Save the Planet from Capitalist Destruction!


Note by the Editor: The following document has been discussed and adopted in 2008 by our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (renamed to League for the Fifth International in 2003). The founding members of our organization were partly long-time and leading members of this organization before they were bureaucratically expelled in April 2011 a few weeks after they formed a faction in opposition against the increasing centrist degeneration of the LFI. The expelled comrades built immediately after their expulsion a new organization and went on to build the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) together with a number of other comrades. Today the RCIT is present in 11 countries.




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The environmental question




  1. Global warming, melting of large parts of the polar ice-caps, climate change, expansion of the deserts, urbanization and the destruction of the rain forest…


  1. There can be no question that we are living through a period in which changes in the natural environment of humanity threaten the imminent destruction of the living conditions of millions, if not of the whole of humanity over a longer period of time.


  1. This danger is now recognised by the whole of society. Even the most ignorant sections of the ruling classes can no longer ignore it. At the very least, they have to concede that an environmental question exists. For the first time this qualitative shift takes place not at the local or regional level but at the highest, global level in the form of climate change, along with a host of narrower, often related crises in global fish stocks, rainforest destruction, and mass extinction.


  1. Even those ultimately responsible for the system, which threatens the whole of humanity with an environmental and social catastrophe, have to concede that something has to be done about it. No UN assembly, no G8 meeting, no governmental programme is complete without a claim to have prioritised the question and promises of action plans – but their results are pathetic.


  1. The danger of the destruction of the natural foundations of human life has become a truly global question. Every political and social force has to put forward and, increasingly they do put forward, a programme to answer the “environmental question”.


  1. Whole movements have developed around this issue. They started as movements and political currents of the middle strata, of the intelligentsia, larger sections of the youth in the imperialist and Stalinist states in the 1970s and ’80s. In this period, they met not only the outright hostility of the bourgeoisies in the imperialist and semi-colonial world but also of the Stalinist and social-democratic and trade union bureaucrats. They also met outright denial and ignorance of the very existence of the issues they raised, even by the organisations of the far left.


  1. Today, nobody can deny these dangers anymore. Environmental issues have become issues for every party. The mainstream of the former radical petit bourgeois movement has become an “eco-reformist” or even “eco-marketising” party, with “green” companies manufacturing “green” commodities.


  1. Other sections of the environmental movement still advocate various forms of petty bourgeois, backward and ultimately reactionary solution based on a return to forms of small-scale commodity production and the “de-industrialisation” of society.


  1. It is an irony of history that the moment that were the Greens’ biggest successes, the taking up of their issues by all parties and the whole of society, has actually revealed the utopian and bourgeois, or petit-bourgeois, character of their solutions. The demonstration of the emptiness of their answers has also revealed the incorrect understanding of the environmental question by the main currents of the green movement, including its left wing, the eco-socialists.


  1. At the same time as environmental issues have became everybody’s concern, the movements fighting against the effects of environmental destruction have also changed. For example, the struggles of the landless peasants, of indigenous people for land rights and against the large multi-nationals, the questions of fighting for humane conditions for the masses in the shanty towns of the mega-cities in the semi-colonies, the questions of the transport systems and energy systems in all their aspects, meant that the working class, the peasantry, the youth, the poor became active and central components of the struggles against the destruction of the human environment – but under the leadership and influence of petit-bourgeois or bourgeois forces and ideologies.


  1. Such leaderships were able to dominate because of the political ignorance of the reformist bureaucracies, the social-democratic and Stalinist parties or bourgeois nationalists in the Third World. They could prevail also because of the adaptations made by the far left to ‘environmentalism’ as a distinct petit bourgeois ideological current.


  1. This problem can only be overcome, if the working class advances its own programme, its own revolutionary solution to the environmental questions of the 21st century. The struggle against the destruction of the natural foundations for human life, and for a rational, conscious relationship between humanity and nature, is a central question of the socialist revolution today, a central question of building a classless, communist society.


  1. Therefore, it is the task of revolutionaries to advance and fight for a programme of transitional demands to save the planet, a programme linking the daily struggles to the struggle for socialist revolution.




Humanity – Nature




  1. The capitalist mode of production is not the first one to interfere in nature and so-called ‘natural equilibriums’ on a massive scale. Any notion or idea that humanity once had a ‘truly harmonic’ relation to nature that has been destroyed is thoroughly illusionary. Human society has always interfered, and had to interfere, in nature – and nature itself has always changed.


  1. Only permanent change, the movement of matter, is a real constant in natural history. All species had to, and have to, adapt to this and cope with it. However, what distinguishes humanity from any other species is that the relation between man and nature is a social one from its very beginning, a relationship mediated via social labour.


  1. From the very beginning, humanity has tried to ensure the reproduction of its own existence, which necessarily involves making the conditions for survival, the satisfaction of needs, permanent and to safeguard them against the constant uncertainties and dangers of natural development (as much as this is possible).


  1. Certainly, at the beginning of human development, this was all very primitive, very limited, but it set in motion a process of social development that would also develop the collective knowledge of society concerning the conditions of its natural development, of the laws of motion of nature, of its purposeful change, of technical and technological interventions in nature, which allowed for the development of humanity to a higher level on the basis of a social labour process. The development of society, of civilisations, and their reproduction, was only possible in this way.


  1. But the relation between man and nature is always on the basis of a more or less limited knowledge of natural developments and their lawfulness and has led to catastrophic developments throughout human history, including the breakdown of whole civilisations.


  1. All societies have interfered in nature. All societies destroyed and formed the human environment, created it, just as their own development was also determined by the concrete, local or regional environmental conditions in which they evolved.


  1. With the development of class societies, the relation between man and nature was not only differentiated along regional lines, but also along class lines.


  1. ’Nature’, and the ‘natural’ environment, was never the same for the working classes, for those who fought with nature, as it was for the ruling classes who lived under safer and better ‘natural’ conditions and first developed a contemplative view of natural beauty.


  1. On the other hand, actual knowledge about nature and natural processes was concentrated in the labouring classes, be they peasants, miners, craftsmen, and so on. At the same time, the ruling classes were forced to appropriate, to control and centralise this knowledge into their own hands (or at least certain functions of it).








  1. With the development of bourgeois society and the capitalist mode of production, important changes took place. All previous modes of production had also massively interfered in the natural environment, had developed new techniques in agriculture, interfered in natural selection, and this had led to the extinction of whole species or promoted the development of others. What distinguished capitalism was, and is, the scale on which it intervenes. Capitalism is truly a global, a world system. It destroys the local peculiarities of previous modes of production.


  1. At the same time, it also constantly revolutionises its productive basis but it does so on the basis of generalised commodity production, in an anarchic form. Therefore, the effects of capitalism on the environment are not only of a quantitative, but also qualitative character.


  1. The material basis for this is the development of the productive forces – the development and combination of large scale industry and science. Large industry goes hand in hand with the industrialisation of agriculture, destroying the last resort of previous class societies. It forces the peasantry from the land to the city or turns the peasant into a rural labourer. However, by doing so, it also increases the separation of the land from the city. It develops agriculture by destroying the soil, thereby undermining the conditions for its own advance. This not only provides the means for the creation of an urban proletariat, but also develops them in a way that undermines the living conditions and the health of the workers. It does so by pushing the alienation of the producer from the means of production to its very limits.


  1. Capitalist production, therefore, develops the technique and combination of the social production process by undermining the foundations of all its wealth: the earth and the labourer. However, large scale industry, the industrialisation of agriculture, the advance of science, do not only develop the problem. They also provide the basis for its solution – a rational combination of industry and science on an environmentally sustainable basis.


  1. In pre-capitalist societies, the relation between town and countryside, the relation between man and nature, developed under naturally created conditions. Under capitalism, as generalised commodity production becomes dominant, production furthermore is social production, but under private appropriation. It therefore destroys not only the traditional bonds of the countryside but also their local or regional peculiarities.


  1. The destruction of these bonds, also means that the creation of a rational, and conscious relation of industry and agriculture, of agrarian production and manufacturing, becomes a necessity, if one wants to avoid, or repair, the destructive effects of social production under an anarchic system based on private property.


  1. Under capitalism it is impossible to create a rational, lasting relation between man and nature, a relation that could allow for a sustainable and lasting reproduction of humanity and its natural living conditions. As generalised commodity production, the success and rationality of all economic activity is measured post festum, whether or not a product finds buyer, a need on the market. Everything that does not conform to this is constantly threatened with elimination from social or natural reproduction.


  1. Indeed, since capitalist production is geared towards creating surplus value, the rational decisions of the competing capitals to improve their competitiveness and profitability will necessarily clash with any rational and lasting relation to the environment.


  1. For example, whilst ‘lean production’ reduces the cost of fixed capital for storage and thereby raises the rate of profit – one obvious effect is the increased use of transport and therefore of pollution – the costs of which have to be paid for by society.




The environmental question and the imperialist epoch




  1. One of the features of capitalist production as social production is its increasing incorporation of science into production. With the development of the capitalist mode of production, science became more and more a branch of industry and even becames a commodity itself. This clearly went hand in hand with the enormous leap in centralisation and concentration of capital at the end of the 19th century, the formation of modern monopoly and finance capital.


  1. The opening of the imperialist epoch also meant an enormous concentration of research and development of natural science in the hands of large monopolies, foundations or in state institutions that became more and more directly geared towards the interests of the capitalist class by the imperialist state.


  1. Scientific research and its results have become private property, part of business plans and business secrets. Monopolisation has not only often meant that advances were only geared towards more profit making, it also inevitably meant that advances were held back, that research was not undertaken or was suppressed where it threatened profits.


  1. This reflects the increasing social character of production and, on the other hand, the fetter that private property increasingly becomes on production.


  1. Under imperialism, further massive leaps in the revolutionisation of agriculture took place, turning agrarian countries into industrial ones where the farmers or peasants only constituted a minimal part of the population.


  1. Massive agrarian monopolies and scientific changes also turned agriculture in the semi-colonies upside down: destroying the old forms of production, expropriating the peasants from their corps and then from their land. However, in many cases, it also meant that new farming methods destroyed the soil, leaving devastation, poverty, hunger and flight from the land.




Monopoly capital accelerates the destructive effects of capitalism




  1. The very measures to improve profitability under globalisation, for example, the privatisation of former state owned energy companies, the creation of large monopoly markets in energy, water, and the transport industry, credit geared towards these, the sheer amount of fixed capital embodied in them, all mean that the ruling classes of all major capitalist states cannot allow any effective means to combat climate change or global warming, since this would mean massive interventions into the private property of the imperialist bourgeoisie, of the large finance capitals of this world.


  1. Furthermore, they unavoidably also come up against another central contradiction marking the imperialist epoch and globalisation in particular – the international character of production and exchange on the one hand and the continued nation state form in which it takes place. The “environmental question”, and the main threats it poses, are obviously international ones and can only be solved on the international level.


  1. Whilst the bourgeois governments of all states are already pathetic in their internal actions against the destruction of the environment, they are even more so on the international level.


  1. Secondly, all the measures of the national, as well as those from the international “community”, have the character of measures of bourgeois and imperialist “environmentalism”. They put the costs of measures onto the labouring classes and the semi-colonies. Trading with “pollution certificates”, destruction of the rainforest to grow crops for “biofuel” (and thereby further evictions of the landless in countries like Brazil) are just perverse, but highly profitable, forms of this “environmentalism”.


  1. Eco-Taxes, calls on consumers to separate the waste which has first been produced by the large monopolies are all more or less hopeless and cynical means to make the poor pay for, and take responsibility for, repairing the damage done by the irrational character of a system humanity cannot afford much longer.


  1. Today, we face the results of the capitalist production process of the last centuries and its effects on the human environment. We face dangers that threaten the future existence of humanity itself. Neo-liberal globalisation, the latest phase of imperialism, accelerates this tendency dramatically. The various measures to improve profits, to counter the tendency of the rate of profit to fall over the past decades, have all led to an enormous increase in the destructive effects of this mode of production on the natural environment of humanity. This is a necessary product of neo-liberalism, which goes hand in hand with its increased attacks on the working class, the peasants, the poor.


  1. The environmental question has been a central question raised by the anti-capitalist movement from the very beginning, particularly in the semi-colonial world.


  1. It has mobilised around questions of climate change, of transport, the land question, the privatisation and commodification of natural resources.




A programme to reclaim the human environment




  1. Even the most modest calculations assume an increase in the average temperature on earth of between 1 and 1.5 degrees in the next 20 years. Others calculate it up to 4.5 degrees. In the last 100 years, the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 20 percent. Larger and larger areas of the polar icecaps are melting, tides may shift dramatically and sea levels will rise. This will lead to enormous changes, including the flooding of whole coastal regions and large parts of some countries. It is no longer a question of whether these dramatic changes will happen – but only whether, and how, humanity can adapt to these changes and change the course of development rapidly and decisively to avoid exacerbating them further, by massively reversing emissions.


  1. It would be foolish to think, that “the market” and the capitalist class would be able to solve these questions. They have already proved that they are unable to do this. Whilst the principal means for a rational reorganisation of what Marx called the “metabolism” between humanity and nature – large scale industry and science – are in existence, they can only become such a means if they are taken out of the hands of the ruling class, i.e. expropriated by the workers.


  1. Only under a global planned economy can a system be developed that not only satisfies and develops the needs of humanity but is also self-sustaining and dynamic, that is to say, a metabolism between social production and nature that can adapt to the changes in the environment itself. The struggle for this goal must start by addressing, advancing and generalising the burning issues of the day.


  1. Against the threat of global warming and in order to counter its development and prepare for its increasing impact, we fight for global and national emergency plans to reduce emissions, to reorganise energy and transport systems, but also to provide the means by which whole regions can be as well prepared as possible to survive the effects of climate change. Capitalist business and governments will not be able to develop or implement the radical measures needed, only a mass climate change movement based on the organisations and action of the working class can develop such a plan and fight to carry it out against the capitalists’ resistance


  1. Such plans require that the means to achieve such changes – large scale industry in energy production, agriculture, the transport system, science and the financial resources to achieve them – have to be centralised and taken out of the hands of the large monopolies.


  1. Large capital is not just “doing nothing”. The major capitalist forces are actively advancing their own plans, which will mean further advancing the destruction of the human environment, to make a profit out of “eco-business” or financial businesses that see opportunities for capital accumulation flowing from the on-going environmental crisis.


  1. Often workers’ struggles will start with the call for opening the business plans, the books and the research plans of the polluting companies. We call for the opening of these books, for the opening of research, its results, and for the abolition of business secrecy. All scientific research has to be taken out of the hands of private capital and put under workers’ control. We call for an independent enquiry by the workers and climate change movements into the investment plans of the government and big business.


  1. Under capitalism, science becomes a ‘servant’ of capital. This also means that research and development is directed to short term profit calculations. Many research projects, additional testing and proving of hypotheses, as well as ‘pure science’, that is, theoretical research into the foundations of science, are cut, since, for capital as a whole, they are just extra cost factors like any others.


  1. Given our still very limited knowledge about the development and the laws of motion of the natural environment, the effects of our constant reshaping of it and so on, a drastic shift in the objectives of research, opening it up, generalising and exchanging results is needed, as is a massive increase in research itself.


  1. We call for the expropriation without compensation of the large energy producers, of all those industries that monopolise basic goods (like water), of the large agri-businesses and the large transport companies like rail, airlines and road transport. They must be (re)nationalised under workers’ control.


  1. We fight for the reorganisation of the energy and transportation systems to make them as energy-efficient effective as possible. This will include a plan to phase out the reliance on fossil fuels of the current energy system. In some cases – such as brown coal – we call for an immediate halt to production.


  1. We call for a plan to phase out and replace fossil fuels and nuclear energy not only for environmental reasons, but also because the limited reserves of these resources make it necessary that they be replaced by sustainable and reproducible energy resources during this century. We do not call for the immediate closure of all these plants, but for a planned closure/phasing out – the tempo of which will have to take into account the different national conditions and their relation to other social objectives (e.g. electrification of country, fighting against hunger and poverty).


  1. An emergency plan’s measures will not only affect the energy producers. It will also mean that the whole transport system has to be reorganised under workers’ control and public ownership. We call for a dramatic shift from the individual car to effective public transportation systems. This means a huge investment and extension of them. They should be provided for free at all levels.


  1. Under neo-liberal globalisation, the transport system develops in the opposite direction – a shift to planes and the maintenance of the car as the main transport system. As a part of the struggle for a rational system, we give support to struggles against the further building of “mega” airports like Heathrow. Of course, this does not mean that we oppose the building of every airport on the globe, but it means that the working class not only can but also must be prepared to fight for a halt to projects that just add to the environmental hazards created by the ruling class.


  1. But equally important is the shift of transportation in goods. Ultimately, this, like all the other problems, can only be solved in a planned economy, as part of the building of a socialist society. But it also means that we fight to force the capitalists to implement immediate beneficial measures, for example, a reduction in exhaust gases for motor vehicles, and we fight for taxation of these capitalists to pay for the damage they cause to the environment.


  1. A programme on the environment must not be confined to just those sections of the capitalist class who make profits out of energy or transportation industries or those related to them. In all countries, we call for a programme of public works to introduce a more sustainable transport system, to repair and to improve housing to the highest energy-efficient standards, so that society is better equipped to deal with the degree of climate change that is already inevitable.


  1. In the semi-colonial countries, it will often be impossible to generate the necessary resources from within the countries themselves. We call for the expropriation of imperialist capital and ventures in these countries without compensation, and for complete cancellation of the semi-colonial countries’ debts to the imperialist banks. But we also call for the imperialist governments to be forced to provide the means necessary to build and construct housing and facilities that can meet the effects of climate change, such as the flooding of whole regions. We reject green taxes and other measures that end up forcing the working class and poor to pay for these programmes and initiatives, they should be funded by taxing the rich and big business. We call for an immediate ban on luxury, wasteful forms of transport and where necessary rationing based on need, organised under the control of the workers and users in the industry and ultimately a workers’ state.


  1. The agrarian question is a central part of the environmental question, as Marx already pointed out. In the semi-colonial world, in particular, capitalist agriculture led to destruction of rain forest, desertification, pollution, destruction of species and crop varieties, monopolisation, and the destruction of fertility as result of the short sightedness of agrarian production under large monopolies.


  1. Urbanisation and disastrous living conditions in mega-cities are the other side of the same process, and are accelerated by impoverishment and privatisation of basic goods (water etc.)


  1. We call for (re)nationalisation and expropriation of these industries and a programme of public works for decent housing, electricity, sanitation – all paid for by taxing the rich.


  1. Some industries and forms of transport will need to be massively restructured, shrunk or even closed down (eg coal mines, junk mailers) in favour of sustainable, renewable alternatives. Marxists demand that the capitalists pay for the clean-up and conversion of these industries, with retraining programmes overseen by the workers and guaranteed jobs with no loss of pay, conditions or pension for the workforce. By means of such demands we would seek to win workers in such industries to the climate change movement, while within that movement and in the course of developing an emergency plan, we would fight all instances of sectionalism that placed the interests of particular groups of workers, defending their current forms of work and industry, above the global climate emergency. We condemn the union bureaucracy when it falls in behind the greenwash of the government or employer (eg British Air Line Pilots supporting government’s airport expansion plans, NUM arguing for coal expansion on the basis of currently untested carbon storage), putting loyalty to capitalism before humanity’s needs.


  1. In agriculture, we fight for the expropriation of the large agri-business multi-nationals and chemical industries. We fight for control over research in new fertilisation techniques and genetic modifications and a halt to their implementation without previous testing. On the other hand, we are aware that GM could be a potential improvement of productivity and agricultural development, so that we call for massive research under control of the producers, agrarian labourers (workers and peasants) and consumers. Where governments or business have undertaken unsafe tests of GM crops or planted them without such tests, we support actions taken to destroy such crops




The workers’ movement must change




  1. The struggle to save the planet has already awoken many working class people and peasants – be it by fighting for control of their land, against pollution, etc.


  1. The environmental question also demonstrates the limits and, ultimately, the inadequacy not only of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois environmentalism, but also of ‘pure trade-unionism’, nationalism and reformism. Firstly, the limits of trade-unionism are clear enough. All too often, the trade union bureaucrats use narrow worker interests (for example, of workers employed in coal industries) as a means to promote ignorance about the general and long term interests of the class. This is a major means by which union bureaucracies tie these workers to “their” capitals.


  1. Secondly, bourgeois nationalism in the semi-colonies and reformism, and also a wing of the Green movement, has promised “environmental” change via entering or forming bourgeois governments, sowing the illusion that one could implement such politics without challenging the power of the ruling class, the bourgeois state apparatus itself.


