The bourgeoisie precipitates into the maelstrom of the crisis tearing apart its mode of production and with increasing difficulty hides the reality of its economic, political and military defeats.
It is still not easy to understand what is actually happening in Afghanistan, more than a month after the Taliban seized power in Kabul. The western media describe an unstable situation, demonstrations by women unwilling to submit to the rigours of religious obscurantism, while television channels from Kandahar broadcast images of families evicted from their homes, assigned to Taliban militiamen, and of protests over the high cost of living, also due to the blocking of credits by the Afghan State. But we cannot know how much to rely on what appears to be pure media hullabaloo.
Our Marxist method, however, by sifting through the mountain of unreliable or patently false information, can try to outline with a good approximation some aspects of the general picture that are difficult to contradict.
In the first place, we must take note that the handover between the puppet government of Kabul and the Taliban was an operation favoured in every way by the United States. This can already be seen from the way the Doha negotiations took place, which ended with the February 2020 agreement that paved the way for the Taliban reconquest of the country. The negotiations were bilateral, with the United States on one side and the “Koranic students” (!) on the other, with the government then in power in Kabul excluded from the table. This implied the implicit defeat of the regime led by President Ashraf Ghani and its immediate loss of authority within the Afghan ruling class.
The Doha agreements came after six years of relative stagnation in fighting, during which time the Taliban had consolidated their economic and political control over large rural areas of the country to the point of establishing themselves as a de facto State, complete with tax system and administration of justice. Sources not suspicious of sympathy towards the "Koranic students" such as "Le Monde diplomatique" speak of "a sophisticated judicial system" with judges of "recognised impartiality" such as to "make them popular in rural areas".
This is an indication that the Taliban are a bourgeois force that is in no way "primitive", as caricatured by the media in thrall to the imperial powers. If anything, they are an expression of the same dark and modern bourgeois decadence, which involves the great capitalist powers themselves.
The Taliban’s control of the territory and military strength was countered by the weakness of the Kabul regime, increasingly confined to the cities and kept alive militarily by the armies of the US-led coalition, and by the flood of money flowing from Washington, with the titanic aim of "State building", which soon turned out to be unrealistic and unattainable since the early 2000s.
During the first half of 2020, the Kabul government unsuccessfully opposed the release of 5,000 Taliban guerrillas imprisoned in Afghan jails under the Doha agreements. In the face of opposition from President Ghani, who saw this as a serious (and very real) threat to his regime and raised constitutional objections, the United States imposed the convocation of a Loya Jirga, the assembly of the notables of the entire country, which brings together local, ethnic and religious bodies. This assembly, which not by chance voted in favour of the release of the militiamen, marked a crucial moment in the preparation for the return of the “Koranic students” to Kabul.
Here another, no less important, aspect of the issue comes into play: the alleged tribal fragmentation of the country. Given for certain by improvised experts, it is flaunted by the media as an explanation for the tragic events of the more than 40 years of wars that have marred the central Asian country. The aim is twofold: on the one hand to downplay the responsibilities of imperialism in the massacres, and on the other to mitigate the extent of the defeats suffered by the powers that have alternately attempted to subjugate that “tomb of empires”.
Already in the 1980s, when the war against the Soviet Union was underway, at least one third of the Afghan population was forced to emigrate to Pakistan or Iran; at least another 3 million internally displaced persons were added to the approximately 7 million refugees out of a population of 20 million. These events accelerated the economic transformation and penetration of capitalism that had been underway for decades, and removed much of the old feudal residue.
After 2001, US domination of the country, for its own ends, imposed a forced "retribalisation" of the country, to segment the population along disparities that had become largely fictitious. This policy soon demonstrated its incompatibility with a solid centralised State capable of exercising stable power, and soon became an obvious element of weakness in the face of the Taliban. It should be remembered that when they first came to power in 1996, the Taliban had, in their own way, unified the country devastated by the conflict between the "warlords", at the head of "ethnic" armies that began to fight each other ferociously once the Russians had been defeated and driven out.
The Taliban, ideologically reared in Pakistan in the Deobandi madrassas, a current of Islam, and politically and militarily organised by the Pakistani secret services, had in their cohesion an element of strength that the Afghan warlords lacked. It is not difficult to imagine how much the encouragement of the "tribal" divisions, operated not only by the United States, but also by other powers, such as Iran, interested in enhancing the ethnic component of the Hazara, of Persian language and Shiite religion, has favoured the prestige of the Taliban who, although supported prevalently by the Pashtun and Sunnite component of the population, have done everything possible to present themselves as an element of national unification.
Coming to the present day, it is not easy to assess to what extent the different components of the Taliban movement are able to contain the internal dissensions for the division of victory. Certainly, it will not be easy for the "Koranic students" to consolidate themselves in power. In the first place, they inherit a situation of economic instability. In addition to the effects of the general capitalist crisis, the country’s agriculture is suffering from an ongoing drought. Food shortages lead to inflation. It is easy to expect explosions of discontent in the populous cities where there is a strong presence of ruined peasants forcibly displaced by the dissolution of the old rural world.
But the Taliban will also have to deal with the global and regional powers at war to secure the exploitation of Afghanistan’s mineral resources and control of the routes that lead from Russia and China to the warm seas, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
Therefore, even with the scarce and partial information at our disposal, we are convinced that we are not too wrong to expect that the future of Afghanistan is once again determined by the balance of power between the great imperialisms.
(continued from last issue)
The Era of the A.F.L. Begins
The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions
1881 was a fateful year for the American labor movement. After a brief prologue in Indiana, a congress was held on November 15 in Pittsburgh, attended by 107 delegates from various trade unions, representing almost half a million proletarians. The congress had been convened to respond to the need to combine the many forces that had arisen from the working class in a structure that would coordinate them in order to obtain greater effectiveness from the struggles for demands, and to conduct agitation on particular issues of interest to the class.
The newly established structure, which gave itself the name of "Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada", and which intended to be inspired by the English Trades Union Congress, from the beginning discussed an aspect that would be central for the years to come: some delegates proposed that only trade associations should be admitted to the federation; a choice in this sense would have excluded all non-organized workers, especially non-specialized workers, who included a large number of women and Blacks. The proposal was rejected by a large majority.
The newly established structure, which gave itself the name of "Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada", and which intended to be inspired by the English Trades Union Congress, from the beginning discussed an aspect that would be central for the years to come: some delegates proposed that only trade associations should be admitted to the federation; a choice in this sense would have excluded all non-organized workers, especially non-specialized workers, who included a large number of women and Blacks. The proposal was rejected by a large majority.
«Whereas, a struggle is going on in the nations of the civilized world between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries, a struggle between capital and labor, which must grow in intensity from year to year and work disastrous results to the toiling millions of all nations if not combined for mutual protection and benefit. This history of the wage-workers of all countries is but the history of constant struggle and misery engendered by ignorance and disunion; whereas the history of non-producers of all ages proves that a minority, thoroughly organized, may work wonders for good or evil... Conforming to the old adage “In union there is strength”, the formation of a Federation embracing every trade and labor organization in North America, a union founded upon a foundation as broad as the land we live on, is our only hope» (Foner P.S., 1947-94. History of the labor movement in the United States. Vol.I).
The Platform set out numerous principles, both trade union and political, to be defended, first of which was the abolition of child labor; from the beginning, however, it was clear that the fundamental objective of the participants was to effectively defend wages and working conditions against an increasingly aggressive capital. As F. K. Foster, the first secretary, said: «The growing power of associated capital must be fought by associated labor. Federation is the motto of the future».
In its early years, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada had a difficult life. Its member unions gave it little importance, nor were they generous in granting funds; the Federation produced little more than statements that remained on paper. The K.L. still seemed like they were up to the task of defending the interests of the proletariat. Even in 1884 Secretary Frank Foster had to admit that no progress had been made in attracting the major unions, in political/legislative action, in the unification of the workers’ movement. But at the same convention two resolutions were expressed that would have profound effects on the future of the American workers’ movement: the establishment of Labor Day, as a celebration of labor, and May Day, as a celebration of the 8-hour struggle; both understood as abstention from work, hence as general strikes of the whole class.
The initiatives received an enthusiastic response from the class: while Labor Day would be held on the first Monday in September, it was decided that the 8-hour timetable would come into effect on May 1, 1886. The first goal was achieved without major problems: within a few years many States accepted it as a public holiday, and it became a national holiday in 1894.
The path of the initiative for the eight hour day was not so simple, as we saw in the previous chapter. But the fact that the Federation was the advocate of this initiative made its reputation within the trade union movement rise again. At the same time the K.L. did their best to alienate it, with increasingly anti-worker and collaborationist attitudes, as we have described above.
The turning point was the occasion of a hard struggle of the New York cigar workers: in 1886 the employers decided to apply a salary cut of 20% in the whole sector. The Cigar Makers’ International Union, affiliated with the K.L., refused the cut, and as a consequence the owners decreed a lock-out in 19 factories. After 4 weeks the struggle was about to be won, with the owners offering advantageous proposals. But in New York there was another union, the Progressive Union, that was also affiliated with the K.L., which the International Union had never had good relations with because of their poor positions. In this case, the Progressive Union came forward, offering the bosses jobs on a reduced salary, with the sole condition that only its members were hired.
Needless to say, the International Union appealed to the central organs of the K.L.; but the anti-union positions prevailed, giving justification to the Progressive Union. The immediate consequence was that all over the union world it was understood that one could not continue to work with the K.L. if they wanted to lead struggles successfully, and they began to look around for other ways to build a greater unity in the union field.
A conference was convened on May 18, 1886 in Philadelphia, whose participants represented nearly 400,000 organized workers. They prepared a document which basically called for the autonomy of the individual trade unions. A document, however, that could allow the K.L. a continuation of its central role; However, at an assembly held in Richmond in October, the leadership of the Order, drunk on the power and majority in the assemblies it enjoyed, rejected all demands and ordered the Cigar Makers International Union to choose between staying in the Order or remaining in the union. At that point, many union leaders, apart from the one in the crosshairs, understood that there was nothing more to do: the arrogance of the leading and more reactionary part of the K.L. would sooner or later hit everyone, and they began an exodus that was then defined as a "mortal wound" for the Order.
The leaders who had organized the Philadelphia conference convened all unions in Columbus, Ohio on December 8, 1886. The convention decided to unite all the trade unions present, about fifty national and local, into a federation, which took the name of American Federation of Labor. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions transferred all personnel and means to the new organization, and ceased to exist as such. Samuel Gompers was elected president of the new organization.
So, as was to be expected, the new organization brought in a dowry of many characteristics from the old organization. The preamble of 1881: «a struggle is going on in the nations of the civilized world between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries, a struggle between capital and labor» had displeased public opinion outside the unions, and some hoped for a greater spirit of concord between capital and labor; but the moment was particularly hot, after the Haymarket attack and the bosses’ offensive that followed, the preamble remained in the new statute, after a unanimous vote.
For the rest, there were no major innovations; attention was paid to emphasizing the autonomy of the individual unions, and that the members all belonged to the class of salaried workers, in open polemic with the recent past.
The new Federation did not have an explosion of membership as had been the case for the K.L., but it grew in a regular and uninterrupted way. The 13 national unions that founded the A.F.L. in 1886 had become 40 in 1892; many were small, but some were also important, such as those of foundry workers, carpenters, printers, iron and steel workers, and cigar makers. However, the first years were hard, both for President Gompers and for the union activists, who dedicated themselves to their apostolate without any salary or reimbursement, risking everything, often even their lives, to defend a principle of social justice in which they believed. Here it is not possible to tell even succinctly the epic of these heroes of the workers’ movement, who found themselves operating in the presence of the most ruthless and bloody capitalism of the time, supported without hesitation by an equally bloody structure of the State.
Despite the difficulties, one of the key points of the union policy defended by Gompers was the exclusion from the union of any element that was not a pure wage earner. In this he even referred to Karl Marx, who he had read in German (he had learned the language on purpose); the non-worker elements, whose support on the other hand was considered valuable, could not be admitted to run the union. In addition, their presence tended to distract the proletarians from the immediate problems they were facing; this had been one of the causes of the K.L.’s failure, and the A.F.L. should not fall back into it.
In the following years Gompers would have denied the existence of class struggle, but in that first period of growth of the Federation it was not so. In the first issue of The Union Advocate, the official organ of the Federation, in June 1887, Gompers writes:
«Life is at best a hard struggle with contending forces. The life of the toiler is made doubly so by the avarice of the arrogant and tyrannical employing classes. Greedy and overbearing as they are, trying at nearly all times to get their pound of flesh out of the workers, it is necessary to form organizations of the toilers to prevent these tendencies more strongly developing, as wealth is concentrating itself into fewer hands to prevent engulfing and drowning us in an abyss of hopelessness and despair».
Gompers therefore did not believe the doctrine defended by Powderly and others that the interests of capital and labor could coexist in harmony. At that time, instead, he maintained that it was impossible to have harmonious relations «with cruel and iniquitous employers and companies who think more of dividends than of human hearts and bodies (...) The production of profits is the primary and constant object of the capitalistic system».
The first consequence of these considerations was a total and unconditional support of the use of the strike weapon, this was also a very clear break from the tradition of the Order.
But there is more in the early Gompers of the AFL’s green years. One of the Federation’s objectives, he declared in 1887, was the emancipation of the working class from the capitalist system. In this sense the refusal to support political movements was not based on an uncritical refusal to have any relationship on a political level, as was the case in the following decades, but a political critique of the individual movements, as it was in the those years against the movement and ideas of Henry George.
Gompers, however, did not disdain to maintain relations with the political representatives of the European proletariat, contacts that raised his prestige without compromising his freedom of movement at home. A prestige that would bring him to the international limelight on the occasion of the resumption of the eight-hour campaign.
The bosses’ counter-offensive following the events of May 1886 had caused a stop to the agitation for the reduction of the working day, but it certainly had not erased the dream that the goal represented in the minds of the American proletarians. In the two following years the workers had rebuilt their organizational structures and were ready to relaunch the struggle. At the A.F.L. convention of December 1888 it was decided that the organizational efforts would focus on the date of May 1, 1890, as a day of struggle for the conquest of the 8-hour working day; in the meantime, there would be preparatory mobilization days all over the country. The slogan was to be: "Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will".
The A.F.L. immediately understood that agitation would be an important springboard for the Federation. And so it was: the mobilizations of 1889 were so successful that they had repercussions across the Atlantic. On July 14, 1889, on the occasion of the centenary of the French Revolution, the representatives of European socialism met in Paris to found the II International, where, among other things, it was decided to adopt May 1, 1890 as the date for an international strike, in the wake of the successful American mobilization.
In the meantime Gompers reconsidered the tactic to be adopted; the Knights of Labor had disdainfully rejected the offer of collaboration, and the line he decided to follow was to strike only those categories whose unions were certain of success, and to follow the others in time, in the wake of the former. A tactic that was perhaps understandable, but impaired a strategically fundamental fact, that of making proletarians feel that they belonged to a class which, if united, possessed invincible strength. The choice fell on the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, who at the time were the backbone of the construction industry.
The international strike on May 1 was a success in all the industrialized countries where it was called. Engels was moved by it:
«The eternal union of the proletarians of all countries created by it [the International] is still alive and lives stronger than ever, there is no better witness than this day. Because today, as I write these lines, the European and American proletariat is reviewing its fighting forces, mobilized for the first time, mobilized as one army, under one flag, for one immediate aim: the standard eight-hour working day to be established by legal enactment, as proclaimed by the Geneva Congress of the International in 1866, and again by the Paris Workers’ Congress of 1889. And today’s spectacle will open the eyes of the capitalists and landlords of all countries to the fact that today the proletarians of all countries are united indeed. If only Marx were still by my side to see this with his own eyes!» (Preface to the 1890 German edition of the "Manifesto").
The strike in America went well beyond the most optimistic expectations: the carpenters won the 8 hours in 137 cities, and in other situations they obtained a reduction of the working day to 9 or 10 hours. But what was more important was the effect of galvanizing the class: while in 1889 union membership increased by 3000, in 1890 it increased by 22000. The success extended to other categories, which obtained the eight hours, and membership exploded in practically all the unions of the A.F.L. Another effect was the raising of the international prestige of the Federation.
The Knights of Labor on the other hand, as had been the case in 1886, after rejecting as we have seen any kind of collaboration because the proposal was according to them "extraneous to the workers and radical", had as a consequence the continuation of the loss of members and influence on the class; with anger they saw the center of gravity of the workers’ unionism moving towards the unions of the Federation, but instead of reacting by changing their attitude they continued to move away from the class with sectarian attitudes, when not openly collaborative.
In the first years of life of the A.F.L., the statements of principle, usually in person by President Gompers, were generally acceptable. Among them was the unity of interests of all workers all over the world, and therefore more so the American ones. Unfortunately, these statements did not correspond to the practice of the Federation. Of course, it was the individual unions that chose how to behave, but in the face of certain general principles, it was simply a matter of enforcing them. This was not the case. In fact, we will see how in the following years, and for most of his presidency, Gompers committed himself to fighting the most sacrosanct cornerstones of class unionism.
It is not in our habits when telling the story of the class, and generally the whole story, to referring to individual characters, large or small, in accordance with our fully Marxist revolutionary principle that individual characters do not decide, do not determine, do not create anything, but are only vectors of historical and economic needs, no matter by what words, symbols or clowning these needs are achieved. The higher on the social scale, the more illustrious they are, and the more insignificant they are on the historical level, the less they affect the true events of history, unless by event one considers making senator a horse or a mafioso, a perversion, the name of a courtesan. So we are not impressed by these "battilocchi", poor puppets with no real decision-making power, often conscious of this or, in the most pathetic cases, convinced that they are really creators of history.
In Gompers’ case it is not easy to talk about the American workers’ movement at the turn of the century without following him and his stances. As we will see Gompers personifies the corruption exercised by the ruling class over the working class, and his stances are emblematic of aristocratic syndicalism that in every important development has been the most valuable tool of social preservation, more than the militia, the army, the Pinkertons, and the judges, from then until today.
The first thing you can say about Gompers is that he has taken on all positions, but that he had not been faithful to any of them whenever it suited him. If a continuity can be recognized, it is that he has always made the most suitable choices to keep the president’s chair, which he never lost, from the foundation of the Federation in 1886 to his death in 1924, except for a short period when he was not re-elected after successfully fighting against the attempts of the socialists to influence the unions.
Another aspect of continuity in his presidency is the fact that he never bothered to stick to the constitution of the A.F.L., nor to the deliberations of the congresses, whenever it suited him, and the choices he considered the most suitable, were invariably the most conservative, nationalist and collaborative.
He was basically a bureaucrat, an opportunistic bureaucrat, who adapted his behavior to the specific situation. Thus, when he wrote to the International, he appeared to be a passionate radical, while when he spoke in front of an assembly of businessmen, he gave them the comforting feeling of being a solid conservative. In a moment of radicalization of the movement, fighting against the monopolies and the government, Gompers was able to represent their radical feelings; but when the movement was defeated, and the unions were forced to give in to the triumphant bosses, he did not hesitate to repudiate every single word spent only a short time before.
Gompers was smart enough to understand that during the early years of the A.F.L. he was dealing with workers who had lived through the hard battles of the 1880s, who were influenced by socialist propaganda and the principles of solidarity among the workers that the K.L. had actually defended. To attract these workers to the Federation it was necessary to convince them that the Federation did not reject the class struggle, nor the final goal of a new social system, and that therefore it maintained all the positive characteristics of the Order while rejecting those that were leading it to its inglorious end. Of course, all of it was expressed in a sufficiently vague and generic way, to the point of being practically incomprehensible.
Of the K.L.’s positions, one aspect that had initially been absorbed and shared by proletarians was the defense of industrial unionism, as opposed to trade unionism, generally linked to skilled workers. So in the early years Gompers became a convinced defender of the industrial union, and tried to shape the Federation in this sense.
But the individual unions, or rather their leaders, did not agree at all on this line, which was certainly progressive but which threatened the autonomy of many Unions and many positions. Gompers did not take long to understand that on that way he would have risked losing his job in a short time. He was equally fast in abandoning the project, to become a convinced supporter of the organization by trade, the Trade Unions. Not only that, in doing so, he also began to support another position, of no small importance in the strategy of class struggle: the autonomy of the trades. This ridiculed any pseudo-radical statement: in fact, any trade union could laugh at it, violating with impunity any principle that could be written or enunciated. When Gompers made his outbursts, in so far as they were generic, everyone agreed; but it had to be clear that what mattered was to defend the interests of the skilled workers, and that «the tragic mistake of K.L. should not be repeated by uniting in the same union skilled and non-skilled workers».
Therefore, from the very first steps of the American Federation of Labor there was a conflict between workers’ solidarity and the narrow-mindedness of the trades, between the principles on which it was founded, which stated that the federation pursued the organization of all workers, without distinction of ability, color, gender, religion and nationality, and the principles enunciated and practiced by the heads of trade unions, in substantial defense of the skilled workers, the vast majority of whom were white, male and born in America. A conflict that would have influenced the A.F.L.’s policy towards women, Blacks and immigrants.
In theory women had equal rights to men, but in practice it was quite different. In the first place, women’s tasks in factories were generally non-skilled, which excluded them from the majority of trade unions, which formed the nucleus of the A.F.L. Moreover, the female workforce was on average very young, and most of the girls soon married and left the factory to take care of their families; therefore, capable and experienced trade union leaders hardly emerged. On the other hand, given the times, male executives often had difficulty operating among women. It must be added the ungenerous attitude of the male workers themselves, who often did not hide the fact that it was not wrong that women earned half as much as men. In cases where women were organized, almost always in the factories there were two trade unions, one male and one female, which fought together and negotiated with the bosses, but then different wage conditions emerged, with great dissatisfaction on the part of the female workers who were invariably discriminated against.
However, there were also substantial struggles, such as that of the clothing workers in Troy, New York, in 1891, which ended with complete success. But on the whole the unions federated in the A.F.L. were reluctant to accept the resolutions adopted at the conventions, which called for the organization of female workers.
The situation did not present itself in a very different way for colored workers, even if the behavior of the A.F.L. in its first years was better in this sense.
In fact, the Federation never failed to support the need to organize Blacks as well; an appeal that was little heeded, especially in the South. The solution, considered temporary, was to organize them in separate unions, waiting for better times. In reality, as time went by, this temporary solution became the ideal one of unionizing the black labor force. On the other hand, Gompers, in defending these workers and their integration into the union, used not only the humanitarian and therefore moral argument, but also a very practical one: if black workers were left to themselves, how could white workers blame them if they were found against them in struggles, perhaps employed by the bosses as blackmail weapons or as scabs?
This attitude of the Federation led to an unprecedented success in New Orleans, in October-November 1892, when a general strike in the city was called: the membership was as many as 25,000 workers in struggle, black and white, belonging to 49 unions. The employers’ provocations, which tended to put whites against blacks, were unsuccessful, and the strikers remained firm and peaceful, sure of their numbers and the complete blockade of the city’s activities. The bosses had to capitulate, and negotiate at the same table with the black delegates.
In spite of the progressive trade union policy of its early years, the A.F.L. failed to lay the foundations for an effective integration of Blacks, and also of foreign workers who were arriving by the millions, because it could not overcome, except in isolated cases, the prejudice of possession of specialization for access to its unions; not only were Blacks not skilled, they did not even have access to specializations, and this pushed them back into the limbo of the unorganized. In the end, the Federation’s capitulation to racism was consecrated in the 1894 Convention.
Immigrant workers from Europe, although discriminated against, had better chances of social ascent because they were less recognizable. However, even the attitude towards them, initially correct, degenerated over the years; initially the Federation maintained a welcoming attitude especially for the fear that these workers would take refuge in the arms of the Knights of Labor, still very strong. But with the loss of importance of the Order there was a change of attitude, for the worse, towards the immigrants.
A separate case was the attitude towards Asian workers. As it had been for the K.L., Gompers never hid a real aversion to the Asians, mainly Chinese, who had arrived in large numbers to work on the railway lines, who worked in terrible conditions and dropped like flies. An aversion that took simply racist colors, and that not only implied the non-acceptance in the unions of these misfortuned people, but also demanded their expulsion; an attitude, however, that within many years would not have spared even the immigrants of Eastern Europe, regardless of whether or not it was officially proclaimed.
The year 1892 was the richest in bloody conflicts in the entire history of the American labor movement. In addition to New Orleans, an important but peaceful strike despite the efforts of the bosses, there was a very hard-fought switch-men strike in Buffalo, in the mining areas of Tennessee and Idaho, and in the steel mills of Homestead on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The latter was particularly bloody and had an international prominence.
