Marc Chirik on the Role of Fractions and Regroupment

Introduction

We publish here an excerpt from the letters by Marc Chirik, a partisan of the French Communist Left, while living in Venezuela, sent to us from the International Communist Current.  The excerpt is meant to help clarify the distinction between the fractions, which were a direct product of previous parties, and the groups which lack such an immediate continuity. It is our pleasure to present this short extract.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

Extract from  Letters from Afar

The Fraction was an organic, direct continuation for a relatively short time. Often it continued to live in the old organization until the break-up. Its break-up often amounted to its transformation into a new Party (e. g. the Bolsheviks and Spartakists) like almost all left-wing fractions in the old one. This organic continuation is now almost non-existent. Let’s take the example of the GCF (Gauche Communiste de France). The organic continuity with the old movement (the Communist International) is very distant and very indirect. There are several intermediate chains, the main ones being the Gauche Communiste Internationale and the International Opposition (Trotskyist). Physically the continuity is even more distant. It is an exception today in any group to find militants who were members of the old Party, that is, during Ilyich’s time. Because the Fraction did not have to respond to fundamentally new problems as posed by our period of permanent crisis and evolution towards state capitalism and was not dislocated into a dust of small tendencies, it was more rooted in those acquired revolutionary principles, so that when it was called to formulate new principles, it had more to maintain than to build. For this reason and that of its direct organic continuity in a relatively short period of time, it was the new Party in the making. It did not rebuild the Party but transformed itself into a Party in the new rising period. The whole position of Bordigism on the impossibility of forming the new Party by merging various groups and tendencies, at the risk of altering the principles and compromising its subsequent evolution, was valid and understandable from the perspective of the notion of the Fraction as we have just analysed it. But this no longer corresponds to anything today and becomes even more ridiculous than harmful, when today’s Bordigists refuse to discuss and maintain contacts with other groups and tendencies. Because our period of decline is particular, the fraction – the type of normal organism in a period of normal decline – gives way to a new type that is more elementary, more fragmentary, more organically distant from the old movement –  more like a group. And this is not a pun, a simple substitution of terminology. Just as the fraction has particular tasks, different from those of the Party, so the group’s own tasks are different from those of fractions. It is not only a type of political organization of the class, more elementary, more primitive, but it is distinguished by its function. Let us define it in broad terms.

1) What it has in common with the other types (party, fraction) is that it is a political organization of the class and not a circle of people intellectually curious about sociology and theory, a Philippine “elite” of men of good morals and good will who do not compete in the market of ideas (oof ! Philippe dixit). It is a militant organization, proclaiming as the purpose of its existence to work with and in their class for the transformation of society. It still has in common with the other types that it is constituted on the basis of a doctrine, an ideology, and as a political current in continuation of the previous revolutionary movement. It does not fall from the sky, is not a new beginning of the world (Chaulieu’s ridiculous claims) but a product of previous experience and achievements. It is a link in a chain where there is a past and a future.

2) What distinguishes it is that if it is a part, a fraction (and not the Fraction) of yesterday’s united movement, it is not however the framework of the new Party but only an element of its future reconstruction.

3) Its organizational structure – is infinitely looser than that of other types.

4) If its tasks are partly those of the Fraction, namely, re-examination of the experience, training of militants, he has in addition that of analysing new developments and the new perspective, and in less that of rebuilding the programme of the future Party. It is only a contribution to this reconstruction as it is only one element of the future Party. Its programmatic contribution is partially in its organizational nature.

In a sense, in its internal activity, it is more called to build than to maintain, and in this it is more than the Fraction. But in the relationship between the part and the whole, in relation to the future programme, it is only participating alongside other groups. And in this sense it is less than the Fraction.

This also results in a difference in the necessary relationships between one group and another. It does not aim at their destruction (post-war Bordigist position) but at establishing as many contacts and as much collaboration as possible for the widest possible discussions aimed at clarification. It is the relationship of one element to other elements that together constitute the revolutionary vanguard.

5) Contacts with isolated militants and solidarity between militants. This task also existed in the Fraction type but was an additional, secondary thing. But in the group (in other words in the present period) this task of physical and political safeguarding of the militants is of prime importance.

Through this brief enumeration we can already see the difference between the Group and the Fraction. What is identical is exactly what makes the distinction of our period. It is an adjustment of the political and ideological life of the class to the period. But however elementary it may be, the group remains a political organization. For a situation to come about, where any organized form is impossible, it is necessary to consider a period in which all possibility of a socialist perspective definitively disappears, since the proletariat has been permanently wiped out as a historical subject? Then, and only then, would the impossibility of the existence of any organized form be theoretically justified. But then too, the militants would disappear individually to make way for mere rebels. Until then, and as long as the proletariat remains, there is objectively the possibility and the need for an organization of political expression. Only repression and external pressure can physically suppress this organism. So it’s about our ability and knowledge to cope with pressure. This is a completely new issue, which can only be resolved within an organization…

Marc Chirik 1952

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Nuevo Curso on Communist Militancy

We republish an English translation of Nuevo Curso’s entry on communist militancy

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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What Is Communist Militancy?

The emergence of new internationalist groups around the world has renewed the discussion about the nature of class militancy. It is not about establishing the mold, a “new man” or an ideal. It is a question of understanding the responsibilities that result for each one of us from that “school of political thought and, consequently, organization of struggle ” that the party must be, even if, as today, it is a party in formation, in becoming.

