Some false solutions
The Russian revolution
First international changes of direction
The turnaround: Germany 1923
The Russian question
The battle of the Left: fascism and anti-fascism
The twisting paths of the International’s policy
“Socialism in a single country”
The initial years of revolution
Contrasts in the Russian party
The myth of Russian “socialism”
The bankruptcy of Stalinism, triumph of revolutionary Marxism
Two constitutions compared
A word manipulated: communism
Training exercises for future massacres: Spain 1936
The second world war
“Resistance” to fascism, or abandonment of the fight against Capital
Could the partisan movement have expressed a truly revolutionary potential?
European Stalinism and the post-war period
How to fight and how not to fight against Stalinism
A first, provisional balance sheet
Part of the incessant theoretical battle which our party has never shirked during the entire span of its existence consists in outlining as clearly as possible the end that history imposes on us – i.e. the worldwide victory of communism, through the violent destruction of bourgeois society, and its dominion over the means and modes of production and circulation of goods. It is the development of bourgeois economy and society itself that dictates how this violent process unfolds on an international scale, as has already been clearly stated by the programme of scientific communism (the Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848) and by the first worldwide organization of the proletariat (the International Workers’ Association or The International, 1864). After the violent action, it is essential that strict control be exercised over all forms of social life – power, ideology, economy – within which, for a sufficient number of years or generations, the new power relations between classes will have to develop, until the disappearance of the latter. This period has been given the name (which we proudly defend as a characteristic element of our action) of dictatorship of the proletariat. During this crucial phase, measures of an economic nature will have to achieve the rapid reduction of the working day and in the end a condition in which human work is determined by needs (which today means “the need to get by” working under the conditions dictated by Capital) – i.e. the end of a society divided into classes. Only then, as Marx writes in Book Three of Capital, “begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom” .
We recognize a communist society from these premises: it is from them that the extinction of the market economy derives in all its forms (money, exchange value of goods, banks, income, profit, salaries): an economy that retains in its fabric even one only (if this were possible, and it is not) of these categories cannot be communist, because in its very structure it reveals a relationship of class dominion based on the exploitation of the labour force for the production of plus value. On the contrary, it is an economy (and thus a society) that is entirely capitalist – even ideologically from the point of view of its superstructure.
Against communism rises an enemy that is not only armed to the back teeth with police forces and military control. With it and alongside it exists a powerful ideological edification which, whilst disorienting the proletarian masses and trying to impede their political reorganization, has constituted – and not only recently – the most secure system of protection for the bourgeois apparatus. By concealing from the eyes of the exploited masses the true terms of social conflict, this many-headed Hydra (reformist texts, opportunism, social peace, concern with the immediate, trade unionism, etc.) has set itself up historically as the dialectic alternative to fascism (the explicit violence of bourgeois dictatorship), yet always with the same, identical function. It has taken on the name of democracy (the deception by which the exploited may acquire their own “rights” in the factories, administrative organisms and the state) in the countries with the oldest tradition of capitalist development, and Stalinism in those variously linked to the economic, social and political practice brutally set up from the mid nineteen-twenties onwards in Russia: from here, this class enemy of communism inoculated itself as a doctrine of social control into all those European communist parties which, despite having formed in the early post-war period in the wake of the victorious Red October, shamefully moved their arms and baggage to the side of the imperialist bourgeoisies in the brief span of a decade.
It is precisely this second aspect, which for the sake of convenience we shall define “Stalinism”, that we must deal with. This is not only because of the undoubted interest that this subject must assume in the formation and preparation of revolutionary militants, but also and mainly because, in the multi-coloured historical variations that animate it, it will necessarily crop up again virulently as soon as international revolutionary tension starts to rise – something that our studies on the course of capitalism reveal to be not only unavoidable but not so far away. Failure to weigh up the situation punctually, along the same lines as our party has unceasingly followed in the past eighty years in all areas of the struggle against enemy practices and ideologies would mean condemning revolutionary organization, and with it – once again – the entire proletariat, to a new and catastrophic failure. The criticisms that we have advanced against “Stalinism” ever since its advent, are thus developed in terms of history and politics, certainly not in terms of individuals or “leaders”. They must be based on the balance of power between social classes and must not relax when faced with democratic ideological temptations, which have always infected the western spokespeople of the “left-wing” middle classes, who cry scandal because of the violation of freedom in Stalinist Russia, but are silent about the horrors of the overall development of capitalism’s history.
It will therefore be necessary to state clearly, and we shall repeat this often during the present account, that we use the term “Stalinism” in full awareness of its ineffectiveness and ambiguity in describing phenomena that are rooted in the history of the class war and not the fruit of individual action, as the term might suggest: but language is closely bound to modes of production, being a direct ideological reflection of them, and we are obliged to make use of it, with all its limitations. Let it be quite clear then that, as Marx declared: “I am not a Marxist (I mean that the science of revolution is not produced by the thought or actions of an individual), and in the same way the thought or actions of an individual did not produce the practice of counter-revolution: even less so was it the manifestation of some “desire for power” or “mad folly”, nor was it the case that “the revolution devours its children” – all miserably facile means that bourgeois ideology uses to amuse itself in giving an explanation of facts that it does not and never can understand. As materialists, we reject the bourgeois concept of the individual as “maker of history” . We thus refuse both the hypocritical bourgeois approach which sees the historical phenomenon known as “Stalinism” solely as a form of violence and prevarication (forgetting that as long as this violence and arrogance were directed against the Old Bolshevik Guard, no bourgeois ideologist had lifted a finger or that when it turned against one of the two factions at war, it was welcomed and celebrated), as we also reject the petit bourgeois reaction (anarchical, democratic, spontaneous) that identifies “Stalinism” with “communism”, thus directing a further attack against the key-concepts of communism: the party, revolutionary violence, terror, the dictatorship of the proletariat directed by the party… Today, it is the hypocrisy and theoretical impotence of the bourgeoisie (as a class that has been superfluous for some time now) that condemn it to emptily and obsessively repeating the equation “communism = Stalinism”: in doing so, its spokespeople do none other than declare that they really are…the last Stalinists in circulation. Here too, in offering the historical enemies of communism new opportunities for falsification and mystification, “Stalinism” has operated in a profoundly counter-revolutionary sense.
2. Some false solutions
Without exhausting all its characteristics, Stalinism represents what we have called the “third wave of opportunism” after the “first” wave, dominated by social-democratic reformism, which permeated Europe’s socialist parties right after the defeat of the Paris Commune, and the “second” which – as an accompaniment and consequence of the first – led to the generalized and shameful socialist support for the First World War and full support for the national bourgeoisies fighting amongst themselves, thus breaking any form of internationalist proletarian bond.
The horrors of war, the consequent misery, the success of the Russian Revolution brought the hope, for some years, that it would be possible to constitute theinternational political organism capable of placing itself at the head of the struggle for power. The failures that followed (in Hungary in 1919, in Italy in 1919-20, in Germany in 1918-19, 1921 and finally in 1923), serious as they were, should not have led to the abandonment of the theoretical principles that had been established at the first two Congresses of the Communist International in Moscow (1919 and 1920). As a result of these failures, all the parties would certainly have experienced a backlash at a practical level and in terms of general tactics but in no way should they have ceased to defend those principles, thanks to which, once they had been safeguarded, recovery – which was known to be certain due to the new economic and social crises already looming on the near horizon – would have been made quicker and easier. This was our firm position, the position of the communist Left, vigorously defended at the congresses and in the press in Italy and with a hard fight on the international scenario in Moscow between 1924 and 1926. Renouncing these principles and those positions instead meant opening up a tremendous cycle of suffering for the international proletariat, obliged first to go through the horrors of the second world massacre, then another lashing during the capitalist reconstruction of the post-war period and lastly the worsening of the new economic and social crisis in which the capitalist mode of production is becoming entrenched today without being able to count on its own worldwide militant organization.
What is defined “Stalinism” was starting to take shape in Russia in those very years. In this period bourgeois historians see the beginning of a personal dictatorship, founded on the duplicity and cunning of one man – Stalin naturally – who “managed to seize power” taking advantage of the party’s difficulties and the lack of internal “democracy”, which thus made an “authoritarian shift” possible. Trotsky himself, in the biography devoted to Stalin, does not always identify clearly the process of degeneration going on within the party as a consequence of the international crisis of the communist movement and, because of his profound knowledge of the Bolshevik party, prefers to attribute it mainly to internal factors: “The three years of civil war had left an indelible mark on the Soviet system, because of the habit many of its members had acquired of assuming the command and obtaining unconditional submission [...] The party had become a pliable mass, ready to yield to any sort of moulding; it was made up of young people capable of doing no more than say yes to the professional politicians governing it. This must be remembered because it is essential to find an explanation for the way the party’s and the government’s bureaucratic machinery managed to defeat “Trotskyism” or, in other words, the Bolshevism of Lenin’s times” . This “bureaucratic degeneration” of the revolution should have been halted, according to the thought of this great revolutionary, by simple measures for internal democracy within the party, in the conviction that the process was linked to a political process inside the party rather than to a transformation taking place in international and Russian class relations.
3. The Russian revolution
The matter should be analysed without forgetting that the Russian revolution was not strictly speaking a communist revolution. It was, of course, at a political levelsince the Bolshevik party that seized power was in theory a mature Marxist party: the process of growth started in the 1880s during the fight against the Zars and in close contact with European socialism, which then concluded through a series of organizational crises and theoretical battles, with Lenin’s return to Russia and the presentation of the “April Theses”. But the Russian revolution was certainly unable to become a “complete” communist revolution socially and economically, due to the enormous backwardness of the Zarist empire: from this point of view the Russian revolution had to assume all the tasks of a revolutionary bourgeoisie. The big landowners had to be expropriated, feudalism eliminated, modern industry had to start developing on a massive scale: there was nothing socialist about these economic measures but, under the direction of the Bolshevik party, they implied a close alliance between the industrial proletariat concentrated in some cities and the general mass of poor, landless peasants, whom only historical events of enormous scope could drive to rebellion. Such an event, capable of catalyzing the energy of the peasant masses, was the explosion of world war.
After the Bolshevik party had seized power, the main problems on the agenda were: 1) at a military level, to maintain power against an internal reaction and against the western armies ranged on the borders and ready to go into action (this was dealt with by Trotsky by organizing the Red Army); 2) at an economic level, to implement some immediate measures for resuming production in the factories and guaranteeing in some way the circulation of goods (this was dealt with by Lenin by actuating an economic policy which would guarantee the free circulation of goods and confirm the alliance with the poor peasants through the nationalization of land); 3) at a political level, speed up consolidation of the alliance with the European working-class masses, in particular Germany’s, to ensure a few years of resistance against an internal wave of counter-revolution – in society as in the economy – which would inevitably not be long in coming (and this is what a re-birth of the International should have dealt with).
In conclusion, it can be stated that at the end of the October Revolution’s first three years, no Marxist worthy of the name posed the question of “building socialism”. The only urgent internal issue relating to the party’s tasks in this phase of history was posed by historical factors: fighting not to lose the power that had been gained.
4. International reconstruction
Instead, an enormous task faced the Bolshevik party from outside: to reorganize the ranks of the European proletariat devastated by the war and disrupted by the betrayal of international social-democracy, which sided with the bourgeois class to defend the sacred borders of the fatherlands.
Of course there was no lack of rebellions against the war, cases of revolutionary defeatism on various fronts, attempts to oppose the alliance between the socialist federations taking part in the IInd International and the great European bourgeoisies, and it was a real possibility to imagine a powerful return of the revolutionary movement in the immediate post-war period: unfortunately a movement like this cannot arise merely out of weariness, hunger and exasperation but needs the upholding of a constant class policy, which the 1914 betrayal had broken almost everywhere.
Nonetheless, the pressure of history produced a series of widespread rebellions. In Germany, but unfortunately too late (29 December 1918) the Spartacus movement led to the constitution of the Communist Party (KPD) – the delay being paid for dearly with the decapitation of its best theoreticians and leaders (Luxemburg, Liebknecht) and the defeat of the councils movement. In Italy the “Red Biennium” was wrecked in the demo-parliamentary orgy and soon fell prey to voluntary experimentalism that was to lead to the crazy idea (Gramsci) that, through the factory councils, it would be possible to gain control of production in a socialist perspective without first seizing political and military power. Moreover, the brief successes obtained in Bavaria and Hungary were to be cut down almost at birth by the violent reaction of the bourgeoisie, whilst the great proletarian organizations in countries such as France and England would remain trapped, despite isolated attempts, by the illusion of “victory” and democratic “peace”.
In the wake of the October 1917 triumph, communist parties started to spring up everywhere, readily supporting the International. In 1918 the Hungarian and Polish parties organized themselves; in 1919 the Bulgarian and Yugoslav parties followed suit; in 1920 the German, French and Turkish parties; in 1921 the Italian, English, Romanian and Spanish ones; and in 1922 the Japanese party. There is a long tide of enthusiasm running through the ranks of the world proletariat: but it is also the fruit of a great deal of improvisation and voluntary work, as well as of the temptation to come to any form of compromise with petit bourgeois social democracy in order to try and reach the revolutionary outcome that then seemed inevitable to everyone.
Six days after the presentation of his “April Theses”, the aim of which was to give a decisive change of direction to the party’s internal policy, Lenin wrote the article: “The tasks of the proletariat in our revolution” : this was an analysis of the international situation and represents the first brick in the building of the Third International. “Much is given to the Russian proletariat; […]But to whom much is given, of him much is required,” writes Lenin, showing once again the close link uniting Russia and Europe and constantly encouraging the left in various different countries. “We must break with [the Second International] immediately. […]I t is we who must found, and right now, without delay, a new, revolutionary, proletarian International. […] Our Party must not ‘wait’, but must immediately found a Third International.” Better to remain alone like Liebknecht (because “that means remaining with the revolutionary proletariat”) than to unite with the centre-right parties.
He then proceeds to a sort of roll call of those forces in Europe which, despite everything, have remained faithful to Marxism, disclosing which of them he considers “The International of the real Internationalists”. And he states: “There are as yet few of these socialists. However, it isn’t a case of numbers, but rather of giving faithful expression to the ideas and politics of the truly revolutionary proletariat. The main thing is not to proclaim internationalism but to manage to be internationalists in practice, even in the most difficult of moments.”
This passionate appeal by the man who, out of all the few living Marxists, had succeeded in taking up the flag of revolutionary struggle, trampled into the mud by those who had betrayed and denied the tradition, must not cause us to lose sight of the fact that the rush to try and create a real international movement in the heat of the struggles, before the basic points of the programme had been formulated and explained in detail, was to be the first reason for its imminent ruin. Only a few voices (first amongst these the voice of the “Italian” communist Left) warned of the dangers faced by an organization born only out of a wave of enthusiasm. “Future months and years will show the Bolsheviks themselves […] that nothing would ever be able to perform the miracle of aligning, for example, the American IWW, the British shop stewards or, at a political level, the French union officials […] with the classical and unwavering positions of Marxism” . At the IInd Communist International (1920), the representative of the Left would include in the “Theses on conditions for admission to the communist International”, a highly restrictive point: “Those enrolled in the Party who refuse on principle the conditions and theses formulated by the Communist International must be expelled” (Thesis 21) . This was not sufficient because the vast movements that were then shaking Europe dragged hordes of the undecided towards communism: and none of them would heed the call when, a few years later, the wind changed direction.
5. First international changes of direction
Thus, with the advance of the revolutionary movement, first in Russia and then in Europe, the constitution of the Communist International, or Third International, was achieved in 1919 with these same forces. Just as the Third International came into being in a rush, the communist parties formed with similar haste. With the revolutionary impulse in Europe exhausted by 1921, the International thought it would be possible to maintain its previous positions through the use of tactical expedients that would enable the negative phase in individual countries to be overcome. The first of these expedients was a swerve towards the socialist parties, from which all the newly formed communist parties had just separated. The politics of the International aimed to reclaim the proletarian masses through the fusion of parties or groups of parties (united political fronts) and to take part on all those occasions through which it might be possible to develop a policy in common with the social democratic parties (then referred to as noyautage). On this point the “Italian” communist Left even opposed Lenin, pointing out that he preferred to look to the right for dubious reasons, to “win over the masses”, gaining a few votes in parliament thanks to the fusion with non-revolutionary factions and obviously losing his following amongst the more advanced proletarians, firmly established in their left-wing positions. Subsequently, “he [Lenin] wrote time and again that he had been mistaken at the IIIrd Congress [of the International], in criticizing the left more than the right, a danger that still threatened him. […] We learn from reliable witnesses that he was not favourable to the fusion with the maximalist party pre-announced at the IVth Congress .
Following the same line of tactics, a revolutionary attempt was unhappily prepared in Germany in 1923, with the words “government of the workers” bandied about amongst the masses. It was clear that this formula, which replaced the historicaldictatorship of the proletariat meant advancing the possibility of “power in the factories” or pacific, democratic, electoral solutions, and that the abandonment of our classical position was a logical consequence of union with the social democratic left. From one concession to another, it all ended in new forms of organization (so-called “Bolshevikation”) which, importing the Russian system’s formula of party cells linked to the place of work, eliminated the consolidated formula of organization according to territorial sections. Lastly, new tactical formulations arose on the basis of which, since the seizing of power no longer appeared to be imminent, “left-wing” governments were to be favoured in individual countries, in the consideration that in a régime of democratic freedom a “friendly government” could represent a favourable condition for a revolutionary recovery. On the contrary, the Marxist thesis was (is and will be) that revolutionary recovery may occur or not occur, independently of one bourgeois regime or the other, because the only real condition for revolution is that the communist party should maintain its political and organizational independence in the face of all others, whether or not they refer more or less explicitly to the working-class movement.
