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A short history of the international communist left

A short history of the international communist left

This English translation of the history of the International Communist Left recalls the historic points marking decisive moments of the Communist movement not only in Italy, but internationally.

The Internationalist Communist Party of Italy, established in 1943, was not accidental or spontaneous, but the outgrowth of a precise political tradition.

The historic line of this tradition passes through the first Imperialist War, the Russian Revolution and the founding of the Third International. It passed through the International counter-offensive of capitalism (Fascism in Italy), the counter-revolution in Russia and the opportunist degeneration of the Communist International. Finally, in the political depth of the International and the march of society towards the Second World War.

The political line, retraced above, is the struggle and rupture with reformist socialism, the struggle and rupture with opportunism inside the Communist movement: at first in the Comintern, but equally, later on in the International Left opposition, against the positions of Trotskyism.

Thus, the foundation of the Internationalist Communist Party of Italy drew to a head an ideological and political struggle of more than twenty years, from the very inception of the Italian section of the Third International.

The foundation of the communist Party of Italy in 1921, was connected with the struggle of tendencies within the old socialist Party on the issue of the imperialist War of 1915–1918, and the question of the Russian revolution.

Three principal tendencies manifested themselves in the socialist party of Italy. The Right Wing, represented by the majority of the parliamentary group and some leaders of the Italian confederation of Labour, were opposed to intervention in the war (World War I) at the time, because of nationalist and «class» interests.

That is, they were opposed to the war in a limited and contingent sense. In parliament they voted against the war and against war credits. But after the enemy invasion of 1917, they made a very effort to transform the party into an instrument of national defence.

The centre wing, represented by the party administration and by the bulk of the intransigents, curbed the Confederation of labour leaders and the parliamentarians, and refused, even after the invasion, to support the war. However, it refused in principle and practice to open any action of struggle against the Bourgeoisie and the State in war. It held to the formula of Lazzari: «No support, but no sabotage of the war effort».

Finally, the left wing, with a minority in the Party administration, but listened to attentively in the Party, even to the point of having equal strength with the centre in certain internal party elections, and even winning over the Party to carry out the repression of the opportunist tendency of the parliamentary deputies and the union leaders. It demanded that the Party takes an open revolutionary position, it advanced the slogan for a general strike, at the moment of military mobilisation, and emphasised the danger of agreeing to the suggestion of Caporetto (capitulation to national defence). The left wing, however, did not succeed in getting the Party to carry out the line of general strike as part of the whole policy.

The war ended: the three tendencies had to face the problem of the conquest of political power by the proletariat through armed struggle, and the issue of the Russian Revolution.

The reformists under Turati passed into the camp of those that rejected as «anti-marxist», the Leninist criteria and characterisations, and also rejected the October revolution in Russia.

The centre of the Party, led by Serrati, editor of «Avanti», vacillated gravely. He supported in words the revolutionary directives and even spoke of revolution in Italy; but at the same time he exhibited an attachment to all the legal positions gained by the Socialist Party in Italy, desiring to profit in the electoral successes, due to the popularity gained in the campaign against the war.

Above all, he hesitated to break with the reformist right wing, under the pretext that even if the right was defaming the Russian revolution, the same as the social democrats of other countries, it could not be reckoned among those who were the social-traitors of the war.

The left wing, on the contrary made unconditionally theirs, the political doctrine of the Russian Bolsheviks and the Third International, and held all its forces in readiness to orient the struggle of the Italian working class towards the seizure of power.

At the Congress of Bologna in 1919, the majority of the Party failed to free itself from the contradictory politics of the Centre, when, during this period, the social struggle broadened and required a rapid and resolute orientation.

The split was created by the decision of the Communist International at the Congress of June 1920, which demanded of all the parties the adoption in theory and practice of a precise communist and revolutionary programme, as well as the exclusion of all those raising themselves in opposition to this doctrine and politics.

This split was accomplished at the Congress of Leghorn in January 1921: the communist minority which was enlarged was based principally on the «Soviet» group of Naples – that is the abstentionist (anti-parliamentary) fraction of Bordiga – and the «New Order» group of Turin, established the Communist Party of Italy, Italian section of the Third International. The reformists under Turati openly maintained their anticommunist position, and the majority remained within the «maximalist» politics of Serrati, well defined as «one step forward, two steps back».

The split completed, the Italian Left was confronted with the control of the Comintern itself, and from the first opposed it on the problem of the formation of Communist Parties.

In France, the split at Tours, patronised by Moscow, was very much to the right, which carried into the new party reformist tendencies and even individuals who, during the war were social-patriots – Cachin for example.

