Considerations on the Party’s Organic Activity When the General Situation is Historically Unfavourable
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 15; Winter 2018)
The «Considerations» were drafted at the beginning of 1965, in lapidary form, with the precise intention of clarifying and reaffirming the tasks of the party in a phase, not of great class confrontations, but of a deep stagnation of the real movement of the proletariat, and an obscuring of its political consciousness (the party). They represent what we can rightly call our «What is to be done?» (Lenin); we don’t state this rhetorically, or on account of superficial analogies, but in a much more profound and dialectical sense because they stand on exactly the same line and correspond with different words, to the same objective inscribed in the general vision of Marxism.
As with «What is to be done?», they aim at giving a correct orientation to the party organ, which «in a historically unfavorable general situation» can only be that of «marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand» as Lenin said (1). In such a situation, it is not, nor can it be, a question of being on the attack; it is a matter of revolutionary preparation, which requires facing objective reality, not in order to adapt to it, but in order not to be carried away by it.
Just as Marxism does not contain a grain of utopianism (Lenin), neither does our text – it is the opposite, even on the formal plane, of the innumerable platforms of the innumerable variants of Trotskyism – and makes no concession to the unctuous rhetoric of those who seek a quick, short and easy way out of the most terrible counter-revolution of history; or of the passive resignation of those who, because they have not found the way (or because they judged it too long and too difficult), lay down their arms. The party which produced this text does not hide, but rather overtly affirms that the present objective situation of society and of the class «could not be worse». Not only does it not refuse to be, but it accepts being – by virtue of material determinations, and not because it wants or choses it – a small and even very small nucleus of militants: the embryo of the party of tomorrow, the one which will finally merit «the name of both historical party and formal party», when « real action and history will have resolved the apparent contradiction ... between historical party, that is to say, content (invariant historical program) and contingent party, that is, form, acting as the force and physical practice of a decisive part of the proletariat in struggle».
As with Lenin in the first chapter of «What is to be done?» but with all the more severity because the current phase lags behind that of 1902 and it is important that all militants are clearly aware of this, it knows and is not afraid to say that history has entrusted to it «the task of surviving and transmitting the flame along the thread of historical time», which is a thousand times more difficult than attacking, and at least as difficult to win after being able to attack…Like Lenin’s classic text, it is not afraid to assert in the face of all «concretists» that «the restoration of the doctrinal principles» of the communist movement, that is to say, of the theory, is the first condition, essential, of this transmission, on which depends, not the return of revolutionary situations—which are the product of a combination of circumstances 95% external to the class party (to every party, even the best armed) – but their culmination in the conquest and the exercise of power.
And, as with «What is to be Done?», it rejects the idea that the complete restoration and integral defense of the Marxist doctrine can be accomplished otherwise than by means of an organ, a militant organization, a compact nucleus carrying out all the functions that characterize both the historical and formal party – even if the objective conditions restrict its overall field of action, and even more so its intervention in the different sectors; if it did not exercise these functions, and if it did not prepare itself through training which is difficult, painful and without glory, even this distant junction would not be possible.
We would not be Marxists if we were to erect a «barrier between theory and practice» because materialism teaches us that «beyond a certain limit, this would be to destroy ourselves and the bases of our principles». But this affirmation is not enough; our text supplements it by asserting that the party opposes on principle, as it has always overtly declared, conceptions which would reduce it to a secret sect or to an elite, a «workerist» association composed solely of proletarians or to a cultural, intellectual or academic cenacle; it develops within itself (in an embryonic way, starting from today), «organs capable of various functions, which we call propaganda, proselytism, union work, etc., and tomorrow [a tomorrow that will never come if we do not prepare the minimum conditions long in advance] armed organization»; Therefore, insofar as the real conditions offer the objective possibility, it devotes to each of these functions the same attentive care, without ever considering them as separate sectors («for such a distinction is mortal not only for the party as a whole, but also for every militant»), proclaiming, on the contrary, that «in principle no comrade should be foreign to any of them»(2) because all are qualitatively equally vital to the party, and not one of them, modest as it is, should be abandoned under the pretext that it gives, in the immediate future – not a surprise for us – derisory results.