THE FUNDAMENTALS

  1. From the first political expressions of the proletariat, the internationalist worker was aware that his militancy meant embracing an extraordinary life: living consciously meant “subordinating his own ends to those of the species.” That is, making his life useful to a process that transcends much the individual as capitalism defines it. But if the individual can exist only as alienation in a society divided into classes, the object of that “real movement that annuls and surpasses the present state of things”, communism, makes the “discovery of man by man himself, at the end possible”, projecting on the forms of today’s militancy, the demand and the promise of a different form of integration into History through collective doing. The militant’s commitment is not a denial of his personality, but an overcoming of individualism and atomization to distill a consciousness that struggles to become human consciousness, of species.
  2. To begin with, joining the class-conscious movement means embracing a way of contributing and intervening that can only live in collective political discussion and practice. That collective knowledge that is distilled into program, the very core of class consciousness, is what establishes historical and political continuities. It is the program and the method that animates it, the one that allows an exploited class to equip itself with a conscious strategy on the back of the combativity that its situation in society imposes on it. There is no soul other than the body, there is no consciousness without materiality, the program is not a pure idea that has existed for as long as the class receives or adopts mechanically and completely, carried by the pure immediate need or spurred on by the disasters of an exhausted system. The program and method is the result of the experience of the processed class in its most conscious minorities. There is no class program without a class party, and even in phases in which the party is no more than a set of more or less dispersed minorities and in which class struggles are weak, there is no possibility of programmatic development outside the attempt to build the party and without these organized minorities fighting for their own entrenchment in the majority of the class.
  3. Also from the beginning of the communist movement, the class borders gave form to the organization and not only to the program. The first of these, internationalism, the affirmation of the proletariat as a single world class and thus the denial that it has any “national” interest once the bourgeoisie has succeeded in defeating absolutism and seizing political power, was a conquest of the first steps of the League of Communists. And it had, of course, organizational consequences. Engels recounts how the first revolutionary workers’ organization was formed by becoming international in its own composition and program: “practically, by the diverse nationality of its members, and theoretically, by the consciousness that every revolution, to succeed, had to be a European revolution. In a very significant way, he ends by saying that “the English chartists were left aside as non-revolutionary elements, because of the specifically English character of their movement”.  “The enemy is in the country itself.” – Karl Liebknecht. Internationalism, in its result of revolutionary defeatism, will shape the Second International from its origins – when August Bebel and Wilhem Liebknecht denounce the Franco-Prussian war and are brought to trial and prison – until their death, when the Social Democratic parties support recruitment in the war and the left calls for turning imperialist war into civil war… paving the way for the class struggle against war to become revolution. Until then, no one had swum so against the tide or suffered such brutal repression. That spirit, with internationalism and its clear meaning, will be the one that will shape the young communist parties like the Spanish or the Italian whose founding groups will later become the left of the Third International defending in the worst conditions of repression and isolation the revolutionary defeatism in the Second World War. But it is that in an era of imperialist wars, internationalism is the most present class divide and the one that most directly shapes the life of class political organizations, demanding the maximum from militants.
  4. The other great frontier, centralism, gave life to the correspondence networks of the League of Communists, it was the centre of the battle of the 1st International against anarchism and its secret societies, but also of the left of the 2nd International against the national identities within the party… And without a doubt of the communist lefts that confronted Stalinism, that is to say the counterrevolution, and its deformation of the term to drown the discussion in the communist parties. Because the new model of militancy imposed by counterrevolution was not that of discipline to collective decision, but that of obedience to directives from above and the use of militancy as a mere “transmission belt”. In reality, the Stalinist model of militancy is the negation of centralism. And from that model and from that of social democracy arises the whole range of militances of leftism: submission to bosses, worship of leaders, absence of theoretical debate, division into a thousand groups “by identities” with no other objective than “framing”. In the working class, “centralism” does not mean adherence to a formal principle, the defense of a certain typology of command structures. And of course, it does not mean concentrating power in a single person or group, but on the contrary, extending the deliberative and decision-making scope of any organization to all its members, reflecting the universal character that beats under each expression of class and putting it before any particularism, any feeling or prejudice, imaginary privilege or real oppression. The centralism of the workers is that of an assembly that organizes a strike, not that of a board of directors standing on an organization chart. Therefore, it is a natural tool of the development of class consciousness and in the life of every organization. This, from the point of view of the militant, also means a responsibility, a certain form of discipline: to contribute topics of debate; to articulate in arguments their differences; to contribute to the collective consciousness of what the decisions taken among all mean and of course to be coherent with them and if the disagreements become disagreements of principle, to break them argumentatively. That is to say, the responsibilities of all those who decide to form part of a process of discussion and collective decision.

A WAY OF LIVING CONSCIOUSNESS

In daily practice, militancy is a way of living class consciousness. It therefore implies accepting a collective responsibility, the performance of which transforms our daily lives by making it part of a practical and conscious critique.