In Germany at the Congress of Halle and always under the inspiration of Moscow, the left spartacists fused with a current from the centre, the so-called «left» led by Ledebour of the Independent Socialist Party. It was to be the same in Italy: for after the Leghorn congress, the Executive of the Communist International demanded the establishment of a new fraction in the Socialist Party with which the Communist Party of Italy was to hold itself in readiness to fuse with at a time when this fraction did not represent a real communist current, but a «maximalist» tendency, which for opportunist reasons preferred affiliation to the third international, than an accord with Turati.

This type of politics marked a grave revision of that which the Bolsheviks and Lenin applied in the formation of the Russian Communist Party itself, and which was before and during the war of 1914–1918, a struggle and an uncompromising delimitation of the fraction against the centrist conciliators and the opportunism of the Right within Social Democracy.

The Communist party of Italy made solid protest against this type of politics of the Comintern. At the Moscow Congress of 1921, at an Enlarged Executive meeting of June 1922, and at the Fourth Congress of November 1922, it defended on this question the positions in the theses adopted at its second national Congress in Rome which concluded with: «One must consider as an entirely abnormal procedure, the affiliation of other Parties or fractions of parties. A group which up to a certain moment a different programme and independent organisation, are not elements able to be assimilated ultimately. It alters the solidity of the political position and internal structure of the Party. In this case, the augmenting of such forces far from corresponding to an increase of effective forces, reduces the capacity of the party, and paralyses its work of winning the masses, instead of facilitating it. It is desirable to affirm as rapidly as possible that it is impermissible within the World Communist Organisation to liquidate the two fundamental principles of organisation: it is impossible to have in each country a communist party and another one adhering to the Communist international, except by the road of individual adherence to the Communist Party of the given country». But the politics of the second Congress of the communist Party of Italy diverged also from the tactics supported by the Comintern. The Communist Party of Italy rejected the idea of the united anti-fascist front with the other proletarian political groups whose responsibility was too grave in the crisis of the Italian workers’ movement and whose treachery was obvious and continuing. The Communist party of Italy held to the aim of revolutionary mobilisation of all the class energies.

Besides the redoubling of efforts in the realm of propaganda and organisation, the slogan was raised of an alliance of workers of all the union organisations of the class (Confederation of Labour and Railroads), in order to organise a general strike movement able to break the fascist tactic of attacking and cutting down the proletarian forces piecemeal But neither in one, nor the other question, did the positions of the Communist party of Italy win out in the International. From the first, it was forced to bow to the fusion ordered by the Executive Committee of the Communist International: Some time after the arrival of the fascists to power, a few thousands voted for the Third International, which was constituted in the Socialist Party right Wing, drawing in the Communist Party of Italy. Then, a little after the Congress of Rome in 1923, the leadership of the Left was replaced by the leadership of the Right, who, having been appointed, accepted the theses of the Party Congress of Rome. This signified the defence of the concept of a «mass party», and replaced revolutionary class aims with the aim of the reconquest of bourgeois democracy.

In 1924, however, the leaders of the Communist International proposed a bargain to the Italian Left, to whom it offered the leadership of the Party in Italy and even the politics which the Left defended, on condition that it takes no position on the Russian problem, and to solidarise itself with the Communist International in the struggle against Trotsky. As one of the representatives of the Left wrote much later, «the moment had come in which the International broke with the problems proper to it, in putting the Communist Parties in the service of the Soviet State instead of making them the instrument of the International».

It was not necessary to accept the manoeuvres adopted by the Comintern, in order to impress the politics of the Left on the Communist party of Italy, which it already held in opposition to the Executive Committee of the Communist International. It was necessary to know if, in the new situation opened for the Russian and International proletariat there existed the possibility to defend in Italy and in other countries the fundamental concept that must preside over the development of world revolution. But at that moment in the course of the degeneration of the International «no other voices were raised on the outside resigning posts of leadership. To remain in the leadership of the Party signified the sacrifice of principles over which the Italian and International movement was concerned», and in consequence, «compromised the process of reconstruction of cadres, and the theoretical concepts of the workers’ struggle within the parties of the International».

After its rejection, the Italian Left which always had the majority of the Party, as an election of 1924 revealed, was in fact prohibited from forming fractions, and compelled to be silent, because of its suspension in the communist International.

In 1926, at the Congress of Lyons, and prior to it, Bordiga sounded the alarm on the process of degeneration of the Communist International, pointing out the necessity to continue the work of the fraction of the Left at the price of a decisive split with the party.

