Bordiga: intervention at the Sixth Enlarged ECCI (Fifth Session, February 22, 1926)
Continuation of the Discussion on the Report of Comrade Zinoviev
Comrade Ferdi, Chairman, declared the session open and called upon Comrade
Bordiga to speak.
Comrade Bordiga (Italy):
«Comrades, I think it is absolutely impossible to limit our discussion to the scope of the draft theses and of the report.
We have a situation in the International which cannot be considered satisfactory.
In a certain sense we are in a state of crisis. A summary review of the history of the C.I. will show that there is a consensus concerning the existence of a crisis.
After the disaster of the Second International the formation of the Communist International was accomplished on the strength of the slogan: Formation of Communist Parties. Everyone agreed that there existed objective conditions for struggle, but we were minus the organ of this struggle.
At the Third Congress, after the experience of many events and especially of the March Action in Germany in 1921, the International was compelled to admit that the formation of Communist Parties alone was not sufficient. Fairly strong sections of the Communist International had been formed in all the most important countries, but the problem of. revolutionary action had not been solved.
The Third Congress had to discuss this problem and had to place on record that it was not enough to have Communist Parties, even if all the objective conditions for struggle are there, that it is essential that our Parties be able to exercise influence over the masses.
I am not at all against the conception of the Third Congress of the necessity for mass solidarity, as a premise to the final offensive, but I would like to say that such a conception, namely as expressed by the Third Congress, does not by any means include the idea of united front tactics: the latter corresponds to a defensive position created by a capitalist offensive against which endeavours are made to bring out all the workers on the basis of immediate demands.
The application of the United Front led to errors after the Third Congress and especially after the Fourth Congress. In our opinion, these tactics were adopted without making their real meaning perfectly clear. We were all in agreement when it was a question of making the economic and immediate demands the basis of these tactics, demands which sprang up owing to the offensive of the enemy. But when there was an intention of making the new formulae of a Workers' Government the basis of a United Front, we opposed this, declaring that this slogan made us exceed the limits of effective revolutionary tactics.
After the October defeat in Germany in 1923, the International recognised that the mistake had been made.
But instead of introducing a thorough change into the decisions of the Fourth Congress, all that was done was to hit out against certain comrades. Scapegoats had to be found. And they were found in the German Party. There was an absolute failure to recognise that the entire International was responsible. Nevertheless, the theses were revised at the Fifth Congress and a new formula of the Workers' Government was issued.
Why did we disagree, with the theses of the Fifth Congress? In our opinion, the revisions were not adequate. The theses and speeches were very Left, but this was not enough for us: we foresaw what would happen after the Fifth Congress and that is why we are not satisfied.
I will now deal with Bolshevisation, and I assert that its balance sheet is unsatisfactory from all viewpoints. It was said: We have only one Party which has accomplished a revolutionary victory - the Russian Bolshevik Party. Hence we must follow the path pursued by the Russian Party in order to achieve victory. This is quite true, but it isn't enough. The Russian Party carried on its struggle under special conditions, that is to say, in a country where the feudal autocracy had not yet been beaten by the capitalist bourgeoisie. For us it is essential to know how to attack a modern, democratic bourgeois State which on the one hand has all the resources to corrupt and mislead the proletariat and which on the other hand is even more efficient on the field of armed struggle than the Tsarist autocracy. This problem will not be found in this history of the Russian Communist Party and if one interprets Bolshevisation in the sense that the revolution of the Russian Party provided the solution for all strategic problems of the revolutionary struggle, the conception of Boishevisation is inadequate. The glorious experience of the Russian Party is precious to us from the viewpoint of the revolution, of tactical problems, but apart from this we must have something else. It is only in the domain that the lesson of the Russian Revolution and of the restoration of Marxism by Lenin are conclusive.
Much of the problem of Bolshevisation will be found in the question of the reorganisation of the Parties. In 1925 it was said that the entire organisation of the Sections of the International was wrong, that one had not yet applied even the ABC of organisation. Very strange that one should not have noticed this before. Eight years after the victory in Russia we are told: The other Parties are impotent because they are not organised on the basis of factory nuclei. Well, Marx and Lenin are there to show us that organisation is not everything in the revolutionary struggle. To solve the problem of revolution, it is not enough to issue an organisational formula. These are problems of forces and not of forms.