  1. Daily militant practice involves collective learning and studying reality from a global perspective of class struggle. We read every day and pool press sources from around the world. The aim is to make us a framework of analysis that responds to the moment of the tendencies of capitalism. From there, sharing and discussing in common, emerge the reports that, in our case, make up the current sections of the blog: from the state of the imperialist conflict to the difficulties of the national bourgeoisies of Spain, Argentina or wherever we go forming a particular picture of analysis. Since the times of the League of Communists, this type of routines, reading the news and maintaining a framework of updated analysis of the global reality has been a central part of the daily life of the militants, a collective effort in which it was not a minor part to have access to the media. Today the Internet makes it much easier for us. And it also makes much easier what historically was the daily debate, the sharing of the day in the workers club or the village house. It is from this permanent discussion that the themes that allow us to work “formally”, to investigate, to base and to contrast with method emerge.
  2. What is by no means easier is to collectively re-appropriate the Marxist method of analysis that makes sense of that framework. It is not a question of making a marathon of courses or seminars. There is no degree of “militant” to “earn” nor any certification to obtain. It’s about getting hold of the Marxist method through knowing its historical use of Marx to today, confronting again the old debates to gain a historical view. And it is not an individual work. They are shared and discussed readings, it is learning to see the world in its material historical perspective and to undo the traps of the dominant ideology.
  3. All of the above is not social entertainment, an intellectual exercise. It has one objective: to be able to incorporate that depth into political intervention with clarity and simplicity in a way that is useful to the class movement. When the Spanish Communist Left insisted that “the consciousness of revolutionaries is the one that first has to situate itself at the height of the possibilities offered spontaneously by history,” it referred to this. All this work has a purpose and it is to that purpose that it is subordinated. It is not about playing at being political commentators or pursuing the pleasure of mere knowledge, it is not about proselytizing or living under the vain evangelical hope of “convincing” masses of workers, it is about being useful in the precise way so that daily reflection, resistance to exploitation and especially open struggles when they occur, serve the development of consciousness in the whole class and can achieve broader objectives.

IN THE ANTIPODES OF LEFTISM

It is this ever-present purpose and not a sterile academicism or idiotic elitism that makes us study and discuss every day, nor, on the basis of these discussions, have others that are more formal and documented. While the organizations of the left are happy with a militancy of little or no formation, of aesthetic adhesion and caudillist subordination, the communist militancy is a demanding militancy. Leftism does not seek to form militants, but to frame workers in the cattle-raising logic demanded to be recognized by state capitalism (“both frames, both vouchers”), the very logic of any aspirant to lead a monopoly for, in or from the state. But class consciousness is something else.

  1. Nothing could be further from the false erudition of academic Marxism or from the quotation always at the hand of the biblical preacher. The texts produced by Marx’s class party to this day were tools for the development of consciousness and remain the best tools available. Nothing is more foreign to Marxism than the attitude of the guardian of the sacred texts: Marx, Lenin or Rosa Luxemburg were not oracles that picked up the truth from the mouths of the gods. They made mistakes, deferred important questions, corrected most of the times in the debate, other times reality corrected them, some with dramatic consequences. It is, as a whole and in its parts, a precious legacy, but like any historical legacy it implies a responsibility: to preserve its integrity, but also to develop it. We have inherited a revolutionary method of analysis, but it is in our hands to develop it in the present context.
  2. The development of consciousness needs militants, not dilettantes. Once again the reality of leftism must serve as a model of what is not a class political organization. To integrate is not to go to meetings where the work has already been written and you just have to nod, put up some posters from time to time, go to some conferences and events to show strength. That can serve as a model for the organization of a hobby, it is not a collective doing that serves for the deepening and extension of consciousness.
  3. “Group patriotism,” songs of “loyalty to organization,” exaltation of leaders… have nothing to do with fidelity to method and program. The organization is the body and the tool of the historical class program, but if it abandons it, it does not need to dissolve to have ceased to exist as a tool of the development of consciousness in the class. The separation between body -organization- and soul -program- is a characteristic idea of the exploiting classes that is in the essence of what alienation means. One of the most common manifestations lately is the figure of the “Marxist professor” who elaborates the program at the Academy -that is, from the state-for the nuclei of workers who can thus specialize in growing, numerically, the organization. It is a true concentrate of ideology already in the approach and therefore a whole demonstration of what is not a class organization: The fantasy of the social automaton to which a soul comes from outside, the exaltation of the division of labor to the extreme, the reduction of the workers to the number, the consecration of a ridiculous “individual authorship” of the program… The theoretical and programmatic advances are and can only be, result of a collective work, “of party”, not a “pret a porter” uniform that can be adopted from among the generous offer made by the universities and other ideological apparatuses of the state. Still less an “author’s creation” that makes us a made-to-measure misunderstood genius. And no, not even in the early stages of the communist movement did such figures exist rather than as a reactionary hindrance to the development of consciousness, like the pathetic Dühring, that petty bourgeois socialism fabricated a thousand times. Marx was all his life a militant, not a prophet, and no matter how hard they try, they will not succeed in reducing their trajectory to that of an intellectual pope that the ruling class likes, let alone inject new “Dühring” with that excuse.
  4. Forms matter. The debate flooded with threats and violence that ends in the “witch-hunt” is an attitude that reflects the brutal forms of Stalinist counterrevolution. The seemingly opposite, the relativism of “anything goes” – because nothing is taken into account and positions are taken beforehand – is the reflection of cynicism under democratic discourse. Neither is even similar to the frank debate that takes place in the clear and explicit framework of a method and a programme. The discipline of a serious commitment to the development of consciousness includes overcoming the temptation to “look good” as well as inhibiting uncomfortable discussion.

CONSCIOUSNESS IS EXPRESSED AND DEVELOPED AS MORAL

As Engels commented in the Anti-Dühring, proletarian morality “presents the future in the transformation of the present”. That is why it is more important than ever in the decadence of capitalism. With pauperization and precarization installed as permanent tendencies, with the commodification of every last detail of human relations – even the supposedly most “intimate” ones – today’s capitalism propagates the atomization and decomposition of the most basic bonds of solidarity.

The system not only has under permanent attack the communist dimension of our class, trying to derail any awareness, it also confronts, more and more brutally, the expressions of its community dimension: the fraternal, personal, affective, family ties are inflated in the media and public discourse as much as they are degraded and destroyed in practice, when they are not commodified without modesty – “sharing economy”- or they are attacked with all the force of the media and the state trying to incite the divisions that the system itself creates to confront workers with each other.