Homestead’s skilled workers belonged to the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, the strongest union in the country, which had also taken a strong position in the steel mill. In 1889 Carnegie, the "Robber Baron" who owned the plant, tried to reduce the union’s strength by proposing a twenty-five percent wage reduction and individual contracts. To cope with the strike that followed, the company hired policemen and tried to bring in scabs, but the maneuver failed, and the mass picketing repelled the sheriff’s troop. The company had to sign a three-year contract, which expired in 1892.
As the deadline approached, the company again made proposals for strong wage reductions; this time, however, the proposals had a provocative purpose, the intention to provoke the clash was practically declared, and with the clash the goal was to destroy the union and its power in the factory. For this purpose the company, led by Henry Clay Frick, had carefully prepared itself: it had greatly increased production in the previous months, had built a sort of wall around the factory, had hired as many as three hundred Pinkerton mercenaries. Pinkerton, with its 2,000 agents on permanent duty and 30,000 reserves, had a force greater than that of the federal army itself in peacetime.
Frick issued an ultimatum, according to which if the union did not accept its terms by June 24, the company would deal with employees as individuals. Four days later, 800 workers were fired; on July 2, the entire workforce had been expelled: technically, it was a lockout rather than a strike. It was a clear declaration of war. The 3,800 workers voted by a large majority for an all-out strike: it should be noted that there were only 800 skilled workers, the others were unskilled and not part of the union, but they were rightly afraid that once the skilled workers and their union would be defeated, it would be their turn, as they had much narrower margins between wages and poverty.
The workers consequently prepared themselves for the war declared by the management of the steelworks: after voting for the strike they were organized into three divisions, one per 8-hour shift; the divisions were organized militarily. The important positions were therefore constantly manned. An efficient communication service kept the contacts between the departments and the organizational center. The roads leading to Homestead were blocked, while strikers ensured order (bars were closed) and the functioning of services, by issuing specific orders.
On the night of July 5, Pinkerton’s troops (who were supposed to take possession of the factory, now called "Fort Frick" by the strikers) arrived near the city of Pittsburgh, and were put on barges that were supposed to take them up the river inside the factory. The activity did not escape the union’s lookouts, who immediately telegraphed the Homestead strike committee. At 4 a.m. a siren sounded the alarm and the Pinkertons found a crowd of 10,000 people waiting for them on the banks of the river, the strikers and their families. Many of them were armed, some with rifles or pistols, others with spiked clubs, stones, sticks. The Pinkertons were all well armed with Winchester rifles. When attempting to disembark they were invited to give up, then, inevitably, the shooting was unleashed: as always in these cases everyone blamed the other side for the first shot. Surely the Pinkertons fired on the crowd on the shore, hitting many workers in the pile; then the shooting started, which lasted a day. In the end the mercenaries found themselves in an exposed position with no chance of escape. They had to surrender and go ashore between two wings of an angry crowd, there had been a very high number of wounded on both sides, as well as nine dead among the strikers and seven among the Pinkertons. The Committee had to work hard to make them pass unharmed, or almost unharmed, through the crowd; but the beatings, which seems not to have been spared, did not kill any of them.
The clash was widely reported in the press, which as usual treated the strikers as murderers and communists, but in the eyes of the other workers of the country, especially those who had some experience of hard struggles, the actions of the Pinkertons did not require much explanation, and the strikers received strong support; in addition, two other Carnegie plants struck in solidarity, even if they already had a new contract. Everyone had understood that more than wages, union freedom was at stake.
In the following days the strikers were the masters of the camp; the town was peaceful, everything was working, and the sheriff had not been able to find a foothold to request the National Guard mobilize. Nor did it seem that this was the Governor’s intention. Instead, on July 12, unexpectedly (only for those who believe in the impartiality of the institutions), the militia arrived in town, who occupied the factory and prepared to allow the influx of scabs. However, it was not easy to find them: many were not willing to do so, and were brought to the factory under false pretenses, and moreover, although laborers could be replaced, it would have been much more difficult, and it was, to replace the specialized.
The company had a well articulated plan to break the strike, of which the Pinkertons and the militia were only the first moves. The next move was the unleashing of the courts against the strikers: with the most fanciful accusations the strikers were imprisoned, and then released on bail of $10,000. When, of course, the money ran out, many of the accused, including a large part of the strike committee, either remained in jail until the trial, or absconded. Even though in the end not even one of the strikers could be convicted, this massive action led to a great weakening of the strike, which lasted 4 and a half months.
A further complication came from an attack on Frick by a young anarchist; Frick was only wounded, but this fact gave further breath to the anti-workers’ gazettes, as one can easily imagine, even though the committee distanced itself from the attack.
There is no evidence that the A.F.L. had actively participated in the struggle; relieved by the union’s renunciation to launch a boycott of Carnegie products, which would have involved the entire unionized class, the Federation decided, on November 12, to launch a "Homestead Day", for fundraising, for December 13: too little, and too late, on November 20 the strike had ended.
On the 18th the non-skilled had asked permission to return to work, which was granted by the committee; by then the situation was no longer sustainable, especially for the non- skilled. The management took some, refused others, on its own terms. After two days, even the skilled capitulated: of 800 of them, only 200 had remained to vote, many were ashamed, many had left to look for work elsewhere. But no one had broken the solidarity of the struggle, no one had shown up at the gates during the strike. Nevertheless, the majority in favor of returning to the factory was only by a few votes. The management of the steelworks gave them the same arrogant treatment, even though they were happy to take back the skilled workers they so badly needed.
The consequences were disastrous, for the workers of the steelworks, and for the whole category. The steel industry remained for decades a non-unionized sector, because naturally Carnegie, whose business became almost a monopoly, was followed by all other companies. While mining workers in 1907 received $2.36 for an eight-hour day, steel mill workers received $1.65 for a day of 10, or $1.98 for a day of 12, which remained the norm in the industry for many years. Without unions in the following decades, steel workers fell into a kind of slavery, while the Carnegie Steel Company grew at a dizzying pace, accumulating unprecedented wealth and placing itself, as a monopolist, at the heart of American capitalism.
The union, the Amalgamated, continued to exist, but was excluded from the most important steelworks, and almost completely lost its meaning and membership. It was not possible to involve the whole sector, which would have brought the bosses to their knees; it had not been replied with a preparation comparable to that organized by Frick; it hadn’t been addressed the class in an organized way if not too late, and this because it was not clear what was at stake. This was not understood by the A.F.L. either, which had its faults even if at the time it was not the Leviathan organization that it later became. The only positive side was the solidarity and tenacity of the Homestead workers, skilled and not, union members or not, Americans and immigrants: nobody betrayed their comrades by going back to work. Frick himself had to admit it in a letter to Carnegie: «The firmness with which these strikers held is surprising». A potential that Amalgamated was unable to exploit to rebuild a more militant, more open industrial union (after 1892 they continued to exclude Blacks), better equipped structurally to challenge monopolistic capital.
While the country focused on the very hard struggle in the steel industry, equally bloody battles took place in other States. Among them were those of the miners in Idaho and Tennessee.
In the mining district of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the Consolidated Miners’ Union was formed in 1890, which brought together several small miners’ unions. Its tasks were the coordination of relief activities and support for strikers, as well as the direct management of strikes. In 1891, a strike that had been very successful extended the unionization to the whole region, with the consequence that all mines paid union wages.
A fact little appreciated, as you can imagine, to the owners, who responded by forming their own association, the Mine Owners’ Association, or M.O.A. Already in January 1892, M.O.A. announced a new salary grid, which basically provided for a 25% reduction in wages. Considering it a first step in an attempt to wipe out the union, the union rejected the proposal, and M.O.A. decided to expel the union members from work, which was tantamount as a lockout. The mines remained closed for months, then gradually activity resumed partially thanks to the arrival of scabs collected among the farmers of the State by armed guards unleashed on the countryside. The strikers had managed to keep most of the scabs away from the mines thanks to the support of the population and an efficient action of peaceful persuasion on the scabs themselves, which in large numbers passed between their ranks. In July, however, the situation had not improved, when they heard of the victorious battle of the Homestead workers against the Pinkerton mercenaries. The discovery that a union secretary was in fact a Pinkerton agent infiltrated by the M.O.A. eventually contributed to the inflammation.
On July 11 it was then decided to take action, and an armed clash broke out between workers on the one hand, and deputy sheriffs, Pinkertons and scabs on the other. The clash was resolved when a cart full of explosives was thrown against the mine, causing it to collapse and forcing its defenders to surrender. The battle continued for a few more days, resulting in the departure of the scabs.
Naturally the bosses reacted in the usual way, appealing to the authority, the governor, who responded promptly declaring the existence of an insurrection, and sending 1500 soldiers, partly National Guard and partly Federal Army. As many as 600 strikers were arrested and thrown into prison on punitive conditions. The scabs returned and the mines reopened. But the trials that were held in August, also thanks to adequate support from the A.F.L., led to the release of almost all those arrested. When they got out of jail, they discovered that the strike had actually been won, because in spite of everything the owners could not make the mines work, and they decided to capitulate.
This resounding victory had as a predictable consequence the foundation, in May 1893, of a federation of miners’ unions of the West, the Western Federation of Miners.
The other great miners’ struggle took place at the opposite end of the continent, in the northeast of Tennessee. The motive was different, and concerned the use of convicts’ labor.
It had become common practice for the State to rent prisoners to private businessmen who managed them and made them work according to the criteria they arbitrarily decided, without any control by authorities. The use of prisoners on plantations, in buildings, in mines, was such a lucrative activity that many innocent people, especially Blacks, were imprisoned to provide hands for businessmen. In the years until 1891, public opinion, led by trade unions, had managed to force many States to abolish the forced labor of convicts for private individuals. But in a fair number of southern States, including Tennessee, the system continued to flourish.
In April 1891 the miners of Briceville, in Anderson County, refused a contract that prohibited strikes for labor complaints, granted authority to the coal weight controller appointed by the company in place of the existing one, appointed by the miners as a result of specific struggles, and provided that the pay was attributed through "vouchers" valid only for purchases in the company’s store: the last two points among other things were contrary to State law. On July 5, the executives brought in a shipment of forty convicts, who dismantled the miners’ homes to erect a fence.
Ten days later in a mass gathering the miners decided to act before the arrival of the bulk of the convicts. Three hundred armed miners advanced towards the fence, demanding the release of the convicts. Officers and guards had to surrender, and the miners escorted prisoners and jailers to the train station, where they sent them back to their home town, Knoxville.
Then the miners wrote to the governor explaining the reasons for their action, aimed at protecting their families from hunger and misery. The governor responded by sending three militia companies and other convicts to Anderson County. This time as many as two thousand miners were concentrated in a small army that surrounded the mine where the convicts were, and for the second time they and their guards, without injury, were accompanied to the station.
Irreducible, the governor commanded for a third identical mission as many as 14 militia companies (600 men). The miners were offered a truce, with the prospect of a repeal of the forced labor law; but the power of the companies obtained that the result was the opposite, with more repressive powers to the governor. The miners decided to resort to mobilization again, and with night actions, their faces covered with handkerchiefs, they freed many convicts, then set fire to the installations they had built. Most of the mines decided to give in, the miners were rehired, they had the controller of the weights of their choice, and better rules in the contracts. It seemed as if everything was going well, but the owners were not willing to give in, and the scene of the little army armed to the teeth was repeated in the summer of 1892; but also the guerrilla action of the miners was repeated. Until in a mine the guards refused to surrender and shot at the miners, wounding several of them. This triggered the reaction of the miners, who once again organized a force that besieged the mine and started a real battle; a battle that was ended by another small army sent by the governor. Even if in the end, thanks to numerous arrests (a real manhunt that also resulted in workers killed by the governor’s thugs), the militia managed to tame the revolt (which, however, had a revival in 1893), the system of renting prisoners ended up in disrepute even before public opinion, and shortly after was abolished in Tennessee.
(back to table of contents)
"Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi",
in Il Programma Comunista, no. 10, 1955 to no. 4, 1956
Part One (continues from issue 48)
Struggle for Power in the Two Revolutions
23 – Back to 1914
We repeat that it was not a digression, but an introduction to our main theme, when [between chapters 4 to 22 in this Part One] we examined the central falsification of that History of the Bolshevik Party which, as Trotsky recalls, appeared first anonymously, then as the work of a group of authors, and then finally in Joseph Stalin’s Collected Works.
In order to demonstrate, as we propose to do, that the only framework that exists in Russia is capitalist, not socialist, it was important to show from when it was the attempt was made to switch the thesis (certainly not new theory) of Lenin on the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, for the false one, for which Stalin alone was responsible, of building of socialism only in Russia.
In that exposition we recalled that Lenin had heard that the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and even the socialist revolutionaries, had protested in the Russian Duma against the war and voted against credits. Lenin believed this is in September, and maybe even in August when he wrote the Seven Theses; but it was not so.
The Mensheviks, including Chkheidze and former maestro of the Bolsheviks, Plekhanov, are the leaders, in the Duma and in the emigration, of the “defensists”, whose ranks however also include some non “liquidators”. The Bolshevik workers’ deputies’ group is opposed to the war, and soon its adherents are arrested and deported; but various Mensheviks, including Martov, are also against the war. In the Bolshevik’s own organizations and in the groups abroad there were serious oscillations, and consequently among the deportees in Siberia: Stalin’s stance is much discussed, let’s say it was quite demure, until news reached them much later of Lenin’s stance. Spandarian was the energetic head of the defeatists, before any links were established abroad.
The social revolutionaries split in their turn: against the war, Chernov at the head of a small group, in favour of it, Avksentyev, Bunakov and many others who formed a group “Beyond the border”. All of the latter, namely Plekhanov, Peter Kropotkin, Chkheidze and so on, declared that the war on the Germans was just, defensive and holy, and they called for all actions against the government and the Tsarist dynasty to be suspended. Not even Chkheidze and Kerensky had the effrontery to vote in favour of war credits, however.
Even the objective Wolfe, not that orthodox as far as his theoretical line goes, is pleased to insist on the fact – for us not that significant – that the division between defeatists and defensists in 1914 did not coincide with that between revisionist-reformists and radical orthodox Marxists. To the famous example of Kautsky he counters Karl Liebknecht, who was a “left Bernsteinian”, while later Bernstein himself was among the first to deplore the abandonment of the “old Marxist tactic” (here well said) of the vote against war credits. But a series of other well-known orthodox Germans were chauvinist: Parvus, Lensch, Cunow, Haenisch. In England the extremely right-wing labourites Snowden and MacDonald voted against credits; in favour was Hyndman, leader (according to Wolfe) of the orthodox Social Democratic Federation. The British Socialist Party, which had none of its members in parliament, was decidedly against the imperialist war.
We will close the inexhaustible subject of the pre-war socialists with Wolfe’s cutting remark: “the soft-minded humanitarians inclined to pacifism while many a tough-minded ‘historical materialist’ [the quotes are Wolfe’s, a clearly idealist historian] flung himself heart and soul into the war” (B. Wolfe, op cit., p.698, Three Men who Made a Revolution, 1966).
Quite right! Wolfe didn’t put Mussolini on the list. We could have told him that Mussolini was an idealist who was conned, or who conned himself, into following revolutionary materialism. An idealist is neither a radical Marxist nor a reformist Marxist. He is just somebody not following the same path as us. Historically Gramsci helped us by providing a thousand good reasons to expel Turati. Theoretically however, and it is always a bad thing to keep quiet about this, Gramsci was less orthodox than Turati.
It is the general tendencies that interest us: persons and names are only helpful as a didactic mnemonic; maybe we’ll be partly to blame if it all becomes a bit indigestible. We have wanted to give an account of the struggle between defensism and defeatism. That was indispensible before we could pass on to the other antithesis between “uni-constructionism” and… communism. Social chauvinism and cominformism are not interpretations of communist theory; they are just some of the many ways of abandoning it. A very bad journey, gentlemen!
Anyway, what is neither right nor left is the Kremlin’s historical method: self-promoting historicism. The whole of the Bolshevik Party was solidly against the war. Whereas in fact the trial of the Duma deputies, arrested with Kamenev went badly, and equivocal statements were made, arousing the ire of valiant comrades Spandarian and Sverdlov (dead both of them without a stain on their names) the History brands Kamenev alone. Kamenev did indeed lead the Duma group, and didn’t prevent it on 25 July from issuing a very equivocal joint declaration with the Mensheviks, which talked of defending the people against every oppression, whether domestic or foreign. Lenin didn’t know about it: but what was clear was the gravity, immensely greater, of any act of solidarity, however vague, with the defensive war in autocratic Russia with respect to the western countries.
The historic fact, nevertheless, that all of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties gave respite to the Tsar as soon as he set off to war is just one more proof of Lenin’s historic construction: it is only the proletariat that can overthrow tsarism and feudalism, to make that revolution that is not its own. In February 1915 the Duma greeted the ukase [decree] of its long-term dissolution with a loud cheer for the victory of the imperial armies!
The capitalist leaders of the democratic nations were certain that the Muscovite steamroller, so often drawn up under the walls of the western cities to crush revolutions, would be set inexorably in motion to loosen the grip of the German armies descending on Paris. But the last time the Russian military machine had been tested on western battlefields was many decades before. Since then war, and the means to fight them, had been transformed by modern technology; their huge reserves of manpower, their mass of mounted soldiers no longer counted for much, and the loans from the French bankers and of other nations were happily gobbled up without much to show for them in terms of modern armaments.
The Germans detached a few corps from the western front, taking advantage as usual of their internal lines, and pulled them back to eastern Prussia, but before they reached the Russian front Samsonov’s army had already been crushed with colossal losses by Hindenburg’s brilliant manoeuvre at the Masurian Lakes, and by the superior martial organization of the Germans. The Bourgeois in France and Russia nevertheless exchanged compliments for this lightening of the pressure on Paris, analogous incidentally to that obtained by the Russians in Stalingrad after the huge massacres in the Second World War.
Old comrades may recall a cartoon by Scalarini in Avanti!: Nicholas’s claws tighten around Berlin, Wilhelm’s around Paris. The Masurian lakes and the Marne transformed everything.
Meanwhile in the Russian cities there was a waning of that wave of enthusiasm which had seen students, and some plebeian elements from the revolutionary strata of 1905, singing the war’s praises and kneeling to sing tsarist hymns. The generals attempted to redeem themselves in the Caucasus, by driving back the Turks, and in Galicia by smashing through the Austro-Hungarian front in August as far as Leopolis [Lviv], and in Spring they arrived at the fortress of Przemysl, the key to the Carpathians. But in the Summer of 1915, an overwhelming counteroffensive along the whole of the Austro-German front reached as far as Riga and Warsaw.
The military, civil, administrative and economic disorganization that spread throughout Russia was frightening: highly priced provisions in the countryside, an industrial crisis, a transport system threatening to seize up, and extreme dislocation of the state’s finances. Soon their western allies began to get worried about it as well.
Over the course of 1916 what remains of Russia’s potential is, at the request of the allies who assist with money and supplies, employed in a series of offensives which are either useless or of short duration, and whose aim is to reduce the pressure being exerted by the Austro-Germans on the Western Front. Moscow no longer dictates its will by throwing its massive military might into the balance but serves as a buffer whenever it pleases the modern despotism of big capital.
The lessons of the first great universal war start to make an impact, and yet an entire cycle will go by and another great war will arrive and overwhelm the continents, without the swindles engendered by opportunist superstitions being avoided. The binomial so dear to bourgeois rhetoric, which associates despotism with military strength, autocracy with invincibility, and which portrays capitalism’s modern liberal states as pacific and defenceless and ill-adapted to all-out war, is resoundingly refuted as the first global conflict unfolds. France, England, Italy itself, and then America involved, countries all laying a claim to freedom and parliamentary government, emerge from the war virtually intact, and with advantages and conquests to boot. First to surrender is Russia, followed by “feudal” Germany, Austria, and Turkey, even though they had adopted modern industrial technology for military purposes to a far greater extent than Russia. Napoleon was invincible not because he was a despot, but because he acted under the impetus of the democratic revolution which first created the citizen soldier; because he was in control of the army of the Convention of 1793, which first instituted military conscription, fully relevant at the time, to defend the revolution and the country.
A lie was therefore crushed, which unfortunately later regained an immense amount of lost ground later on, namely that in order to put a stop to militarism you have to worship democracy. The two things actually go hand in hand as Athens and Rome had already shown (they were slave societies, but the slave was forbidden to bear arms).
Even if drawn from a propaganda publication, it is interesting to see how the effects of the 1914-18 war were mirrored in the “national wealth” of the countries involved. Russia down to 40% compared to the 1913 figure, Austria down to 55%, Germany 67%, France 69%, England 85%: the national wealth of Japan and America increased! Exchange rates against the dollar in 1918 were: Japan up 1%, England down 2%, France down 12%, Italy down 20%, Germany down 23%, Austria down 33%, Russia down 40%!
We shouldn’t therefore be saying that democracy is not militarist, but rather the opposite: the more democracy there is, the more militarism there is and the greater the potential for war.
So the inevitable conclusion presented itself of its own accord: Russia is no longer the decisive military factor in Europe. What is to be done to make it more effective in war? Democratise it!
Did we maybe diminish Lenin when we commented that he worked for an entire historical period to plant “democracy” in Russia? Those quick to condemn him pose this dilemma: if the capitalists in the West and in Russia are fighting for democracy in order to strengthen Russia’s military capacity in the war, and to win it – and Lenin and the communists are fighting for this historical transition [to democracy] to be completed, but their goal is defeat. Which side did history prove to be correct?
Following the series of setbacks suffered by the Russian army there arose an entire movement dedicated to plotting within the ruling spheres on the domestic front and within the diplomatic corps: discontent about the serious errors and general administrative chaos won over ever new strata; these circles predict above all that the extreme corruption of the tsarist regime and the deep economic depression will inevitably arouse the masses who had started to manifest their intolerance, not only about the way the war was being conducted, but against the war itself, and for it to end.
The industrial bourgeoisie, who had become more important because of the war, called for a new government which wasn’t dominated by the court cliques and landed nobility. The liberal parliamentary parties and the Kadets [popular name for the Constitutional Democrats, or K.Ds] who had flaunted their solidarity with the government begin to get restless. Their leader Miliukov delivers a pompous address on the subject: stupidity or betrayal?
Whereas corruption in the imperial court was demonstrated by the famous episodes of fanatical enthusiasm for the monk Rasputin and the well-known influence of the Tsarina over the faint-hearted Tsar, Russian capitalists and foreign diplomats had caught wind of a tendency among the reactionary forces which wished to make a separate peace with the Germans. On each side it was decided to act without delay, while for their part the masses and even the soldiers at the front were rebelling ever more frequently.
Even those opposed on most matters now agreed that previous initiatives and international meetings had proved ineffective, and that the ambassadors of France and England were secretly pulling strings to bring about a bourgeois democratic government and the deposition, if not of the dynasty, of Tsar Nicholas.
The replacement of Sazonov, minister of foreign affairs with strong connections to the west, with extreme right-wing elements would ratchet up the tension even further.
On 15 December 1916 Rasputin is assassinated by aristocrats in a palace plot which aims to ward off the regime’s collapse.
At the beginning of 1917 there increasingly take shape preparations for a coup d’etat by the nobility and big bourgeoisie, the aim being to depose Nicholas and to nominate his ailing son Alexis as Tsar; and as concerns power they consider appointing prince Lvov. It seems the English ambassador Buchanan was behind these moves. But popular action took the plunge and the various parties of the parliamentary left were forced to speed things up; which they did, in truth, with complete success, constituting a power entirely controlled by the bourgeoisie, while the petty-bourgeois parties and social-defensists did a magnificent job of keeping the proletarian forces at bay.
If it is true that the Bolsheviks were the only ones to engage in intense work among the masses to bring down the government, by stirring up workers, soldiers, sailors and even the women in the food queues, by leading the general strikes and by placing themselves at the front of the crowd in several bloody clashes with the police, just as true, as regards Lenin’s revolutionary ‘scheme’, is that they were tricked and didn’t know how to apply it consistently.
The instructions were supposed to be, as we recall from the lengthy analysis of Lenin’s writings in 1905 (at our Bologna meeting): mass action on the streets, not agreements between parliamentary parties – overthrow of the dynasty, not constitutional government; republic – democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants, i.e., not agreements with parties on the left which would also make agreements with the bourgeoisie.
In Lenin’s view this historical phase was still a bourgeois revolution in the hands of the proletariat and the peasants.
February 1917 was not that; it was instead an earlier, extremely volatile phase, rendered possible only by the war and the foreign powers. Suffice to recall that the proletarians (Bolsheviks) and the poor peasants (Left S.R.s) remained in opposition, and at a certain point were outlawed.