But the Italian workers’ movement, finding itself under the oppression of fascism, was compelled to leave to the political emigration the task of continuing the struggle against opportunism.

In 1927, the year in which the nationalist theory of «socialism in one country» triumphed in the International, the year in which the politics of Stalinism strangled the revolution in China and forced the Chinese Communist Party to enter the bourgeois Kuomintang, and opposed the movement for the formation of soviets, in that year the emigration of the Italian Left founded the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy, in France at Pantin.

At the time of the founding of the Italian Left Fraction, the opportunists proceeded to expel en masse the left tendencies in all countries, including, in Russia, the leader of the opposition, Trotsky.

The main, primary task appeared to be that of carrying out an international political work aiming to surmount the enormous confusion provoked by this offensive of opportunism in the International, and consequently to stem the dispersion and loss of the revolutionary energies.

But in the same way as the Communist Party of Italy had, in the International, come up against the Russian communist party, which really directed that International, so the Italian Left Fraction this time came up against the positions of the Russian opposition and Trotsky himself.

In his estimate of the situation, Trotsky started from the point of view that the maintenance of State property in Russia gave the Soviet State a progressive nature, in spite of the opportunism and nationalism which in 1927 had triumphed within the Communist Party directing that State. Upon that basis, he considered there existed a fundamental antagonism between the workers’ State with «collective» property and the capitalist States with private ownership, and it is in terms of this supposed antagonism that he analysed the perspectives.

But in 1927 the working class had already suffered a number of defeats of which the last was that of China, because of the opportunistic policy that Moscow for years had impressed on the International. Trotsky concluded that with its class enemy thus weakened, imperialism from now on would fatally orient itself in a more or less short period towards a war bloc against the USSR, whose aim would be the destruction of collective property. His main grievance against «centrism» (or stalinism as he liked to call it) was that of having thus prepared on the international arena, the conditions for the violent return of capitalism, and he considered that in face of an attack by bourgeois armies, «centrism» would be unable to defend the USSR

Placing himself on a specifically national plane, and with his prejudice about the progressive nature of the State capitalism established in Russia, Trotsky evaluated wrongly the real state of the working class movement and the political nature of the forces at present. The proof is that shortly before the victory, in Germany, of Hitler, in 1933, to whom the German Communist Party capitulated without the least battle, Trotsky persisted in seeing in this party the key to a revolutionary victory of the German proletariat, which would have completely changed the situation. This, in spite of the fact that the opportunism of Moscow had infected not only the German workers’ movement, but the whole International as well.

The political tasks, which Trotsky proposed to the Communist Left of all countries, flowed of course from his theoretical and political analysis.

Because he considered the State property (which he called collective) as progressive and foresaw an inevitable war (i. e. World War II) between the Soviet State and the bourgeois States, the strategic objective which he assigned to the Left was that of defence of the USSR

Because he considered Stalinist centrism a «bad defender» of the USSR, he maintained that in order to reach this objective it was necessary at all costs to reform the Third International.

Finally, as he continued, in spite of all the evidence, to see in «centrism» a proletarian force, on the basis of its fight in the USSR against the «Right» for the maintenance of the collective property, Trotsky envisaged the struggle for the reform of the Comintern only within the limits of an «opposition».

The Italian Left had a completely different analysis. It started from the point of view that «the revolutionary role of the Russian State did not flow from the existence of the collective ownership of the means of production, but from the policy which it followed in the national and international spheres». So, it was confirmed that «in 1927 the triumph of ‹centrism› closed a period in which capitalism had to face a workers’ State and Communist Parties that fought for revolution. It opened another period in which capitalism faces the ‹workers› State and ‹Communist› parties fighting for Socialism in one country!» This means that since that time the general criterion for the analysis of situations is that which places together with the forces of capitalism and its social-democratic agents, the force of «centrism». The victory of the nationalist theory of socialism in one country permitted the change of role of the Russian State itself. It became an obstacle both for the struggle of the Russian proletariat and for the struggle of the International proletariat.

Consequently the left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy rejected the perspective which Trotsky considered inevitable, of a violent attack against the USSR, and envisaged on the contrary, the strengthening of the links between the USSR, and the capitalist States without implying that the statified property would necessarily be overthrown.

