In the middle of a crisis likely to be epochal, why would we start an Institute dedicated to Onorato Damen, after a long militancy in the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista)?
Some time ago, convinced as we are that no revolutionary overthrow of capitalism will be possible without rebuilding an authentic internationalist party, we would have answered: there’s no need of such a thing. But then the breaking out of the crisis brutally highlighted that the internal divergences emerged in the past few years, regarding some important methodological and political issues, were much deeper than they appeared to be in the first place.
The first signs that something was changing appeared a few years ago, when the Milanese Federation published the booklet Class Struggle, Political State, Proletarian Party, and Communism, asserting that: “Revolutionary praxis arises under the pressure of external objective conditions, first of all the contradiction between the constantly growing productive forces and the stable relations of production”. They concluded that when “the conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat [...] extends itself as a struggle of class against class, it assumes a precise political meaning: the class organization of proletariat turns into a political party. Carried to its highest expression, social conflict results in total revolution”.
This approach, so widely divergent from revolutionary Marxism and from the Leninist concept of the party, seemed at the time the result of a rushed and careless draft of the text (incorrect and often inconsistent quotations, imprecise language and so on) rather than the beginning of a devastating methodological and political drift, even because, at our express and well-founded request, the booklet was retired from circulation. After a while though, the question was resumed in a further internal document, whereby the Milanese Federation wanted to better outline the relationship Party/Class. But even there, they came up again with the same mechanistic statements of the previous booklet, although formulated in a very confused way: “What distinguishes all the idealistic, mechanistic, councilistic and economistic positions from a correct dialectic interpretation is the very question of consciousness, and the relationship between party and class. The main issue is whether consciousness arises from within the class itself, autonomously, through the progress of the claim struggles which at some point become political, bringing along the inevitable maturity of consciousness. Or whether it comes from outside, from a party which is born outside the class, and turns to it so as to demiurgically impose political consciousness from above”.
Here as well, they reject the thesis of class consciousness (or more precisely, we should say: class consciousness for itself) being born by parthenogenesis out of economic struggle, but they also reject as idealistic the hypothesis that party can be born outside the class, thus with no relationship to it nor to class struggle: their obviously mechanistic conclusion is that “Consciousness [...] is not brought about from outside, party is not a body foreign to class, but they are both the historical result of class struggle”.
In order to avert any suspicion of being possessed by the demon of polemic for the sake of polemic, we prefer to explain the question through the words of Onorato Damen. This is what he writes, upon re-reading Lenin, in the article Spontaneism, and the role of personality, published for the first time in the 11/59 issue of Prometeo: “Under this respect, and the problem does not allow any other hypothesis, Marx, Engels, and later Lenin, with the help of an army of thinkers, politicians, and intellectuals attached to Marxism, all had the task «to introduce into the proletariat the consciousness of its situation and of its mission», but the formative elements of this consciousness have their own historical matrix in the working class, they are reflected from time to time in the brain of a few men, like in a workshop of scientific organization, and then they come back to the class to help it adopt this «consciousness of the purpose» in an ever clearer way”.
The party draws from the class the formative elements of consciousness, yet it’s not the historical result of class struggle, but the product of the elaboration of thinkers, politicians, intellectuals attached to Marxism, thus it can’t but be born outside the class. Party and class consciousness for itself (which presupposes the party) do have their roots in the relationship of exploitation between capital and labour, but they are not spontaneously born out of the class struggle generated by this exploitation. Indeed, class struggle, party, and revolutionary consciousness “arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions” (Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, in Essential Works of Lenin: “What Is To Be Done” and Other Writings, Courier Dover 1987, p. 81).
On the other hand, if consciousness and party were both the historical result of class struggle, and if the development of the latter were in its turn the product of the development of the productive forces, the birth of the Russian Communist Party in 1912 would remain an inexplicable mystery, as well as the fact that today, in the era of the most advanced automation of productive processes, the creation of an authentic communist party has not even been conceived. What if history has become infertile?
Even this time our critical objections were met with the excuse of formal imperfections, and the document was set aside.