Like «What is to be done?», our text has as its point of departure the vigorous and passionate defense of dogmatism, that is to say, of the invariance of doctrine, and the affirmation of its primordial role, so that action, whatever its quantitative importance, is consistent with principles; it continues to claim the indissociable nature of these more modest and less exalting tasks, but also necessary as the oxygen for theory, which are proselytism, propaganda, union work, agitation, and so on, – in short, the importation of theory even into a small layer of the class. Thus the «Considerations ...» are fighting to defend the weighty and inseparable task – now almost superhuman – of reaffirming the «doctrinal principles» by specifying them ever more, and the more humble but equally difficult tasks of preparing the little communist nucleus which had survived – but was determined to survive – for all the missions it could not neglect without condemning itself to death.
They do so by considering less the chances – obviously infinitesimal – of influencing the class or even a small minority of it, than the possibility of preparing and thus forming the nucleus that will become the general staff of the revolution – in situations which, without doubt, will be radically different from today’s, but which will be dialectically and indissolubly linked to it.
Either one accepts with humility but firmly that these tasks, all these tasks without exception –though inevitably in varying degrees – are mutually conditioned so that one of them dies out if it is cut off from the others; or else the party is destroyed along with the theory and along with it the future of the class. Either it is recognized that the party organ is formed precisely in counterrevolutionary situations by developing (albeit in different degrees, as is the case with any organism in certain phases of its life cycle), all its specific functions and therefore by preparing militants who are as complete as possible (which does not mean that they are not more capable of exercising one function rather than another while integrating into the collective life of the revolutionary party – this is the meaning of unitarism and organic centralism); or else one falls back into the metaphysics of sects, elites, and intellectual, cultural, and scholastic circles: and consequently one commits suicide as a party.
Our text is a severe and powerful warning against this final debacle born of the inability to draw the «lessons of the counter-revolutions». This is our watchword, not for 1965, but always.
(1) «We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighboring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are «free» to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!»
Lenin, «Dogmatism and «Freedom of criticism»» in «What is to be done?» (1902) www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/i.htm
(2) It is also the meaning – the only possible one for Marxists – of the tendency to overcome in the party – not the social division of labor, but its ignoble barriers: no reduction of all functions to one, be it simple or complex, nor does it equalize all personal gifts and even the «skills and specializations» of individuals, but integrates them into the party collectivity and the militant action of each of its members.
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1. The question of the party’s internal organization has always been a matter of concern in the positions of orthodox Marxists, and of the present Communist Left, which arose in opposition to the errors of the Moscow International. Obviously this question is inseparable from the framework of our overall positions; it is not an isolated sector within an impervious compartment.
2. All the elements of the doctrine, of the party’s general theory, are to be found in the classical texts and are taken up in detail in more recent documents, in Italian texts such as the Rome Theses and the Lyon Theses (1), and many others in which the Left foresaw that the International would be destroyed by phenomena equally serious as those which had appeared in the 2nd. Today we have used some of this material in our work on organization (in the limited sense of party organization, not the broad sense of organization of the proletariat in its various historical and social forms). Rather than summarise this work here, we refer the reader to the texts themselves and to the far-ranging study under way on the History of the Left (Storia della Sininstra Comunista).
3. Everything concerned with the theory and the nature of the party and relations between the party and the proletarian class, which can be summarized in the obvious conclusion that only through the party and the party’s action does the proletariat become a class for itself and for the revolution – all this belongs to pure theory, which all of us accept and which is therefore beyond discussion.
4. We usually refer to as tactics (with the reservation, as always, that there are no autonomous terrains) those questions that arise and develop historically in relations between the proletariat and other classes, between the proletarian party and other proletarian organizations, and between the proletarian party and bourgeois and non-proletarian parties.