The communist militant is not alone in his political action. To live consciousness, to live consciously means that in all his activity the tension of the future is present… so that to some extent it becomes present: The capacity to find the history of Humanity and its progress in what surrounds us, to discover the secular struggle of our species to reach abundance in everyday things, opens up to us the capacity to enjoy the most basic things, a different form of pleasure that is contagious and helps our own to resist, making present the possibility and the necessity of communism. It is that struggle for the abundance of the species, which today is concentrated and decided in the universal class, that is the distinctive element of communist morality. Living consciously also means that our relationship with the communal is based on the assertion that abundance is possible today, and that it is only constrained by the ballast of capitalism.

The class consciousness that is knowledge if not yet completely liberated, in liberation, makes us, gives us form and turns us into a contribution inside and outside the organization. If in militant life consciousness is expressed and developed as morality, the militant in community life projects consciousness as a de-mercantilizing morality of human relations in which individuals can project themselves as ends and not as means of the future society.

THE ROOTS OF MILITANCY

The relationship between consciousness, morality and militancy is clear and intimate. It is the individual acceptance of a need of the species which, by making it our own, unites us to the necessary future and already integrates us in its realization by dis-reifying us.

From Babeuf and Marx to us, revolutionary consciousness is the ray of light created by the clash between exploitation and the exploited, it is human subjectivity in rebellion against an objectivity that perverts and denies that same subjectivity, without which man is not man but a thing. Either our subjectivity accommodates the outside world to its requirements -there can be no others- or it submits itself, in slavery, to the nauseating existing objectivity.” – Grandizo Munis, Revolutionary Consciousness and Class for Itself, 1976

Nuevo Curso

original version: https://nuevocurso.org/que-es-la-militancia-comunista/

Benjamin Peret on the History of Unions

Introduction

When we published our ‘These on the Union Question’, our close associates from Nuevo Curso pointed out that there was something missing in our theses: a historical explication of how the union-form went from a defensive organ of the working class to an instrument fully integrated into capital. Nuevo Curso rightfully explain that it is difficult to understand the role of unions in the statification and monopolization characteristic of the declining phase of capitalism without understanding their birth in the rising phase of capitalism and subsequent adaptation to existing society. Here, we present a translation of Benjamin Peret’s essay on the history of unions, provided to us by Nuevo Curso. Along with Grandizo Munis and Natalia Sedova Trotsky, Peret was part of the Spanish Left that broke with the Fourth International in 1948. This essay by Peret is the first part of ‘Unions Against Revolution’, which is more widely known in the English-speaking sphere for the second part that includes the entry from Grandizo Munis. We’re pleased to introduce this first English translation of Benjamin Peret’s writings on the union-form to a wider audience.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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Prelude

Societies that have survived to the present day have known internal struggles promoted by the disinherited classes against the classes or castes that kept them under their domination. The struggles could not reach a certain extent until the moment when the oppressed, recognizing their common interest, were able to associate, with the aim of improving their living conditions. Or with a view to the total subversion of society. In the course of the previous centuries, the workers, in the face of the corporations that included bosses or workers of the same trade (where the former did and did at will under the direct protection of the public authorities), the brotherhood associations (“compagnonage”) that grouped together only the workers represented, among other things, the first permanent bodies of the class struggle.

Even before that, around the 10th century, there were fraternities. They were groups that had to enter into the struggle against the upper layers of society, since their dissolution was several times considered. But we do not know of any document that could clarify its constitution or the purpose for which it was proposed.

The aim of the fellowship associations was not, as numerous court rulings systematically condemn them from the 16th to the 19th century, to bring about a transformation of society, which was inconceivable at the time, but to improve the wages of their members, the conditions of learning and thus the standard of living of the entire working class.

Their vitality in spite of all the persecutions they were constantly subjected to, their insurrection, following numerous court rulings, indicate that they corresponded to a pressing need of the workers of those times. At the same time, the fact that its structure seems to have remained unchanged for several centuries indicates that the form and methods of struggle corresponded well to the possibilities of the time. Incidentally, the first strikes that history mentions in the 16th century were at its expense. Then they would also resort to boycotting.

Throughout this period, from the sixteenth century, during which fellowship societies were well established in history (indicating that they must have existed long ago), to the mid-nineteenth century (when large infant industry gave rise to trade unions), such associations made a strong contribution to maintaining the cohesion of workers vis-à-vis their exploiters. We are indebted to them for the formation of a class consciousness that is still rudimentary, but called to acquire full development in the next stage; with the class struggle organisms that will succeed them. The latter – the trade unions – inherited their claiming role from the former, thus reducing fellowship societies to a secondary role that has continued to diminish ever since. It is useless to imagine that they could have existed before. In the following period (that of ascendant capitalism, when the workers still need to be grouped into trades), the trade unions were the extension of the brotherhood organizations, stripped of the secrecy that surrounded them and oriented only to the economic demands. To the defense of the workers, passing other objectives to second place and ending up disappearing.

On the other hand, because of the feudal system that did not grant them the right of existence, the fellowship associations had the character of secret societies, with all the rigging of para-religious rites that such societies entailed, while the later epoch, especially after 1830, when the workers’ societies saw themselves accorded a minimum right of existence, allowed the appearance in full light of the fellowship groups and soon showed their incapacity to practice, against the patronage, the energetic and indispensable struggle. Their restrictive nature (only qualified workers can be part of it) does not allow them to bring together all the workers, or even the majority, an objective that the trade unions have pursued since their creation.