I contest that the Communist Party must be necessarily organised on a factory nucleus basis. In the organisation theses brought forward by Lenin at the Third Congress, it is repeatedly stated that in questions of organisation there can be no solution which is equally good for all countries. We do not contest that the situation in Tsarist Russia was such as to justify the Russian Communist Party to organise itself on a factory nucleus basis.
But we believe that nuclei present certain disadvantages in other countries. Why?
Above all, because a group of workers organised as a nucleus cannot have the opportunity for discussing all political questions.
You will probably say that we demand what is demanded by all Right elements, that is to say, the organisation of workers into sections where the intellectuals lead in all discussions. But this danger will always exist and one must bear in mind that the working class cannot do without intellectuals, which, whatever one may say, are necessary to it.
The movement needs organisers and agitators who must be recruited among the deserters of the other classes or else among advanced workers. But the danger of corruption and demagogy inherent to these elements once they become leaders is as great with them as with the intellectuals. In certain cases, ex-workers have played the most ignominious role in the labour movement. Moreover, does organisation on a factory nucleus basis put an end to the role of the intellectuals? They constitute at present, together with ex-workers, the entire apparatus of the Party and their role has become more dangerous. Then you cannot be ignorant of the fact that there is a complete technical solidarity between the state apparatus and the employers, and when a workman endeavours to organise the others, the employer calls in the police. This makes the activity of the Party in the factories much more dangerous. It is an easy matter for the bourgeoisie to find out what work is done in the factory and that is why we propose to have the basic organisation of the Party outside the factories.
In Russia the relations between the capitalist employers and the state were different. Moreover, the problem was bound to arise and the danger of non-political «labourism» which we see in the nuclei was not so great.
Does this attitude of ours mean that we will neglect Party work in the factories? Certainly not, one must have the Party organisation in the factories, but it must not form the basis of the Party. It is essential to have Party organisation in the factories to carry on the policy of the Party. It is impossible to be in contact with the working class without a factory organisation.
Therefore, we are for a network of Communist organisations in the factories but political discussions must take place in the territorial sections.
I will deal now with another point of view: that of the internal regime of the Party and of the Communist International.
Another discovery has just been made: what we hitherto lacked in all sections is iron Bolshevik discipline, of which the Russian Party is setting us an example. It must be forbidden to form fractions, and all Party members, regardless of their opinion, are compelled, to participate in the common work even in the Central Committee.
It is a fact that we must have a Communist Party which is absolutely united, a Party without divergencies of opinions and different groups within it. But how is this to be achieved? How are we to arrive at an effective and vital unity and not at the paralysation of the Party? At the first signs of crisis within the Party one must first find out its causes. Our view is that they cannot be found by means of a kind of criminal code of the Party. Lately a certain kind of sport has been indulged in the Parties, a pastime which consists in hitting out, intervening, breaking up, illtreating, and it very frequently happens that very good revolutionaries get hit. I think, that this terrorist sport within the Party has nothing in common with our work. We must hit and break up capitalism, it is on this field that our Party can show its prowess and I believe that on this field we will witness the defeat of many of our internal terrorists within the iron fist!
The real merit does not consist in crushing rebellion but in preventing it. The best proof of unity is its results and not a regime of threats and terror. Those elements who deviate in a decisive manner from the common path must be hit hard. But if the application of the criminal code becomes the order of the day in a society this means that this society is far from perfect.
Sanctions must be applied in exceptional cases, they must not be the rule, a pastime and an ideal of the leaders of a Party. It is all this which needs changing if we are to form a solid block.
By the by, there are very good paragraphs on this subject in the theses before us. A little more freedom will be given. But will this be put into practice? The fact is that we need a healthier regime in the Party, it is absolutely necessary that the Party should be able to form an opinion of its own. One must pursue this aim in order that the rank and file of the Party should have a common political conscience.
I will deal now with the fractions. I take the view that to raise the problem of fractions as a moral problem, as a problem of criminality is utterly wrong. Is there a historic example showing that any comrade has formed a fraction for his own amusement? Such a thing has never happened. Experience has shown that opportunism makes its appearance among us always in the guise of unity. Moreover, the history of fractions goes to show that if fractions do no honour to the Parties in which they have been formed, they do honour to those who have formed them. The history of fractions is the history of Lenin.
