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Party and class today (while a new imperialist war is raging)

To the Reader

Party and class today
(while a new imperialist war is raging)

The twelve months that passed since the publication of «Internationalist Papers» 7 saw a deepening and spreading of the economic crisis. It is now ever more apparent that total instability is the norm within the capitalist world, contrary to all demagogy and rhetoric which for decades never ceased to extoll its virtues of «unparalleled and unceasing peace and progress».

The crumbling of the Asian stock exchanges, the social upheaval in South Korea and Indonesia, the ever more difficult situation of the Japanese economy, the first inequivocable signs that China is opening up to the economic crisis, the downward plunge which Russia is constantly on the verge of, the economic earthquake in Brazil – these are the most recent chapters in a book that keeps being written and which only revolutionary Marxism is able to read.

To them, of course, we must add a by now never-ending state of war: in the Balkans (a veritable crossroads of economic and strategic tensions and an area vital to US, German and Russian imperialism), in Africa (where the US are trying to oust the old, European imperialist powers – France and Germany first of all), in the Middle East (where war is following the «raw materials route» – oil and that peculiar and ever more precious raw material that is water), in the Far East (where the effects of an accelerated «capitalistization», with the aim of reaping higher profits, brought the so-called Tigers from triumph to collapse in just a few years’ span). Sooner or later, a comparable economic distress will also follow in the whole of Latin America (something which, in its turn, will also reverberate upon US economy) as well as an increased social instability in the heart itself of old Europe – by now united, yes!, but only formally (the military intervention in Serbia and Kossovo, under way while we are writing, is another example of how tensions are mounting, closer and closer to the heart of Europe).

What a landscape! Indeed not a serene one.

• • •

Made expert by centuries of ruling experiences, the capitalist class knows it well and is preparing itself – albeit unconsciously – to the worse to come. And to this situation (the ever bleaker reality and the bourgeois preparedness) and to the necessary revolutionary response to it, we have devoted most of this new issue of «Internationalist Papers», both in its English section and in its Spanish Supplement[1].

It is in fact self-evident that revolutionary Marxists cannot content themselves with reading the bourgeois book which the bourgeoisie cannot read itself. Reading it is not enough. Marxism is a science (finally able to solve a riddle that lasted centuries), but it is also a fighting weapon (finally able to usher in a new mode of production after dismantling the old one). And to this end Marxism as a set of doctrinal insights. analyses, and programs, must inevitably «become incarnate» in an organisation able to lead that final fight – i. e., in a revolutionary party.

Now, it is true that several factors act against the idea itself of a party today.

There is the century-old anarchist and syndicalist bias against any form of centralised political action, in favour of spontaneous class self-consciousness which would lead to the General Strike (or to a generalised upheaval) and to the new society. There is the tremendous experience of the Stalinist counterrevolution (which in reality beheaded the revolutionary party and upon its crushed bones built a self-styled avant-garde organisation based upon a mechanical discipline and a methodical destruction of Marxism, all in the service of the birth of a young Russian capitalism), a counter-revolution which inevitably bred, as an immediate and naïf reaction, the diffidence or refusal of any kind of party. And there is the ever-present ruling culture, which extolls the virtues of the individual citizen, spreads disillusionment and fragmentation, theorizes «new» ways of work and aggregation (while the capitalist world is clearly moving within a no-way-out circle), and tries to convince that parties are obsolete, things of the past (and how many are the «leftists» who argue exactly in the same way!).

At the same time, although a veritable class-struggle revival is still very much and dramatically languishing, episodes of confrontation between workers and the capitalist States were not lacking in the past twelve months: the Roumanian and German miners, the Chinese and South Korean workers, just to make a few examples. They were saluted by revolutionaries as the continuing will to fight on part of the «old» working class and as the first signs of the will to follow in the wake on part of «young» proletarians in what were once the outskirts of the bourgeois world and are now integral parts of it (thanks to a «globalisation» that had already been described by Marx and Engels in the 1848 «Communist Manifesto»). But what was apparent is that both the «old» and the «new» international working class had to pay for the absence of an international revolutionary party.

Without it, we as Marxists maintain, not only will it be impossible for the defensive struggles (those struggle through which workers try to wrench better living and working conditions, within the limits themselves of the bourgeois mode of production) to go beyond those limits and turn into offensive struggles (those struggles aimed at crushing the bourgeois order). It will also be impossible to defend the possible gains of such struggles, to treasure their positive or negative experiences, to build upon them successive stages of political organisation and consciousness. Without a party which be the collective theory and memory of the working class in its past and present strife, proletarians won’t be able to prepare their future «storming of the heaven». And this will be a tragedy for the whole human species, because this mode of production is getting more and more destructive.

• • •

But which party does the international working class need?

In April and May 1921, our current (the «Communist Left» that had founded and at the time led the Communist Party of Italy – Section of the Communist International) published two articles on this subject: «Party and Class» and «Party and Class Action»[2] synthesised and summed up a two-decade experience on part of our current in terms of class organisation and leadership through vigorous battles – against Italian colonialism, against W.W.I. against the social democratic treason, against the post-war anti-labour assault. and always in defense of the living and working conditions of a combative proletariat and for the establishment of communism.

The two articles stressed a dynamic, dialectical view both of the class (not to be conceived of in statistical terms) and of the party (viewed as the organ of the class, rather than as a part of it: thus brushing aside purely numerical implications), and of their reciprocal relationship: «The class presupposes the party, because to exist and to act in history it must possess a critical doctrine of history and an aim to attain in it»[3]. It is the concept of «party and class» that was always at the core of Marxism, ever since Marx’s and Engels’s «Communist Manifesto»: the «organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party».

