Programme Communiste – Roger Dangeville

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Roger Dangeville died in September 2006, at the age of 81.

After joining our party in the mid-1950s, Roger actively and successfully participated for a decade in its activities and theoretical work. Without wanting (or being able) to make an assessment on this level of his contribution, anonymous as all the party’s work, we can however note his collaboration in the work on the military question or in the succession of forms of production in Marxist theory. He worked for the party at the Amsterdam Institute (IISH) on the archives of the First International and on Marx’s texts, still unpublished in French, etc.

However, the name of Dangeville, associated with that of Jacques Camatte, remains linked to a theoretical and fundamental deviation that led him to break with the party at the end of 1966. Opposed to the publication of the “Prolétaire” and the practical action of the party, Dangeville, Camatte and some others, defended a conception that can be described as “academic” and wait-and-see attitude. Pending the launch of the revolutionary period, the party should, according to them, devote itself exclusively to theoretical work, to the “scientific recording of social facts” (as expressed in our 1952 Characteristic Theses) ([1]); the publication of a political struggle journal and external intervention were at best a waste of time, at worst a sign of “Trotskyist-type activism”.

The Characteristic Theses marked the break with the activist current in the PCInt, and they constitute the real starting point of the party we claim to be part of; they were careful to point out that if, in the period of political devastation caused by counter-revolution, the task of theoretical restoration is the fundamental task, the party “absolutely refuses to be considered as a circle of thinkers” and that it “loses no opportunity to penetrate into every crevice, in every fissure” that allows the broadest masses to be reached. About ten years later, in implicit response to the positions put forward by Dangeville – Camatte, the Naples Theses repeated that: “even in an unfavourable situation and even in the countries where it is most unfavourable, it is necessary to avoid the mistake of considering the movement as pure written propaganda and political proselytism.

Everywhere, always and without exception, the life of the party must be integrated into an incessant effort to integrate itself into the lives of the masses, even when its manifestations are influenced by directives opposed to ours. (…) We must reject the conception that would like to reduce our small party to closed circles with no external link, or content to seek adhesions only in the world of opinions, which, in the eyes of Marxists, is a false world as long as it is not treated as a superstructure of the world of economic conflicts” ([2]).

During the internal discussions of 1964-65, Dangeville had written a contribution whose high point was this pearl: “Marxism prohibits any initiative on the organisational level” ([3]). Taken seriously, this position would have meant condemning all those who had fought for example for the establishment of the Communist International or the Communist Party of Italy! The deviation from Dangeville – Camatte is also clear from a letter from Camatte to Bordiga in January 1966 ([4]). Wishing to complain about an internal meeting in Paris where it had been questioned whether some members were real activists, Camatte wrote: “We stated that the activist is the one who fully accepts the Programme. To which we were told that it was insufficient, that it had to be said that the person who agreed to develop all the party’s activities was an activist.

This definition is rather static and statistical, it does not refer to what essentially characterises our movement: the programme”.

Without perhaps being aware of it (?), Camatte thus placed himself in line with a classic deviation from Marxism: Menshevism. During the historical controversy in Russia in 1902 over the party’s orientation, a rupture between two currents that would later find themselves on opposite sides of the class confrontation occurred precisely on this issue. On the one hand, the Mensheviks claimed that all those who claimed to be in agreement with their positions should be considered party members; on the other hand, the Bolsheviks claimed that this was completely insufficient and that only those who were actually militants in a party organisation and under its control could be members of the party. This apparently secondary or formal divergence was in reality central: the party is not an open organisation, with loose contours, a gathering of opinions, or a “discussion club” (as Lenin put it), but a closed militant organisation, united around a programme and an activity coherent with that programme. The historical circumstances were obviously not the same in democratic France in the 1960s as in tsarist Russia at the beginning of the century, but this could not justify abandoning the Leninist thesis, which is not a circumstance, but a principle, the environment and democratic and peaceful habits only making it more difficult to assimilate.

Camatte and Dangeville separated quite quickly after splitting from the party they accused of abandoning theory in favour of activism. If they did not agree on what should be done, they had in common a conception of the party that could be called “disembodied”: the party as a pure instrument of transmission of theory, a group of intellectuals and, in the germ “Gemeinwesen” (old German word meaning community which Engels had used), anticipation in an almost literal sense of the communist society.

Publishing Invariance, Camatte began a “wandering” that led him successively to openly break with the Communist Left of Italy, then with Marxism, then with the very idea of social revolution, to announce an anthropological revolution that in future centuries would see the birth of a new human species, the Homo-gemeinwesen, in the place of the Homo sapiens…

For his part, Dangeville, with the help of a few activists, began publishing the journal Le Fil du Temps (FdT) as well as collections of texts by Marx and Engels at Maspéro or 10/18. He has thus made available to French-speaking readers a certain number of texts that cannot be found, or were simply unpublished; it must also be recognised that in his reviews or in the introductions and notes to the collections, he has remained much more faithful to the positions of our current – and moreover many of his writings are taken from party texts!

But, and independently of the criticisms to be made on this editorial and translation work ([5]), Dangeville and the group around the Fil du Temps were characterised by a fundamentally erroneous conception of the party and its tasks, but also of the revolutionary process, whose matrix was common with that of Invariance. It was a non-dialectical conception of the history of movement in general and of the party in particular, a metaphysical conception as we had characterised it. Throughout its history (the last French and German issues date back to 1977), FdT has never bothered to work on the constitution of the party, because for him the party was not a formal organisation, but the disembodied support of theory, a pure group of theorists. As for the revolution, it was the fatal consequence of the crisis, without the intervention of an organised and leading force, the party, constituted and acting beforehand. The disconnect between historical party and formal party, the deadly disconnect between theory and action, which is always the sign of opportunism, was implicitly elevated by FdT to the level of a principle.

