From your text, we are only considering the question of consciousness since it is closely linked with the analysis of party-class relations and since its critical examination will lead us to identify eventual differences of methodological formulations, if they exist, which will be discussed at our next meeting. We already mentioned it at our last meeting, thus we limit ourselves to the confirmation of some fundamental concepts.
Firstly, it is important to clarify the concept of revolutionary or communist consciousness. The term doesn't only refer to the significance of being a class "in itself", a proletarian class opposed to the bourgeoisie. It's not only the consciousness by the proletariat of being exploited and of having to struggle in order that exploitation ceases. We can only talk of communist consciousness if the proletariat assumes the political consciousness of the length of time, the means, the forms of the struggle, of the tactic, of the strategy and of the political program to actually overcome the conditions of subordination imposed by the bourgeoisie and its political form of capitalist relations of production and distribution. That's -to say with K. Marx - to pass from class in itself to class for itself.
The history of class struggle has largely taught us that the proletariat, pushed by the objective conditions, can - and not necessarily must – stand itself on the basis of the defence of its immediate interests. It has also teaches us that it can give itself the instruments for its struggle and it can reach the understanding of the need for an insurrection which is the ultimate outcome for the class struggle. But it can't get up to the full class consciousness as a whole. In other terms, it can't get up to the tactical and strategical resolution, and even less up to the complete political program, if the revolutionary party hasn't crystallized within it.
What distinguish all the idealist, mechanistic, councilist and economist positions from a correct materialist and dialectical interpretation, it's precisely the question of consciousness and the relation between party and class. The fundamental question isn't to know if consciousness comes from the inside of the class itself, in an autonomous way, through the progression of economical demand struggles which might become political at a certain level and which might lead by themselves to the inescapable maturation of consciousness ; or if it comes from the outside, it means there would be a party born outside the class and which would inject from above, as a demiurge, the revolutionary political consciousness. For us, in these terms, the question is incorrectly posed since the party isn't something outside the class. It is its more advanced part which represents the synthesis of all the demands of the class, the immediate and economical ones and the ones related to its historical task. It necessarily lives to a certain degree, on practices and in places independent of its relation to the class. In this, and only in this sense, it is "outside". Whatever its sociological composition, proletarians, petit-bourgeois, intellectuals coming from the bourgeoisie, the party is born in the class. It makes its own all the demands of the class struggle, from the more minor economical ones, to the more general and strategical, right up to the complete political programme. The political knowledge of the party is the result of the historical synthesis of various class episodes. It learns from the causes of defeat. Just as it puts to the fore the reasons for victories. It daily draws from the impulses which come from the twists and turns, sometimes hidden, instinctive and sectoral, of class struggle. It appropriates them in order to return them to the whole class through its political tactics and strategy. Thus, the relation is a dialectical relation not between a class and a party which is separated from the first one and which brings it consciousness from outside ; but from inside of this class itself, amongst the mass of the proletariat and its more advanced reflective part, which receives the impulses from the rank and file and which returns them, worked out in terms of political strategy, to this rank and file itself.
It doesn't mean that the rank and file of the proletariat, in its struggle, can't develop levels of political consciousness. But it does mean that the ideological domination of the bourgeoisie, particularly today, the sectoral aspect of economicdemands and the lack of global vision of the final goal of class struggle, demand the presence of the party which is able to provide this globality of class consciousness that a proletariat, even struggling against the class adversary, can't express if it hasn't produced within itself its vanguard, its party.
So consciousness isn't brought from the outside as if it had fallen from the sky since the party isn't a foreign body to the class. But both are two inseparable moments which come into relation in dialectical terms. And this because, for us, the party as political instrument of the class, must always be present and must seek to be the point of political reference in every moment of the class struggle. We reject the idea that the political evolution of class struggle towards revolution could happen without the party or that the party would be only an organizer and would only generalize the struggles since the class itself would think independently the consciousness of the political program and the means for its actualization. We also consider as dangerous the thesis that preaches the need for the party only in revolutionary times while it relegates the party, at best, to a study centre in the counter-revolutionary phase. Actually this vision means it would be so, i.e. a study center, almost all the time. This thesis lies on the consideration that the objective conditions are enough by themselves for the party. It means as if the great economical crisis after having pushed the proletariat to the struggle would determine the birth of the party and the development of all the links between the two entities, in a kind of mechanical relation where the two terms of class struggle arise and merge themselves. In this case too, history teaches us how great proletarian struggles have been politically ruined and have been bloodily repressed because of the lack of a political guide, born too late, or in the middle of the struggle, but faraway from the class because a serious delay in forming a political relationship which can't be invented in a day.
