Friday, 29 September 2023

WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY: The political continuity which goes from Marx to Lenin, to the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy (Livorno, 1921); the struggle of the Communist Left against the degeneration of the Communist International, against the theory of „socialism in one country“, against the Stalinist counter-revolution; the rejection of the Popular Fronts and the Resistance Blocs; the difficult task of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and organization in close interrelationship with the working class, against all personal and electoral politics.


Where We Come From (from our text « What Is the International Communist Party »)

At this point our imaginary skeptic will ask if per chance we are not one of the grouplets or groupies born in ‘68 or so, and somehow survived the internal squabbling and the years of terrorism characteristic of the era of student movements. And again we have to disabuse him or her.

The fact is the International Communist Party comes down from afar and has nothing to do with ‘68, the youth movements, the infantile reaction to Stalinism that calls itself “extremist,” “spontaneist,” “movement-oriented,” “worker-centered,” etc. Let us add that this is a matter of radical, even genetic, difference. No matter how small today, with little influence and of limited membership, our party represented and represents, through the highs and lows of a tremendously counterrevolutionary period, the uninterrupted continuation of the grand tradition of the international communist movement dating from the beginning of the century. It’s comparable – if our skeptic will allow us a bit of proud rhetoric – to an underground stream that had (or was able) to course below the rocks and sand and through the mire and landslides. Let us retrace this long march by means of a simplified outline.

1892 - The Italian Socialist Party (PSI) was born. Arising from the conjoining of various currents, not all revolutionary and internationalist, the party was led by reformists (although, in contrast to those who followed in the so-called “left” particularly after the Second World War, the former were, so to speak, at the very least... possessed of dignity!). Those turn-of-the-century years witnessed huge workingclass struggles in Italy, Central Europe, and in the U. S.A., and the reformist leaderships of the PSI and of the large labor confederations often found themselves in conflict with the more militant masses.

1910 - A clearly left current, the Sinistra, emerged at the PSI’s Congress of Milan in opposition to the reformist leadership of the party and the trade unions, and soon took a leading position in labor struggles. This Sinistra made clear its internationalism by strongly opposing the Libyan War (1911) and organized itself nationally as the Intransigent Revolutionary Faction at the Reggio Emilia Congress of 1912. A similar conflict broke out in the Socialist Youth Federation against those who wanted the body to become largely a culture-dispensing organization. By the Sinistra, both party and Young Federation were seen as organs of struggle. The militant youth were to receive their revolutionary inspiration and stamina from the whole life and experience of the party as it guided the working class on the road to revolution, and not from some banal “party school” education. Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970) and the “Revolutionary Socialist Club Carlo Marx” of Naples were decisive influences amongst the Intransigent Revolutionaries, and have remained fundamental references points in the history of the Sinistra.

1914 - With World War I the Sinistra proclaimed the need for revolutionary defeatism, which was in full agreement with Lenin’s theses, hardly known at the time in Italy. With a background tragically highlighted by the failure to oppose the war when most Socialist parties voted war credits and solidified with their respective national bourgeoisie, the PSI, notwithstanding the efforts by the Sinistra, approved an ambiguous slogan, “neither support nor sabotage,” which meant no support for the war, but no fight against it either. With Mussolini at their head, the interventionists had earlier abandoned the party.

1917 - At the outbreak of the October Revolution, the Sinistra aligned itself unhesitatingly with Lenin and Trotsky, greeting the event as the opening phase of an international revolution. “Bolshevism, A Plant for Every Clime” was the piece written by Bordiga which warmly greeted the revolution. Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti, who would form the group publishing « L’Ordine Nuovo » in 1919, were initially under the influence of a non-Marxist idealism and displayed a somewhat confused and ambiguous understanding of the event. In the article “The Revolution Against ‘Capital’,” Gramsci erroneously asserted that the October Revolution negated Marxist materialism. In Italy, the Sinistra, the only faction in the PSI with a national network, was able to convoke the party to a meeting in Florence in 1917 that led to the reaffirmation of intransigent opposition to the war. Beginning in 1918, with the nation seized by mounting social tensions resulting from the war and indicated by the increasing strikes and malcontent, the Sinistra, in possession of its own organ, « Il Soviet » from December of that year, took the lead in getting the PSI to support revolutionary Russia and openly recognize the international significance of Lenin’s strategy.