6. The turnaround: Germany 1923
In the history of the revolutionary movement, Germany in 1923 represented the last chance, an exceptionally favourable one, to win power. The defeat, which came with practically no fighting, created in the masses a lack of confidence in the organs of leadership that was to mark the collapse of the German organization and open up a phase of direct clashes with the International and within the Russian party, finally smoothing the way for Stalinism. With this began the tremendous wave of counter revolution that has swept the proletariat up until today.
The spectacular crash of the mark (in April 1922 the exchange rate was one dollar for 1000 marks; in September, one for 60 million), the social uproar in the areas occupied by France after the Versailles Treaty, the great spontaneous strikes, the abandonment of the unions, rightly accused of selling out to the bosses, were elements in a profound economic and social crisis, which demanded intervention not only by the German party but also by the central organisms of the International. Undecided on all counts, from the significance that should be attributed to the situation (revolutionary or not?) to the sense that should be given to the formula “government of the workers” (dictatorship or elections?) and the tactics to follow (agreements with the centre parties or independent action?), the leaders came to the conclusion that an alliance should be sought with the petit bourgeoisie in order to defeat fascism (Radek), that in all events it was necessary to be at the ready, because the time was ripe (Brandler) and that, indeed, it might be imagined that the moment would come within only a few weeks (Zinoviev). At the decisive moment, of course, the alliance with the social democrats broke up and they vanished from the scene, leaving only the communist party. Negative evaluation of this retreat, which would supposedly lose the support of the masses (?) led to the signal being given to withdraw without firing a shot. The disastrous outcome of the German October set off a “hunt for the guilty” in the International, initiating what was, in a few years’ time, to become a method: that of forced self criticism, confessions and informers. The German question, which naturally occupied much of the International’s Vth Congress, being held some months after the failure, saw the formation of the system of small divisions and respective alliances. Against Trotsky, who had stepped in at the end of 1923 with all the weight of his authority on the serious political and economic problems that had arisen in the Russian party, a campaign of denigration was unleashed which found an echo in the whole of the international communist press, seeing the executor of this heritage in Stalin some years later. To this campaign Trotsky replied in the admirable pages of the Lessons of October and the New Course, only finding full support in the “Italian” communist Left. The time had now come for the “German question” to be transformed, falling back inexorably onto the Russian question.
7. The Russian question
By opening up an extremely serious international crisis, the defeat of the German Revolution condemned the young republic of the Soviets to isolation. This scenario, already considered by the Bolsheviks as the worst possible, was to make it impossible for Russia to hold out long against the siege (not only by armies but also and above all by western goods and capital). According to Lenin it would perhaps have been possible to resist for twenty years; according to Trotsky for fifty; no-one considered it possible to “build socialism” alone, especially in a backward country devastated first by a world war and then by a civil one.
The destiny of soviet Russia was thus bound, everyone agreed on this, to the outcome of the revolution in the more advanced areas of Europe. As has been seen, delay in forming the revolutionary avant-gardes, their consequent serious theoretical (and thence tactical) hesitation, the strong hold still exercised by petit bourgeois opportunist ideology on wide sectors of the proletariat, the following boasted by the yellow unions, always ready to sell out the fight in exchange for some concession or other, the eternal trick of democracy, failure to understand the nature and functions of fascism and thus the recourse to incorrect methods of opposition, all this contributed to breaking the links between Europe and soviet Russia.
Meanwhile, in Russia some extremely serious crises had occurred both politically and economically. Starting with the approval of the NEP, which was evidently and necessarily a “route towards capitalism” and a highly dangerous concession to the bourgeois elements operating freely and in full swing mainly in the field of small-scale production and exchange, the party questioned itself on how the changed and unfavourable relationships with the middle classes could be dealt with without giving up the communist programme. After the defeat of the German revolution, with the hope of cementing the Russian revolution with a European one vanishing, Trotsky identified (in the vigorous pages of the New Course, 1924, and a series of articles written between 1923 and 1925) the key problem of the party’s economic policy in the urgent need to maintain a balance between town and country. It was from the absence of this balance that the bourgeois intermediaries, traders and small industrialists drew vital lymph. The threat had to be limited and confined byreorganizing the big state industries, in a flexible way and without recourse to forced planning. The analysis was certainly correct but in the long term destined to succumb: the economic and class pressure of the petit bourgeoisie (traders, urban and rural) could gradually be overcome by encouraging the development and growth of big national capital but the latter would, in the end, impose its rights by taking on a very different guise to that of an impossible “economic socialism”.
Since 1926 in the “Lyons Theses” the “Italian” communist Left had expressed a clear position on the dangers that threatened and their reflection on the new forms of class struggle in the party. In the Theses, the Left denounced the “counbter-revolutionary plans based on on internal factors (rich peasants, new bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie) and external factors (imperialist powers)”. And continued thus: “Whether this plans assume the form of internal or of external aggression, or a progressive sabotage and deflection of Russian social life and state, which will lead them on a slow involution ending in a complete loss of all their proletarian features”, whatever might be the case, the urgent need was of a “close collaboration and the contribution of all the parties in the International”, in order to give back to Russia what Russia had given Europe in terms of revolutionary energy in previous years .
The IIIrd Congress of the Italian Communist Party, which was held in Lyons itself from 20th to 26th January 1926, represents one of the most dramatic peaks in the history of the international workers’ movement. The clash between the Left and Centre of the party sums up the whole process of involution that had struck soviet Russia and the International and reflected on the situation in Italy. For years the central party leadership had been adopting a policy of disciplinary sanctions, subtle manoeuvres, threats towards criticisms from the left, according to a practice that was, in a short space of time, to become intolerable. The reactions of the Left were certainly not based on an appeal to illusory “internal democracy”: “Just as the solution is not to be found in the empty exasperation of hierarchical authoritarianism […], it is not to be found in a systematic application of the principles of formal democracy […]. The communist parties must create an organic centralism, which, through maximum consultation of the rank and file, ensures the spontaneous elimination of any grouping that tends to differentiate itself. This cannot be achieved through formal and mechanical hierarchical decrees, but, as Lenin has stated, only through correct revolutionary politics”. After having noted serious lapses of a tactical and organizational nature, the issue of the party-class relationships and economic action was tackled. In this area, the previous year (1925), the Vth Congress of the International had imposed the fusion of the Red Trade Unions International with the hated Unions International of Amsterdam, which had always been “considered not as an organism of the proletarian masses but a counter-revolutionary political organ of the League of Nations. At one point, because of considerations that were certainly important but limited mainly to the project of making use of the English left-wing union movement, it was opposed that the Red Trade Unions International would be abandoned and unite with the Unions International of Amsterdam” . The (foreseeable) result was to further disorientate the proletarian masses and the effects were soon, and catastrophically, to be felt.
8. England 1926
After the failure of economic agreements with England in summer 1924, Russia focused with greater attention on the formation (in April 1925) of a joint Anglo-Russian Committee, created in order to promote the unity of the international union movement on the basis of the recent directives from the International. After some years in which it had been thought that the social situation everywhere was favourable to a revolutionary outbreak (the Executive of the International had even approved the theory of the offensive) , with the defeat of the revolutionary movement in Germany the idea had started to spread that capitalism itself was starting a phase of economic and social stabilization. For this reason, the policy of the united front was to be strengthened as much as possible, neglecting no opportunity for regaining the favour of the masses. In England the conditions for such a policy were not only favourable but had, in practice, been in place for some time. The English communist party had always been positioned to the right: unique in Europe, it had not arisen out of one or more breaks with reformists but out of the fusion of elements coming mostly from the Labour movement; in its 1924 congress it declared that “The Communist Party does not attack the Labour Party. The Communist Party makes every effort to make the Labour Party into a useful organ of workers in the fight against capitalism […] The Communist Party considers it its duty to enter the files of the Labour Party in order to strengthen the militant and combative elements.”
Moreover England boasted a tradition unknown in any other European country in the field of economic struggles. A certain understanding of Marxism was experienced by the grassroot workers in many areas of the island not as theory but as actual practice in terms of the organization of circles, libraries, fights and class solidarity. Highly militant proletarian groups, such as the shop stewards and the anarchist-unionists, contributed to keeping social tension high, albeit in a confused and politically dubious manner.
Pressure from the unions and in particular from the miners’ union had obtained some successes in terms of wages . Nonetheless the announcement of the general strike on 3rd May 1926 did not make much difference to the prospects of the English party, which advanced its own “claims”: nationalization of the mines, control by the workers, a Labour government. No reference to a fight explicitly directed towards the seizing of power, no indication of an independent struggle but, on the contrary, complete subordination to the Labour Party. Two days after the beginning of the strike (which, it is as well to remember, saw five millionexasperated workers engaged in the struggle, in some cases well organized in independent militant committees), the International for its own part stated in its appeals that “a united working class front should be opposed to it […] the immediate creation of united action committees will be proposed to the social democrats by all sections of the Communist International, in order to support the struggle of the English workers” , demonstrating once again that the lessons of Hungary and Germany, where the search for unity with enemy parties at all costs had inevitably led to catastrophe, had served no purpose whatsoever. The strike was called off by the Trade Unions nine days after it had started, without any agreement having been obtained, even though it had involved the miners’ being followed by practically all categories of workers, and at the very moment when big new contingents of workers were about to join the fight. Only the miners, who had represented the bullet-head of the movement, continued the strike for some weeks, finally giving up arms. The grandiose strike of 1926 which, according to Trotsky, was to start off “the mass movement shifting to an openly revolutionary phase”, concluded with a serious defeat for the whole of the European movement. Thus it was with defeat that a formidable series of battles arising at the end of the war came to an end.
The Anglo-Russian Committee, created to cement the action of the unions in Russia to those in England, carried out no further action, other than attaching itself as closely as possible to the Trade Union bandwagon, declared supporters of the yellow union International of Amsterdam, one of the pillars of the “progressive” European bourgeoisie. The upholding of an attitude of open collaboration with the Trade Unions Council during the strike, at the very moment when it was clearly preparing to put an end to State intervention (also that of the police), making use of the Committee as a cover for the betrayal of the rebellious working class masses, represents the first significant worldwide result of the policy of compromise with the enemy which was Stalinism. Fiercely defending his policy of protecting Russian interests and of making alliances with enemy parties, Stalin explained as follows the tactics of the united front a few weeks after the end of the strike: “If the reactionary English unions are ready to form a coalition with the revolutionary unions in our country against the counter-revolutionary imperialism in their own country, why should this block not be approved?”, to which Trotsky replied: “If ‘reactionary unions’ were able to fight against their own imperialists, they would not be reactionary.”.
Thus ended the struggles in Europe and decades of involution and counter-revolution began. The policy of “alliances” with the enemy extended to the entire planet and took concrete and criminal shape in the Chinese question.
9. China 1926-27
The series of revolts, marked by a peasant, anti-imperial spirit, which agitated the waters of the Celestial Empire in the XIXth century continued right up to the start of the XXth. The Boxer revolt (1899-1901) was animated by a strong element of popular feeling and xenophobia, caused by years of abuses by western powers. In the meantime, foreign occupation fostered the foundation of the first industrial structures and the concentration of proletarian masses in the coastal cities. In fact, the greediest of the Chinese bourgeoisie was not to be found at the head of the factories (mostly controlled by western personnel) but rather in the centres of trade, where they reaped the fruits of the robbery carried out in conjunction with the European, Japanese and American imperialists. When, in 1911, new social movements began, they lacked a true base amongst the people, because the bourgeoisie, through Sun-Yat-Sen, had already found the way to its own development, thanks to an alliance with the foreign powers. The latter were to provide the capital, China the workforce. It can clearly be seen that this “programme” was successful – a success guaranteed by the eighty years of “communism” … Chinese flavour.
To achieve one of the basic principles of his 1923 programme, that of national independence, Sun-Yat-Sen turned to Russia and to the Chinese communist party. In Russia from 1924 onwards, it was to find sensitive ears in the dawn of Stalinism; the following year in China came an alliance between the CCP and the political organ of the bourgeoisie (the Kuomintang), strictly in line with a Stalinist application of the “united front” concept. Clearly, the prime need of the Chinese bourgeoisie was to build something that would function as a united state: an internal market was needed, a system of protection against invasion by foreign goods and a repressive apparatus that would defend it from social disorder. What the empire had not managed to do in the mid XIXth century (“in eight years the British bourgeoisie’s bales of cotton [have] brought the most ancient and established empire in the world to the verge of a social uprising,” Marx wrote in 1850) the bourgeoisie now managed. But on what conditions, in view of the fact that it was just as necessary for western imperialism to maintain its iron hold on China?
Already during the discussion on the “Theses on the national and colonial question,” at the IInd Congress of the International (1920) , the Chinese bourgeoisie had been marked out as particularly cowardly, ready to betray its own interests as a national class, to make agreements with the greediest imperialist powers. The proletariat was thus warned, indeed exhorted, to organize itself independently, in order to conclude the fight against the bourgeois and democratic movement. “Conclude”: i.e. fight without quarter against those parties that held this as their point of reference, so that the political aims of this movement should not be reached (the constituent assembly, institutional democracy, free elections) but swept away when the time was ripe to seize power independently and alone, in order to exert its own class dictatorship. The main tasks with which history presented China were national independence and agricultural reform. Without the former China would be well on the way to becoming a permanent prey for imperialism. Without the latter no industrial development could take place.
How would the social classes confront one another when faced with these enormously important problems? The imperial caste would align with its bureaucratic apparatus, the feudal lords and the clergy, to defend a thousand years of privileges. The republican bourgeoisie would endeavour to practise a policy of compromise with the revolutionaries and at the same time with the monarchy. The revolutionary democratic bourgeoisie, whose exponent was Sun-Yat-Sen, would fight to destroy all traces of feudalism, adopting energetic measures in the area of agriculture, right up to the nationalization of land. This would mean not real “socialism” but the elimination of absolute rent, leaving differential rent intact . Thus maximum freedom in the commercial exchange of land, maximum adaptation to the development of agricultural capitalism. Faced with all this, the proletariat already concentrated in foreign concessionaries in some of the big cities, had to maintain its independence from the revolutionary democratic bourgeoisie. Its task was to take over the destiny of the democratic revolution and force it to the point of a dictatorship together with the peasant masses, against all other social classes.
In this respect the “Theses on the national and colonial question” could not have been clearer: Thesis 6 of the “complementary Theses”, having observed the oppression under which the majority of the population suffered, affirmed that, consequently, “the first step in the revolution must consist in eliminating this. Thus, support for the fight to overthrow foreign dominion over the colonies does not mean approving the nationalist aspirations of the home bourgeoisie; it means instead smoothing the path for the emancipation of the proletariat in the colonies.” Thesis 8, examining the issue of agriculture and after having correctly recalled thatthe aspirations of the peasants cannot help being petit-bourgeois and reformist, concludes: “But it does not necessarily follow that the direction of the colonies should be in the hands of the bourgeois democrats. On the contrary, there must be intense propaganda for communist ideas by the proletarian parties and, as soon as possible, the creation of workers’ and peasants’ councils [which will work] to bring about the final collapse of the capitalist regime throughout the world.” .
The lapses of the International in the years to come, in imposing on their sections pacts with reformist parties (as long as they were “socialist” and “workers” of course!), made it impossible for communist parties already on shaky ground at the moment of their foundation to clarify their positions. We have seen that this policy led to serious defeats in Germany in October 1923 and in England in 1926. It remains to be seen how the application of the directives came to determine a huge catastrophe in the whole of the anti-colonial movement.
From 1924 onwards the PCC was already oriented towards an alliance with the Kuomintang (KMT), or the democratic bourgeois party. According to the International the reasons for this step lay in purely tactical considerations: the KMT was not a political party but the manifestation of a four-party block; the PCC was weak in terms of numbers and would gain greater political weight with the alliance; lastly, the tactics of alliance were at this stage amply practised by the International, as has been seen in Europe. In his impressive analysis of events in China, Trotsky would show that all this had nothing to do with tactics but was a question of principle .
The dramatic turnaround of the International meant that it was impossible to unite the revolts in colonial countries to the world proletarian movement, condemning China to catastrophe. Instead of launching the slogan: “Power to the Soviets!”, party members were ordered to stick to the four-class block - something the KMT willingly accepted, demanding, of course, that support be given individually and not as a party. Having nullified the enormous internal revolutionary potential, all international links were finally broken, through a policy identical to the one that had led the English strike to failure in the same period.