October 1917, which we will examine later, was, in an immediate sense (and more than that as well as we will see) the Leninite phase, that is, the democratic revolution in the hands of the proletariat.
February can be defined straightaway: democratic and bourgeois revolution in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
The dateline of events is well known (with dates given in the calendar we use which is 13 days ahead, so not in February).
Mensheviks and social revolutionaries would subsequently enter the government: the Bolsheviks took an unclear position, and Pravda published articles by Kamenev that would later arouse Lenin’s indignation: in essence they not only failed to define the Lvov government as counter-revolutionary but offered it support, albeit conditional.
The bourgeoisie, having got the proletariat to overthrow the tsarist forces, were now one hundred per cent successful in clinching the contest for power.
This was due solely to the action and the historical role of the opportunist and petty-bourgeois parties, as “Lenin’s plan”, sketched out over a long period, had perfectly summed up.
It was very clear that the whole of the right wing or, more precisely, almost the whole of the provisional government, was composed of supporters of the war and friends of the western allies. They had been persuaded to overthrow the tsar’s government, to which in 1914 they had offered full national solidarity, for the sole reason it was suspected of pro-German defeatism which would sabotage the country’s full potential, and now it was logical for them to direct every effort towards the resumption of hostilities at the front.
No less logical was it that that part of the proletarian parties, who in 1915 had proved to be shamelessly “defensist”, should support the same policy and approve of the war, which by now had acquired a democratic virginity.
The members of those parties which, even when not defeatist, had at least opposed the war, but who now embraced the policy of the continuation of the war and defence of liberated Russia, showed that they had nothing in common with the condemnation of the imperialist war “on all sides”, and that it was bourgeois reasons, not Marxist ones, which had kept them from marching off to war, for as long as the tsar was directing it.
But was perhaps the position the Bolsheviks took as regards this historical alternative perfectly clear? What had changed? Should defeatism continue, or should they move to another phase because one had a “democratic fatherland” now? Unfortunately they were far from making a sound choice.
And yet even before the war question arose, the period of euphoria, in which for example there the veterans of the Siberian deportation, such as the taciturn Stalin, and the highly eloquent Sverdlov and many others met up, and there was rhetorical fraternisation between populists, trudoviks, social revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, shows that the theoretical evolution of the movement fell far short of the powerful roadmaps which were sketched out in Lenin’s work and in the battles fought at the congresses.
At the time of the “Two Tactics”, and of many other sharp polemics, Lenin had rightly branded not only every type of populist, but also the Mensheviks, with the inevitability of their counter-revolutionary fate.
The Mensheviks had posed as intransigents, maintaining that the proletariat couldn’t insist on taking power in Russia as it was the bourgeoisie who must do that; we will not govern, at most we can ‘monitor’ (a word which infuriated Lenin) the democratic power.
They made out that Lenin was an opportunist for bluntly stating: it is we who must take power as a provisional government in the democratic bourgeois revolution on condition we concede not an iota of power to the bourgeois parties. And what is more, let there be no more talk of monarchy.
The dispute, despite the lies spread via Stalinist channels, was never about us taking power in order to build a socialist Russia. Heavy hitting adversaries like Plekhanov would of course immediately responded: but if we are talking about that historical objective, then we are for taking power as well.
Lenin – and it is as well to constantly emphasise this – said that it was necessary to take power because history offered no other way of avoiding a counter-revolutionary victory. Evidently in a potential sense taking power derives from the necessity to advance historically towards socialism, towards the Russian and the world revolution, but it is always suggested in a potential sense and not as the immediate and present content of the historical struggle.
At this point even Trotsky had not yet found his bearings. When Lenin pointed out the rightism of the Mensheviks, he agreed. However, when the Mensheviks, with staggering hypocrisy, attacked a Lenin who was making the proletariat fight for too little, Trotsky, who as an ardent militant dreamed only of struggle, was perplexed; although later on he would understand the powerful dialectics of Lenin’s construction, and understand it in earnest. In any case we will use him as an impeccable witness to the fact that what Lenin wanted was this: the bourgeois democratic revolution, as long as it was not an abortion and parody of a bourgeois democratic revolution. As a steely determinist, the accusation of having wished for too little made him laugh. In reality he had given a terrible example, as the anglo-saxons would put it, of how to write the history that is yet to come.
So, the minute the Mensheviks reveal their true colours, and though declaring that they were only negotiating about liberty, democracy, and democratic war, never about immediate socialism, ENTER the bourgeois government, every red-blooded Bolshevik should have grabbed them by the throat and declared war without quarter on them. But neither Kamenev, Sverdlov, Stalin or anyone else did so. Apart from the war question – which they knew had been resolved by Lenin and by uncorrupted Marxism over two years earlier – they also failed in their duty towards a party that had taken such trouble to define what its tasks should be during those hours which had struck so gloriously on the clockface of history.
This group, despite the great merit they had accrued in the insurrectional struggles, fell short as regards the problem of the relations between the social classes and the political parties in Russia. That the party which had explained the historical doctrine so brilliantly should fall down when it came to action was indeed a serious matter.
This was also due to the war situation. Indisputably so. But to the error regarding Russia’s internal dynamics there corresponded a similar error regarding the dynamics of the international forces, of the global imperialist conflict.
For the late-lamented Karl Marx, if he follows things from the next world (for us materialists, he surely is following them, but from the place-time when he was alive, and there is Vladimir – oh go ahead, laugh – to shout what he would have shouted) the most horrible moments must surely be, having explained so often that dialectics is the key to history, when he sees “Marxists” who are apparently totally oblivious of it, and their adversaries seemingly knowing it inside out.
The group of bourgeois parties in the pre-war period (whose movements were closely tracked by Lenin) were very definite that they would never launch an attack on the feudal government and that they would avoid the awkward stage of the “illegal” transitional government, and they only set aside this judicious assessment because losing the war would have spelled ruin for powerful Russian and international capitalistic interests, and would certainly have provoked violent movements at the expense of the propertied classes, resulting in an intense civil war. They therefore followed the road that could avoid complications of this kind, the road to German defeat in the world war.
Apart from everything else, this was consistent with the purely bourgeois requirement of exalting national values at home, as in all the other bourgeois revolutions in the nineteenth century. If, therefore, they followed the path of Germandefeat, that is, of the victory of western imperialists bound together by important business interests, it is clear that from the anti-tsarist revolution was bound to emerge not an end to the war, but its revival in an extra-virulent form fuelled by “national enthusiasm”, and a surmounting of the defeatism being plotted by hysterical Tsarinas and dishevelled Rasputins.
The provisional government didn’t hesitate to take this road. Who could have stopped them? The Soviet, with its dualist power. But what dualism of powers! Power is not to be shared, just as the bourgeoisies in the west hadn’t shared it with the deputies from the workers’ parties who voted for war credits or who joined the ministries: to these reprobates was given status and honours, but no more than that. And so it was with the Cheidzes and Tseretellis, the Martovs and the Chernovs.
To get back on the right road was reading Lenin’s text really too much to ask, or to hear echoing in one’s head the tough, unvarnished speeches he made over the course of ten congresses and conferences; or even without reading the theses, to have read the articles and the pamphlets dictated after the 2nd International’s shameful 1914?
And if the Belgian and French socialists had been pilloried, what doubt was there that by the same token the Russians who had given national solidarity to a post-tsarist republic should be as well?
To hesitate on this meant to be subject to purely bourgeois and nationalist ideology, to draw a parallel between the defence of the country by the Convention and the epic of France’s Thermopylae, to not have understood a damn thing about anything Marx wrote, or Lenin’s Imperialism, or about the Marxist-Leninist distinction between wars of revolutionary defence and the contemporary, abhorrent and shameful war of the imperialist powers, that certainly stunk no less after the Romanovs had gone, nor by acquiring the cachectic face of Woodrow Wilson.
These in fact are precisely the arguments which the Italian reformists wanted to utilise after the collapse at Caporetto to give their support to the war effort; and often we have recalled the blood, sweat and tears involved in holding on to them.
Were these then rock-hard Bolsheviks, firmly loyal to the party, with bloody red revolution running through their veins? Not a bit of it!
Need we recount again the story of Lenin’s journey from Switzerland to Russia and his triumphant arrival? Perhaps not, and yet we will, because the events are very instructive, and so great is the danger that easy sentimentalism, or its condescending ally, a sly and despicable scepticism, will conclude: there is nothing to be said; it all depends on one man, on one man’s brain, and History’s great movements only break out when the dice have been thrown, and from the many idiots discharged from the uteruses of the world, one guy is selected “who is always right”.
The news Lenin has received when he sets out is only partial, but during the journey, and especially after crossing the border, or rather the front, he gets to know more. In his hands are copies of Pravda edited by Stalin and Kamenev, which he angrily shows to his travel companions, perhaps terrified he’d tear them up.
Trotsky recounts that Kamenev, one of Lenin’s most devoted disciples, to the point he even mimicked his gestures and handwriting – not a man to mimic for sure – went to meet him, and felt he was badly treated. Raskolnikov, another sound head, recounts that Lenin came in and sat down on the couch: “What have you people been writing in Pravda? [he must surely have used the term equivalent to “what the f…?”]. We are very angry with you!” From then on whoever came into range got a similar greeting, up to the famous speech to the crowd, from the armoured car.
We will emphasize the gulf that had opened up between the mentality of the comrades who had remained in Russia and Lenin’s interpretation of things. In the first place, in order to dismantle one aspect of the theory of his Hypnotization of the masses, we will point out what a great advantage it is to be able to look at these important matters from a distance (both spatially and timewise). Lenin gets off the train in Petrograd. He doesn’t even look round, no-one is stupid enough or has the nerve to say: get yourself settled in first. The representatives of the government, false and obsequious, come to greet him in the great station’s imperial lounge. He can’t stand Cheidze, who delivers a welcoming address, offering him unity with the Mensheviks in the “revolutionary democracy”. In the party meeting, a few days before, Stalin had showed that he was prepared – as we will see – to welcome a similar initiative from Tseretelli.
Lenin didn’t even respond with a no, but resolutely turned his back on the official delegation (merely shrugging his shoulders would have been too respectful), walked to the station entrance, entered the square to much applause, and hoisted himself up onto an armoured car. Maybe no text of the speech exists. Everyone refers to excerpts from it: … I greet you as the advance guard of the proletarian army… this war of imperialist plunder is the start of the civil war throughout Europe… The world socialist revolution has already dawned… any day, maybe tomorrow, capitalist imperialism may collapse once and for all… The revolution achieved by you was a start, it opened a new epoch: Long Live the Worldwide Socialist Revolution!
That speech, and Lenin’s later appearances at the party headquarters and at the conference of the following day, as amply documented in the April Theses, not only left the so-called “leaders of the revolution” lost for words, but, if all the testimonies are correct, “turned the heads” of the best workers and leading Bolshevik intellectuals. Following his overwhelming critique, nothing was left of the tactics followed up until that point. The new proposals descended like a crash of lightning on his astounded and disorientated audience. Those who heard Lenin speak, without oratorical emphasis, and many of those who didn’t hesitate to contradict him, can say how whatever he said appeared obvious and relevant to everyone, including those who had never heard him before. Those who were least skilled in Marxist dialectics were always the most astonished of all. What he says is impossible! But it is so clear and evident that not a syllable can be refuted…
The newspaper reports of the speech on the 3rd April were greeted with general astonishment; not only by his opponents, but by the cadres of the Bolshevik party; and this continued during the meeting on the following day when Lenin gave a more in-depth presentation, showing no interest in the topics and resolutions on the agenda, but dashing off there and then the famous theses, on which Stalinism would try to base his gigantic falsification, and which Trotskyists would misunderstand, claiming that Lenin had revolutionized the “old” Bolshevik tactic of 1905. But in fact, what Lenin brings to Moscow is the underlying argument of the Two Tactics without changing a thing, and it’s just that Trotsky only finally grasps its revolutionary significance (having arrived on the scene a little later). The falsification is this, that it is not at all to do with passing from the bourgeois revolution to the “socialist transformation” but rather more exactly of passing from the “Menshevik tactic of the democratic revolution” to the communist and “revolutionary tactic” during the democratic revolution.
This is demonstrated in crystal clear fashion in the text of the Theses of April Fourth and by Lenin’s reports to the conference on the 24th and over the following days, during which Lenin constantly repeats: “it isn’t yet about installing socialism”, but rather of not acting like opportunists in the bourgeois revolution.
For now, however, we will linger over the testimonies to this general astonishment, which, if there had been a real Marxist party functioning as it should, would have been replaced by the simple statement: he is saying what he has been saying for twenty years, and we were idiots to have taken a different path, on the ground of the usual prejudice that new and unexpected situations required it.
Their opponents can hardly have been surprised: their statements merely expressed fierce disappointment that their clever snare, laid at the heart of the soviets to entrap the Bolshevik fraction, had been severed with one blow.
Plekhanov, who as a theoretician must have recognized the Lenin as he was when he himself was with him, makes out, good renegade that he was, that he heard those things first time round. He is like the Italian supporters of Togliatti who to some indignant old comrade reply: can you still be coming out with that old stuff from 1921! His expressions are very similar: This speech is a farcical dream, it is the ravings of a madman. The Mensheviks, having made the sign of the cross, discover that Lenin “is inciting a civil war”! Cheidze is a more formidable opponent: Lenin will stay out of the revolution, while we will follow in its path. Great prophets! Tseretelli states that if they had taken power they would have ruined everything and destroyed – wait for it – the proletarian International!
These people had already drooled over the way out provided by the Germans, before dashing off to see if Lenin, after so many years, would offer them his hand on which to throw themselves weeping with emotion; spurned, they came back spitting venom. All this is classic, we well know, and there is no need to go into it further. But what is important is the disorientation of even the comrades in the front line, totally ignored in the official History, which as usual only slings mud at Kamenev, Rykov, Bukharin and others from the gallows platform of twenty years later. Let us listen to the testimonies gathered by Trotsky. “There was no discussion – he said – All were too stunned for that. No one wanted to expose himself to the blows of this desperate leader” (here he veers on the side of fiction a bit: a leader not desperate, but angry, to not use a slightly stronger term, and yet on a resolute doctrinal march from the past to a clear-cut future, at that particularly fecund turning point; one of the very few in which the catalysing action of that mere corpuscle that is the leader acts on an entire collectivity). Trotsky continues: “they whispered among themselves that Ilyich had been too long abroad, that he had lost touch with Russia, that he did not understand the situation, and worse than that, that he had gone over to the position of ‘Trotskyism’”. Here the great Leon is guilty not of vanity, which one wouldn’t expect from him, but of bounteous naivety: it was Trotsky who finally discovered Lenin, not the other way round. Trotsky with his eagle eyes did not witness that scene, but he knew that the blue, ultra-penetrating, eyes of Lenin, at that moment, blazing, seemed to be quietly saying: not only is it such and such, but you should recognize that every faithful sucker knows it already. Nobody’s head is set spinning just by being told things they didn’t know before, but only when they have the sensation of ‘how come this wasn’t said right at the start: how could we ever have thought otherwise? We used to know this off by heart!’
There are other references to this sensational brain-washing operation; an operation entrusted not to ruthless cops or Freudian sorcerers, but to material forces during certain historical crises as they come to a head, which myth, the maker neither of dreams nor farces, but laborious interpreter of palpable facts, used to express with the sacred words: He is the Word: he has spoken, and the light has entered into us! (oh, materialist Plekhanov, how deep have you fallen!). And the references are as follows.
When Lenin said: I propose to change the name of the party to the Communist Party, not even Zinoviev, who had just arrived with him, supported the proposal! The Bolshevik Angarsky wrote: ‘It must be openly acknowledged that a great many of the Old Bolsheviks maintained the Old Bolshevik opinions on the question of the character of the revolution of 1917 and that the repudiation of these views was not easily accomplished’. And Trotsky writes: ‘As a matter of fact it was not a question of ‘a great many of the Old Bolsheviks’ but of all of them without exception’. Well, no Angarsky, no, Trotsky. Maybe it was all of them (but despite a lack of alternative sources from which to make a reconstruction, it is difficult to believe that Krupskaya, let’s say, and who knows who else, did not accept it without flinching) but actually it was the matter of laying claim to the “old theses of 1905” as they stood, point by point. It is these coincidences, not the power of one human brain, however much light emanates from it, which when linked to the forces of the historical subsoil have the power to shake an entire epoch.
But it was Markov, a worker from the Urals, “whom the revolution had found at his lathe”, who spontaneously gave the assessment that was theoretically correct: “our leaders were groping until the arrival of Vladimir Ilyich. Our party’s position began to clarify with the appearance of his famous Theses”.
Bukharin, too prone to flaring up, recalled after Lenin’s death that a part of the party considered the theses as a betrayal of Marxist ideology! Ludmilla Stahl wrote: ‘Our comrades were content with mere preparations for the Constituent Assembly using parliamentary methods and did not even consider the possibility of going further. By accepting Lenin’s word we shall be doing that which life itself is urging us to do’. Very well. But we will show that that word, which condemned the universal suffrage Constituent Assembly in the bourgeois Russian revolution, was printed back in 1905
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On May 28, 29 and 30, a representative of our sections in Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain, South America, the United States and individual comrades from other countries met in the general meeting of the party, as convened and set up well in advance.
This meeting was also held by video-conference, both because of the difficulty in traveling due to the pandemic and in order to reach the more distant comrades. By carefully scheduling the time of the sessions we were able to allow everyone to listen at the same time.
The general layout was different from previous ones. Instead of having separate rooms – for Italian, English and Spanish – and with simultaneous translations of the reports, we were all in the same connection. The speakers spoke in their own language, or the one they considered the most effective, while the listeners were given the translated texts of the reports: those who did not understand the language could help themselves by writing. The experiment proved to work well.
Obviously, this required a considerable workload to prepare and distribute in advance, and often at the last minute, the translations of all the reports.
As usual, we devoted the Friday session to the working groups – of study, of intervention in workers’ struggles, of propaganda, of editorial activity, and of local presence – so that they could report to the Party on their progress, results and any difficulties that may have arisen.
On Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th we listened to the well-articulated set of numerous reports, on topics of communist doctrine and history, all of the utmost importance for the solidity and practical life of the Party, its true backbone. To the speakers, whose work we know is difficult in these adverse times, goes the well-deserved gratitude of all comrades.
This is the order of reports:
Friday, the 28th
Saturday, the 29th
Sunday, the 30th
* * *
Summaries of the reports:
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a. The question of relations with the Koumintang
At the Congress of Communists and Revolutionary Organizations of the Far East, the International had clearly defined the relations between the national-revolutionary movement and the proletarian movement in the countries of the East Asia. In a country like China, where a double revolution was needed, it was necessary to work with the Kuomintang, but without concealing or abandoning the prospect of communism, and, furthermore, without succumbing to the revisionism of the theoretical, organizational and tactical framework.
Shortly thereafter, however, agreements were reached with the Kuomintang, until the open betrayal under the Stalinist leadership.
To the Kuomintang delegates the International answered that it was not as naive as to imagine that this party was communist and revolutionary. The Kuomintang was a democratic-revolutionary party with which a collaboration could be established to pursue the goals of the national revolution, but under precise conditions, well defined by the leaders of world communism. The representative of the International said:
«We give our support to this movement, if it is directed against imperialism. But we cannot recognize this struggle as our struggle, as the struggle for the proletarian revolution. We communists of China or Korea raise the watchword of a democratic government, a unitary income tax, nationalization of land, watchwords of the democratic revolution. But the proletariat and elements of the semi-proletariat must organize independently in their own class unions. We shall continue to carry on independently our communist work of organizing the proletariat and the semi-proletarian masses in China. This is the cause of the proletarian masses themselves. The Chinese workers’ movement must develop completely independently of the radical bourgeois mentality and the democratic organizations and parties».
The proletarian masses of China should not give up their own vision and task of organizing their own class party. This question was fundamental because it was addressed to a young communist party which, as we have seen in the case of the origin of the CCP, lacked a cohesive Marxist and revolutionary tradition. Furthermore, the movement was situated in the context of a backward capitalist development which produced only a small working class, yet carried on its shoulders the enormous task of a double revolution that could only be achieved in unity with China’s exploited masses, consisting mainly of hundreds of millions of peasants.
Another very important point discussed was the question of nationalization of land. The representative of the Kuomintang had stated that it was necessary first to free China from imperialism and establish democracy in the country. He was answered thus:
«For the Chinese peasants the question of nationalization of land is not something to be regulated from above with administrative reforms, for them it is a vital necessity. We must advance this revolutionary measure to show the Chinese peasants that where a democratic regime is established the peasants live a thousand times better and that their interests are a thousand times more secure. Without a correct attitude on the land question the great masses cannot be drawn into the struggle on our side».
The Stalinist counter-revolution imposed on China the Menshevik tactic of the so-called revolution by stages, which involved completing the bourgeois stage first, and then moving on to the socialist stage. This tactic was expressed by Sun Yat-sen’s doctrine of the "three principles of the people", nationalism, democracy and welfare of the people: the military stage, for the unification of China; the political democracy stage; and the “welfare of the people” stage. Stalin attributed to them the meaning: anti-imperialist, agrarian, Soviet. During the first stage the communists were excluded from posing the agrarian question, sacrificing the interests of the peasant masses and the very future of the radical bourgeois revolution in China.
At its first congress, the Communist Party of China defined itself as the party of the proletariat, with clear political independence and separation from other parties, excluding alliances with other organizations. Because of the backwardness of its young working class, the revolutionary camp in China at first amalgamated the anarchists, democrats and nationalists. From 1921 to 1922 there were huge strikes, such as the one in Hong Kong, and the trade unions, now industrial and no longer professional, multiplied; in less than five years, the workers went from professional guilds and other backward forms to reorganizing as a united working class, above professions, categories and provincial divisions.
The CCP needed to distinguish itself primarily from the Kuomintang, which would attempt to assume the leading role in the revolutionary movement. From the first congress of the CCP came the affirmation of the role of the proletariat as an independent force that excluded unifications with other parties and tended toward the formation of a class party autonomous from bourgeois and petit-bourgeois influences.
The Party’s course of action centered on trade union work, aiming to lead the trade unions, which in the meantime were spreading throughout China, and to develop solid relations with the rest of the trade union organizations. Local Party organizations also advanced their role in the youth and women’s movements.
The Congress was also the occasion for International to impart on the Chinese Communists the tactics of the national-revolutionary movement. The delegates of the small communist parties of the East were advised not to remain in the background but to thoroughly penetrate the masses who, in China, were everywhere establishing the struggle for independence and national liberation.
There arose the problem of relating to other political parties, to struggle in unity with the rest of the revolutionary forces fighting China’s internal oppressors, warlords, as well as foreign oppressors. The Chinese communists were urged to cooperate with the Kuomintang particularly.
The prospect of an alliance with the national-revolutionary movement, and in particular with the Kuomintang, found expression in the "First Declaration of the Communist Party of China on the Present Situation" of June 15, 1922. The Declaration was an invitation to the Kuomintang, other democratic parties and all revolutionary socialist groups to form a "democratic united front" to fight against the warlords and foreign powers.
But in the Declaration there is also criticism of the Kuomintang for its attitude of closeness with the imperialists and periodic cooperation with the militarists in the North. To maintain its place in the revolutionary movement, the Kuomintang had to abandon this conciliatory and compromise policy. The pacifist illusions of the petit-bourgeois were also criticized as an obstacle to the struggle: only by overthrowing the power of the warlords could an end to the continuous wars be achieved, as well as the elimination of the influence of foreign powers on the country.
With this declaration the CCP set itself on the path of cooperation with the Kuomintang, but in taking this step, it was certainly not clear the form that the alliance would subsequently take, that is, the entry of communists into the Kuomintang.
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Between February and May there was a slight resumption of trade union mobilisations in Italy, which had previously been absent due to the pandemic, in the context of a low level of working class combativeness that has persisted for years. We have thus been able to participate in some of them, distributing both party leaflets and, by our worker comrades, communiqués from the Coordinamento Lavoratori Autoconvocati (CLA), together with other members of this body.
We identify the following work fronts in Italy, partly connected with those of comrades in other countries.a) Direct intervention in workers’ mobilisations.
On 5 March we took part in the dock workers’ strike in Genoa, called by the trade unions of the regime (CGIL, CISL and UIL), which was also joined by the rank and file union Usb, which became established among the dock workers in October. On this occasion we distributed a party leaflet and collaborated in the distribution of a CLA leaflet.
Both leaflets emphasised the right decision of the Usb dockers to join the strike called by the regime’s trade unions, in the name of workers’ unity of action, in contrast to the majority tradition in the Usb and in rank and file unionism in general of boycotting mobilisations promoted by other unions.b) Activities within the CLA
On 13 March we took part in the national demonstration organised by the SI Cobas in Piacenza in response to the State attack it had suffered a few days earlier with the arrest of two of its local leaders. We distributed the party’s leaflet there and collaborated with union militants from other cities to distribute the CLA leaflet.