  1. This meant not only that their “reforms” were indistinguishable from those of the “environmentalist” wing of the imperialist bourgeoisie itself but also that they used the state apparatus, that was supposed to implement their reforms, against movements fighting the destruction of their human environment (for example, the SPD/Green government in Germany or Lula against the land-occupations and protests against the latifundistas and agribusiness).


  1. While we reject the bourgeois claims that corporate-engineered consumerism is natural, against the greens we insist that the majority of humanity’s living standards can continue to rise in a sustainable manner through democratic economic planning and voluntary, collective forms of living in order create a harmonious relationship between nature and humanity. State provided canteens, childcare, laundries, and more communal forms of housing and leisure could socialise the wasteful duplication of private household tasks, in the process liberating women from the “second shift”.


  1. The destructive division of town and country, the pollution and overcrowding along with unplanned sprawl, can only be reversed with democratic planning of the economy in the hands of a workers state takes hold and begins to reshape the human environment.


  1. Therefore, the fight on the environmental question is closely linked to the fight for organs of self-organisation, of control, of self-defence of the working class and the peasantry. The question of the destruction of the human environment also means that a programme for an emergency plan has to be a central part of the struggle for workers’ governments, the creation of working class power and for the transition to socialism by means of world revolution.




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Syria: For an Independent Revolutionary Road!

Down with the Bombing and Siege against Aleppo! Stop the Turkish Invasion and Occupation! No to the Imperialist Conspiracy against the Syrian Masses!


Joint Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and Sınıf Savaşı (Turkey), 25.09.2016, and




Every day the situation in Syria gets more precarious for the popular masses. The so-called “peace deal” which was negotiated by the imperialist Great Powers, Russia and the United States, constitutes a tremendous threat to the Syrian Revolution. In these negotiations it was clear that neither Russia nor for the United States, not the EU nor the regional power Turkey, desire to topple the bloody dictatorship of Assad. Instead, the highest priority for western and eastern imperialism is to fight against those forces which are not under the direct control of one of the Great Powers. This means, on one hand, the arch-reactionary IS/Daesh while on the other it means the Syrian popular masses who are currently under the leadership of various, non-revolutionary or even openly reactionary rebel groups.


The cease fire agreement was broken by Assad’s army and Russian imperialism which saw no reason to stop their well-fed and well-armed troops from advancing against eastern Aleppo and other areas under the control of various poorly-armed rebel-factions.


The RCIT and Sınıf Savaşı stand against this new offensive by Assad’s army, supported directly by Russian imperialism. Although we cannot give political support to any of the rebel factions who are led by petty-bourgeois Islamists or nationalists, we do stand for the defense of the areas held by them. Syrian revolutionaries need to organize independently in authentically revolutionary cells and brigades and fight against Assad’s army as well as against imperialism. This means opposing all bombing campaigns, no matter if the bombs are dropped by Assad’s, Russian, American, French or British planes!


We also stand against the invasion of northern Syria by the Turkish army. This invasion was agreed upon in advance with both western and eastern imperialism as well as with Assad. The reason for this invasion – which was also supported by small forces of pro-imperialist rebel groups – was not to overthrow Assad or to fight IS/Daesh, but to stop the Kurdish forces from uniting the two areas held by them and establishing a contiguous area under the control of PYD/YPG adjacent to the southern border of Turkey. This would have been a tremendous danger for the instable Turkish state and its war against the Kurdish masses.


While we absolutely defend the PYD/YPG against every attack by the Turkish army or by IS/Daesh, we sharply criticize its leadership for openly collaborating with imperialism. We call upon the leadership of PYD/YPG to break with western and eastern imperialism, since only in this way can Kurdish revolutionaries build a truly multi-national movement against the arch-reactionary IS/Daesh, imperialism and capitalism.


The Syrian masses are in their current dreadful position due to the conspiracy of nearly all the imperialist Great Powers (Russia, the US and EU), the bourgeois Assad-dictatorship, but also the various non-revolutionary forces who hijacked the attempted democratic revolution which started in 2011.


The two so-called “Communist” (in reality Stalinist) parties of Syria bear a major responsibility for this situation as they have been long-time allies of the reactionary dictatorship of the Assad clan and have thereby slandered socialism and communism in the eyes of the Syrian masses. Likewise, the liberal-secularist opposition bears responsibility for the current situation, as they have always been open to deals with imperialism and the regime.


The only real alternative for the Syrian masses is to wage a struggle against all Great Powers and against the Assad dictatorship (which is now seen by Western imperialism as the lesser evil, and even as a respectable partner) for freedom, bread and justice! Therefore we need to form a “counter-conspiracy” of the popular masses in the region and throughout the entire world against the conspiracy of the Great Powers, the dictators, and the kings!


The RCIT and Sınıf Savaşı dedicated to building revolutionary organizations in every country which will act as a single, united international organization. This is the only way in which the masses of the workers and oppressed can win – not separate but united!




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Gramsci and the Revolutionary Tradition



Note of the Editorial Board: The essay below was first published in the journal Permanent Revolution No. 6 (Autumn 1987). Permanent Revolution was the theoretical journal of the British section of our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International. The founding cadres of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) were expelled from this organization in 2011 when they fought against its centrist degeneration. The RCIT has today sections and activists in 11 countries.


We republish this article because it elaborates a Marxist assessment of the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci. It recognizes his important activities to found and build the Communist Party in Italy in the early 1920s. However, it also critically evaluates his theoretical conceptions which disabled him to fight against the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist International. It is important for Marxists today to combine appreciation for Gramsci’s activities as well as insights with a clear demarcation of his centrist theoretical conceptions (“hegemony”, “war of position“ etc.) which could later be misused by various Stalinists and reformists.




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This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the death of the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci. In 1926 he was arrested by Mussolini’s fascists and two years later sentenced after a show trial to twenty years imprisonment. Although released in 1937 he was too ill to survive. He died in April that year.


The commemoration of his death has once again provided the occasion for quite distinct tendencies on the left to wrestle over his legacy. Marxism Today (MT), the journal of the Euro-Stalinist CPGB, reminded its audience in its April issue that:


‘Without doubt, Gramsci has been the most important single theoretical influence on Marxism Today over the last decade.’(1)


This influence was filtered through the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Yet the PCI had not always been so ready to recognise Gramsci’s contribution to Marxism. It was ten years after Gramsci’s death before the PCI decided to publish an edition of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, suitably censored to remove any favourable references to Trotsky or hints of oppositon to Stalin’s policies in the 1930s.


But the crisis of Stalinism after 1956 produced an ideological vacuum in the ranks of the western Stalinist parties. In Gramsci the PCI found an ‘Italian Marxism’ that could fit the bill. It could claim continuity with the formation of the PCI, yet distance itself from the ‘excesses’ of Stalinism in the 1930s; it could claim to find in Gramsci’s work a critique of ‘statism’ that could allow it to reject the monolithism of Stalinism without collapsing into social-democratism or conceding to the revolutionary (i.e. Trotskyist) critique of Stalinism.


The PCI were to argue that Gramsci’s conception of ‘hegemony’ lent support to their policy in the 1970s for parliamentary backing to the anti-working class government of Christian-Democracy (the ‘historic compromise’).


In the last few years, however, the reformist trajectory of the PCI has led this party to put some distance between itself and Gramsci. Earlier this year the PCI leader, Natta, claimed that Gramsci was too ‘fundamentalist’. It is no surprise, therefore, to find it increasingly common for anti-Stalinists to lay claim to Gramsci’s heritage.


Fifty years ago in an obituary to Gramsci the Italian Trotskyist Pietro Tresso said it was vital to not allow the Stalinists to ‘make use of Gramsci’s personality for their own purposes’(2). This remains the case. But modern centrism attempts to go further. For example Livio Maitan’s appreciation of the Italian revolutionary’s life in the Mandelite review of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International seeks to establish that there is a ‘completely revolutionary core’ to Gramsci’s work and that ‘Revolutionary Marxists have the right and the duty to claim the heritage of Antonio Gramsci’(3)


The Socialist Workers Party (GB), while correctly taking Stalinism to task for seeking to depict Gramsci as a reformist, have, like Maitan, failed completely to generalise out of the Italian revolutionist’s life a communist appraisal of his contribution to Marxism. John Molyneux says of the years 1922-26:


‘Even a casual glance at Gramsci’s writings of this period show that he remains firmly on the terrain of revolution.’(4)


Chris Harman’s pamphlet for the SWP — Gramsci versus reformism—adopts a similarly one-sided view of Gramsci. For Harman it is good enough that Gramsci believed in revolution not reform, never abandoned the insurrectionary road and recognised both the need for a Bolshevik-type party and the seeds of a workers’ state lodged within the factory councils’ movement.


In essence, Harman, Molyneux and Maitan only display an inverted error to the Stalinists. In their account Gramsci’s contribution to the PCI up until his arrest is unproblematic and shows him to stand four square on the ground of the revolutionary Comintern. The ‘Lyon Theses’ of 1926 are represented as the pinnacle of his political work. His work after that time, as found in the Prison Notebooks, whilst containing certain errors, does not represent a rupture with the revolutionary Gramsci. For Maitan, ‘there is an undeniable continuity in Gramsci’s thought and approach from his writings in the years of the Russian revolution . . . to the 1935 notes when the Notebooks end(5). ‘In Harman’s view, it was simply that the fascists succeeded:


‘. . . in preventing his Marxism from fully realising the potential displayed in L’Ordine Nuovo and the “Lyons Theses”.’(6)


In effect these accounts only serve to underline the truth of Trotsky’s adage that it is very difficult for centrists to recognise centrism in others. It is necessary to analyse things more deeply than this. It is precisely because the present day SWP or USFI judge matters from a series of revolutionary principles and disdain to measure their own (or others) contributions by the yardstick of programme, that they fail to assess Gramsci’s political theory and practice against the background of the leadership and policies of the Comintern in the period 1919-26.


When analysed from this perspective it is possible to show that while Gramsci was never a reformist, his politics were in serious measure at variance with the practice and theory of Lenin and Trotsky while they were in the leadership of the Comintern. In short, it can be seen that in fact Gramsci traversed a classical centrist evolution, in his case from ultra-leftism to right-centrism.




Gramsci 1915-21




Born in Ales on the island of Sardinia, Gramsci went to Turin in 1911 to study at the University. It was there that he was to come into contact with the powerful Turin labour movement whose centre of gravity was to be found in the Fiat car plants and related industries. In 1913 he joined the Socialist Party (PSI).


Drawn more and more into the work of the party Gramsci gave up his studies in November 1915 to join the editorial board of the PSI paper Il Grido del Popolo. Within months he was writing for the Turin edition of the official PSI daily Avanti!. In these years as an active militant but before the Russian Revolution of 1917 shook the foundations of European social democracy, Gramsci’s politics were a considerable distance from those of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, despite the fact that Italy and Russia presented very similiar strategic and tactical tasks. By the time Gramsci became a conscious revolutionary in 1915 the Bolsheviks had gone through the experience of one revolution and counter-revolution and in the process had clearly formulated their positions on the revolutionary party and the agrarian question. The implications of these positions were to elude the lefts in the PSI until 1921. By 1915 Lenin had come to grasp the reasons for the collapse of the Second International in the face of imperialist war and the need for a complete political break with it. Gramsci and the left in the PSI were ignorant of Lenin’s attitude to these events.


Gramsci’s own political apprenticeship had been markedly different to Lenin’s. It was not the classically ‘orthodox’ Marxist tradition of Kautsky and the German SPD or Plekhanov which formed Gramsci’s background but rather a specifically Italianised version of Marxism which found its way to Gramsci through the works of Croce, Labriola and Gentile. It was to these figures that Gramsci turned for a remedy to the weaknesses that he perceived in the practice and theory of the right wing in the Second International and the PSI. Gramsci felt that the passivity and fatalism of this trend was itself related to an original flaw in the historical materialism of Marx and Engels. He considered that Marx’s critique of political economy as found in Capital was in fact mechanical materialism which ignored the role and power of the subjective factor (the working class) to become conscious of its own exploitation and rise up to overthrow a system regardless of economic conditions. Thus he saw the materialism of Marxism as deficient and in need of a return to Hegel, which Croce advocated, in order to inject a dose of idealism and provide an adequate account of the subjective political factor in revolutionary politics.


Lenin and Trotsky’s approach to the problems of the Russian Revolution were very different to this. As early as 1899 Lenin, in polemics with the Narodniks, argued against their mechanistic interpretation of Marx’s political economy which led them to conclude that the backwardness of Russia’s internal market meant that the development of capitalism in Russia could be avoided. As early as 1905 Trotsky outlined in his theory of ‘permanent revolution’ that Russian capitalism had to be understood in the context of the uneven and combined development of capitalism on a world scale. In alliance with European, especially French, capitalism, the Tsarist autocracy had overseen the rapid extension of capitalism in Russia. Precisely because of this both Lenin and Trotsky contested the legal Marxist view, however, which insisted that because of this development the leadership of the bourgeois revolution against the Tsar fell to the Russian bourgeoisie.


They proved that the weakness of an indigenous Russian bourgeoisie and the social weight of the Russian proletariat combined to guarantee that the former would bloc with reaction against the working class when faced with a real fight to force through bourgeois democratic demands.


Whereas for Gramsci the revolution in backward Italy had to be carried through despite its social relations through an act of will, for Lenin and Trotsky the revolution in backward Russia would occur precisely because of the contradictions in the material fabric of Russian capitalism. The flaws in Gramsci’s methodological grasp of Marxism betrayed a real weakness in his grasp of historical materialism. For a while in the 1920’s, as Gramsci was propelled towards the positions of the revolutionary Comintern, the significance of these weaknesses became obscured. The full significance of them were only to be fully revealed in the Prison Notebooks in his discussion of ‘civil society’ and the ‘state’.




Gramsci and the Russian Revolution




It was with this method that Gramsci greeted the Russian Revolution of 1917. While welcoming it as a ‘proletarian act . . . [which] must naturally result in a socialist regime’(7), he regarded it as a confirmation of his own view of Marxism. He considered it a ‘Revolution against Das Kapital’ and saw in the Bolsheviks’ work ‘the continuation of Italian and German idealist thought, and which in Marx was contaminated by positivistic and naturalistic incrustations.’(8)


Yet despite this attack on ‘Marxism’ in methodological terms his real target was the Menshevik strategy which believed that there was a:


‘. . . fatal necessity for a bourgeoisie to be formed in Russia, for a capitalist era to open, before the proletariat might even think of rising up, of their own class demands, of their revolution.’(9)


In Lenin he saw the kind of leader that could force the pace of history by an act of organised will rather than someone who could give a conscious expression of the social contradictions in Russian society.


As the revolutionary crisis deepened in Italy in the years after the Russian Revolution Gramsci had occasion to reflect further on the lessons that could be learned from Lenin. In August 1917 workers in Turin led an insurrection against the local state which was supported by a general strike throughout the whole of the Piedmont region. Eventually defeated at the cost of 500 lives and another 2,000 casulties the Turin workers refused to be subdued. The working class movement rose again in an unprecedented manner during the years 1919-20. In these years the PSI grew from 81,000 in 1919 to 216,000 in 1920. The trade union federation under the direction of the PSI—the GCL—mushroomed from 320,000 to 2.3 million between 1914 and 1920.


In April 1919 Gramsci with others set up the paper L’Ordine Nuovo. Very quickly Gramsci steered it away from a simple diet of abstract propagandism with a heavy emphasis on cultural items towards a paper that sought to transform the growing movement of factory committees into something akin to the soviets in Russia. In June he wrote of the workers’ state:


‘This state does not pop up by magic: the Bolsheviks worked for eight months to spread and make their slogans concrete: all power to the Soviets, and the Soviets were already known to to the Russian workers in 1905. Italian communists must treasure the Russian experience and save on time and labour.’(10)


In October 1919 the PSI affiliated to the Comintern and the following month fought a general election on a programme which called for the dictatorship of the proletariat. They won the largest bloc of seats in the new parliament—156 seats out of 508. In early 1920 the PSI went on to win control in over half the municipal councils. Without question the Italian workers were seeking the path of revolution.


By the spring of 1920 the struggle in the factories had risen to a higher stage with the formation of the Internal Commissions which enabled the workers to control whole aspects of the factory. Throughout the summer of 1920 in excess of a half a million workers were involved in the commissions and councils. Gramsci grasped exactly what was at stake:


‘Under the capitalists the factory was a minature state, ruled over by a despotic board. Today after the workers occupations, this despotic power in the factories has been smashed; the right to choose passed into the hands of the working class. Every factory that has industrial executives has become an illegal state, a proletarian republic living from day to day, awaiting the outcome of events.’(11)


But this was the crux of the matter: how to direct the ‘outcome of events’? How to turn dual power in the factories into a challenge for national state power? Here Gramsci’s weaknesses over the party question were cruelly exposed.


Certainly the maximalist leadership around Serrati were guilty of refusing to take responsiblity for organising the working class through the party to prepare for the seizure of state power. But Gramsci had always failed to strive for a revolutionary communist party. Even after the affiliation to the Comintern Gramsci was reluctant to fight the Turati reformist wing up to the point of expulsions. He did not even share Bordiga’s grasp of the need to organise to fight for one’s factional views on a national scale within the PSI.


It is a remarkable fact then that Harman in his pamphlet should skate over the failings of Gramsci and the party with the remark that when it came to valuing the role of Marxist intervention in the class struggle:


‘His own activity in 1919-20 and 1924-26 was a shining (although not, of course, perfect) example of such intervention.’(12)


Lenin and Trotsky were much harder on the failings of all sections in the PSI. Trotsky said of the PSI:


‘The Party carried on agitation in favour of the soviet power, in favour of the hammer and sickle, in favour of Soviet Russia, etc. The Italian working class en masse took this seriously and entered the road of open revolutionary struggle. But precisely at the moment when the party should have drawn all the practical and political conclusions from its own agitation it became scared of its responsibilty and shied away, leaving the rear of the proletariat unprotected.’(13)


Lenin was equally harsh:


‘Did a single communist show his mettle when the workers seized the factories in Italy? No. At the time there was as yet no communism in Italy.’(14)


In fact Gramsci retrospectively was a lot harder on himself than Harman is prepared to be. In 1924 he wrote:


In 1919/20 we made extremely serious mistakes which ultimately we are paying for today. For fear of being called upstarts and careerists we did not form a faction and organise this throughout Italy. We were not ready to give the Turin councils an autonomous directive centre, which could have exercised an immense influence throughout the country for fear of a split in the unions and of being prematurely expelled from the Socialist Party.’ (15)


It was this quality of self-criticism—no matter how closely connected personally to the events and how costly the mistakes proved—a quality possessed by all great revolutionists, that enabled Gramsci to turn to the Comintern.




The Formation of the PCI




The failure of the PSI in the revolutionary situation in Italy in 1920 did at least force the left in the party to finally break with the reformist leadership. The Communist Party of Italy (PCI) was finally formed in January 1921 at Livorno. It was established in a period of ebb in the international class struggle; in Italy’s case a period of strengthening reaction and the growth of fascism.


At its founding conference the PCI had between 40,000 and 60,000 members. By the time of Mussolini’s march on Rome (a fascist coup) in October 1922 the party had shrunk to 25,000. Under the impact of the first round of repression that followed membership fell to around 5,000 by early 1923.


In these difficult years the PCI’s leadership found itself in conflict with the Comintern’s leadership as it sought to develop its perspectives for the early 1920’s. By the time of the PCI’s formation there had already been two Comintern congresses (1919, 1920). The perspectives and tactics outlined at these had been designed to take full advantage of the crisis of the bourgeoise in Europe and the weakness of social democracy. It was a time of resolute splits with reformism and the formation of communist parties, of preparing for the seizure of power.


By the time of the PCI’s founding congress and the Comintern’s Third Congress in June/July 1921 the situation was changing. Opportunities had been lost, the bourgeoisie had endured the worst and survived. It gathered confidence and returned to the offensive. Social democracy, despite its treacherous aid to the ruling class, had been strengthened. A re-evaluation of perspectives and tactics was essential.


This reassessment was clearest around the question of the united front tactic. This tactic, applied by the Bolsheviks in the years leading up to the revolution, was codified and generalised in the Third and Fourth Congresses of the Comintern in 1921 and 1922. With reformism rather than communism in the ascendancy it was essential to break the working class from reformist and centrist organisations.


The resolution on tactics at the Fourth Congress stated:


‘The systematically organised international capitalist offensive against all the gains of the working class has swept across the world like a whirl wind . . . is forcing the working class to defend itself.