The group that dictated the policy of the International at the time took Stalin as their point of reference but its theorists were those old-guard Bolsheviks who ten years or so later were to be shot as traitors. In practice, what was betrayed was the revolutionary programme set in motion by Lenin in Russia as a “dual revolution”, which should have been implemented in China, too. Like the Russian bourgeoisie before them, the Chinese would not prove capable of concluding their revolution: for them, the enemy to be defeated (as would soon become evident in Shanghai and Canton, with the massacre of thousands of communists) was the revolutionary proletariat, and thus it took decades for timid forms of capitalism to develop in the country areas of China. The policy of the International aimed to demonstrate that in China “conditions” were different from those in Russia under the Zar: the differences were supposed to consist in greater backwardness amongst the peasant masses and in the fact that, unlike Russia, China was a country occupied by foreign powers. Consequently, what would happen would be a “revolution by stages”,exactly what the Mensheviks had argued against Lenin: the argument was that, because of the imperialist yoke, the Chinese bourgeoisie “had to” be more revolutionary than their Russian counterparts under the Zar and this was why they would provide positive support for the workers’ movement. These crazy hypotheses, as Trotsky was to explain, failed to see that, precisely because of the business relations that had for years been established with the imperialist powers, the Chinese bourgeoisie was bound to them hand and foot and would certainly assume a counter-revolutionary stance when history imposed a mobilization of all the social classes. As in Zarist Russia, in China the proletariat and the classes allied with them on a revolutionary level, would have to find a completely independent policy and a cast-iron party organization, able to guide them through the complex events of the “dual revolution”. In other words, their task was to achieve objectives of economic and social-democratic content, thus not communist, yet perfectly communist in terms of political content, with the establishment of a proletarian class dictatorship.
Thus, in Russia as in China, the international revolution would do away with all the other complex aspects linked to an objective delay in history. The epilogue to the unhappy policy imposed by the Stalinized International has been explained several times in these pages . The CCP was forced to accept the agreement with Chang-Kai-Shek and, as a consequence, the party had to surrender its arms to the KMT. Only then were the gates of the striking cities thrown open (Shanghai, Canton) and the bourgeois counter-revolution unleashed its full rage against the mass of proletarians, workers, small-scale craftsmen, who had managed to resist for days and months, awaiting from the International an order to attack that was no longer to come. The consequent bloodbath was a reminder of the Paris Commune but on a large scale. The difference being that there the heroic and spontaneous fight by the proletariat came up against its own immaturity and the indecision of what was the beginning of the revolutionary proletariat as an independent force on the world scenario: its defeat provided the revolutionary party with certain and permanent indications in terms of revolutionary theory and practice and in this sense transformed it into a huge victory. Instead here, in China, failure came despite the clear and precise indications that the previous ten years had handed down to communists through an almost uninterrupted series of successful or unsuccessful revolutionary rebellions: failure came when faced with the grinning mask of imperialism, camouflaged beneath the disguise of the triumphant Stalinist counter-revolution. Even today, almost one hundred years later, we are paying the high price of this defeat.
10. The battle of the Left: fascism and anti-fascism
We have seen the international development of the proletarian struggles and the initial hesitation and then changes of direction of the organ (the Third International) that was supposed to guide them. We must now turn our attention to the clashes that this hesitation and these changes of direction generated within the national sections of the International. We shall deal mainly with the developments and consequences that these struggles produced in the Italian CP which, in the crucial years from 1921-1926, was the theatre of a theoretical battle, the outcome of which hastened the dismissal of those premises which were supposed to be the basis of capitalism’s worldwide defeat. Of course all this has been recalled time and again in our own press but it is always as well for it to be repeated for the benefit of our readers and the younger generations, who have only a slight or imprecise knowledge of us . Just as a general state of crisis and poverty amongst the proletarian masses is not sufficient for a revolution – and the events of the recent past and present demonstrate this – instead the presence of a solid and compact organization (the party) in close contact with the masses is essential to guide the struggles, which are hesitant and easy prey for ideological enemies, in the right direction, that of revolution. In the same way, for counter-revolution the physical elimination of this party, by means of imprisonment and summary executions, is indispensable. This is generally preceded by a more or less lengthy period in which the hostile ideology is inoculated into the rank and file of the revolutionary organizations in order to detach the masses from the party, in an attempt to make it impossible for the latter to maintain the firm strategy and tactics which, alone, lead to victory. This is the operation that is the task of the bourgeois State’s servants, whether they be called reformists, social democrats, Christian socialists, social pacifists or unilateral supporters of anti-violence. In Italy in the early post-war period, faced with the mounting wave of revolution, these destructive germs managed to infect large masses of proletarians, who failed to see in the reformism of Turati or the maximalism of Serrati an anticipation of certain defeat, when the time came for the bourgeoisie to start its armed counter-attack.
The foundation of the national fascist Party at the beginning of November 1921 was met by the Roman proletariat with a huge general strike of almost a week and by the communist Party with a series of articles that emphasized with strict Marxist rigour on the one hand its total lack of programming and confused ideology and, on the other, its organizational and military capacity. The analysis meant to demonstrate how the First World War and then the great workers’ battles had annulled the liberal doctrine of the bourgeois state, according to which “we are” the state and it guarantees “equal rights” to everyone: the enemy of the liberal state was thus considered a criminal guilty of violating the social pact. Despite being so abstract, this ideology was proclaimed to the four points of the compass by its supporters, even though they had no hesitation in shooting at their opponents. But with the new phase that had been opened up by the advent of capitalist imperialism, the interests of domestic capitalism, to which all classes had to be subjected, stood out glaringly. The bourgeois state was the tool ready and waiting to intervene in terms of political, economic and military organization, in the most violent and repressive manner possible. The transformation of the liberal state into a fascist state was thus no “revolution” and not even a “reaction”. It was not a revolution because it did not modify either the economic or class power structure, which were to remain completely dominated by the dictatorship of capital over salaried work and of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. It was not a reaction because it was in no way the expression of a pre-bourgeois class.
On this basis, the theoretical position of the Italian CP was clearly moulded: revolutionary opposition to any form of bourgeois state – liberal, democratic or fascist – should not lead to any wavering when faced with the sirens of social democracy, always ready to come to terms with the enemy (if possible even with the fascist enemy, at least as long as the latter agreed: and in fact the champions of socialist reform – Bacci and Morgari in the lead – would rush to put their signatures to the “pacification agreement” with Mussolini as early as August 1921, after months of violence and anti-worker massacres). The proletarian bloodbath in which the newborn Weimar Republic had just been baptized in Germany – with the German social democrats in attendance but blessed by all those who were part of the bourgeois world – had no need of further confirmation: as fascism in Italy was to flourish from the roots of Giolitti’s liberalism, so in Germany its national-socialist counterpart would be fuelled by a series of “broad coalition” governments, to which the vain “workers’ governments” could only oppose all the fragility of their theoretical confusion, consequently immersed in “practice” and, as had already been experienced, in defeat. Being contrary to alliances against “common enemies” was thus not a theoretical luxury of the communist Left. It was an absolute necessity, so as not to abandon arms and resources to the enemy in the name of defending some presumed democratic freedom which, on the contrary, should have been destroyed together with the whole of the economic and social system that nurtured it. Even if this policy had seen the party in a minority, its intransigent position would nevertheless have remained as the only path possible, clearly visible to a proletariat which, if defeated today, would have made its voice heard tomorrow.
What appeared in 1921 as the right formula (a united proletarian front), even if it had to be carefully managed, a year later became the subject of an open battle between the communist Left and the International: faced with a series of defeats (so declared the latter, well supported by the German party), tactics should be managed so as to save the strength of a left-wing area in which everyone was welcome. Fascism was not the expression of a counter-revolution but the psychological expression of discontent by the petit bourgeoisie in the grip of the general economic crisis. This was the class, said the leadership of the International, that should be led towards an alliance with the proletariat; and if the political expression of the half-classes was represented by socialist parties, it was with them that united, anti-fascist action could be achieved, with the formation of “workers’ governments” made up of social democrats, with the external support (and here perhaps the leadership of the International still felt a twinge of shame!) of the communists.
As can be seen, out of a mistaken analysis of class relations at a given moment of history and of the advent and significance of fascism, a catastrophic tactical conclusion is fatally reached, destined to shift the whole movement onto the slippery ground of inter-classism. The conclusion of this process is inexorably to be found, ten years or so later, in the construction of the “popular fronts”: from class war to the war to defend the national bourgeois state, the quintessence of victorious Stalinism.
As has been explained, the difference in position between the Left and the International arose mainly out of the fact that the former were unwilling to permit “local” tactical, or national, issues to be dealt with and solved as in a federation (“each for himself”). It had been this practice that had led not only to the failure of the IInd International and its support for national defence policies in the world war, but was also the furthest imaginable from the needs of revolution, which required central organization and clarification of all aspects of action, adhering closely to the principles of Marxism. Swerving off course or making mistakes in this area (it was constantly emphasized) would mean firstly a return of localism and fragmentation and, in the long term, the impossibility of assuming the correct position towards the growing difficulties that the counter-revolution was preparing worldwide.
The attempt not to lose contact with the masses was a problem of tactics: but, instead of addressing the working-class masses, the policy of the “united front” was to try and involve parties that were not communist and thus not revolutionary and ended by generating the policy of the “workers’ governments” – a totally mistaken tactic, the effect of which was to disarm what remained of Europe’s communist parties, re-introducing in practice (in words the leaders of the International did not wish to admit this) the formation of social-communist blocks, where the doors were opened up to one parliament or another. What the International in Moscow imposed on the national sections in the name of “Bolshevisation”, a mere shadow of the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik-type party organization, was supposed to be the solution to the issue of tactics – establishing closer ties with the class. Basically, parties that had up until then been organized on a territorial basis were supposed, according to the new 1925 directives, to re-shape their organization on the basis of factory cells. This meant calling into question the whole of the parties’ internal lives, with regard both to their basic organization and to the way in which the political directives coming from the central party organs could be or should be discussed on its outer edges.
We shall not go into a detailed analysis of the reasons why the Left opposed organization by factory cells, except to recall that a truly communist party mustovercome any limit imposed by the organization of capitalist work (these are, instead, limits within which organizations making immediate economic or sectorial claims move, something which also prevents them reaching a truly revolutionary vision) and its work must develop in all sectors of society, regardless of the social division of labour. But with “Bolshevisation” the International, now close to de-railing, wished to impose on local communist leaderships a far more dangerous method, developing in full harmony with the triumph of Stalinism and which the Left recognized immediately: the new form of organization took shape through an “omnipotent network of officials, selected using the criterion of blind obedience to a formula that was meant to be Leninism; a tactical and political method, under the illusion that it created the maximum executive response to the most unexpected instructions and in a historical perspective of world communist action in which the last word was always to be found in the precedents of the Russian party interpreted by a privileged group of comrades.”. In this way the left-wing leadership of the Italian CP – whose leaders were in prison – was replaced by a new centre; in the same way and in the same year (1923), in Saxony, the tactics of the fight were established by the central organs of the International, only to place the blame on the German centre, once defeat had come.
12. The twisting paths of the International’s policy
The 180° oscillations in tactics were actually a constant feature of the International’s politics in that dramatic decade, which opened with the surge of revolutionary uprisings in Hungary, Germany and Italy and concluded with the practice of expulsions, trials within the parties, replacement of “left-wings” with “right-wings” and vice-versa, when these seemed to be an advantage for tactical reasons. At its IIIrd Congress in 1921, some sections of the International (amongst them the Italian delegation, whose spokesman, Terracini, completely misrepresented the positions of the Left) first proclaimed the “theory of the offensive”, which encouraged the communist parties that had just formed in Europe to push the revolutionary process as hard as possible, formulating the principle of direct, violent confrontation. This truly infantile position (which was rightly opposed by Lenin during the debates in the Congress, just as the leadership of the Italian CP opposed it in its “Rome Theses” of 1922) was assumed by the International only a couple of years later, as has been seen in relation to the German question. The communist Left continued the fight against this infantile “left-wing” deviation on its own after the death of Lenin, in 1924 and in 1926, just as it had done in 1922, on the basis of the fact that, if the “theory of the offensive” was supposed to “win over the masses” or maintain a majority of them in the party, it did, however, introduce a further bend towards democracy in revolutionary action, which would then take its place alongside that of the united fronts (destined to be the winners) and social democratic alliances. In this situation we developed the prediction that “if, objectively, the situation is no longer revolutionary, the party must agree to be less influential and less numerous, just so long as it does not change its nature” . It was against the danger that tactical solutions would be sought in the International to compensate for the lack of theoretical unity that the Left fought incessantly, from an increasingly minority position but always adhering to Marxist principles, in defence of their revolutionary heritage; the idea that, as soon as it was formed, the party would fling itself, brandishing arms, into an open battle to gain power was not part of this. As we wrote later, “We have no more esteem for the phrase make a revolution than we do for build socialism […] socialism is not built, revolutions are not made, the party is not founded, but all these processes determined by history defend themselves against the endless snares of the capitalist world and the real revolution is the one that gives expression to proletarian feeling against the worst of the traps. The left is distinguished by the certainty that the worst danger is not (over time) the priest, the baron, the fascist, the monopolizer or whoever else they may invent but petit bourgeois pacifist democracy” . In the same way it should also be said that obviously the question, debated so long at the summits of the International, of the party “winning over the masses” was wrongly formulated, since the masses are not “something to be won over”: it would be more accurate to say that in the course of the historical drama the masses move left or right under the pressure of different and contradictory processes, due to the ease with which they can be penetrated by the dominant ideology, the flattery of social reformism, conditioning from their material lives and from crises, and may finally, to a greater or lesser degree, come under the influence of the party’s slogans, at least insofar as it has managed to identify and clearly map the historical path of the revolution and take fierce action to defend its contacts with the class.
Less than five years had passed since these first zigzags when, in 1928, the International, throwing out all the criticisms it had made use of, with the full support of Gramsci’s new leadership of the Italian CP ranged against the Left, launched the slogan of “social fascism” at the confused masses. Times had changed and in Russia Stalinism had now gained the upper hand over any form of opposition to the regime: however, as can be seen, inconsistent tactics had been inherited from the previous years. It was thus decided to uphold the need to fight both the fascists and the social democrats, as different expressions of bourgeois class power and the communists were not to choose one or the other. Whilst in Germany the Stalinist leadership did nothing in practice to fight against the rise of fascism, Trotsky again vigorously supported the formula of the anti-nazi block, consistently remaining true to his earlier position of anti-fascist alliances in Italy. Just as firmly, the Left confirmed the necessity that nothing be conceded to the flattery of the united fronts, foreseeing that even Stalinism’s swerve to the “left” would inevitably end in national blocks and popular fronts, the precursors of the new holy alliances with the “home” bourgeoisie in defence of the country’s “own” sacred borders in the new world war.
13. “Socialism in a single country”
The hesitation that characterised even the best years of the International did not come about by chance. On reading the reports of the first Congresses, it can be seen that not a year goes by without some particular “local” issue arising: Italian, German, Russian, colonial, etc.. Why, only two years after it was formed, did a series of problems arise linked to one national section or the other? The communists of the time were perfectly aware of the reasons for the fragility of the Second International, its shortcomings from a tactical-organizational point of view, its marked federalist characteristics, its tendency towards local independence: all aspects that determined its inglorious end and its joint responsibility for the world slaughter that began in August 1914. It is a great merit of those communists that they did search for a centralized worldwide organizational solution which would avoid repeating the previous errors. If it did not prove possible to obtain the firm stance that everyone hoped for at the time, this is partly due to the haste in many cases to break away from the democratic mainstream rooted in the old socialist parties – a haste that did not allow that process of progressive and rigorous clarification of the party’s programmes that had instead been possible first in the Russian social democratic party and then in the Bolshevik party. It was this haste that prevented the formation of real organizational unity and ended with the rapid burnout of Europe’s revolutionary impetuses, with the concentration of the leadership of the whole movement in Russia, which still appeared, after the dramatic German failure in 1923, as the starting point for a new and final attack on the world bourgeoisie.
We have already seen that Russia was experiencing a period of serious internal political and economic crisis in those years. However, in its attempt to respond to the economic difficulties, the NEP caused a series of new problems related to the “gap” that opened up between agricultural and industrial production. From this moment onwards several positions formed with respect to the political difficulties, soon becoming antagonistic to one another and giving rise to opposing sides: from the so-called “workers’ opposition” claiming more democracy in the party to Trotsky’s “left”, which Zinoviev and Kamenev would later cling to, from Bucharin’s “right” to a “centre” that was difficult to distinguish because it totally lacked any clearly expressed policy. In this context, the task assigned by the European parties to Moscow of taking international strategic decisions meant burdening it with a responsibility it no longer had: “the pyramid should be upturned,” as the Left did not fail to demand urgently at the Vth Congress of the International, in the sense that the enormous help that Russia had given the international movement up to then, in the context of the communist parties’ process of clarification, should now have been returned by the European parties and they should have taken on the task of facing the new dangers threatening from within. These dangers rested in the enormous imbalance between an urban and industrial proletariat in serious difficulty because of the collapse of industry as a consequence of the world war and the civil strife, and an immense mass of peasants who, having been an ally for the brief period in which power was seized, had rapidly and necessarily been transformed into an enemy. It is in this “local” context that “Stalinism” takes clear shape, for the first time, as a counter-revolutionary doctrine. The thesis always upheld by the communists, that no socialism would be possible in a besieged and backward Russia without the decisive contribution of the revolutionary proletariat in the West, was replaced by that of a Russia firmly in the hands of the communist party and ready to start out on a process of super-industrialization that would demonstrate the superiority of this economy compared to that of the West, through its cast-iron five-year plans: Stalinist “communism” would win the challenge to imperialist capitalism by means of increased productivity.
It was during the VIth General Executive Committee meeting of the International, in February 1926, that the clash between the communist Left and Stalin clearly brought to light the fact that a point of no return had been reached on the issue of the relations between Russia-International-world revolution. During one session, Stalin advanced a series of non-Marxist positions that were to mark the whole course of the counter-revolution which bears his name: 1) that whoever holds power can guide development either in a socialist direction or in a capitalist one (a true idiocy in Marxist terms!) ; 2) that the development of the Russian economy and the development of the revolution in Europe would coincide (which was senseless, unless it was meant to be the justification for the new doctrine of “socialism in a single country”); 3) that only the Russian party should deal with “Russian questions”, for the bizarre reason that “the western Parties are not yet ready to discuss them” (which sounds dangerously like the confirmation that from that moment onwards international revolutionary unity was swept away once and for all by the superior interests of the Russian State and economy).