The formation of a fraction is an indication that something is wrong, and to remedy the evil one must not strike but one must rather investigate what was the historic cause of the disease which necessitated the formation of the fraction. Fractions are not the disease, they are only the symptom, and if you want to cure a disease, you must first of all discover it and understand it.
Let us take for example, the crisis of the French Party. What was the procedure in this Party against the fractions? A very bad procedure, for instance, with respect to a syndicalist fraction which is on the point of formation. Certain comrades, expelled from the Party, have returned to their former affections and are publishing a periodical to explain their ideas. They are, of course, wrong, but what has caused them to do so. The naughty boys, Rosmer and Monatte, did not act on the impulse of a caprice. The causes for their action are to seek in the errors of the French Party and of the entire International.
These fundamental errors threaten to reappear within the proletariat because the International and the Communist Parties have not been able to demonstrate by deeds the enormous difference which exists between a policy conceived in a revolutionary and Leninist spirit and that of the old Social Democratic Parties.
It is the fault of the erroneous policy of the International if the idea still prevails among us (so completely eschewed by us in theory and on the field of action) that the Party and political work are things not fit for the working class and that the latter must follow the saner and safer path of purely economic action through the trade unions. It is a fact that our policy lends itself to being confused with the vulgar art or technique common to all who come into touch with politics.
The Right Fraction in France, I do not hesitate saying so, is a healthy fraction, it does not in itself represent the permeation of petty bourgeois elements.
It is the reflex of the healthy discontent of the proletariat with the unsatisfactory internal regime of the Party and with the contradictions in its policy, in spite of the utterly false rectifications which it proposes on the tactical field.
To correct errors it is not sufficient to chop off heads, one should rather find out and eliminate the initial errors which cause the discontent and determine the formation of fractions.
It is said to us that the system of bolshevising is based upon the fact that the action of every central committee is directed by the Communist International, by which the minorities in the Party are offered a security. On this occasion it is sufficient to repeat the criticism which already has been made several times to the kind of connection between the International Executive Committee and the sections; It is artificial enough and is based upon consideration of an inner diplomatic character as well as on the necessity of parliamentary manoeuvres inside our international meetings. The intervention of the International Executive Committee comes nearly always unexpectedly and hits those elements with which a general solidarity of the International has been brought about, in a thoroughly compromising manner. It was not different with the Open Letter to the German Party which was published in a moment when the Left leadership of the C.P.G. was regarded everywhere as the authentic representative of the Comintern, of Leninism, of the Vth World Congress and of the victory of the bolshevisation.
Yet we are told: even if there are some shortcomings in the kind of the international connections, the leading role of the Russian Party offers us a good way out. Yet here also we must make some reservations. I shall in my later exposition return to the question of the Russian Party and its problems. In passing, it is observed that one must ask where the leading factor of the Russian Party is to be found. Is it the old Leninist guard? But after the last events it is clear that this can split and that both sides can with the same energy claim the right to speak in the name of bolshevism and accuse each other of deviating from true Leninism.
I draw the conclusion from it that this search for a point of support of the system of bolshevising leads to no fixed, undisputed result. The correct solution is to be found elsewhere. We must base ourselves upon the entire International, on the entire advance guard of the world proletariat. Our organisation can be compared to a pyramid. For all its sides are striving to a common summit. Yet this pyramid places itself upon its top and its centre of gravity is therefore too unsteady. It must be turned upside down, the top must be the other way up in order that it must stand on a firm basis.
Having thus summed up the past action of the International, it is essential to give an appreciation of the present situation and of the future tasks. The general statement concerning stabilisation has been accepted by everyone. There have been certain vacillations with respect to the development of the general crisis of capitalism.
We have before us the perspective of the definite decay of capitalism, but in my opinion certain errors of appreciation have crept in with respect to the perspective.
If we proceed like a scientific society for the study of social events, we can arrive at objective conclusions of a more or less optimistic or of a more or less pessimistic character, and this is a manner which does not take events into account. But such a purely scientific perspective will not do for a revolutionary Party which participates in all events, which is in itself a factor. It is essential to have always in readiness a second perspective in accordance with Lenin's formula which Zinoviev mentioned here (examples of Marxist forecasts regarding the revolution of 1846 and Lenin's forecasts regarding . the Russian Revolution after 1905). The Party cannot renounce its final task, its revolutionary will, even if the cold, scientific perspective is unfavourable. I cannot accept the formula: «The situation is now unfavourable, we no longer have with us the situation of 1920, and this justifies the internal crisis in certain Sections and in the International».
