Wednesday, 19 June 2019

1917-2017: Toward the Future

In celebrating the centenary of the October Revolution 1, we have tried to extract the lessons to be learned from October 1917 (and suggest them again for the future, as this is what interests us). Now, a question spontaneously arises: is it really necessary to emphasize yet again the urgent need for communism? It would be sufficient to look around us to see the answer. The capitalist mode of production is becoming more and more like a blind, lame tightrope walker setting out along a tightrope fraying at both ends: on all sides the puppets of Capital are insisting that the crisis is coming to an end; on all sides there are more and more signs that the crisis exists, is showing its teeth and accumulating more explosive material, destined to blow up sooner or later. And we might even stop here. But this is impossible.

 

In other words, it is impossible to ignore the tremendous devastation of the environment, the brutality and slaughter of the dozens of wars going on around the world, the disruption and ferocity accompanying them, the disgusting butchery of entire populations, the beastly exploitation of the labour force which is growing at all latitudes, the arrogance, the indifference, the constant degradation of individual and social relationships, the alienation rife amongst young people with no future prospects, the violence that strikes at women and children, the desperate isolation in which the unemployed and the elderly are trapped, the fury against migrants and “foreigners” – to sum up, everything that goes to make up the stuff of daily life in this mode of production, dominated by the law of profit at all costs, competition and the war of all against all. The “best of all possible worlds”! From all the pores of blood-letting capitalist society this necessity is dramatically felt … The same anger (in fact sewage stinking of ignorance and mystification!) by which the ruling class, through its more or less hired pen-pushers, continues to attack the “October Revolution”, goes to show quite clearly that the need for communism is seriously disturbing its sleep, turning it into a nightmare that it can’t escape, even by using strong doses of opiates or other synthetic or ideological drugs.

In the past century, the world proletariat has suffered an assault from the ruling class – both the head-on and inevitable one from its class enemy, and the more subtle and destructive one from its “false friends”, more or less openly but always ranged on the side of power. It has been defeated on the battlefield, more often in the midst of bloodshed, and is still crushed beneath the weight of these defeats. But we communists know, not through religious faith but through historical experience, that beyond a certain limit, the weight of defeat turns into the engine of rebellion – that the slave cannot stand being beaten forever, that sooner or later the oppressed raise their heads and fight back. And so, in the past and in the present, we communists harvest the seeds of the future: today we work to prepare tomorrow.

“What are you going on about? Communism has failed!” this is what the miserable idiots chorus – well-paid and ignorant, and kept on the leash. And so, with the patience that Marx, Engels and Lenin have taught us, we explain once again – not to that riff-raff, just deserving a good beating, but to young proletarians, wherever they come from who are already suffering the monstrosities of capitalism – what that defeat consisted and consists of and how to shake it off. Toward the future of a classless society.

 

Lessons from the counter-revolution

And so, “communism has failed,” they tell us. Do you remember what they were saying a few centuries ago? “The earth is flat and stands at the centre of the universe”. Ipse dixit: “if that’s what they’ve always said, then it must be true.” One of the effects of the counter-revolution that has been weighing on the proletariat for almost a century (and, mark this, on the whole of society) is the inability (failure to dare) to call into question the dominant version of the facts – accepting it lying down, like a religious dogma. “Of course the USSR is a communist country! Of course China is communist! Of course the Cuban revolution was communist!” and so on. Modes of production, economic laws, capitalism and communism, State, party, class struggle…everything turns into a vague blob with no contours, with the addition of ignorance and manipulation and the absence of any will to know and understand. Ipse dixit: you swallow and that’s it.

But let’s proceed in order. Let’s return to 1917 and the long, crucial period of time following it. We have already demonstrated two central and inseparable elements of the Bolshevik comrades’ strategy over the years and months preceding and around October: a) the economic and social structure of Russia was still backward (and in a disastrous state, after the imperialist war and the ferocious siege, lasting at least three years, by the coalition of imperialist brigands) and the task of proletarian power guided by Bolshevik party was to set the bases (and the bases only) for socialism - i.e. develop the Russian economy as far as possible in the direction of State capitalism; b) this was to take place in the context of a pure proletarian revolution (i.e. without any commitments to bourgeois socio-economic development), to be prepared, promoted, organized and directed in the most capitalistically advanced countries, first and foremost in Central Europe, given its geographically strategic position. There was no hesitation or misunderstanding about this prospect: proletarian Russia was to resist the attacks by the united forces of the bourgeoisie, accelerate the introduction of capitalism in its most advanced forms and work on the revolution to the west.