Yet the working class does not pass directly from the fellowship societies to the otherwise forbidden unions, in whatever form, during the first decades of modern capitalism. The working class is intuitively looking for a way forward. The mutual insurance companies, founded shortly before the 1789 Revolution, marked the first step of the congregation of all the workers of the same trade. They wanted to help their sick or unemployed members, but by imposing strikes as the best method of fighting against the bosses, the workers’ mutuals sometimes gave assistance to the strikers, cancelling out any difference between the imposed and the strike.

Such “mutuals”, which were few in number, were almost entirely made up of selected workers. They were, therefore, inadequate to the conditions of the large infant industry that dragged large masses of unskilled workers from the countryside into the factory. This proletariat in formation was in a tragic situation at the time, which required a significant improvement, even if capitalism was to continue to develop.

The “resistance” companies, whose name clearly indicates the objective they were aiming for, then take over from the “mutuals”. They are already combat groups, but conceived in the defensive aspect. They aim to maintain the standard of living of workers by opposing wage cuts that employers might try to impose, and it is usually such cuts that give rise to them. From defense they soon moved on to attack, of course, and the workers’ demand appears. However, even though, after 1840, the first political demands of the working class were made for the spread of socialist ideas, the “Resistances” and the “Workers’ Associations” continued to have the character of a struggle in the economic sphere. Only incidentally, and under the impulse of political elements, do they point to the subversion of the existing order. In fact, its essential objective is purely economic. Then the proletariat becomes aware of its strength, it does not intend to use it except for the satisfaction of immediate demands.

Trade Unions and the Class Struggle

The first Syndicate appeared only in 1864. Any idea of class struggle was alien to it, since it presented itself as proposing, on the contrary, to reconcile the interests of the workers and the bosses. Tolain itself did not assign it another objective. It should also be noted that the trade union movement is not at all initiated by the most exploited means of the working class – the nascent industrial proletariat – but rather by workers in the craft professions. It thus directly reflects the specific needs and ideological tendencies of these working classes.

While the shoemakers and typographers, craftsmen par excellence, set up their trade unions in 1864 and 1867 respectively, the miners, who constitute the most heavily exploited proletariat, did not set up their first trade union until 1876 in the Loire (in 1882 in the North and in Pas-de-Calais), and in textiles, where the working conditions were particularly appalling, did not feel the need for a trade union for the first time but in 1877.

Where did the fermentation of the spirits come from at that time, when socialist ideas (and the anarchist ideas that will only be differentiated later on) were propagated throughout the working class in the big cities, when the most exploited workers were so clearly repulsed by the trade union organization, while those with a better standard of living were looking for it?

First of all, we have to remember is that the first trade unions created by workers in the craft professions are only organizing themselves for conciliation and not for class struggle.

It won’t be until later. On the other hand, they represent the most suitable form of organization for professions which, between multiple workshops, bring together a rather small number of workers of the same trade. It was the best way to bring together the workers of the same trade scattered in the workshops of the same city, to give them a cohesion that the working conditions tended to prevent.

It should also be remembered that the craft nature of a trade often means that employers and workers often work side by side and lead the same kind of life. Even if the economic situation of the employer is far superior to that of the worker, the human contact he often has with the latter prevents the emergence of the pit that separates workers and employers from large industries.

Among employers and craftsmen, there is also a minimum degree of familiarity with the trade, which is completely absent and inconceivable in large industry. All of these reasons were usually more conducive to conciliation than to struggle….

The situation of workers in the textile and mining industries (taking them as an example) was completely different. Among the miners as well as among the textile workers, large masses of workers of various professions were clustered in factories and wells, subjected to inhumane working conditions.

If the workers of the artisanal enterprises are the first to organize themselves to discuss their interests with the bosses, those of the big industries, subjected to the most implacable pressure of capital, are the first to perceive what is irreducibly opposed to the bosses, to rebel against the situation imposed on them, to practice direct action, to claim their right to life, weapons in hand; the first, in short, to orient themselves to the social revolution. The rebellion of the “canuts” of Lyon in 1831, like the strike of the miners in 1844, clearly indicates this. Whereas, between 1830 and 1845, for example, typographers were not once on a list of the occupations that had been the subject of the highest number of convictions, miners were identified three times (the mining industry was then in full development) and textile workers almost every year.

The conclusion that is imposed is that the workers of the big industries did not agree with any interest to a form of organization that proposed the conciliation (perceived as impossible by them) between adverse classes. They do not come to it until later and, so to speak, reluctantly, because of their very situation they are pushed into forms of open struggle with the bosses that the union did not take into consideration, at least at first. In fact, the workers of the big industries do not go to the trade union organization until the moment when it inscribes in the head of its statutes, principles of class struggle. It was they who promoted the most violent struggles between 1880 and 1914. Through this concession to their aspirations, they resigned themselves to joining the union, but for several other reasons. First, because no other form of organization was conceivable at the time. In addition, the perspective of a broad progressive development of capitalism, from which the need to tighten the cohesion of the working class, in order to extract from the bosses more satisfactory conditions of existence, which would allow better preparation of the workers to give the final assault on property, was then ahead of them.

From the very beginning, the union has appeared to the workers of the big industries as a simple matter of getting by. It was, however, acceptable at the time due to the survival of the craft industry. It was a positive solution in that era of continuous development of the capitalist economy accompanied by a steady growth of freedom and culture. Its recognition by the State and, through it, the right of association and the right to the press constituted a considerable acquisition.