A changed situation can produce a quantitative but not qualitative change in the Party. If the Party enters upon the stage of crisis this means that its tactics have been guilty of opportunism. Otherwise, the struggle against opportunism in 1914 would be devoid of meaning.
The epoch of capitalism which had reached its full development before the war has objectively contributed to the explanation of social-patriotism, but from the viewpoint of the revolutionaries of that epoch it could not and should not lead to its justification or even its toleration as something inevitable. If we consider the state of crisis in capitalism to be favourable, not to a revolutionary attack but also to an inadequate preparation of our Party, this means that in order to be able to accomplish our task we expect from history a development particularly adapted to exigencies which originate in a wrong scheme of perspective which must be rejected and fought against. This will be the sum in the case of the bad solution of the problem of leaders as criticised by Trotsky in his preface to «1917», in an analysis with which I agree completely and which does not appertain to the unfavourable situation, but to the general political and tactical errors which have impeded the process of the selection of the revolutionary General Staff.
There is another scheme of perspective which must be fought against and which confronts us when we turn our attention from the purely economic analysis of the social and political forces. It is generally accepted that we must consider the fact that a Left Bourgeois Party is in power as a political situation favourable to our preparation and to our struggle. This wrong perspective is first of all a contradiction of the first because it most frequently happens in the state of economic crisis favourable to us that the bourgeoisie organises a Right Government for a reactionary offensive, which means that objective conditions become unfavourable to us for a Marxist solution of the problem.
Generally speaking, it is not true that the fact of a Left bourgeois Government will be favourable to us: the contrary may be the case. Historical examples have shown us how absurd it would be to imagine that in order to lighten our task a so-called middle class government with a liberal programme would make its appearance, a government which would enable us to organise an effective and united struggle against a weakened State apparatus.
In 1919 we witnessed in Germany the access of a Left bourgeois bloc to power. We witnessed the management of affairs in the hands of the Social Democrats. In spite of the military defeat from which Germany had just emerged, the State machine had not been shaken to its foundations.
After we shall have promoted by our tactics the access to power of a Left Government, we will have obtained more favourable conditions for ourselves? No, this is not at all the case. It is a Menshevik conception to imagine that the State machine will be different in the hands of the lower middle classes to what it is in the hands of the big bourgeoisie, and to consider such a period as a transition period leading to the epoch of the seizure of power. Certain parties of the bourgeoisie have an appropriate programme and bring forward appropriate demands with the object of attracting the lower middle classes. Generally speaking, this is not a process in which power passes from one social group to another, it is only a new defensive method of the bourgeoisie against us, and when this takes place we cannot say that this is the most propitious moment for our intervention. This change can be utilised but only provided our preceding position has been perfectly clear and has not coincided with the demands of the Left Bloc element.
For instance, in Italy, can it be said that Fascism is the triumph of the Right bourgeoisie over the Left bourgeoisie? Certainly not, fascism is something more than that, it is the synthesis of two methods of defence of the bourgeois class. The recent acts of the Fascist Government have clearly shown that the semi-bourgeois and petty-bourgeois composition of fascism does not prevent the latter being a direct agent of capitalism. As a mass organisation (the fascist organisation has a million members) it is endeavouring not only to strike down ruthlessly its opponents, especially the adversaries who dare attack the State machine but also to mobilise the masses by means of Social Democratic permeation methods.
On this field fascism has suffered evident defeats. This bears out our point of view on the class struggle but what is moist forcibly shown by all this is the absolute impotence of the middle classes. During the last few years they have accomplished three complete evolutions: in 1919-20 they crowded our revolutionary meetings; In 1921-22 they formed cadres of «black shirts»; in 1923 they went over to the Opposition after Matteotti's assassination; today they are coming back to Fascism. Always with the strongest is their motto.
