a ) The Problem of Organization
Ultra-left ideas are the product of a practical experience ( mainly the workers' struggles in Germany ) and of a theoretical critique ( the critique of Leninism ). For Lenin, the main revolutionary problem was to forge a "leadership" capable of leading the workers to victory. When ultra-leftists tried to give a theoretical explanation of the rise of factory organisations in Germany, they said the working class does not need a party in order to be revolutionary. Revolution would be made by the masses organised in workers' councils and not by a proletariat "led" by professional revolutionaries. The German Communist Workers' Party ( K.A.P.D. ), whose activity is expressed theoretically by Gorter in his "Reply to Lenin," regarded itself as a vanguard whose task was to enlighten the masses, not to lead them, as in Leninist theory. Even this conception was rejected by many ultra-leftists, who opposed the dual existence of the factory organisations and the party : revolutionaries must not try to organise themselves in a body distinct from the masses. That discussion led to the creation, in 1920, of the A.A.U.D.-E. ( General Union of German Workers-Unitary Organisation ), which reproached the A.A.U.D. ( General Labour Union of Germany ) with being controlled by the K.A.P.D. ( German Communist Workers' Party ). The majority of the ultra-left movement adopted the same view as the A.A.U.D.-E. In France, I.C.O.'s present activity is based on the same principle : any revolutionary organisation coexisting with the organs created by the workers themselves, and trying to elaborate a coherent theory and political line, must in the end attempt to lead the workers. Therefore revolutionaries do not organise themselves outside the organs "spontaneously" created by the workers : they merely exchange and circulate information and establish contacts with other revolutionaries; they never try to define a general theory or strategy.
To understand this conception, we must go back to Leninism. The Leninist theory of the party is based on a distinction which can be found in all the great socialist thinkers of the period : "labour movement" and "socialism" ( revolutionary ideas, the doctrine, Scientific Socialism, Marxism, etc. -- it can be given many different names ) are two things which are fundamentally different and separate. There are workers and their daily struggles on the one hand, and there are the revolutionaries on the other. Lenin proceeds to state that revolutionary ideas must be "introduced" into the working class. The labour movement and the revolutionary movement are severed from each other : they must be united through the leadership of the revolutionaries over the workers. Therefore revolutionaries must be organised and must act on the working class "from the outside." Lenin's analysis, situating the revolutionaries outside the labour movement, seems to be based on fact : it appears that revolutionaries live in a totally different world from that of workers. Yet Lenin does not see that this is an illusion. Marx's analysis and his scientific socialism as a whole are not the product of "bourgeois intellectuals," but of the class struggle on all its levels under capitalism. "Socialism" is the expression of the struggle of the proletariat. It was elabourated by "bourgeois intellectuals" ( and by highly educated workers : J. Dietzgen ) because only revolutionaries coming from the bourgeoisie were able to elaborate it, but it was the product of the class struggle.
The revolutionary movement, the dynamic that leads toward communism, is a result of capitalism. Let us examine Marx's conception of the party. The word, party, appears frequently in Marx's writings. We must make a distinction between Marx's principles on this question and his analyses of many aspects of the labour movement of his time. Many of those analyses were wrong ( for example his view of the future of trade unionism ). Moreover we cannot find a text where Marx summed up his ideas on the party, but only a number of scattered remarks and comments. Yet we believe that a general point of view emerges from all these texts. Capitalist society itself produces a communist party, which is nothing more than the organisation of the objective movement ( this implies that Kautsky's and Lenin's conception of a "socialist consciousness" which must be "brought" to the workers is meaningless ) that pushes society toward communism ( we shall soon deal with what communism is, or at least with what it is not ). The struggle of the proletariat develops under various forms. Lenin saw a reformist proletariat and said that something had to be done ( "socialist consciousness" had to be introduced ) in order to turn it into a revolutionary proletariat. Thus Lenin showed that he totally misunderstood class struggle. In a non-revolutionary period the proletariat cannot change capitalist production relations. It therefore tries to change capitalist distribution relations through its demand for higher wages. Of course the workers do not "know" that they are changing the distribution relations when they ask for higher wages. Yet they do try, "unconsciously," to act upon the capitalist system. Kautsky and Lenin do not see the process, the revolutionary movement created by capitalism; they only see one of its aspects. Kautsky's and Lenin's theory of class consciousness breaks up a process and considers only one of its transitory moments : for them the proletariat "by its own resources alone" can only be reformist, whereas the revolutionaries stand outside of the labour movement. In actual fact the revolutionaries and their ideas and theories originate in the workers' struggles.