1919 - This was the crucial year for all of Europe: the year of the great strikes in Italy and revolutionary attempts in Germany and Hungary, the year Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknicht were massacred, and the year of the birth of the Third International as the party of the world revolution. In Italy, a polemic broke out between the Sinistra – pressing for the creation of an authentic communist party able to apply the experience of the Russian Revolution to the West and stressing the social and political novelty of the soviet as an organ of sovereign power in the revolutionary process – and Gramsci’s « L’Ordine Nuovo », that insisted in identifying the factory council as the equivalent of the soviet, portraying the council – normatively a subsidiary organ operating within the social and political functions of capitalism – as “the embryo of the future society.” Still in 1919, thanks to the theoretical and practical actions of the Sinistra, a Communist Abstentionist Faction was founded in the PSI, the nucleus of the future Communist Party of Italy (Partito Comunista d’Italia). One of the views characterizing the Faction was the belief that in the nations of established democratic rule – Western/Central Europe and the US – the parliament was no longer the site where important political and economic decisions were taken, an axiom drawn from the classical texts of Marxism. It had ceased to be a usable tribune from which to make known communist views, and for the longest period served to lead astray and dissipate revolutionary forces. Hence the parliament was to be opposed: with a democratic government, opposition to the bourgeois system was rendered most dramatically by boycotting political elections. A second tactic advanced by the Sinistra was the concept of “united front from below”: this meant avoiding the confusing political convergence of parties and organizations having disparate if not conflicting programs, while drawing all workers of whatever political, ideological or religious conviction into a common struggle for clear economic and social objectives and in defense of their conditions of life and work.

1920 - At the Second Congress of the Third international, the Sinistra played a determinant role in stiffening the conditions of admission. In so doing, at a time of continued and considerable social ferment, it hoped to bar admission to groups and parties whose acceptance of a revolutionary program and discipline would prove rhetorical and their actions detrimental, particularly if the postwar verve and revolutionary conditions receded, as was soon the case. In seeing the International as a true, authentic world party rather than a formal arithmetic summation of national parties, which later would be free to go on and “make politics” as each saw fit, of all the European communist groups the Sinistra was the clearest on the question of internationalism. Even as it was involved in founding a communist party in Italy, the Sinistra in the International stood for the reaffirmation of Marxism’s integrity and for an internationalism strategically and tactically binding the working classes of the West with the rebellious people of the East. It believed that a revolutionary communist party must seek the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie leading to the establishment of the class dictatorship as a bridge to a classless society. Strongly favoring internal discipline, it maintained that, within both the national parties and the International, obedience must rest on the voluntary acceptance and understanding of the revolutionary program by each and every adherent, and not on bossy compulsion. 

1921 - At the PSI’s 1921 Congress of Leighorn (Livorno), the Communist Sinistra broke away from the old reformist party and founded the Communist Party of Italy (CPI), a Section of the Communist International. Regardless of the subsequent assertions of a Stalinist historiography, the leading offices of the party were staffed entirely by Sinistra representatives and by Bordiga. At this time, Gramsci and Togliatti were in total agreement with this leadership. For two years, in a Western Europe where revolutionary elements were seeking a road to revolution to provide decisive aid to the USSR, the Sinistra-led CPI was the foremost edge of the politics of “Bolshevism, A Plant for Every Clime.” Amongst the trade unions, it carried out a strenuous campaign to construct a real united front – not of parties – of the working masses whatever their political loyalties; it fought no less strenuously against social-democratic reformism that misled the workers with its illusory pacifism and legalism; it openly confronted fascism, which it described as the reaction of industrial and agrarian capital to a worldwide economic crisis and the militancy of the proletariat, and not a feudal phenomenon as would be averred later by Stalinists; it built a defensive military apparatus against reaction and did not have to rely on such organizations as the “Arditi del Popolo,” a formation of spurious and uncertain nature; and during all those years marked by the reflux of the postwar revolutionary wave, the party maintained an international and internationalist stance, criticizing from the outset the rise of localism or autonomous actions and, above all else, the moves subordinating the International itself to Russian national needs.