The wrong conception of the advantages which we could derive from the access to power of a Left Bloc Government consists in imagining the middle classes capable of an independent solution of the problem of power. In my opinion, there is a very serious error in the so-called new tactic which has been applied in Germany and in France and with which the proposal made by the Italian Party to the Aventino anti-fascist opposition is connected. I cannot understand how a Party, so rich in revolutionary traditions as our German Party in the face of the accusation of the Social Democrats that it was playing Hindenburg's game by bringing forward an independent candidature. Generally speaking, the strong point of the bourgeoisie with regard to the ideological counter-revolutionary organisation of the masses in offering a political and historical dualism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, supported by the Communist Party not as the only dualism possible in the social perspective and in connection with the changes of parliamentary power, but as the only dualism historically capable of bringing about the revolutionary rupture of a class State machine and the establishment of a new State.
But we cannot bring home this dualism to the consciousness of the masses merely by ideological declarations and abstract propaganda. We can only do so by our actions and by the evidence and the clarity of our political position. When it was proposed to the anti-fascist bourgeoisie in Italy to constitute itself as an anti-parliament in which Communists would have participated - even if it was stated in our press that no confidence should be placed in these Parties, even if the pretence was made to expose them by this means - in reality we contributed to encouraging the masses to expect the overthrow of fascism by the Aventino, to make them believe in the possibility of a revolutionary struggle and the formation of anti-State not on a class basis of collaboration with the petty bourgeois elements and even with entirely capitalist groupings. In view of the failure of the Aventino this manoeuvre did not result in bringing the masses into a class front. This new tactic was not only alien to the resolution of the Fifth Congress, it was in my opinion even alien to the principles and the programme of Communism.
Under what aspect can we view our future tasks? This assembly could not consider the problem in all seriousness without considering the fundamental question of the historic connection between Soviet Russia and the capitalist world. The most important problem for us apart from the problem of the revolutionary strategy of the proletariat, of the world movement, of the peasants and the oppressed colonial peoples, is the problem of the State policy of the Communist Party in Russia. This policy will have to solve the problem of class relations in Russia, it will have to adopt the necessary measures with regard to the influence of the peasant class and that of the budding semi-bourgeois sections of the population, it will have to contend with the pressure from outside, a pressure which today is purely economic and diplomatic but might be military tomorrow. In view of the fact that world revolution has not yet developed in the other countries the entire Russian policy will have to be carried on in close contact with the general revolutionary policy of the proletariat.
I do not propose to enter into details concerning these questions but I assert that the main base for this struggle is certainly the working class of Russia and its Communist Party, and that it is also of the utmost importance to have the support of the proletariat of the capitalist States whose class consciousness and the fact that it is in constant contact with the capitalist adversary are indispensable to our movement. The problem of Russian policy cannot be solved within the narrow precincts of the Russian movement, the entire proletarian Communist International would have to do its share in this.
Without such effective collaboration there are dangers ahead not only for revolutionary strategy in Russia but also for our policy in the capitalist States. There is every possibility for tendencies to spring up which would mean an attenuation of the character and the role of the Communist Parties. Already we are attacked on these lines. The attacks certainly do not come from our ranks but from the ranks of the Social Democrats and opportunists. This is connected with the manoeuvre for International Union Unity and with the attitude towards the Second International. All of us here agree that it is absolutely necessary to preserve the revolutionary independence of the Communist Parties. But it is necessary to point out the possibility of a tendency to replace Communist Parties by organisations of a less pronounced character with semi-class aims and neutralised any attenuated political functions. In the present situation it is the bounden duty of us all to defend the strictly Communist organisation of our International against any liquidatory tendencies.
After our criticism of the general lines of policy, can we consider the International, such as it is, sufficiently prepared for this double task of strategy in Russia and strategy in the other countries? Can we expect from this assembly the Immediate discussion of all the Russian problems? Unfortunately, the answer must be in the negative.
What we need at once is a serious revision of our internal regime and discussion in our Parties on the problem of tactics throughout the world and of the problems of State policy of Russia. But such an undertaking requires a new course and utterly different methods.
Neither the report nor the theses give us a sufficiently strong basis for all this. What we want is not official optimism, we must realise that we cannot prepare ourselves for the accomplishment of the formidable tasks which await the General Staff of the World Revolution by having recourse to such inadequate means as those which we can only too frequently see applied in the internal process of the life of our parties».
«International Press Correspondence», Vol. 6, No. 20, 17th March 1926, published in «Communist Left», No. 10/11.