Yet what happened was not inevitable: this need not necessarily have been the path of history, with the tragedy that struck the course of international revolution. With the seizing of power by the communist party in Russia, two paths were open: “the internal degeneration of the power apparatus (State and party) adjusting to administer capitalistic forms and declaring the abandonment of expectations for world revolution (as happened), or the Marxist party remaining in power for a long period, directly committed to sustaining revolutionary proletarian struggles in all foreign countries and declaring, with the courage shown by Lenin, that the internal forms of socialism remained largely capitalist (and pre-capitalist)”. What inevitably came, with the abandonment of the flag of internationalism by Stalinized parties, was the bankruptcy of the whole movement, the violent uprooting and massacre of those who tried to resist, the transformation of the fight against all capitalist bourgeoisies into that of a Russia setting off along the path of forced rhythms of capitalist accumulation which it shamefully passed off as “communism”.
14. The initial years of revolution
We must thus look at how “Stalinism” came to impose itself on the Russian economy. In other words at class relations and the relations of the Russian state (which had by now lost any connotation of soviet) with the advanced capitalist countries, in the course of the terrible process of capital accumulation that was, in the intentions of its leaders, to have led Russia to be the leading country in the world in terms of productivity: something that failed both in industry and, even more so, in agriculture and which would, in any case, have demonstrated not the superiority of the communist economy over the imperialist, but simply that in Russia no sort of communist economy had been achieved .
A first point to establish is that after the seizing of power by the Bolshevik party, the problem of managing the economy in the dramatic context of a civil war posed itself with supreme urgency. The dominant aspect could obviously not be the gradual reorganization of an economy ruined by the war and backward in almost all its vital parts, especially in agriculture. Instead, it was military and all the economic efforts of the newly born Republic had to work towards sustaining fragile state structures and most of all the need for the Red Army. The support for the working class in cities came in second place. Although all this did not contain a single element typical of what communist society will be, it was later defined as war communism, originating a legend that would be taken up again years later by the Russian Stalinist leaders .
Having victoriously concluded military operations, the whole problem of economic restructuring posed itself differently and with the maximum urgency, and was tackled by Lenin in the courageous declarations of the NEP, an economic policy which did not, in any of its famous five points, promise to “build socialism” but, in the best of hypotheses, gradually succeed in laying the bases for socialism, which (explains Lenin in On Taxes in Kind, 1921) can only mean overcoming the enormous resistance to state control by the small craftsmen or peasant owners. It was thus necessary to fight in order to overcome the phenomenon of small-scale production for trading, which dominated large areas of society, and gradually move the economy towards a form of state capitalism – at least in certain sectors – under the firm political control of the party. This was therefore the main concern in the context of economic reorganization at the time: to overcome small-scale production and commerce, even to the advantage of private capitalism. They are both our enemies, as Lenin said, but the former is far more dangerous than the latter, because it is further away from socialism in terms of history and reflects a pre-capitalist world. “Capitalism is a bane compared with socialism. Capitalism is a boon compared with medievalism, small production, and the evils of bureaucracy which spring from the dispersal of the small producers” .
Thus, to develop capitalism as against small-scale production, affirms Lenin in 1921, is the prime task of the communists and this is perfectly in line with what has always been argued by Marxism in countries where capitalist development is not yet complete, as, for example, Germany in 1848 (“The communist party fights alongside the bourgeoisie each time the latter takes up a revolutionary stance against absolute monarchy, feudal property and a reactionary petit bourgeoisie”) . In Russia it was no longer a question of independently supporting the class struggle of the bourgeoisie against a feudal regime, since power was now firmly in the hands of the communists; the enormous problem arising for the first time in the history of the communist movement was: how was it possible to fight against these backward enemy classes, without running the risk of losing power? The only answer, as everyone agreed at the time, was: only by seizing power in the more advanced countries, whose developed economy would give Russia what she needed in order to catch up rapidly on the historical phases of her own backwardness.
Contrary to the clear formulations made at that time, widespread discussion began on what was the best way to achieve NEP. Some saw compromises in it with respect to the ideal of fully developed socialism. Others protested in the name of democratic freedom. Others again believed that it was an attack on the working class, the only class that should be managing power without any concessions.
15. Contrasts in the Russian party
The first of these discussions was fuelled by the so-called “Workers’ Opposition”, which represented a tendency then widespread in Europe and which was to return and impede the party’s work in future revolutions. According to their theories, the economy should be managed by the producers and production unions: a formula clearly derived from Proudhon, which might be supported today by certain anarchist, no-party or anti-party currents. It places the enterprise at the centre of the economy, in other words that very unit of production that socialism must overthrow for ever in the context of a genuinely collective management of associated producers. Against this “Workers’ Opposition” it was re-asserted, and it is as well to remember this always, that it is a mistake to place the power in the hands of salaried producers, amongst whom avant-garde elements may be found but where there are others who are instead bound to petit-bourgeois concepts, such as protection of local interests or, precisely, the interests of the enterprise. Party organization, uniting all those who have moved beyond the closed limits of individual working conditions, is the only kind that allows a general plan of attack or defence to be formulated or implemented, in relation to the historical context and in line with the ultimate class interests.
The second broad discussion opened up on the subject, raised by Trotsky when Lenin was then unable to intervene because of the illness that was to lead to his death in March 1924, of the “gaps”: while the prices of industrial products continued to grow, those of agricultural products were dropping. This highlighted the conflict between the two main sectors of the economy; it was essential that this gap be closed, in order to re-launch ruined agricultural production. On this issue three different currents opposed one another inside the party and were to take increasingly clear shape in the great political conflict of the next few years. Very briefly, and without going into the details of the discussions arising at the time, the positions were as follows:
The left, whose main representative was Trotsky and which Kamenev and Zinoviev also supported, was favourable to industrial development controlled by means of five-year plans, whilst agricultural production would be supported by the creation of state enterprises, gradually limiting the advantages of the rich peasants.
The right, with Bucharin, was against both industrialization and the nationalization of agricultural enterprises and launched the slogan “Peasants, get rich!”
Stalin’s centre, in the absence of its own policy, supported the position of the right on rural areas, deriding that of the left on industry, which it labelled “superindustrialization”. It is a historical fact that both the right and the left ended up in front of the firing squads.
As can be seen, the right and left wings were actually facing the serious problem of the country-dwellers according to a common Marxist criterion: since one aspect of Russia’s historical backwardness was the small-scale peasant economy, its limits should have been overcome by encouraging the formation of enterprises on a fully capitalist model – according to one faction under state control, according to the other without hindering the development of an entrepreneurial class (“rich peasants”) able to relaunch the agricultural economy. For all concerned the land should be nationalized (a useful measure as a prospective but not in itself socialist).
We shall not follow here the phases of the process that led the Russian agricultural economy to catastrophe, nor the complex events in the relationship between industry and countryside; all this has been analyzed in great depth in numerous works by the party . It must, however, be remembered that the “question of agriculture” is historically a problem that capitalist forms of production have to solve, in terms of the shift from small parcels of landowning – or worse still ancient forms of serfdom – to the capitalist enterprise, with the participation of agricultural capital and salaried work: this is then on a par with an industrial enterprise and the class relations are perfectly clear. The more profound classical bourgeois economists of the XIXth century had grasped the problem perfectly and had argued the need for the state to adjudicate all the income from land to itself. Marx demonstrated that, within the limits of a mercantile economy, this would never come about and in fact it was impossible to achieve even in Stalinist Russia, which left the kolchoz both the role of capitalist (as possessor of at least part of the means of production), as well as that of salaried worker (as possessor of its ownlabour force) and land-owner: “The kolchoz, as a collective enterprise, is the real big boss of the land: it sells the State its products and does not pay any ground rent. The members of the kolchoz are owners of their fields: they eat or sell the products and pay no rent to the kolchov or to the State.”
The management of the entire agricultural question by the Stalinized Bolshevik party was reduced to a hybrid – passed off improperly under the name of “collectivization” – involving nationalized enterprises and small-scale private property: the kolchoz. Private ownership of a considerable share of the means of production (including cattle) and also part of the product was acknowledged as belonging to the peasants, masses of whom were driven by hunger to join the new state structures. This practical compromise was to hinder the formation of the large state co-operatives called for by Trotsky and Bucharin, favouring instead small-scale ownership by the peasants, which would be harder to fight. If a compromise with the kulaks (the “rich peasants”) remained within Marxist logic, surrender to the kolchoz marked the final capitulation of the revolutionary movement in Russia.
16. The myth of Russian “socialism”
In order to survive for the few years that – in the hopes of all Marxists at the time, both Russian and western – were to pass before a European and then world revolution, the new state had to acquire an industrial structure which would at least manage to reconstitute the means of production, raw materials, end products that had been destroyed in the course of the war. Clearly this could only happen in the context of internal and foreign trade. The difficult first few years were thus devoted to this task and Lenin himself did not consider it a serious problem to seek foreign loans (concessions). To consider this, as has sometimes occurred, as the abandonment of internationalist principles and involution by Russia right from the initial years shows an unwillingness to consider the real situation: the revolution had to be defended even by these means, in full awareness of the fact that in the long term all this would no longer be sustainable. Aid should not be forthcoming from a backward Russia but from Europe, shaken by the flames of revolution. No Bolshevik – this must be repeated emphatically – had the idea that an isolated Russia could begin to “build socialism”. It was clear to everyone that some sort of hoped-for internal economic recovery would come about in a fully capitalist context, based on the exchange of goods, the building of capitals and workers’ plus value. Instead, ten years later, with the success of the five-year plans, it would be proclaimed that “Russia is socialist”.
In fact we must clear the air of the misunderstanding that the annual production rate in industry, which grew rapidly for a time, depended on the socialization of the Russian economy and the fact that “socialist planning” enabled the managers to organize production according to a logical plan. These high production rates depended on the fact that the point of departure for all economic indices – coinciding with the war - was extremely low. An analysis of the average annual increases for the six five-year plans demonstrates that the figures were relatively high when compared to those of the European or American economies, but that in sequence they provided perfect confirmation of the Marxist law of the drop in annual growth rates, exactly as for all other countries in full, mature capitalist development.
According to the Stalinist catechism, in Russia two different forms of economy developed simultaneously in those years. A communist economy was in place in the “exchange” between country and town but when Russia entered into trade relations with other countries, goods were sold: the law of value did not operate at home but only in relations with abroad. For Marxist critics the “state with a socialist economy” is a fake, if only because from its very onset it positions itself in terms of competition in world trade. In order to survive, it cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world. The Stalinists maintained that the Russian economy was socialist because industrial production was growing at an average annual rate superior to the total production of the previous year, compared to that of all other countries and all other historical periods. Our long studies of this issue (for example the previously quoted “Dialogue with Stalin”) have served to show that: 1) even if this had been true, it would be no proof that a socialist economy was in place; 2) it is false to say that these high rates were exclusive to Russia; 3) it is not true that there have been no other cases in history. Hyper-production is a characteristic of capitalist accumulation only, production for production’s sake that arises out of a trading economy. For us, the unit of measurement that distinguishes capitalism from socialism is not the rate of growth in production but the amount of work that has to be contributed by each worker to the social mode of production. In socialism the amount of work needed for production will decrease enormously. Today, could any of the old Stalinists, now long converted to bourgeois democracy, really argue that anything like this was true in Stalinized Russia?
Nonetheless, rather than specific aspects of Russian history, we are interested here in establishing where and in what respect Stalinism betrayed revolutionary expectations. It opened up the way for all those “real socialisms” that have been invoked since then in the four corners of the world and which really represented no more than a vigorous attempt to start out towards capitalist development, within a national context, even by taking up arms. But whilst with Stalin there was an attempt to justify the betrayal by turning to texts coming from a misreading of Marxist theory, the epigons of today no longer pose the problem: the affirmation that “everything is nationalized” is sufficient to guarantee the privilege of waving the red flag, always accompanied by national colours, and claiming aloud that “socialism has been realized”. Devoid of any argument other than those based on the worst forms of demagogy, national heads and little heads of state who yesterday and today have bandied their own “national socialism”, are rightly deprived even of the right to refer to the economic theses of Stalin (who at least still used Marxist vocabulary, distorted or emptied of meaning as it may have been).
An initial Stalinist thesis is the one according to which goods may be produced in a socialist society on condition that the means of production remain in public hands, thus those of the state.
The thesis defeats itself, because “in a Marxist analysis every time a mass of goods makes its appearance, it is because proletarians with no reserves have had to sell their labour, and when in the past there were limited sectors of production of goods, this was because the workforce was not sold ‘spontaneously’ as it is today but its work extorted, using arms from imprisoned slaves or servants bound by personal dependence” (“Dialogue with Stalin”, Day One). Moreover, the Stalinist theory (now shared by all democrats) according to which the State represents the people is demonstrated by Marxism to be wrong, and Marxism instead argues its class role in the communist revolution against the other social classes, just as it recognizes its anti-proletarian role in bourgeois society. The concept that, if society is socialist, the state no longer exists, because classes have disappeared, is one of the ABCs of Marxism.
A second thesis that Stalin is then obliged to affirm – since it follows from the first – is that in Russia socialism and the law of value can co-exist. According to him, the law of value, and therefore commercial exchange, holds good in agricultural economy. Commercial exchange is based on the law of value; it is thus based on the concept of equivalence between goods, particularly in the purchase of that particular type of goods that is the labour force. We know that it is the non-equivalence of this exchange that hides the “false face of ‘freedom, equality andBentham’ that Marx dismantled, showing that capitalism does not produce for the product [and thus for people or for human society, ed.] but for profit” (“Dialogue with Stalin”, ibid).
A third thesis characteristic of Stalinsim was based on the affirmation that Russia was socialist because of the absence of a clearly defined bourgeois class. Marxism had already answered this claim some decades before, demonstrating that the complete historical path of capitalism must necessarily lead to the abolition of the physical figure of the capitalist and thus to the formation of anonymous societies controlling whole sectors of production and exchange. “In one way or another, with or without trusts, one thing is certain: the official representative of capitalist society, the state, must assume direction in the end […] But neither the transformation into anonymous societies, nor the transformation into state property, does away with the capitalist nature of the forces of production […] The modern state is the organization that capitalist society assumes in order to preserve the capitalist mode of production from attacks both by the workers and by individual capitalists. The modern state, whatever its form, is an essentially capitalist machine, a state of capitalists, the capitalist collective ideal”. In these few lines, crystal clear and decisive, we find the condemnation both of that “communism” that committed itself to the cause of anti-fascism in the name of defending the democratic state; of that same “communism” that later committed itself to the anti-Stalinist cause, again in the name of democracy; of Stalinism itself which, under the banner of the national state economy, had touted the full development of the market and production of goods taking place in Russia – in one of its most merciless forms – as socialism, on the ashes of the October Revolution. To achieve this in Russia it proved necessary to proceed with the physical destruction of a generation of militant revolutionaries and full support, in the west, for ex-communist parties willing to embrace any compromise with the class enemy.
17. The bankruptcy of Stalinism, triumph of revolutionary Marxism
During the third decade of the last century we witnessed a forced welding together of the practice, being consolidated in Russia, and the theory, denounced on several occasions and with ample forewarning by the communist Left, of interclassism, gradually filtered through a policy of national unity. This soldering operation gave rise on the one hand to the elementary strategy of firing squads against the old Bolshevik leaders, the connivance of broad sectors of the now disoriented workers’ movement with its own bourgeoisie, or the support for Russian state capitalism by what remained of the national sections of the communist International. The theory of “socialism in a single country”, appealing to national and local unrest that had never quite been pacified, was the tombstone of those few years in which the revolution had made its formidable voice heard throughout Europe. But the victory of Stalinism, brought about by terror and falsification, is a victory condemned by history. In fact this victory certainly delayed the collapse of bourgeois society, prolonging the torments of humanity under the dominion of capital for decades in a chronic series of crises and in the world, or regional, wars. Stalinist terror, exercised for decades against revolutionary communism, was the prop of the western bourgeois democracies and there isn’t a single bourgeois historian today who, having beaten his breast in the name of the abuse of freedom and excesses of violence practised in Russia, will not recognize the fundamental role that Stalin’s Russia played in the world war and thence in the reconstruction of the worldwide imperialist “balances”. Clearly all this caused a serious delay in the process of reorganizing the revolutionary avant-garde. Nonetheless, the process of history does not speak in favour of Stalinism, or the policy of the balance of power between imperialisms; it speaks the language of crises and warfare which awaits at the end of every cycle of accumulation; it speaks of resuming the class struggle no longer on a local but on a worldwide scale. It is the objective, material basis of the historical process that imposes the rebirth of internationalism and the defeat of “national communism”. Of course decades of brainwashing – the more “intellectual” or committed to the “painful decisions” of repentant Stalinists, the worse – have not been in vain. Anti-Marxist catechisms drummed into the no longer active brains of two or three generations have produced lasting damage; thus re-orientation towards the class struggle and the resumption of revolutionary organization may take a long time yet. But the whirlpools that are opening up in all sectors of Capital are the final condemnation of those who, hiding behind systematic and organized lies and physical and ideological terror, have managed to do the world bourgeoisie the immense favour of making the very word communismhateful to the proletariat.