1923-24 - After the arrest of Bordiga and a good many of the party’s leaders in early 1923 – malthough they would be released by year’s end following a successful defense leading to acquittal – leadership passed to a secondary group more open to manipulation by the International. Despite a national conference of the party held in Como in May, 1924, at which the delegates voted overwhelmingly for the Sinistra, the party leadership was given by Moscow to a new Centrist grouping formed under Gramsci and Togliatti. The Sinistra was thus barred from leadership. Employing means, methods and language correctly identified with Stalinism, in the course of the next two years the Sinistra was crushed and its influence eradicated: « Prometeo », a journal speaking for the Sinistra, was suppressed after a few issues, party sections with Sinistra majorities were dissolved, Sinistra spokesmen were removed, their articles and views censured or not published, and the party put under a regimen of intimidation, suspicion, and discipline that was ever bossier and bureaucratic.

1926 - Archival evidence has shown that the III Party Congress held outside Italy at Lyons, France, met before an assembly stacked by the Centrist leadership; two examples of the methods used will suffice here: 1) in the pre-congressional congresses, the votes of absentee Sinistra followers were automatically given to the Gramscian Center; 2) at a final meeting in Milan, delegates to Lyons were winnowed to eliminate Sinistra representation. At that congress, the Sinistra was completely marginalized and no longer able to act or have its views known. At the VII meeting of the Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International held in Moscow between February-March of that year, Bordiga opposed “Bolshevization,” that is, the reorganization of the party on the basis of the factory cell that, under the pretense of increasing the workers’ influence, had the effect of enclosing the base within the narrowness of the factory or shop, to which the person of the functionary-bureaucrat became an indispensable source of “the line to be followed” and the embodiment of leadership. At that incandescently dramatic session of the VII Enlarged Executive Committee, Bordiga, who openly confronted and questioned Stalin, was the only delegate amongst all present to ask that the grave internal crisis extant within the Bolshevik Party – the prelude to the emergence of the faux and lying theory of “socialism in one country” – be posted as the order of the day for the next world congress. To quote his words: “the Russian Revolution is our revolution also, its problems our problems, and [therefore] every member of the revolutionary International has not only the right but also the duty to labor in its resolution.” Meanwhile, the Fascist authorities saw to it that Bordiga and the entire Italian Communist leadership were arrested long before the next world congress. In the USSR, Stalin isolated the United Opposition. Between 1926 and 1930, the Sinistra followers were expelled from the party, and thus given over to Fascist repression or forced to emigrate. The campaign against the Sinistra was undertaken in parallel with the persecution of Trotsky and his supporters, although between the two currents there were dissimilarities of views – mwhich did not prevent the Sinistra from defending Trotsky in the crucial years of1927-1928. Bordiga himself was expelled in 1930 on the charge of “Trotskyism.” Meanwhile, first with the betrayal of the English General Strike in 1926 and then with the subordination of the Chinese Communist Party to the Kwomingtang during the Chinese revolutionary year of 1927 resulting in the massacre of the Canton and Shangai Communards by the Nationalists, Stalinism, a degenerative manifestation indicative of the rise of a bourgeois force within a USSR isolated by the absence of supportive workingclass revolution in the West, undertook the complete reversal of the principles of the communist program.

1930-1940 - With Bordiga under continuous police surveillance and isolated in Naples, the Sinistra suppressed and hounded by Fascism and Stalinism, its members dispersed through emigration to the West where they had also to fight and oppose the growing illusions cast by bourgeois democracy, there began a phase of our history best described as heroic. The Sinistra reorganized in France and Belgium under the name of the Faction Abroad (Frazione all’Estero) and published the periodicals « Prometeo » and « Bilan », thus returning to the political battle. The situation was very difficult for this handful of scattered comrades. Theirs was a battle waged on three fronts: against Fascism, Stalinism, and bourgeois democracy. They continued the criticism of Moscow’s policies – the “united fronts,” the illusion about the efficacy of democracy, the continuous political somersaults that bewildered the working class, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and Togliatti’s appeal to “the brothers in black shirts.” They worked vainly during the Spanish War to get the uncertain left groups to orient themselves on a class basis. They carried on the struggle against Fascists and Nazis in occupied France, even spreading defeatism amongst German troops. With the myths of democracy penetrating ever deeper in the international workers movement, the Sinistra responded with critical analyses. At the onset of war in 1939, they pointed out its imperialistic character. It was already clear to them that Stalinism represented the worst of counterrevolutionary waves. With insufficient forces due to their isolation, they began the analysis of what happened in the USSR. It was this tenacious resistance, this determination to not allow a break in the “red thread” that led to the rebirth of the party in 1943.