But over time, these formal imperfections not only emerged again, but they also met the movementist inclinations inscribed – as we denounced several times – in the DNA of the elements coming from the dissolved GLPs (Proletarian StruggleGroups), which constitute so far the majority of Parma section: this led the majority of Battaglia Comunista to slowly and irreversibly tend towards movementist and spontaneist positions, with several situationist and anarcho-syndicalist influences, closer to the Russian economism of the early 20th century, than to the Leninist tradition of PCInt (Internationalist Communist Party). So, at some point, the party was no longer entrusted with the task “to introduce into the class the consciousness of its situation and of its mission”, but – literally – “to foster the spontaneity of the struggles”. In clear contrast with what Lenin writes: “Hence our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie”.
The organized presence of the party within the class, i.e. the internationalist communist factory groups, which until not long ago were seen as a sine qua non for a communist consciousness to arise, were dismissed by assigning the new task to organizations such as “a labour and territorial network, connecting the most conscious workers” in order to “reinforce the struggles, and to have them directed and organized by workers themselves, by their struggle committees and assemblies”. Or to a “youth league of communist left”, having the goal of “merging the internationalist forces into a class-conscious student movement, able to meet the challenge of the present capitalistic phase”, and of “starting a political youth newspaper for Italy as a whole”.
And this is the formulation we find in the leaflet approved by the majority of the executive committee, and distributed in Rome on the occasion of the CGIL (Italian General Confederation of Labour) general strike of the 13th February last: “Struggle committees and territorial assemblies, like the NO TAV/NO DAL MOLIN movements”.
In the meantime, the Milanese Federation decided to review the Law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit, as well as the analysis of Imperialism. Suddenly, despite all the previous elaboration, it was “the increase of work productivity, i.e. the creation of relative surplus value”, which became responsible for determining “the most important contradiction of capitalism, the tendential fall in the rate of profit”; the latter was no longer due to the modification of the organic composition of capital, resulting from the process of capitalist accumulation, as maintained by Marx in the first and third book of Capital.
Obviously, we are still eager to discover how on earth capitalism did survive its most important contradiction, although in the last century work productivity experienced the most remarkable growth in its history.
As regards the analysis of Imperialism, they even brought up again the wars of national liberation as well as the distinction between “aggressive bourgeoisie, which launches an attack, and national bourgeoisie, which defends itself”, getting significantly close to the positions of those who think the wars of national liberation are still possible today, hence supporting any fraction of the bourgeoisie in peripheral countries, even the most reactionary and ferociously anticommunist factions, like the Arabian one, whenever they clash with one of the major imperialist fronts, particularly with the USA.
In the original version of the article Terrorism and Democracy, later widely revised and appeared in Prometeo issue n. 11, 6th series, we read: “Terrorism, in the current accepted meaning of attack to the civilian population, to the unarmed and the weak, whatever social field they belong to, is a praxis peculiar to bourgeois ideology, whether the background of reference be the one of an aggressive bourgeoisie launching its own attack, or of a national bourgeoisie defending itself. A revolutionary uprising, if attempting to push its way within a war of national liberation, should first of all cope with the presence of the invading army”. From such a statement – maybe meant to support their proselytism activity in the diverse environment of the extraparliamentary left – to the revaluation of Resistance the step was very short. This is what we read in the review of the book Red Hearts and Black Hearts, appeared in the 10/2008 issue of BC: “Most Italian partisans fought in the hope of seeing some day, with whatever ideological confusion, a world without classes and without borders, and this was the hope of all «red hearts» who, from the post-war period till today, have fallen under the fierce blows of anti-labour and anti-communist violence”.
At this point, we realized that our permanence in BC didn’t make sense anymore. Moreover, any objection coming from us was interpreted as an attack on the clique, and any criticism as a manifestation of diabolical intellectual and human arrogance: in the eyes of the supreme priest and (by hereditary right) of his clergymen, we became a nightmare they had to get rid of, by resorting to the force of numbers and calumny, as in the best Stalinist tradition.