18. Two constitutions compared
Russia, now dependent on herself alone, without being able to count on victorious class movements in Europe, began a tumultuous process of capital accumulation (internal and international) which, in the space of two decades (thanks to the so-called “five-year plans”) put her on a par with the more advanced industrial countries. This process, entirely based on the giddy exploitation of the workforce and on the rapid concentration of capital in the hands of the State, was defined “socialism” by Stalin. Long studies by our party have demonstrated that, in fact, not only has Russia never had a socialist economy (by definition, without salaried work and without money) but she managed to achieve fully fledged capitalism in the industrial sector alone: in the field of agriculture the organization of the cooperatives did not prevent actual ownership of part of the means of production and part of the product by the members.
Thus, it is in the ‘Thirties that the theory of “socialism in a single country” is consolidated in Russia and rapidly assimilated by the European “communist” parties. From this theory, the move towards that of “national paths” and full recognition of the fight against fascism, which now replaces that always promoted by authentic communists against capitalism, comes very quickly. The impetuous course of the Stalinized Russian economy towards fully-fledged capitalism, albeit in the midst of the difficulties it had to struggle with, particularly in the field of agriculture, was to find its ultimate ideological expression in the “soviet” Constitution of 1936.
Only a few months after the seizing of power, the first Constitution had declared, without hesitation, the immense tasks that awaited the revolution; in the political and social areas the need to reach the objective of a classless society and thus to continue the fight against the parasitic classes, which were still an economic power throughout the territory; in the economy, a whole series of non socialist measures, such as the nationalization of land, the creation of a state bank, the cancellation of the foreign debt. The dictatorial and anti-democratic content was clearly expressed in the different weight accorded to the workers’ vote (equal to 5) and the peasants’ vote (equal to 1): a coherent consequence of the revolutionary communist programme was that the old ally should now find itself in a condition of subordination to the salaried class – the one that historically has to guide the revolutionary process towards its final outcome, the disappearance of classes and of the state. In fact, if it was formally necessary to draw up a constitution in 1917-18, substantially this could only be what the Bolsheviks had been proclaiming to all the social classes for decades. Thus even bourgeois historians, if not too dishonest, can acknowledge that it is unnecessary to attribute undue importance to this document, both because many other problems had to be urgently solved at that time, both in internal and in foreign politics, and because the Bolshevik leaders considered the soviet republic as “something transitory, which would soon lead to a world socialist republic – or federation of republics. In other words, it was not thought that this constitution would be of use for long” .
The 1936 Constitution had a quite different significance. In it, all the categories of a bourgeois republic find expression, whilst falsely declaring that society has, in the meantime, become socialist. Unlike the first constitution, the vote is declared to be universal, individual, direct and secret: thus in all these respects the exact opposite of that desired by Lenin, i.e. the formidable, explicit expression of class dictatorship. As to the economy, the 1936 Constitution declares that, since society is now fully socialist, there are two forms of property (for Marxists socialism will abolish property): that of the state and that of the Kolchoz. We have seen that at the time the role of the state in terms of land was extremely limited compared to that of the actual role played by the small independent cooperatives. Even if we agreed with the Stalinist affirmation that classes no longer existed in industry and that ownership had moved entirely into the hands of the state, this would not mean that we were experiencing a socialist economy. On the contrary, the huge industrial growth in that period merely demonstrates that “this State capital invests all the more, as less is consumed by a bourgeoisie now declared to be absent. Plus value is not shared between consumption of the class of owners and reinvestment in production, it is all new investment, apart from the villas, the paintings, the collections. For this reason the standard of living and the working hours of the proletariat remain unaltered”.
19. A word manipulated: communism
There is no doubt that eight decades of counter-revolution uprooted the significance of the word “communism” from the hearts and minds of at least two generations of proletarians. In other words they eliminated or reversed the sense of the battles that were fought by the revolutionary avant-gardes, often taking up arms in order to seize power.
After 1926, the term “communism” systematically came to indicate its opposites as forms of struggle or social systems: state economy, national communism (a variety worse than national socialism), grass-roots democracy, government by the workers, workers’ democracy, theory of well-being, anti-imperialism, anti-monopoly, anti-liberism, pacifism, etc.. In the midst of this muddle, it has always, systematically, been forgotten that modern communism, scientific by definition and by necessity, arises out of overcoming, at the height of their development, the economic forces unleashed by capitalist economy; that it does not deny this development (which, indeed, it considers indispensable for its own ends) but nonetheless knows that it can only be overcome by totally demolishing the whole of the apparatus upon which it is grounded.
Communism might be thought of as giving back to human beings their full faculties (which capitalist work limits or deprives them of); communism might be thought of as a society in which absolute freedom exists (naturally thanks to the full integration of the individual in society): but only and inasmuch as the law of value, the transformation of every product of human work (and not only) into goods and the production of capital by means of a workforce are abolished once and for all. Before defining communism from the point of view of ideals (something we certainly do not refuse!), we have to understand the material bases on which it must rest, and which therefore constitute the only objectives for which a communist party worthy of the name should fight – and none other. We shall put these in the words of two quotations from Marx (as we are unable, for reasons of space, to quote a thousand), since he was the first and the most far-seeing in perceiving the entire historical process.
The first quotation alone would suffice as a universal manifesto for the liberation of humanity from millennia of horror in the history of a society divided into classes:
“The more the productiveness of labour increases, the more can the working day be shortened; and the more the working day is shortened, the more can the intensity of labour increase. From a social point of view, the productiveness increases in the same ratio as the economy of labour, which, in its turn, includes not only economy of the means of production, but also the avoidance of all useless labour. The capitalist mode of production, while on the one hand, enforcing economy in each individual business, on the other hand, begets, by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.
The intensity and productiveness of labour being given, the time which society is bound to devote to material production is shorter, and as a consequence, the time at its disposal for the free development, intellectual and social, of the individual is greater, in proportion as the work is more and more evenly divided among all the able-bodied members of society, and as a particular class is more and more deprived of the power to shift the natural burden of labour from its own shoulders to those of another layer of society. In this direction, the shortening of the working day finds at last a limit in the generalisation of labour. In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour time” .
The second quotation reveals the parasitic nature of capitalism and the inevitability of socialism (which the present world crisis places in broad daylight!):
“The banking system, so far as its formal organization and centralization is concerned, is the most artificial and most developed product turned out by the capitalist mode of production. This accounts for [its] immense power […] over commerce and industry […]. The banking system possesses indeed the form of universal book-keeping and distribution of means of production on a social scale, but solely the form. We have seen that the average profit of the individual capitalist, or of every individual capital, is determined not by the surplus-labour appropriated at first hand by each capital, but by the quantity of total surplus-labour appropriated by the total capital, from which each individual capital receives its dividend only proportional to its aliquot part of the total capital. This social character of capital is first promoted and wholly realized through the full development of the credit and banking system […]. It thus does away with the private character of capital and thus contains in itself, but only in itself, the abolition of capital itself. By means of the banking system the distribution of capital as a special business, a social function, is taken out of the hands of the private capitalists and usurers. But at the same time, banking and credit thus become the most potent means of driving capitalist production beyond its own limits, and one of the most effective vehicles of crises and swindle. […] Finally, there is no doubt that the credit system will serve as a powerful lever during the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the mode of production of associated labour; but only as one element in connection with other great organic revolutions of the mode of production itself. […] As soon as the means of production cease being transformed into capital (which also includes the abolition of private property in land), credit as such no longer has any meaning” .
The demands of socialism thus consist in the abolition of salaries: this alone enables the destruction of an economy based on capital. However, it entails the elimination of a trading economy, in other words – in present times – an economy based on the power of money. Only when these three basic elements of the present economy are overcome (private property, market economy and company economy) will a truly social history begin for humanity.
20. United fronts
We have seen that an initial phase of tactical uncertainty by the International (1923-26) was followed by another marked by the so-called “swing to the left” and the theory of “class against class” (1928-32). Exposed to the remains of parties now decimated by the wave of counter-revolution that followed the defeats of previous years, this theory – which resumed, but in an abstract sense, some of the points raised by our Left – merely served to confuse the policy of the International and its local sections even more. As a logical consequence, it was thus followed by a now uncontrollable swerve, a “swing to the right” that upturned the indications regarding “social fascism” (i.e. social democracy seen as an alter ego of fascism and thus as an enemy just as ferocious as the latter), transforming them into collaboration with the anti-fascist democracies (1934-38): what should have been done in the so-called anti-fascist United Fronts.
Naturally, this change of route was skilfully masked by language that did not seem to admit any compromises: the International still declared its support for the dictatorship of the proletariat (in words), for armed revolution and the destruction of bourgeois power (in words) and for an independent class war (in words). It was declared that the policy of the United Fronts was a tactical, and purely tactical, adjustment in order to face a situation that would plunge humanity into a world war: and above all, to avoid the risk of a Nazi attack on Stalinist Russia which would endanger the achievement of “socialism in a single country” and its spread throughout the world. In reality, the individual parties were obliged to accept all the tactical and theoretical points against which the battle by the newly born communist parties had been developed: independence at a tactical and theoretical level, the need to break off definitively with the democratic parties, rearmament, not only in a theoretical sense, of the party and its class organizations. The consequences of the International’s new policy in the eyes of the surviving Marxists could only mean that soon the fight against fascism would drag the parties that supported it into becoming firm defenders of the bourgeois state, in the name of a democracy which, like fascism, would continue to use arms (police, army and special divisions) with an imperialist function abroad and an anti-communist one at home. These same surviving Marxists demonstrated, with historical proof in hand, that support given to an imperialist alliance (a “democratic” one) against another (a “fascist” one) was none other than a tragic repetition of the IInd International’s collaborationist policy on the eve of 1914, against which Lenin had fought fiercely; and therefore this policy would in no way avoid the outbreak of war (indeed, it would accelerate it), whilst it would seal the final triumph of the counter-revolution on a planetary scale.
The “doctrine” of the United Front is unequivocally based on the claim, by workers’ parties, to defend “democracy” (a block of parties and classes) against “fascism”. The nature of the latter was explained in 1934 by one of the highest leaders of the Stalinized International, Dimitrov (and has since then been repeated in chorus from primary school upwards): “Fascism, representing the most imperialist and chauvinist elements of the grand bourgeoisie in its search for a solution to the crisis and for a new division of the world […], wishes to unite the most reactionary forces in the bourgeois world for an attack on the Soviet Union,” (“The Fight for a United Front”,Correspondance Internationale, n.102-103/1934). What remained of left-wing Marxism in Europe opposed the catastrophe of totally abandoning internationalist communism, even against Trotsky, to the utmost, confirming that the only way to deal with the question was that of a defeatist battle against each and every bourgeois state, and not support for one “democracy” or the other. Stalinism succeeded in inoculating western parties with the equation “democracy = peace = defence of socialism (i.e. of Russia)”. This was not only slander in the mouths of communists but a criminal act towards the international proletariat, since it would in no way avoid the approaching world slaughter and would bind the fate of the struggles definitively to that of each single national, bourgeois state, shattering all the programmes that had been established, no more than ten years previously, by the International.
When, in May-June 1936, the greatest mass mobilization in French history brought onto the streets millions and millions of proletarians, made increasingly combative by the economic crisis, “national unity”, the “defence of democracy” and a “sense of responsibility” were the answer that the tactics of the United Front gave against any attempt to reanimate the independent, revolutionary class movement. With the proletariat reduced to following the fate of its “own” national bourgeoisie, the gates swung open to the winds of war which from Africa (1936) to Spain (1936-38) were to vent themselves on the whole of Europe.
21. Training exercises for future massacres: Spain 1936
In France the politics of the United Front served to stem the wave of uprisings that shook the country between 1935 and 1936. In Spain the same policy served a different purpose but with the same objectives. Here, the attack by big capital under the openly declared banner of fascism was met by an armed workers’ revolt. The antifascist policy of the united Front came to be the third way, which served the bourgeoisie in order to attenuate the danger of a revolutionary change of direction, disarming from within the organizations that rebelled against the bourgeois régime. Here again, Stalinism had the function of channelling the struggles in an exclusively local direction, inside Spain, transforming the struggle to overthrow the power of armed capital, replacing one bourgeois government with another and indicating as the sole objective of the fight the establishment of abourgeois republic against the monarchy. It was for these ends alone that thousands of Spanish proletarians were sent to be slaughtered in the name of a communism which was none other than the restoration of bourgeois order.
In 1930 the economic and social crisis that had had Alfonso XIII’s Spain in its grip for years required drastic intervention. To avoid a huge rail strike, a coalition of parties had demanded the head of the king, who was pacifically allowed to escape in February 1931. The November 1933 elections marked the collapse of the socialist party which had animated previous coalition governments. A right-wing party came to power, which was immediately the object of union action “to restore democratic freedom”. As in Italy in 1922, so in Spain the spectre of the fascist threat was immediately agitated; and just as in Italy the choice was made to manipulate the masses to obtain a “better” (Turati-Modigliani) government, so in Spain a manoeuvre was attempted to achieve a new social-republican coalition. And whilst social democracy was busy with its parliamentary games, without much ado the government dispatched the army against the rebels in the Asturie, crushing the movement, which had remained completely isolated, and causing thousands of deaths. After thus closing 1934, the following year was a continuous attack on the disoriented working class. It was in this context that Spain celebrated the electoral triumph of the United Front in 1936, to be met immediately with Franco’s army ready for a military coup. The whole of the United Front did not hesitate to join the fight in the name of the defence of democratic freedom, readily finding support in the whole of anti-fascist Europe: a handful of unheeded Marxists stuck firmly tothe task of revolutionary defeatism inside every bourgeois state. Everyone else, including the anarchists, called instead for arms and soldiers to be dispatched by the European governments to counter Franco with militant anti-fascism and the conservation of the democratic state apparatus.
In this context the support given to the United Front by the International and by Stalinist Russia was merely a continuation of the counter-revolutionary policy of the latter state, anxious to gain a position of favour amongst the European powers. This can better be understood by remembering how in Moscow, in that same August of 1936, trials were held against the most important leaders of the old Bolshevik party, terminating with the shooting of sixteen revolutionaries, after extorting their “confessions”. In the same way in Spain the arms of the United Front were to be turned indifferently on Franco’s fascists and on the numerous “anti-Stalinists” who had hastened there, drawn by the illusion of the “defence of democracy” in the name of a tactical manoeuvre, one of whose prime supporters was Trotsky. The great revolutionary in exile had argued for some time that in the opposition between fascism-democracy, spaces would open up for proletarian action, which would permit the anti-fascist battle to be transformed into a battle for power and for class dictatorship. Yet, in the previous decade European history had already demonstrated that any cross-class compromise in the name of anti-fascism would drag the parties supporting it into the tunnel of class collaboration and defeat. Even the anarchists, who undoubtedly had a large following in Spain amongst the rural masses, opted for action to defend the threat to freedom and the democratic state.
In Europe the handful of Marxists who still identified with the position defended by the communist Left in the previous decade (and who were then gathered in France and Belgium around the review Bilan) knew they were defending a programme that would leave them completely isolated. Whilst all the democratic and Stalinist currents were rushing to form “International Brigades”, the communists of Bilanpreached immediate revolutionary defeatism in all countries, proletarian brotherhood amongst opposing forces in Spain, recourse to the class war instead of fraticide, opposition to the rearming of one bourgeois front or another, the need forproletarian internationalism .
And so, whilst trials against the heads of the revolution were being celebrated in Moscow and in Spain there was a rush to gather beneath the cross-class, democratic, anti-fascist banner, in that same August 1936 the Italian Stalinists in their newspaper Lo Stato Operaio published the famous article “Appeal to our brothers in the black shirts. To save Italy, reconciliation of the Italian people!”, in which the “sons of the Italian Nation” were encouraged to “shake hands, fascists and communists, catholics and socialists, people of all opinions,” because it was a case of fighting for freedom: briefly, “for the completion of the 1919 fascist programme”!...
How could it have come as a surprise, then, that the few surviving Marxists were threatened with death when they dared stand up to the baying of the democratic hounds, exalted by the smell of gunpowder, to explain once again the need to abandon the prospect of proletarians on two opposing fronts of the same bourgeoisie being massacred (a massacre that began with the 1939-45 slaughter) and bring them together instead under the banner of class war and revolutionary defeatism (which we still confidently await)?
22. The second world war
Whilst the orgy of destruction was consumed in the Spanish conflict, with Franco’s victory a few months before the outbreak of the world war, European diplomacy was at work preparing a bloodbath on a far greater scale. The communist International was by then reduced either to a relatively painless exile for those who had escaped fascism (especially in Paris) or to spying for the Russian state. Demolished by the joint forces of fascism and Stalinism, the class organizations - it was now inevitable that any form of conflict would merely regard the one between nation states – took the form of spy networks in which, and not infrequently, it was mainly the anti-Stalinists who become trapped. The “Munich compromise” (September 1938) was supposed to serve the western democracies in order to gain the few months that would allow complete rearmament of their arsenals and permit Germany to obtain some return on what she had lost in Versailles in 1919, as well as make a last attempt at building a highly developed capitalist economic area in central Europe, between the Rheinland, the Danube and the Balkans. The Russia-Germany agreement of August 1939 (the Hitler-Stalin pact) for its part had nothing in common with the 1918 Brest-Litowsk peace treaty. In the latter the diplomacy of a fully developing capitalist state met that of the first communist state to launch the proposal of proletarian internationalism to the world; here, instead, sinister figures making agreements on the division of territories and peoples (Poland, the Balkans, Bessarabia) came into play. Suddenly, and for reasons of state, the aggressor changed into an ally, the doctrine of the anti-fascist United Fronts was abandoned, the “communist” parties, up until then closely attached to their “own” democratic government in defence of the fatherland, were forced to realize that this government was an enemy concealing base imperialist and anti-soviet ends. It was to take two years, with the Nazi invasion of Russia (21st June 1941) before Europe’s Stalinist parties could be seen returning to the old tactic of the anti-fascist united front.
