduction of the party of yesterday. It cannot be rebuilt on the basis of an ideal model drawn by the past. As well as its program, its organic structure and the relation it establishes with the whole class, is based on a synthesis of past experiences and the new and more advanced conditions of the present stage. The party follows every step of the evolution of the class struggle, corresponding with a tailor-made political organism of the proletariat.
At the dawn of modern capitalism, in the 1st half of the 19th century, the working class, still in its phase of constitution, leading local and sporadic struggles, could only give rise to doctrinarian schools, to conspiratorial sects and to leagues. The Communist League was the most advanced expression of that period and, as well as its Manifesto and its call for “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”, foretold the following period.
The 1st International corresponds to the proletariat’s effective entrance on the stage of social and political struggles in the main European countries. Moreover, it regroups all organized forces of the working class, its most diverse ideological tendencies. The 1st International pulls together all currents and all aspects, contingent, economic, educational, political and theoretical, of the workers struggle. At its highest point, it is the unitary organization of the working class in all its diversity.
The 2nd International marks a step of differentiation between the economic struggle of the salaried and the social political struggle. In capitalist society’s full bloom, the 2nd International is the organization of struggle for reforms and political conquests, the political assertion of the proletariat as well marks a higher step in the ideological delimitation within the proletariat when it specifies and elaborates the theoretical foundations of its historical revolutionary mission.
The 1st World War represented the historical crisis of capitalist society and the opening of its phase of decline. Since then, socialist revolution passed from the level of theory to the level of its practical demonstration. Under the fire of these events, the proletariat was, in a certain sense, forced to hastily set up its revolutionary combat organization. The monumental programmatic contribution of the first years of the 3rd International however proved insufficient to resolve the greater enormity of problems since posed by this ultimate phase of capitalism and its revolutionary transition. At the same time, the experience showed very quickly the general ideological immaturity of the class as a whole. Faced with these two pitfalls and pressured by necessities surging from the events and their rapidity, the 3rd International was led to respond with organization measures: an iron discipline of the militants, etc.
The organisational aspect faced with compensating for programmatic incompletion and the party to the immaturity of the class led to the party’s substitution for the action of the class itself and to the alteration of the notion of party and the latter’s relations to the class.
24 –On the basis of this experience, the future party will be founded on the re-establishment of this truth: if the revolution contains a problem of organization, however, it is not a question of organization. The revolution is above all an ideological problem of the maturation of consciousness amongst the great masses of the proletariat.
No organization, no party can substitute for the class itself, for “the emancipation of the working classes must be won by the working classes themselves” remains true as never. The party which is the crystallisation of class consciousness is neither different, nor synonymous, with the class. The party necessarily remains a small minority; its ambition is not to be greatest force numerically. At no moment, can it separate itself or replace the living action of the class. Its function remains one of ideological inspiration throughout the course of events and of class action.
25 –During the revolution’s insurrectionary period, the party’s role is neither to claim power nor to ask the masses to “trust” it. It intervenes and develops its activity in view of other class mobilizations within which it tends to champion the principles and the means of revolutionary action.
Class mobilization around the party, to which it “entrusts” or rather gives up its leadership, is a conception which reflects the class’s immaturity. Experience has shown that, in such conditions, the revolution finds itself finally incapable of triumph and must rapidly degenerate through a growing divorce between class and party. The latter quickly finds itself obliged to resort increasingly to imposing coercive means on the class, thus becoming a fearsome obstacle to the forward march of the revolution.
The party is not an organism of direction or execution. These functions belong to the very unitary organization of the class. If the party's militants participate in these functions, it is as members of the great community of the proletariat.
26 –In the revolutionary period, that of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Party is not the only party, particular to totalitarian regimes. The latter is characterized by its identification and assimilation with the state power it holds and monopolizes. On the contrary, the proletarian class party is characterized by the distinction it makes with the state in front of which it presents the historical antithesis. The one and only totalitarian party tends to swell up and to incorporate millions of individuals in order to make them the physical element of its domination and its oppression. The proletarian party, on the contrary, by its very nature, remains a strict ideological choice; its militants have no advantages to conquer or to defend. Their only privilege is to be the most foresighted combatants, the most dedicated to the revolutionary cause. The party does not thus aim at incorporating large masses into its own ranks since, as its ideology becomes one with these large masses, the need for its existence will tend to disappear and the hour of its dissolution will begin to toll.
27 –The problems - concerning the rules of the organization which constitute the party’s internal regime - occupy a place as decisive as its programmatic content. The past experience and, more particularly, that of the parties of the 3rd International, has shown that the conception of the party is a unified whole. The organizational rules are an aspect and a manifestation of this conception. There is no question of organization separated from the idea we have on the role and the function of the party and its relation to the class. None of these questions exist in and of themselves and are all the constitutive and expressive elements of the whole.
The parties of the 3rd International had such rules or such internal regimes because they were constituted in a period of obvious class immaturity which drove them to substitute the party for the class, the organization for the consciousness, discipline for conviction.
The organizational rules of the future party will therefore need to operate within the reversed conception of the party’s role in a more advanced step of the struggle, relying on a greater ideological class maturity.
28 –The questions of democratic or organic centralism which occupied a dominant place within the 3rd International, will lose their acuity for the future party. When the action of the class drove the party's activity, the question of the latter’s maximum practical efficiency had to rule the party which, otherwise could only include fragmentary solutions.
The effectiveness of the party’s action does not consist in its practical action of leadership and execution, but in its ideological action. The party’s strength does not rely thus on the disciplinary submission of its militants but on their knowledge, on their greater ideological development, on their firmer convictions.
The organization’s rules do not ensue from abstract notions, hoisted to the level of immanent and unchanging principles: democracy or centralism. Such principles are devoid of meaning. If decisions by majority-rule (democracy) appear, failing to uphold one more appropriate, this does not mean by definition that the majority have the virtue of a monopoly on truth and correct positions. Correct positions ensue from the greatest knowledge of the objective, the greatest perception and closest understanding of reality.
Also, the organization’s internal rules stand in relation to the goal that the party gives itself and which correspond to it. Whatever the importance of the effectiveness of its immediate practical action, that the exercise of greater discipline can provide, it remains always less important than the maximum growth of the militants' thought and is consequently subordinate to it.
As long as the party remains the crucible in which to elaborate and deepen class ideology, not only does it maintain the greatest freedom for ideas and disagreements, within the framework of its programmatic principles, but fundamentally it also has as its foundation the preoccupation of ceaselessly favouring and maintaining the generation of thought by providing the means for discussion, for the confrontation of ideas and tendencies in its own ranks.
29 - Seen from that angle, nothing is more alien to the conception of the party as this monstrous conception of a homogeneous, monolithic and monopolist party.
The existence of tendencies and fractions within the party is not a question of tolerance, a right to be granted, and therefore subject to discussion.
On the contrary, the existence of currents within the party - in the framework of acquired and verified principles - is a manifestation of a sane conception of the notion of the party.
June 1948, Marco
1. Since the technical quality of the original document is so bad that some parts are illegible (put between parenthesis in the text), we have respected the writing, indeed the printing mistakes, because this 1948 text is an “historical” document. It enables us to have a glimpse of the lack of material and financial means that the post-war communist militants suffered from. Thus it is not an incomplete reproduction by our part - even though we may also have left some typing mistakes.
2. Presented by the Left at the 1926 Congress of the CP of Italy in Lyon (France).
3. It is what has happened with all the currents of utopian socialism which, become “schools”, lost their revolutionary aspect for transforming themselves in active conservative forces. See the Proudhonism, the Fourrierism, the cooperativism, the reformism and the State Socialism.
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