The demonstration was positive but not a success. The rest of the conflictual unionism was almost totally absent. Our leaflet at the Piacenza demonstration reiterated the need to build a united front of class unionism, as opposed to the united political front proposed by the leaders of the SI Cobas.c) Activities within the USB (Unione Sindacale di Base).
On 20 March we took part in an assembly in front of the Texprint textile factory in Prato, where a long strike of Pakistani workers, organised with the SI Cobas, was going on. For the first time we distributed the leaflet translated into Urdu, their language. We pointed out the need to build unity among textile workers of all nationalities in the Prato industrial district (the largest in Italy): Pakistani, Bengali, Italian and Chinese. Particularly with the Chinese, both because they are the majority of textile workers in the area and because most of the textile factory owners are also Chinese, a form of racism has developed that divides the workers. Unfortunately, Chinese workers are trapped in communal ties, which hinder their class struggle against their compatriot bosses.
In the leaflet, we reiterated that the workers must rely only on the strength of their class, seeking to extend the struggle and union organisation to other factories, and not to place any trust in bourgeois institutions and parties.d) Contribution to the establishment of an inter-union body within the Stellantis factories in Italy and other countries.
On 27 March, the CLA published a communiqué written by our comrades in solidarity with the dockers of the Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali, a group of Genoese dockers formed 10 years ago, most of whose members switched from the CGIL to the Usb last October. At the end of February, the homes and lockers of some of these dockers in the port locker rooms were searched by the political police as part of an investigation into two incidents: the launching of signal rockets during a strike a year earlier to prevent the loading of war material onto a Saudi ship; and the clashes in the city with the police to prevent a meeting of a fascist group. The statement of solidarity of the CLA included this episode of repression in the framework of a renewed attack on rank and file unionism, linking it on the one hand to similar events that occurred in the same days in Piacenza and Prato, and on the other hand to the revival of the system of relations between government, employers and regime unions.
On 30 March we collaborated in the distribution of a CLA leaflet at the Alitalia workers’ demonstration in Rome. Alitalia has been driven to bankruptcy for years. The number of employees has been progressively reduced, both by outsourcing activities and by redundancies, the effects of which have been alleviated by various welfare programs. The employment conditions of the workers, once favourable, also deteriorated progressively. Now the new chapter in the story sees a drastic reduction in the size of the company, and therefore in the number of workers.
Rank and file unionism, which has been present in Alitalia for years with Cub and Usb, has taken a united stand. It has embraced the claim that the company should return to State ownership – “nationalisation is the only solution” is one of its slogans – by appealing to the company’s national pride and nostalgia for the times when Alitalia was the national flagship company, competitive on the world market. It is understandable that the workers of a company with such a history, in the present counter-revolutionary historical framework, with the working class that for decades has had the thread of its tradition of internationalist struggle taken away, should adopt similar ideas and illusions, which rank and file unionism, dominated by reformist and opportunist political ideologies, supports instead of fighting.
Workers following Cub and Usb deployed several participatory and combative mobilisations, even reaching some minor clashes with police forces. The text of the CLA leaflet, without polemicizing the positions mentioned above, indicated to the Alitalia workers that they should seek the involvement in the mobilization of workers in the airport supply chain, as well as unity with the other struggles against the dismissals, in order to overcome the limits of a “corporatist” struggle.
e) On April 1, some militants of the basic unionism in the Stellantis factories tried to promote a symbolic strike of 2 hours in solidarity with the workers of the U.S. factory in Sterling Heights, Michigan, where the company had imposed a worsening change in working hours. The international workers’ solidarity leaflet was translated into several languages. It gave the opposite indication to that of the Usb leadership in a national communiqué, regarding the consequences for workers of the creation of the Stellantis group from the merger of the two groups PSA and FCA. The communiqué, which we helped to translate and disseminate, told the workers to build their international unity and only trust that. The leaflet of the Usb leadership indicated to the workers the need to fight so that the Italian bourgeois State defends national industry.
f) The activity of the CLA, and of our comrades within it, continued intensely. There were 15 communiqués of solidarity and direction for various workers’ struggles: Alitalia, Fedex Tnt, Texprint, the Trieste and Genoa docks, the Viareggio massacre trial, the Prato demonstration following the death of a worker, and the communiqué for the health strike on 21 May.
Two video conference assemblies were organised on the issue of workers’ health and safety, and repression against workers, both in March.
In summary, we can say that the CLA’s activity continues, with a slight increase in its influence in the trade union movement, which is appreciable given the low intensity of workers’ struggles.
g) On Sunday 23 May, the Assembly of Combative Workers (ALC) of Latium was held in Rome. Immediately after its first presentation, last July in Bologna, our party had indicated in this body an attempt by the leadership of the SI Cobas and the other groups that lead that single political front called "Action Pact", to give a trade union veneer to the latter. On the one hand, we condemned the operation for a political unity front as a mistaken and opportunist action in itself, and on the other we denounced the attempt to set up the Assembly of Combative Workers as a mere instrument of that political front, which would be prevented by the leadership groups of the Pact of Action from being anything other than an executor of its political directives.
Consistent with our entire union line, we have given the practical indication of participating in the activities of this ALC and of fighting within it so that it would truly assume the character it proclaimed itself to have, that is, as an instrument for building the unity of workers’ struggles.
These bodies are numerically small, but these events offer some
important confirmation of the correctness of our approach to the trade
union question and the resulting practical directions:
- the control of class trade union bodies by the opportunist leaderships is not guaranteed and their conquest by the communist trade union policy is possible;
- maintaining the control of class union bodies by opportunist leaderships, when there is a communist union fraction within them, is only possible by resorting to coercive methods, which damage their very development; for example, by preventing free discussion within them and breaking the channels of communication between territorial structures, union militants, workers;
- political united front and trade union united are not only different paths, they are incompatible: the success of one implies the weakening of the other.
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Most of the big imperialist countries have not recovered from the 2008-09 recession: only Germany, China, South Korea, and a few others managed to surpass the peak reached in 2007. The 2008-09 crisis did not turn into a systematic crisis as it did in 1929. Instead we have a race towards the massive indebtedness of States, companies and families, indebted to save the system. We see a massive bloating of central bank balance sheets, which prevents the collapse of the system. But for how long?
The capitalist mode of production, having experienced 5 world recessions since 1975, has entered a large-scale historical crisis that can only be resolved by a third world war or by the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by force of arms and the transition to communism in the main industrial centers.
The COVID epidemic has aggravated this disastrous state by worsening the indebtedness and financial situation of many companies.
All this money given for free to the big bourgeoisie – interest rates are close to zero or even negative – is accompanied by frenzied speculation that leads to a disproportionate increase in the price of bonds, securities and real estate. Anything goes to make money, they don’t invest or produce, but speculate. Bourgeois society is rotting and continues to spread its putrid stench.
Having established a general picture, as usual, we briefly reviewed the main imperialist countries, and then drew our conclusions.
An economic recovery manifested itself from 2017 to 2018, but from mid-2018 a slowdown began to occur, which turned into a recession in most countries by 2019. Which led the FED and the ECB together to relaunch from the end of 2019 its plan of "quantitative easing".
In the USA, thanks to the production of shale gas and oil, industrial production recovered immediately after the 2008-2009 recession, allowing it to exceed the 2007 high. But the index of manufacturing production alone is still below that high. And the situation is even worse for construction.
In the US, the 2019 recession has translated into a major slowdown: +0.8% for industry and -0.2% for manufacturing. In 2020 we have almost a -7% for both industry and manufacturing.
Japan has experienced chronic stagnation with deflation since the early 1990s. Today, the industrial production index is below its peak in 1991: 101.2 in 2019 versus 106.6 in 1991! Japan suffered the consequences of the global recession, so much so that production fell by almost 10% in 2020, compared to 2019, when it had already fallen by 2.6%. The depth of the recession was shown on the graph of monthly increases: it starts in March 2019, reaches the bottom in May 2020 with -24.6%, and then gradually rises again. Annual growth returns to positive from March 2021 onwards.
Industrial production in Russia has never regained the level reached before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thanks to gas and oil exports, Russia, after the collapse in 1997-98, has seen a spectacular economic recovery since the early 2000s. This cycle is coming to an end and we are once again entering a cycle of recessions and turmoil. Like other capitalisms it has been affected by COVID and the global recession. We have a record minimum of -2.7%. However, as the Russian State has not lost the habit of manipulating statistics, to better appreciate the magnitude of the crisis it is necessary to refer to physical data, as with China.
The tables presented at the meeting showed the increases in industrial production compared to the maximum reached in 2007.
The Russians are going down exactly the same path, with -10% in 2020 for industry, but almost -22% for manufacturing. For Russia, the baseline reference year is not 2007 but 1989. In 2009, manufacturing output was half of what it was in 1989. And in 2020 it is -22%! The Russian bourgeoisie may be showing off its weaponry on the international stage, but Russian capitalism is in particularly bad shape.
Production in Japan, after falling to -23% in 2009, rose again to -11% in 2018, fell again to -13% in 2019 and again to -22% in 2020, thus returning to 2009 levels.
With regard to oil production, the hardest hit are not the United States but Saudi Arabia and Russia, which have had to reduce production to curb the collapse in prices. As we saw in a table, the US became the world’s top producer, even during the 2020 crisis. And as prices rise, US production can only rebound. The US market is gigantic, during the crisis the US has reduced its oil imports and thus enjoyed its own production.
From China we have reported the curves for electricity production, coal and the PMI index of manufacturing production.
The PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) is based on the purchasing performance of companies: A PMI reading under 50 represents a contraction, above that there is an increase in purchases.
The annual production of electricity slows down a lot since the crisis of 2008-2009 with a peak in 2012 and 2015. Monthly production shows a decline in January and February 2020, then a strong recovery.
The manufacturing PMI index shows a sharp decline in February 2020, with the index at 35.7. March 2020 to March 2021 is very close to 50, meaning very weak growth. The recovery is not as spectacular as the Chinese authorities would have us believe.
From Europe we have only shown the industrial production curve for Germany, again in recession in 2019 with -4.2% and in 2020 with almost -10%. The monthly curve shows us a dizzying -30% spike in April, then a slow rise throughout the year but a relapse in January and February 2021, with notably -6% in February.
The table shows a division between Northern countries, Germany, England, France, and Mediterranean countries where the recession is clearly more severe. In addition to Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, the newcomers from the East, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltic States, etc., have all exceeded their 2007 highs. Entering the European community after the collapse of the USSR they all marked a great development. But everything has an end and the capitalism of these countries will also meet the same fate as the others.
The already staggering global debt has grown from 2019 to 2020 by an average of 10%. Expressed as a percentage of GDP, the most indebted are Japan, with more than 4 times its GDP, France (3.7 times), Belgium (3.6), China (more than 3 times).
In conclusion, in order to get out of the crisis, the United States is embarking on a New Deal, as after the crisis of 1929. That State intervention only temporarily allowed them to get out of the crisis: at the end of the 1930s the recession returned. It was the Second World War that allowed capitalism to emerge from the historical crisis of 1929 and to start a new long cycle of accumulation, a cycle that ended definitively with the great international crisis of 1975.
The development of capitalism in Asia, especially in China, the transfer of production to and its establishment in China allowed world capitalism, dying and rotten, to gain half a century of life. Today, this capitalism survives thanks to a monstrous indebtedness made possible by the intervention of central banks, which buy back trillions of billions, bonds, treasury bills and stocks.
If the central banks were to stop "quantitative easing" there would be an immediate collapse of the entire system: interest rates would begin to rise again, leading to a collapse of the stock market and bond prices, which would lead to the chain bankruptcy of large financial institutions. Businesses, due to rising interest rates and scarcity of money, would in turn go bankrupt; first those artificially kept in a state of easy-money survival, then the others that could not withstand the high interest rates. Unpaid debts and non-performing loans would pile up on bank accounts leading to the failure of large banks such as Deutsch Bank and BNP.
States in turn, no longer able to borrow at reasonable rates on the market, would find themselves in the same situation as the Greek State, forced to declare bankruptcy.
Central banks can no longer stop the infernal machine of "quantitative easing". The consequence is the creation of gigantic bubbles, which sooner or later will burst, increasing instability and ever greater risk-taking on the part of financial institutions. For the working class, poverty will grow alongside precariousness.
How long can this situation last? Until the outbreak of World War III, or will there be a resumption of the class struggle much earlier with the development of the International Communist Party? In any case, world capitalism is leading us towards a gigantic catastrophe.
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This report described the first two phases of the workers’ insurrection in the Ruhr district of Germany, which began in response to the Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch, launched on March 13, 1920. Communist presence in the Ruhr was weak and ineffective. One month before the putsch, Heinrich Brandler wrote, «In general we have no party yet. I say this after visiting the Ruhr, where there is no Communist movement».
The KPD Center in Berlin made a disastrous error, issuing a statement opposing the general strike that erupted across Germany, only to reverse this position two days later. But by then workers on the ground were already arming themselves.First Phase, 13-17 March 1920
The Reichswehr was excluded from the western Ruhr under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Its nearest high command was based in Münster under General Watter. He was sympathetic to the coup but waited to see the outcome before supporting either the republic or the putschists, whichever had the best chance of restoring bourgeois order. Nominally under Watter were three divisions of the Freikorps, commanded by General Lichtschlag.
On March 14, the movement of the first division of the Freikorps Lichtschlag under Captain Hasenclever was disrupted by railway workers. Hasenclever finally reached Wetter the next morning. In negotiations with local politicians, he let slip that he supported the putsch, claiming «he stood with Watter, and Watter stood with Lüttwitz».
These words provoked the «whole development of the armed action», according to Adolf Meinberg (KPD). More than 1500 workers stormed the railway station. They killed Hasenclever in close combat. This small skirmish was the first victory of the working class after all the defeats of 1919 and had a euphoric effect. Heavy weapons fell into the hands of the workers and they took many prisoners. Severing ordered that city authorities were «under no circumstances to negotiate with workers’ councils». Courts martial were empowered to try worker-soldiers and have them shot.
A second division under Captain Lange was stopped in Herdecke near Dortmund. Workers’ representatives appeared. Lange hid his support for the putsch. An initial truce was declared, and local politicians tried to persuade the workers to disarm. But workers arrived in support from surrounding towns and when Lichtschlag threatened to combine with the troops in Herdecke, around 6,500 workers encircled the 350 or so Freikorps and Lange was forced to surrender. Another victory.
Meanwhile the Paderborn Hussars under Erich von Manstein, suffered a defeat in Unna, north of Dortmund. Watter had sent a detachment because a workers’ council had been formed there. When Manstein took hostages the workers in the district were incensed and surrounded the Hussars with 2,000 men. Eventually Manstein let the hostages go. The leader of the Citizens’ Guard promised Manstein a free passage, but no longer had any authority over the workers. The next day they attacked. The Hussars had no chance.
The third detachment of the Freikorps Lichtschlag was smashed by 10,000-12,000 workers. Meanwhile the general strike had started. Masses of striking workers took to the streets. Adolf Meinberg, recently released from prison, gave a stirring speech. Demonstrators continued to pour in, reaching a wire barrier. Behind it stood the police and the local Citizens’ Defense. Six were killed and 30 seriously wounded. Workers now stormed the police headquarters. The governing parties issued a joint appeal with the USPD and KPD that spoke of “people’s rights” and “democracy”, adding to the confusion within the workers’ ranks and the general strike was called off in Dortmund.
But the workers were not so easily deceived. On March 15, a delegation of railway men announced they would resist further troop transports. Severing declared: «The movement is shifting to the left; we have to send troops to the Ruhrgebiet». The Freikorps now wanted to attack the city of Hagen (south of Dortmund) from the north, with the Freikorps Schulz providing support from the south west. A local SPD councilor acted as a scout to get the troops through Dortmund.
The illusions of SPD rank and file members had been shattered. Workers assaulted Freikorps positions with machine gun fire. Lichtschlag occupied the Kronenburg brewery. There were attempts to mediate a ceasefire, but railway workers again tore up the tracks, leaving Lichtschlag stuck in the south of the city. A worker army began to form and up to 12,000 workers attacked in the early hours. They disarmed the police and executive power was handed to the workers’ action committee.
On March 14 General von Gillhaussen received an order from Münster to deploy the Security Police (SiPo) and Freikorps to occupy Elberfeld (now a suburb of Wuppertal) in the demilitarized Bergisches Land. Gillhaussen’s HQ was surrounded by an angry crowd. The Freikorps fired on fleeing workers and threw hand grenades into hostile crowds. Workers streamed in from the steel city of Solingen, then under British occupation. In Hahnerbeg they encountered the SiPo, who opened fire with machine guns. Dead and wounded lay everywhere. Even the Workers’ Samaritans came under intense fire.
Martial law was imposed. But there were repeated demonstrations and attempts by the masses to get weapons. In Barmen police officers arrested workers and locked them in a brick works. But a hostile crowd gathered outside and pelted the police with stones as they retreated through the town and shot back, killing the son of a USPD councilor. Workers then attacked with heavy weapons, forcing Gillhaussen to retreat. Watter ordered a withdrawal from the Bergisches Land. They left behind a lot of munitions including artillery. Workers took power in Elberfeld before midnight.
The retreat was tactical: Gillhausen sought a decisive battle in Remscheid. He got it. 20,000 workers, coordinating with the command in Hagen, attacked. 1,000 soldiers had no choice but to escape to Cologne, where they were interned by the British. Another victory for the workers.
The general strike and above all the arming of the workers in the Ruhrgebiet was largely spontaneous without any clear leadership. Workers took weapons from the police and the bourgeois citizens’ guards. It was localized and defensive. The more the Freikorps and Reichswehr or SiPo appeared, the more the workers got together, with thousands flocking to help.
The conquest of a Dortmund had an extraordinary psychological significance. Social democratic “foot soldiers” disobeyed their leaders and recognized Severing as the class enemy. Essentially, however, the mood in the coalfields was simply to defend the very limited gains of the 1918 revolution.
In the struggles for Elberfeld-Barmen there were clearer signs of planning. And in Remscheid the workers systematically surrounded a formidable enemy. The troops were often split between supporters of the putsch and supporters of the Republic, which initially worked to the workers’ advantage. Moreover, for now, reaction lacked a broad social base.
On March 17, the putsch collapsed entirely. The four main bourgeois parties, and many in the SPD leadership, now decided that the main threat to the Weimar Republic was “bolshevism”. They made it a priority to “win back” the officer corps who had supported the coup.Second Phase: March 17-23, 1920
The general strike did not end immediately with the collapse of the putsch. On March 18, the trade unions called for its continuation until their demands were met. Workers in the Ruhrgebiet wanted guarantees that there would be no reprisals. To ensure this, the newly formed Ruhr Red Army prepared to conquer the entire region. In Hagen, a leadership formed under the USPD and KPD. It was formed by three units. In the south, in the Bergisches Land, the Red Army was in control of Remscheid. In the north, action was to be taken against the Reichswehr’s center, Münster. But the main thrust was in the west.
The unit to the north brought the River Lippe under its control. In Hamm, the Citizens’ Guard was converted into a workers’ guard. Around 1,000 workers reached Recklinghausen, entering the city unarmed, and forming a local action committee. Control of the Lippe bridges and road and rail communications severely disrupted supplies to the Reichswehr’s stronghold in Wesel while restarting rail traffic from Haltern to the Red Army stronghold in Herne.
The road to Münster was now open. Red Army shock troops came within 7km of the city. But it was never threatened because the Red Army failed to concentrate its forces at this critical point. Watter’s forces, up to this point no more than 15,000 men, were soon swollen significantly by troops from Württemberg and Bavaria.Western Ruhrgebiet
In the western Ruhrgebiet the Reichswehr, Freikorps and SiPo had established their reign of terror with little resistance. Like Watter, General Ernst Kabisch, commander of two regular army regiments and the Freikorps Schulz, vaguely declared himself in favor of the Republican government in order to demand its decisive action against the general strike. On March 16, Major von Rudorff moved troops into Heiligenhaus and on to Velbert (between Essen and Düsseldorf) where they met workers’ opposition. After an hour-long skirmish, the troops were driven back. They suffered three dead, the workers one. Meanwhile the Freikorps Schulz terrorized Mülheim.
A company of the 62nd Reichswehr regiment attacked the steelworks in Duisburg-Beeck and workers had to flee from overwhelming forces. The army and SiPo were still in control of the western Ruhrgebiet. But now the Red Army arrived. Within a few days they conquered Wattenscheid, Gelsenkirchen and Essen.
In Gelsenkirchen workers made a mistake. They did not immediately seize the arsenal at Gelsenkirchen airfield and when they tried to do so on March 18, they encountered a truckload of SiPo who took the weapons and prisoners after a firefight.
Meanwhile the Red Army was advancing on Essen from the east. At first, the Red Army wanted to go directly to Mülheim to defeat the Freikorps Schulz. But there were violent clashes in the suburbs and the workers won a 16-hour battle. After a number of skirmishes the SiPo were allowed to retreat, for the most part leaving their weapons behind.
There were particularly bloody clashes at Essen’s main post office and the water tower before the workers took power. A workers’ council of 33 members (including seven workers from the Krupp steelworks) was elected by the political factory councils and took over executive power in the city. Yet it also promised to maintain law and order through the existing authorities.
The 61st regiment and the Freikorps now came under ambush attack between Duisburg and Hamborn. One soldier reported to the Düsseldorfer Zeitung that this small inferno was more than «even war-hardened officers and NCOs had ever gone through». They retreated across a bridge in a hail of bullets.
By March 20, the entire Ruhrgebiet was in the hands of the Red Army. But it did not assume political power, And the KPD did not call for this. Meanwhile, the enemy was allowed to regroup in the citadel of Wesel. Watter was preparing his counter-offensive. An opportunity had been missed.Defeat in the Ruhr
In Part 1 we saw how the Ruhr Red Army was formed after the Kapp putsch and went onto the offensive. It was militarily in charge of the Ruhrgebiet. It was winning victories, but no political organs were set up to press home the advantage. The bourgeoisie now organized the counterattack.
The central control of the workers’ councils of the Ruhr area was dominated by the two social-democratic parties. For the most part the old mayors and municipal authorities stayed in place and there were no attacks on the power of capital. Even in Essen, where the KPD was in charge, no dictatorship was installed after the military victory.
What was the nature of this Red Army? It was an astonishing achievement to form a workers’ army within a few days: anything between 60,000 and 100,000 men.
There were often conditions of membership, of varying degrees of strictness. In some areas the emphasis was on political affiliation; in others, military experience. In more radical areas such as Marl workers excluded the representatives of the SPD and the free miners’ union from the local action committee, on the basis that they were not revolutionaries.
Red Guards were overwhelmingly workers and most of these mineworkers. The police listing of fallen Red Guards in Pelkum, for example, shows 79 deaths, including 52 miners, 16 other workers and the rest craftsmen and their helpers. Other nationalities, mostly Polish immigrants, fought alongside Germans.
Women served as nurses and couriers and in field kitchens. They volunteered in such numbers that some had to be sent back home.
With few exceptions, membership of the Ruhr Red Army was voluntary, and commanders were elected. The KPD leader of the executive committee in Dortmund, Adolf Meinberg, identified democratic fetishism as a weakness of the Ruhr Red Army.
Organization was based on the company, divided into platoons and groups, named after their hometowns, their commanders or prominent Marxists. There was a huge variation in the size of a company, but the average was 70. Battalions or regiments formed only for specific battles. They used whatever means of transport was available: lorries, trams, cars, motorbikes, horses and bikes.
After the Kappists had been defeated, on March 17, individual command structures of the Red Army emerged. First in the western sector, where the KPD was more influential, and then in the east, where the USPD predominated.
The Action Committee in Essen became one of the most efficiently organized: the upper command requisitioned cars, telephones and other communication equipment. It employed plenty of dispatch riders and drivers. It had a medical column in three motorized buses carrying female workers serving as volunteer nurses in the Workers’ Samaritan Foundation. It also created a Red Army publicity office.
The combat commanders of the Ruhr Red Army were fundamentally more radical than the political chairmen, which led to accusations from Paul Levi and Wilhelm Pieck of “left militarism”.
The attempt by the KPD to install the Central Council in Essen as the overall leadership of the Ruhr Red Army failed. This meant that there were difficulties with coordinating the distribution of food, clothes, equipment and weapons, especially as the Ruhr area produced little food itself. The Weimar coalition imposed a blockade.