There is consequently an obvious need for the united front tactic. The slogan of the Third Congress, “To the masses”, is now more relevant than ever . . . Using the united front tactic means that the communist vanguard is at the forefront of the day to day struggle of the broad masses for their most vital interests. For the sake of this struggle communists are even prepared to negotiate with the scab leaders of the social democrats.’(16)


Of course, merciless criticism of the shortcomings and treachery of the leaders of the reformist parties and unions was obligatory if this joint action was to lead to the strengthening of the Communist Party.


The PSI rejected this outlook. Moreover in 1921 there was hardly an ounce of difference in the political outlook of Gramsci and the ultra-left leadership grouped around Amadeo Bordiga. Both resisted attempts to implement fully the Comintern’s line of the Third and Fourth Congresses and instead gravitated towards the ultra-left positions of Bukharin who, in Trotsky’s words:


‘. . . fought against the policy of the united front and the transitional demands, proceeding from his mechanical understanding of the permanence of the revolutionary process.’(17)


In December 1921 the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) issued a document outlining its united front policy towards the socialist parties and the trade unions. In January 1922 the Comintern published an appeal to the international working class based upon it. A month later an enlarged meeting of the ECCI took place with representatives of the PCI present to discuss the united front question at which the PCI delegates were in a minority.


At the same time as these events the PCI leaders, including Gramsci, drew up theses for the forthcoming Rome Congress of the PCI. They were published in January 1922 and revealed just how far the PCI was from Comintern thinking.


At one level the ‘Rome Theses’ accepted that there was no contradiction between:


‘. . . participation in the struggles for contingent and limited objectives, and the preparation of the final and general revolutionary struggle.’ (18)


Indeed, to this end the PCI agreed to participate:


‘. . . in the organisational life of all forms of the proletariat’s economic organisation open to workers of all political faiths . . . which involves entering into the thick of struggle and action and helping the workers to derive the most useful experience from them.’(19)


But the PCI refused to contemplate agreements for common action between different political parties despite the fact that the PSI continued to hold the allegiance of a majority of the vanguard workers in Italy. Whereas the PCI would consider supporting:


‘the demands put forward by the left parties . . . of such a kind that is appropriate to call upon the proletariat to move directly to implement them . . . the Communist Party will propose them as objectives for a coalition of trade union organisms, avoiding the setting-up of committees to direct the struggle and agitation in which the Communist Party would be represented and engaged alongside other political parties.’(20)


It believed that only in this way would the PCI remain:


‘. . . free from any share in responsibility for the activity of the parties which express verbal support for the proletariat’s cause through opportunism and with counter-revolutionary intentions.’(21)


This distinction between trade union and political blocs was an artificial one when approached from a correct understanding of the united front. Such an approach agrees to struggle for limited political or economic demands if they mobilise broad layers in a fight for them and their achievement would be a limited gain for the working class, strengthening its political independence and organisation thus taking the proletariat further along the path of revolution. The communists do not take responsibility for the failure of the socialists in either the economic or the political sphere.


The danger of the PCI approach is that it implies opportunism in relation to the trade union united front, only to be compensated for by a rigid sectarianism in the political field for fear of the consequences of such opportunism on the communist party. For example the Rome Theses stated that:


‘Communists taking part in struggles in proletarian economic organisms led by socialists, syndicalists or anarchists will not refuse to follow their actions unless the masses as a whole, in a spontaneous movement, should rebel against it.’(22)


It is this attitude to spontaneity, embedded in the very foundations of Gramsci’s politics, that motivated the PCI’s ultra-leftism. Years later Gramsci admitted that such positions were ‘essentially inspired by Crocean philosophy’(23). Spontaneous economic or trade union struggles are good in and of themselves and can be followed uncritically. Political struggles, unless under the leadership of the PCI are not. But ‘bitter polemics’ and prophecies of treachery will eventually lead the masses to break with the PSI. Such was the PCI method.


The twin dangers of opportunism and sectarianism come through clearly in a passage from the theses which manages to get the method of the united front completely the wrong way round:


‘It [the PCI] cannot propose a tactic with an occasional and transitory criterion, reckoning that it will be able subsequently, at the moment when such a tactic ceases to be applicable, to execute a sudden switch and change of front, transforming its allies of yesterday into enemies. If one does not wish to compromise one’s links with the masses and their reinforcement at the very moment when it is most essential that these should come to the fore, it will be necessary to pursue in public and official declarations and attitudes a continuity of method and intention that is strictly consistent with the uninterrupted propaganda and preparation for the final struggle.’ (24)


For Lenin and Trotsky, the making of principled agreements and the breaking of them when one’s ‘allies’—by their irresoluteness or treachery faced with carrying through this agreement—transform themselves into ‘enemies’ represents precisely a ‘continuity of method’ that prepares the way to the ‘final struggle’.


Gramsci stood by this PCI position through 1922 and the Fourth World Congress and continued his bloc with the Bordigists in the June 1923 Enlarged Executive meeting of the Comintern leadership. This meeting, at which Trotsky and Zinoviev headed a unified Executive delegation, witnessed the PCI majority (including Gramsci) and the minority around Tasca argue out their differences. Trotsky backed Tasca’s minority report critical of the record of the PCI leadership.


This report outlined how the PCI had obstructed the Fourth Congress’ decision to seek fusion between the PCI and the PSI by imposing ultimatistic conditions. While minimising publicity of the call for fusion the PCI did publish an editorial which characterised the PSI as a ‘corpse’, which of course played into the hands of the anti-fusionists in the PSI who were able to play ‘on the “patriotism” of workers who feel a certain attachment to their party’(25). The PCI showed just how little they had adopted the united front tactic of Lenin and Trotsky when they further wrote in Il Lavoratore in May 1923:


‘We conceive the tactic of blocs and of the united front as a means to pursue the struggle against those who betray the proletariat on a new level . . . That is why we have proposed it.’(26)


As Tasca and the Comintern leadership concluded of Gramsci and the PSI majority:


‘The conception which these comrades have of the party and its relations with the masses is perfectly designed to maintain the “sect” mentality which is one of the most serious defects of our organisation’(27)




Gramsci’s Objections




Beyond his flawed attitude to spontaneity there were other reasons behind Gramsci’s opposition to the Comintern’s policy. At a conjunctural, tactical level he resisted it because he felt that the rightist minority in the PCI around Tasca who supported the Comintern theses would be strengthened and that they represented a liquidationist tendency in the PCI who had not fully broken with the politics of the PSI and who resisted the necessary re-orientation to illegal work in conditions of fascist repression. In June 1923 he said that:


‘The attitude of the Comintern and the activity of its representatives is bringing disunity and corruption into the communist ranks. We are determined to struggle against the elements who would liquidate our Party.’(28)


In short, Gramsci is indicating that he felt that it was necessary to bloc with the abstentionists around Bordiga, despite differences with them in order to complete the belated break with reformism and centrism in the period 1921/22. Some confirmation of this is found in a letter he wrote to the PCI leaders inside Italy in February 1924. He argued that he accepted the PCI’s ‘Rome Theses’ on tactics:


‘. . . only for contingent motives of party organisation and declared myself in favour of a united front right through to its normal conclusion in a workers’ government’(29)


In fact no record of such an opposition at that time exists and this letter was written after Gramsci had changed his position on the Comintern’s Fourth Congress resolutions and had decided to break with Bordiga. If true, however, it would have been an unprincipled position to have taken and one which only served to further fatally delay the crystallisation of a truly Bolshevik PCI.


But there is a far deeper reason for Gramsci’s unbending attitude to the politics of Lenin and Trotsky in these years. It was based on a conception of differing strategies for the ‘east’ and ‘west’ in Europe. Unless we understand this conception of Gramsci’s we cannot grasp how and why he was to change his attitude to the Fourth Congress resolutions without at the same time correcting his false political methodology.


The notion of ‘east’ and ‘west’ was less a question of geography and more a matter of political economy. For Gramsci the ‘east’ consisted of the ‘backward’ capitalist world whereas the ‘west’ was the advanced world of Western Europe. This dividing line was essential to Gramsci’s opposition to the Comintern. He wrote:


‘In Germany the movement tending towards the establishment of a social-democratic government is based on the working class masses; but the tactic of the united front has no value except for industrial countries, where the backward workers can hope to be able to carry on a defensive activity by conquering a parliamentary majority. Here [in Italy] the situation is different . . . If we launched the slogan of a workers’ government and tried to implement it, we would return to the socialist ambivalence, when the party was condemned to inactivity because it could not decide to be either solely a party of workers or solely a party of peasants . . . The trade union united front, by contrast, has an aim which is of primary importance for political struggle in Italy . . .


‘When one speaks of a political united front, and hence of a workers’ government, one must understand a “united front” between parties whose social base is furnished only by industrial and agricultural workers and not by peasants . . .


‘In Italy there do not exist, as in Germany, exclusively workers’ parties between which a political united front too can be conceived. In Italy the only party with such a character is the Communist Party.’(30)


After he had broken from Bordiga, Gramsci was to accurately describe the former’s rejection of such tactics as based on the reasoning that:


‘Since the working class is in a minority in the Italian working population, there is a constant danger that its party will be corrupted by infiltrations from other classes, and in particular from the petit bourgeoisie.’(31)


In the first place this view was profoundly at odds with the conception of an international programme, perspectives and tactics. The united front is a tactic designed to maximise working class unity in a struggle against the bosses and their state. But the working class finds itself confronted with these tasks across the world wherever it exists. The international character of this fight ensures that the tactic cannot be confined to either the ‘east’ or ‘west’.


In fact, in those countries where the peasantry is a large class and where imperialism has multiplied the problems of land hunger—such as in Italy—the ‘political’ united front has a greater application. This is so since the peasantry, as a petit bourgeois strata, gives rise to parties outside of the Communist or Socialist Parties with which it is possible to bloc in the fight against the unified camp of industrial capital and the large landholders. Such was the case in Italy.


Such a possiblity underwrote the Bolsheviks bloc with the left Social Revolutionaries after October 1917. The fact that in Italy the PSI and PCI were less well embedded in the peasantry of Southern Italy than they should have been only meant that the tactic of the united front was more, not less, urgent.




A Shift of Position?




During the course of 1923/24 the Comintern leadership began to have some success in driving a wedge between Gramsci and Bordiga. Although in a bloc within the PCI, their politics were never identical. Their differences over the factory councils in 1920 was symptomatic of the divergence. The politics of passivity and abstention were the hall mark of Bordiga. Whatever his ultra-leftism this was totally alien to Gramsci who saw the necessity to go beyond passive propagandism, merely stating fundamental truths and waiting for the inevitable process of disillusionment among the workers to benefit the PCI. After the Fourth World Congress in 1922 Bordiga became more and more intransigent and inward looking. Bordiga’s faction refused to serve on the leading committees of the PCI because of their divergences with the Comintern. Gramsci felt this was bound to deliver the PCI into the hands of the minority around Tasca who, Gramsci felt, was an opportunist towards the trade union leaders.


Events inside Italy also convinced Gramsci that passivity on the PCI’s part preventing it from intervening in the crisis of the fascist regime. In the spring of 1923 important divisions opened up within the Popular Party which had hitherto firmly backed Mussolini’s rule. Significant discontent with this support began to be voiced both in the Popular Party (which had a large peasant following) and increasingly within the urban republican petit bourgeoisie during the course of 1923 and 1924. The PCI needed tactics designed to relate to this discontent in a way that would prevent the republican bourgeoisie and social democracy being the beneficiaries.


Hence Gramsci came to the view, by the close of 1923, that it was impossible to make any concessions to Bordiga. A complete break with him and the creation of a new leadership of the ‘centre’ was essential if the party was to turn to mass work and lead the anti-fascist resistance.


Taken together these considerations pushed Gramsci back towards the Comintern. In September 1923 he abandoned his resistance to the ‘political’ united front in Italy and urged the PCI to adopt the call for a workers’ and peasants’ government in Italy. To all intents and purposes Gramsci had reconciled himself to the positions of Lenin and Trotsky. In January 1924 he wrote:


‘I absolutely do not believe that the tactics which have been developed by the Enlarged Executive meeting and the Fourth Congress are mistaken.’ (32)


He stressed in this letter to Scoccimarro that in launching a fight to redirect the PCI he would:


‘. . . take the doctrine and tactics of the Comintern as the basis for an action programme for activity in the future.’(33)


Gramsci articulated his shift in position in a manner that was identical to the arguments of Lenin and Trotsky. In a letter to Togliatti written from Vienna in February 1924 he argued that he could no longer agree with Bordiga on the united front:


‘Firstly, because the political conception of the Russian communists was formed on an international and not on a national terrain. Secondly, because in Central and Western Europe the development of capitalism has not only determined the formation of broad proletarian strata, but also—and as a consequence—has created the higher strata, the labour aristocracy, with its appendages in the trade union bureaucracy and the social democratic groups. The determination, which in Russia was direct and drove the masses onto the streets for a revolutionary uprising, in Central and Western Europe is complicated by all these political superstructures, created by the greater development of capitalism. This makes the action of the masses slower and more prudent, and therefore requires of the revolutionary party a strategy and tactics more complex and long term than those that were necessary for the Bolsheviks in the period between March and November 1917.’(34)


This was a genuine step forward for Gramsci and an important break with the methodology and theoretical justification for his previous position.


Previously, Gramsci had considered that Italy was part of the ‘east’ in which the united front was obsolete. Here he does not simply transfer Italy to the ‘west’ but rather, and much more importantly, he states that the tactic has international relevance. The possibility of avoiding ultra-leftism in the ‘east’ and opportunism in the ‘west’ is at least predicated on such a shift of analysis.


However, the practical consequences of this shift for the PCI in 1924 were less clear to see. In January 1924 the PCI proposed an electoral bloc to the other working class parties for the April 1924 elections. But the terms of this pact were designed to meet with a refusal. Togliatti—leading the party in Italy in Gramsci’s absence—wrote to the Comintern executive that the basis for the propaganda of this pact was that:


‘Fascism had opened up a period of permanent revolution for the proletariat, and the proletarian party which forgets this point and helps to sustain the illusion among the workers that it is possible to change the present situation while remaining on the terrain of liberal and constitutional opposition will, in the last analysis, give support to the enemies of the Italian working class and peasantry.’(35)


Being reformists and constitutionalists the PSI was being asked to abandon its raison d’être in order to be in the bloc, something they could hardly be expected to do.


The tragedy of Gramsci is that just as he was breaking with the ultimatism of Bordiga (rejection of the united front on principle) events in the Comintern leadership were to ensure that his complete progress to the positions of Lenin and Trotsky would be derailed.




The Rise of Stalinism




Events within the Comintern at the end of 1923 and its repercussions in the Russian party were to cut short Gramsci’s positive evolution. It was the defeat of the German revolution in October 1923 which gave an impetus to Stalinism. Trotsky argued that with this defeat capitalism had secured for itself a period of relative economic and political stabilisation. This unfavourable shift in the international balance of class forces demanded of the Comintern and its sections a recognition that considerable preparatory work was needed in order to win the masses again. He thus placed emphasis firmly on the united front tactic.


On the other hand Zinoviev and Stalin refused to admit that a serious defeat had occured. On the contrary, they insisted that the Comintern was confronted, especially in Germany, with an imminent revolutionary situation.


In June 1924 the Fifth Congress of the Comintern backed this ultra-left view. In the same month Stalin took up the pen to contest Trotsky’s view that bourgois stabilisation was also indicated by a strengthening of social democracy in Europe. Stalin rejected this by claiming that social-democracy was a form of fascism:


‘It would therefore be a mistake to think that “pacifism” signifies the liquidation of fascism. In the present situation, “pacifism” is the strengthening of fascism with its moderate, social democratic wing being pushed into the foreground’(36)


And since fascism and social democracy ‘do not negate, but supplement each other, they are not antipodes, they are twins’(37), a united front with the leaders of such parties was therefore out of the question. They excluded the use of the united front tactic except ‘from below’, that is, without the leaders of the reformist and centrist trade unions and political parties. The Fifth Congress declared:


‘The tactics of the united front from below are the most important, that is, a united front under communist leadership concerning communist, social democratic, and non-party workers in factory, factory council, trade union.’(38)


In short it was little more than an ultimatum issued to the rank and file workers in these organisations to abandon their parties unconditionally. Since these workers believed in their leaders it could be seen by them as little more than a trick and in fact help strengthen social democracy not weaken it.


So just as Gramsci had attained undisputed leadership of the PCI and was moving in the direction of the Comintern’s Fourth Congress positions, the Comintern in effect moved to encompass Gramsci’s own ultra-leftism. The PCI during the autumn of 1924, with Gramsci back in Italy, launched a campaign for workers’ and peasants’ committees and the Peasants Defence Association which the PCI ran and was counterposed to the socialist controlled peasants’ trade union federation.


In addition, during 1924 and 1925 the PCI set up Agitational Committees of Proletarian Unity, under their leadership but in open confict with the unions of the General Workers’ Confederation (CGL). Thus, while Gramsci accepted the applicability of the united front for Italy it was implemented in the Fifth Congress form. While he moved away from Bordiga’s rejection of the united front in principle he moved to a position of united front from below.


In fact the Fifth Congress resolutions on tactics and perspectives are pivotal to an understanding of Gramsci’s evolution from 1924 to the conceptions in the Prison Notebooks. While ultra-leftism had held sway since the German defeat the perspectives before the Congress were more moderated, not least because of the battle waged by Trotsky against them. In Section 13 of the ‘Theses on Tactics’, entitled ‘Two Perspectives’ Zinoviev outlined alternative developments:


‘The epoch of international revolution has commenced. The rate of development as a whole or partially, the rate of development of revolutionary events in any particular continent or in any particular country, cannot be foretold with precision. The whole situation is such that two perspectives are open: (a) a possible slow and prolonged development of the proletarian revolution, and (b) on the other hand that the ground under capitalism has been mined to such an extent and that the contradictions of capitalism as a whole have developed so rapidly, that the solution in one country or another may come in the not so distant future.’(39)


This was a very vague and flexible perspective. On the one side it justified the ultra-leftism then in force and yet it could also serve to justify a right-opportunist turn if necessary. In fact, of course, such a turn did occur in mid-1925. When it came Zinoviev, at the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI in early 1926, used the Fifth Congress resolution to justify it.


The right-centrist turn of 1925 was based on a belated recognition that stability had occurred in Europe. Given this and given the Stalinist conception that socialism could be built in the Soviet Union if outside intervention could be prevented the Comintern leadership began the search for alliances in the European countries that could help prevent such intervention. In Britain the Anglo-Russian Committee was set up in 1925 between the Russian and British trade unions with this in mind.


How did this right turn effect Gramsci’s understanding of the united front? At one level Gramsci was capable of formulating the problem of strategy and tactics in a formally correct manner. So in the ‘Lyon Theses’ for the PCI’s Third Congress in January 1926 Gramsci posed the problem in the following way:


‘The tactic of the united front as political activity (manoeuvre) designed to unmask so-called proletarian and revolutionary parties and groups which have a mass base, is closely linked with the problem of how the Communist Party is to lead the masses and how it is to win a majority. In the form in which it has been defined by the World Congresses, it is applicable in all cases in which, because of the mass support of the groups against which we are fighting, frontal struggle against them is not sufficient to give us rapid and far reaching results . . .


‘In Italy, the united front tactic must continue to be utilised by the party, in so far as it is still far from having won a decisive influence over the majority of the working class and the working population.’(40)


At one level this position is correct and a repetition of the statement of early 1924. But taken together with other writings of Gramsci during 1926 it is possible to detect the influence of the right centrist turn in the Comintern which we find amplified in the Prison Notebooks. In a report to the Party’s executive in August 1926 on the Italian situation Gramsci drew a distinction once again between ‘advanced capitalist countries’ (England and Germany) and ‘peripheral states’ such as Italy. In the first group ‘the ruling class possess political and organisational reserves’ which means that ‘even the most serious economic crises do not have immediate repercussions in the political sphere’ because the ‘state apparatus is far more resistant than is often possible to believe’.(41)


In countries such as Italy ‘the state forces are less efficient’. However, Gramsci does not go on to say, as he did with Bordiga in the early 1920’s, that the united front is only applicable in the first case but not the second. On the contrary he maintains that the tactic is applicable in both cases.


The purpose of drawing the distinction is different. In the ‘peripheral states’ there are many intermediate classes between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. These classes in the Europe of the mid-1920s are being radicalised to such an extent that the tasks of the party and the class are those ‘between the political and technical preparation of the revolution’. In Italy at this time it meant a united front under communist leadership based on a perspective of the imminent demise of Mussolini. In the advanced countries, however, ‘the problem is still one of political preparation’.