In a non-revolutionary period, revolutionary workers, isolated in their factories, do their best to expose the real nature of capitalism and the institutions which support it ( unions, "workers' " parties ). They usually do this with little success, which is quite normal. And there are revolutionaries ( workers and non-workers ) who read and write, who do their best to provide a critique of the whole system. They usually do this with little success, which is also quite normal. This division is produced by capitalism : one of the characteristics of capitalist society is the division between manual and intellectual work. This division exists in all the spheres of our society; it also exists in the revolutionary movement. It would be idealistic to expect the revolutionary movement to be "pure," as if it were not a product of our society. Inevitably the revolutionary movement under capitalism, that is communism, bears the stigma of capitalism.
Only the complete success of revolution can destroy this division. Until then we must fight against it; it characterises our movement as much as it characterises the rest of our society. It is inevitable that numerous revolutionaries are not greatly inclined to reading and are not interested in theory. This is a fact, a transitory fact. But "revolutionary workers" and "revolutionary theoreticians" are two aspects of the same process. It is wrong to say that the "theoreticians" must lead the "workers." But it is equally wrong to say, as l.C.O. says, that collectively organised theory is dangerous because it will result in leadership over the workers. I.C.O. merely takes a position symmetrical to Lenin's. The revolutionary process is an organic process, and although its components may be separate from each other for a certain time, the emergence of any revolutionary ( or even pseudo-revolutionary ) situation shows the profound unity of the various elements of the revolutionary movement.
What happened in May, 1968, in the worker-student action committees at the Censier centre in Paris ? Some ( ultra-left ) communists, who before these events had devoted most of their revolutionary activity to theory, worked with a minority of revolutionary workers. Before May, 1968 ( and since then ), they were no more separate from the workers than every worker is separate from other workers in a "normal," non-revolutionary situation in capitalist society. Marx was not separate from the workers when he was writing Capital, nor when he was working in the Communist League or the International. When he worked in these organisations he felt neither the need ( as Lenin ), nor the fear ( as l.C.O. ), to become the leader of the workers.
We think that Marx's notion of the party has at least one merit. Marx's conception of the party as a historical product of capitalist society taking different forms according to the stage and the evolution of that society enables us to go beyond the dilemma : need of the party/fear of the party. The communist party is the spontaneous ( i.e., totally determined by social evolution ) organisation of the revolutionary movement created by capitalism. The party is a spontaneous offspring, born on the historical soil of modern society. Both the will and the fear to "create" the party are illusions. It does not need to be created or not created : it is a mere historical product. Therefore revolutionaries have no need either to build it or fear to build it.
Lenin had a theory of the party. Marx had another theory of the party, which was quite different from Lenin's. Lenin's theory was an element in the defeat of the Russian revolution. The ultra-left rejected all theories of the party as dangerous and counter-revolutionary. Yet Lenin's theory was not at the root of the defeat of the Russian revolution. Lenin's theory only prevailed because the Russian revolution failed for various reasons ( mainly because of the absence of revolution in the West ). One must not discard all theories of the party because one of them ( Lenin's ) was a counter-revolutionary instrument. Unfortunately, the ultra-left merely adopted a conception which is the exact opposite of Lenin's. Lenin had wanted to build a party; the ultra-left refused to build one. The ultra-left thus gave a different answer to the same wrong question : for or against the construction of the party. The ultra-left remained on the same ground as Lenin. We, on the contrary, do not want merely to reverse Lenin's view; we want to abandon it altogether.
Modern Leninist groups ( Trotskyist groups, for instance ) try to organise the workers. Modern ultra-left groups ( I.C.O., for instance ) only circulate information without trying to adopt a collective position on a problem. As opposed to this, we believe it necessary to formulate a theoretical critique of present society. Such a critique implies collective work. We also think that any permanent group of revolutionary workers must try to find a theoretical basis for its action. Theoretical clarification is an element of, and a necessary condition for, practical unification.