The action committees also took charge of providing wages for the Red Guards. In some districts they forced capitalists to pay the Red Guards. In some places like Dortmund, the savings banks paid the wages but then the banks removed their cash holdings to make confiscation impossible.
Compared with the enemy, the Red Army was grossly under-supplied with arms and munitions; there were only ten artillery cannons, and approximately 50 mortars, 700 machine guns, 60,000 rifles and 10,000 hand grenades. Civilian dress was the order of the day, with red armbands or ribbons.
The enemy: The full military weight of the bourgeoisie was hurled against the proletariat of the Ruhr and other districts where the workers had risen. Enemy forces included the Reichswehr, which was excluded from the western Ruhr under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Many demobilized NCOs and officers formed the basis for the Freikorps, who fought the radical left uprisings and secured the borders in the east of the German Reich. In 1919 they also fought in the Baltic States against advancing Soviet troops.
In the early years of the Weimar Republic there were as many as 365 Freikorps units, with a total force of around 400,000 men.
Many cities had an Einwohnerwehr, Civilian Defense. These emerged in the form of bourgeois vigilante groups. Following the January 1919 Spartacus uprising in Berlin the Reichswehr Ministry instructed all general commands to turn these groups into centrally controlled forces following a uniform model. In an emergency they could be deployed as an army reserve but were later dissolved under the provisions of the Versailles Treaty.
The Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) – the so-called “Green Police” – were set up in most German States at the end of 1919 and were operational by mid-1920 with Gustav Noske’s approval as a barracked and militarily armed and trained police force.
The central government in Berlin saw an opportunity in the political division between the southern and eastern commands where the USPD and SPD were in charge, the west, dominated by the KPD, and Mülheim, dominated by syndicalists and left communists.
On March 21 Severing, Prussian Minister of the Interior, thus called a conference in Bielefeld, far from the actual battlefield. The left communists and syndicalists were opposed from the start, as was the combat leadership attacking Wesel. Nevertheless, four communists from Essen, Elberfeld and Barmen took part in the deliberations.
Representatives of pro-Weimar bourgeois parties negotiated with ministers. The military commander General Watter only sent observers. On March 23 he demanded total surrender.
The Bielefeld Agreement, based on points already agreed at national level by the ADGB trade union confederation and the government, foresaw an armistice and an amnesty for acts committed against the Kappists.
The Red Army was to withdraw south of the Lippe and the Reichswehr was to stay north. In truth, the Bielefeld Agreement bought the Reichswehr time to advance.
Severing’s strategy worked: the USPD commander of the Red Army in Hagen actually considered stopping the Red Army offensive by force. It suffered its first defeat on March 24.
The Central Council, and the Hagen Action Committees accepted the Bielefeld Agreement on March 27, fooled into believing that their weapons be collected by municipal authorities rather than the military.
On March 28, 1920, the newly appointed Chancellor Hermann Müller (SPD) issued an ultimatum that shattered all illusions. The Bielefeld Agreement were simply rejected. By March 30, 1920 at 12 noon, i.e., in 48 hours, all the old “State administrative and security organs” were to be reinstated. The Red Army was to be disarmed and General Watter would determine “the manner and time of the disarmament”.
Watter “generously” extended the deadline for handing in weapons by 24 hours but set impossible new conditions for immediate dissolution of the Red Army and release of prisoners. If “they even touch a hair, the conditions are not considered to be met”.
Alarm spread throughout the Ruhr region. The Central Council in Essen called for another general strike, which was almost as solid as on March 14-15. There was now an opportunity to spread the strike across Germany, especially in Berlin. But both the USPD and the KPD (under Pieck) neglected to do this. The ADGB trade union confederation entered a compromise agreement with the government to extend the amnesty to Red Guards surrendering weapons by April 2. But the Weimar coalition government did not respect it.
Famine now threatened. A KPD-USPD-SPD conference in Essen called for the Red Army to be replaced by a democratic citizens’ militia – a meaningless, inter-classist fudge.
Meanwhile the Freikorps and Reichswehr were already advancing into the Ruhr and murdering workers.
The white terror began before the ultimatum expired. Units that supported the Kapp Putsch, and those that opposed it, both took part in the suppression of the workers’ uprising.
On April 2, the Central Council fled from Essen. The next day, the government officially gave the Reichswehr “full freedom to act, to do what the situation demands”. The troops (80 to 90% Freikorps) marched into the area from all sides. Remnants of the Red Army retrieved the weapons they had already surrendered and fought a hopeless struggle.
On April 5, the Central Council, which had reconvened in the relative safety of Barmen (to the south), instructed any remaining members of the Red Army to flee to the British occupation zone around Cologne and the demilitarized zone, which the Reichswehr dared not enter for fear of an Allied offensive.
The Red Army suffered 1200-2000 dead in the struggles, the majority of whom were shot or bludgeoned to death after being captured. The Reichswehr, Freikorps and SiPo lost roughly 400 men, about 120 of whom were deserters shot by their own side.
Approximately 1,000 Red Army fighters and civilians were killed in struggles elsewhere in Germany, mostly after the suppression of the Kapp putsch.
A Freikorps corporal wrote later, «We shot at these villains with joy, and how they cried and prayed... We were much nobler in the field towards the French».Conclusion
The Red Army suffered from a lack of clear central leadership. There was little communication between the action committees of different towns. Crucially, there was little communication with insurrectionary workers elsewhere in Germany.
The political failure lay in believing that the working class could defeat reaction by means of a broad popular coalition including allies of the Weimar republican coalition that was making common cause with militarism. Once the Kappists had been driven out it was a relatively simple task for Severing to sow confusion in the ranks of the Red Army, divide them, and allow Watter to launch the counter-offensive.
Apart from the lack of clear political leadership, the conditions were not favorable. We wrote in our press: «Nor are we such poor materialists as to assert that, even if the communist movement in Germany had adopted the perfectly “correct” strategy and tactics, victory would have been assured. It was the objective situation, both in Germany and internationally, that made it at least challenging, and perhaps even impossible, to achieve victory».
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In the previous report we described the events after the independence of Bangladesh, in 1971, up until the defeat of the Indian National Congress in the elections of 1977 which saw the success of the Janata Party.
Indian capitalism achieved some results, but failed to meet the food needs of a large portion of the population. Agrarian reforms continue to fail in the immense countryside. The dominant peasant classes had a stranglehold on the ruling party and the entire State bureaucracy, maintaining production by archaic methods.
The Indian ruling classes in contention for control of the State institutions, however, are united against the proletariat, which on several occasions raises its head as in the mighty strike led by the railway workers in May 1974, subjected to fierce repression.
The Janata Party in power, a copy of the Congress Party, leans towards the Hindu right and becomes the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extremist organization founded in the 1920s. The Indian bourgeoisie, squeezed by the crisis and terrorized by growing social tensions, provided itself with a new political gendarme. As with the Congress, the agrarian elites also paralyzed the Janata.
In some Indian States the social violence of the radical Hindu right grows. The RSS becomes a useful tool for the ruling class. Militants of the Hindu right are recruited into the police and the press, while the base of the RSS becomes the protagonist of serious attacks on the Muslim community, committing massacres in some cases. Actions that are useful to all factions of the Indian bourgeoisie as they fuel divisions between communities and within the working class.
It is in this scenario that the Congress Party succeeds again in forming a stable government and in guaranteeing social peace: better than the Janata it can appease the ethnic and religious minorities and the lower classes of the peasantry.
But the economic situation remains very precarious, since 1979 India goes through the worst period of rainfall shortage it had since its independence. Extensive recourse is made to international loans, and foreign investment is encouraged with a series of liberalizations, including that of the price of steel and cement.
The slogans against the regime are accompanied by new laws that tighten repression: detentions without trial and strikes in public services are banned. In 1981, a protest by way of general strike is crushed with the arrest of 23,000 activists.
But many of the trade unions linked to the many self-described communist parties in India, although repressed by the bourgeois State because they were in opposition to the ruling groups close to the government, have never sincerely worked for the unity of the working class, fighting against each other and thus keeping the labor movement weak.
It’s in this scenario that we have the Great Bombay Textile Strike, which began on January 18, 1982 and lasted for 14 months. The strike, in a few weeks, involved almost all factories and up to 200,000 workers. They demanded large pay rises, payment of overdue wages and the abolition of the anti-union law. The strike brought the city’s textile industry to its knees.
Regarding the bosses, who were inclined to find an agreement, intervened the order of Indira to make every negotiation fail. It is, in fact, very likely that if the strike had been successful, even the dockers of the city would have mobilized, thus triggering a chain reaction that would have been very dangerous for the bourgeoisie. The bosses, aided by the government, moved the factories, modernizing the facilities and laying off 100,000 workers.
The weakness of the Indian labor movement is the cause of this failure, in the vast majority of cases having failed to break with those trade union centers which were by now hopelessly on the side of the bosses.
The State of Punjab, born after the carnage of partition, had been reorganized in 1966 to allow Sikhs a State in which they were the majority. The Sikh community, among the most affluent in the country, had continued to maintain a privileged position in the armed forces after independence. Punjab, one of the most fertile regions of the Earth, had undergone considerable economic development thanks to capitalist agriculture with the formation of a local agrarian bourgeoisie.
Since 1972 the government of Punjab was the Congress, but in 1977 the wave that had swept it brought to power the Sikh Akali Dal party. In order to destabilize it, the Congress financed a young provincial preacher – Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale – who founded a party in 1978. He organized violent actions against heterodox Sikh sects and increasingly resorted to assassination of political and religious enemies, Sikhs and Hindus, without any action being taken against his party.
This was supported by a substantial part of the ruling classes of the Punjab peasantry, who in times of crisis deeply resented the taxes and laws imposed by Delhi. These wealthy landowners and peasants had long desired strong autonomy or total independence from the central government and the creation of a new State called Khalistan.
He continued the policy of terror to drive Hindus out of the region, hoping that symmetrical persecution throughout the Union would drive Sikhs back to Punjab, strengthening the cause of independence.
After several years of support and immunity, Indira Gandhi adopted radical countermeasures. On June 3, 1984, Indian armed forces positioned themselves around the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, where Bhindranwale and his followers had long taken refuge, and two days later they raided it. As this happened in the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus, the temple was very crowded. In the previous months the temple had been heavily fortified under the guidance of a former general of the Indian army. It was necessary to bring in tanks armed with 105mm cannons. The complex suffered extensive damage. Bhindranwale was killed along with 600 of his followers, but numerous believers, about 400, were also massacred.
Part of the Sikhs serving the Indian army, who were accused of being members of a separatist ethnic group, mutinied. In retaliation, on October 31, two Sikh bodyguards killed Indira Gandhi. In New Delhi gangs of Hindus, framed by members of the local Congress, attacked Sikh homes in the city, killing and torturing anyone they could capture. Entire families were burned alive. The police did not intervene and in several cases actively participated. In a few days in Delhi alone about three thousand Sikhs were killed.
The India of the 80s, like the India of today, did not hesitate, in the clashes between bourgeois plunderers, to feed regional, ethnic and religious divisions in order to create a fictitious enemy as a means of subjugating the proletariat to the ruling class.
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The brief but deadly flare-up of the war in Palestine in May marked a passage that partly changes the internal balance of the conflicting camps.
The first fact in chronological order is the demonstration of the Jewish far-right in the old city of Jerusalem under the slogan "death to the Arabs". As a pretext for the march some attacks against Jews occurred in the Arab part of the city. The demonstration, which was attended by a thousand extremists, joined by many young Orthodox Jews, the haredim, until recently largely unrelated to the manifestations of hatred against Palestinians, took place in the evening of April 22, with clashes with hundreds of young Palestinians.
Haaretz wrote, «the ultra-Orthodox are the reserves of the neo-Nazi movement that is developing in Israel». Among the agitators of the demonstration was the far-right group "Lehava", an acronym that means "Prevention of assimilation in the Holy Land". The theme of assimilation could not fail to come up in the Jewish State itself.
Marx in the Jewish Question, dating back to 1844, emphasizes that the solution to Jewish emancipation lies in overcoming the political State. This position retains all its relevance in the historical balance of the Zionist movement, which, since its name, implies the programmatic intention of a path in exactly the opposite direction to that of Marx, that of giving the Jews a political State, an established nation among nations.
It is not surprising, therefore, that chauvinist, racist and fascist tendencies assert themselves, the expression of the objective drives of the bourgeoisie, not so much Jewish as national Israeli, to guarantee their own space in terms of workforce and territory on which to pour their overproduction. See the "building fever" for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The Israeli government aims at the further weakening of the ethnic Arab element in Jerusalem, the "capital of the Jewish State" recognized by the United States during the Trump administration. Realizing a Jewish-majority East Jerusalem, a sanction of the Holy City’s status as the "indivisible capital of the State of Israel", would dispel all the smoke and mirrors of the two-State solution of which Jerusalem should be the capital.
On May 7, on the occasion of the last Friday of Ramadan, about 70,000 Muslims had gathered near the al-Aqsa Mosque in the presence of a draconian security device put in place by the Israeli police forces. Serious incidents developed after the evening prayers. Sources at the mosque say that the clashes developed after Israeli police attempted to evacuate the compound where many Muslim worshippers sleep during the month of Ramadan. Instead, the Israeli version has it that some Palestinians threw stones at the officers. In the following three days the incidents spread to various Arab neighborhoods, episodes of violence also affect areas with Jewish majority and later many Israeli cities with mixed population. Israeli police occupies al-Aqsa Mosque amidst heavy clashes.
Hamas and its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, claim the leadership of the revolt and launch an ultimatum to the Israeli government to free al-Aqsa by 6PM. Shortly before that time begins the launch of 150 missiles from the Gaza Strip towards Tel Aviv, Sderot and Ashkelon.
During the night in Lod, an Israeli city with a mixed population, serious clashes break out between Palestinians and Jews: young Arabs attack a synagogue, a school and perhaps some houses, a group of Jews reacts by shooting and a young Arab dies. A crowd of Jews vandalize a Muslim cemetery. In the following days, also in Lod, a Jew is killed just out of a synagogue by a group of Arabs who were seeking "revenge for the blood spilled". The uprising of the Arab-Israeli minority spreads to Haifa, Tiberias, Acre and a few other mixed cities in Israel.
It is certain that Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens of the "Jewish State". As materialists we know that racism, nationalism, xenophobia and oppression of minorities are necessities of capitalism and that these filthy pits can only be overcome after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie from its political domination. In bourgeois societies, ethnic differences are maintained and reproduced by the mercantile economy, for which every man has a price, even though money knows no difference in language, religion, skin color or cultural traditions.
Israeli Palestinians are certainly the most impoverished section of the population. But it would be wrong to think that poverty in Israel is peculiar to non-Jews. A fairly high percentage of "poor" (a non-scientific category that we certainly cannot confuse with that of proletarians) is also widespread among the Chassidim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews among whom 17% of families live below the poverty line. In the case of Israeli Palestinians this percentage is even higher.
Israeli Palestinians are de facto excluded from military service, which is accessible only to those considered reliable for the security of the State, Jews, Druze and Circassians. However, Arab-Israelis belonging to the middle classes generally have access to a good quality education that often turns into a decent integration among the most qualified professional categories. Palestinians, just under 21% of the population, make up 23% of Israel’s physicians.
This does not mean that the onset of the economic crisis has not led to a worsening of living conditions for Palestinian Israelis as well, which explains the discontent of many young Arab-Israeli proletarians who, in the absence of significant manifestations of genuine class struggle, have poured their frustrations into the inter-ethnic conflict.
Much more difficult is the condition of the young proletarians of the West Bank where the asphyxiated economic life has suffered first from the world economic stagnation, then from the pandemic. The latter reduced most of the wages of the 150,000 workers who cross the wall every day, legally, to go to work in Israel. To these are to be added the 50,000 who enter Israel illegally every day.
In this context an asymmetrical military conflict between Hamas and the Israeli army, the Tzahal, has developed. In fact Hamas for 11 days, by launching more than 4.300 rockets, in spite of their inaccuracy, kept under pressure the population of the central and southern regions of Israel.
But when Hamas, having reached the goal of being the spokesman of the revolt, asked for a truce, Netanyahu, embracing the requests of the army’s top leadership, continued the bombing of Gaza, according to him to make it impossible for Hamas to strike again.
In 11 days the incessant bombardments have sown death and destruction. Infrastructures vital for the well-being of the population haven’t been spared. Despite the shortness of the war, there have been many victims. Among the inhabitants of Gaza there have been 248 dead and hundreds of wounded (1.900 according to Hamas), in addition to 26 dead and more than 500 wounded among the Palestinian population of the West Bank, victims of the repressions of the Israeli army. Moreover, there are many wounded in the clashes in the Israeli cities, with one dead in Lod. Twelve victims of Hamas and Palestinian Jihad rockets, 3 of which were foreign workers (an Indian and two Thai workers killed in the factory where they worked) and one Arab-Palestinian Bedouin. Among the victims only one is a soldier. To these are added 500 wounded, according to the figures provided by Israel.
After a week of intense bombings, on May 18 a day of strike is held, which for the first time sees the Palestinians of the West Bank and Israel united. The claims are of an exclusively national character and without the presence of any economic class claim or link to the working class condition in the strike proclamation. Yet the next day in Israel it was only the workers, many of them fired by the Israeli bosses, who suffered, rather than the commercial operators.
The national character of the strike was glorified, but it’s more like a parody of a national movement. The shaking up of an aggregate of different classes such as the nation in past eras could have made sense as long as it was led by a revolutionary bourgeoisie. But the Palestinian bourgeoisie is too worn out, decrepit, corrupt and dependent on its Israeli older sister. It’s impossible to talk about half a century late national revolutions. The comparison of the strike of May 18, 2021 with that of 1936 is ridiculous since it evokes an episode of very different importance, which was not consumed in the space of one morning.
Once the strike was over, Hamas found itself in the urgency of ending the war with the momentary illusion of success. It was a matter of not suffering further blows, since beyond a certain limit one could not go.
The truce came because of US pressure on Israel. Biden has to reckon with a certain disaffection of the Democratic Party and of the liberal component of the Jews of America towards the current government of Israel, unwilling to accept a policy that had Donald Trump as its interlocutor.
One must also see how much weight the Biden administration’s determination to return to negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue carries. That pact was scuttled unilaterally by Trump in 2018 with the no doubt intended consequence of strengthening the anti-Iran front that sees Israel, Saudi Arabia and, in a more nuanced way, the United Arab Emirates lined up together. The purpose of the break with Iran was to eliminate a competitor among the oil countries, appropriating its share in terms of barrels extracted, in a context in which world demand for crude oil was stagnant.
But the United States is faced with the essential task of preventing the hostile attitude towards Iran on the behalf of a large section of the Middle Eastern bourgeoisie, with Israel and Saudi Arabia at the forefront, from pushing Teheran too much into Beijing’s orbit. Iran is a leading regional power that boasts a remarkable industrial apparatus, a population that exceeds 80 million and armed forces equipped with technologically advanced weapons that have allowed pro-Iranian militias to sustain years of war in Iraq and Syria while achieving significant successes. The United States cannot renounce an interlocutory relationship with Iran, even if this does not mean reversing alliances in the Middle East.
While Biden offers the "olive branch" of nuclear negotiations, American diplomacy is laying traps in the area surrounding Iran’s sphere of influence. In 2020, the Doha inter-Afghan negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the presence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Washington’s envoy for Afghanistan’s Zalmay Khalilzad were a significant step toward US disengagement after 20 years of war.
The announced US withdrawal from Afghanistan, opening the door to the Taliban’s return to Kabul, could close off Central Asia to Tehran. But above all, the return of the Taliban to power, always supported by Pakistan but also appreciated by the Gulf petro-monarchies, could slow down Chinese plans for flourishing trade with Iran. Likewise, the plan for a 5-country railway, destined to connect western China to the Arabian Sea while also passing through Iran and Afghanistan, could go up in smoke.
The United States, after a phase of mild isolationism (the prelude to an inevitable return to interventionism), needs to return to their role as arbiters in the Middle East. This contrasts with the idea that wants them to unconditionally side with Israel in the permanent tug-of-war with Iran.
The United States cannot sustain to the bitter end Israeli expansionist tendencies without favoring those of other countries that serve as a counterweight. They cannot donate the Middle East to Israel. The Israeli press has spoken of the American administration’s greatest distance from the Jewish State since its founding. This is a relative distance of course, but it is sufficient in itself to explain how the interests of various States, even within a defined imperialist camp, can never coincide.
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Communist troops had conquered Kiev on February 9, 1918, but this did not resolve the crisis with the Ukrainian Rada because of the serious mistake of not pursuing and destroying what remained of the Ukrainian army and government, which thus had the opportunity to reorganize in Žytomyr, 150 kilometers from Kiev, where it counted on the help of the Austro-Germans to organize the counteroffensive. That same evening their representatives at the peace talks in Brest-Litovsk signed a separate peace with the Central Empires.
The following day Trotsky refused to sign the agreements proposed together by all the enemies of revolutionary Russia, announced the end of the war on the Soviet side and the beginning of the demobilization of the Russian army.
To defeat the pockets of Cossack resistance still active, including those of General Alekseyev, of Kaledin and of Kornilov, 7,000 men were assigned to Antonov-Ovseyenko with carte blanche on how to conduct operations.
Kaledin obtained an initial success by conquering the important city of Rostov on November 25, 1917, with the decisive contribution of the Army of Volunteers (AV), a particularly experienced corps composed of 1,440 officers, seen as a continuation of the old tsarist army. The three coordinated generals divided up the areas of action and adopted a defensive strategy while waiting for Austro-German help.
Ovseyenko’s plan foresaw an enveloping maneuver of two main columns directed on Novocherkassk, the reference center of the counter-revolutionaries: one coming down from the Ukraine, the other along the Don using the railway lines. The maneuver was slowed down by Cossack raids in the rear and especially by supply-related difficulties as well as the fear of German intervention in Ukraine.
A first success of ours was the defeat of the strong Cossack group of Captain Tchernetzov and his death on January 21, which allowed Sablin’s columns to resume the advance on Novocherkassk. Those of Sivers faced the AV for the conquest of Taganrog. In these harsh clashes, the determining factor was the insurrection of 5,000 workers in the city that opened a front behind the counterrevolutionaries.
The Cossack groups, due to supply-related difficulties, to the unreliability of the influx of capital from the Russian reactionaries, due the communist propaganda, to the absence of important victories and continuous retreats, began to disperse so that their capital was defended by only a hundred men to which a battalion of officers led by Kornilov was added. The Cossacks returning from the front by rail were stopped and disarmed by the Red Guards.
The communist forces, however, advanced slowly because of the continuous sabotage of the railway lines. In spite of this, on February 10 the white resistance in their capital ceased. On the 12th Kaledin committed suicide while the AV stationed in Rostov, due to the uprising in the city and the approach of the revolutionary troops, decided to retreat to the Kuban, where other counter-revolutionary formations were still active.
Sivers’ column arrived near Rostov, and Sablin’s prepared for the final attack on Novocherkassk, where new Cossack volunteers had been concentrated. But these, upon going to the line of fire, refused on February 20. Finally, a division of 3,000 men returning from the Caucasus front defected to the Reds and attacked the AV from behind, which broke through the encirclement at night and fled towards the steppe.
On February 23, 1918 the communists led by Sivers occupied Rostov and two days later those led by Sablin entered Novocherkassk.
On February 25 the Volunteer Army decided to move towards Ekaterinodar, on the edge of the Kuban steppes, because the local Rada had in the meantime declared independence. Due to the scarce presence of industry there, there was only a small pro-communist working class; furthermore, the Red military units were based in the distant Armavir, still in an organizational phase and with poor both-ways connections.
The first of the two Red Army columns sent to the region, strong with 18,000 men, had the task of conquering Ekaterinodar and crushing the local Rada; the second of 12,000 Red Cossacks should have intercepted the AV, which at the time counted 4,000 men in 3 regiments plus a few hundred civilian refugees.
The AV column, covering 15 kilometers a day on foot, fought some clashes successfully with the local communist forces, using the tried and tested tactic of bypassing with the best mounted units the enemy positions and attacking them from behind.
Ekaterinodar was conquered by the Red Army on March 15. Two days later there was the first important battle between the more consistent communist forces, equipped with good artillery and ammunition, and those of Kornilov, with little ammunition and artillery. After the fall of Ekaterinodar the AV headed south, beyond the Kuban river, pursued by the red units, though in an uncoordinated and ineffective way.
All the white formations were united under the single command of Kornilov, who thus now counted on 6,000 men. Kornilov decided to retake Ekaterinodar when only part of his forces had arrived and established his command on a hill in front of the city. The initial occupation of some peripheral quarters was answered by an effective counterattack of the Reds and a precise bombardment of Kornilov’s headquarters, which hit him in full, killing him on April 13.