Drawing these distinctions is not an idle matter for Gramsci for in each case he is concerned to address a ‘fundamental problem’, namely:


‘. . . the problem of transition from the united front tactic, understood in a general sense, to a specific tactic which confronts the concrete problems of national life and operates on the basis of the popular forces as they are historically determined.’(42)


In the case of England Gramsci argued that the trade unions were the concrete form in which the ‘popular forces’ would operate. And it is at this point that we see the right centrist interpretation that Gramsci gave to the united front where long political preparation is necessary. Despite the experience of the betrayal of the General Strike of 1926, including the lefts in the TUC, Gramsci believed that:


‘The Anglo-Russian Committee should be maintained, because it is the best terrain to revolutionise not only the English trade union world, but also the Amsterdam unions. In only one event should there be a break between the communists and the English left: if England was on the eve of the proletarian revolution, and our party was strong enough to lead the insurrection on its own.’(43)


This contrasted sharply with the revolutionary assessment of the role of the Anglo-Russian Committee as expressed by Trotsky after the General Strike:


‘. . . the Politburo majority has pursued a profoundly incorrect policy on the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. The point at which the working masses of Britain exerted the greatest opposing force to the General Council was when the general strike was being broken. What was necessary was to keep step with the most active forces of the British proletariat and to break at that moment with the General Council as the betrayer of the general strike . . . without this, the struggle for the masses always threatens to turn into an opportunist kowtowing to spontaneity . . . The line of the Politburo majority on the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee was clearly a transgression in terms of the revolutionary essence of the united front policy.’(44)


On Gramsci’s part all this is a reversion away from the international application of the united front that he espoused in early 1924 and back towards a differential application based on the ultimately false division between ‘east’ and ‘west’. At the same time, given he was dealing with England, he reverts to a rightist, an opportunist variant of this tactic. In a sense all Gramsci was doing was utilising the Fifth Congress positions for his own twin perspectives for the ‘east’ and ‘west’. His position on the Anglo-Russian Committee is a concrete expression of Zinoviev’s perspective of the ‘slow and prolonged development of the proletarian revolution’.


Having said this there was still a considerable distance between Gramsci’s strategic and tactical prescriptions and those in force in the Comintern under Stalin. It was precisely in 1926 that Stalin was insisting that in China the Communist Party dissolve itself into the Kuomintang and, under the slogan of ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, abandon the Leninist position of the leading and directing role of the proletariat.


Gramsci at the Lyons Congress in January 1926 recognised that:


‘The proletariat must struggle to tear the peasants from the bourgeoisie’s influence, and place them under its own political guidance.’(45)


Indeed, Gramsci insisted to the PCI that given that the weak Italian bourgeoisie rested for its power on the peasantry this question ‘is the central point of the political problems which the party must resolve in the immediate future’.(46)


He recognised that the slogan of the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ was a way of drawing in the peasantry behind the working class, ‘the means to transport them onto the terrain of the more advanced proletarian vanguard (struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat).’(47)


Far from accepting, like Stalin, that the governmental alliance of workers and peasants was distinct stage separate to, and prior to, the struggle for socialism, Gramsci argued that:


‘. . . the party cannot conceive of a realisation of this slogan except as the beginning of a direct revolutionary struggle: i.e.of a civil war waged by the proletariat, in alliance with the peasantry, with the aim of winnning power. The party could be led into serious deviations from its task as leader of the revolution if it were to interpret the workers’ and peasants’ government as corresponding to a real phase of development of the struggle for power: in other words, if it considered that this slogan indicated the possibility for the problem of the state to be resolved in the interests of the working class in any other form than the dictatorship of the proletariat’.(48)


If anything Gramsci’s formulations indicate that right up until his imprisonment he veered in the direction of ultra-leftism.




Captive Thoughts




Gramci’s reflections on problems of strategy and tactics in the Prison Notebooks continue his rupture with ultra-leftism. But in its place he developed further the conception that owes its origin to the right-centrist turn of 1925-27. The final triumph of fascism in 1926 led Gramsci to reassess his views about the stability and strength of bourgois rule in the west including Italy. In the Prison Notebooks he states:


‘It seems to me that Ilitch [Lenin] understood a change was necessary, from the war of manoeuvre applied victoriously in the east in 1917, to a war of position, which was the only form possible in the west—when as Krasnov observes, armies could rapidly accumulate endless quantities of munitions, and where the social structures were of themselves still capable of becoming heavily armed fortifications. This is what the formula of the “united front” seems to me to mean, and it corresponds to the conception of a single front for the Entente under the sole command of Foch.’(49)


Here Gramsci has abandoned the idea he presented in 1926 of the united front tactic as a war of manoeuvre and turned it into a war of position in the west; that is, he has turned the united front into a prolonged strategy through which the party and the class succeed in capturing positions in society, gradually surrounding and laying seige to the state. This is the antithesis of the revolutionary use of the united front as elaborated and practised in the Comintern under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.


At one and the same time Gramsci outlines in the Prison Notebooks a simplistically one-sided view of the Russian Revolution, with its absurd implication that the united front was absent from Bolshevik’s tactical armoury and that Lenin led a continuous ‘revolutionary offensive’ against an unfortified Tsarist state; yet he holds to an opportunist view of strategy in the west which sees a seamless united front in operation between the communists and the the reformists (and even liberal/democratic bourgeois forces) right up to the seizure of power. Gramsci is unaware that the ends and the means contradict themselves in this view. The seizure of power depends upon the growth in influence of the communist party and this in turn can only be done at the expense of, and in struggle with, the reformists and centrists. This can only occur if common fronts for specific limited actions are combined with ruthless criticism of the limitations of the partners in the alliance of struggle, exposing their half-heartedness and inconsistencies together with the limitations of their own prescriptions.


Did all this amount to reformism as the Euro-Stalinists insist? Not one bit! Gramsci may have turned a tactic into a strategy but this is not the same as turning revolution into reform. In part Gramsci’s right centrist conception in the Prison Notebooks was an undialectical response to the opposition he maintained to the ultra-left turn of Stalin in 1928/29, about the time he began to write his notebooks. If anything it is a Bukharinite rightist critique of the Third Period that we find in Gramsci’s Notebooks. This emphasises the distance between him and Trotsky, but it also serves to underline the gap that separated Gramsci from Stalin.


This gap is further evidenced by the reports of discussions with a fellow prisoner, Athos Lisa, from 1930. Commissioned and then supressed by Togliatti they underline that Gramsci objected to the Third Period, could not agree to the expulsion of oppositionists in the PCI and that he retained his belief in the need for an insurrection:


‘The violent conquest of power necessitates the creation by the party of the working class of an organisation of a military type, pervasively implanted in every branch of the bourgeois state apparatus, and capable of wounding and inflicting grave blows on it at the decisive moment of struggle.’(50)


Gramsci was no longer well enough to write by 1935, the year of the Stalinist Comintern’s definitive passage from bureaucratic centrism into counter-revolution and reformism. The signing of the Stalin-Laval Pact in that year gave a green light for the French Stalinists to embrace patriotism with the full backing of the Kremlin. There is nothing in Gramsci’s life or work which can give comfort to today’s Euro-Stalinists in their attempt to turn Gramsci into the patron saint of the Popular Front.


Quite the contrary. In a couple of striking passages by Gramsci in 1926 he explicity argues against a popular front to defeat fascism in a manner which almost anticipates the apologetic arguments of Togliatti ten years later about Spain. He disputes the arguments of the bourgeoisie who:


‘. . . have an interest in maintaining that fascism is a pre-democratic regime: that fascism is related to an incipient and still backward phase of capitalism.’(51)


This leads to the view that:


‘The best tactic is one whose aim is, if not an actual bourgeois-proletarian bloc for the constitutional elimination of fascism, at least a passivity of the revolutionary vanguard, a non-intervention of the Communist Party in the immediate political struggle, thus allowing the bourgeoisie to use the proletariat as electoral troops against fascism.’(52)




‘For us communists, the fascist regime is the expression of the most advanced stage of capitalist society. It precisely serves to demonstrate how all the conquests and all the institutions which the toilng classes succeed in realising . . . are destined for annihilation, if at a given moment the working class does not seize state power with revolutionary means.’(53)




‘Permanent Revolution’ or ‘Socialism in One Country’?




There is still another way to judge Gramsci’s evolution. What was his attitude to the theoretical underpinnings of centrism in the Comintern—‘socialism in one country’—and to its revolutionary critique—‘permanent revolution’?


His passages in the Prison Notebooks on these questions give no support to the arguments of those, like Perry Anderson, who see an affinity between the positions of Gramsci and Trotsky in their respective critiques of the ultra-leftism of Stalin after 1928.


The truth is that Gramsci, from the middle of 1924, is a savage critic of Trotsky’s theory. The last favourable reference to Trotsky on this score occurs in February 1924. He sympathetically surveys the Opposition’s attacks on bureaucracy in the USSR and says further:


‘It is well known that in 1905, Trotsky already thought a socialist and working class revolution could take place in Russia while the Bolsheviks only aimed to establish a political dictatorship of the proletariat allied to the peasantry that would serve as a framework for the development of capitalism, which was not to be touched in its economic structure. It is well known that in November 1917 Lenin . . . and the majority of the party had gone over to Trotsky’s view and intended to take over not merely political power but also economic power.’(54)


Yet within six months, by the time of the Fifth World Congress, Gramsci had abandoned this view and gone over to the faction of the Stalin/Zinoviev/Kamenev troika. The immediate impetus to this is Gramsci’s attitude to factional activity:


‘Trotsky’s conceptions . . . represent a danger inasmuch as the lack of party unity, in a country in which there is only one party, splits the state. This produces a counter-revolutionary movement; it does not, however, mean that Trotsky is a counter-revolutionary, for in that case we would ask for his expulsion.


Finally, lessons should be drawn fromthe Trotsky question for our party. Before the last disciplinary measures, Trotsky was in the same position as Bordiga is at present in our party.’(55)


This tragic mistake, namely, a right-opportunist identification of Marxism as ultra-leftism, is repeated and amplified many times in the Prison Notebooks. In the fervour of his own 1924 break with Bordiga he was only to willing to side with the majority in the CPSU in the campaign, launched at the Fifth Congress, of ‘Bolshevisation’. This was in fact the first step in the strangling of inner-party life in the communist parties and led Gramsci into opposing all factional activity.


While as late as October 1926 Gramsci was still prepared to argue for disciplinary leniency with regard to the Joint Opposition by the early 1930’s he argued that:


‘The tendency represented by Lev Davidovitch [Trotsky] was closely connected to this series of problems . . . an over resolute (and therefore not rationalised) will to give supremacy in national life to industry and industrial methods, to accelerate through coercion, from outside the growth of discipline and order in production, and to adapt customs to the necessities of work. Given the general way in which all the problems connected with this tendency were conceived it was destined necessarily to end up in Bonapartism. Hence the inexorable necessity of crushing it.’ (56)


Given this attitude and assessment it was not surprising that Gramsci would review his 1924 attitude towards Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution:


‘Bronstein [Trotsky] in his memoirs recals being told that his theory had been proved true . . . fifteen years later . . . In reality his theory, as such was good neither fifteen years earlier nor fifteen years later. As happens to the obstinate . . . he guessed more or less correctly; that is to say, he was right in his more general prediction. It is as if one was to prophesy that a little four year old girl would become a mother, and when at twenty she did one said “I guessed that she would”— overlooking the fact that, however, that when she was four years old one had tried to rape the girl, in the belief that she would become a mother even then.’(57)


This rejection of what he understands to be Trotsky’s theory is at the heart of his overall strategic and tactical conceptions in the Prison Notebooks. Thus the:


‘. . . political concept of the so-called “permanent revolution” which emerged before 1848 as a scientifically evolved expression of Jacobin experience from 1789 to Thermidor. The formula belongs to an historical period in which the great mass political parties and the great economic trade unions did not yet exist, and society was still, so to speak, in a state of fluidity from many points of view: greater backwardness of the countryside, and almost complete monopoly of political and state power by a few cities or even by a single one (Paris in the case of France); a relatively rudimentary state apparatus, and greater autonomy of civil society from state activity; a specific system of military forces and of national armed services; greater autonomy of the national economies from the economic relations of the world market, etc. In the period after 1870, with the colonial expansion of Europe, all these elements change: the internal and international organisational, relations of the state become more complex and massive, and the Forty-Eightist formula of the “permanent revolution” is expanded and transcended in political science by the formula of “civil hegemony”. The same thing happens in the art of politics as happens in military art: war of movement increasingly becomes war of position, and it can be said that a state will win a war in so far as it prepares for it minutely and technically in peacetime.’ (58)


So Trotsky is accused of being behind the times regarding strategy for the advanced west. He accuses Trotsky of being ‘the political theorist of frontal attack in a period when it only leads to defeats’.(59)


Such a conception forms the basis of modern day Euro-Stalinism’s critque of Trotskyism. The first thing that needs to be said is that Gramsci’s exposition which equates ‘permanent revolution’ with frontal attack or war of movement has got nothing to do with Trotsky’s theory. Trotsky took as his point of departure the combined, uninterrupted, character of the bourgeios and proletarian revolutions in certain situations. So Trotsky could not, and did not, apply this aspect of his theory to the ‘west’ where the bourgeois revolution had been completed in all essentials.


If anyone was guilty of the conceptions that Gramsci accuses Trotsky of holding then it is Bukharin at the Third and Fourth Congresses:


‘who held to his standpoint of the scholastic permanence of both the economic crisis and the revolution as a whole.’(60)


Gramsci agreed with Bukharin at the time. It could also be a conception attributable to Zinoviev and Stalin at the Fifth Congress, again which Gramsci did not dissent from.


The painful truth is that Gramsci held a position between 1922 and 1924 not dissimilar to the one he criticises here. He argued that the collapse of the fascist regime was both imminent and could not give way to a transitional regime of bourgeois democracy. In January 1924 he maintained that:


‘. . . in reality fascism has posed a very crude sharp dilemma in Italy: that of the permanent revolution, and of the impossibility not only of changing the form of the state, but even of changing the government, other than by armed force.’ (61)


After his ultra-left illusions were weakened with his break with Bordiga, and shattered for good with the final triumph of Mussolini in 1926, Gramsci altered his strategic conception to the right; but while attacking Trotsky’s theory he was in reality attacking his own ultra-left past.


The fact that Gramsci identified his own previous stance with that of Trotsky can only be explained by the fact that he accepted completely the Stalinist lies about ‘Trotskyism’ pushed in the Comintern after 1923. If Trotsky indeed had been guilty, as the Stalinists, claimed of advocating a ‘leap over’ the bourgeois stage of the Russian Revolution, if Trotsky had indeed ‘underestimated the peasantry’, as his opponents insisted, thus giving the Russian Revolution a purely ‘socialist’ working class character, then Gramsci’s jibes may have had some point. But they were not true. If anything it was Gramsci who ‘underestimated the peasantry’ in his ultra-left period.




A National Road




Nor did Gramsci remain silent on the other issue at stake between Trotsky and Stalin while in prison. He wrote several passages on the methodological questions at stake in the dispute over ‘socialism in one country’ which is intimately connected with the question of permanent revolution. He reasoned as follows:


‘Do international relations precede or follow (logically) fundamental social relations? There can be no doubt that they follow. Any organic innovation in the social structure, through its technical military expression, modifies organically absolute and relative relations in the international field too. Even the geographical position of a national State does not precede but follows (logically) structural changes, although it also reacts back upon them to a certain extent (to the extent precisely to which superstructures react upon the structure, politics on economics, etc)’ (62)


Gramsci gets it all upside down. By ‘fundamental social relations’ he means capitalist relations of production. He counterposes these to ‘international relations’ and thereby implicitly argues that capitalism is nationally defined. Having done that it is then possible, argues Gramsci, to examine the relations between the national and international. By analogy the international relations are the ‘superstructures and the national the ‘base’. This is the starting point for Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country’.


Marxism reasons in an opposite fashion. It starts from the fact that capitalism is a world entity and its relations encompass the globe. National economies can be examined and are determined in this light.


For Gramsci, starting with the ‘national’ played the same role as starting from the ‘uneven’ nature of world economy instead of the ‘uneven and combined’ nature of that economy as Trotsky did. Gramsci, like Stalin felt that this was the only way to appreciate what was ‘unique’, and ‘specific’ about a particular country at a particular time:


‘In reality, the internal relations of any nation are the result of a combination which is “original” and (in a certain sense) unique: these relations must be understood and conceived in their originality and uniqueness if one wishes to dominate them and direct them. To be sure the line of development is towards internationalism, but the point of departure is “national”—and it it is from this point of departure that one must begin. Yet the perspective is international and cannot be otherwise . . . The leading class is in fact only such if it accurately interprets this combination—of which it is itself a component and precisely as such is able to give the moment a certain direction, within certain perspectives. It is on this point in my opinion, that the fundamental disagreement between Lev Davidovitch [Trotsky] and Vissarionovitch [Stalin] as interpreter of the majority movement [Bolshevism] really hinges. The accusations of nationalism are inept if they refer to the nucleus of the question. If one studies the majoritarian struggle from 1902 to 1917, one can see that its originality consisted in purging internationalism of every vague and purely ideological (in the perjorative sense) element, to give it a realistic political content. It is in the concept of hegemony that those exigencies which are national in character are knotted together.’(63)


Thus for Gramsci Lenin’s ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ was hegemonic and national while the theory of ‘permanent revolution’ was incapable of grasping and dealing with the specific realities of Russian society.


Of course, Trotsky did precisely what Gramsci accuses him of failing to achieve. Trotsky’s analysis of Russia was based on a detailed examination of its history and specific social relations. In his work, Results and Prospects, from 1906 Trotsky compares and contrasts the Russia of 1905 to France of 1870 and Germany of 1848 on the basis of tracing the evolution of international developments. Then he was able to outline in a remarkable manner the specific features that were present in Tsarist Russia which destined Russia to experience a socialist revolution before the ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ countries and yet be unable to sustain it without international help.


Since the national is a specific combination of the international trends it is precisely impossible to really grasp the national without first understanding the international.


The connection between Gramsci’s view of the relation between national and international relations and the strategic and tactical tasks of the working class are fully revealed. Only the national is specific and hegemonic; what separates countries is more important than what connects them. Hence, although Italy and England can in one period be very different types of nation and then later in the same camp, the fact is that different types of united front are applicable depending on which type of country we are dealing with; united front from below and a war of manoeuvre in the ‘backward’ or ‘peripheral’ states, a strategic united front and a war of position in the advanced capitalist countries. Only briefly, in early 1924, having decided to break politically with Bordiga did Gramsci pose the problem correctly. But these insights were not sustained and Gramsci surrendered to rightism.




The prosecutor at Gramsci’s trial demanded that any sentence ‘stop this brain working for twenty years’. They failed. But it has now stopped working for fifty years. Many are eager to claim him as their own. This hagiographical attitude to the greatest of Italian revolutionists would have appalled Gramsci. We approach Gramsci’s political life critically. By breaking with the ultra-leftism of Bordiga in 1923-24 Gramsci set himself the conscious project of steering the infant and repressed PCI between the ultra-leftism of Bordiga and the opportunism of Tasca. In doing so his goal was to return to the postions of the revolutionary Comintern of Lenin.


In trying to reach that goal Gramsci was responsible for a considerable body of perceptive work on the errors of Bordigism, on the history, class structure and strategic problems of Italian society. Every revolutionary militant today will find much in his work that is valuable and inspiring.


But Gramsci failed to build Bolshevism in Italy precisely because the bureaucratic centrist ‘Bolshevisation’ of Stalin and Zinoviev intersected his evolution. In the period up until his arrest, this ensured that a PCI under Gramsci’s direction failed to expunge a milder form of ultra-leftism in Italy and an affinity for the growing right opportunism in the ‘west’. In prison, his further reflections based on a one-sided rejection of his own ultra-leftism and nurtured by the Stalinists’ myth about Trotsky, led Gramsci further into the camp of right centrism. Gramsci did not so much expand the boundaries of Marxism but rather narrowed its concerns. His insights were often not unique, once they transgressed the bounds of Italian history and society and were often overly abstract and even ambiguous. In the historical period that opens with the degeneration of the USSR it is Trotskyism, not Gramscism, that stands on the shoulders of Leninism and makes Marxism taller by a head.


Despite that, during this, the fiftieth year since Gramsci’s cruel and painful death, we can find inspiration in his life and struggle. We can only hope to preserve him from the grasp of his ‘friends’.






