Forum for the Internationalist Communist Left
From Controversies to the sympathizers of the Communist Left in Australia
It is with great joy that we have learned about the emergence of a group of “sympathizers of the Communist Left”. In this way the thread of defending this political current that has been assured by the Australian journal “Southern Advocate for Worker’s Councils” after the 2nd World War : http://www.collectif-smolny.org/article.php3?id_article=1119  has been renewed.
Reading your documents we fully agree with you on three important points :
1) Concerning the task that you have set yourselves regarding the revolutionary elements in Australia, notably : “the coming together of internationalists for discussion conducted with the goal of initiating and maintaining contact between comrades (particularly those who are geographically isolated) and collective political clarification of the positions which define the communist programme today.”
2) Concerning your initiative in order to attain this objective : to launch an appeal “to individuals from across the country” in order “to begin a series of organised discussions between sympathisers of the Communist Left across Australia.”
3) Finally concerning your appeal to the existing groups to participate in this debate, groups who “draw an organic and programmatic heritage to the communist left.”
In particularly, we support the three reasons you put forward for this orientation towards political clarification :
1) Nobody within the Communist Left retains “the full and finally discovered communist programme.”
2) This programme will result from the “dialogue between revolutionary workers” and – as we would like to add : from the advances of the struggles of the proletariat.
3) Finally, “as internationalists” this dialog can only be conceived with the groups “from all parts of the globe.”
With enthusiasm we reply to your demands :
1) To pass on this appeal and to distribute it “by publishing it in your virtual press.”
2) To “contribute to our discussions” thanks to “any material or logistical support you may have to offer us.”
The first point has already been accomplished on our web site in English, German (our translation), French (translation by Bulletin Communiste International), very soon in Spanish, and by a link to the translation in Farsi (Internationalist Voice). We will publish your appeal in our revues and try to translate it in other languages.
In order to meet your second demand (“to contribute to our discussions”) we transmit below our first political commentaries about what seems to us as most important at present :
I. A work of clarification of political positions.
II. The political balance sheet and the synthesis of the contributions by the Communist Left and the criteria for rallying participants.
III. A necessary deepening of Marxism itself.
IV. An analysis of the present state of the Communist Left.
V. The concrete possibilities to apply these necessities.
Correctly you underline the necessity of the constitution of an organization of the vanguard within the working class, but with the precision that a phase of political clarification between all elements of the vanguard in Australia has to be passed through first. We also approve the organizational form that you propose to accomplish this clarification : the constitution of a discussions network under the name of “Internationalist Communist Affiliate Network.” In order to endorse this important and enthusing work, we’d like to underline certain aspects and draw your attention towards elements that seem essential to us.
The different historical currents of the Communist Left have done a formidable work of drawing the political lessons of the defeats of the revolutionary movements between 1917 and 1923. As there exist common points between all these Lefts, like the principled defense of proletarian internationalism, it has to be … that these lessons have been drawn in strongly different, and even opposing ways, and with very diverse arguments.
Certainly, there exist tentatives towards a synthesis of all the Lefts (this was notably the point of departure followed by J. A. Dawson and the Southern Advocate for Workers’ Councils), but they are limited and, in our view, incomplete, notably because capitalism has taken a road that the revolutionaries have not foreseen after the second world war : the phase of prosperity it has known and its political implications have never really been analyzed and understood correctly by the groups of the Communist Left. This is still true at present. This is why the political bundling that took place amongst the groups of the Communist Left in the course of the 1970s have not borne out all the fruits that could be expected from them.
In other words : this twofold work of critical discussion and appropriation, of synthesis of the contributions by the different Lefts on the one hand, and of understanding the new realities engendered by a century of obsolescence of capitalism on the other hand, have still largely to be realized on numerous political questions. It is a vast but indispensable work if one wishes to construct an organization on solid bases. Effectively, the last forty years in the existence of the Communist Left have shown that the absence of coherent replies on these questions means heading towards difficulties, divergences and splits, like those that already have traversed all of the present groups.