Denikin then assumed command of the AV, and went for a rapid retreat to the north, in territories with little Communist control and without railways. Sorokin also made the mistake of not pursuing the remains of the AV.
After his 10-kilometer-long column marched 245 kilometers in the icy mud in 9 days, Denikin reached a railway line and arrived in Rostov on April 30, from where they had left 80 days earlier, during which they had covered 1,266 kilometers. Here they dispersed, with the counter-revolutionary attempt of the Army of Volunteers ending in a heavy defeat.
The situation in Ukraine became more complicated after the separate peace treaty between the short-lived government of the Ukrainian Rada and the Central Empires was signed, as the latter, under the pretext of defending the independence of the Ukrainians, intended to achieve two objectives: first, to put pressure on the Communist government for an immediate peace in order to transfer the troops from the Russian front to the Western front, where the game was still up in the air; second, to establish a pro-German puppet government in order to grab the immense local agricultural resources and raw materials necessary to support that military commitment. All before the forces of the United States, which had recently entered the conflict, could go into battle.
A first brief mention was given to the complex and troubled negotiations for the Brest-Litovsk agreements, to which we will return.
The military operation Faustschlag, also known as the 11-Day War, was launched by Germany on February 18, 1918, only 9 days after the peace treaty with the Ukrainian Rada. It was supported by a substantial force of 230,000 men with extensive use of rail lines for a war of rapid movement. The attack was planned in 3 directions: to the north towards Petrograd, to the center on Belarus and to the south in the Ukraine with Kiev as the final objective.
Soviet resistance was weak because of the unfavorable relation of forces, so the Germans advanced rapidly. In the north, on February 25, Latvia and Estonia were completely occupied. In the center, on February 21, Minsk, in Belarus, was occupied, and on March 2, the Austro-German southern column, with the support of the forces of the Ukrainian Rada, entered Kiev. The penetration into Russian territories was 240 kilometers, being around 100 kilometers away from Petrograd, so the Soviet government moved to Moscow.
On March 3 the Russian delegation signed the final peace treaty, worsened compared to previous drafts. Russia also had to surrender Finland, the three Baltic States, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The Germans were able to occupy all of Ukraine up to Rostov-on-Don. Germany intended to establish a belt of satellite States around Russia, formally independent but subordinate to its political and economic interests.
The Soviet government had to immediately release 630,000 Austro-Germanic prisoners who, in Vienna’s intentions, should have replaced the losses on the various fronts.
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The trade union movement assumes a decisive importance for revolutionary purposes and the communists set themselves the task of freeing it from any influence that limits its activity in order to keep it tolerable to capitalism. The task of communism, on the contrary, is to develop its revolutionary potential and lead it to the assault on bourgeois institutions.
The report sought to illustrate how anarcho-syndicalism, revolutionary in word, has acted to divide the trade union movement and thus weaken the class front.
At the international level, anarcho-syndicalism before the First World War recognised itself in the positions set out in the famous “Charter of Amiens” of 1906, including: the union as a revolutionary leader for the overthrow of the bourgeois regime and, once it had won, as an organiser of production and distribution; freedom for members to belong to any “philosophical or political conception”, but a ban on its manifestation within the union. In other words, the union, in terms of its programme and aims, behaved like a party.
At the beginning of the 20th century, several anarcho-syndicalist trade unions were formed. Among the most important were the IWW in America, the CNT in Spain, the SAC in Sweden, the CGT in Portugal, the USI in Italy, the FAU in Germany, the FORA in Argentina, etc. The French CGT was already born in 1895.
Already at that time, the anarcho-syndicalists had set themselves the goal of founding their own trade unionist international, and in September 1913 a congress was held in London with this goal in mind. It was attended by 38 delegates representing 65 federations from various parts of the world. The IWW refrained from participating, not least because they always considered themselves an international. The congress limited itself to formulating a declaration of principles: class struggle; international solidarity; independence of political parties; emancipation from capitalist and State domination; socialisation of property and the means of production; and trade union organisation of production and distribution.
Not only did the trade unionist international not materialise, but when war broke out in the countries involved, the libertarian confederations, or parts of them, would suffer the same fate as the social democratic ones: they would join the war.
At the end of the war, like the social democrats, the anarcho-syndicalists tried to rebuild the ranks of an international organisation, which they had in fact never had. In December 1919, the FAUD (Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschland) trade union was set up in Berlin and the proposal to found a syndicalist international was renewed.
In the meantime, the 3rd International was being set up in Moscow, which a large part of revolutionary syndicalism initially joined. There were several reasons for this. One derived from the way the new International was initially conceived, which declared that it wanted to «create a bloc with those elements of the revolutionary workers’ movement which, although they had not previously belonged to the Socialist Party, are now placed in every way on the terrain of the proletarian dictatorship in its Soviet form, that is to say, with the elements of syndicalism». Another reason was the need to oppose the reformist syndicalism that had already organised itself in the Yellow International in Amsterdam.
But a decisive factor was the fact that the international proletariat saw in the Russian revolution, in the Bolshevik party, in Lenin, the leadership and the prefiguration of the international victory over the bourgeois regime. If the proletarian organisations that called themselves revolutionary had turned their backs on Moscow they would have been suddenly abandoned by the working masses. So at that time, the anarcho-syndicalists declared themselves to be opposed neither to Moscow’s proposals nor to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In December 1920, a first international trade unionist conference was held in Berlin, convened by the German FAUD and the Dutch NAS. The meeting was also attended by delegates from the IWW, four Argentine organisations, a minority of the French CGT, representatives from England and continental Europe. Due to the arrest of their delegates, the CNT and USI were not present. Other unions merely sent messages of support.
An observer from the Russian trade unions expressed doubts about the necessity of the conference, given the forthcoming founding congress of the Red Trade Union International.
As a condition of their membership of the Moscow Trade Union International, the participants made it a condition that they refused to subordinate themselves to political parties and reiterated the view that the revolutionary organisation of production and distribution should be run by the trade unions. However, the document issued by this first conference in Berlin was addressed to all trade unionist organisations and was aimed at the trade unions.
As a condition of their membership of the Moscow Trade Union International, the participants made it a condition that they refused to subordinate themselves to political parties and reiterated the view that the revolutionary organisation of production and distribution should be run by the trade unions. However, the document issued at this first conference in Berlin called on all revolutionary syndicalist organisations to take part in the congress convened in Moscow by the Provisional Council of the RTUI to found a Red Trade Union International. Thus when the first Profintern Congress opened, many anarcho-syndicalist organisations were represented.
At the end of the Congress, a statement by Lozovski suggested that any disagreements between communists and anarcho-syndicalists had been settled in the name of the need for a single international revolutionary front to oppose the counter-revolutionary Amsterdam Yellow International.
Instead, the unity of purpose was only the result of the disorganisation of the anarcho-syndicalists who had failed to present a common platform.
As early as 14 July three German organisations, the FAUD, the AAUD and the German sailors’ union, drew up a contradictory document which, while declaring the need for a purely anarcho-syndicalist international, recognised that this would lead to an even greater dispersion of the proletarian forces. In conclusion it proposed to “transform the RTUI into a true international and guarantee its independence”.
One section of the anarcho-syndicalists argued for remaining within the SRI as an organised minority; the other for founding their own International.
From demanding full independence from the communist parties and the CI, the anarcho-syndicalists moved on to open denigration of Bolshevism and the Russian regime. Thus, already in the aftermath of the Congress founding the RTUI, it became clear that the goal it had set itself, to unite all sectors of the class union movement, could not be realised because of the sabotage of those who claimed to be revolutionaries.
In October 1921, in Düsseldorf, another anarcho-syndicalist conference again proposed the constitution of the Independent International.
In Italy, in March 1922, the USI held its national congress at which the anarchists, who were in favour of separation from Moscow, won the day. We will not dwell here on the fraudulent voting method by which the anarchists, in the school of social democrats, achieved their victory. Finally, like the social democrats, they demanded that the second congress of the Red Trade Union International be held outside the Soviet Union, preferring any bourgeois State to the victorious First Proletarian Republic.
In fact they had already decided on the foundation of an international of their own, which from the point of view of action would have been insignificant, but would have led to a rupture within the world proletarian movement.
In June 1922 there was the second anarcho-syndicalist conference in Berlin. Very few organisations took part: the German FAUD, the Italian USI, an unknown Jansen as a representative of the Scandinavian countries, a self-styled anarchist minority of Russian trade unions. Representatives of the French CGTU and the Russian trade union centre attended for information purposes.
Other anarcho-syndicalist organisations that were in favour of joining the Moscow Trade Union International were denied the opportunity to participate. The Italian trade union fraction, which in fact represented the actual majority of the USI, and the German Gelsenkirchen and Schiffahrtsbund Unions were excluded, although they were entitled to do so according to the rules of procedure of the conference itself.
The subject of the meeting was only one: a continued attack on the Russian revolution and the Soviet Republic, which were accused of exercising a repressive regime of terror on the working and peasant classes.
The motion passed summarised the usual programme of anarcho-syndicalism: "Free communism against State oppression", «not the conquest of political power, but the abolition of all State functions including the dictatorship of the proletariat as a source of new monopolies and privileges», «revolutionary action under the leadership of the economic organisations of the proletariat in opposition to political parties», etc. It was also stated that the Profintern «does not in fact represent, either from the point of view of its principles or its statutes, an international organisation capable of uniting the world revolutionary proletariat in an organism of struggle». It was therefore decided to appoint a provisional bureau to convene a third international anarcho-syndicalist meeting in Berlin in November 1922.
The foundation of the Anarchist International had been dreamt of for many years and they had never managed to achieve it because they had not yet worked out a common programme that could unite them.
Now, in the summer of 1922, a section of these national organisations seemed to have found a common goal in the anti-communist struggle, and thus together they were dividing the international revolutionary movement.
Their hypocrisy was such that they did not have the courage to appeal to their principles, but tried to lay the blame on a sectarian and dictatorial attitude of the Profintern.
The Anarcho-Syndicalist Congress was held from 25 December 1922 to 2 January 1923. Between attendance and membership, it seems that anarcho-syndicalist organisations from Germany, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Argentina and Chile took part. There were French observers, in particular from the Trade Unionist Defence Committee formed within the CGTU. From Russia there was, of course, only the self-styled anarcho-syndicalist minority. The list of participants and adherents is long and might give the idea of a vast and strong organisation, but unfortunately those unions only had a few hundred thousand adherents in all.
The Berlin congress fully confirmed the decisions taken at the conference in June 1922: the anarcho-syndicalists had their own international and tried to present the Profintern as the party responsible for the split. The anarcho-syndicalist movement, which pompously called its creature the "International Workers’ Association", thus did not fail to make its contribution to the international reaction.
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As with the soviets, there was also great general confusion about factory councils. The "corporatist" conception of factory councils as saviors of the party and of the revolution had spread both outside and inside the parties of the Third International: just think of our comrades in "L’Ordine Nuovo".
We communists, in perfect continuity with the first congresses of the International and with the tradition of the Italian Communist Left, identify a line that goes from Proudhon to Stalin, which has the claim to emancipate the proletariat by preserving mercantile exchange. We also find here the old utopia of Owen, who wanted to emancipate the proletariat by giving it the management of the factory while remaining in bourgeois society. Proudhon and the "corporationists" also have in common their distrust of the Party and the State, and would create leaders who, since "the flesh is weak", would form a new dominant caste. To this fear of corrupt human nature Marx replied: «Mr. Proudhon ignores that the whole of history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature».
The Communist Party, with no claim to guarantees in this regard, is instead the body least accessible to the influences of the bourgeoisie and its ideologies.
After the First World War and the betrayal of the proletariat by parties, parliamentary groups and trade union confederations, a new form of immediate organism of the industrial proletariat had a great development: the factory council. This claimed the defense of the immediate interests of the workers of the firm, but also control of production and finally of management, envisaging the final expropriation of the bosses.
From the text "The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism", in the second chapter, subtitle «this enticing mirage was immediately described by revolutionary Marxists as extremely deceptive. It was a view which ignored the question of centralised power, insofar as the bourgeois State was supposed to co‑exist with an advanced degree of workers’ control (…) All this was nothing other than a new revisionism».
From the "Theses of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction of the Socialist Party of Italy" May 1920, published in "Il Soviet" dated June 6 and 27, 1920, second chapter, we read:
«In general, it is an error to believe that the revolution is a question of forms of organisations which proletarians group into according to their position and interests within the framework of the capitalist system of production. It is not a modification of the structure of economic organisations, then, which can provide the proletariat with an effective instrument for its emancipation. Factory unions and factory councils emerge as organs for the defence of the interests of the proletarians of different enterprises at the point when it begins to appear possible that capitalist despotism in the management of the enterprises could be limited. But obtaining the right of these organizations to supervise (to monitor) production to a more or less large degree is not incompatible with the capitalist system and could even be used by it as a means to preserve its domination. Even the transfer of factory management to factory councils would not mean (any more than in the case of the unions) the advent of the communist system.
«According to sound communist conception, workers’ control over production will be realized only after the overthrow of bourgeois power as control of the whole proletariat unified in the State of councils on the management of each company; and communist management of production will be the direction of it in all its branches and units by rational collective bodies that will represent the interests of all workers associated in the work of building Communism».
Such crystalline clarity was not characteristic of our comrades from "L’Ordine Nuovo". With the centrist leadership of the party, starting in 1924, multiple and contradictory organs were created or proposed in the factories, with a devaluation of the union and its necessity as an organ of proletarian struggle. We take no pleasure in polemicizing Gramsci, a comrade towards whom the Communist Left has always nurtured respect and even affection. As we wrote in our "Dialogato con Gramsci", we recognize him as our comrade because of his sincere revolutionary faith, but not because of his ideas, which came more from the idealism of Croce and Gentile than from our materialism. In 1921, however, the communist Gramsci disciplined himself to the leadership of the Left.
For Gramsci, the communist party, the revolutionary political party, when it is not explicitly denied, however passes into the second, third or fourth level of importance. And the same happens with the trade union: the immediatists do not understand that "the level of consciousness" of the proletarians, of which they speak, is higher in the class union than in a factory council. Any pure workerism is liable to degenerate into class collaboration.
In Germany and Holland, with the KAPD and the "tribunists" we find similar conceptions, with a paradox at the base: the fact that in Western Europe a double revolution and therefore a democratic phase is not necessary, leads them to accentuate the democratic features of the revolution instead of the opposite, as it should be.
The gradualist idea that power is conquered piece by piece, casemate by casemate, has nothing to do with communism. Until the Bourgeois State is broken, the proletariat has conquered nothing. The Party is reduced to a school, to a center of illumination of consciences. This debasement of the role of the Party, and of the trade union, if it was typical in Germany of the KAPD, was not entirely alien to our best German comrades (including the Poles and the Jews) of the Spartacus League, with disastrous consequences.
In our text "Force Violence and dictatorship in the class struggle", in chapter V entitled "Russian degeneration and dictatorship", we read:
«Now let us consider the factory councils. We must remember that this form of economic organization, which at first appeared to be much more radical than the union, is increasingly losing its pretence of revolutionary dynamism; today the idea of factory councils is common to all political currents, even the fascists. The conception of factory councils as an organization which participates first in the supervising and later the management of production, and which in the end is capable of taking over, factory by factory, the management of production in its totality, has proven to be totally collaborationist (...)
«The related controversy had a great reflection in the young communist parties when the Russian Bolsheviks were forced to take essential and sometimes drastic measures to fight against the tendency of workers to make the technical and economic management of the factory in which they worked autonomous, which not only prevented the launching of a real socialist plan but threatened the efficiency of the production apparatus in which the counter-revolutionaries tried to speculate with very serious damage. In fact, even more than the union, the factory council can act as an exponent of very narrow interests and likely to come into conflict with the general class interests».
There is an argument connected to the factory councils, that of the organization of the communist parties by cells or firm nuclei. This transformation, decided by the Communist International in 1925-26, was opposed only, or almost only, by the Italian Left, which supported the more traditional territorial constituencies. On the last page of the aforementioned chapter, under the heading "Postscript", it is said with the usual clarity:
«If the organic function of the party, a function which no other organization can fulfil, is to lead the struggle from the level of the individual economic struggle on the local and trade basis to the united, general proletarian class struggle which is social and political, no echo of these tasks can seriously occur in a meeting in which there are only workers of the same professional category and the same production company.
«This environment will only feel the needs of a circumscribed and corporative nature, the expression of the unitary directive of the party will only come down from above and as something extraneous; the party official will never meet on an equal footing with the individual members of the base, in a certain sense he will no longer be part of the party since he does not belong to any economic company. In the territorial group, on the other hand, workers of all trades and employees of various bosses are placed on the same level».
We showed then that the conception of the cells, in spite of the claim to implement the strict adherence of the party organism to the broadest masses, contained the same opportunistic and demagogic defects of right-wing workerism and laborism and pitted the cadres against the base, in a true caricature of Lenin’s concept of professional revolutionaries.
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In Venezuela inside the "Patriotic Pole", that front of different parties and movements grouped around chavism and its government – and which corresponds to the progressist electoral alternative in other countries – cracks have opened, manifested already in the parliamentary elections at the end of 2020, as some parties of the front criticized the Bolivarist government.
But those who intended to break with the Patriotic Pole were forcefully brought back to discipline, as in the case of Podemos, Patria Para Todos and Tupamaros, whose leadership teams were replaced with Chavism-aligned figures. Marea Socialista was not allowed to register for elections. The chavists, thanks to their control of State power, thus prevented the recruitment of the electorate of the morose. Only the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) managed to gain a seat in the Chavist majority parliament, with a minority on the right-wing opposition benches.
The head of the government then apostrophized the PCV and other groups, such as Marea Socialista, as "out-of-time leftists". These criticisms of the PCV and groups linked to Chavism have been interpreted as a "turn to the right" by the Maduro government, now committed to neoliberalist policies, in agreement with the so-called "right-wing opposition", thus repudiating the programmatic lines of the late Hugo Chávez.
In Venezuela, both the right-wing parties and the left-wing opportunists, who from the 1970s onwards had reconciled themselves with parliamentarianism, the defense of democracy and anti-communism, called the parties that had launched into guerrilla warfare in the 1960s "leftists out of time". But when Chavism won the presidential elections and Chávez began to proclaim himself "socialist", they no longer called him "out of time" because there was big business at stake, so that many big bourgeoisie expressed their adherence to "21st century socialism".
Maduro, who today is attacking those who question his government’s neoliberal measures, is doing nothing different from what the Khrushchevs, the Titos, the Hoxhas, the Castros and the whole range of opportunists who proclaimed themselves "leftist", "Marxist", "socialist" and even "communist" did, and who at some point had to openly confess the capitalist nature of their society and of their programs.
History repeats itself. But that "out-of-time left" denounced by Maduro is just as opportunistic, anti-communist, anti-proletarian as the chavists in government who are turning to liberalism today. Both the so-called "radical right", which supports a U.S. military intervention and international sanctions, and the "moderate right", which intends to go the electoral route, as well as chavism and the parties that support the government, and the "coherent chavist" movements that criticize the Maduro government "from the left", are all expressions of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois factions. All these movements are part of the single party of Capital, which leads the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.
The Communist Party of Venezuela, the oldest, founded in 1931, has been opportunist since its foundation, under the counter-revolutionary influence of Stalinism. It is communist in name only, in fact it is nationalist like the others. Although it proclaims the defense of the workers its union practice has never been different from that of the dominant union corporations, the Bolivarian and Socialist Workers Central.
This party has recently criticized the government’s wage policies and opening to foreign capital. But it has equally compromised itself in the Bolivarian government, accepting every crumb thrown at it and supporting Chávez’s program of State capitalism. Now, as discontent grows among workers over the effects of economic reforms and reduced social spending, they seem to be stepping aside, but to prepare for whatever new alliances the changes in government might open up for them.
No different is the case with movements like Marea Socialista, of the various Trotskyist and other nationalist, ecologist, indigenist groups, etc. None of these represent a reaction of the proletariat to the crisis and government reforms. They are all entangled in nationalist programs, with legalitarian and constitutional approaches, in the defense of democracy and bourgeois political postulates. They represent the reaction of a part of the petty bourgeoisie affected by the fall in oil revenues and the loss of the ability of the bourgeois State to concentrate rents and foreign currency from which they benefited, directly or indirectly. They not only have nothing revolutionary, but also nothing reformist about them, defenders of private property and interclassism. Far from admitting the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat to oppose the bourgeois dictatorship, they defend electoralism and parliamentary maneuvering and everything that gives oxygen and continuity to capitalist exploitation.
The working class will move towards a united struggle for its immediate demands, wages, working conditions, health and safety, the fight against repression. In this struggle it will move away from all opportunist organizations, and find its party to converge in a great anti-capitalist and revolutionary movement, with local, national and international dimensions.
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At the meeting, a comrade reported on the Provisional Constitution of the Hungarian Republic of Soviets, adopted on April 2. It consisted of 89 articles that dealt with the organization of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Councils. Below we summarize the essential core of the report.
Article 1 – In the Republic of the Councils the proletariat has assumed all freedoms, all rights and all power, in order to abolish the capitalist system and the domination of the bourgeoisie in order to replace it with the socialist productive and social system. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a means to eliminate all kinds of exploitation and class domination and serves to prepare a social system without classes, in which even the main instrument of class domination, State power, will have disappeared.
Article 2 – The Council Republic is the republic of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils. In the Council Republic there is no place for exploiters. In the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils the working people are the one who shall make the laws, apply them and prosecute those who violate them. All central and local power is exercised by the proletariat in the councils.
We proceeded to deal with the counter-revolutionary government of the Social Democrats, led by Julius Peidl and the Romanian occupation. In his Memoirs, Romanelli, head of the Italian Mission in Budapest, writes: «Peidl began to give me a picture of the general situation in Hungary at that time, representing first of all the urgent need to provide internal security threatened by the remnants of those associations opposed to any established order, which until then had taken advantage of the complicity and weakness of the proletarian dictatorship to terrorize the city and the countryside, and by the droves of straggling soldiers, who returned from the front armed (...)
Peidl begged me on behalf of the new Hungarian government to communicate through telegraph with the President of the Peace Conference to invoke his authoritative intervention with the Romanian government to suspend hostilities, since the new regime established in Hungary has declared that it’ll repudiate the policy of the previous one, and pronounced itself willing to give the Entente every guarantee of its desire to submit to the conditions of peace, which would be dictated in due time by the Supreme Council».
Romanelli reports to Paris, and the answer confirmed the will of the Entente marauders: «I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your radio of yesterday announcing the resignation of the Government of the Council Republic, the formation of a new Hungarian Government and the declaration made by the latter that has been brought to the attention of the Supreme Council (...) The Allied and Associated Powers await the new Hungarian Government to act. They hope that the coming to power of a Government that will keep its commitments and represent the Hungarian people will hasten the moment where peace is restored and regular economic relations are resumed. Clèmenceau».
The Romanian troops continued the advance towards Budapest, while from Szeged Horty’s Whites marched. The night of August 3, cannon shots on the outskirts of Budapest announced the Romanian advance. The following morning a division of Romanian cavalry arrived on the outskirts of Budapest. The Romanians occupied the city and its surroundings, suppressed departing trains and attempts to communicate with Vienna.
The Romanians began to sweep off everything they considered useful, and even useless, in the city and in the countryside: Paris was interested in the occupation of Hungary.
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In the context of a pandemic that highlights and aggravates the worst contradictions of a rotting mode of production, an increase in workers’ struggles is also to be expected in the province of Quebec.
While negotiations in the public sector are underway, the leadership of the trade union bodies is not talking about a common struggle, when there’s more need than ever to unite forces against the bourgeois State, which will certainly not hesitate to use any means to crush them. Their role as the bosses’ accomplices in the exploitation of the workers is known, as workers now understand that a union struggle conducted in this way is incapable of producing results. It is therefore imperative that the base of the trade unions raise their heads and regain control of the unions, which are an essential tool in the struggle against capital.
The union struggle in Québec began with the development of capitalism in the province. Beginning in the 19th century, workers in various factories joined large international unions under the influence of fellow Americans. At first, as everywhere, unions were not recognized by law and had to organize underground.
World War II allowed a rapid development of trade unionism, with more room to maneuver thanks to the full employment generated by the military industry.
In 1945-46, during the strike of 17,000 Ford workers in Windsor, Judge Rand, who was called in, decided that the company was obliged to deduct the amount of union dues from the wages of all employees and remit the sum to the union: all those who benefited from the labor contract had to pay the dues.
The productive euphoria continued for some years after the Allied victory, with Canada emerging from the war as an industrial power, benefiting for some time from the weakening of the European powers.