It is moreover, verified after the victory of Hitler in Germany. Italian Left Communism was enabled to say to Trotsky that «it is precisely after the defeat of the world proletariat in Feb. 1933, in Germany that is opened the phase of best relations between the Capitalist States and the Soviet State. The Russian State consolidated its economic positions just at the moment when the world proletariat saw itself thrown back by the offensive of the enemy». In addition, the Italian Left Fraction saw in an entirely different manner than Trotsky, the tasks of the Left Communists in all the countries; in that concerning objectives and methods as well. For the Left Communists it was a question of saving the Communist movement from the debacle which dragged the International to its dissolution; the Communist parties to betrayal, and the Soviet State into the lap of capitalism, and not of mobilisation for the defence of the USSR. The path that the Left Communists indicated is the one that Lenin himself followed in the face of the war of 1914–1918, under different historic conditions, but facing an identical phenomenon of opportunist corruption of the Social-Democratic parties: this is the path of Fraction work. The Left Communists understood by this that, starting from the fundamental bases upon which the Communist movement is constituted, the tasks of the Left are not only those of maintaining revolutionary principles against the parties that abandon these principles more and more, but to prepare the subjective conditions for the revival of the Communist class movement by enriching the original programme for the historic critique of the experience of the International and the first workers seizure of power.

But whereas on this line the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy presented its positions to the International Congress; the positions upon which the Communist Party of Italy was left isolated in the Comintern, a platform was established corresponding to the new situation, concretised by the rupture of the International with the principle of Internationalism in 1927. Trotsky replied to all the critics of the politics of the Executive committee of the Communist international (and for whom he was the reporter against us) fought by the Communists of Italy, making his own unconditionally the theses of the first four Congresses of the International. On the other hand, instead of working for the formation of new cadres which was proved necessary by the evolution of the Communist Parties to treachery, Trotsky, on the contrary, broke up these cadres by expelling from the International opposition all those who did not share his position on the Russian problem.

In this struggle, to which was directly connected the possibilities of maintaining the communist tradition and the reconstruction of the revolutionary movement; the events of 1933 mark a decisive point. In effect, the rise to power of Nazism in Germany was the victory of the offensive of International Capitalism against the principle fortress of the class struggle in Europe. In addition, after the whole series of defeats, which took place from 1923 on, the proletariat found itself thrown back in a decisive manner. Hitler’s victory opened up furthermore, a new course in which the proletariat henceforth was put in a defensive position, while capitalism became more strongly oriented toward the only road open to it: War. At the same time this victory meant the death of the Third International whose function had been to lead the struggle of the proletariat of all countries toward insurrectionary victory, and for this reason could not find a path other than the proletarian offensive.

The events also invalidated completely the politics of the Left Opposition of Trotsky, which assigned itself as the essential task; to reform that International.

Instead of recognising in the facts of the situation, a grave warning; instead of re-examining the fundamental bases upon which they established their politics, the Left Opposition took no notice. At one stroke, the whole left was disorganised and the «slogan of reform of the International» was replaced by that of «Constitution of new parties and a new International».

A new phase of the struggle opened that the Italian Left Communists conducted against Trotsky and the opposition since 1927. But the principled positions remained respectively the same. Leading always from the position on which it asserted that the Communist movement is unable to survive the victory of opportunism in the International, and the death of which is the condition to bring forth a Marxist interpretation of historic events which were at the root of the victory of opportunism; that it is a necessary condition to go beyond the errors committed, theoretically and politically by this International. Thus the Left Fraction of the Communist party of Italy opposed the new trotskyist orientation, as it opposed the politics of reforming the Third International. It put in a clear light the subjective conditions for the formation of new parties. It combated the false pretension of Trotsky for realising this on the unchanged basis of the «defence of the USSR» and the first four congresses of the Communist International. But its critique applied equally to the objective conditions requisite for the Communist movement to reconstitute itself in parties effectively influencing the masses; conditions which Trotsky either did not take into account, or also an erroneous analysis of perspectives, would force him to admit the existence of, in the course of the situation. On one hand, the Left established (basing itself on the experience of the Bolshevik fraction) that the road to the formation of the Party was essentially the road of the class struggle under the revolutionary conditions of a proletariat being amenable to regrouping itself around a Marxist programme restored against opportunism, and defended up to that point by a minority. On the other hand, it maintained that the existence of revolutionary conditions is not identified with the crisis of the regime (permanent since 1914) but depends equally on the political forces active in the situation and in particular depends on displacing the «Communist» Parties of opportunism with their open treachery and openly declared collaboration with the bourgeoisie. Finally in the domain of perspectives the Left considered that – both from the point of view of displacing these «Communist» Parties of betrayal and from the purely social point of view – only the second world war was able to create the elements for the reappearance of the revolutionary course.