However, even when trade unionism adopted the principle of class struggle, it never proposed, in its daily struggle, the overthrow of society; on the contrary, it limited itself to grouping the workers together with a view to defending their economic interests within capitalist society. Sometimes, defense takes on the aspect of a fierce struggle, but it never has the purpose, implicit or explicit, of transforming the working class condition through revolution. None of the struggles of the time, even the most violent, were aimed at such a goal. At most, the union sees, for an indeterminate future, that it acquires since then the significance of the donkey’s thistle, the suppression of the bosses and the salary, and consequently of the capitalist society that generates them. But it will never take any action in that regard.

The trade union, which is the spawn of a reformist tendency within the working class, is the purest expression of the working class. It is impossible to speak of the reformist degeneration of the union; he is a born reformer. It does not at any time oppose capitalist society and the State in order to destroy them, but with the sole aim of conquering a place in their midst and settling there. Its entire history from 1864 to 1914 is that of the definitive rise and victory of the tendency towards integration in the capitalist Left Bank, so much so that at the outbreak of the First World War, the vast majority of the trade union leaders are placed in the most natural way in the world alongside the capitalists, who are joined by new interests arising from the role that the trade unions have assumed, after all, in capitalist society. They are then against the trade unions who wanted to overthrow the system and prevent war, and they will continue to be against it from now on.

In the period before the First World War, the trade union leaders were not the legitimate representatives of the working class, but only to the extent that they had to assume this role in order to increase their credit in the capitalist state. At the decisive moment, when it was necessary to choose between the risk of compromising an acquired situation by calling on the masses to reject war and the regime that generated it, they reinforced their position, chose the second term of the alternative by choosing the regime and put themselves at the service of capitalism. This was not the case only in France, as the trade union leaders of the countries involved in the war adopted the same attitude everywhere. If the union leaders betrayed, was it not because the union’s own structure and its place in society made such betrayal possible from the beginning and inevitable in 1914?

Benjamin Peret

 

Theses on the Union Question

Introduction

If one observes the draft points of unity for our Fraction, they will notice a point that is glaringly absent from it: the union-question. The union-question was a significant point of contention among the members of our Fraction; some having strong unionist-sympathies, others identifying with the historical positions of the Dutch-German Left on unions, and the rest being neutral on the issue. Those members who carried unionist-sympathies were dues-paying members of the Industrial Workers of the World for a little more than a few years, though never part of an official general membership branch. For these reasons, the union-form was not dealt with in our points of unity. It wasn’t until correspondence and coordination with Workers Offensive (based in Miami) that we further developed and solidified a position that was cleared of any unionist illusions.[1] We owe it to our discussions with Workers Offensive in formulating our theses.

Theses

  1. A union is not simply a collection of workers united for a common goal; unions are a particular form of organization with a particular end—negotiation and enforcement of labor contracts.
  2. By virtue of the properties inherent to the union-form itself, unionism can neither break with the capital-labor relationship in theory nor practice. Even the end-goal of “revolutionary” unionism—the total organization of the One Big Union—is totally limited by the presupposition of this relationship.
  3. There isn’t a meaningful distinction between “business” unionism and “rank and file” unionism. The division between the bureaucracy (those who negotiate/enforce contracts) and rank-and-file (those whom the contract is enforced upon) is an inevitable result of the labor contract as the defining feature of the union-form. As contracts continue to be won, “rank-and-file” unions will tend to produce a strata separate from the class itself assigned the task of negotiating/enforcing labor contracts.
  4. Unions were initially a defensive form of organization during the rising phase of capitalism, but in its declining phase, the unions function as an instrument of capital regulating the price of labor-power. The few gains that could be possible within existing capitalist society are achieved by the direct confrontation of the class with the wage-labor relation, effectively expressing the negation of wage-labor, which the union-form is incapable of performing.
  5. Even in terms of reformist ends, it has become increasingly apparent that the union-form is unsuitable for organizing workers in fighting for short-term demands, especially in the service sector. With the casualization of work and intensifying precarity, unions are incapable of protecting the interests of labor even as a mere factor of capital.
  6. Communists should focus on organizing workplace cells that don’t bind themselves to contracts with the employer as an alternative defensive organ of the class.
  7. In cases of workplaces that are already unionized, it would be foolish for communists to abstain from participating in the unions of their own workplaces, as such a policy would leave the rank-and-file to the unchecked assaults of the leadership, thus ruining the possibility of a revolutionary minority having a presence in the workplace.
  8. In cases where the majority of workers in a given workplace have decided to unionize, it would, again, be foolish for communists to abstain from this process in their own workplaces.
  9. Though communists should join the rank-and-file in many cases, they should always refrain from becoming a part of the leadership.
  10. Whether inside or outside of the unions, concomitant with the increasing self-organization of the class, the overall task for communists is to struggle against the unions as an instrument of capital.
  11. The IWW is not an adequate counter-example to the Marxist critiques of unionism. On the national level, the contemporary IWW is not a union, it is, for the most part, a counter-cultural civic association.
  12. In the majority of the GMBs, the IWW does not function as a union, but more as a general leftist political group that utilizes an eclectic form of organization. The Burgerville Workers Union is one of the few IWW branches that does function as a union, and the critique of unionism applies to it just as much as “business” unions.
  13. The Burgerville Workers Union doesn’t prove that widespread unionization of the service sector is possible, but demonstrates how unionization, in a specific context, can function as a public relations niche akin to “fair trade”.
  14. We affirm the thesis that the downfall of the old IWW was due to its failure to recognize itself as a political party, which has implications for today.[2] If anything, the contemporary IWW is limiting itself by positing industrial unionism as its end-goal, whereas we would encourage it to continue refocusing itself on solidarity networks and overt political struggle.
  15. Depending on the particular GMB, limited coordination with the IWW in certain struggles is not out of the question for us.