Therefore, one has to take care to not pass judgment in these questions and divergences too rapidly. This implies that nobody within the distinct groups or from the individualities who claim adherence to the current of the Communist Left should be excluded, and that it would be harmful to fix a too narrow set of criteria for the participation in this work of political clarification.
So, even as we agree with you on the three criteria that you have put forward, one has to be conscious that not all groups and elements within the Communist Left necessarily recognize them, be it as a whole or partly : whether this concerns the national movements, parliamentarism or the unions, non-negligible parts of the Italian Left and even of the German-Dutch Left have not arrived at the same conclusions that you formulate, or at least not with the same arguments or theoretical foundations. In the past like at present there exist divergences of analyses or ambiguities on these three questions within the Communist Left. It would however been incorrect to exclude them from this discussion.
Therefore, in order not to exclude any person, group or historical experience of the Communist Left in the past, we think that, first of all, we should insist on the criterion of proletarian internationalism, that amply demarcates the camp of the proletariat from that of the bourgeoisie. Effectively, if we see a common point to all the political expressions of the Communist Left, it is the attitude they have taken up towards the imperialist wars.
In order to illustrate our insistence, we have underlined the term imperialist , because numerous Bordigist groups, and even council communist ones, do not have considered all wars since 1914 as imperialist wars, they even thought to discern positive factors, and have supported certain national movements in some parts of the world. On cannot exclude these Bordigist or council communist groups, or reject their historical experience out of hand, or by declaring them “bourgeois” ; it is necessary to discuss about it.
After three or four decades of militant engagement within the groups of the Communist Left by a good part among us we have reached the following conclusion : to engage in a “collective political clarification of the positions which define the communist programme today” is absolutely necessary, but it is essential as well to realize that the historical defeats of the working class between 1917 and 1923 have also affected and perverted questions that are larger than the political lessons alone : unions, national movements, parliamentarism, party, revolution in Russia, etc. These ’larger political questions’ refer directly to the theoretical bases of Marxism itself. In effect, the failure of the revolutionary movements at the beginning of the 20th Century has engendered two processes that have to be identified correctly :
1- a halt of the deepening of the theoretical bases of Marxism ;
2- a contamination of its foundations by concepts that are alien to it.
Neither the historical nor the actual groups of the Communist Left have been magically immune at these two levels. Worse, certain of their concepts, political as well at the organizational level, have been contaminated by the legacy of the counter-revolution, and by other bourgeois ideologies that have prospered for a century, by the fact that the Communist Left has not subjected them to a radical critique. As the bases of Marxist theory have not been the object of elaboration for almost a century, the actual revolutionary groups unfortunately show the tendency to look for political answers outside of Marxism instead of providing themselves with the means to elaborate it.
Because of the very difficult material conditions which they have lived in and by virtue of their numerical feebleness, the historical groups of the Communist Left have limited themselves to what was essential in their epoch : understanding the defeats and drawing the necessary lessons from them. They had neither the time nor the means to devote themselves to other tasks. We think however that today this is not sufficient : it is indispensable to take up the task that Marxism has always assumed during the 19th Century : the development of its own theoretical and political bases, “in all domains of knowledge” (Bilan n°1).
We consider this task essential for two reasons :
1- Because Marxism has accumulated an enormous delay in the elaboration of its own theoretical bases, the present groups of the Communist Left repeat “truths” that have become obsolete, and have to be reconsidered, including their political implications.
2- This task is all the more essential because these accumulated delays explain very well the divergences between the historical and present groups of the Communist Left, which results in ruptures of the same nature in every political tendency without exception. In effect, we have arrived at the conclusion that in the final instance, almost all the existing divergences between these groups issue from disagreements on the application of the Marxist method of analysis.
In other words : in order to assure the task that you have set yourselves to, it is inevitable to pass through a clarification of the theoretical bases of the Marxist analysis itself, of historical and dialectical materialism, of the foundations of the critic of political economy.