Crisis and Revolution

In an article in this journal, we had at the time responded to the group’s criticisms about the 1975 crisis ([6]). It is not useless to return briefly to this episode because we see and we will see similar deviations reappear. Le Fil du Temps reproached us in its n°11 of March 1975 for having neglected our forecast of the 1975 crisis and, even worse, for having declared that this crisis did not automatically mean an explosion of the revolution, but, unfortunately, an increase in the pressure of the bourgeois state and its reinforcement, or we saw an additional confirmation of the necessity of revolutionary preparation. According to FdT, 1975 was to be the almost mandatory date of the revolution.

In reality, our current has never posed the problem in this mechanical and antidialectic way. It is true that any generalised bourgeois crisis potentially poses the problem and necessity of revolution; but this does not mean that there is a mechanical relationship of cause and effect between bourgeois crisis and proletarian revolution. Our text “Lessons of the counterrevolutions” condemns without appeal the gradualist and fatalistic error of “linking the economic process and the political process in a purely formal way”, forgetting all the factors that weigh on the political process and that accelerate or delay it. In the “Considerations on the party’s organic activity..” which are a refutation of the positions of Dangeville – Camatte, it is said that there are historical periods with objective favourable situations at the same time as unfavourable conditions for the party as a subject (subjective factors); conversely: “there have been rare but significant examples of a well prepared party and a social situation which pushes the masses towards the revolution and towards the party” ([7]). But a serious economic crisis and the difficulties in which it plunges the bourgeoisie’s power also pushes it to mobilise all its energies against the proletariat, as Trotsky and also Bordiga himself recalled at the beginning of the 1920s, who wrote in an article that the dying bourgeoisie “is attacking the dominant class, attacking and defeating it almost everywhere”. The convergence of objective and subjective factors may not occur or may be terribly late, as is the case today. Then the bourgeois state strengthens, the pressure on the proletarian class worsens. The solution to this situation cannot come from the simple maturation of objective factors, from a catastrophic worsening of the economic crisis, but from the ultimate encounter of objective and subjective factors. The latter does not fall from the sky; it prepares itself – not in a vacuum, certainly, but in accordance with the evolution of the material situation – in a struggle all the more difficult because the counter-revolution has almost destroyed everything over long decades…

We do not have a simple theoretical divergence. It is in fact a fundamental opposition, both theoretical and practical, between fatalistic mechanicalism and dialectical materialism. For the first conception, the problem of the party in reality does not arise: it is enough that the crisis approaches, it will lead to the collapse of capitalism and the revolution will then be over, the intervention of a handful of “Marxists” being sufficient for its realisation. For dialectical materialistic conception, there is no fatalism. If, with regard to the maturation of objective factors leading to a serious political crisis, the proletariat takes too long to really enter into a struggle, if it takes too long to organise itself in class, therefore in a party, then the bourgeoisie will once again win: it will once again have the opportunity to overcome the huge internal contradictions of its mode of production, whether by the installation of brutally anti-labour authoritarian regimes, a new world war and/or both of them. It is not possible to change the course of events by the activity of the party; however, revolutionaries are not “a learned society dedicated to the study of social events” but “a revolutionary party that participates in all events and is itself one of their determinants” ([8]): this means that at certain times and under certain conditions, the party’s action is decisive for the political crisis to lead to a revolution and for it to be victorious. And for this action not only to take place, but for the party itself to exist as a determinant of events, it is necessary that a group, however small it may be of militants, must first be engaged in party work, in a systematic effort, based on communist principles and programme, towards the preparation of this party. Turning our backs on this work to devote ourselves to the study in the theory room means turning our backs on what is really possible and necessary to do today to allow tomorrow’s successful outcome.

Source: Programme Communiste, No. 101; August 2011

[1] The Characteristic Theses of the party can be found in the collection “Defence of the continuity of the communist program”, Texts of the International Communist Party n°7.

[2] Theses on the historical task, action and structure of the World Communist Party, Naples 1965; cf “Defence of Continuity,” op cit. p. 211

[3] “Form means law”, 1964 contribution. The text continues: “The organisation is not regulated as one would like, nor is it a means or a tool: it is determined by the historical strength of communism”. And further: “If the Communist Party is organised in a strictly political way, it ceases to be communist, since it locks itself into the current capitalist society from which it inherits all the contradictions, that is to say it opposes society and, as Trotsky said after Marx Engels and Lenin, oppresses the human mass”! To these elucubrations we can contrast the Marxist evidence recalled in our “Characteristic Theses…” that the Communist Party is the political party of the proletarian class.

[4] This letter is circulated on the Internet where it would have been published on the website http://bataillesocialiste.wordpress.com It can be found at: http://archives-maximalistes.over-blog.com/article-lettre-de-camatte-a-bordiga-de-janvier-1966-53966543.html

[5] Dangeville’s “disinvolvement” in these translations is well known; he himself wrote that he did not hesitate to add pages to the party texts published in his magazine. He also professed the strictly idealistic idea that almost all Marxism can be found in a fragment or a few sentences of Marx or Engels.

[6] “Revolutionary Party or group of “Marxologists”?”, Programme Communiste No. 74.

[7] Considerations on the party’s organic activity when the general situation is historically unfavourable (1965); cf «Defence…», op. cit., p. 197.

[8] Amadeo Bordiga, speech to the 6th Enlarged Executive Meeting of the Communist International. Quoted in the above article from P.C. n°74.

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