Chad Armchair and Leigh O’Rourke

References

  1. workersoffensive.org
  2. http://en.internationalism.org/ir/125-iww

The Need for Communist Fractions: A Brief Introduction

One may wonder why we refer to ourselves as a fraction of the proletarian-left, and not something more ambitious such as a party, vanguard, or some other form that doesn’t preclude the possibility of becoming a mass organization? The answer to this question would require an explanation of the need for fractions to facilitate the development of the proletarian struggle against capitalism; the notion of the fraction itself rooted in a certain conception of the party, and the necessary conditions for its formation. In more orthodox, Trotskyist, and ‘Leninist’ currents, the formation of the party is always an urgent task for communists of the present, regardless of the conditions of the class struggle. These conceptions of the party promulgate that its formation is always the task of the hour, no matter what the present conditions of the class struggle are, because it is conceived as the necessary precondition for the upsurge of the class struggle in favor of the proletariat. One may argue that this approach to the party has led to a vast array of tiny sects that delude themselves with the ambition of becoming the party of the working class in the present historical moment by the sheer organizational will of its members, or worse yet, that they already are the party. These confusions and opportunist maneuvers have made political currents that outright reject the need for a communist party altogether, like council communism, autonomism, Situationism, and communization theory, look more attractive to internationalists. However, there is a political tradition that offers a more sophisticated notion of the party that recognizes that the necessary conditions for its formation are dependent on the given situation of the class struggle. This political tradition is best expressed by the Italian Fraction Abroad (1927-1939), the French Fraction of the Communist Left (1939-1943), and the French Communist Left (1943-1952). These were the fractions of the International Communist Left who understood that the historical moment of the class struggle was a necessary precondition for the formation of the party, in contradistinction from the notion that the formation of the party is independent of whether the historical moment is favorable or not to the proletariat. They understood that the task of the hour was to regroup into a communist minority in order to create a balance sheet of the present situation, formulate class positions in the face of defeat, and maintain the thread of continuity between the past and future party. This was the work of the communist fractions.

Adherents to the communist theory of the fraction would assert that the dynamic between party and fraction has existed for as long as the proletarian-communist movement since Marx and Engels has existed, but, for the sake of exposition, one can focus on the most explicit formulation of the fraction in the Italian Fraction Abroad and its derivatives. The Italian Fraction Abroad originated in the more general Italian Communist Left, which began to diverge from Third International Bolshevism as early as 1921, with the introduction of the ‘united front’ policy. Due to the rise of fascism combined with the expulsion from the increasingly Stalinized Italian Communist Party, militants of the Italian Left had dispersed from Italy and largely regrouped in France as the Left Fraction of the Italian Communist Party by 1927. This regroupment also consisted of communists dispersed throughout Europe and North America who held positions convergent with the milieu of the Italian Left. The activities of these fractions were characterized by drawing on the lessons of the degeneration of the Third International, and the implications this had on understanding the historic defeat of the revolutionary wave. The fractions acknowledged that, though the parties of the Third International continued to exist in form, the defeat of the revolutionary wave caused the parties to either dissolve or lose all revolutionary content, thus the proletarian party ceasing to exist in any real sense. The disintegration of the world proletarian party made it imperative for what was left of the internationalist left to regroup into fractions. In the process of regrouping into a fraction, there isn’t a strict alignment to a pre-established program for workers and militants to simply rally around, but a rigorous scrutinizing of the past program through discussions and coordination with other groupings of the proletarian-left. It should be noted that members of the fraction did not conform to some strict ideological line; it was a forum for lively debate among the communist-left. The point was to prepare for the development of the program articulated by the future party. Taking inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of the old program, the Italian Fraction Abroad moved closer to the positions of Rosa Luxemburg and the Dutch-German Left on the questions of national liberation and unions. The Fraction conducted these theoretical elaborations by means of various publications, most notably Bilan. At this time, the major issue at hand was actively struggling to defend class politics against the confusions of united fronts and anti-fascism produced by the inter-imperialist conflict that was the Spanish Civil War. Unlike those who were caught up in confusing imperialist war with class war,  militants of the Fraction fought to keep radicalized workers from sacrificing themselves into the ranks of the anti-fascist militias for the sake of the left-wing bourgeoisie, and agitated workers to undermine the discipline enforced by the popular front that protected arms production for the “anti-fascist” Republic. In fact, the communists of Bilan correctly observed that the war in Spain was a foreshadowing of the impending global imperialist massacre that was named the Second World War. The Italian Fraction Abroad insisted on going against the tide of defeat of the proletariat by exposing the “war against fascism” to be a mass mobilization of the working class for the bourgeoisie. The lack of a defeatist response to the outbreak of war by the working classes of Europe was so disheartening to militants of the Fraction like Vercesi, that they theorized the ‘social non-existence of the proletariat’: an ideological justification for the communist minority resigning into utter inactivity,  accompanied by a consequent dissolution of the Italian Fraction Abroad. However, majority of the Fraction disagreed with this thesis, regrouping into the French Fraction of the Communist Left. Against the ‘left-wing of capital’ that composed the now counter-revolutionary Comintern, the Fractions of the International Communist Left actively opposed participation in the war on grounds of revolutionary defeatism, and intransigently stood firm on the basis that the only solution to imperialist war is the self-determination of the working class.