The objective conditions can set class struggle in movement. They can ease and strengthen the relations between the class and the party. But they can't create them from nothing. And if it did so, it would be too late anyway. Far too late. The party must do its best to be already present in the historical phase previous to the insurrectional one. It must have succeeded in establishing relations with the body of the class itself, however small, minor, but effective. Otherwise the events themselves, the crisis and the proletarian disposition to struggle, wouldn't be grasped by the so-called party. It would thus pave the way to another political defeat with all its consequences which would make a future revival of class struggle still more difficult. It's precisely because the party is a part of the class, that it is a permanent, and not occasional, instrument of the class struggle. Whether it grows with it and it goes with its evolution by giving it political leadership, or it is destined to the inevitable defeat. The latter is even more certain if one holds the theory that the party arises or fits into the class struggle only when it makes itself manifest while it returns to the shadows or retreats in tiems when the class struggle disappears or expresses itself at too low a level.
This doesn't mean the party can live an autonomous life independent of the social context around it. In overwhelmingly counter-revolutionary periods, the tenuous relations which unites the party and the class, are broken, so that the class comes to be defeated by its adversary and the party is literally wiped out. But this doesn't prevent the vanguards from carrying on the effort to give a minimum of political and organisational continuity according the situation. The party cannot choose the conditions in which it intervenes, arises and disappears. On the contrary, it is economic and social conditions which define the rhythms of class struggle and the possibilities of intervention of the party which can't avoid the attempt to be the point of reference for the class struggle whatever its level. The main task of the party in economic struggles, besides taking their demands to their ultimate, is to give political meaning to the struggle. In other words, being in the daily struggle, or in defensive economic struggles of the proletariat, is the necesary and inescapable condition for trying to take the economic, trade-unionist, struggle up to the political level. The economic struggle arises, produces what it can produce on the level of demands, and then declines without leaving political traces if there is no intervention of the revolutionary party whose task is to act to transform any economic struggle, whether won or lost, into political knowledge to be returned to in the next struggle, at an even higher level of class consciousness.
In more explicit terms, the priority of the party is to develop ["trascrescere" in Italian] the class struggle from its natural sphere, that of immediate demands, to a political one. In the opposite case, even if the struggles increase at the organisational point of view and even at the political one regarding the consciousness of exploitation and of the need for fighting the class adversary, they would continue to remain within framework of demands struggles without going beyond the economic situation which produced them. In this sense, the presence of the party is absolutely necessary, alongside, of course, its rôle as the strategic point of reference to lead the revolutionary assault and elaborate the communist program.
In this regard, the formulation "when the working class is entering into a struggle for the defence of its immediate economic interests, it objectively determines the question of the consciousness of its historical rôle" [extract of a previous text of the fraction which is not published here] is openly in antithesis with any interpretation of the relation party-class regarding the question of consciousness. If it were so, if only with the economic question, the class by itself, mechanically determined the consciousness of its historical rôle which is composed of the tactic, the strategy, and finally the communist program, there would be no need for the party ; everything would be delegated to the movement of the class and to the independant maturation of its historical rôle. Actually the contrary is true. It's the party, it’s vanguard, the more conscious part of it, which operates the qualitative jump aiming at channeling the struggle from the economic level to the political one.
The following formulation is no more valid : "these [the economical demand struggles] are the objective conditions of consciousness, of the experience the class accumulates, of the distancing of a certain number of workers from the chaos of the ruling ideology and of the synthesis and theorization of this experience which, all along the history of the class and its struggles, make arise a political expression of the proletariat : political expression which, at a certain level of development, becomes the class party". In this case, firstly the role of the party is assigned to the class, and then the party is made to arise in predetermined historical phases which are characterized by independence from the political consciousness of the class itself. The party is the historical fruit of a series of economic struggles, of synthesis and elaborations which come from the experience of class struggle and which, once become tactic and strategy, return to the class to orient it on a revolutionary path, breaking the economic cage in which it is confined. But it doesn't arise after the class as a whole has independantly achieved its course of acquisition of consciousness : nor does it arise from the revival of every class struggle as the logical completion of an evolutionary course already drawn up.
This being said, it appears to us we have noticed a contradiction between what you've formulated in the text and what you've proposed orally. Maybe it's just a false impression on our part, but we'll have the occasion to clarify the question during our next encounter.
Until then, we think that if you could send us in a written form, even an outline, your first considerations, it would ease a lot the specific discussion in the framework of the confrontation course we've begun. We all (IBRP and FICCI) agree to say that the question party-class isn't an academic question. On the contrary : clarity and agreement on this fundamental element of the communist theory and praxis is an indispensable presupposition for this process of aggregation of coherent revolutionary forces that we passionately wish for.
Communist Bulletin Nš 33 - Internal Fraction of ICC