1 Marxism Today, April 1987


2 O Blasco [Tresso], ‘Un grand militant est mort . . . Gramsci.’, La Lutte Ouvriére No. 44, 14 May 1937


3 L Maitan, ‘The Legacy of Antonio Gramsci’, in International Marxist Review, Summer 1987


4 Socialist Worker Review, April 1987


5 Maitan, op cit, p35


6 C Harman, Gramsci versus Reformism, p28


7 Quoted in A Davidson, ‘Gramsci and Lenin, 1919-22’, Socialist Register 1974, p131.


8 A Gramsci, Selections from the Political Writings, Vol 1 (SPW1), p34 (London 1977)


9 Ibid


10 Ibid, p68


11 Ibid


12 Harman, op cit, p16


13 L D Trotsky, Speech to the General Party Membership in Moscow


14 Lenin, Collected Works Vol 32, p465 (Moscow)


15 A Gramsci, Selections from the Political Writings, Vol 2 (SPW2) p189 (London 1978)


16 Theses, Resolutions and Manifestoes of the First Four Congresses of The Communist International, pp391-6 (London 1980)


17 L Trotsky,The Third International After Lenin , p90 (New York 1970)


18 SPW2, p96


19 Ibid, p97


20 Ibid, pp107-8


21 Ibid, p108


22 Ibid, p99


23 Ibid, p392


24 Ibid, p105


25 Ibid, p148


26 Ibid, p146


27 Ibid, p153


28 Ibid, p155


29 Ibid, p196


30 Ibid, p121-24


31 Ibid, p359


32 Ibid, p174-5


33 Ibid


34 Ibid, p199-200


35 Ibid, p489


36 J Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’, Collected Works Vol 6, p295


37 Ibid


38 ‘Theses on tactics’, in Resolutions and Theses of the Fifth Congress, (London 1924)


39 Ibid


40 SPW2, p373


41 Ibid, p410


42 Ibid, p410


43 Ibid, p411


44 L Trotsky, On Britain, p253-55 (New York 1972)


45 SPW2, p331


46 Ibid


47 Ibid


48 Ibid, p375


49 A Gramsci, Selection from the Prison Notebooks (SPN), p237-78 (London 1971)


50 Quoted in Perry Anderson, ‘The Antimonies of Antonio Gramsci’, New Left Review No100, p72


51 SPW2, p414


52 Ibid, p359


53 Ibid, p414


54 Ibid, p192


55 Ibid, p284


56 SPN, p301


57 Ibid, p237


58 Ibid, p242-3


59 Ibid, p238


60 Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, op cit, p90


61 SPW2, p176


62 SPN, p176


63 Ibid, p240-241



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Does the EU Represent “Bourgeois Democratic Progress”?

Once again, on the EU and the Tactics of the Working Class – An Addendum to our Criticism of the L5I’s Turn to the Right and Its Support for EU Membership

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 16.09.2016,




Recently the RCIT published a detailed work on the imperialist nature of the EU, the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and the tactics of revolutionary organizations on this issue. [1] We closely examined the rightward turn of the centrist organization “League for the 5th International” (L5I). As we reported, the leadership of L5I recently changed its decades-long position on the EU and now considers it as something progressive for the working class. Therefore, in cases of referenda on EU membership – such as the one which took place in Britain in June 2016 – the L5I will call for workers, socialists, and revolutionaries to vote to enter the EU, if the state is not already a member, or to remain within the EU if it is. In our essay we demonstrated that the justification given by the L5I leadership for such tactics amounts to nothing more than opportunistic whitewashing of the EU and that the consequences of adopting such tactics clear the path for social imperialism.


Unlike the L5I, the RCIT steadfastly defends the orthodox Marxist position – which until recently was also supported by the L5I itself. We reject support either for the imperialist EU or for the imperialist nation-state. We stand for an independent position of the working class and, therefore, refuse to support both the pro-EU faction and the anti-EU faction of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Consequently, we call upon workers, socialists and revolutionaries to cast neither a YES nor a NO vote in such referenda on EU membership, but to actively abstain.


Shortly after we published our essay, the L5I published a new edition of its German-language theoretical journal. In it there is an article that deals with the question of the unification of Europe. [2]


This article largely recycles arguments already put forth in earlier L5I articles. However, it also includes a few new arguments which only further entrench and solidify the revisionism of this organization.


In the following present article – a sort of addendum to our longer essay referred to above – we shall respond to the new arguments provided by the L5I and thereby complete our criticism of this organization’s turn to the right. We recommend that readers read the current article in conjunction with the recently published longer essay by the RCIT.




The New Arguments of the L5I Leadership




Essentially the new L5I article raises the following additional points which we will deal with briefly here.


First, the L5I leadership confirms even more explicitly than before their view that the imperialist EU is something progressive for the working class and therefore worth defending. This becomes unmistakably clear from the following quotations:


In contrast to a purely national-state order, a capitalist, bourgeois-democratically oriented federation is a progressive development. This is often forgotten by the critics of the EU …[3]


In this context one would have to wage the struggle against the border regime in the British Isles, which gives rise to catastrophic conditions on the other side of the Channel. This could more readily be conducted in the context of a bourgeois-democratic federation which would give the labor movement, jointly with the refugees, the opportunity to organize a strong proletarian response against the emerging racist and nationalist movements of the bourgeoisie.” [4]


Certainly no one on the left is actually shedding tears over [the tribulations of] an imperialist “unification project.” At the same time, one should never forget: The EU’s disintegration into separate “independent” nation states, the withdrawal from the Union or the euro zone is – on the basis of a capitalist state – a reactionary response to the crisis. The expansion of the productive forces, a larger economic space, closer, transnational economic connections, standardized communication and transport systems, greater freedom of movement of labor represent progress, even if they were carried out under the aegis of finance capital ‘from above.’ The collapse of the EU into individual nation-states will reconstruct boundaries between the workers of Europe and will further intensify the racist bankruptcy. This is why the effects of the Brexit referendum were and are reactionary.[5]


Second, the L5I leadership has now abandoned its previous position that the creation of an imperialist EU state apparatus is actually possible. Instead, it has now adopted the traditional argument of Stalinism, which explains that such an imperialist unification of Europe is impossible and incorrectly quote Lenin in defense of this view. Furthermore, while the L5I leadership uncritically reproduces Trotsky’s incomplete and undeveloped position from 1915 and uses it as a justification for their opportunistic support of the imperialist EU, they conceal and distort Lenin’s position on the slogan of the United States of Europe.


The EU’s crisis also illustrates one thing. The capitalist classes and the imperialist states are not able to unite the continent.[6]


The EU is therefore not an independent imperialist actor, there is no ‘EU-imperialism’ as such, but only a pooling of national-imperialist intersections in the construction of transnational bureaucratic structures which only have a certain political sovereignty and leadership. Therefore, all assumptions à la ‘super state ‘ are fundamentally wrong, as they are put forward by the ‘left’ critics of the EU. There is no ‘ultra-imperialism,’ as was hoped for by Kautsky for the time after World War One. (…) In contrast, the ‘left’ critics of the EU believe that there is a European imperialism. In this way they support Kautsky’s revisionist theory of ultra-imperialism against which Lenin strongly polemicized. (…) The EU is a semi-finished structure with the problem that, under capitalism, it cannot be completed.[7]




The “Bourgeois-Democratic” Imperialist EU – A Step Forward for the Working Class?




In our recent essay, we already pointed out that the L5I leadership considers the imperialist EU as a progressive factor in the interests of the working class and wants to defend it against withdrawals by member states. The comrades incorrectly view the EU primarily as a progressive manifestation in the development of the productive forces and as an objective factor for increasing the internationalist consciousness and the international struggle of the working class.


In their new article, the L5I leadership develops this objectivist and economistic line of argument further. Now the imperialist EU is viewed not only as economically progressive and as an objectively progressive factor for the class struggle, but also and more generally as a manifestation of “bourgeois democratic progress“.


Such a position demonstrates how much the L5I leadership has been swept away by their revisionist deluge. Instead of recognizing the EU primarily as an imperialist state formation, the comrades focus their attention on its ostensibly bourgeois-democratic character. But, as we elaborated in our essay, the key feature of the EU is the merger of national imperialist bourgeoisies – mainly the great powers with Germany and France at the top – into an imperialist federation of states (with all its internal contradictions).


In reality, the arguments of the L5I leadership merely reflect the traditional social-democratic myth that Western European states primarily represent (bourgeois) democracies and not imperialist states. From this they deduced, during the first half of the 20th century, that it was necessary for the working class to defend France and Britain in the imperialist world wars. In contrast, we Trotskyists always rejected such opportunistic fool’s wisdom. We, in contrast, focused our analysis on the imperialist character of these countries and thus drew from this the conclusion that workers should not support these countries under any circumstances.


The L5I leadership has forgotten a crucial principle of Marxism: the imperialist states in Europe and the European Union – representing a merger of the same – does not and cannot represent any kind of progressive bourgeois democracy. Rather, they are the states or a federation of states of imperialist bourgeoisies each of which domestically exploits its own respective working class, oppresses migrants, and increasingly restricts democratic rights while abroad it individually exploits the peoples of the South or as part of a coalition it wages more and more imperialistic wars. In short, these countries do not represent progressive bourgeois democracy but reactionary imperialism.


Lenin already pointed out this principle one hundred years ago: „Today, it would be ridiculous even to imagine a progressive bourgeoisie, a progressive bourgeois movement, in, for instance, such key members of the “Concert” of Europe, as Britain and Germany. The old bourgeois “democracy” of these two key states has turned reactionary.[8]


We do not deny that there still exists a certain degree of bourgeois democracy in the European countries – although this is increasingly restricted (see, for example, the emergency regime in France). Rather, precisely because of this does the RCIT give great importance to the struggle for democratic rights within the European countries – a struggle which becomes more urgent as the ruling class in all European countries are increasingly transformed into an openly anti-democratic, reactionary force. [9]


But this must in no way leads us to support for the EU. Contrary to the misconception of the L5I leadership, the EU does not at all embody more bourgeois democracy than the individual European nation states. On the contrary, praising the EU as a “bourgeois democratic progress” it is not without its irony. As is common knowledge, there is hardly a European country in which parliament has so few powers as those of the European Parliament, and in which the “government” (the European Commission and the EU Council) are so much beyond any control by its parliament. [10]


So we can safely add the position of the L5I leadership regarding the “democratic nature” of the EU to the other myths they give to justify their opportunistic support for the imperialist EU.




Is Trotsky a Key Witness for the L5I-Slogan of the “United States of Europe”?




The L5I leadership advances the slogan for the unification of Europe as a progressive slogan in itself. They ignore that such a union under imperialist auspices – i.e., under the leadership of one or two major imperialist powers – is in no way progressive, but instead creates a larger, more powerful imperialist state federation which, in addition, is accompanied by the greater oppression of smaller and economically weaker nations.


Therefore Marxists do not advance the slogan of the United States of Europe (which, without class characterization, is implicitly pro-imperialist), but only the slogan of the United Socialist States of Europe.


While the L5I leadership also repeats this slogan of the socialist unification of Europe in their new article, they also refer, explicitly and in the affirmative, to the slogan of the “United States of Europe/“. To this end, they reproduce statements made by Trotsky in 1915, in which he put forward the slogan of a republican United States of Europe and the L5I comrades add that this slogan is timely even today. [11]


Prudently, however, the L5I conceals that Lenin formulated a sharp and unequivocal criticism of this solution:


From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism—i.e., the export of capital arid the division of the world by the “advanced” and “civilised” colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary.[12]


One can hardly reconcile the difference between the viewpoint of Lenin and that of the L5I: While Lenin states that the “United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary”, the L5I thinks that “a capitalist, bourgeois-democratic oriented federation is a progressive development.


It is significant that the L5I leadership fails to mention Lenin’s criticism even in a single word. Do the comrades consider his criticism as wrong? If so, then they should say this.


Finally, as we already stated in our essay, we note that the L5I leadership liberally refers to statements by Trotsky which he expressed before having completely overcome his own centrist weaknesses and joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917. Trotsky himself, as is generally known, developed further this slogan and put it in the form of the United Socialist States of Europe or the United Soviet States of Europe in 1923. For a detailed discussion of the development of Lenin and Trotsky’s understanding of the slogan of the United States of Europe we refer readers to another work we have published. [13]




Did Lenin Consider Impossible the Unification of Europe under Imperialist Conditions?




Not only does the L5I leadership conceal Lenin’s criticism of Trotsky’s slogan for a republican United States of Europe, they also falsify Lenin’s actual position. By claiming that Lenin considered a unification of Europe under imperialism as impossible, they parrot Stalinist and centrist interpretations.


As the cited quotation from the new L5I article demonstrates, today the comrades claim – as have in the past various Stalinists, Peter Taffees’ CWI, Alan Woods’ IMT and others – that unification is impossible. They even claim that the thesis of the possibility of capitalist unification of Europe would be a concession to Karl Kautsky’s revisionist theory of ultra-imperialism.


This is of course nonsense. In reality, Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism referred to the mistaken belief that a worldwide fusion of imperialist monopolies and great powers would be possible, which could – as the chief theoreticians of centrism believed – lead to the overcoming of the arms race and the danger of a world war. This assumption was and is theoretically absurd and politically dangerous. But it would be completely wrong to assume that even the capitalist unification of Europe would be impossible. In the past we have replied to this hypothesis of the Stalinist and centrist critics:


Kautsky’s revisionism was not based on his notion that two or more imperialist states could merge. Rather, his revisionism was based in his accepting as possible the merger of all major capital around the world into a single ultra-imperialism – or a “general cartel” as Hilferding called it. Neither is it revisionism to consider possible the merger of two or more corporations so that they can better stand in competition. It is, however, indeed revisionism to consider the peaceful, organic unification of all capital around the world. [14]


This is why Kautsky concluded from his theory of ultra-imperialism, that in such a case the danger of a world war would be averted. This is also evident from the following quotation from Kautsky’s famous article on the theory of ultra-imperialism:


What Marx said of capitalism can also be applied to imperialism: monopoly creates competition and competition monopoly. The frantic competition of giant firms, giant banks and multi-millionaires obliged the great financial groups, who were absorbing the small ones, to think up the notion of the cartel. In the same way, the result of the World War between the great imperialist powers may be a federation of the strongest, who renounce their arms race. Hence from the purely economic standpoint it is not impossible that capitalism may still Jive through another phase, the translation of cartellization into foreign policy: a phase of ultra-imperialism, which of course we must struggle against as energetically as we do against imperialism, but whose perils lie in another direction, not in that of the arms race and the threat to world peace.[15]


The L5I leadership’s conflating our recognition of a possible imperialist unification of Europe with Kautsky theory of ultra-imperialism by is therefore completely wrong.


As we demonstrated in detail in another essay on the question of the unification of Europe in the light of Marxist theory, Lenin, the theoretician of the Bolsheviks – and even Trotsky, in some quotes – considered a unification of Europe under imperialist conditions as indeed possible. [16] This is also evident from the above quotation from Lenin, according to which the “United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary.” In the same article, Lenin stated:


A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies. Under capitalism, however, no other basis and no other principle of division are possible except force. (…) Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists . . . but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America, who have been badly done out of their share by the present partition of colonies, and the increase of whose might during the last fifty years has been immeasurably more rapid than that of backward and monarchist Europe, now turning senile. Compared with the United States of America, Europe as a whole denotes economic stagnation. On the present economic basis, i.e., under capitalism, a United States of Europe would signify an organisation of reaction to retard America’s more rapid development.[17]


In short, and in light of the above, we can also confidently relegate to the dustbin and the realm of centrist storytelling this additional justification of L5I leadership for their social-imperialist adaptation to the EU (i.e., that Lenin allegedly considered a unification of Europe under imperialism to be impossible).




Is a Unification of Europe under Imperialist Conditions Impossible?




Finally, we come to the question of whether a unification of Europe is virtually impossible even under imperialist conditions. We have always maintained – and, until recently, the L5I did too – that while such a unification would encounter major obstacles, it is by no means impossible.


The central, strategic task of the European bourgeoisie is, therefore, to take forward the formation of the EU as a strong challenger to the US empire on the world stage. For this it has to make a qualitative step forward towards a more economically competitive, politically unified and militarily independent (from the USA) entity that is capable of challenging the US empire.[18]


„We can state the following ‘law’: The more successful the European bourgeoisie is in attacking and defeating the working class, the easier the creation of a unified European imperialist bloc and state structure (under a Franco-German leadership) will be for them. Equally, if the working class resistance is too strong, and attempts to raise the rate of exploitation sufficiently fail, then subsequent attempts by the Franco-German bloc to subordinate the rest will also fail. From this flows the strategic importance of the German and French working classes since they are situated in the heart of the European beast.[19]


Decisive is not the question of whether a unification of Europe will take place under imperialist conditions or not. No one can foresee the feasibility of such a development. Ultimately, this will depend on many factors which are a product of the capitalist crisis, the global rivalry between the great powers and the class struggle.


Rather the following question is crucial: Has there been for quite some time and will there be in the foreseeable future a real and serious attempt by the main monopoly bourgeoisies of Europe to unite the continent (in whatever form) so that the EU can become a major great power on a global scale? For the following reasons, the only possible answer to this question is a clear affirmation:


* The experience of the past decades and the massive integration of the EU (Maastricht, etc.) which has taken place;


* The openly expressed plans by several leading representatives of the EU-monopoly capital;


* The objective necessity for European imperialist states to join forces in order to withstand the pressure of the other great powers (the US, China, Russia, Japan).


A second, even more decisive, question is: Even if unification of the continent by the imperialist EU will not be achieved, is it permissible for revolutionaries to subordinate the working class to the monopoly bourgeoisie by calling upon them to support either joining or remaining inside of the imperialist EU? As we have shown in our essay and numerous other works, Marxists can only answer this question with an unequivocal NO.


The L5I leadership asserts that EU membership would objectively force the working class to increasingly fight on an international scale. Yes, a common enemy in the form of the EU can objectively push the European proletariat in the direction of fighting against it. (However, it can also objectively push the proletariat to follow the nationalist rhetoric “against the EU bureaucracy” of right-wing populists!) Regardless, – and this is the politically crucial point – this is hardly a reason to call the working class to support EU membership and thereby voluntarily support its own captivity and its jailers! According to this absurd logic of the L5I, workers should vote in favor of TTIP and CETA, since these agreements would lead to a pan-European and even cross-Atlantic class struggle.


In general, this objectivist logic of the L5I leadership is alien to Marxists. Such objectivist reasoning would lead them, for example, to support the ruin of the peasants in semi-colonial countries, since doing so objectively weakens the rural petty bourgeoisie and strengthens the proletariat. However, while Marxists naturally welcome the strengthening of the ranks of the proletariat, they instinctively fight against the ruination of the poor peasants by the monopolies and advocate demands to prevent such ruin.


In short, the latest article by the L5I leadership provides absolutely no reason to follow their turn to the right and their support for the imperialist EU. By adopting such a position, they have unabashedly betrayed the traditional Marxist principle which calls for consistent, international anti-imperialism and revolutionary defeatism.




[1] Michael Pröbsting: Marxism, the European Union and Brexit. The L5I and the European Union: A Right Turn away from Marxism. The recent change in the L5I’s position towards the support for EU membership represents a shift away from its own tradition, of the Marxist method, and of the facts; August 2016, in: Revolutionary Communist No. 55,

[2] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 48, August 2016, pp. 47-85

[3] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 60 (Our emphasis and our translation)

[4] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 64 (Our emphasis and our translation)

[5] Editorial Board: Wohin treibt Europa? in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 48, August 2016, (Our emphasis and our translation)

[6] Editorial Board: Wohin treibt Europa? in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 48, August 2016, (Our translation)

[7] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 61 (Our translation)

[8] V. I. Lenin: Under A False Flag; in: LCW Vol. 21, p.141

[9] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting; The Struggle for Democracy in the Imperialist Countries Today. The Marxist Theory of Permanent Revolution and its Relevance for the Imperialist Metropolises, August 2015, in: Revolutionary Communism Nr. 39,

[10] We have dealt extensively with the EU treaty and the political power relations inside the EU in the following pamphlet: Michael Pröbsting: Der EU-Reformvertrag, seine Hintergründe und die revolutionäre Strategie, Frühjahr 2008, A shortened version in English language has been published in the journal Fifth International Vol.3, No.1 (2008),

[11] See e.g. Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 55, 53 and 60

[12] V. I. Lenin: On the Slogan for a United States of Europe; in: LCW Vol. 21, p.340

[13] See Michael Pröbsting: Die Frage der Vereinigung Europas im Lichte der marxistischen Theorie. Zur Frage eines supranationalen Staatsapparates des EU-Imperialismus und der marxistischen Staatstheorie. Die Diskussion zur Losung der Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa bei Lenin und Trotzki und ihre Anwendung unter den heutigen Bedingungen des Klassenkampfes, in: Unter der Fahne der Revolution Nr. 2/3 (2008),

[14] See Michael Pröbsting: Die Frage der Vereinigung Europas im Lichte der marxistischen Theorie, p. 17 (our translation)

[15] Karl Kautsky: Der Imperialismus, in: Die Neue Zeit 32-II., 1914, 21, p. 921, in: English: Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (edited and translated by Patrick Goode), The Macmillan Press, Hong Kong 1983, p. 88,

[16] See Michael Pröbsting: Die Frage der Vereinigung Europas im Lichte der marxistischen Theorie

[17] V. I. Lenin: On the Slogan for a United States of Europe; in: LCW Vol. 21, pp. 341-342

[18] Michael Pröbsting: Americanise or bust’ – Contradictions and challenges of the imperialist project of European unification (2004), in: Fifth International Vol.1, No.2, p. 8,

[19] Ibid, p. 17


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Chapter VI. The Theoretical Foundations of the Political Right-Wing Turn of L5I


Note of the Editorial Board: The following chapter contains several figures. They can be viewed in the pdf version of this document (see here).