5. The relations between tactical solutions (which must never be in contradiction with doctrinal and theoretical positions) and the many-faceted, manifold developments of the objective situation which in a sense are exterior to the party, and are certainly quite mutable. But the Left always said that the party must master and learn to anticipate these relationships, as it was explained in the Rome Theses on tactics, which were draft theses for international tactics.
In extremely simplified terms, there are periods when the objective situation is favourable, although the party as subject is in an unfavourable condition. The opposite might also be true. There are also rare but significant examples of a well-prepared party and a social situation that pushes the masses toward revolution and toward the party that anticipated it and described it in advance. As Lenin showed, the Bolsheviks in Russia fall into this category.
6. Leaving out pedantic distinctions, we might ask ourselves, «what is the objective condition of society today?» The obvious answer is that it is the worst imaginable; a large part of the proletariat worse than being crushed by the bourgeoisie, is controlled by parties that operate on its behalf, preventing any revolutionary proletarian class movement. Consequently it is not possible to predict how long it will be until this mortal paralysis is overcome and there are once again signs of what we have defined as an «ionization» or «polarization» of social molecules, that is the prelude to the explosion of powerful class antagonisms.
7. What are the consequences of this unfavourable period for the internal organic dynamics of the party? In all the texts mentioned above, we always stated that the party cannot fail to be affected by the real situation which surrounds it. As a result, the large proletarian parties which now exist are necessarily and avowedly opportunist.
One of the fundamental theses of the Left is that our party must not therefore cease its resistance, but that it must survive and transmit the «flame» along the historical «thread of time». Clearly this would have to be a small party, not because we wanted or chose it that way, but because it is an ineluctable necessity. With regard to the party’s structure, we have refuted all the various accusations, with arguments it is not necessary to repeat here, dating from the degeneration of the 3rd International, and in a number of polemics. We definitely do not want the party to be a secret sect, or an elite that refuses any outside contact because of its mania for purity. We reject any formula for a workerist or labourist party that excludes non-proletarians, because this has characterized all the opportunists in history. As can be seen from polemics going back more than half a century, we do not wish to reduce the party to a sort of cultural, intellectual or scholastic organization. We do not believe, as certain anarchists or Blanquists do, that the party is a conspiratorial group that plots armed actions.
8. Given that the degeneration of the social whole is reflected in and concentrated in the falsification and destruction of the theory and correct doctrine, the small party of today must essentially be devoted to restoring the doctrinal principles, even though the favourable conditions under which Lenin accomplished this task after the disaster of the first world war are lacking today. However, we have no reason to raise a barrier between theory and practice on that account because beyond a certain limit, this would be tantamount to destroying ourselves and our principled basis. We therefore lay claim all forms of activity characteristic of favourable periods to the extent that the real relationship of forces permits.
9. This question should be developed in more detail, but we are now in a position to draw some conclusions for the organizational structure of the party in such a difficult period. It would be a fatal error to divide the party into two groups, one devoting itself to study and the other to action. Such a distinction would be fatal not only for the party as a whole but also for each militant. Organic centralism and unitarism signify that the party develops within itself organs specialized for various functions (such as propaganda, proselytism, organization of the proletariat, trade union work, etc., and later, armed organization), but that the number of comrades delegated to such functions means nothing in itself, because in principle no comrade should be alien to any of them.
It is a mere accident of history that, in the current phase, comrades working on the theory and history of the movement seem too many, while those prepared for action seem too few. It would be senseless to try to determine how many comrades should be occupied in one activity or another. We are all aware that when the situation becomes radicalized, innumerable elements will flock to our side immediately and instinctively, whitout going through courses mimicking scholastic training along the way.
10. We are conscious of the fact that, ever since Marx’s fight against Bakunin, Proudhon and Lasalle, and in all subsequent phases of the opportunist infection, the danger of degeneration has always been tied to the influence of petty-bourgeois false allies on the proletariat.