It is this infamous decade (1930-40) that constitutes the soil nurturing the partisan movement. It is a movement that emerges out of the betrayal of the “communist” parties, turning their backs on the class that generated them during the grand struggles for the conquest of power over half of Europe; and they were only able to do this with the help of an imperialist power – Stalinist Russia – and its now useless appendage – the International – that would be dismantled, formally too, in 1943.
23. “Resistance” to fascism, or abandonment of the fight against Capital
There were very few voices that did not join in the complete betrayal of the first Communist International’s indications, and these voices found themselves totally isolated not only – naturally – by the cross-class social democratic faction, but also by those groups and movements that took as their reference points the direct revolutionary experiences of the previous decades, whether they were groups linked more or less directly with the name of Leon Trotsky, or the “infant” movements of the German or Dutch left, or revolutionary workerism. Together with all these factions, the anarchists, too, had no hesitation in choosing the defence of democracy (and thus of a bourgeois state that considered itself “better” than a fascist one). Stalinism, on the other hand, made no bones about it and, without making any distinction, labelled them simply “fascist spies” and thus fit for the death penalty. Having identified the fatherland of communism in Stalinist Russia, the tactics were elementary: astutely fishing out the classical formula of “revolutionary defeatism”, proletarians throughout the world were exhorted not to take up a position against their “own” bourgeoisie unless the latter gave proof of anti-Russian sentiments; too bad if this implied alliances with the Nazis against western imperialists (the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, 1939-41), or the exact opposite. If their “own” bourgeoisies made an economic-military pact with Russia, the proletariat was supposed to guarantee full support. With the war already in progress for two years, everyone (except for the above-mentioned “voices”) flung themselves once again into the arms of abused democracy, thus taking the side of the imperialist camp of the western allies against the allies of the Axis. In this embrace, Stalinists, anti-Stalinists, workerism, immediatists, anarchists, socialists and social democrats found themselves ranged on the same side: it was the period in which a forest of abbreviations, mini-parties, democratic movements flourished, all with the firm intention of winning a quota of power by the end of the war, in the knowledge that they had already made the right choice and sided with the winners.
After the 25th July 1943, it took the Italian bourgeoisie no more than 45 days to betray their previous allies and choose those who were now obviously (particularly since the USA had entered the theatre of war) going to be the victors. The proletarian masses, totally disorganized, deprived of any link with the few communist elements who had been living for almost two decades in exile in Europe or who had been massacred in Russia, were rapidly collected under the banner of national unity and the fight for “liberation” in defence of national-bourgeois interests. The monstrous conditions in which the working class had been living for years led to the first great class actions of 1943, also destined to remain the last great spontaneous demonstrations not directed from within the social democratic current. When, after the fall of Mussolini’s government, new demonstrations shook the peninsula in August, General Badoglio’s anti-fascist government did not hesitate to issue ferocious orders to “defend law and order”, supported by instructions to shoot at the demonstrators (a hundred or so deaths, over two thousand arrests).
It is not the task of this study to follow the political and military phases of democratic, anti-fascist opposition in the war years in the two countries where, more than anywhere else, it claims to have played a decisive role in the outcome of the war.
In Italy there were more or less hidden opponents of fascism still in power (small, more or less organized groups of intellectuals fascinated by Anglo-Saxon culture who, from 1942 onwards, in absolute secrecy, attempted to operate as an English spy service); there were the heirs of Giolitti’s liberalism; socialist reformers in the tradition of Turati; followers of Mazzini and freemasons; supporters of a united Europe ante litteram; Christian democrats and perhaps some seemingly innocent fascist officials and fellows, if the old figures of the serial turncoats are to be credited (if everyone were to speak up, we read, “today we would be aware of the delicacy with which the police [i.e. the OVRA, ed.] moved to cover the clandestine movements that they were charged to hunt down”) ; lastly, there were, primi inter pares, the Stalinists, or the “national communists”, firm defenders of the honour of the fatherland, for twenty years violated by fascist brutality. As becomes obvious, a whole “united front” which, having had little to say for itself in 1922 when fascism was already ensconced – and in any case this, too, was a united front proudly hostile to the directives of revolutionary action by the Italian CP – miraculously rediscovered ideological and operational unity in the various “action committees for the unity of the Italian people” or “Italian committees for peace and freedom” and, finally, in the “National Liberation Committees”, thanks mainly to Anglo-Saxon military and financial intervention. Under this flag was to be found the whole of the tradition invoked twenty years previously by Amendola (the father: far more coherent than the son, a grim exponent of democratic Stalinism), by Croce, Salandra, Missiroli, by the cowardly socialists who had already rushed to sign the dire “pacification agreement” with the fascists in 1921.
In France, the tradition of “revolution by the people” advancing to the strains of the Marseillaise or under the banner of anarcho-trade unionism was far more deeply rooted than the Marxist tradition (the same Paris Commune of 1871 had had to deal with Proudhon-inspired improvisation). The communist Party, which arose on hybrid foundations, lost no time in assimilating the Stalinist dictate of anti-fascist interclassism, supporting the “united front”, the national liberation movement and the fight for democracy, ensuring its full support for the national, liberal bourgeoisie: and too bad if, on the 8th May 1945, when the victory of progress against barbarity was being celebrated in Paris, this bourgeoisie was drowning the revolts that had broken out in Algeria in the name of independence in a veritable bloodbath (45,000 deaths)! What else could be expected of a party accused by the International in 1922, i.e. little more than a year from the congress of Tours in which it was constituted as a section of the IC, of “tending to re-establish unity with the reformists; […] and form a block with the radical wing of the bourgeoisie; […] substituting petit-bourgeois, humanitarian pacifism for revolutionary anti-militarism”?
Returning to Italy, if military intervention of any importance by the national anti-fascist front was reduced to a thing of little significance (whilst the Anglo-Saxons were ranging 3000 pieces of artillery, 3100 tanks, 5000 aircraft and 19 divisions, the united front was able to gather at the most an optimistic 200 000 men equipped with light arms only), this front demonstrated far greater determination – especially through the action of its Stalinist component – in controlling a workers’ movement which, unexpectedly, under Mussolini’s government, showed that its class instinct was not dead. First of all, it was a question of avoiding some hothead emerging out of the “spontaneity of the people” – i.e. of the class war, or what remained of it – ready, perhaps, to use gunpowder in a way the Stalinists might not approve of. Secondly, on the eve of victory, armed squads had to be formed to protect and defend the industrial plants, to ensure that the factory, the place of suffering for millions of workers, would continue to play its role of creating plus value in the production process during the coming period of reconstruction and capitalist accumulation. According to the Stalinist dictate, it should have been the workers themselves to make sure that the plants – in which they were salaried slaves – remained fully operational as centres of bourgeois economic power. Militant uprisings could no longer be spoken of, not even in terms of theory.
24. Could the partisan movement have expressed a truly revolutionary potential?
For some decades historians and anti-Stalinist analysts have been insisting that, between 1943 and 1947, war and poverty had created favourable conditions for a revolutionary solution, putting arms into the hands of communist partisans who could, finally, have rebelled against the class enemy. Basically the second world war would have favoured the polarization of revolutionary energies: if the outcome was reduced to only a few cases of violent battles of a local nature or split up into numerous cases of vendetta of a personal nature, this was – according to these historians and analysts - supposed to be due largely to the intellectual and sectarian policy of waiting by groups that more or less explicitly took as their reference point the directives of the ICP of the early ‘Twenties and which, when the time came, were to demonstrate their incapability for action. The reality was quite different. The only avant-garde which, from 1943 onwards, had equipped itself with a party structure – however fragile – was the Internationalist Communist Party, in whose ranks had gathered nuclei operating mainly in Piedmont and in Lombardy and which had been joined by some groups of emigrants in France and Belgium, who had, in the previous two decades, represented the sole voice, albeit a small one, completely oriented towards Marxist doctrine, finding expression in the newspapers Prometeo and Bilan. But this organization had formed without having time to fully clarify certain problems posed by the counter-revolution going on during those twenty years: what had Russia become? How could an organic relationship be built with the working class masses? How and through what stages would it be possible to re-build an internationally organized, revolutionary avant-garde? What is the Marxist analysis of the course of imperialism in the light of the outcome of the first and second world wars? Thus, not only was the internationalist communist Party characterised by forced heterogeneity, it had also lost any real link with the international proletariat and, because of the crystalline anti-democratic positions it had defended for decades, was relegated to the side lines by all the groups moving on the terrain of anti-Stalinism. This made over a decade of theoretical and organizational perfection necessary, without which it would have been impossible to candidate it as an authentic guide for future struggles.
On the other hand, how could the partisan movement have represented a revolutionary outcome to the second world war? According to those who support this thesis, a real alternative to the constitution of the class party was what was advanced as the “partisan programme” in 1943: war on war (an inadequate formula that leaves margins for pacifist interpretations); war on the regimes that had caused and theorized it (thus, Germany and Italy – but why not war on those who had won it, too?); contempt (?!) for financiers, industrialists, large-scale farmers, cardinals etc. but also “supreme discipline of action, rigorous habits, a thirst for knowledge and awareness (a mixture somewhere between the Bolshevism of the mid-twenties, Mao’s “cultural revolution” and the mini formulas dreamed up by the students in ’68) .
This position, however generous it may seem today to innocent and non-Marxist eyes, was completely on the wrong track. The general situation of the class and its party at the time was totally different to the one to be found at the end of the first world war and a “repetition” of anything similar to the “red biennium” was simply impossible. Then, the impulse given to the revolutionary movement by the Russian revolution, together with the ferment inside the class organizations where – unfortunately after a fatal delay – conditions were maturing for the formation of the first European communist parties, and what seemed an overwhelming wave of unrest sweeping through the whole of Europe, did in fact constitute a solid basis for attempts to win power in Germany and eastern Europe. However, with the outbreak of the second world war the general conditions of the struggle changed radically, not only because of the lack of a revolutionary organization able to make its voice heard on an international scale, but also because the world proletariat had been penetrated by the Stalinist doctrine of “defending the proletarian state” (Russia) and the “communist” parties had openly sided with the bourgeois powers – first described as imperialist and plutocratic and then as the pillars of peace, progress, freedom and democracy - and all this had represented a full retreat from their historical class positions, condemning the proletariat to an abandonment from which it would be unable to recover and leaving local scatterings of armed struggle, lacking any programmatic direction or consolidated political organization. Moreover, allied military occupation of the defeated countries did away with any possibility of an attempt to overthrow power. And, as though all this were not enough, counter-revolutionary vigilance was exercised by the Stalinist party and its servants, ready to intervene in case of need .
Thus, “against the partisan and petit bourgeois factions of the barricades, which ushered hundreds of young workers to the mountains, the internationalist communists upheld the need for the proletariat to fight its battle against its capitalist enemy in the factories. The strikes that punctuated this troubled period of history saw the Party (internationalist communist) highly active on the shop-floors of Turin, Milan and northern Italy” and our slogans “were spread by all possible means even to the partisan groups, despite objective difficulties. The party, meagre from an organizational point of view, was obliged to move amidst a thousand difficulties, fighting courageously but with slight forces, against the two political blocks,” whilst knowing that nothing would be able to force a situation which, in fact, was taking shape as the worst possible scenario. It was thus perfectly coherent with our positions regarding the war in Spain to encouragedefeatism in the European proletariat during and at the end of the second world war. Yet the urgent need to strengthen the ranks of the organization on the basis of the recovery of revolutionary doctrine against all its serious prior deformations, could not be neglected, in the awareness that renewed armed opposition would not be coming until a long period of internal analysis and re-presentation of communist doctrine had been completed, together with renewed penetration of the proletarian masses and, lastly, the aggravation of the crisis of imperialism. Beyond this, all that was possible was confusion and disorientation in the form of desperate, more or less individual, action or immediatism in all its various forms (trade unionism, workerism). The rebellions of 1946, trumpeted today by a few well-meaning critics, could never have had an iota of revolutionary success, since they arose on the terrain of local revolts against the fascist scum and those who defended them, fully justified if we like, but nothing to do with the aims and organization of communist internationalism. Without decades of preparation for a civil war, without an effective following in the urban masses, without a political guide capable of directing the movement, these scattered attempts could only come grief in the space of a few months, as actually happened. To believe the opposite, means to forget what the objective conditions for revolutionary success are, as Lenin reminded a hapless Terracini in 1921, during the IIIrd Congress of the International: “In Russia, we were a small party, but we had with us in addition the majority of the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country. […]We had with us almost half the army, which then numbered at least ten million men. […] We were victorious in Russia, and with such ease, because we prepared for our revolution during the imperialist war. […] We were victorious because the vast mass of the peasants were revolutionarily disposed against the big landowners. […] Our first step was to create a real Communist Party so as to know whom we were talking to and whom we could fully trust.” Did the rebels of 1946 have all this? And will all this satisfy our “critics”, those who would have liked at all costs to “have a revolution”, those who today accuse the fragile party that existed then - newly rebuilt on the ruins caused in the proletariat by war, fascism, democratic opportunism - of waiting tactics? And we have always answered (since 1912, 1919, 1921, 1926: the key phases of our party) the usual accusations of “sectarianism” from activists and voluntarists of various extractions, who repeat over and over again what they learnt when they were youngsters from the StalinistPocket Encyclopaedia of Socialism and Communism, that “even in an extremely unfavourable situation and even in places where it is in its most barren state, we must avoid the danger of conceiving of the movement as the mere work of newspaper propaganda and political proselytism. The life of the party must always be integrated everywhere, without exception, in a constant effort to take its place in the lives of the masses and their manifestations which are influenced by directives that contrast with our own” (“Theses of Naples”, 1965) . This, and only this, is and has been our beastliness towards the proletariat.
25. European Stalinism and the post-war period
At the end of the war, after the Yalta Agreement, the European proletariat found themselves with new bosses. As well as various types of economic sanctions, the end of the First World War had condoned the territorial mutilation of the countries defeated. Now, however, there was a shift to physical occupation or dismemberment of them. Where Russian Stalinism was unable to enter with its armed forces, it now did so through the numerous bridgeheads represented by the local “communist” parties. This could not be the case in western Germany, where all class resistance had been crushed for decades. In France and in Italy, where the tradition of struggle was still alive, it was a matter of channelling it towards a reorganization of the new bourgeois order, using any necessary form.
In France, this means that the tradition had to be replaced by that of the various Frossards, Cachins and Thorez. The first one of them (“grand master” of escapeways, “the “old fox” of the party, in the words of someone who knew the French communist party well in the ‘Twenties, Alfred Rosmer) was party secretary and as such directly responsible for the line that for years had opposed the party line of the International from the right wing: obliged to resign in 1922, he returned to his socialist masters for a few years until, having made the only right choice in his life, he ended up as a minister in Pétain’s government. The second one, an enthusiastic supporter of anti-German intervention during the First World War, a secret ambassador for France to the ex-revolutionary Benito Mussolini with a view to his conversion (paid for in francs) alongside the warring bourgeoisies, proudly hostile to the Bolsheviks, would have the nerve to present himself to Lenin, asking him to pardon the crimes of the French bourgeoisie, obtaining the icy retort: “You should be asking pardon for your own crimes against the French proletariat.”. The third one, Thorez, a perfect tool of Stalinism, the French alter ego of the Italian Togliatti, was the man who, in 1926, declared that the communists were “the best defenders of the nation’s heritage,” ten years later declaring that he was “proud of our country’s great past,” and, right after the end of the war, exalting “the blood of the Catholics, the communists […] the blood of all our heroes [who] have nurtured our soil and sealed national unity.”
In Italy the situation was no different: if possible, even worse. Whilst the Italian proletariat had been encouraged to take sides under the British flag in the partisan units against the Germans, the hunt for the opposition was bearing its fruits, with the assassination of valiant comrades presented in the “communist” press as “enemy agents hiding under the guise of extremists […], proprietors of tabarins and clandestine betting shops […], small-time revolutionary sects and visionary dogmatics [transformed into] a criminal and unscrupulous agency of enemies of the revolution […] OVRA and Gestapo agents […] acolytes of adventurers who have made anti-communism their cause” . By getting rid of all working-class opposition, coming to agreements with the Catholic parties and suppressing any spontaneous attempt at revolt at birth, the Italian communist Party (PCI) prepared to become a government party, taking part in drawing up the Italian Constitution and sending its most representative member, Palmiro Togliatti, to act as Minister of Justice twice under the king and a third time under a president of the Republic. In this guise, in June 1946, he was to sign an amnesty for political crimes in such terms as to guarantee perfect continuity between the fascist administrative-police apparatus (part of whom had ended up in prison) and the democratic republican apparatus.