This new and last phase of the struggle between the Italian Left and Trotskyism for the reconstruction of the Communist movement was closed with a totally negative balance sheet from the International point of view.

In effect, the fraction of the Left, which in 1933 inclined anew to a discussion between the Left groups of different countries for the formation of other fractions, ran up against, again, as it did in 1930, the positions of the Opposition which won out on an International scale.

But for another reason, the self-same Left Opposition did not delay concluding its false analysis, and its opportunist orientation with a new turn, echoing it more loudly than formerly. Assigning itself the task, in the situation at the time, of searching for the elements realise its slogan of formation of new parties, it ended up by looking for these elements through joining the social-democratic and International. That is to say, in a current which since 1914 was already eliminated from the proletarian camp by its support of Imperialist War.

This turn to compromised political forces in face of all the defeats suffered by the working class on the morrow after the first world war, for the construction of new parties, signified definitely the death act of the Opposition as a current capable of realising the construction of new revolutionary parties. From the immediate point of view it signified the debacle of the communist movement (whose future interests are not found in «Stalinist centrism», but in Left Communism) and the isolation of the Italian Left.

In conclusion, if it is not exclusively the political emigration which had the burden of work of the Left Fraction and which had the initiative to found the International Communist party of Italy in 1943, it is however, on the basis of the positions it has defended from 1927 to the second World War that the founding of the Party was brought about. It has had, most certainly, much to say about its history and the positions that it defended in face of the diverse events and in particular in face of the tragic experience of 1936–1939 in Spain.

But that is beyond the scope of this article. Here we wish to bring out essentially two.

The first, is the continuity and progression theoretically and politically which exists between the Communist Party of Italy of 1921 and the Internationalist Communist Party of 1943 (It is unnecessary at this point, but elsewhere, to dwell at length on the idea that the present Italian Communist Party affirms patriotism and the union of classes, replacing the programme of the dictatorship of the proletariat with that of the democratic republic, and finally practising governmental collaboration. It has no reason any longer to recall the split by which they separated themselves from the reformists at Leghorn in 1921. Besides it denies openly «splitting politics» in recalling the fusion with the Italian Socialist Party as a «measure» of the «unity» and «power» of the working class).

The second fact which in the International situation in which we find ourselves, is of particular interest to us, is the absolutely unique place occupied by the Italian Left Communists in the development of the Left Communist International, understood in a larger sense and also most loose. Let us leave aside here the «Council Communist» tendency of Holland, because it has always been outside of Leninism on the essential conception of the need for the Revolutionary Party of the Working Class.

There remain two international currents which claim to be Internationalist Communism: the Trotskyist current represented by the official sections of the 4th International, but also by a list of dissidents who, while refusing to be assimilated by Trotskyism, connect themselves to it by maintaining their position of defence of the USSR, as well as by the fact that they support the Trotskyist orientation for the formation of new parties since the death of the 3rd International; and the genuine internationalist current of the Italian Left Communists represented by the Internationalist Communist Party of Italy and forces extremely small found in the French, Belgian and American Fractions of the Left Communist International.

Today Trotskyism has in different countries a certain notoriety from which it profits in order to pass itself off as the only authentic continuator of Leninism.

But in reality this contention is in formal contradiction with the facts: Whether in regard to the Imperialist War, in which their attachment to that which is, by all the evidence, Russian Imperialism, compromising Trotskyism and will compromise it again; whether in regard to the nationalist maquis (French nationalist resistance movement), which it supported with the characterisation of «proletarian anti-fascism»; whether in regard to the class struggle in general where it tail-ends the left bourgeoisie (prophet of State-capitalist measures of nationalisation and of bourgeois reconstruction), Trotskyism only of an «I can do better» programme with reformist content. It supports even this left bourgeoisie going to the extent of proposing as an objective of the proletariat, its exclusive representation in bourgeois government (i. e. Trotskyism proposes a Labour Party, workers and farmers government in the U.S.; supports British Labour Party government; proposes a Socialist-Stalinist government for France, a Blum-Cachin regime). Finally, in all situations and under all aspects, Trotskyism appears clearly, not as the embryo of a new International Communist Movement, but it appears as a remnant of the old, a dissident movement of Stalinism.

With regard to us, we are convinced that the movement deserving of the name, Communist and Internationalist cannot be born on the basis of «notoriety» more or less noisy, but on a coherent ensemble of principles and tactical conceptions, on a merciless and complete historic critique of Fascism and the counter-revolution in Russia. That is why we are convinced that we must struggle independently for the triumph of the fundamental positions expressed in the political platform of the Left Communist International.

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