This was the period of the so-called "Quiet Revolution", which began in 1960 when the Quebec Liberal Party went into government under the slogan "Masters of our own house". This was followed by a series of reforms involving important nationalizations (such as that of electricity, which became a State monopoly). Cégeps, new publicly funded pre-university colleges for technical formation, were created. It was suggested that this was the beginning of a cautious national liberation movement in Quebec. The Québec "identity" was thus invented at that time: prior to this, the French-speaking people of the province considered themselves to be French-speaking Canadians.
The post-war period and up to the "Quiet Revolution" was marked by intense union activity and a bitter struggle against the Quebec government, which made no secret of its anti-union stance. Despite the laws and means used to break the unions and the brutality of police repression, the struggles multiplied and anger grew. The State found itself facing an adversary in a position of strength. During these years, it was the unionized workers who put up the strongest resistance to the reactionary ideas, policies and methods of the Union Nationale du Canada government.
The Québec trade union movement underwent another important evolution during these years, when public service employees began to unionize en masse in the large organizations, the FTQ, the CSN and the CSQ. The unionization rate went from 25% to 39%, about the same as today. During this period, which is now considered a golden age for trade unionism in Quebec, major struggles were waged, culminating in 1972 with the united front and general strike that shook the province.
The 1980s marked a major change. Beginning in 1982, Québec experienced a major economic crisis with a significant increase in the unemployment rate. The bosses and the government took advantage of the situation to go on the offensive with all sorts of decrees and special laws such as Act 105 and 111, known as the "baton law".
One defeat after another, the unions were always on the defensive. After a series of bitter failures, in the face of all of this State arrogance, the unions became more and more submissive and less demanding, and the leaders more and more complacent. Today they are almost always behind the members of their own unions, who sometimes come to believe that traditional unions are no longer useful in defending their interests, rather than ahead.
Meanwhile, the labor market has changed radically. Precarious work (temporary, part-time or without guaranteed hours) and subcontracting are now almost the norm. Clauses defending only acquired rights – accepted by the unions – are multiplying in collective agreements, creating divisions between different generations of workers.
With subcontracting, workers are separated at different locations and are often not included in collective bargaining agreements, which sometimes leads them to not strike during labor struggles.
In fact, the number of strike days per year dropped dramatically between 1981 and 2010: 272 average days of work stoppage per year in 1981-1990; 134 for 1991-2000; 91 for 2001-2010. This in a period that has seen an increase in attacks on workers is a testimony to their lack of organization and distrust of unions. This situation must inevitably change.
The union has been reduced to just getting members, often using opportunistic methods and creating divisions among workers.
In construction, for example, membership is individual, unlike in other categories. Workers must choose from five unions willing to represent them. This peculiarity gives rise to "membership hunting" with union representatives who, during the "union recruitment" period established by law, try to convince workers at construction sites, sometimes using violent methods.
It should be noted, however, that the unionization rate has remained stable over the years and is still the highest in North America. There is no doubt, however, that the "Rand formula" plays an important role and makes workers’ attachment to their union appear more than it is. Many find themselves automatically enrolled even though they do not trust their representatives or have no interest in the union struggle.
In Quebec, there are three major trade union confederations that bring together a large number of unions.
First, the Fédération des Travailleurs et des Travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) with 44% of unionized workers and almost half a million members. The FTQ brings together a multitude of sectors and categories of the working class.
The "FTQ Fund" is one of the largest investors in Québec and also owns significant stakes in foreign companies. Beyond many corruption scandals, this fact puts the FTQ in a contradictory position because the outbreak of struggles within the companies in which it invests through the FTQ Fund goes against its economic interests.
The Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) represents nearly 300,000 workers, most of them in the civil service, historically combative categories in Québec. It therefore has an important role to play in the sector’s negotiations.
The Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ) has nearly 200,000 members in Québec.
The Centrale des syndicats démocratiques du Québec (CSD) was founded by dissident trade unionists during the CSN’s breakthrough into the Common Front in 1972. It is the smallest of the centrals with about 75,000 members. It organizes 300 unions into eight professional groups. The CSD-construction has 25,000 members.
In addition to the large central labor bodies, there are also other unions with substantial followings.
The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la Santé du Québec (FIQ), with 76,000 members, 90% of whom are women. It organizes nurses and various health care specialists. The FIQ does not join the other centrals in negotiations.
The Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS) has 60,000 members. The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAÉ) has about 49,000. The FAÉ is thus important in the school sector. Finally, the Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec (SFPQ) has 40,000 members.
In Québec, the unions do not defend workers against the increasingly harsh attacks of Capital. The refusal of their central bodies to form a common front in the 2020 public sector dispute proves this. The members express their dissatisfaction with the managements.
The workers need a real organism of struggle, a class union, which goes beyond professional boundaries and defends the interests of the working class as a whole. This body cannot be limited to Quebec but extend to Canada and also internationally. Workers all over the world have the same interests and only solidarity will allow their strength to be expressed.
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In April, data on world military spending were published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) in Stockholm. Both Institutes agree in their analysis that in the year 2020, despite the deepening of the economic crisis and the spread of the pandemic, military spending has recorded a sharp increase in the world as a whole.
Covid-19, as we have repeatedly shown, did not cause the economic crisis but aggravated it, increasing the tension between the main imperialisms. In addition, the war for the production and distribution of vaccines, the sharing of responsibilities for the spread of the virus, etc.. have increased the contrasts between States and highlighted their weaknesses. The economic crisis that is approaching will be far more devastating than that of 2009 and will occur in a context of growing international tension. From all this the tendency of States to arm themselves, despite the budgetary problems arising from the regression in the reproduction of capital.
According to Iiss calculations, in 2020, while global economic production fell by 3.5%, there was an increase of 3.9%, in real terms, of world spending on armaments. As a proportion of GDP, it went from spending 1.85% in 2019, to 2.08% in 2020. In absolute values, this would exceed $1.830 billion.
Sipri estimates are not too distant: global GDP would have decreased by 4.4% while global military spending would have increased by 2.6%, reaching as much as $1,981 billion. This increase would be the largest since 2009, at the height of the last global economic crisis.
It must be noted that the regime of capital, in its catastrophic and destructive imperialist phase, despite the economic and health crisis, spends more and more money on cannons and less and less on "butter". We as Marxists are not surprised by this.
In 1915, after the outbreak of World War I, Lenin made ours the famous phrase of General Von Clausevitz, «war is the continuation of politics by other means». The concept could be extended by stating that war is also the continuation by other means, and precisely by violent means, of economics, trade, and finance. Militarism is an inseparable part of capitalism and an illusion is in the capitalist regime a universal peace, a collaboration among States. For the regime of Capital there is no other way out of the economic crisis than war, the generalized and programmed destruction of goods and means of production, including millions of proletarians, to "rejuvenate" and begin a new cycle of accumulation. This is what happened with the first and, even more, with the second imperialist war. In this awareness in the programs of the decision-making centers of the military apparatus of the various States there is the expenditure of enormous sums of money to keep the armed forces efficient and ready for use.
The size of the expenditure reflects the hierarchy of power in the world.
It is still the United States that dominates with a far greater commitment than all others by maintaining and strengthening its formidable arsenal. In 2020, U.S. military spending grew in its third consecutive year after seven years of slight decline. Reduced due to the 2009 crisis, it has not yet returned to the highs of that time, however: it was at 4.9% of GDP in 2009 and 2010, then fell to 3.3% in 2017 and 2018, and then rose again to 3.4% in 2019 and 3.7% in 2020. It exceeded $778 billion, an increase of 4.4% over 2019. It is an effort aimed at confirming their control over the entire planet and maintaining strategic superiority primarily towards China, identified as the first global adversary.
U.S. military power alone contributes 39% of total global spending. And this has been the case at least since 1989, the year of the disintegration of the USSR. In spite of all the crunches and lost positions in the economic, financial and commercial fields, they maintain a clear supremacy in the military sector.
The second country that spends the most on armaments is China, which in 2020 invested 252 billion dollars, 1.7% of its GDP, or about a third of the United States. After several years in which Beijing’s spending in absolute values had undergone increases of 4-5% each year, in 2020 it has increased by about 2%. According to Sipri: «The continued growth in Chinese spending is in part due to the country’s long-term military expansion and modernization plans, in line with its stated desire to catch up with other major military powers». In fact, China, which is traditionally a continental power, has now clearly expressed its desire to counteract the dominant position of the United States and its allies in the Pacific, the ocean on which its ports open and through which the country exchanges most of its commodities.
Beijing aspires to the role of top economic power, but its capitalists are aware that the acquisition of that role cannot happen if it is not able to compete militarily with other powers, the U.S. first of them. For this reason, China is dedicating great resources to strengthen above all its navy, air force and missile arsenal.
At a distance from the two main imperialisms are what we might call regional powers, India (72.9 billion dollars), Russia (61.7), Great Britain (59.2), Saudi Arabia (57.5), Germany and France (with 52.8 and 52.7 respectively), and finally Japan (48.1) and South Korea (46.0).
It should be noted, in reading this ranking, that India, despite competing with China in terms of population and despite having the atomic weapon, on the military level still represents a middle size power and, above all, dependent on foreign imports for the main weapon systems, even if in recent years it is making a great effort to achieve autonomy in various sectors, especially the army and air force, less the navy.
Russia reduced its military spending from 3.9 percent in 2009 to 3.4 percent in 2011 before rising again to 5.4 percent in 2016. It then declined again to 3.7% in 2018 and 3.8% in 2019 before rising to 4.3% in 2020. Although spending weighs relatively to GDP, in absolute values it remains comparable to that of a medium power, belying Putin’s patriotic rhetoric that would aspire to restore "imperial" splendor.
However, Moscow has a tradition, a level of technology and a network of military industries that allow it to be in second place worldwide as an exporter of armaments, surpassed only by the United States.
Saudi Arabia in the last three years, despite the fact that it is conducting a bloody and costly war in Yemen, has greatly reduced its spending on armaments, also due to the fall in oil prices which has reduced the State’s income. This has allowed Great Britain, which instead has continued to spend more and more, to gain third place in the group, distancing France and Germany.
It should be noted that France, despite its relatively modest military spending, last year gained third place in the world ranking of arms exporters.
Obviously all countries export unscrupulously despite declaring to condition sales to the respect of "human rights" by buyers: not for nothing the State that is among the largest buyers is Egypt. Pecunia non olet!
Japan is engaged in a considerable rearmament process that concerns above all the fleet. The Japanese government, to this end, intends to change the constitution which currently places a limit of 1% of GDP on military spending. In addition, recently all legislative restrictions on arms exports have been lifted. Tokyo in this phase is the main ally of the United States in the fight against China.
Also South Korea is engaged in a strong process of rearmament that has accelerated in recent years, also thanks to pressure from the U.S., to keep both North Korea and China under control. In any case Seoul is trying to reduce its dependence on imports by trying to realize weapon systems of national construction that seem to have given excellent results both for the navy and the air force.
The total expenditure for the ten States mentioned so far is 1,464 billion dollars, 74% of global military spending.
At a distance is a third group of powers that we can define as minor: Italy (28.9 billion dollars), Australia (27.5), Canada (22.7), Israel (21.7), Brazil (19.7) and Turkey (17.7). Sipri does not have data available for the United Arab Emirates but they certainly rank in this group.
These three groups of powers, 17 States in all, cover about 82% of world military spending.
We can therefore confirm what Lenin wrote a century ago in his study on imperialism, that a small group of imperialist and militarist States dominates the world.
In the early nineties, after the fall of the "Soviet" empire and the drastic reduction of military spending of Russia and satellite countries, the United States also began to reduce military spending, which fell from 6.1% of GDP in 1988 to 3.1% in 2001. This temporary reduction in the arms spending of the then two major powers, the US and the former USSR, was used by the bourgeois left and the peace movement to sow the illusion that war was averted and a world of peaceful relations between States was in sight. But it didn’t last long and now the same parties of the so-called parliamentary "left" boast of their nationalism and incite to rearmament, maybe justifying it with the defense against "terrorism", for the protection of the national economy and of the jobs in the war industry.
It is only the proletariat, organized and self-conscious, framed in its class unions and with the leadership of its party, that can oppose militarism and war by preparing its class war against the regime of Capital.
1953 - On the Thread of Time
Class, Bureaucracy, State, Party
The following text was published in "Il Programma Comunista", at the time organ of the International Communist Party, in issues 10, 11 and 12 of 1953, in the series "Sul Filo del Tempo" aimed at reaffirming the central theses of the Marxist theory.
The vain, almost two hundred years old, attack against the invariance of our doctrine, attempted then by the French group "Socialisme ou Barbarie", served to re-present a whole series of key points regarding the concepts of class, bureaucracy, State, party, dictatorship, communist society, and allowed for a further and more clear-cut differentiation of us from yet another alleged Marxist group, which left no mark whatsoever in history, like all others that appeared before and after it.
In the face of the pressure and the spread of the updaters (the worst of the traitors and enemies of Marxism), both of which are clear symptoms of the accentuated instability and precariousness of the bourgeois system and of the fear of the proletariat’s re-emergence on the world stage as a class, this text of ours is still valid and even more topical, given that that of the repairers is a profession that knows no crisis, since they periodically appear in an attempt to refute, claiming to update, the cornerstones of Marxism of all time.
This text, republished in 1972, had become rare, and therefore we are re-proposing it to the attention of those who see in our work the only one capable of realising the revolutionary demands of the proletariat, and in our Party the only one capable of leading the proletarian army to victory.
Like all Marxist texts, this text is a weapon: we place it at the disposal of all those who intend to take our side so that they do not remain defenceless and so that they understand that the efficient use of our weapons will be one of the indispensable conditions for communist victory in the world.
To this end, we considered it useful to preface the text with a quick Summary, which we hope comrades and sympathisers will also use for propaganda purposes of the communist doctrine of all time.
CHAPTER I - THE BATRACHOMYOMACHIA - Reiterated, texts in hand, that pre-existed private capitalism cases of statization, of which Marxism foresaw the spread as an outlet of the concentration of capital, and that the complete statisation of industry is not socialism (par. 1), we face the umpteenth attempt to patch up, to repair Marxism, on the part of the amarxists of "Socialism or Barbarism", whom we shall henceforth call "repairers", whose central thesis, due to unforeseen consequences of capitalism, is: exit bourgeoisie, enter bureaucracy (par. 2), which they elevate to the rank of a class (the example would be found in the USSR).
The error of this doctrine is all in the theses which are not only anti-Marxist, but pre-Marxist, which Marxism suspected, foresaw and crushed in its time (section 3).
A document of the repairers, an incautious parody of the 1848 Manifesto, lacks any explanation, justification and "apology" of the bureaucracy-class, which would keep power for itself, for its own sake, and not for the defence of one of the modes of class production as an apparatus of class power, i.e, as a State; bureaucracy being nothing else for Marxism (par. 4).
They attempt to contradict Trotsky on the subject of Russian economics, but they only make a foolish confusion of the basic terms and concepts of Marxist economics, demonstrating historical blindness and dialectical impotence (section 5).
In giving a new definition of the relations of production they fall into a crassly bourgeois anti-determinist idealism with consciousness and will as the point of arrival, reducing the struggle between classes to an eternal conflict between the manager and the executor (section 6).
They cite Marx’s 1859 introduction to the Critique of Political Economy to affirm that relations of production and forms of property are not two sleeves of the same pair, contrary to what Marxism claims (para. 7).
Recalling the Marxist definitions contained in that famous introduction (par. 8), it is specified that surplus labour, surplus value (for the repairers: exploitation), when capitalism was born, was a useful evolutionary form of the forces of production (par. 9).Turning to the political course, the meaning of the State in Marxism is hammered out, with regard to which the repairers reveal an anarchist tendency (par. 10), and the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat is insisted upon, a State which in a given long period of time is extinguished, without the bureaucracy-class of the repairers being able to find a place in this course (par. 11). The "solution" of which, and thus the attempted description of Russian society, is to Marxist society what Homer’s humorous fight between mice and frogs is to the clash of two historical forms mythically described in the Iliad (par. 12).
CHAPTER II - THE CROAKING OF PRAXIS - Having summed up what has already been said (par. 13), comparing the two "economistic" and Marxist systems of viewing modern society, and recalling that only for Marxist theory does the class struggle express the struggle between two modes of production (par. 14), we denounce in the "economistic" and "Marxist" concept of the struggle between two modes of production. Recalling that only for Marxist theory does the class struggle express the struggle between two modes of production (par. 14), the repairers conception is denounced, according to which the workers form an order exploited and oppressed by the opposite order of high officials, the relapse into a pre-bourgeois society of Lassallian memory, which Marx demolished in his time (par. 15).
To see this distortion in the USSR implies the denial of the Marxist historical dialectic, when in fact in Russian society we are in the midst of a palingenesis, which implements the capitalist mode of production in place of previous modes (par. 16).
On the subject of organisation and tactics, the repairers deny that the working class, in its long historical course towards revolution, increasingly needs its political party, which they degrade to a heraldic council or a people’s seat (par. 17), and to which they assign not a task of direction but of simple orientation with respect to the class, a distinction which Engels already branded for the anarchists of 1872 (par. 18).
They tear to pieces Lenin’s "What is to be done?", which instead traces and recalls the fundamental tenets of Marxism in organic and continuous theses (par. 19).
Having destroyed the counter-revolutionary illusion of the repairers of the "spontaneous autonomy of conscience" with long quotations from Marx and Lenin, which demonstrate the inexorable chaining of historical Marxist positions (par. 20), it is recalled that the Italian Left has always maintained and defended against everyone that not only is the consciousness of the future course in the party, and the will to reach given goals, as well as acting voluntarily for it, and therefore that insurrection, government, dictatorship and economic plan are its tasks, but also that the class is such insofar as it has the party (par. 21).
CHAPTER III - THE DANCE OF THE PUPPETS: FROM CONSCIOUSNESS TO CULTURE - Reaffirmed on the basis of Marxism the concepts of class, which does not mean a different page of the census register, but rather historical motion, struggle, historical programme (par. 22), and order, which is instead a partition of society that would like to keep it immobile and guaranteed against revolutions, to the confusion of them the repairers’ deviation is reducible (par. 23).
After renewing the critique of revolutionary syndicalism, of its formulation of the workers aristocracy and of the expropriating general strike, an illusory vision that reduces the conquest of society to the conquest of the factory (par. 24), the error of the revolutionary syndicalists and the repairers in treating the revolutionary proletariat not as a class in the powerful sense of Marx, but as a banal order is highlighted, arriving at the negation of programme, party and history (par. 25).
At the end, faced with the complaint of the repairers for a violated "proletarian democracy", once reasserted that democracy is a movement and a political form that corresponds to a development of revolutionary bourgeois forms, to it is opposed the dictatorship, politically the form of the specific revolution of the proletariat (par. 26).
Once destroyed the purely idealistic repairers’ notion of the "conscious activity" of the masses in a class regime, which is elevated to the motive cause of historical events, the insane thesis of every right-wing socialist (par. 27), the Marxist party alone (the only case in the entire history of human collectivities) is claimed to have the possibility of knowledge and awareness of the revolutionary development. The conscious activity of men will come into being for the first time when there will no longer be classes (par. 28).
In conclusion, in the face of the repairers wreck after having recourse to a universal culture, which the proletariat should assimilate before having the right to rise up, and to freedom of expression (par. 29), having established that it is a matter of authentic idealism and bourgeois democratism reeking of at least three-century-old mould, which pretends to teach the dictatorship the most cowardly of self-limitations, we reaffirm our certainty in the resurgence of the inseparable triad: party, class and revolution (par. 30).
(Il Programma Comunista, no. 10, 1953)
1. Changing the tone
In the previous Filo del Tempo article [Carlylian Phantoms], with a view to plotting the declining role of the individual in history in both the realms of mental activity and the economy, we quoted the passage from Engels in which he defines the arrival of the fourth and final phase of capitalism as the disappearance of the bourgeoisie, which, having entrusted production and exchange to the State, is revealed to be “a superfluous class” whose social functions “are carried out by salaried employees” [The passage is from “Additions to the text of Anti-Duhring made by Engels in the pamphlet Utopian and Scientific Socialism”, MECW Vol. 25 p. 642].
Engels reaffirms this fact in various vivid passages which tie in with Marx’s no less expressive writings on the impersonal nature of capital, in which the capitalist merely performs a simple walk-on part.
Clearly these passages were cited to establish that where there is State control and management of productive enterprises, even where the whole of industry is under State control, you cannot for this reason say there is socialism.
However that is far from all. We need to draw two further things from those quotations. In the first place that examples of capitalist State control were already known when the Marxist doctrine took shape, and thus for Marx and Engels were not new to history; in the second place that they not only predicted the systematic diffusion of such forms as an essential outcome of capitalist concentration, but they based this prediction on the Marxist definition of capital and not the bourgeois one. From its very first appearance capital is a social form of production and not a new historical form of personal, private property.
So if State control had not been achieved and the modern State had managed to keep out of the economy, then not just one prediction of Marxism would have been shown to be wrong, but the anti-Marxist theory of capitalist production would given our theory a thorough beating.
Put another way: from its very first appearance, the essential and discriminating characteristic of productive capital is not its ownership by private individuals.
Capitalism’s essential characteristics are to be sought elsewhere, and although recorded by ourselves many times before, we are happy to return to them again now.
2. We prefer ignoramuses
Due to the obviousness of these things, we are utterly amazed that these texts seem to be well known (given the same quotations are used) to some intellectual heads of small groups and movements, whose fault lies not in their limited forces but in presuming that with limited forces they can set up dry docks to refurbish theories that have navigated centuries of history, and attracted millions of followers.
If such a position were logical, then clearly the entire Marxist thesis that a new historical program cannot just appear in the head of an individual author, or worse still in a boutique- like existentialist coterie, would have to be dropped.
The example we are going to occupy ourselves with is the review Socialisme ou Barbarie, and its editor Chaulieu [one of many names used by Castoriadis, Cardan etc.], who we don’t actually consider the stupidest or most asinine of a-marxists. A real shame.
Who will repair the repairers? Here we are only going to remove their patches (pecette), without shedding a tear for any of their fans and collaborators who mimic their pretensions; however painful it is that before, whether rightly or wrongly, they staked a claim to the Marxist orthodoxy of our school. The great ship cuts its way through stormy oceans better than ever; but were it up to those guys it would have gone straight to the bottom ages ago.
In order to take personalities and places out of the equation, we shall talk mainly of repairers and patchers – pecettisti – (in Roman dialect a pecetta is the patch you use to plug a hole or gap, for instance to repair a flat tyre, mostly with that kind of success which the Venetians famously refer to as “pezo el tacon dal buso”, that is, the repair is worse than the damage).
The attempt to demonstrate that “leaks” and “gaps” exist appears clearly in phrases like this: «both the evolution of capitalism and the development of the workers’ movement itself have given rise to new problems, to unforeseen and unforeseeable factors, to previously unexpected tasks, under the weight of which the workers’ movement buckled, leading to its current disappearance».
Marxism is back in the dry dock then for a minor overhaul, so as “to take note of these tasks and respond to these problems”. In Rome they would say “hai detto un prospero” [a damp squib].
After a brief nod to the Communist Manifesto which is vaguely acknowledged for having stated some early revolutionary intuitions, and for having discovered the class struggle – which Marx said he didn’t discover – we go back and forth until eventually it is concluded that today’s theory has to be very different to the 1848 one. That the intention is not merely to add a few chapters, or cut out some of the dead wood so new shoots can be grafted on, but rather that it is to replace the entire trunk is made clear by the puerile subheadings in an initial document which mimic the classical ones: bourgeoisie and bureaucracy – bureaucracy and proletariat – proletariat and revolution, in place of the famous: bourgeois and proletarians – proletarians and communists.
But by allowing the central thesis: exit bourgeoisie, enter bureaucracy, we will shortly argue that it is not a part but the whole they are boasting about replacing; not a repair of the wooden hull, but putting a steel one in its place.
But all that these hull restorers are really launching is paper boats.
3. A new leading actor
Since, in short, you want to know what it was that for Marx and his followers, in 1848 and in 1914, was “unforeseen and unexpected” we can infer it immediately from another key sentence: «By and large we can say the profound difference between the situation today and in 1848 is the appearance of the bureaucracy as a social stratum which tends to stand in for the traditional bourgeoisie during the period of capitalism’s decline». This entity, described as new on the historical scene, is not a bit part actor but a lead player. In fact it is presented as a social stratum (couche), but is soon raised to the status of a class: how otherwise would you define the Russian social situation, with the bourgeoisie gone, as a class economy and class structure? One class is the proletariat, and the other? Bureaucracy: clearly.