Throughout the entirety of both the war in Spain and the global imperialist conflict, there were various convergences and divergences within the Fraction; an activist minority of the Fraction believed that communists ought to turn the imperialist war into a civil war by entering into the anti-fascist militias, while another minority around Vercesi resigned to complete inactivity as previously mentioned (later strangely capitulating to anti-fascism). Towards the end of the Second World War, approximately 1943, a series of strikes broke out in Northern Italy, prompting many militants of the Italian Left to call for the formation of the new party. By 1945, other militants from Southern Italy, along with the majority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left, merged into this newly formed organization that would be called the Internationalist Communist Party. The formation of the Internationalist Communist Party was a response to an analysis of the breakout of strikes in Northern Italy that asserted the latter to be a sign of another postwar revolutionary wave akin to the one that occurred after the First World War. However, a minority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left refused to join the Internationalist Communist Party because they thought it to be a premature voluntarist act. The minority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left had an analysis that greatly differed from that of the communists who formed the Internationalist Communist Party; they viewed the strikes in Northern Italy to not signify the coming revolutionary wave, but to be the swansong of a proletariat defeated by imperialist slaughter. Unless one counts the farcical ‘liberations’ under the tutelage of the Allied powers, the fact that there weren’t outbursts of workers discontent against the war that weren’t successfully suppressed by both the anti-fascist fronts and the fascist state made it evident that there wasn’t any good reason to expect a postwar revolutionary wave mirroring the one after the First World War, therefore, according to the theory of the fraction, the formation of the party inevitably falling into opportunism as a result of grasping to maintain itself as a formal organization. This minority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left that learned from the experiences of the general fractions of the International Communist Left, deeming the formation of the party in non-revolutionary moments to be an inappropriate maneuver, regrouped itself into the French Communist Left. The French Communist Left offered the most sophisticated articulation of the party-fraction dynamic.

The tradition of the French Communist Left is what the Gulf Coast Communist Fraction most closely identifies with because of the merits of the theory of the fraction. The theory of the fraction allows communists to historicize the tasks of communist activity, to understand that the historical situation of the class struggle is a necessary precondition for the formation of the party, as opposed to thinking the party can be constructed in any historical moment, whether in defeat or an upsurge, by a voluntarist act. In times of historic defeat, the party, which has a direct and immediate influence on the class, essentially disappears, necessitating the regroupment of the communist-left milieu into fractions that acknowledge the brutal reality of having a much weaker and restricted impact on the class, while additionally being much more determined by objective circumstances than the party. In the contemporary period, the vast majority of parties are only so nominally, and these delusions hinder them from even having enough political coherence to function as small sects. The idea that the “real” party lives on invariably through all historic phases of the class struggle is to reduce the party to a metaphysical force on the level of Platonism. Rather, the party is the section of the class secreted by the class itself that is organized into a force self-conscious of its historic task to seize political power from the bourgeoisie. This is not to say that the party is the section of the class that directs the rest of the class as if the party was a managerial organ, but simply that the most self-conscious sections of the proletariat are more “the first of the herd to jump off the cliff” than the “leadership”. Only in the profound upsurge of the class struggle, can the various fractions of the revolutionary milieu unify into the world communist party. Through the process of the organic reformulation of the communist program, the fraction functions as the bridge that constitutes the continuity of the past party with the new party. It is necessary for the party to dissolve and reconstitute itself contingent upon the situation of the class struggle, so the fraction is the link that fills the gaps in between.

It is the project of the Gulf Coast Communist Fraction to integrate itself into the current regroupment of the Communist Left, collaborate with these formations in re-articulating the program for the future party, prepare for the development of the class struggle, and facilitate the secretion of the proletarian party through the unification of the fractions.

Chad Armchair

Toward a Points of Unity

These are the basic points that all members of the fraction must agree on:

  1. Capitalism is a system that is constituted by the antagonism between the exploited (proletariat) and exploiting classes (bourgeoisie).
  2. Generalized wage-labor and commodity-production are defining features of capitalism.
  3. Generalized wage-labor and commodity-production are governed by the law of value.
  4. Capitalism is actively hindering the human community from entering into its final stage of a classless and stateless society.
  5. It is the historic task of the state to protect capitalism.
  6. It is the historic task of the proletariat to negate capitalism, effectively establishing a classless/stateless society.
  7. Communism is the existing movement of the proletariat to complete its historic task.
  8. A world communist party is a required instrument for the proletariat to achieve its historic task.
  9. The October Revolution of 1917 has, so far, been the highest expression of the proletariat’s struggle to achieve this task.
  10. Common ownership of the economy is the defining feature of communism.
  11. Communism is not governed by the law of value.
  12. Capitalism cannot be gradually reformed into communism.
  13. Communism cannot be established through the administration of the capitalist state.
  14. Communism is not the state management of the economy.
  15. Communism is not workers self-management of the economy.
  16. Communism negates the nation-state.
  17. Communists support women’s and sexual liberation.
  18. Communists oppose racism.
  19. Communists support the decommodification of animals.
  20. The ‘left-wing of capital’ is the opportunist co-opting of proletarian struggle, and degeneration into bourgeois-democratic politics.
  21. Communists oppose joining fronts and coalitions with sections of the ‘left-wing of capital’.
  22. Communists oppose participation in electoral politics
  23. Communists oppose national liberation.
  24. Communists oppose individualist/anti-centralist political action that causes disorganization/fragmentation among the class, i.e. looting, plundering, ‘rioting’, banditry, etc.
  25. Communists oppose the militarization of political struggle, i.e. guerrilla warfare, protracted people’s war, foco, etc.
  26. The USSR (1921-1989), Eastern Bloc, China (1949-1978), Cuba, etc. are all examples of state-capitalism.
  27. Communists equally oppose state-capitalism and private capitalism
  28. Communists oppose all sides of imperialist war.