Subsequent events are marked by aspects which, apart from the local features inherited from different historical situations, are substantially similar throughout Europe in the name of national unity, “shared” democracy, democratic anti-Stalinism and anti-fascism. The years of post-war reconstruction require a huge effort in production and the working class is placed in chains as never before. In the period following the First World War, Fordism (so much appreciated by Gramsci!) replaced Taylorism: in the same way, now, in the second post-war period, Toyotism replaces Fordism. Naturally this is not meant to “build socialism” anywhere in the world: it is, instead, a matter of creating the bases of a new cycle of universal capital accumulation and creating them precisely by turning to the most refined technological-production and organizational-police apparatus possible. Proletarian masses that had escaped the horrors of war are now flung once again into the press of hyper-productivity and hyper-profits and the crumbs of the “welfare state” are totally insufficient: what are needed are the massive powers of persuasion of democratic ideology and, if this is not enough, for those who want something to fight for, the “defence of the homeland of socialism” against western imperialism (no longer allies) is ready and waiting and, above all, there is the “defence of their “own” country, their “own” industry, their “own” company. There is Stalinism operating in full swing, helping itself liberally to what its local allies have to offer: labourism, workerism, councilism, Gramscism .
Of course examples of fine battles or the upheavals of disoriented but battlesome masses are not lacking. 1953 saw the Berlin Commune, a great proletarian revolt against the oppression of international capital, which was crushed by the Holy Alliance re-created by Stalinists and democrats. In 1956, a decisive year for tackling numerous aspects that had been left aside by the recent inter-imperialist peace agreements, in a setting of international unrest (Cyprus, Suez, the Middle East, Algeria, Morocco etc.), the anti-Stalinist bubble exploded at the XXth Congress of the CPSU, causing havoc amongst the parties and intellectuals who supported the “homeland of socialism” and laying the bases for what was to become anti-Stalinist anti-communism, proclaimed on the streets in the name of progress, democracy and freedom. In the same year, the workers’ revolt of Poznan, a large Polish metal-working centre, called into question the “triumphs” of the socialist economy, revealing to the astonished western masses the reality of low wages, absurd paces of work, miserable living conditions: the “communist” government does not hesitate to turn to the internationally consolidated practice of shooting into the crowd. And at the end of the year the Hungarian events will be there to confirm the identical nature of western “bourgeois democracy” and eastern “socialist democracy” to those who were still in need of it.
26. Democratic anti-Stalinism
It is in this international context that internal opposition arises in the old Stalinist parties in countries with a long-standing capitalist tradition: everywhere, the old hobby horse of “grassroots democracy” is trotted out, of the revolt against the higher ranks of the existing parties, the appeal (generally a pretext) to the revolutionary traditions of the ‘Twenties (but well filtered by two or three decades of anti-fascist battles and cross-class alliances). This is the political phase in which some shout slogans against American arrogance and others against Stalinist totalitarian barbarity. We replied to the former reminding them of “their idiotic and servile kowtowing to that particular brand of civilization and the propaganda directives of Roosevelt and Churchill and their likes;” and we reminded the latter of “their histrionic exaltation of the horrendous sacrifices on the battlefields of millions of Russian proletarians for the cause they then supported.” At the time there was a renewed pursuit by repentant Stalinists of the “working class” grassroots that were supposed to guarantee maximum protection against bureaucratic deviations and personality cults. There was a race in pursuit of the “grassroots” voters of the old parties, in the conviction that new parties could be created, in which freedom of ideas, discussion of all principles, respect for all opinions could be guaranteed, in the name of a renewed democracy.
And so, in a sort of burlesque rehash of former positions, there arise on the one hand the workerism and spontaneous approach of the ‘Sixties, linked to an anti-party, anarcho-unionist vision of the revolutionary process and, on the other, renewed attempts to constitute “action committees”, whose enthusiastic supporters believed themselves to be miraculously capable of achieving an international recovery of the revolutionary movement through the formation of a heterogeneous (to put it mildly!) class party. Whilst the former arose out of a material context, that of the European “economic miracle”, of giddy increases in production and inhuman work rates for the proletarian masses, and might thus represent, apart from intellectual attempts at anti-Marxist theorizing, an initial embryonic stage in the direction of acquiring real revolutionary awareness, the latter demonstrated their total inability to grasp on the one hand the scope of the counter-revolution and the degree of ideological oppression to which the proletariat was subjected, and on the other the complex process on which a reorganization of the revolutionary avant-garde is based. As already clearly explained by our current in 1926, any attempt to contrast the storm by means of organizational expedients (temporary fusion of small opposition groups, fractionist manoeuvres) would be doomed to failure: on the contrary what was urgently required was to get down to “the preliminary work of elaborating a political ideology of the international left, based on the eloquent experiences of the Comintern” . Thus, when so-called “international de-Stalinization” seemed to voluntaryists from all over the world an opportunity to offer their services to the masses again as the heirs of the revolutionary tradition and true, anti-dogmatic and freely critical restorers of Marxism, our party had to react as energetically as possible. “When history marks the hour, the formation of the class organ will not come about in a ridiculousconstituent of little groups and supper parties who proclaimed and proclaim themselves anti-Stalinists and today more or less declare themselves ‘anti-twentieth congress’. The Party, slowly murdered by thirty years [it was 1956 – ed.] of contrary winds, cannot be recomposed like the cocktails of bourgeois druggery. A result like this, a supreme event like this, can only come at the end of a single, uninterrupted line, not marked by the thought of one man or any group of men, present “in the streets”, but by the coherent history of a series of generations. Above all, it must not arise out of nostalgic illusions of success founded not on the indestructible doctrine of the certain course of revolution, which we have had for centuries, but on the base, subjective exploitation of others’ agitations and waverings; which is a miserable, stupid, illusory path for an immense and historical outcome.”
27. Third-world Stalinism
To a far greater extent than the period following the First World War the second post-war period is certainly marked by the insurgence of violent struggles in the ex-colonies and, in general, in the whole of the so-called Third World. It was largely a question of “national liberation” wars, of redefinition of the class roles within those countries and, to a certain extent, authentic class wars. All this was the consequence of contradictions breaking out thanks to, or despite the presence of imperialism, in the new production forces developing within ancient patriarchal relationships.
There was, and still is, no lack of those who wish to take advantage of these battles in the name of “communism”. “Historical” Russian Stalinism did so, and gave active financial and military support to these revolts in order to extend its own imperialist sphere of influence over increasingly wide areas of the market. It also searched for a theoretical justification, arguing that this was the only way to halt the advance of stars-and-stripes imperialism worldwide, hushing up the fact that the market economy and military control of those countries and those battles would never, ever, be questioned.
Thus, whilst the XXth Congress of the CPSU was causing discomfort amongst millions and millions of cheated proletarians and intellectuals in search of an identity, the classical banners of Stalinism (socialism in a single country; the creation of a national market; revolution “by stages”, remindful of the Mensheviks: see Chap. 9 of this study) were taken up by the leaders of the movements fighting and by the innumerable ranks of the deluded in the cities. Of no avail were the classical positions of the International in this respect, expressed in the “Theses on the national and colonial question” during its IInd Congress (1920): “[foreign dominion] constantly halts the free development of social life; consequently, the first step in the revolution must be to do away with it. Supporting the war to overthrow foreign dominion in the colonies does not therefore mean approving the national aspirations of the native bourgeoisie; it means instead smoothing the path towards emancipation for the proletariat in the colonies,” . And whilst it is true that the objective conditions of development and the course of the class war, still in its early stages, would make it impossible to achieve “communism” in these countries, an authentic communist party in power, thanks to support from the proletariat in cities, would have made the spread of revolution to the entire planet far quicker.
The way in which pristine Marxist theory was twisted with regard to the colonial issue can be followed, step by step, in the wars of national liberation in the “backward” countries. In China, Stalinism – perfectly summed up here in the historical figures of Stalin and Mao – supported the nationalist democratic-bourgeois movement: which meant, as has already been seen, arms being handed over to the enemy and the consequent massacre of millions of proletarians, especially in the large industrial cities. Sun Yat-Sen’s old and still topical theory of the “three principles of the people” – nationalism, democracy, socialism – was modified into the theory of the “three stages”. These “stages”, in their local variations, were adopted in all the subsequent anti-colonial revolutions under the false banner of “socialism”. The first stage is the military one and corresponds to the nationalist principle of unifying the “fatherland”. The second is cultural and should serve to prepare the people for democratic elections. The third stage is the amalgamation of the former two and represents the acquired status of socialist country. Whilst the last two “stages” make up the eternal “Third World” programme, it will be sufficient to replace the former with its counterpart, i.e. national, bourgeois anti-imperialism, to find the manifesto of all the XXIst century’s no-global movements. Yet behind the armed struggle, at times extremely violent, of the black peoples, and behind the exclusively verbal virulence of western anti-imperialists, is to be found the only possible point of approach: the defence of the democratic bourgeoisie, pacifism, the respect for national flags, free trade. The “guerrilla theory”, which wishes to extend the anti-US revolt throughout the world, without touching the economic bases of world imperialism, is a direct product of the Stalinism of fifty years previously: whether agitated by Castro, by Guevara, by Marcos or by the peasant movements of all the Third World countries, it cannot free itself from the limits of a national, and at times, sub-national, vision of the struggle. We oppose this theory and practice with “the concept and practice of internationalism […] at the centre of the theoretical and practical work, of propaganda and proselytism […]. Because it is on this very terrain, during the last century, that the class has suffered its severest defeats worldwide: from the bastard theory of “socialism in a single country”, to the proclamation of the “national paths to socialism”, right up to the episodes of the ‘war amongst the poor’ or the artificial opposition between the different sectors of a class which can only be victorious if it is united.”
28. How to fight and how not to fight against Stalinism
An overall evaluation remains to be made, also in relation to the so-called Stalinist “anti-Stalinism” originating after the XXth Congress of the CPSU (1956) within groups and organizations of a democratic nature . The definitive battle that the party conducted against these groups and against the ideology from which they arise has revealed that the groups and the ideology are, if possible, worse than the historical Stalinism whose systems they inherited, mixing them and integrating them with those of bourgeois democracy. It was demonstrated over ten years of these polemics that an authentic recovery of the class struggle will only be possible when the virus of democratic anti-Stalinism that has impregnated the international proletariat is finally eradicated.
Already in the ’Fifties, groups of anti-Stalinist dissidents had arisen in Europe and America, protesting against the “tyranny” of the regime, the horrors of persecution, the trials, the shooting of the Bolshevik old guard and the detailed descriptions of repressions that slowly began to cross the “iron curtain”. The common denominator of all these “opposition” movements consisted, and still consists, in the brutality of the methods used by the Russian police or by one piece of contemporary state apparatus or the other, “communist” or democratic, ignoring or pretending to ignore the fact that any state apparatus, being the expression of a society divided into conflicting classes, is at the service of the ruling class and makes use of force to defend the interests of that class.
Stalinism quickly changed into anti-Stalinism, developing along lines that were not identical but which all converged at the focal point of democracy, i.e. giving up the fight for a violent overthrow of bourgeois order. These lines had asserted themselves with the policy – moreover, totally “Stalinist” – of the united fronts, the participation of “workers” parties in government coalitions, in some countries with the direct management of capitalist order and economy by the “communist” party (this is the case in Maoist China and Castro’s Cuba). In general, any class perspective having being forgotten, an appeal was made to the ancient lies of nineteenth-century opportunism, such as that of the will of the people expressed through “free elections”, of salaried work and capital intended as a social service, the state as guarantor of constitutional freedom, anti-fascism and anti-Stalinism seen as the highest expression of the battle against tyranny; and, reigning supreme and unchallenged, the principle of the inviolability of sacred national borders, which no militant communist organization must ever cross in the name of proletarian internationalism and which, indeed, as in 1914 and 1939 and more so, all proletarians will be obliged to respect in the defence of a democracy that is increasingly threatened (yesterday by fascism or by the western democracies, today by mysterious “rogue states” or medieval theocracies, tomorrow by new, and, as in the past, obscure “threats” to bourgeois order.) In all this, we wrote in 1949, “never was the working class [nor will it be, unfortunately, in the coming long decades – ed.] its own ally; inertia, illegal battles were [and will be] imposed as means for the objectives of its enemies. Everything always ended [and will end] in disappointment and renewed slavery.” .
Taking up once more one of our well-known theses on fascism (whose worse consequence was the production of anti-fascism) it was observed that, from the point of view of a revolutionary recovery, the worst product of Stalinism is anti-Stalinism. In the sense in which it is usually understood, petit-bourgeois and anti-Marxist, the latter in no way considers Stalinism the course of the Russian and international counter-revolutionary process that hit the proletarian masses all over the planet no more than ten years after the victorious Russian revolution, and which expressed itself using prisons and the massacre of an entire generation of revolutionaries, imposing the perverse ideology of “socialism in a single country” onto the whole of the international movement. On the contrary, in Stalinism it sees only the dictatorial, anti-democratic aspect (i.e. precisely where an authentic Marxist would, in principle, find nothing to object to), allowing itself a few pious tears about the “revolution devouring its children”, the “Bolshevik arrogance” of imposing the dictatorship of a party onto a peoples’ revolution, the “laws of history”, by which every revolution is followed by a Thermidor, etc. etc. Almost all the communists who escaped the persecutions of the ’Thirties tried to find an explanation for what was happening in Russia in terms of the violation of human rights, free consultation and free thought. The libertarians felt quite justified in proclaiming their disdain for the owner-State; the petit bourgeois joined the chorus against injustice and abuse by the “tyrant”. They all invoked a return to democratic methods, to social peace, to class equality. They all proclaimed that Stalinist terror was necessarily the consequence of the theory, the organization and the revolutionary practice of the Bolshevik party. Thus, once these theories had been eliminated, there would no longer be the risk, urbi et orbi, of falling into the horrors of Stalinist Russia: the complete break with the communist revolutionary programme could not have come about in a quicker and more dramatic way.
In this sense, anti-Stalinism came into being much earlier than Stalinism. It is an inheritance handed down long ago by the working-class associationism of the eighteen hundreds, which produced the ideology of the “grassroots” economic management of society, of the seizing of political power by “taking over the factory”, the myth of the factory councils as organs for controlling the labour force, the uselessness – or dangerous anti-worker potential – of the party as a form. Since the proletariat develops in itself its own critical strength, its own revolutionary attitude, its own spontaneous forms of organization, thus the party is not only unnecessary, but indeed is a danger to be kept at a distance: it is always easily corrupted, it can fall prey to the ambitions of a tyrant; only a widespread proletarian basis can avoid these risks because, as was to be argued from 1920 onwards by the “infantile” German and Dutch lefts in ferocious polemics with the International, in the factory the worker is safe from outside ideological influences.
That all this - like the bizarre idea that the party descends like a deus ex machinafrom the heavenly heights of the class war when it reaches the height of maturity (it is not clear through what psychological mechanisms) ready for the final act of the attack on power – has very little to do with Marxism, despite what is argued by the … researchers at the microscope in their vain search for a distinction between “historical parties” and “formal parties”, is demonstrated not only by the catastrophes that have accompanied any revolutionary movements without a true, authoritative and organized political guide in the XXth century, but by the very history of the working class movement which ever since its beginnings, that is since 1843-44, has been in possession of an independent scientific theory. A re-reading of Engels’ succinct pages in “On the History of the Communist League” is suggested. Equipped with “a scientific justification of our concept,” for Marx and Engels it became, “just as important […] to win over to our ideas (our own italics) the European proletariat,” and thus a new phase of intense outside work began, for the control of the organs of the press (Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung) and earlier workers’ and craftsmens’ organizations (League of the Just, Communist League) anticipatingthe great revolutionary movement which, shortly afterwards (1848), was to shake the whole of Europe. But even after the defeat, after the massacre of proletarians and the trials of militants, “the reactionary victory was far from being final. A new organization was required [our own italics] of the dispersed revolutionary forces, and thus also of the League,” which was to lead in 1850 to designing that masterpiece of revolutionary tactics and strategy which is the “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League.” What is all this, if not the demonstration that, in the thought of the founders of modern revolutionary science, without a centralized political organization any possibility is precluded of influencing the proletariat, of carrying out propaganda in a revolutionary sense and, lastly, of guiding them in the battle for seizing power, when the development of the social crisis allows it?
The reason Marx and Engels finally distanced themselves from the old associations, preferring isolation despite everything, was nothing to do with their despising the political organization of the proletariat because the situation was objectively unfavourable, but because – as Engels clearly explains – the old League envisaged taking action in a context of untold counter-revolutionary violence and strong economic recovery after the years of crisis. It was as though the seizing of power were on the agenda, and “they were flocking to London to form the provisional governments of the future, not only for their own countries but for the whole of Europe; and all that remained was to collect the necessary money in America in the form of a revolutionary loan, to conclude the European revolution in the bat of an eyelid.” In refusing the activism of a large section of those who then presented themselves as a class party, Marx and Engels explained on many occasions that it was useless to give importance, according to the trend then practised by all Europe’s revolutionary organizations, “as a basis of the revolution, not to real (power ) relations, but to willpower. Whilst we say to the workers: you still have to survive 15, 20, 50 years of civil wars, to change these relations and to enable yourselves to take power, they have been saying: we have to take powerimmediately, or else we all risk falling asleep” . Marx and Engels thus resolved to abandon any sort of organization for a time: not “to fall asleep”, or out of fear that it might go down the slippery slope of the “dictatorship of the leaders”, or risk replacing the proletariat in imposing a class dictatorship but, on the contrary, in order to patiently weave anew the threads of a new, more mature organization, at whose head they were to take their place fifteen years later (the First International).