We have to admit it: from within, maybe even for obvious psychological reasons, it was very hard for us to recognize in those imperfections the beginning of an irreversible degenerative process, exactly as it revealed itself to be. Indeed, we thought it was just a moment’s weakness of some comrades. Instead, we should have known that when a revolutionary organization is no longer able to make up for the mistakes of the individuals through the internal debate and critical confrontation, it’s because it is deeply degenerate, and its experience is historically exhausted.
As a matter of fact, the collapse of the former Soviet Union has confirmed on one hand the exactness and validity of the critique of Stalinist counter-revolution and of the capitalist nature of the so-called real socialism, elaborated by PCInt and more generally by the whole Italian communist left; but on the other hand, it made clear the several flaws in elaboration accumulated by this faction over time. In other terms, once the Russian deception has been revealed, it’s as if the veil which used to hide its several wrinkles has fallen down, since it lost the main condition necessary for its existence.
For our part (and this is maybe the reason of our delay in comprehending the real nature of the state of things), we were convinced that BC, thanks to its history and to the fact that its founders had left a huge theoretical and political heritage, would be able to start a new process of elaboration and scientific organization of the data concerning the situation of the proletariat, as it had taken shape in the course of such an extraordinarily long counter-revolutionary phase. But despite the lucid critique of mechanism developed by Onorato Damen, the breaking out of the crisis made clear that some positivist scientism, inherited from the Second and Third International, not only had not been digested, but it had been assimilated to the point that the revolutionary crisis, the arising of revolutionary praxis, could be conceived as the fateful result of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist development of the productive forces.
A leap of a century backwards (or maybe more), which turns even elaboration and theoretical education into a pointless waste of time, constituting a great detriment to the activity of common propaganda and proselytism. This has assumed a relevance and a meaning such as to drive the majority of comrades composing the current executive committee to escape political confrontation, by explicitly stating that they do not have the necessary theoretical instruments for a correct evaluation of the problems posed.
But, as Lenin warned: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”. Even more so in such a world as the present one, where the ideological domination of the ruling class permeates every single moment of the daily life of the proletarians, more than ever competing with each other.
We are convinced that if we don’t start again from elaborating the reasons of the epochal defeat suffered by the proletariat during the last century – reasons which go further than the Russian counter-revolution itself – proletarians won’t even be able to get to the consciousness of belonging to the same class of exploited workers, let alone to revolutionary self-organization.
So here we are: we do not aim at the umpteenth atom split, even less at constituting another self-styled internationalist communist party. Though, we are strongly committed to the attempt of being a point of reference open to any contribution coming from those who have proletariat’s destiny at heart, and who believe that the problems of socialist revolution in the 21st century cannot be tackled by resorting to the interpretative patterns of the Third International, when not by moving back to the positions of the Second one, or of Russian economism of the early 20th century.
In order to be able to weave again the red thread interrupted by an epochal defeat, we need the courage to start over from scratch: according to the strictest historical materialism, we need to analyze the major changes occurred in the forms of ideological domination of the bourgeoisie, in the international organization and division of labour, in the class composition as well as in the relationship between capital and labour, as a result of the development of the forms of imperialist domination as well as of the processes of capitalist globalization during the last century.
And to whom else but Onorato Damen could we dedicate this new initiative? Not only because he was the main promoter of the Comitato d’Intesa (“Entente Committee”, the first attempt to organize the anti-Stalinist opposition) when he perceived that the experience of Italian Communist Party, of which he was one of the founders, was going to exhaust its own potential; but above all because, better than anyone else in the Italian communist left, he understood that, failing a compass firmly oriented towards historical materialism, there’s a very thin boundary line between mechanism and idealism, between Marx and Hegel, and the idea of the revolution accomplishing itself by itself is a mere illusion.
 Lenin wrote What Is To Be Done before the revolutionary wing of Russian Social Democratic Party (for which he was the major spokesman) split apart to form, in 1912, the Bolshevik faction, which ultimately became, in 1918, the Russian Communist Party.
 Lenin, op. cit., p. 82.