As Lenin wrote in «What Is To Be Done»:
«The only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‹third› ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology […]; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism […] and trade-unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of [the communist party] is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous. trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary [communism]».

To these basic tenets, our current could add the experience of an unrelenting struggle against both anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist tendencies and social-democratic degeneration, and, after 1926, against stalinist counter-revolution – it is thus the only Marxist current that really could draw a balance-sheet of a century’s struggles, triumphs, and defeats. And in that balance-sheet is also inscribed our concept of the party and of its relationship to the class: centralised and disciplined, not to individuals or to formalistic mechanisms, but to a theory and a political program, known by all militants and by them consciously espoused; closely linked to the class in its struggles. but not disappearing within it like the spontaneist groups and the notorious «mass parties» of stalinist origin.

As our second text affirmed in 1921:
«The indispensable task of the party therefore is presented in two ways, that is first as a factor of consciousness and then as a factor of will. The first results in the theoretical conception of the revolutionary process that must be shared by all its adherents; the second brings a precise discipline which secures the coordination and thus the succession of action»[4].

It is thus an organic relationship the one that links the party to the class and, within the party, the party members to the political program – it is the same kind of relationship that links together the different organs of the human body and only allows it properly to function.

• • •

One of the effects of the last twenty years or so, spent under the banner of a new cycle of economic crisis, was that of fragmenting and dissembling the working class – a process of reorganisation of production and of expulsion of laborforce, which is well known to Marxism from the very beginnings.

The atomisation of the working class is thus terribly under way, and a great contribution to it came from the crumbling to pieces of all the distorted myths bred by the stalinist counter-revolution (as well as by the naïf reactions to it!) in the past seventy years: «socialism in one country», «really existing socialism», «popular fronts», «new revolutionary subjects», «Third World revolutions», «peasant revolutions», «revolutionary lumpenproletariat», «terrorism», etc. etc.

Now, what is confronting the workers who sincerely feel the need to react to their exploitation is a landscape of ruins in which it is difficult to find one’s way. In this situation, disillusionment, scepticism, wariness inevitably rule. But these also breed solitude and isolation, and thus in turn become further factors of weakness and vulnerability. Material facts themselves will push groups and/or individual members of the class to the foreground of revolutionary activity, where the need of a political organisation will be urgently felt again – an organisation able to go well beyond the contingencies of the struggle-and-defeat routine.

We know that the road to the revolution will be a long, winding and difficult one and we neither cherish nor breed any illusion about it. But exactly the balance-sheet that the Communist Left alone was able to draw and the confirmations that we can read in everyday reality tell us that we are marching on the right one. The dramatic facts of the last weeks and months (war spreading in the Balkans) make this ever more clear.

And they make our action – firmly rooted in Marxist theory and rejecting any temptation of futile activism – ever more urgent.

[Our deadline for publication does not allow us to comment more at length the new war waged by NATO in the Balkans. We can only publish the brief article that immediately follows and the text of one of the many leaflets that our party distributed in France and Italy. It is clear for us that this military action (whatever its immediate outcome) is another decisive step in the escalation that in the end will lead to a new world slaughter. Trade wars are bound to increase as the world economic crisis deepens, and as a consequence military war – «the continuation of politics with other means» – will break out more and more frequently and with larger extension and wider involvements. The classical Marxist concepts of class struggle, internationalism, revolutionary defeatism and fraternisation among soldiers of opposed armies will be again on the class agenda. It is still a long way to go: one which as a first step has the need for the international working class to learn again to fight for its own interests as opposed to those of the national economy and the bourgeois state, by recurring to its classical weapon: the general strike. We will surely go back to these concepts in the future issues of «Internationalist Papers»].

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  1. At the same time, and in a dialectical relationship with these economic developments, we are also witnessing to a total degeneration of bourgeois politics, which under many respects are by now reduced to a kind of lurid, obnoxious and obtuse, TV mechanism, where only the audience share rules and everything must (or, better, can) be done in order to win it. And this is true of all countries, be it understood: we are not referring here to the most titillating aspects of the American «Sexgate». The vaudeville-like rituals of the Italian never-ending political feuilleton (new parties springing up out of the blue, old ones making their appearance again like tottering zombies, the absolute vacuity of programs, the total flimsiness of political rhetoric) are a good example. [⤒]

  2. Both of them were reprinted in «Internationalist Papers» 2 (June 1993). The Communist Left led the party in the years 1921–1923. The Left leadership of the party was then jailed by fascists, and Moscow substituted it with a Center more complying with the Russian party’s directives. Gramsci and Togliatti were to become the active instruments of Stalinism, which destroyed the party in the subsequent years and rebuilt it as a counter-revolutionary organisation. Our current, whose militants were expelled from the Gramscian party between 1926 and 1930 and in great numbers had to migrate to France, Belgium, Argentine, United States, held tight to the Marxist principles, theory and concept of the party, and organised itself as the Fraction Abroad. It was this Fraction, together with the militants who managed to remain active in Italy or inhabited the fascist jails, that gave birth to our party in the turbulent post-WWII years. On this, see «Where We Come From: A Brief Chronology», Internationalist Papers 4 (June 1995). [⤒]

  3. «Party and Class». Rassegna Comunista, 1 (April 15, 1921), n.2; now in «Internationalist Papers» 2 (June 1993). p.38. [⤒]

  4. «Party and Class Action». Rassegna Comunista. I (May 31, 1921), n.4; now in «Internationalist Papers» 2 (June 1993). p.43. [⤒]

Source: «Internationalist Papers» number 8, Spring/Summer 1999, a supplement to number 4/1999 of «il programma communista».

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