On the “success” of this politically socialist, unified strategy only did the socialist future of Russia depend, in the economic field, too; because then the two halves (the western economic half and the Russian political one) would blend and be able to march at an increasingly brisk pace toward socialism worldwide. The Communist International (the Third International, founded in 1919) was to be the High Command of this process - the world party able to direct it. This was the prospect and the ample body of quotations reported in our previous articles (as well as the enormous work of analysis, reconstruction and provision of detailed historical information carried out over the decades by our Party) is sufficient to demonstrate it for now: anyone who really intends to understand knows where to come and look for the building blocks in this construction.

The years immediately following October 1917 mark the difficult and dramatic march in that direction. On the one hand - as we said earlier - the Russian proletariat has to face the attack from the world bourgeoisies which, after having been at each other’s throats for four long years of war, are now “miraculously” united (and this must surely give food for thought!) in the attempt to strangle the world revolution in nuce. On the other hand, the international communist movement endeavours, no doubt with delay and in the midst of much uncertainty, to equip itself with a unified theoretical, political and organizational position, able to carry out that part of the work without which any prospect of developing socialism, even in Russia itself, would be vain: this was the job of the Communist International, which develops it, despite growing uncertainty and ambiguity, in its first four congresses.

And so the “war communism” in the years immediately following the revolution (which an immense host of useful idiots thinks is already “heaven on earth” – or better, for them, “hell”…) consists in a series of measures for an emergency economy, or war economy – i.e. measures that any power would have had to adopt in that situation and has always adopted. These were not and could not be communism: unless one believes that … donkeys are reptiles! But as we know, the useful idiots are far from subtle! Once again: we repeat what our Party has amply demonstrated over the decades2. Having overcome that terrible period (the facts of which bourgeois “historians” of all colours cleverly and shamefully keep silent about) and faced with the delay and then bloody defeat of the proletarian movement in Germany and the rest of the industrialized world, revolutionary Russia found itself before the enormous task of developing capitalism in Russia, the only hope of holding out for “ten” or “twenty” years – as they said then – whilst waiting for history itself (the history of the class struggle) to suggest a new revolutionary moment (we must not forget that at the end of the ‘20s the capitalist world would plunge into a new economic crisis and, at the end of the ‘30s, a new world bloodbath). And this was the NEP “new economic policy”: a necessary and predicted passage and not, as the useful idiots with their bourgeois “intelligence” (!!!) instead claim, an “attempt to repair the damage done by Marxist economy!”

We quote a passage from our 1970 text, summing up the long work of analysis carried out by our Party on “Russian affairs” in the course of the 1950s and 1960s:

 

It was the later defeats of the international revolution that imposed on the Bolsheviks a series of measures regarding economic policy which had nothing to do with socialism but which Stalinism later blessed with this misleading label. In reality, it meant the workers’ management of enterprises abandoned by the owners or the re-establishment of a certain degree of internal commerce, industrial planning or the substitution of natural taxation by forced requisition of grain, and all these were mere economic expedients, palliatives to fight poverty and under-production, temporary provisions awaiting the return of the worldwide proletarian battle, which all revolutionaries worthy of the name never agreed to give up.3

 

In the meantime, however, there was the other side of the strategy: the Communist International. Our unceasing battle inside this fundamental organism consisted in trying to make it the authentic world party of the international proletariat, equipped with a theory, tactics and a solid and well-defined organization4 . And on this terrain, we gradually started to clash with the blurring of the clear original vision, replaced by a series of measures – at the very level of tactics and organization – which, in an attempt to deal with the delays to the revolution in the West, introduced manoeuvres, slogans and prospects that were ambiguous and contradictory, destined, as we warned several times, to reflect on the International’s principles and programme: gradually turning it into an instrument of the Russian State and no longer the High Command of the world proletariat. There, in Russia, those capitalist economic forces undergoing their necessary development could not fail to have a social and political reflection and only solid State management with an international perspective could have contained and dealt with them. But this did not happen: between 1923 and 1926 a gradual process of closure and involution of Russian economy and politics was to be seen, with its inevitable effects on the International, too. Once again from our 1970 text:

 

If the revolution had been victorious in Germany, Soviet power could have restricted itself to the concessions already made to private capitalism and the Russian peasantry and controlled their social effects. Giving up the perspective of the European revolution, as Stalin did, meant instead giving free rein to the development of capitalist relations in Russia, giving the classes that were the immediate beneficiaries supremacy over the proletariat. This proletariat, an extreme minority, already decimated by the war against the White Russians and subjected to the crushing work of production, had no other weapon against the speculators in private commerce and the greed of the peasants, than the cudgel of the Soviet State. But this State could only remain proletarian as long as it was firmly at one with the international proletariat against reactionary internal factions. Deciding that Russia should construct “its” socialism on its own meant abandoning its proletariat to the enormous pressure from the non-proletarian classes and freeing Russian capitalism from any kind of coercion or control. Worse still, it meant transforming the Soviet State into a State like all others, in an effort to make Russia into a great bourgeois nation as quickly as possible.

This was the true meaning of Stalin’s “turning point” and his formula of “socialism in one country”. To call “socialism” what was pure capitalism and in coming to an agreement with the reactionary mass of the Russian peasantry, persecuting and killing all the revolutionaries who had remained faithful to Lenin’s prospects and the interests of the Russian and international proletariat, Stalin was the instrument of a real counter-revolution. Even though he acted with the atrocious terror of an absolute despot, he was nevertheless not its promoter but the instrument of it.

After a series of defeats at an international level, as well as internally, after the repression of the armed rebellions and the catastrophic tactical errors of the International, and after the peasants’ revolts and famines in Russia, it appeared quite clear towards 1924 that the communist revolution in Europe had been postponed indefinitely. At this point, a terrible, corpo a corpo struggle began with all the other classes in society.

These classes, momentarily seized by enthusiasm for the anti-Tsarist revolution, no longer aspired to anything but enjoying their victory in bourgeois style, i.e. sacrificing the international revolutionary perspective to the establishment of “good relations” with capitalist countries. Stalin was merely the spokesman and the one who achieved their aspirations.

 

Increasingly, instead of controlling and directing the economic and social forces that were maturing and emerging from below ground and doing this in the context of the world communist strategy, the Russian Party and State became the expression and instrument of these very forces. And the Communist International followed suit. At this point, the mongrel theory of “socialism in one country” took the next step and became destructive as well as bloodthirsty.

We cannot follow all the developments of the involution and subsequent open counter-revolution here: once again we refer those who seriously wish to understand the historical drama that took place from the mid-1920s onwards, and in which we are still immersed, to our Struttura economica della Russia d’oggi (The economic structure of today’s Russia) and to the pamphlet La crisi del 1926 nell’Internazionale Comunista e nel partito russo (The 1926 crisis in the Communist International and the Russian Party). We limit ourselves to repeating: on the economic and social plane there was never either socialism or communism in Russia and even less so in the rest of the world which, in the following decades and with inevitably national and nationalistic interpretations, followed the deviation and the path to “socialism in one country”. Those who paid for this were not only the “old guard”, the Bolsheviks, scattered and massacred, but the international proletariat and the world communist movement. A defeat in the field and by external enemies as well as internal ones: but a defeat, not the failure of a mode of production! And this is what we have been denouncing ever since the middle of that decade, in the 1920s, so dense with promise and with tragedy.

 

Yesterday, today, tomorrow

It is clear at this stage that for us, on the basis not of banal self-justification, but of long work spent “hammering the nails back in”, of theoretical restoration and – never let us forget this – of open struggle on all fronts (against bourgeois democracy, against Nazi-fascism, expressions of imperialist rule, and against Stalinism), it has always been a question of defending the political gains of October 1917, of weighing them up and starting out again from there – just as Marx and Engels did after the collapse and bloody repression of the Paris Commune in 1871. And here we are comforted by the very dynamics of the capitalist mode of production, which continues to pull out the same old unsolvable contradictions at monstruously higher and higher levels: in a word, the increasingly keen need for communism.