Our infinite distrust of the contribution of these social strata must not and can not prevent us – following the powerful lessons of history – from utilizing exceptional elements which the party will employ in restoring the theory, without which we would be dead and the spreading of which will in the future reach a dimension measuring up to the immense increase of the revolutionary masses.
11. The high voltage discharges that have leapt from the poles of our dialectic have taught us that the comrade, the communist, revolutionary militant is the one who has been able to forget, renounce, free ones’ spirit and soul from the classification in which the civil state of this putrefying society has placed him; the one who sees and integrates himself into the millennial perspective that unites our tribal ancestors fighting against wild animals with the members of the future community, living in the fraternity and joyful harmony of the social man.
12. Historical party and formal party. Marx and Engels, who formulated this distinction, had no need to be in a formal party, and they were correct in that their work placed them in the line of the historical party. However, no militant today could therefore conclude that he had the right to choose between being in line with the historical party and snubbing the formal party. Certainly not because Marx and Engels were supermen of a distinct type or race, but because of the correctness of their dialectical and historical position that it is necessary to understand…
Marx says: The party in its historical meaning, in the historical sense, and the formal or ephemeral party. The first notion implies continuity, and our thesis is that the doctrine remains invariant since Marx formulated it, not as an invention of a genius, but as the discovery of a result of human evolution. But there is no metaphysical opposition between these two notions, and it would be stupid to express them in a formula such as: I turn my back on the formal party and move towards the historical party.
When we deduce from our invariant doctrine that the revolutionary victory of the working class can only be achieved through the class party and the dictatorship of that party, when, guided by Marx’s own words, we state that before the existence of the revolutionary communist party the proletariat might be a class for bourgeois science, but not for Marx or for us, the following conclusion is necessary: the victory requires the existence of a party worthy of being called both the historical party and the formal party. In other words, it requires that this apparent contradiction – which has dominated a long and difficult past – between the historical party, i.e., the content (the invariant historical program), and the contingent party, i.e., the form, acting as the force and physical praxis of a decisive part of the fighting proletariat, be resolved in real action and history.
We can briefly apply this synthetic presentation of the doctrine to past historical stages.
13. With the founding of the 1st International in 1864 the collection of small groups and leagues that grew out of workers struggles was transformed for the first time into the International party stipulated by the doctrine. This is not the place to recapitulate the history of the crisis of that International, which Marx took the lead in defending against the infiltration of petty-bourgeois programs, such as anarcho-libertarianism.
The 2nd International was reconstituted in 1889, after Marx’s death, but under Engel’s control, although his instructions were not applied. For a time, the formal party tended to represent the continuity of the historical party, but the bond was broken in subsequent years by the International’s federalist, non-centralist system, by the influence of parliamentary practice and the cult of democracy, and by the nationalist outlook of most of the sections, which no longer saw themselves as armies at war with their own states, as the Communist Manifesto of 1848 had indicated. The overt revisionism arose, depreciating the historical objective and exalting the contingent, formal movement.
When the 3rd International arose after the disastrous failure, in 1914, of almost all sections into pure democratism and nationalism, it was for us, in the years immediately after 1919, the complete convergence of the historical party with the formal party once again. The new International was born overtly centralist and anti-democratic, but the historical praxis by which the sections federated to the failed International were integrated into the new organizations was particularly difficult, and too much hurried by the concern that the extension of the conquest of power in Russia to the other European countries could be immediate.
The section that formed in Italy on the ruins of the old party of the 2nd International was especially quick to grasp the necessity of welding the historical movement to its momentary form, not because of the merits of any individuals, but for historical reasons. It had waged very determined fights against the degenerated forms, resisting infiltration not only by currents infected with nationalism, parliamentarism and democratism, but also by currents (such as Maximalism in Italy) which allowed themselves to be influenced by petty-bourgeois extremism, e.g., anarcho-syndicalism. This Left current fought especially hard to make the conditions of admission rigorous (construction of the new formal structure). It applied them fully in Italy, and when they yielded dubious results in France, Germany, etc., it was the first to point out the danger for the whole International.