Until now we have analyzed in detail and refuted the arguments of L5I leadership, and have pointed out the consequences of its turn to the right. In this last chapter we will address the theoretical foundations of their arguments.




  1. a) Opportunistic Belief in the Potential for Progress of Decaying Capitalism – a Break with Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism




We have seen that the L5I leadership advocates EU membership by arguing that this would be beneficial for the development of productive forces and “to increase the productivity of humanity.”


Elsewhere we have reported that, among the leadership of L5I, there have always been controversial discussions about Lenin’s understanding of the theory of imperialism. As such, when we still belonged to that organization, we were repeatedly forced to struggle against the position of various L5I comrades who expressed skepticism about the tendency of capitalist stagnation as being characteristic of the imperialist epoch; who doubted whether imperialism is really the last stage of capitalism; and who, in the first decade of the new millennium, rejected recognizing a stagnation of the productive forces and who refused – following the opening of the new historic period in 2008 – to affirm an objective decline of the productive forces. Our own orthodox stance was condemned by our inner-party opponents as “catastrophism” and “dogmatism,” and it this enmity obliged us to invest great effort (involving our reluctant agreement to make various deletions in draft documents) to win over majorities for our positions. [1]


Our ultimate expulsion from the L5I in 2011 marked the start of that organization’s descent from Marxism into centrism. This was also manifested in their “De-Leninization” of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, which is the “theoretical” base they devised which hides behind their latest justifications for their rightward turn in the question of the EU.


All of the above is clear from the arguments put forth by the L5I leadership in defense of their advocacy of EU membership in the interest of the development of productivity. The comrades have repeatedly pointed out that an inherent law of capitalism is that the productive forces outgrow the borders of the nation state and that, therefore, any attempt to return to the isolated nation state would be reactionary. Now, of course, it is a truism for Marxists that modern productive forces strive beyond the boundaries of the nation state and towards global exchange, and that any reverting back to the nation state is reactionary.


However, it is also a truism for Marxists that capitalism in its final stage – the era of imperialism – is no longer able to support an organic, comprehensive growth of the world’s productive forces, very much in contrast to what was the case during its epochs of ascent.


Or to formulate it more precisely: on the one hand, capitalism continues to advance technologically, and these advances manifest themselves in various material aspects of the forces of production; but at the same time it utilizes the benefits from this technological progress in order to:


* increase the exploitation and oppression of the working class and oppressed peoples;


* exacerbate the inter-imperialist rivalries and make such crises more destructive; and finally


* accelerate the transformation of the forces of production to destructive forces, thereby worsening the destruction of the environment, increasing the spread of wars, and augmenting those dynamics which could bring about a new world war.


That is why – in contrast to our opponents inside and outside of the LRCI/L5I – we have always defended Lenin’s thesis on the tendency towards stagnation which is inherent to imperialism.


This becomes clear when we remember the Marxist understanding of productive forces which includes not only the technique and the quantity of goods produced, but also and, in particular, the development of the working class and humanity. We addressed this issue more fully in an article published in the L5I’s German-language theoretical journal “Revolutionary Marxism” of 2007.


There we gave the following definition of the productive forces: “Let’s first recapitulate what Marx and Marxists actually understand by productive forces. Productive forces include both the material means and results of production — that is means of production (machines, etc) and goods — and the people who operate the means of production and, for this purpose enter into certain forms of the social division of labour.[2]


In that document, we also drew attention to the dramatic dangers to the livelihood of humanity which result from capitalism’s increasing transformation of the productive forces into destructive forces. Marx himself insightfully wrote:


Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the labourer.[3]


And we summarized our understanding in the following concluding paragraph:


In summary, by the tendency of the productive forces to stagnate Marxists mean the following developments:


* Capitalism’s increasing inability to transform technological innovation and economic growth into social progress for humanity. On the contrary, capitalism increasingly undermines the possibilities of human progress.


* The dynamic of decreasing growth both in the production of commodities as well as in the accumulation of capital.


* Increasing instability and the tendency of world capitalism to spawn crises, both economic and political.[4]


And later we wrote in another work, and at that time the current L5I leaders agreed with us that:


In particular, increasing socialization and internationalization demonstrate the historical obsolescence of capitalism and, due to the fetters of private property, its inherent hindering of rich and sustainable development of the forces of production. In the epoch of imperialism, the forces of production tend to stagnate – a law that was less valid in periods atypical for this epoch, like the long post-war boom. But in those periods which are typical for this epoch this law remains fully valid and manifests itself in those historical periods in which the contradictions of capitalism erupt in all their explosiveness, as in 1914-1948 or in the period which began in 2007 and which is characterized by a decline of the forces of production.[5]


We have shown both in the previous chapters of this essay, as well as in other documents, how the living conditions of the working class and humanity have deteriorated in recent years – in Europe and worldwide.


But even regarding the class interests of the bourgeoisie, i.e., levels of production, capital accumulation and productivity, we have also demonstrated numerous times in the past that, in recent decades, the development of capitalism is characterized by a definite tendency toward stagnation and decline. For an elaboration of this point, we refer the reader to different works which we have previously published – some during our tenure in the LRCI/L5I, and others, in more recent years, in the context of the RCIT. [6]


Here we shall limit ourselves to three tasks: citing statistics published by the United Nations regarding the development of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 1960 and 2010 (Table 11); giving figures for the development of global Gross Fixed Capital Formation and GDP in the period between 1970 and 2010 (Figure 4); and referencing data about the long-term development of labor productivity between 1950 and 2013 (Figure 5).




Table 11: The development of global Gross Domestic Product, 1960–2010 (in absolute numbers as well as average annual growth) [7]


Global GDP                                                        Average annual                                                  Average annual


in absolute numbers                                          growth rate (5 years)                                        growth rate (10 years)




1960: 7279


1965: 9420                                                           1960–1965: +5.88%


1970: 12153                                                         1965–1970: +5.80%                                           1960–1970: +5.84%


1975: 14598                                                         1970–1975: +4.02%


1980: 17652                                                         1975–1980: +4.18%                                           1970–1980: +4.09%


1985: 20275                                                         1980–1985: +2.97%


1990: 24284                                                         1985–1990: +3.95%                                           1980–1990: +3.46%


1995: 27247                                                         1990–1995: +2.44%


2000: 32213                                                         1995–2000: +3.64%                                           1990–2000: +3.04%


2005: 36926                                                         2000–2005: +2.93%


2010: 41365                                                         2005–2010: +2.40%                                           2005–2010: +2.66%




Legend: GDP figures are in billions of constant 2000 US dollars. The growth figures are the respective averages of the five ten years cycle (our calculations).




Figure 4: The development of the world economy 1970­–2010, Gross capital formation and annual percentage growth of world GDP [8]



Legend: Gross capital formation (as a percentage of world GDP, thick gray line, left scale) and annual percentage growth of world GDP (dotted thin black line, right scale).




Figure 5: Labor productivity performance in a long term comparative perspective, 1950­–2013 [9]


GDP per hour worked; annual average growth







Both Table 11 and Figures 4 and 5 reveal unequivocally the clear downward trend of world capitalist production and accumulation in the past decades. In Table 11, we can demonstrate, using official figures from the World Bank, that the growth of global production gradually declined over the past five decades, from + 5.88% in the 1960s to + 2.66% in the first decade of the new millennium, and that the growth figures for the current decade will inevitably be even lower.


As we have repeatedly elaborated in other works on the world economy, the driving factor behind this decline of capitalist economic growth is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, just as Marx pointed out in Capital. (See Figure 6)




Figure 6: World rate of profit and average rate in imperialist and semi-colonial countries (1869–2010). [10]





As we have demonstrated above, the L5I leadership maintains that the augmentation of imperialist confederations like the EU is vital to boosting the development capitalism’s forces of production. Indeed, it is true that, in the period of globalization during recent decades, world trade and foreign investment have witnessed a tremendous expansion, just as we have shown in our study on globalization. [11] But, contrary to the (opportunistic) optimism of the L5I regarding capitalism’s potential for progress, this huge expansion of trade and foreign investment during the period of globalization did not result in the accelerated growth of capitalist value production – to say nothing of an improvement in the living conditions of workers and the inhabitants of the oppressed world. On the contrary, all the figures for the world economy in recent decades show that the rise of globalization has been accompanied by a decline in economic growth.


How is this possible? Simply, the explanation is that the internationalization of production has not contributed or, if so, only marginally, to the increase of the world’s forces of production. Instead, the calculus of imperialism dictates that, for their own economic well-being, the respective monopoly bourgeoisies of the imperialist states both individually and collectively, promote and utilize globalization in order to intensify exploitation of their local working class as well as the semi-colonial world, in doing so increase their competitiveness vis. à vis. one another, and ultimately advance the destruction of productive forces (in bankruptcies, economic crises, wars and other military operations, including the huge stockpiling and sale of non-productive sophisticated weaponry). The inevitable result is increasing impoverishment for the mass of humanity, and the existential imperative of imperialism to more intensively oppress the masses.


It is, therefore, no coincidence that Lenin spoke of the imperialist epoch as the era of “moribund capitalism” and pointed to the tendency to stagnation (which of course in no way excludes temporary upswings):


The fact that imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism is manifested first of all in the tendency to decay, which is characteristic of every monopoly under the system of private ownership of the means of production. The difference between the democratic-republican and the reactionary-monarchist imperialist bourgeoisie is obliterated precisely because they are both rotting alive (which by no means precludes an extraordinarily rapid development of capitalism in individual branches of industry, in individual countries, and in individual periods).[12]


And it is, therefore, hardly surprising that in the EU – regardless of the massive expansion of the continental trade and cross-border investments – there has been neither an acceleration of growth in production nor in productivity. On the contrary, both have declined!


What the L5I leadership obviously forgets, or perhaps unconsciously desires to block out, is the classic thesis of Lenin and Trotsky, that the productive forces in the epoch of imperialism (i.e., of decaying capitalism) tend to stagnation, while in the pre-imperialist epoch they were still growing. If this were not the case, and the thesis of the L5I leadership could somehow be linked to the economic and political reality of this current epoch, then the huge internationalization of trade that we have witnessed during the last three decades of globalization should have resulted in the acceleration of the productive forces and the fastest economic growth in history. But, as we have shown, precisely the opposite is true! We live in one of the most pronounced stagnation periods of capitalism!


Moreover, it has been in the EU during the last 30 years that the internationalization of trade and production has increased the most dramatically. But it is precisely in this period that growth has declined most precipitously! Around the world, many countries which weren’t subject to such a massive degree of internationalization as was the case for the EU states, experienced stronger growth. If so, clearly, the advancement of EU integration has had no particular positive effect on the development of productive forces!


What explanation does the L5I leadership have for this contradiction? How, given the data, can it theoretically justify its desire to convince the working class to give “critical” support the central project of the European monopoly bourgeoisie in the name of the “development of productive forces“?


So who, then, actually does benefit from the integration of the EU and increased globalization? As we implied just above, the answer is: the imperialist monopolies. It is they who are responsible for the acceleration of the integration of the EU and the globalization of the world economy, including all its free trade agreements. That is the reason that, in the past, we have produced the following equation to encapsulate the essence of globalization: Globalization = Internationalization + monopolization.


Again, we can only surmise that the L5I leadership has obviously either forgotten or is defensively blocking out that, in the age of imperialism – and especially in the recent decades characterized by global crisis-ridden development – an organic development of the productive forces is no longer possible. This stagnation can also not be ameliorated by the creation of larger markets like that of the EU. No, internationalization of the productive forces in the epoch of imperialism does not mean expansion and growth of the productive forces. Rather, first and foremost its significance is the monopolization of the forces of production, and the concomitant expansion of the power and dominance of monopolies on the world’s political economy and thus on the individual nation states.


This is why Lenin, in his theory of imperialism, was absolutely correct when he identified the dominance of monopolies as the central characteristic of the present epoch: “The supplanting of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the quintessence of imperialism. [13]




Excurse: The Marxist Classics on the Internationalization of the Productive Forces in the Imperialist Epoch




Only unabashed social-democratic charlatans think in terms of winning over the working class so that they can be exploited by the corporations for their drive to expand monopolistically controlled markets. By contrast, Marxists, vehemently reject any such support, without at the same time giving any support whatsoever to that faction of the imperialist bourgeoisie which is strongly-oriented towards the nation state and the domestic market.


As early as 1888 – i.e., before the beginning of the imperialist epoch – Engels noted that the benefits of free trade, critically supported by both he and Marx in the mid-19th century during the epoch of rising capitalism, were increasingly dwindling:


The question of Free Trade or Protection moves entirely within the bounds of the present system of capitalist production, and has, therefore, no direct interest for us socialists who want to do away with that system. (…) If a country nowadays accepts Free Trade, it will certainly not do so to please the socialists. It will do so because Free trade has become a necessity for the industrial capitalists. But if it should reject Free Trade and stick to Protection, in order to cheat the socialists out of the expected social catastrophe, that will not hurt the prospects of socialism in the least. (…) In the meantime, there is no help for it: you must go on developing the capitalist system, you must accelerate the production, accumulation, and centralization of capitalist wealth, and, along with it, the production of a revolutionary class of laborers. Whether you try the Protectionist or the Free Trade will make no difference in the end, and hardly any in the length of the respite left to you until the day when that end will come.[14]


  • With the beginning of the era of imperialism, things changed fundamentally. In their brochure Socialism and War written by the Bolsheviks in 1915, they emphasize that the development of productive forces was no longer the justification for the internationalization of production and trade, but “the pursuit of monopolies for conquest of territories”:


Imperialism is the highest stage in the development of capitalism, reached only in the twentieth century. Capitalism now finds that the old national states, without whose formation it could not have overthrown feudalism, are too cramped for it. Capitalism has developed concentration to such a degree that entire branches of industry are controlled by syndicates, trusts and associations of capitalist multimillionaires and almost the entire globe has been divided up among the ’lords of capital‘ either in the form of colonies, or by entangling other countries in thousands of threads of financial exploitation. Free trade and competition have been superseded by a striving towards monopolies, the seizure of territory for the investment of capital and as sources of raw materials, and so on. From the liberator of nations, which it was in the struggle against feudalism, capitalism in its imperialist stage has turned into the greatest oppressor of nations. Formerly progressive, capitalism has become reactionary; it has developed the forces of production to such a degree that mankind is faced with the alternative of adopting socialism or of experiencing years and even decades of armed struggle between the ’Great‘ Powers for the artificial preservation of capitalism by means of colonies, monopolies, privileges and national oppression of every kind.[15]


Hence, as Lenin wrote in his study of imperialism, the difference between smaller and bigger markets, between Free Trade or Protection, “only give rise to insignificant variations in the form of monopolies”.


Official science tried by a conspiracy of silence, to kill the works of Marx, who by a theoretical and historical analysis of capitalism had proved that free competition gives rise to the concentration of production, which, in turn, at a certain stage of development leads to monopoly. Today, monopoly has become a fact. Economists are writing mountains of books in which they describe the diverse manifestations of monopoly, and continue to declare in chorus that ’Marxism is refuted‘. But facts are stubborn things, as the English proverb says, and they have to be reckoned with, whether we like it or not. The facts show that differences between capitalist countries, e.g., in the matter of protection or free trade, only give rise to insignificant variations in the form of monopolies or in the moment of their appearance; and that the rise of monopolies, as the result of the concentration of production, is a general and fundamental law of the present stage of development of capitalism.[16]


In his preface to Nikolai Bukharin’s book “Imperialism and World Economy,” Lenin expressed a similar idea:


In all this it is extremely important to bear in mind that this change has been brought about in no other way but the immediate development, expansion and continuation of the most profound and basic trends in capitalism and in commodity production in general. These main trends, which have been in evidence all over the world for centuries, are the growth of exchange and the growth of large-scale production. At a definite stage in the development of exchange, at a definite stage in the growth of large-scale production, namely, at the stage which was attained towards the turn of the century, exchange so internationalised economic relations and capital, and large-scale production assumed such proportions that monopoly began to replace free competition. Monopoly associations of entrepreneurs, trusts, instead of enterprises, ’freely’ competing with each other—at home and in relations between the countries—became typical. Finance capital took over as the typical ’lord‘ of the world; it is particularly mobile and flexible, particularly interknit at home and internationally, and particularly impersonal and divorced from production proper; it lends itself to concentration with particular ease, and has been concentrated to an unusual degree already, so that literally a few hundred multimillionaires and millionaires control the destiny of the world.[17]


Bukharin’s book, in which, again, the above appeared in the preface, drew attention to the characteristic tendency of the great imperialist powers to expand beyond their borders and to incorporate smaller countries – a development which has taken place in the European Union.


The war, which was bound to break out because it had been prepared by the entire course of events, could not fail to exercise a colossal influence on world economic life. It has caused a complete change in every country and in the relations between countries, in the ’national economies’ and in world economy. Together with a truly barbarous squandering of production forces, with the destruction of the material means of production and of the living labour power, together with the devitalisation of economy through monstrous socially harmful expenditures, the war, like a gigantic crisis, has intensified the fundamental tendencies of capitalist development; it has hastened to an extraordinary degree the growth of finance capitalist relations and the centralisation of capital on a world scale. The centralising character of the present war (imperialist centralisation) is beyond doubt. First of all, there is a collapse of independent small states whether of high industrial development (horizontal concentration and centralisation) or of an agrarian type (vertical centralisation); the latter have also absorbed some of the weaker (and similarly backward) formations — which, however, is comparatively unimportant. The independent existence of Belgium, a highly developed country with a colonial policy of its own, is becoming doubtful; the process of a centralising redivision of territory in the Balkans is perfectly obvious; it is to be expected that the tangle of colonial possessions in Africa will be straightened out. On the other hand, we witness a very strong rapprochement (in the form of a lasting agreement between syndicates) of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Whatever the actual outcome of the war, it is already clear (and could have been assumed a priori) that the political map will be changed in the direction of greater state homogeneity—this being exactly the way in which the imperialistic “nationality states” (Nationalitätenstaaten) grow.[18]


Naturally, Bukharin did not conclude from this that class conscious workers should lend any support to such tendencies. According to him, socialists should instead of “defending or extending the boundaries of the bourgeois state” – i.e., to translate this into modern language – neither support the EU nor the nation state, but exclusively fight for the “slogan of abolishing state boundaries and merging all the peoples into one Socialist family.


The war severs the last chain that binds the workers to the masters, their slavish submission to the imperialist state. The last limitation of the proletariat’s philosophy is being overcome: its clinging to the narrowness of the national state, its patriotism. The interests of the moment, the temporary advantage accruing to it from the imperialist robberies and from its connections with the imperialist state, become of secondary importance compared with the lasting and general interests of the class as a whole, with the idea of a social revolution of the international proletariat which overthrows the dictatorship of finance capital with an armed hand, destroys its state apparatus and builds up a new power, a power of the workers against the bourgeoisie. In place of the idea of defending or extending the boundaries of the bourgeois state that bind the productive forces of world economy hand and foot, this power advances the slogan of abolishing state boundaries and merging all the peoples into one Socialist family. In this way the proletariat, after painful searching, succeeds in grasping its true interests that lead it through revolution to Socialism.[19]


In the same spirit, Lenin warned revolutionaries to avoid the typically centrist mistake committed by the German social democrat Karl Kautsky and his supporters, who raised the possibility that progressive developments in the interest of the working class are possible within the capitalist system:


There is evidence that even today the indisputable fact that capitalism is progressive, when compared with the semi-philistine ’paradise’ of free competition, and that imperialism and its final victory over ’peaceful‘ capitalism in the leading countries of the world are inevitable — that this fact is still capable of producing an equally great and varied number of political and apolitical mistakes and misadventures.[20]


Marxists concluded at that time that every serious workers’ party must not give any “critical” support to imperialist monopolization.