You will establish this necessity by yourselves as soon as you assess the foundation of the divergences in the positions of the different groups of the Communist Left , either presently existing or historical ones : these divergences virtually all boil down to different visions on the Marxist method of analysis, to diverging comprehensions of the foundations of the critique of the political economy by Marx, to different applications of historical and dialectical materialism.
We cannot reproach the historical groups of the Communist Left to have missed the opportunity to assume this task. By contrast one can and should address this critique to the present groups of the Communist Left. In the course of forty years none of them has shown the presence of mind to put this necessity back on the agenda. They have almost strictly limited themselves to the political lessons of the defeat of the revolutionary wave from 1917 to 1923 . And even in the strict domain of these political lessons the crucial debate on the period of transition, which had started in the 1970s, has been abandoned and the question has not become a subject of contributions !
One of the reasons for the existence of our political project around Controversies consists of bringing the necessity to consciousness of assuming this permanent task for Marxism to deepen its own theoretical bases in “all domains of knowledge” (introduction to Nr.1 of of Bilan, 1934).
A newborn child does not choose neither the country of its birth, nor the social and economic conditions of the family who brings it in the world (not even its father and mother) : all these conditions are given to it from the start, it has to discover them, live with them, even try to change and embellish them. The same applies to the new revolutionary forces who emerge at present : you, the “sympathizers of the Communist Left”, arrive in a given context that you have not chosen yourselves, one that is the product of a whole past history. It’s all the better to say it from the start : Unfortunately, the actual condition of the Communist Left is far from brilliant. Numerous reasons provide evidence for this :
1) For more than 30 years no common space for debates between the present groups of the Communist Left has existed. All attempts that everyone has taken, and that have been made since have been still-born or have failed.
2) Worse, since about thirty years, all groups of the Communist Left, and its three most important expressions in particular ICC, ICP, ICT  either have imploded, or have been ridden by multiple crises and splits, every next one becoming more serious than the previous one.
3) The Italian Fraction analyzed quite rightly that “the history of Lenin is the history of the fractions.” One could paraphrase this formula of Bilan by saying that “the history of the present Communist Left is the history of the absence of fractions.” Effectively, none of its three largest organizations has officially recognized and lived in good intelligence with a tendency or a fraction in the course of the last forty years ... whereas in a period of existence that amounts to half this time (1903 – 1921) the Bolsheviks have been traversed by a multitude of tendencies and fractions who have positively animated their political life.
4) Traditionally, it has always been considered that the emergence of divergences is part and parcel of the normal process of a debate. This is what the Bolsheviks have been able to demonstrate in their practice by recognizing multiple tendencies and fractions. This is what the principal groups of the Communist Left have not been able to demonstrate since 1968, as they have not recognized a single one !
5) Likewise, in 40 years of existence virtually none of the three large groups (ICC, ICP, ICT) have published pamphlets or works defending a position differing from the official one. Whereas in a period of half this time the Bolsheviks have publicized a multitude. In reality much more expressions of internal debates and divergences have been publicized by the ’direct ancestors’ of these three organizations than by themselves... despite the fact that the lifetimes of these ancestors have been four or five times shorter : Il Comunista, Bilan, l’Ouvrier Communiste, Internationalisme, Communisme !
6) Appearance towards the outside of internal debates and divergences within the three main organizations of the present Communist Left is virtually absent, their occurrence can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The rare examples that exist date from the first years of their existence or just from the moment of the rupture with their dissidents.
7) In the 18 years of their existence (1903 – 1921) the Bolsheviks have been able to constitute a real pole of attraction who has aggregated the best of the new forces and generations of revolutionaries (varying from the group of Trotsky and certain internationalist Menshevik tendencies to elements coming from anarchism or from the Socialist Revolutionaries), whereas the three present principal groups of the Communist Left are less numerous than in their ’hour of glory’ (at the end of the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s) and are even smaller than at their creation !