At the IIIrd Congress of the Italian Communist Party, held secretly in Lyons in 1926, our current, gradually driven into the sidelines by the Party’s Directorate and destined in a short while to be largely expelled, presented its own Theses as alternatives to those of Gramsci-Togliatti, by then aligned with victorious Stalinism. These Theses of ours were at one and the same time a weighing-up of what had been happening in the international communist movement and the restatement of a revolutionary perspective for the future: the basis for the struggle that, since then, our current has never ceased to carry forward, though as a minority and sailing against the current, in order to set the bases for the world communist party to be born anew. In one extremely important section, the Theses sum up the sense of the party’s work, to be handed down to future generations: to us and we in turn hand it on to new generations. It states:

The work of the party cannot and must not limit itself solely to conserving the purity of theoretical principles and the purity of the organizational aspect, or solely to the realization at all costs of immediate successes and numerical popularity. It must incorporate, at all times and in all situations, the three following points:

 

a) the defence and clarification, with regard to new sets of facts that may occur, of the fundamental programmatic postulates, i.e. of the theoretical conscience of the working-class movement;

b) guarantee of the continuity of the party’s organizational aspect and its efficiency, as well as its defence against contamination from influences that are foreign to and opposed to the revolutionary interests of the proletariat;

c) Active participation in all working-class struggles even when arising from partial and limited interests, in order to encourage their development, but always relating them to their revolutionary final goals by showing that that the conquests of the class struggle are paths leading to indispensable future battles and denouncing the danger of becoming comfortable with partial achievements as though they were points of arrival and thus of exchanging them for the conditions of active proletarian class struggle, such as the autonomy and independence of its ideology and its organizations, first and foremost amongst them the party.

The supreme objective of this complex activity is to set the subjective conditions for preparing the proletariat, in the sense that the latter should be enabled to profit from the objective possibilities for revolution that history will present, as soon as they appear, so that it leaves the fight as victors and not as the defeated.5

 

This is where we set out from again in 1952, after a full twenty-five years of battling for survival and in contact with the class, even when it was deviated and betrayed by counter-revolutionaries, in the awareness that history (the history of the capitalist mode of production and its increasingly explosive and irepressible contradictions and the history of the proletarian movement with all its ups and downs, its partial victories and burning defeats) would not cease to offer these “objective possibilities for revolution” once again.

On this terrain we must continue to work. At the level of theory: by analyzing precisely, using the weapon of Marxist science, what goes on at the heart of capitalist society (starting from the “course of world capitalism”, with all its social and ideological reflections). At the level of organization: by defending the Party’s physical continuity from every external influence (petit-bourgeois junk, the mainstream ideology) and state repression (in all its forms, both legal and illegal). At a practical level: intervening, as far as our forces allow us, in proletarian struggles, to organize them, guide them critically and – if and when we obtain real influence within the class – direct them, gradually channelling the class antagonism that the very contradictions of capitalism can’t help but provoke towards the necessary objective of seizing power and the dictatorship of the proletariat guided by the Party. Seizing power: this is the central issue. Our task is to show, at every moment of our class’s tormented life, the need for seizing power, establishing the power of the proletariat guided by the revolutionary Party. As we wrote already in another article 6, and as we shall never tire of repeating, every aspect of the drama of proletarian survival (a life that is precarious, miserly, besieged: today as yesterday and as tomorrow) demands this outcome: the backbreaking exploitation at the workplace and the dual exploitation, at home and outside, of proletarian women, the salary which (when there is one) slips through your fingers, the day-by-day desperation of unemployment, the housing problem and how to make it to the end of the month, medical expenses and care for the elderly, a future with (at best!) a starvation pension, illness and death from exhaustion, poisoning, the giddy pace of life and tremendous accidents, emigration with all it involves, persecution of all sorts… And then widespread warfare that is increasing constantly, environmental instability that has reached alarming and threatening levels, cities bursting at their seams and the countryside abandoned or the destruction of whole areas subjected to intensive farming, food adulteration, poisoned water, individual and mass folly, the strangling, numbing and oppression from racist, religious and nationalist ideologies, the open and masked violence of the bourgeois State… Can we really go on illuding ourselves that all this can be eliminated (or at least controlled) without a central power that will refuse to obey particular economic interests, the law of profit, the dictates of international competition? Or without the return to the stage of open battle, no longer delegated to one or the other institution, party, congregation, individual in the constitutional arena, but grounded on open social antagonism, the widest possible front, the refusal of the paralyzing rules of democracy, the “higher demands of the national economy” and “loyalty to the fatherland”. Or without the resuscitation of proletarian territorial organisms that deal with all the demands of open battle as well as all the practical daily needs of the class and that really do function as places and moments for meeting and coming together for all sectors of the proletariat (“guaranteed” or not, employed and unemployed, precarious or pensioners, men and women, young and old people, immigrants and “natives”), over and above any differences created and fuelled by the ruling ideology, whether ethnic, religious or national? … We could go on. But the answer is always: NO, it is not possible. Again in the first article of this series, and we reconnect here to the latter, in a way closing the circle of this re-evocation which is a political battle and not a rhetorical memory, we wrote: “If we do not understand the need for this power, we inevitably fall back into the logic of faint-hearted reformism, all the more frustrating, the more destructive the nature of capitalism grows and advances. On the contrary, only by understanding the necessity of seizing power and thus of the centralized organization of a battle with this objective - only in this way will even partial battles be possible, aiming to defend living and working conditions with the necessary intransigence and firmness, recognizing our own strength and letting our adversaries feel it, too, whether they be the bosses or the State with all their terrorist practices.”