We therefore refuse the anti-party attitude of many anti-Stalinist trends as being anti-Marxist and counter-revolutionary, well aware that the only condition that can to some degree save a revolutionary party from degenerating is a clear and agreed preliminary exposition of its programme, its tactical rules and a general agreement on its organizational regulations. In particular, we refuse the anti-party attitude which, instead of revolutionary organization, prefers to read historical facts in terms of humankind’s unlimited drive to acquire power, to become powerful, or of the cleverness of one Stalin or another . We counter this with “the physics of economic facts, the deadlock in the struggle of material class interests, and at the head of all this turmoil our school of thought places the keys of the past, present and future, in an overall picture of which we have gained a complete view” . Marxisim would be done for, if the clash of social forces were replaced as the engine of history by the arrogance of a Brutus, the betrayal of a Judas, the narcissism of a Mussolini – or the true, presumed or imaginary sexual teasing of … the current Berlusconi!
29. Post-Stalin Stalinism
The “Lenin=Stalin” equation, quoted by the earth’s bourgeoisie and petit bourgeosie in order to distance the proletarian masses from communism forever, took root after the “revelations” (which true revolutionaries had been aware of for decades) of the CPSU’s XXth Congress. Those who see “The Gulag Archipelagos” as the inevitable historical heritage of the Russian revolutionary police “forget” a small detail: that amongst both the former and the latter there were thousands and thousands of revolutionaries killed by the counter-revolution; that they were both, of course, manifestations of class violence but whilst the Čeka – the revolutionary police created in December 1917 and charged with contrasting counter-revolution and sabotage – initially directed its energies against “sabotage of the administration by the bourgeoisie, destruction and violence committed by intoxicated crowds […] and robbery” (thus to defending the revolution) the apparatus of terror created in Stalinist Russia (thus fully bourgeois) turned its rifles, its picks and axes on those who had so strenuously organized and directed that revolution. Statements repeated time after time, such as the banal commonplace according to which, “the revolution devours its own children,” etc. are used for the sole purpose of masking the class truth: that the violence that communists certainly do not refuse is perpetrated by the bourgeoisie with untold ferociousness in the defence of its own national and international interests. Such a commonplace should be turned around in a very different sense: “the counter-revolution devours its enemies, who attempted to overturn the previous order of things.”
Those who quote Stalinist brutality in the gulags in the name of non-violence place themselves from a theoretical point of view as the defenders of a transcendent vision of history; from a practical point of view against any possibility of overthrowing the bourgeoisie’s world dictatorship. “The outcries against the call for the proletarian dictatorship (a claim that even the politicians of Moscow’s iron regime are hypocritically hiding today ) as well as the cries of alarm against the pretended impossibility of curbing the lust for power and consequently for material privilege on the part of the bureaucratic personnel crystalized into a new ruling-class of caste, all this corresponds to the vulgar and metaphysical position which treats society and the state as abstract entities. Such a position is incapable of finding the key to problems through an investigation into the facts of production and into the transformation of all relationships, which the collisionbetween classes will give birth to” . We therefore refuse the label of “anti-Stalinists”; our anti-Stalinism upholds class violence, revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat; it is not the pious pacifist, anti-violent lament of today’s throngs of ingenuous opponents.
In some phases of its history the bourgeoisie, too, upheld the use of class violence – the Russian Stalinist state being a variety of this – whilst prohibiting its use amongst the lower classes. What Stalinism has imposed on the international scene since the Second World War has been the replacement of the class war – born of the opposition between capital and salaried labour, thus inside the capitalist mode of labour – with the battle between states that are “exploited” or “exploit”, believing it possible to destroy the maximum expression of capitalism, imperialism, through military operations conducted in the name of one country or another which elevates itself (falsely) on that occasion as the new “guiding state” of international revolution. Theoreticians of this “guerilla doctrine” are today revered as the maximum exponents of anti-imperialism. They have replaced the class war with the war between states; they wish to eliminate imperialism whilst retaining the capitalism of the imperialist states; they give up any attempt to destroy the class relations on which exploitation is based in the (ex) colonies and the ruling nations. Despite this, they do have recourse to violent action, sometimes very effective, against an enemy who appears, from the point of view of arms technology, to be far better equipped.
To the unwitting it may seem strange for the “guerilla theory” to spring out of Stalinism and post-Stalinism, for such long years the supporter of democratic polycentrism, of pacific coexistence, the “national road to socialism” and interclassism. In reality this theory was none other than the justification for the principle of Russian imperialism and its violent penetration of the developing economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America; or it represented the programme of national peasant revolution in whole geo-historical areas, in which the inexorable process of economic development had to blow away the old social ties.
We would have no objections if the people’s revolutions that swept the world after the Second World War had been presented as such, without denying their nature as national democratic and bourgeois revolts, thus authentically progressive, and thus able to solve the contradictions that were an obstacle to the emergence of class conflicts in an entirely modern sense. But all these revolutions, from China to Bolivia, from Indonesia to Cuba, made full use of the Stalinist scheme of “socialist revolution in a single country”, with the sole aim of stopping the really revolutionary class, the proletariat, standing at the helm of these movements. By obstructing political clarification and the class content of those movements, they claimed to upturn the clear tactical indications established by the IIIrd International on the subject of the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movement: instead of raising high and clear the call to their proletariat to fraternize with their brothers internationally, they closed it in its own ghetto of capitalist exploitation, in the name of a false “socialism” made up of goods, money and an inhuman pace of work in the factories, mines and plantations.
30. A first, provisional balance sheet
What distinguishes the past century is, without fear of contradiction, the unheard-of generation of violence that has saturated the entire planet. Even Europe’s bloodthirsty wars over the arrangement of national borders in the XIXth century and the Napoleonic wars seem very small things compared to the massacre of the two world wars: the former, in an age of developing capitalism, was fought to destroy armies; the latter, in the imperialist phase, was fought to destroy enormous masses of production forces and people. Since the second of these wars, not a single corner of the Earth has been spared massacres and conflicts of varying intensity. The bourgeoisie generally attributes the cause of all this to local, if not personal or psychological phenomena (wars of a tribal or religious nature or due to the “madness” of some exalted individual). We believe that the main reason should instead be sought for in the tensions which in those tortured areas are created between the leading imperialist powers, wishing to get their hands on more or less considerable portions of organic and mineral resources, as well as income or the strategic control of regions that can guarantee access to these resources in the future. The fact remains that the picture the world presents after five centuries of capitalist development in the more “advanced” areas and a few decades of imperialist devastation in the “backward” ones, is very different from the vision of eternal development and progress that the bourgeois philosophers and economists sketched at the time of the anti-feudal revolutions. The congresses of the world rulers, which are now held to the beating of drums, at present have only one thing on their agenda which is the debate on how to delay the collapse of the world economy, on how to pretend to dish out alms to one ruined country or the other (naturally masking their true intentions, which are to rob them) and decide on measures against foreseeable future social rebellions. Active protagonists of world violence, they must disguise the sense of that violence, transforming it into the battle for peace, for well-being, for everyone’s happiness. Above all, they must obtain a blank cheque from the subdued masses, guaranteeing them complete freedom of action and new, long-term margins for creating their mythical world of social harmony. How can the proletariat, the only class able to declare the end of all this, remain out of the picture for so long? How can it, so it seems, have delegated any form of struggle on an international scale to other classes or abdicated from its own plans for social revolution?
Alongside other, older forms of social control, Stalinism has been a prime element in the process of destroying revolutionary organizations and has managed to spare the international bourgeoisie the final payment that the creators of the Third International had set down on page one of their programme.
Should we reprimand Stalinism for having overdone political eclecticism or cynically abused the authority that gave them State power? Or for having made an exaggerated use of violence or defeatism faced with the huge forces of international capitalism? Against today’s anti-Stalinism we maintain that it is not the use of police methods, or the counter-revolutionary sadism or use of ignoble methods that have made Stalinism the tool of capitalist conservation, “but, instead, the social pacifism that it imposed in all the workers’ organizations. And they will make their way out of this defeat not by following the path of democracy, of ethics, of morals, of ideological eclecticism, but that of the necessity of violence and dictatorship.”
Stalinism has the historical merit of having exploited the formidable social energy liberated by the proletarian revolution of 1917 for the purposes of the bourgeois revolution. Its theoretical task was to confuse the programme of the international communist revolution with that of the national bourgeois revolution. The victory of this lugubrious programme paralyzed the international proletariat for well over half a century. If the Russian revolution caused more bloodshed than the European ones, it is precisely because Stalinism had to destroy not only anti-capitalist resistance in the countryside, but also what remained of the revolutionary currents that had directed 1917. It thus took on the international task that the European fleets and armies had not managed to complete against the Red Army in the two years following the revolution .
There is tragic historical irony in Russia’s destiny. The empire of the Zar, which Marx and Engels considered as the bastion of European counter-revolution, was transformed under Stalinism into a “communist” republic which exerted the same, if not greater influence on the world revolutionary movement.
It thus constituted the first, and will probably remain the only, historical example of a capitalist revolution that simultaneously had to fight the historical inertia of archaic and pre-bourgeois modes of production, as well as the communist proletariat struggling to hold on to power. Stalinism was therefore a revolution, if considered from the point of view of the remaining feudalism; and a counter-revolution, if considered from a communist standpoint.
The historical conditions that allowed “historical” Stalinism to arise were thus: 1)internally, a backward social situation, in which classes other than the urban industrial proletariat were to be found in great majority, whilst the issue of agriculture, which Zarism had not managed to settle in a fully capitalist perspective, was destined to weigh on the whole of society; in this context, the loss by the working class of control over the “half” classes was transformed into subordination to the market economy on an economic level and defeat in political and juridical relations on a social level; 2) externally, a phase of general defeat on the international plane of revolutionary struggles, without being able to oppose it by an orderly retreat of the communist parties to positions of absolute intransigent programming, saving the experiences of those battles for a future phase of recovery. These, together with socialism in a single country, were the bases on which all the subsequent struggles in backward countries or the colonies were to be founded, thus condemning them either to the massacre of proletarians (China, 1927) or to limiting themselves to national revolutions of a peasant nature: certainly important struggles in the context of imperialist contrasts, but fought against the principles of the international solidarity of the proletariat and, therefore,against communism. The penetration of peasant/petit-bourgeois revolutionary ideology in backward countries, with its necessary accompaniment of cross-class alliances in advanced industrial countries and thus, in some sense, fully organized for a revolutionary break and the overthrowing of the bourgeoisie: this is the end product of Stalinism. Only the irreversible crisis of imperialism will decree the end of this derailment of the historical drama, despite its development having caused untold-of suffering to the world proletariat.
It is clear that, as usual, it has not been our intention to carry out a purely historiographic study in this excursus on the past. The battle (theoretical, political, organizational) against what is commonly called “Stalinism” is an ongoing battle, because – in all respects – it has meant abandoning the communist programme and perspectives, and as such is destined (in forms that are perhaps only outwardly different) to crop up again as an enemy of the proletariat. Beyond what it has represented historically (the destruction of the communist movement), it has meant a complete upturning of the very concept of party, of the relations between party and class, of the internationalist dimension, of the relations with the democratic bourgeoisie, the perspectives of partial struggles and also, and above all, of the final battle, or communism. Born as a counter-revolution inside communist Russia and rapidly extending on an international plane, once it had outlived its function as an armed struggle against the revolutionary parties, it adapted this function to the historical events of the post-war period. The economic recovery of the ‘Fifties, followed in Russia in subsequent decades by a slow and relentless decline in the rate of accumulation and a progressive tangle of crises in the industrial and financial apparatus, has necessarily modified the theory and practice of Stalinist ideology. With anti-internationalism (and thus the negation of the entire Marxist revolutionary programme) remaining its beginning and its end, it rapidly aligned with all those movements that made primitivism (i.e. the refusal of class organization), workerism (i.e. the isolation of the proletariat inside the workplace and its daily trials), democracy (i.e. the bourgeois doctrine that arose with the anti-feudal revolutions, according to which it is no longer classes but individuals who possess the “strength” to direct history) into their counter-revolutionary doctrine. Despite those who believe that class war, social revolution and communism are buried once and for all, the history of the XXth century has constituted an exceptionally fertile lesson in the process of clarifying the fate of bourgeois society, destined to succumb to a violent death. But it will not be possible to fully harvest the fruits of this lesson until the historical theft that Stalinism has perpetrated for decades in the rank and file of the proletariat has been got rid of: the theft of the revolutionary communist flag.
What then are the reasons for our struggle? Fighting Stalinism is the same as fighting the ideologies ranged on the battlefield by our class enemy in its historical trajectory and on the basis of its own local contingencies (fascism, democracy). Every attempt by the bourgeoisie and its hirelings to transform our theory and class organizations into their exact opposites, into the “bleating” for a better world, for more “justice and well-being”, a “habitable” environment, “a job for everyone”, pretending to forget the relentless advance of crises and wars, and taking it for granted that when we speak of work in the present economy, we speak of salariedwork, i.e. the underpaid sale of labour, and thus, in the end, of the production of capital, is an attempt that has only been successful with masses disoriented by the constant promises of a “better future” as opposed to the horrors of the present, because the great endeavours of social revolt that shook the world in past decades were suffocated in bloodshed and reformist deceit.
It is these masses that we address, reminding them that communism is not what their eternal class enemy has always invited them to go and vote for. It is not the choice of one more or less corrupt State or Municipal administrator or the other. It is not the sugar lump of a few cents pay rise (which would in any case swiftly dissolve in the heat of inflation, taxes, the need of capital to meet international competition with a cut in salaries and contributions from the “welfare state”). It is not an appeal to “superior moral laws” against the corrupted and the corrupters.
Marxism has demonstrated brilliantly that for a century the historical necessity that for three or four millennia has led humanity to the origin and torment of societies divided into classes has become devoid of sense and totally outdated. In its progressive phase in history, capitalism had the huge role of developing the forces of production to the extreme. For some time now a process has matured thanks to which the whole of society and no longer the bourgeois class should take over the means of production by the use of force. To use Engel’s words in Antidühring, not until the nature of the social forces that today act blindly, violently and destructively has been understood, will they be able, in the hands of joint producers and thus of the whole of society, to be transformed from diabolical dominators into docile servants. Today’s production forces are considered in this way, the social anarchy of production will be replaced by a socially planned regulation of production, responding to the needs both of the community and of each individual, “while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow…” .
Do we want a final, precise definition of what communism will be after the destruction of the social relations and entire parasitic sectors of the capitalist economy? We find it in our key texts – and let this be the tombstone of all Stalinist ideology:
“A. Abolition of the administration of production by company managements.
“B. Abolition of distribution by means of commercial and monetary exchange, for products both as goods and as human labour force.
“C. A unified social plan, measured by physical quantities and not economic equivalences, by the assignment of labour, raw materials, tools to the various production sectors and the assignment of the products to the consumer sectors. It is grossly mistaken to say that socialism is the suppression of surplus value and the return and redistribution of the whole product of all workers.
“Socialism is the abolition of any commercial value and any obligatory, paid labour, with the gift of surplus labour by every individual to society, and not to others nor to oneself.”
Let Stalinists and anti-Stalinists come forward with their national development, growth and competition programmes. Let the worshippers of reform and the defenders of salaried work “for everyone” step forward. Let the anti-imperialists, the distant and sad democratic heirs of Stalinism with their “fights” for development and independence (!) in national economies constituted by companies, banks and “equal” exchange step forward. Let them step forward and look one another in the eye, recognizing one another for what they are: the most trustworthy and reliable of capital’s watchdogs.
On this topic, see our texts “Il battilocchio nella storia”, “Superuomo, ammòsciati!” and “Plaidoyer pour Staline”. They are to be found in Il programma comunista, respectively in nos. 7/1953, 8/1953 and 14/1956.
An idiocy, because for historical materialism it is the progression of modes of production that determine all the dominant forms of ideology and, amongst them political concepts. This progression is no tourist itinerary on which one eminent historical personage or another can decide to skip a stop or two, if he thinks it’s worth it. With regard to Zarist Russia in particular, on the eve of the great transformations in agriculture and industry which were finally to take their place in the context of the world capitalist economy, Marx and Engels concentrated their attention on an intense correspondence with the first Russian socialists from the eighteen sixties onwards, finally reaching the conclusion that historical constraints would only allow the old rural common ownership to serve as a point of departure for a communist evolution, if the Russian revolution acted as a signal for a workers’ revolution in the west (see the “Preface to the 1882 Russian Edition” of the Communist Manifesto).
In this presentation we shall make use of some of our fundamental texts, to which we refer readers for more detailed study, in particular the following: “La Russia nella grande rivoluzione e nella società contemporanea”, in Russia e rivoluzione nella teoria marxista, ed. il programma comunista 1976; Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi, ed. il programma comunista, 1976; “Dialogato con Stalin”, in Il programma comunista, n.1-4/1952 (French translation in www.internationalcommunistparty.org); “Dialogato coi morti”, in Il programma comunista, nn. 5-10/1956; “L’économie soviétique de la révolution d’octobre à nos jours”, in Programme communiste, nn. 15-20 e 22-23 (1961-1963).
Marx, Capital, Volume I, chapter 17, Section 4: Simultaneous Variations in the Duration, Productiveness and Intensity of Labour, p. 368 (translation in www.marxists.org/archive).
Marx, Capital, Volume III, chapter 36: Pre-Capitalist Relationships, p. 433(translation in www.marxists.org/archive).