All this, of course not surprisingly for Marxists, is because all these tendencies spring from capitalism’s inherent logic driven by the profit motive towards maximizing capital accumulation. The working class cannot fight against this development by reversing this trend and returning to economic models focusing on the nation state boundaries and domestic markets (as promoted by various petty-bourgeois anti-globalization activists). On the contrary, the working class must take action against the international monopolies by means of the international class struggle and advocate an international revolution and the establishment of a world socialist republic based on the internationalization of the forces of production.


However, this struggle requires not only a rejection of narrow-minded national anti-globalization activists, but also a complete rejection of all forms of support for the projects of the imperialist monopolies and great powers who aim to expand their power over the entire world market and entirely dominate world politics!


But the support of the L5I leadership for advancing EU integration, their evaluation of this project viewed through rose-colored glasses, and their superficial understanding of the consequences on the productive forces is diametrically opposed to what the struggle requires. Naturally, it involves very “critical” support for the prevailing policies of the monopolies and their imperialist governments. But how could it have possible escaped the attention of the L5I comrades that, by spreading propaganda for Britain to remain inside the EU, they stood shoulder to shoulder on the same side of the barricades together with virtually the entire big bourgeoisie of London and across the continent.


In the past, we unreservedly agreed with the LRCI/L5I’s then-orthodox Marxist position on this issue. In 1992, both we and they knew that the internationalization of the productive forces under the control of the capitalist monopolies – just as a return to the nation state – is by no means in the interests of the working class. Thus, revolutionaries cannot give either of these options any “critical” support. This was stated very clearly in a resolution on the enlargement of the European Union:


The international working class has nothing in principle to fear from the centralization and organization of production on a continental scale; such a mode of organization is intrinsically superior to isolated national production, which is one of the elements of restraining the unfettered development of the forces of production. However, a precondition for such continental organisation being progressive is that it should take place under the rule of the international working class. It is not excluded that capitalism can unite Europe, but it will only lead to increasing exploitation, oppression, competition and, ultimately, war.[21]


Finally, let us deal with one additional argument of the L5I leadership. As noted, above the comrades justify their “critical” support for the EU by stating that the productive forces have become too large to be restrained by the border of the national state. As we have said several times, this is absolutely true. But, in their eagerness to “critically” support the EU, the comrades have overlooked the following important point: The productive forces with their global production chains, their global trade, etc., have become today – far more than in the time of Lenin and Trotsky – not only too big for the boundaries of the nation state, but also for the borders of the European Union! So from this point of view, too, there is no justification for Marxists to support the EU.




  1. b) Economist Reinterpretation of Questions of the Political Class Struggle: the Question of the Nature of the EU




The central failure of the L5I leadership is that it economistically distorts a highly political question. They artificially transform a political issue through and through – should the working class live in a nation state (like Britain) which is dominated by the imperialist bourgeoisie or should it live in an imperialist confederation (like the EU) which is also dominated by the imperialist bourgeoisie? This political issue is transformed by the L5I leadership into a mere question of voting for the one of two options which would (ostensibly) be “objectively” better for the development of productive forces, i.e., whether larger or smaller states would (ostensibly) create “objectively” better conditions for the development of an internationalist consciousness of the working class. This “de-politicization” of the EU question is nothing but an expression of objectivist and economistic thinking – the transformation of a fundamental political question to one of primarily economic-technical tactics.


In this way, the L5I leadership is guilty of the very same error which both they and we have previously jointly criticized in Trotsky’s method before 1917: his objectivism and processism.


What exactly is the objectivist error of the L5I? It is that the comrades focus their analysis and the tactics derived from it on the “objective development of productive forces” instead of the eminently political character of the EU question. In doing so, they entirely place the “objective development of productive forces” in the forefront, and view this issue as the leitmotif for their political tactics, rather than the political struggle against both the imperialist nation state and the EU.


This objectivism is expressed in their hope that an internationalist consciousness of the working class could develop out of the existence of and membership in a larger EU (instead of the narrow limits of the nation state). It never occurs to them that the development of such political consciousness among the working class is totally unrelated to the size of a state or confederation. It is well known that the working class in imperialist Belgium has more class consciousness than those in the US, Japan or Russia. And the workers and peasants of Bolivia, Venezuela or South Africa – countries with comparatively fewer developed productive forces – have much more political consciousness (and more internationalism, as is demonstrated by the broad solidarity in South Africa for the Palestinian people) than the workers of Europe.


The L5I’s objectivism is also manifested in its attributing proletarian class consciousness with the existence of a pan-European imperialist super-state, believing that the class struggle necessarily and inevitably experiences a setback when a country leaves the EU. Thus, the comrades “forget” that the highlights of the European class struggle during the last 100 years took place in periods where no integrated and “internationalized” EU existed at all (1917–23, 1934–37, 1943–47, 1968–76). Associating an internationalist class consciousness with the imperialist United States of Europe is simply a myth invented by the L5I leadership in order to justify its opportunist turn to the right.


In short, contrary to the illusion of the L5I leadership, class consciousness of the proletariat arises not from state borders and not from the development of productive forces, but is a consequence of the intervention of the revolutionary subject, of the living struggle of political forces of the various classes, of the organizations in the labor movement and their policies. In other words, class consciousness of the proletariat does not depend on the borders of the imperialist state, but on the struggle of the classes and their leaderships. If there have been problems and failures for the class struggle of the European proletariat in recent decades, it is not because of the borders between states, but because of the dramatic crisis of revolutionary leadership and the dominance of the treacherous reformist bureaucracy!


Moreover, the development of class consciousness is critically dependent on how large and how determined is the subjective factor fighting for the political independence of the working class from each, nationally-based fraction of the imperialist bourgeoisie and their social-imperialist lackeys – whether pro-EU or anti-EU – in the workers’ movement.


In other words, the crucial factor is the existence of a revolutionary party which leads the working class in the inevitable class battles and which provides a consistent program of class independence from all national and supranational great powers and from each fraction of the imperialist bourgeoisie.


Without being aware of it, via their position on the EU, the L5I leadership has delegated tasks of the revolutionary party – namely the enhancement of class consciousness – to the objective process. For Marxists, this is an entirely illegitimate posture!


A century has passed since the days when Trotsky did not understand the weaknesses of his pre-1917 position. To repeat the same methodological error today is far more unforgivable than the mistake of Trotsky then. Yet we know that Lenin was particularly mild in his judgment of Trotsky’s mistakes. How then shall we judge today the failure of L5I leadership?!


The result of the opportunist tactics of the L5I leadership is a tendency to downplay the reactionary and imperialist character EU. Let’s give an example: Their British comrades recently wrote: “The EU has many genuine defects – its imposition of austerity on Greece, its [the EU, Ed.] undemocratic institutions should not be ignored. Corbyn was right to stand 100 per cent for Remain whilst at the same time criticising the EU. [22]


The choice of words here is revealing! Let’s imagine for a moment that British Marxists would say that the imperialist nation state of Britain has “genuine defects.” Imagine that they would advocate “to criticize” this state but to remain in it (rather than smash it). It would become immediately clear that these are not Marxists, but social democratic opportunists who trivialize the deeply reactionary character of “their” imperialist state apparatus and merely speak of “defects.” Unfortunately, the British L5I comrades do not only praise the leader of the Labour Party (they often call him simply by his first name “Jeremy,” as if he is “one of us”), but also adopt more and more the social democratic language!


It is, therefore, no coincidence that one hardly finds in L5I articles and statements the idea that Marxists stand for the “smashing” of the European Union through the European proletarian revolution. The European Union is nothing more than an enlarged, supra-national imperialist state apparatus – or, better formulated, a proto-state, a confederation in the process of formation. Underlying this is the, conscious or unconscious, idea that the EU can be reformed in the direction of socialism. But, in reality, not a single one of the EU institutions – not the EU Commission and the EU Council, not the European Central Bank, not the powerless EU Parliament, not the European Court, not the capitalist economic treaties, etc. – will be taken over by the working class They must be all broken up and replaced by new institutions of the European federation of workers’ republics.




  1. c) Economist Reinterpretation of Questions of the Political Class Struggle: the Question of the Tactics of Revolutionary Defeatism




The L5I leaderships’ lack of understanding of the inextricably political and economic nature of the question of EU membership is inevitably reflected in their political tactics – that is their call to remain within the imperialist EU.


In this context it is useful to remember the polemics of Lenin against Kautsky where he repeatedly points out that the latter ” divorces imperialist politics from imperialist economics, he divorces monopoly in politics from monopoly in economics.[23]


The L5I leadership, albeit differently than Kautsky, is also guilty of such a separation of monopolism in the economy and monopolism in politics. For them, the expansion of the EU as a capitalist economy and the expansion of the undemocratic EU institutions are two different things which can, therefore, be treated differently in tactics. As a result, the L5I leadership separates the alleged blessings of economic internationalization of the productive forces of European imperialism from the political institutions of European imperialism (the EU’s proto-state apparatus).


In reality, such a separation is not possible. The enlargement of the EU economic area served primarily not the development of productive forces (as we have shown above) but the extension of the power of the monopolies. Hand in hand with this process, the power of the monopolies in politics has increased, which is reflected in the various undemocratic EU institutions and the powerful lobby organizations in Brussels.


However, in its own way, even the L5I leadership cannot escape the inseparable unity of economics and politics. In their desire to promote the economic expansion of the productive forces in the EU, the comrades choose political tactics to call for voting in favor of membership in the EU in the respective referenda. And, in turn, they strengthen not so much the productive forces but rather the imperialist EU state apparatus. Once again, we see that the unity of politics and economics exists not only in revolutionary politics, but equally so in social-imperialist opportunism.




* * * * *




Associated with all this, the L5I leadership is victim of a fundamental misunderstanding. They confuse internationalism with imperialist supra-nationalism – when in fact internationalism is the opposite of the latter. The comrades will object to this criticism, saying that they indeed reject the EU and its imperialism. On this, we have not the slightest doubt. But by characterizing the imperialist EU as something qualitatively better and indeed so much better that they call the workers to vote for membership in the EU; in doing so, they declare the imperialist EU as “the lesser evil,” as an evil worthy of “critical” support against the imperialist nation state. And that is, objectively, in practice and via its consequences, nothing but a pro-EU social-imperialist tactic and therefore diametrically opposed to the policy of proletarian independence, which is expressed, among other things, by calling to vote neither for nor against EU membership in referenda in imperialist countries.




* * * * *




The tactics based on the principle of proletarian independence go back to the standpoint of the Marxist classicists. For them it was a fundamental axiom that the working class cannot support any of the two factions of the monopoly bourgeoisie in the epoch of imperialism – neither those who favor free trade and the internationalization of production nor those who advocate protective tariffs and the promotion of the nation state market.


Rudolf Hilferding, an Austrian Marxist, who in 1910 published a groundbreaking book on the emergence of finance capital (later he became an ideologist of reformism), wrote:


While capital can pursue no other policy than that of imperialism, the proletariat cannot oppose to it a policy derived from the period when industrial capital was sovereign; it is no use for the proletariat to oppose the policy of advanced capitalism with an antiquated policy from the era of free trade and of hostility to the state. The response of the proletariat to the economic policy of finance capital – imperialism – cannot be free trade, but only socialism. The objective of proletarian policy cannot possibly be the now reactionary ideal of reinstating free competition by the overthrow of capitalism. The proletariat avoids the bourgeois dilemma – protectionism or free trade – with a solution of its own; neither protectionism nor free trade, but socialism, the organization of production, the conscious control of the economy not by and for the benefit of capitalist magnates but by and for society as a whole, which will then at last subordinate the economy to itself as it has been able to subordinate nature ever since it discovered the laws of motion of the natural world. (…) It is precisely in those countries where the policy of the bourgeoisie has been put into effect most fully, and where the most important social aspects of the democratic political demands of the working class have been realized, that socialism must be given the most prominent place in propaganda, as the only alternative to imperialism, in order to ensure the independence of working class politics and to demonstrate its superiority in the defence of proletarian interests.” [24]


In his book on imperialism, Lenin approvingly cited this quotation from Hilferding, and added:


Kautsky broke with Marxism by advocating in the epoch of finance capital a ’reactionary ideal‘, ’peaceful democracy‘, ’the mere operation of economic factors‘, for objectively this ideal drags us back from monopoly to non-monopoly capitalism, and is a reformist swindle. Trade with Egypt (or with any other colony or semi-colony) ’would have grown more‘ without military occupation, without imperialism, and without finance capital. What does this mean? That capitalism would have developed more rapidly if free competition had not been restricted by monopolies in general, or by the ’corrections‘, yoke (i.e., also the monopoly) of finance capital, or by the monopolist possession of colonies by certain countries? Kautsky’s argument can have no other meaning; and this ’meaning‘ is meaningless. Let us assume that free competition, without any sort of monopoly, would have developed capitalism and trade more rapidly. But the more rapidly trade and capitalism develop, the greater is the concentration of production and capital which gives rise to monopoly. And monopolies have already arisen—precisely out of free competition! Even if monopolies have now begun to retard progress, it is not an argument in favour of free competition, which has become impossible after it has given rise to monopoly. Whichever way one turns Kautsky’s argument, one will find nothing in it except reaction and bourgeois reformism.[25]


As is known, the L5I leadership insists that Marxists supposedly should promote the economic development of the productive forces (which supposedly has nothing to do with the political development of the EU). But even here Lenin clearly states explicitly that Marxists, while not rejecting such objective developments or even dragging them back, can equally support them. Thus he wrote in 1916 in his article “The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution“:


The bourgeoisie makes it its business to promote trusts, drive women and children into the factories, subject them to corruption and suffering, condemn them to extreme poverty. We do not ’demand‘ such development, we do not ’support‘ it. We fight it. But how do we fight? We explain that trusts and the employment of women in industry are progressive. We do not want a return to the handicraft system, pre-monopoly capitalism, domestic drudgery for women. Forward through the trusts, etc., and beyond them to socialism![26]


This was the approach of the Marxist classics and this has always been the attitude of our movement. In the German-language L5I journal “Revolutionary Marxism” comrade Martin Suchanek expressed succinctly our former, defeatist attitude in 1994:


The ‘progress’ of the European free trade is nothing more than one side of the coin, the other is the call for the formation of an imperialist bloc. Of course, this does not make the demand for a little imperialist foreclosure of ‘independent’ Austrian capitalism one iota more progressive. Faced with the choice between two thoroughly reactionary factions of the imperialist capital, the working class does not take any side. Its victory will not depend on the victory of this or that capital fraction, neither these nor those fractions can save capitalism by their victory.” [27]


How well comrade Suchanek wrote then, when he did not take a leading role in pushing the L5I towards a centrist right-wing turn as a central cadre of this organization!


Today the L5I leadership denies its past, propagates membership in the imperialist EU, and makes fun of our defeatist tactics. As quoted above, the German LFI section ironically spoke about the RCIT’s “theoretical feat” in relating the issue of EU membership with the Leninist program of “revolutionary defeatism.” No, if the author of the German LFI section would not only have cited Trotsky, but also read the article from which this quotation is taken, he would have understood precisely that the entire background to Trotsky’s argument was the First World War. It is, therefore, inherent in the nature of things to link the tactics of proletarian independence to both the imperialist war and the European Union.


In reality, the “little joke” that the German LFI section found so amusing on “the theoretical feat” of the RCIT reveals an astonishing unfamiliarity of that author with the Marxist program. Obviously the comrades are completely unaware that the Leninist program of revolutionary defeatism is valid not only in the event of war, but is more generally applicable to all forms of conflict between imperialist camps (e.g., economic conflicts, sanctions, etc.). It would have been better if the comrades would first have studied the documents of Lenin and Trotsky (or even Kautsky). Then they would have realized that the whole issue of the “United States of Europe” – and the question of revolutionary tactics as well – indeed emerged on the backdrop of political tensions leading up to and ultimately the breaking out of war between the great powers of Europe! If they find this “theoretical feat” so amusing and so theoretically problematic, the L5I comrades should first direct their criticism to the Marxist classics, and only then to the RCIT!




* * * * *




It seems that the L5I comrades, in their eagerness to justify their recent political belly-flop in front of the Labour Party, forget the programmatic root of the method of revolutionary defeatism: namely, the struggle for the political independence of the working class from the fractions of the bourgeoisie and the imperialist powers.


For this reason, Marxists apply the very same method of “revolutionary defeatism” not just to cases of conflicts between imperialist countries or to issues of the membership of imperialist states in inter-state alliances, but also in cases of elections in which only open-bourgeois candidates are competing (e.g., in the presidential election in Austria between the Green candidate Van der Bellen and the FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer). In such situations, revolutionaries cannot support any of these candidates and therefore call for abstention.


Trotsky insisted in his theses on War and the Fourth International on the close and inseparable relationship between the internal and external policies of both the ruling class and the proletariat. The vanguard of the proletariat advocates a policy of class independence from any imperialist bourgeoisie and from each of their fractions – both of those at home and of those abroad:


The foreign policy of each class is the continuation and development of its internal policy.[28]


Unlike the L5I, the Marxist classicists knew that “war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means.” This applies both to the policy of the bourgeoisie as well as for the policy of the proletariat. Hence, Lenin wrote:


War is a continuation of policy by other means. All wars are inseparable from the political systems that engender them. The policy which a given state, a given class within that state, pursued for a long time before the war is inevitably continued by that same class during the war, the form of action alone being changed.[29]


And Trotsky pointed to the fundamentally same principles of the class struggle in times of peace as well as during wars:


Imperialist war is the continuation and sharpening of the predatory politics of the bourgeoisie. The struggle of the proletariat against war is the continuation and sharpening of its class struggle. The beginning of war alters the situation and partially the means of struggle between the classes, but not the aim and basic course.[30]


In other words, the entire method of revolutionary defeatism has no “special tactics” for war, but rather dictates the continuation of tactics directed to promote the independence of the working class of every imperialist bourgeoisie (and each fraction of this), which are valid for all phases of the class struggle – whether in war or peace.


Unfortunately the L5I leadership has abandoned this basic Marxist tenet of political independence of the working class from each fraction of the imperialist bourgeoisie without offering any explanation. Obviously, it’s following the principle: “Who cares about my past gossip!


But today it is particularly important that revolutionaries wage a determined battle against any form of pro-EU or anti-EU social imperialism and connect it with a concrete program of social and democratic demands. Such a program must culminate in the slogans of the conquest of power, that is, of breaking up the EU institutions (as well as those of the nation state) by European revolution and the establishment of the United Socialist States of Europe – as a step towards a Socialist World Federation.


Such a perspective was already formulated by Trotsky when he called to resist the pursuit of the bourgeoisie to unite Europe under its dictates:


But the Communist parties have their hands tied. The living slogan, with a profound historical content, has been expunged from the program of the Comintern solely in the interests of the struggle against the Opposition. All the more decisively must the Opposition raise this slogan. In the person of the Opposition the vanguard of the European proletariat tells its present rulers: In order to unify Europe it is first of all necessary to wrest power out of your hands. We will do it. We will unite Europe. We will unite it against the hostile capitalist world. We will turn it into a mighty drill-ground of militant socialism. We will make it the cornerstone of the World Socialist Federation.[31]




  1. d) Europe-Centeredness with Social-Imperialist Consequences




Finally, we turn to examining the underlying cause for the political turn to the right of the L5I leadership. Of course, it is no coincidence that the British supporters of the L5I announced their support for Britain’s membership in the EU during the same month in which they also decided to join the Labour Party. As we have shown above, the L5I shares the same position – “critical” support for the imperialist EU – with the left reformist party leader Jeremy Corbyn.


But it is not sufficient to explain the L5I leadership’s right turn to short-term, tactical considerations any more than their long-term work inside the British Labour Party.


The L5I’s renunciation of its decades-long defeatist position also reflects other and more profound opportunist and social-imperialist adaptations.


First, it reflects an historical pessimism, which, inter alia, has been expressed in their vehement rejection of our characterization of the current historical period as a revolutionary, as well as their rejection of our thesis of the decline of the productive forces, and ultimately a lack of confidence in the possibility of fomenting world proletarian revolution and overthrowing capitalism. This pessimism leads to above-mentioned objectivism and processism which conflate the tasks of developing internationalist class consciousness with the successes of the imperialist EU.