8) During the first years of the revolution in Russia, the Pravda always had a special column devoted to the expression of diverging opinions on its front page. This practice, in one way or another, has never been taken up by any of the present groups of the Communist Left.
9) Finally, this deplorable state of the current of the Communist Left is manifested towards you spectacularly in the form of completely separated and even competing replies. An ultimate proof, if need be, that the Communist Left is actually traversed by a political and organizational crisis, and by profound dissents as well.
Unfortunately, this assessment and the consciousness of all its implications is far from being shared within the Communist Left. In such a state of political and organizational crisis within the WHOLE of the Communist Left, everyone proclaims the best intentions of the world, wants to present himself towards the outside in the most favorable light, attributing all faults on the others. This is unfortunately inevitable : one has to understand it, in order to avoid being duped by it, and try to overcome such a state of mind.
We hope with all our hearts that the profound divisions, even the frank animosities who traverse the groups of the Communist Left do not affect you too much, and that your initiative will contribute to raise their consciousness of their historical responsibilities, by inciting them to act with more serenity and seriousness.
This leads us quite naturally to the concrete possibilities for the discussions that you will have amongst yourselves and in relation to the present groups of the Communist Left.
Has the objective that you have defined for yourselves, a “collective political clarification of the positions which define the communist programme today” already been translated into a series of discussion subjects, a planning of discussions and a corresponding mode of functioning ? Have you foreseen to make syntheses of them, at your level and for the outside – and if so, at what rhythm ? How do you see the tenure of discussions amongst yourselves and with the present groups of the Communist Left ?
Concerning this latter point we inform you of the existence of several attempts to assume collective debates in the perspective of overcoming the state of crisis and dispersion within the groups of the Communist Left. Some are operational, others are at the stage of a project :
1) Since the year 2000 there exists an international network of discussions in English and French who regroups two distribution lists, principally composed of tens of elements and militants who seek to reattach themselves to the tradition of the Communist Left (but to others as well). Debates and meetings are held on a series of subjects. Adhesion to this network is on an individual basis and according to the same political criteria that you have put forward. Access to the results of these debates is free :
* English: http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/intsdiscnet/
* French: http://membres.multimania.fr/resdisint/
2) The group Internationalist Perspective has launched an Appeal to the pro-revolutionary milieu at the beginning of 2009. This Appeal has met a sure echo and has been the subject of several meetings in the United States and in Europe. Here also participation and access to the results of these discussions are free :
* English: http://internationalist-perspective.org/blog/2009/03/02/appeal-to-the-pro-revolutionary-milieu/
* English: http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-discussions/appeal-response.html
* French : http://ippi.over-blog.com/
3) Last but not least we also signal the appeals by the CIM and the Bulletin Communiste International. These appeals have been stuck at the stage of a project, because none of the few groups whom they have been addressed to, have replied in a positive way.
* English : http://internationalistcommunistsmontreal.blogspot.com/
* English : http://fractioncommuniste.org/eng/tracts/eng_1005_appeal.html
Concerning ourselves : because we are strong partisans of the necessity to debate, and of the need to overcome the political and organizational crisis of the Communist Left, we have engaged ourselves both in the initiative by Internationalist Perspective and in the International Network of Discussions.
Finally, if you are to share the necessities that we have underlined above, necessities that are not only complementing what you are foreseeing, but who form the condition to solidly found “the positions who define the communist programme today”, we have very concrete propositions to submit to you in their regard.
Looking forward to your reply, receive, dear comrades, our most fraternal greetings,
Controversies. May 26, 2010 (translated from French, 13/06/2010)
 The study by Steven Wright of this publication will provide you with certain elements of its history : “Left communism in Australia - J. A. Dawson and the Southern Advocate for Workers’ Councils.” http://www.left-dis.nl/uk/dawson.htm
 A critique that we address to ourselves as well, since some of us have been militants in several organizations of the Communist Left since their creation.
 Internationalist Communist Tendency (TCI), formerly : ’International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party’ (IBRP)