In the course of the inevitable clash with the State and its forces of repression, democratic or totalitarian institutions (and now, more and more often, the democratic-totalitarian, given the transformations that bourgeois state power has undergone in the imperialist age), the proletariat will have to realize the need to bring all its forces into the field, not only in terms of numbers but well organized and well directed – both on the terrain of immediate claims and on that of revolutionary prospects. This process will only be possible on condition that communists, organized in the international communist Party, have previously prepared the way by accompanying it and fertilizing it, making it grow and truly become that historical power able to overthrow the capitalist mode of production, opening the path towards a classless society.

The party, then. The other great (and tragic!) lesson that emerges from the years following October 1917 is that the revolutionary party must exist well before the showdown between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and that it must be monolithic in terms of theory as in terms of practice and organization: not the federation of national parties (as it was for the Second International and as it ended up being for the Communist International before its liquidation), but a single world party, founded on the historical result of almost a century of counter-revolution, equipped with solid theory, put to the test and verified in direct and constant contact with the reality of a class war that has never ceased over all these decades and a unified organization that has to be promoted, put into practice and defended. This is what we, as a minority working against the current, have always been working on.

And let no-one come along and say: “Fine but what then? We all know that power corrupts… And in any case, communism…What is it, seeing as you say no examples exist?...” The banality of bourgeois intelligence should be left to the idiots, the ignorant, those with vested interests. Revolutionaries know quite well what the lines and programmatic points of communism are: a century and a half of theoretical and practical battles, of lessons from counter-revolution, of attempts to storm heaven crushed in angry bloodshed, of historical outcomes achieved in the white-hot heat of the class war. We have nothing to demonstrate or justify. Communists, organized in their party act today on the basis of the experience of yesterday and with the prospect of tomorrow. It is in this sense that we remember “Red October” with pride, passion and determination.

 

1 See “1917-2017: Long Live Red October! Long Live the Proletarian Revolution of the Future!”, The Internationalist, n.4/Summer 2017.

2 Amongst our many works on this subject, see at least Dialogato con Stalin (1952), Russia e rivoluzione nella teoria marxista (1954-55), Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi (1955-57), Bilan d’une révolution (1967).

3 “Perché la Russia non è socialista”, Il programma comunista, nn.13-14-15-16-17-18-19/1970.

4 We remind readers that this uncreasing battle is well documented in the five volumes of our Storia della Sinistra Comunista, which we refer to for details and a deeper and more complete analysis.

5 Our “Lyons Theses” can be read in English in our former review Internationalist Papers, n.14/Spring-Summer 2009.

6 “1917-2017: Long Live Red October! Long Live the Proletarian Revolution of the Future!”, The Internationalist, n.4/Summer 2017.

 

International Communist Party

International Press

 

                    

            

 

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