At first glance, it seems entirely paradoxical that the L5I leadership has abandoned its decades-long defeatist position on the question of EU membership and has adopted a pro-EU stance precisely when capitalism is in the midst of its most serious crisis, with all the obvious difficulties of the EU ruling class to advance their project. But this paradox is only apparent. In reality, the revolutionary period, which started in 2008, frightened and demoralized the L5I comrades. Instead of taking the necessary step forward – towards work among the proletariat and the oppressed layers of society, with an emphasis on the semi-colonial world – the leadership of the L5I retreated to their roots as middle-class leftists in imperialist countries, pinning all of their hopes on the privileged labor aristocracy, and increasing focused on centrist regroupings (which of course all invariably failed) or entrism into the Labour Party. [32]


The new tactic they adopted in the question of the EU and their sudden faith in the beneficial effects of the EU on the class consciousness of the European proletariat, are also related to the L5I’s traditional Europe-centeredness. They are not only focusing their political work, propaganda and the vast majority of their international leadership on this continent, but they also consider – whether consciously or unconsciously – the Western European proletariat to be the world’s most developed and politically advanced.


The comrades cannot or don’t want to admit the fact that Western Europe has not seen a revolutionary development since Portugal in 1976, while the working class on other continents has made enormous advances and experienced countless revolutionary situations (e.g., in Venezuela, Bolivia, a number of Arab countries since 2011 , Thailand, Nepal, South Africa). The country in Europe which experienced the most developed class struggle in the recent past is Greece.


But the L5I comrades desperately need to justify their orientation toward the upper, aristocratic layers of the Western European proletariat – the world’s most privileged working class sector and those who still engage in serious illusions about the ostensible beneficial effects of imperialist EU integration; hence the opportunist tactics of the L5I leadership and the social-imperialist consequences of their turn to the right.


This adaption to the pro-EU illusions of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, the liberal middle classes and the labor aristocracy is not an isolated incident, but has also manifested itself in various other areas. We need only cite the attitude of the relevant sector of the L5I cadres who are actively promoting the assimilation of migrants into imperialist national majorities, and who make no pretense of supporting the migrants’ right for true equality on their own terms (e.g., the use of their native language); or the shameful refusal of the L5I to participate in the August 2011 Uprising in Britain; or the fact that, in the programs and propaganda of the British supporters of L5I, they no longer publicize the slogan calling for military victory of the resistance in Afghanistan against the imperialist occupiers, while – at the same time – they publicly expressed their condolences to the family of a killed British soldier (2013); the fact that the German REVO group publicly urged to throw bombs both at Netanyahu as well as Fatah and Hamas, and doing so put the Israeli and the Palestinian camps on the same level, etc. [33] All these positions or actions are many facets of a comprehensive adaption to the social-imperialist prejudices of the Western European labor aristocracy.


Similarly, the Europe centeredness of the L5I leadership manifests itself in another way: The comrades think that a larger and more integrated EU would be beneficial for the development of productive forces and the class consciousness of the European proletariat. Even if we don’t agree with this thesis, let’s assume for a moment that the argument is true. In that case, don’t the L5I comrades consider what would be consequences of a stronger imperialist EU on the world proletariat!


Why do the comrades seem not be able to understand that a stronger, larger imperialist EU represents a greater threat to oppressed peoples in the semi-colonial world, since such a EU would be in a stronger position to enforce more exploitative “free trade” agreements with the countries of the South; would be in a stronger position to intervene militarily in Africa; would be freer to wage wars and occupations outside of Europe (which in turn, of course, would negatively affect the development of productive forces)?! Why can’t or won’t they understand that a strengthened European great power only fuels global rivalry and militarization (and thus also negatively effects the development of productive forces)?!


No, authentic Marxists must not derive their tactics on questions of EU membership not primarily from a national or regional point of view, but only from an international point of view – that of the world proletariat.


Lenin already warned those with such social-imperialist deviations.


Hobson, the social-liberal, fails to see that this ’counteraction‘ can be offered only by the revolutionary proletariat and only in the form of a social revolution. But then he is a social-liberal! Nevertheless, as early as 1902 he had an excellent insight into the meaning and significance of a ’United States of Europe‘ (be it said for the benefit of Trotsky the Kautskyite!) and of all that is now being glossed over by the hypocritical Kautskyites of various countries, namely, that the opportunists (socialchauvinists) are working hand in glove with the imperialist bourgeoisie precisely towards creating an imperialist Europe on the backs of Asia and Africa, and that objectively the opportunists are a section of the petty bourgeoisie and of certain strata of the working class who have been bribed out of imperialist superprofits and converted into watchdogs of capitalism and corrupters of the labour movement.[34]


Finally, the Western Europe-centeredness of the L5I leadership is also expressed by the fact that it hides and ignores the existing imperialist oppression within the EU – i.e., the super-exploitation and national oppression of the semi-colonial countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, and the Eastern European countries.




* * * * *




In closing, we cannot refrain from pointing out the following paradox. At its Congress in 2013, the L5I added a new paragraph to their statutes in which they state that they are still in the very first stage of party building – a stage which they call “ideological current.” By this they mean a small group of intellectuals who is especially devoted to the development of theory and propaganda.


Distinct stages or phases can be seen historically in the development of this fusion; from very small numbers of revolutionary intellectuals committed to the working class cause who form an ideological current and first begin the task of promoting the revolutionary programme within the working class, …[35]


All the more strange, therefore, that for many years the L5I hardly published a book (and if it did so, this was a new edition of older documents); the English-language international journal appears rarely and at irregular intervals; and for years they have hardly dealt with any new theoretical questions. Now the L5I suddenly decides on an important change of tactics concerning the EU question, entirely abandoning its traditional position. But even a year later they have not managed to present this fundamental change on a theoretical level. Only a few sentences of assertions, without even an inch of serious argument!




* * * * *




Of course, we cannot fail to recall the arrogance with which the leading L5I cadres viewed the RCIT some years ago, and how proud they were of having not only a larger organization but of also having more students and intellectuals among their ranks. They did not mind that, from the very beginning of its existence until now, they have entirely failed to integrate into their international leadership structures members from semi-colonial countries and comrades from the lower layers of the working class and women and migrants. Instead white, intellectual, West European comrades philosophize on the purported lack of understanding of these members of Marxist theory. Well, the experience of the past five years has shown that an organization like the RCIT, with a proletarian composition focused in large part in semi-colonial countries, is clearly also far more productive theoretically than an organization like the L5I which is so oriented to the student-intellectual milieu in Europe. While the RCIT has published numerous books and pamphlets, a monthly English-language international journal and deals with a variety of theoretical questions, the L5I doesn’t even manage to publish one theoretical piece on the central question of the Brexit referendum. Regardless of whether one agrees with our analysis and conclusions or not, the difference between us in the RCIT and the L5I is obvious, because the latter organization does not even have a single theoretical work from which one could form an opinion! Such a superficial treatment of the EU question is only the latest manifestation of its theoretical poverty which, as we have shown here, is at the heart of their extreme turn to the right.


In light of all of the above, it is vital that comrades of the L5I open a serious debate on their organization’s approach to the EU. Because the rightward turn of the leadership represents a dangerous gateway towards a complete capitulation to social-imperialism; and this will inevitably happen, if the comrades of the L5I do not enforce a reversal of their ideologically bankrupt policy. The RCIT appeals to the members of L5I to initiate such a political reversal.


We therefore propose to the comrades of the L5I to contact us and to open a discussion on the Marxist analysis of and revolutionary tactics towards the European Union. We would be happy to publish a response to our criticism in our own publications, because this is a key issue for the class struggle in Europe in the coming period. A clarification and deepening of Marxist understanding are therefore priorities for all revolutionaries.


[1] See on this Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice, Chapter III,

[2] Michael Pröbsting: Die widersprüchliche Entwicklung der Produktivkräfte im Kapitalismus; in: Revolutionärer Marxismus Nr. 37 (2007), (our translation)

[3] Karl Marx: CAPITAL. A Critique of Political Economy Vol. I; in: MECW Vol. 35, pp. 507-508

[4] Michael Pröbsting: Die widersprüchliche Entwicklung der Produktivkräfte im Kapitalismus (our translation)

[5] Michael Pröbsting: Vor einem neuen Wirtschaftsaufschwung? Thesen zum marxistischen Konzept des Zyklus, dem Verhältnis des gegenwärtigen Zyklus zur Periode der Globalisierung sowie den Aussichten und Widersprüchen der künftigen Entwicklung der Weltwirtschaft, in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 41, Februar 2010, und (our translation)

[6] Siehe z.B. Michael Pröbsting: Imperialismus, Globalisierung und die Ausbeutung der Halbkolonien (2007), in: BEFREIUNG Nr. 154;; Michael Pröbsting: Imperialism and the Decline of Capitalism (2008), in: Richard Brenner, Michael Pröbsting, Keith Spencer: The Credit Crunch – A Marxist Analysis (2008), respectively; Michael Pröbsting: World economy – heading to a new upswing? (2009), in: Fifth International, Volume 3, No. 3, Autumn 2009,; RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8,; RCIT: Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation, 9.9.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 15,; RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation (April 2014), in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22,; RCIT: Perspectives for the Class Struggle in Light of the Deepening Crisis in the Imperialist World Economy and Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation and Perspectives Ahead (January 2015), in: Revolutionary Communism No. 32,; RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase (January 2016), in: Revolutionary Communism No. 46 and 47,

[7] Deepak Nayyar: The South in the World Economy: Past, Present and Future, UNDP Human Development Report Office, Occasional Paper 2013/01, p. 6

[8] José A. Tapia: From the Oil Crisis to the Great Recession: Five crises of the world economy, November 2013, p. 44

[9] OECD: The Future of Productivity, 2015, S. 16

[10] Esteban Ezequiel Maito: The historical transience of capital The downward trend in the rate of profit since XIX century, 2014, p. 13

[11] See Michael Pröbsting: Imperialism and the Decline of Capitalism (2008), in: Richard Brenner, Michael Pröbsting, Keith Spencer: The Credit Crunch – A Marxist Analysis (2008),

[12] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism; in: LCW Vol. 23, p.106 (Emphasis in the original)

[13] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism; in: LCW Vol. 23, p.105 (Emphasis in the original)

[14] Friedrich Engels: Protection and Free Trade. Preface to the Pamphlet: Karl Marx, Speech on the Question of Free Trade (1888), in: MECW 26, pp. 535-536

[15] G. Zinoviev / V. I. Lenin: Socialism and War (1915) ; in: LCW Vol. 21, pp. 301-302

[16] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism. The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) ; in: LCW Vol. 22, p. 200

[17] W.I. Lenin: Preface to N. Bukharin’s Pamphlet ‘Imperialism and the World Economy’, in: LCW 22, pp. 104-105

[18] Nikolai Bukharin: Imperialism and World Economy (1915); Martin Lawrence Limited, London, pp. 144-145 (our emphasis)

[19] Nikolai Bukharin: Imperialism and World Economy (1915); Martin Lawrence Limited, London, p. 167 (our emphasis)

[20] W.I. Lenin: Preface to N. Bukharin’s Pamphlet ‘Imperialism and the World Economy’, in: LCW 22, p. 105

[21] LRCI: Resolution on Maastricht (1992), in: Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2, p. 37

[22] Red Flag: To #KeepCorbyn our response must be swift and ruthless, 27/06/2016, (Unsere Übersetzung)

[23] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism; in: LCW Vol. 23, p.107 (Emphasis in the original) As a side note we remark that the German translation of Lenin’s writings, which is nearer to his original works than the official English translation, does not use the words “monopoly in economy” or “politics” respectively, but the word “monopolism” which better expresses the political substance of this mode of thinking.

[24] Rudolf Hilferding: Finance Capital. A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (1910), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1981, pp.366-367 (our emphasis)

[25] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism. The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) ; in: LCW Vol. 22, pp. 289-290 (our emphasis)

[26] V. I. Lenin: The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution (1916), in: LCW 23, p. 81

[27] Martin Suchanek: Freihandel und Protektionismus, in: Revolutionärer Marxismus No.22, p. 32 (our translation)

[28] Leon Trotsky: War and the Fourth International (1934), in: Trotsky Writings 1933-34, p. 313

[29] V. I. Lenin: War and Revolution (1917), in: LCW 24, p. 400

[30] Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. The Transitional Program (1938); in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 199

[31] Leon Trotsky: Disarmament and the United States of Europe (1929), in: Trotsky Writings 1929, p. 357

[32] See on this Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice, Chapter III,; RCIT: Where is the LFI drifting? A Letter from the RCIT to the LFI comrades, 11.5.2012,

[33] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Marxismus, Migration und revolutionäre Integration (2010); in: Revolutionärer Kommunismus, Nr. 7,; Michael Pröbsting: Five days that shook Britain but didn’t wake up the left. The bankruptcy of the left during the August uprising of the oppressed in Britain: Its features, its roots and the way forward, 1.9.2011,; Workers Power: Statement on the killing of a British soldier in Woolwich, 23.5.2013,; see also RCIT: After the Woolwich attack in Britain: Stop imperialist war-drive and racism! Socialists must not solidarize with Britain’s professional army but with the anti-imperialist resistance! 24.5.2013,; REVO Germany: 3. Intifada? 21. November 2014,

[34] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism; in: LCW Vol. 23, pp. 109-110

[35] L5I: Trotskyism in the Twenty-First Century (Theses 57),


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Corrente Comunista Revolucionária (CCR) in Brazil Elections 2016

CCR is Running in Municpal Elections with the PCO

Against the Coup and for the Demands of the Workers!

Corrente Comunista Revolucionária (CCR, Brazil Section of the RCIT), 21 August 2016,




In the upcoming municipal elections in the city of Diadema-Brazil, the CCR is running comrade JOAO EVANGELISTA, a teacher by profession, as its candidate for Deputy Mayor. He will be running on the same ticket as VANDIVAL FERREIRA DOS SANTOS, a construction worker and member of the Workers Cause Party (PCO) who will be running for the office of Mayor. The main objective of our campaign is both to carry on the struggle against the coup and denounce the upcoming elections as a farce.


The PCO commendably implements worker democracy by backing the candidacy of members from various smaller currents and revolutionaries groups which, because of the bureaucratic difficulties involved in officially creating new parties the Brazil, cannot afford to run independently. For this reason, despite some differences we have with the PCO in our respective analyzes of some aspects of the class struggle, we will be running together with them.


For example, in international realm, unlike the PCO, we in the CCR consider Russia and China to be emerging imperialist powers along the lines of the traditional imperialists – the US, EU and Japan. On the other hand, we agree in full with the analyses of our PCO comrades regarding the American-sponsored coups in Honduras, Paraguay, Thailand, Egypt, Ukraine and Turkey; the attempt to overthrow the Government of Venezuela; and the fraudulent elections that led to the victory of Macri on Argentina.


Regarding recent developments in Brazil, the CCR and PCO also share the fundamental agreement that what has taken place on the national level is in fact a real coup; also, that it is necessary to join forces not only to topple the coupist regime, but to mobilize the working class against the neoliberal attacks of the government of the coupist interim president Michel Temer; attacks which will also be continued by any subsequently elected government which will step in and “finalize the legitimacy” of the institutional coup conducted against the government of Dilma Roussef.


In this sense, even if the government of Roussef should return to power, despite all the indications that this would be almost impossible, we in the working class must establish our total class independence in the upcoming struggles against the so-called adjustments, i.e., labor reforms, pension reforms, budget cuts in health, education, in housing, the privatization of the nationally owned assets of Petrobras and the Pre-Salt layers, the proposed 20 year freeze on investments in health and education, etc. Such resistance must achieved by the calling for a general strike of workers against these attacks.


The Bonapartist repression of social movements, of left-wing parties and anything that even resembles a progressive program is increasingly evident in the country. The recent Olympics in Rio illustrated this very clearly. For example, several spectators who shouted “Out Temer!” or “Down with the Coup!” were summarily expelled from the stadiums. The former President Lula da Silva is being threatened with arrest and activists from the Homeless Workers’ Movement are either being arrested or threatened with arrest based on the anti-terrorism law. Ironically, this diabolical law was passed months ago, during the administration of the very same ousted PT President Roussef.


The youth of the slums on the peripheries, especially those of African descent, are still being massacred. As social media have demonstrated, in Brazilian society there is much intolerance against blacks and LGBT rights. Expressions of “machismo” are manifested themselves in increasing violence against women. Indigenous communities are threatened with losing their land, being expelled by the big landowners and international agribusiness. In short, the poor and oppressed classes must organize themselves to resist exploitation of the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie.


Our candidacies, besides serving to denounce the coup d’état, comes to announce to the public in general and specifically to the workers and oppressed that no election within the capitalist system can be solution to the real problems of the working class. This is fake democracy. Only our organization and mobilization can lead to the independence of the working class against the exploiters: the bourgeoisie. We must not have any confidence in the electoral process, especially at a time when those who fully control the elections are the same persons who perpetrated the coup via parliament, with the support of the judiciary and of the capitalist media.






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Chapter V. What are the Consequences of the Political Turn to the Right of the L5I on the EU Issue?



The question of tactics on the issue of EU membership is tremendously important, because the theoretical justification of the L5I leadership contains arguments with consequences extending far beyond the EU question.


The arguments of the L5I leadership to vote for Britain to remain within the EU – the alleged advantages for the development of productive forces and for the international consciousness of the working class – are, of course, arguments calling for other non-EU European countries to join the EU (e.g., in Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Moldova, Belarus, etc.).


And why, if so, should the new method of the L5I leadership be limited only to Europe? Such limitations cannot be justified by even one logical argument. It follows, therefore, that the L5I comrades could see themselves justified in agitating for Mexico to remain part of NAFTA, dominated by US imperialism. Furthermore, as a natural extension of this right-opportunistic logic, the L5I leadership could argue for the extension of NAFTA to other Latin American countries. Certainly, this would result in more favorable conditions for the development of productive forces and of the international consciousness of the working class, à la EU. If the L5I in Europe justifies expanding the EU with such arguments, why not apply the same method to other continents?!


The same opportunistic logic would then also lead the L5I to support the various free trade agreements between the EU and the US (TTIP), between the EU and Canada (CETA), between the US and several Asian and Latin American countries (TPP), or between China and a number of Asian countries (RCEP) – of course extremely “critical” support and naturally in conjunction with their call for “international class struggle.” [1] According to their logic, such free trade agreements would “objectively” promote closer international integration of national economies and the working class! These are extremely concrete and important questions, as these free trade agreements are currently under negotiation, and MPs from the workers’ movement must take a position on them. If the L5I leadership rejects these free trade agreements, then it would have to explain why in one case it is advocating membership in an international political and economic organization but in another case not.


Likewise, the L5I leadership would have to reject the exit of countries from the World Trade Organization (WTO), and would have to advocate joining that imperialist tool of oppression. This question would also be quite concrete, particularly when the growing rivalry between the US and China threatens to tear it apart.


All these examples show that the new position of the L5I on the EU and its justification inevitably drive them in the direction of social-imperialism. Despite their anti-imperialist rhetoric, they would support the concrete central projects of the EU and other imperialist powers – in the name of the “development of productive forces and of the international consciousness of the working class.” Ultimately, the group would degenerate to becoming “critical” (of course) cheerleaders for the imperialist powers and their expansionism. What a sad end for a group that once embodied a proud revolutionary tradition!


It is very likely that the L5I leadership – frightened by the consequences of their right-wing turn based on opportunistic calculations – will indignantly reject calling to vote for the free trade agreements or WTO membership. But, if so, it will not be possible for them to explain why they use double standards regarding the EU and other such economic agreements.


Finally, Marxists know – and even the L5I leadership should not have forgotten this – the principle of the Prussian military theorist von Clausewitz, often cited by Lenin, according to which the “war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means.” If the alleged advantages of larger imperialist countries and business associations for the development of productive forces and of the international consciousness of the working class are actually so important for the L5I leadership, so much so that they are in favor of EU membership – then why not support achieving such greater political and economic state organizations by military means? Of course, the comrades will reject this as an “outrageous insinuation,” and we do not for a moment doubt in the least their honorable intentions. But that does not change the objective logic of their position by means of which they unfurl the presumed advantages for the development of productive forces and the international consciousness of the working class and wave them above the political significance of the “tactical” support to imperialist states and confederations. Anyone who extends even a little finger to the program of social imperialism is inevitably caught in the net of its political chasms.


[1] On these free trade agreementzs see e.g. RCIT: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries (January 2016), chapter IV.1,


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