1943-1952 - Thanks to the repatriation to Italy of a number of comrades, the work to reweave a real and viable organization was begun. At the end of 1943, the first issue of « Prometeo » appeared clandestinely. Contacts were made with Bordiga; the first political work was undertaken among proletarian elements deluded by the Resistance movement. The effort was made to give a class basis to the strike wave in the last years of the war. By working in contact with the proletarians, significant gains were made in the North, and often internationalists were elected shop stewards in the factories. At last, the Internationalist Communist Party was born having as its journal « Battaglia Comunista ». The clash with the Stalinists emerged into the open. While Togliatti as Minister of Justice decreed a general amnesty of fascist leaders and rank-and-file members amidst paeans to “the new man” and “the reborn democracy,” his party denounced the Internationalists as “fascists,” inciting a policy calling for their physical elimination. The culmination of this defamatory campaign was the assassination of two comrades, Mario Acquaviva and Fausto Atti, and others massacred by Stalinists but whose fate has remained shrouded in anonymity. In this initial period, party life was still characterized by theoretical uncertainties and doubts brought home by repatriates from the Faction Abroad. Matters came to a head in 1952 with the need to reestablish the party solidly on the corpus of a Marxism cleansed of all Stalinist distortions and freed from the imperative of an immediate activism. This led to a first split. The periodical « Il programma comunista » began publication in 1952. Until his death in 1970, Bordiga devoted himself to the enormous task of reconstructing the theoretical and political basis of the party, which became truly international in fact as well as name in the 1960s. The “Fundamental Theses of the Party” (1951), “Considerations on the Organic Activity of the Party in a Situation which is Generally and Historically Unfavorable” (1965), “Theses on the Historic Duty, the Action and Structure of the World Communist Party” (1965), and “Supplementary Theses” (1966) gave the party its theoretical, political, and organizational structure.

1952-today - The following decades saw the Internationalist Communist Party (later, from the mid-sixties onwards, the International Communist Party), gathered around « il programma comunista » and gradually other titles in other languages, engaged in the harsh political battle to continue and rigorously develop the analysis of capitalist reality under all its aspects (economic, social, ideological), including here that of Russia’s so-called “real socialism”; also accompanying and, within the limits of the forces available, attempting to guide the proletarian battles sparked off in all parts of the world by the capitalist mode of production – as always theory and practice interweaving dialectically, firmly defended, despite the difficulties deriving from the lasting (and for some aspects worsening) counter-revolution in its democratic and Stalinist (or post-Stalinist) version. These very difficulties (this could not help being the case) lay at the basis of a path that was extremely obstinate in maintaining a straight, though equally arduous, line.  The Party, which in the ‘60s and ‘70s developed a considerable international network, was forced to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis, to make use of a literary image: i.e. between the drive, at times generous but always a herald of political-organizational disaster, to abbreviate the time needed to reconnect with a proletarian class still crushed beneath the weight of counter-revolution (activism), and the temptation to remain closed in pure, theoretical analysis, whilst awaiting a class recovery which, almost instinctively and above all mechanically, would lead the class to recognize its “own” party (academicism).  It was (and always will be, as the history of the Bolshevik party and the work of Marx, Engels and Lenin teaches us) a difficult and stormy path to navigate and the many splits that occurred in the decades after 1952 were due to this and gave rise to other formations more or less taking the Communist Left as their reference point, but from which points of principle and party practices separate us, although there is insufficient time to go into them here – right up to the very serious crisis of 1981-83, which dispersed sections and comrades in Italy and abroad and from which the Party only managed to emerge with effort in the following years, thanks to a lot of hard work on defining various issues.  What has always characterised us has been the will to proceed on our path, analysing and clarifying political tangles and mistakes made along the way, but individual trial and judgement, which is utterly outside the tradition of the Communist Left.  We thus continue to do our work “in contact with the working class, outside personal or electoral political wheeling and dealing”, in the serene conviction that we shall have the future we have managed to win.

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