A proletarian state was born in one country, while power had not been conquered in the other countries. This historical situation made the clear organic solution of keeping the leadership of the world organization in the hands of the Russian section, highly proble-matical.The Left was the first to understand that if deviations in the internal economy as well as in international relations began to appear in the behavior of the Russian State, the result would be a dissociation between the politics of the historical party, i.e. the revolutionary communists of the world, and the policy of a formal party defending the interests of the contingent Russian state.
14. Since then the abyss has deepened to the extent that the «apparent» sections, which are dependent on the Russian leader-party, are now involved, in the ephemeral sense, in a vulgar policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie that is no better than the traditional collaboration of the corrupted parties of the Second International.
This situation gives to the groups derived from the struggle of the Italian Left against Moscow’s degeneration the possibility (we don’t say the right) to better understand the road which the real, active (and therefore formal) party must follow in order to remain faithful to those features which distinguish the revolutionary, historical party; a party which has existed in a potential sense, at least since 1847, whilst from a practical point of view it asserted itself in great historical rifts, along the tragic series of revolutionary defeats.
To effect the transition from these faithfully transmitted traditions into an effort to create a new international organization of party without historical rupture, it is not possible to organize on the basis of a selection of especially qualified individuals or best versed in the historical doctrine; but organically we must use in the most faithful way the continuity between the actions of the group which struggled for it forty years ago and the current line. The new movement cannot expect any supermen, nor a Messiah, but it must be founded on a reanimation of all that it has been possible to save over a long time; preservation can not be limited to the teaching of theses and the retrieval of documents, but must use living instruments which form an old guard and which intends this preservation to transmit an incorruptible and powerful guideline to a young guard. This one is moving towards new revolutions that will perhaps require no more than ten years before they appear on the stage of history. But the names of these militants, young and old, is not a matter for the party and for the revolution.
Transmitting this tradition correctly beyond generation (and therefore also beyond the names of living and dead men) means not only transmitting critical texts and using the doctrine of the communist party in a manner faithful to the classics. It also means joining the class battle that the Marxist Left (we don’t confine ourselves solely to the Italian region) waged in the midst of the fierce real struggles of the years after 1919, and which was broken less by the relationship of forces vis a vis the enemy class than by the bonds that subordinated it to a centre degenerating from being the centre of the historical world party to the one of a contingent party politically destroyed by the opportunist pathology, until it was historically de facto liquidated.
Without abandoning the principle of centralized world discipline, the Left tried to conduct at least a defensive revolutionary combat to save the proletarian vanguard from collusion with intermediate strata and their defeat-prone parties and ideologies. Since the historical possibility of saving, if not the revolution, at least the backbone of its historical party, has failed, today we have resumed the work, in an objective situation of total paralysis, with a proletariat deeply infected by petty-bourgeois democratism. But the nascent organization, utilizing all the doctrinal tradition and practice confirmed by the historical verification of its timely predictions, also applies this tradition to its daily activity, striving to re-establish contact on an ever-widening scale with the exploited masses. It purges its structure of one of the initial errors of the Moscow International by doing away with the thesis of democratic centralism and the use of voting mechanisms, just as it has eliminated any concession to democratic, pacifist, autonomist or libertarian positions from the mentality of every last member.
This is the direction in which we are striving to make further progress, using the bitter lessons of the past to prevent new crises in the path of the historical party, and eliminating the wretched abortions we have seen in the history of so many doomed formal parties. Here too, we follow the warnings of our original mentors regarding the difficult struggle against the influence of a bourgeois milieu dominated by commerce, personal adulation and the vulgar quest for power and popularity by gnomes who all too often resemble those which Marx and Engels with deep contempt swept away from their path.
(1) The Theses of Rome on Tactics were adopted at the Second Congress of the Italian Communist Party (March 1922); The Theses of Lyon were presented by the Left to the Third Congress of the Party which, because of the coming to power of fascism in Italy, was held in France (January 1926).
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