The definition of the bureaucracy as a social class is such nonsense that, if for one second it was admitted, the entire theory as it was at the time of the Manifesto, up to Lenin (and happily up to now) would crumble to dust, and none of it, not a single chapter, would survive. This would still not matter that much: it would just be one more demolition job on Marxism to add to all the others: let them break their teeth on it! But the fact of the matter is, the inherent error in this doctrine already exists in its entirety not only in anti-marxist theses but in pre-marxist ones as well, which Marxism not only anticipated and found highly suspect, but repeatedly denounced as already rancid at the time, and crushed with classic “passage à tabac” (gave it the third degree).
We will gird our loins then and get ready to show that whoever wishes to follow the refurbishment and patching up line à la rive gauche then let them go ahead, but only after reading and digesting every page of both Capital and State and Revolution.
Because we could hardly define better the exact opposite of the position of the international Marxist left, before and after Lenin, than with the words «The program of the proletarian revolution cannot remain what it was before the experience of the Russian revolution and the transformations that took place after the Second World War in all of the countries within the Russian sphere of influence». What happens then is this: that precisely those who have given the clearest evidence of never understanding what the program of the proletarian revolution was, is, or will be, set about changing it!
Our movement pulls in the opposite direction, and we believe our contribution to that effort has been by no means negligible: «The programme of the proletarian revolution must remain as it was before the Russian revolution and the First World War and before the corruption of the Second International». Marx recognized in the Paris Commune of 1871 the program of the Manifesto of 1848. Lenin in October 1917 and in the aftermath of the First World War discovered the self same program. The important point is that we do not see this program being implemented in Russia at all, that much is clear; but not for the same reasons the repairers give; insofar as if their postulates had won out they wouldn’t have been implemented either, namely: democracy and proletarian control, and reduction of bureaucratic privileges. The only demands they are capable of making.
4. A class defunct from birth
One sole consideration suffices to put the discovery of this new planet in the solar system of historical social classes – the “bureaucracy class” – mercifully not tolerated at all by the materialist dialectic, which casts it back into the metaphysical limbos of totally bourgeois thinking. This embarrassing parody of the 1848 Manifesto lacks any explanation, justification or “apologia” of this original, new class taking the place of old ones. If we have, as is claimed, witnessed its rise, we have witnessed the formation and victory of a “useless” class, for as soon as it appeared we deemed it worthy only of insults. How different their presentation is from the one in the Manifesto of the bourgeois revolution, of the bourgeois conquest of the world! An error then, a distraction, a historical abortion? Is this Marxism; or the soiled idealism of the decadent bourgeoisie!?
But why, instead of it being pickled in a specimen jar, does this horrible and decrepit abortion inspire so much fear that the entire “programme of the revolution” has to be changed, and the “midwife of history” sent back to school to be instructed by these pale sawbones?
This hypothesis of the apparatus of class power – in Marxist language the bureaucracy is just that; the State is just that – holding power not to defend one of the modes of class production, but for itself, for its own benefit, to get money out of it to spend at the cinema or the brothel, is just the lowest version of one of the most banal objections to proletarian socialism, i.e., if new forces are placed at the summit of society, you just have to start all over again, because whoever governs and leads only does so on their own account. And as any Philistine will tell you, the only remedy for that is a moral one, for both governed and governors to be honest, a liberal solution (control, tut-tut!) in which those elected to lead are the servants of the electorate, as for example in old England, or in young America! And in this way you think you will teach Karl Marx something that he, poor fellow, somehow missed? Maybe you’d be better off in the business of digging up evidence for cuckolded husbands, far more serious!
In a strange and shabby polemic with Trotsky, in which everything right he said they say is wrong, and vice versa, they pick up on a bad literary progression from one sentence which is correct (the certainty that the bureaucracy has no historical future) to the next: if a setback in the revolution allowed the bureaucracy to firmly establish itself in power on a global scale, «it would be a regime in decline, signifying the eclipse of civilization». The proletariat and revolutionary Marxism would they therefore be prepared to trade in their class programme, if it were shown that progress was turning into decline, and a civilization common to all classes and above the struggle between classes were threatened with extinction? Progress, and light of historical civilization: it serves for nothing but total relapse into what Marx and Engels lambasted a thousand times over as the ideology of bourgeois and petty bourgeois socialism.
The repairers want to take over our little Marxism: well, let them enjoy this valuable confession: in order to prevent decadent regimes and the eclipse of present-day civilization (for us already about as horrible as it could be) coming after capitalism, we are not going to hit a single typewriter key, set a single letter of linotype, or come up with a single brilliant idea to save it: as long as the bourgeois regime is got rid of, it can die in the dark for all we care.
But in order to show that the so-called refurbishment job is really an attempt – albeit futile – to dismantle Marxism bit by, we need a minimum of order. So let us have a quick look at the matter of economic trends, and then political power.
5. Dialectical atrophy
The polemic sets out with the aim of contradicting Trotsky’s thesis that in Russia there was still a workers’ State even after the victory of the bureaucracy. Trotsky said (in fact critical judgements of Trotsky should be examined in rather a better logical order) that the economy was socialist in production due to the State ownership of industry, and non-socialist only in the distribution (or rather re-division) of the revenue (or rather the product). But in refuting this position with the obvious argument that each of the historical forms of production presents inseparable characteristics of its own also in the realm of distribution, much confusion is caused due to the sloppy use of the basic terms and concepts of Marxist economics.
We disagree with Trotsky as regards the various stages through which Russian social development has passed since February 1917, as regards what they were, and how they are to be defined, and feel that there was a constant “time lag” as regards him acknowledging that various revolutionary positions had been abandoned, firstly in the field of tactics, then in politics, and finally in economics. But Trotsky, as his companion Sedova has apparently already stated, would no longer talk about room for manoeuvre, proletarian power, or proletarian economy in Russia today, that much is for sure.
But the undeniable superiority of Trotsky over his detractors, who lag far behind him in matters of Marxism, is that he situates development within the train of historical events, and understands that the relationship between strategic manoeuvres and economic policy is clarified by taking account of the interaction between all of the social factors, at home or abroad; and he knows how to distinguish between the very different paths leading respectively to victory, to a standoff, and to the defeat of revolutions that are already underway, even when his solution to the case is ill-adapted to the problem.
These critics of his see nothing historically and dialectically, and when they do attempt to recount the international sequence of events they do it in a very stilted fashion, seeing everything in a terribly static and statistical way, and only because they use words and phrases picked up from Marx do they think they have found new and appropriate solutions. In truth they do not rise above a stupid “analysis” according to which if you give me an aerial photo of a country I can explain to you what the initial position is as far as the relations of production and distribution are concerned, and can then pass judgement on the “colour” of the “regime”.
This dialectical impotence makes it impossible for them to understand that there are moments when economy and politics, for example, production and distribution, and even the interests of the ruled class and the ruling class, appear to move in opposite directions: this is what Marx learnt from the history of the pre-1848 revolutions and counterrevolutions, and what re-examining later events has so amply confirmed, namely, that not one of the nails holding the hull together should ever have been driven in anywhere else.
6. The relations of production
This primary Marxist concept has not been digested at all, even if they do refer to classical formulations. In fact it has been turned on its head. Their vaunted goal is to link production relations with those of distribution, which is quite right too, and we did it correctly with regard to the mercantile characteristics of the Russian economy, demonstrating its capitalist character in light of the present general historical and political conditions. But at the time, for example, of the introduction of the NEP, it was possible to draw very different conclusions.
But the seriousness of the error consists in the fact that in redefining the relations of production, the Marxist criterion gets so deformed as to relapse completely into a crassly bourgeois, anti-determinist idealism. In spite of the point of departure being correct, we end up with the following type of thesis repeated ad infinitum: «We know (!) that every production relation is, in the first case and immediately (?), the organization of the productive forces in view of the productive outcome».
In this enunciation of a dozen words or so, all placed in the wrong order, can be recognized all of the bourgeois ways of thinking about economics and philosophy.
The point of arrival to which this entire tortuous exposition is leading, consciousness and will, is slipped in under the false premises of the distorted starting point.
Nota bene: the theorem wishes to define what is common to all production relations in history, even the most ancient ones.
The formula is therefore based on idealist and voluntarist theses. In the beginning there was consciousness, in the beginning there was the will. Since someone organised things, this someone arranged production and the economy according to his plan, that is, his will. And since the selfsame someone had the outcome clearly in mind, in him already resided the science and consciousness of economic laws as well.
But who is this someone? Whoever replies “the average man in the street” is a bona fide, loyal anti-Marxist liberal. Whoever states “the exceptional man”, is a standard issue idealist from one of the many schools. Whoever says “the messenger of God”, is a believer in revelation. But the repairers’ “someone” we can say without hesitation is “the ruling class” (in Russia, therefore, the bureaucracy, which holds sway over economic laws and production quotas). And that’s the whole scheme in a nutshell.
They think they are Marxist because they introduce class even when it isn’t there (and maybe only then). They have read and thoroughly studied Marx, and perhaps quote him more than us; in particular when he shows that “organization in view of a productive result” is NOT the case. It would have been better if they hadn’t read him, for there is also a way of reading books like a burglar flicking through wads of banknotes. In the hours before dawn a comrade can have fun recalling the names of all of the people who know Marx and his works down to the last detail, but who are Marxism’s worst enemies.
We repeat that their formula is generalised to all of the historical relations of production. As though the Indian Maharajah who receives his weight in gold as tribute, as though the feudal baron off to the Crusades for years on end, had ever organized production of any kind. But when we think of it as applied to capitalism we can see a relapse has occurred, as in philosophy, into the bourgeois science of economics: the pursuit of the productive outcome. The irresistible impulse to produce limitlessly and irrationally, and thus without consciousness of the outcome and without organization, becomes, instead of the contradictory and unstable manifestation revealed to us by economic determinism, a conscious and intentional search for outcomes by the ruling class, which “builds” ad hoc “material and personal” relationships. We have arrived at the desired point: everything is a relationship between two persons: the boss and the worker. And so, too, in general, are all of the historical classes defined in this fossilized way – one group of people that know and want and direct, and another group of people which submits and passively follows orders. Thus the struggle between classes, and above all between the forces that derive from the old and new modes of production, is reduced, amidst all this superficial chatter, to a series of aspects of the same eternal conflict between the order-giver and the order-taker! Here then is the other key formula in their rickety system.
If later the formula given above were to define the socialist mode of production, only then could we say: organization of the productive forces in view of the outcome. But we wouldn’t need to add the word productive, which stinks of business dealings and capitalist economism a mile off, but rather, outcome in terms of consumption, of use. This will exist much later, in a society without classes when the Philistine problem of preventing the order-giver from diddling the order-taker has been resolved. But for as long as there are still classes, it is impossible for individuals, or classes, to consciously achieve the outcome. Only the party can! As they reproach Lenin for having proclaimed.
7. Missing the point
What they want to prove is that nationalised State property is not socialism, which is correct, but the path taken is wrong. They say that the relations of production are one thing and the forms of property another. In Marx they are instead two aspects of the same thing. Whether a private bourgeois company, or a State one, the form of property is the same; to understand this, rather than thinking about the factory and machinery, focus instead on the relationship between the wage labourer and the product. The bourgeois form of property exists when the worker has lost any right to appropriate the company’s product. Naturally this is also the case as regards the means of production, but this derives from the material fact of associated labour: it would be quite something (even if it was decided by an autonomous factory council) if the workers could each walk off with a brick from the wall and a cog each from the machinery…
And yet the starting point is one of Marx’s most perfect pronouncements, the 1859 Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, certainly written on one of those days when those cursed carbuncles of his weren’t making him lose the will to live, or one less of those awful cigars had been smoked. We will cite it in its entirety, placing the words that weren’t quoted from the text in brackets:
«In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, (namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production). The totality of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which arises a legal and political superstructure (and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness). At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. (From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations) it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, (which can be determined with the precision of natural science) and the legal, political, (religious, artistic of philosophic) – in short, ideological forms (in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production)”.
The lesson of the text is clear. And it is not us saying that, but those who mutilated it by removing all the passages in brackets. Clear! For anyone in full possession of your physiological faculties, after reading this text just once you can set fire to your library and your brain need never be bothered again by any further juggling with words. But randomly omitting passages is not justifiable (worse than randomly, since the omitted passages place the material condition to the fore, and consciousness way behind, delayed until long after any revolution, but which on the contrary is where this entire hotch-potch of confused ideas, pitifully lagging a century behind the Critique’s blinding flash of light, ends up). If then somebody thrusts themselves forward, after perusing what was published in 1859, bursting to change a few words, then it only remains to give consciousness a few good kicks up its substructure.
8. Terminological cornerstones
Let us read the quote again, calmly. Social production of their existence. A relationship which completely transcends the individual person and his balance sheet of giving and taking, around whom the alleged updates are desperately condemned to revolve. Production by human associations of food and necessities, and biological reproduction of the species, of the producers to come. All of this planned not by one head, or many, but determined by the state of the material productive forces. Even human beings are a productive force, that evolves, but cannot break the conditions determined by what is technically possible: spade or plough, oar or sail, sledge or wheel, fauna, flora, the geological terrain. These are material conditions, not cash in a wallet. The “consciousness” of these shifts is maybe conveyed in the legends of Jason going off to sea ‘to plough the womb of Tethys’, of the prisoner Enceladus shaking Mount Etna, of Talus, who invented the wheel and the lathe and was killed by his master Daedalus, maddened by having discovered the aeroplane instead of the cart... But behind the chit chat of Socialisme ou Barbarie, there is nothing to convey but the consciousness of precisely nothing.
Relations of production are the same thing as relations or forms of property, only that the former are expressed in economic, and the latter in legal terms. It is pointless to try and make out they are different things, and with that aim in view keep silent about the passages which establish how Law derives from economic relationships.
Under slavery, the relation of production is that the product of the slave’s labour is at his master’s disposal, without any compensation over and above the minimum of sustenance, and the slave cannot leave, or produce for others or for him or herself. The property relation is over the person and life of the slave, and the same thing is expressed in legal terms.
Productive forces are the tools, machines and vehicles of all kinds, the raw materials and resources which nature provides, and of course the laboring class in each era. The Mode of production (Produktionsweise) or form of production refers to the great historical types of production relations: the technical resources and the forms of property. To cultivate the land, primitive communism, slavery, serfdom and wage labour all successively adapt themselves. In order to produce manufactured goods, primitive communism, slavery, free handicraft production and finally, at a certain stage, wage labour itself, all are all found wanting.
Capitalism is one of the great historical modes of production and one of the most important forms of property. This clearly defined form with its specific characteristics cannot be avoided by calling it something else, whether it be private capitalism, State capitalism or bourgeois-bureaucracy.
But there is a further misunderstanding. Forms of property are legal relationships. These can be explained as determined by economic factors, but it is another thing to explain them, and quite another to gain understanding of ideology, religion, philosophy and so on.
The relation of property is a material relation. The State which functions according to officially sanctioned juridical norms is a much more palpable material mechanism than a philosophical system. If the slave absconds, the agents of the State will hunt him down. If a wage labourer takes some produced object from work, even if he is confined to the factory by the industrialist or manager at the factory, the police will come and arrest him or free him. Property forms are material economic agents and not factors that exist merely ‘to mystify’! I, for instance, have a consciousness of things that goes well beyond mercantile mystification, but when I consume, I buy in complete and spontaneous obedience to the law of value. And thus it is with these people – not one concept is out of place.
9. The metaphysics of exploitation
We are not done with the economic theme yet. The entire conception of class struggle is reduced to an endless battle against one sole enemy: exploitation. The monster stays the same, the victims in revolt change: slaves, serfs, wage labourers and so on. We are in full Philosophy of Poverty mode, á la Proudhon. Stuff that was buried in 1847, and certainly not above suspicion in 1848.
It is a case of having read, but not understood the following extract: «From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters». Now it is only today, under advanced capitalism, that exploitation of the wage labourer, surplus labour and the surplus value are fetters. When capitalism was born they were useful evolving forms of the forces of production. Stating that Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité were mystifications (as our friends recall entirely “en passant”) is fine; and they still are when hypocritically reapplied by them within the proletarian class, having forgotten to apply the conscious prescription, that they will only apply when, finally, class or proletariat no longer exists. But what isn’t a mystification is the fact that the same object, let us say a pair of scissors, made by a wage labourer and not by a free craftsman, allowed the “poor” to have a pair of scissors in their homes rather than none at all, or four instead of one. The cruelly expropriated craftsman, who precisely because he is the unconscious victim of the traditional forms resists his subjective interests, will achieve a higher standard of living by becoming a wage labourer.
The craftsman did not produce, at least not directly, surplus labour. But getting laborers to offer up masses of surplus labour in the new workshops and factories was the only way to accumulate capital which from then on was social and on its way to the present advanced levels of machine based production. If exploitation there was it is still a stupidly moralistic and non-marxist objection.
The underlying economic error consists in reducing everything to the competition for surplus value, which gets confused with capital’s inevitable hunger for surplus labour. The rise of bourgeois production made it possible for a greater social reserve fund to be set aside with less living labour. It wasn’t therefore because they had been duped, but due to the determinist, material influence of the modern and future more intense productive forces that proletarians lent a hand to break the chains of serfdom and small-scale production. Little by little the law of the hunt for surplus labour which prevents capital from having an “organization with an end in view” renders the new form disadvantageous. There is therefore no absolute ethical value, but a quantitative transition as regards social output. Naturally these people, who in patching up Marx sink lower than Lassalle, see in the struggle between two historical modes of production only the conflict between worker and boss, or worker and bureaucracy, and circumscribe it within the bounds of profit margins which are today low in relation to the rate of surplus value which, for purely mechanical reasons, is high.
So then, blinded as they by restricting themselves to the field of the income distribution and reading the wrong way round the passages they cite from that other formidable text the Critique of the Gotha Programme on the division of poverty, they do not see how it is possible on principle to propose the following thesis: that the expenses footed by company and State bureaucracies are just one of the many fractions into which profit is divided: with a view to rapid passage from the fragmentary semi-Asiatic economy to a national market and a flourishing industry, the amount exploited by the present Russian bureaucracy, insofar as it is consumption in and for itself, is probably the least of the many problems along the complicated global road to the Marxist improvement of “the condition of living labour”. The discussion they conduct using Trotsky’s figures and those of the Stalinist apologists, which forms the substance of their highfalutin and overly fastidious analysis, only goes to show they have a long way to go before they reach the level economic science achieved when it was reconstructed to express the interests of the modern proletariat. They want to argue over how to save a few cents, haggle over prices like a servant in the local street market. They cannot see that there is a world to be won.
10. State and Revolution
After having seen how their mania to improve and update, and their miserable and snobby fear about not being in the know about the latest developments in conformist science, has led them to challenge, paragraph by paragraph, all our economic texts, let us see something about their political line.
What is the State for us? It is an apparatus composed of people charged with given tasks, and above all of armed men; which is not absolutely necessary for every human community (and here, Lenin used to say, the anarchists are right), given that there were and there will be (Engels explains why) societies without a State.
But there will only be States for as long as there are societies divided into classes in conflict with one another. The anarchist might go along with that too.
More exactly the State in a given epoch is a form of property which corresponds to given economic relationships, which appears with them, and which then strives to conserve them and defend them by force even when they become “fetters on the new productive forces” with their capacity to improve the general well-being.
The State, an ensemble of bodies armed and unarmed, that is, a system of bureaucracies (police, militia, judiciary, administration, even the clergy) is not therefore always an absolute evil. After the anti-feudal revolution the function of the French State, with its phalanx of functionaries, standing army, National Guard, gendarmerie etc., is to fight off reaction. Put another way it expresses the struggle of the new capitalists against the old landed aristocracy. That’s not all. The State can be explained by the presence of these two classes, and for the time being it is a chain cutter not a chain maker. Put more precisely we can say it expresses the struggle between a future mode of production (the capitalist one) and a previous inferior one (feudalism), a struggle that is historical and universal. Such a state at such a moment, apart from just the partition of the population of France, expresses the pressure exerted by all of the bourgeois and proletarian classes in struggle, and it could be said that in addition to a worldwide network of interests it represents the potential of something even bigger: the irresistible generative force of future material productive forces.
So it is by this standard that we must judge the forms and the conflicts of such an apparatus, and the startling analysis of their inner workings is set out in Marx’s three classic texts.
It is not by means of continuous development but through a much more complex process that an apparatus such as this transforms its “anti-formist” functions into “conformist” functions, and there arises against it a class and a power whose aim is to destroy it.
The State is therefore that apparatus which is based on a class which defends and lays claim to a given mode of production, and which after its revolutionary success resists the return of the old forces, and modes.
It is therefore clear that every social revolution bestriding two great types of the form of production, and in particular the revolution of the proletariat to come, will have to destroy the old State, and disband its hierarchy and personnel. But it is also clear – and here the anarchists do not understand, and the more or less anarchoid groups wrinkle their noses – that as long as the old mode of production has forces at its disposal to defend it, not only within the given territory but also outside it, the new State form will need bodies of armed men and a bureaucracy.
An anarchoid tendency appears in these curious words: «the power of the armed masses is no longer a State in the usual sense of the word»! Here, over Marxism, liberalism and libertarianism clasp hands in a romantic embrace.
11. Extinction of the bureaucracy
The reason why Marx and Lenin held the formation of the new revolutionary State, the dictatorship of the proletariat, to be necessary is because whereas the conquest of political power by revolutionary means is a sudden jump, the same cannot be said for the following, which are spread out over a longer time scale: the full replacement of the old mode of production with the new; the corresponding disappearance at a local level of the class which held power previously, and which reflected the old mode of production; the influence of the foreign powers which defend that same mode of production and hold out against the new, and, above all, the residual super-structural influences of every kind which still dominate social ideology and psychology. So the State is not abolished but a new one founded by overthrowing the old one. It is only at the end of this long process, the length of which depends on the level of development of the domestic social forces and on international relations of class power, that the State is finally extinguished. All of this is well known, and the repairers claim it is not included it in their repair cycle.
They themselves quote Engels in some very vivid passages, in order to prove that such a course isn’t changed if concentration has reached the stage of State industrialism. «The means of production, by becoming State owned, do not lose their character of capital. The State is the ideal collective capitalist».
This is the crucial point. If the scattered, individual property which is the means of production of the independent worker becomes capital, whether via a private financier or State intervention, the process is heading towards the capitalist mode of production. If from capital they become social means of production, that is, they are used without the wage form of production and the mercantile form of distribution, then the passage is away from the capitalist mode to the socialist one. This second transition obviously cannot be made either by private individuals or by the political State of the bourgeois class, and can only be made by the new revolutionary State, by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Therein lies the solution vainly sought in the “incomes pyramid” and in the scandal of the disproportion between wages in Russia — a disproportion which, in the glorious footsteps of the Commune, only a socialist revolution can remove, within the framework of developed capitalism.
It must however be recognized that the workers’ State, which alone can absolve these tasks of transforming the form of production, might well, in periods not only of domestic evolution and technical development but also of international political struggle, be forced to manage forms of State capitalism on a wage and mercantile basis, in other words at certain stages – which the Stalinist one surpassed many years ago – it remains a political State of the proletariat and of the future worldwide socialist mode of production, even while still attending to the preliminary transformation “of means of production into capital”.
Just like any other young capitalist State, the sole “responsibility” of the Russian State today, with its inevitable bureaucracy, is to transform the means of production into capital: it has become an apparatus that no longer struggles for the proletarian mode of production, but it is, like all the others, ready to defend the capitalist one.
So you want to see this theorising bureaucracy disappear without recourse to revolutions and wars? You think the passage to the socialist mode of production is really possible? Learn that this means the disappearance of the market and price fixing, disappearance of the division into companies and wage fixing, disappearance of the division of labour into professions and of the difference between town and country, and you understand that the curtain will surely come down on these snotty nosed functionaries as a matter of course, without dignifying these pen pushers with a period of history named after them!
12. Iliad and Batrachomyomachia
Here then is “the other solution”, all worked out centuries ago, which serves to shed light on the problems of the repairers and their data supposedly ignored by Marxism.
In place of these powerful critical weapons they instead dish the dirt with statistics on incomes; they search out, but do not understand, the income and surplus value distribution figures, and above all they do not know how to indicate how they vary in a qualitative sense: whether up or down, by verifying the advance of the spread of capitalism. Instead we get the same old palinode: increasing extortion, falling living standards, and other baloney.
Their solution lies in classifying the Russian bourgeoisie as absent, which means the model of (at least) two classes, and the State in the hands of just one of them, is destroyed (with Marx’s writings on the Commune and Lenin’s on the State torn to shreds too), and you have soviet citizens divided between “workers” and “bureaucrats”. However if the production relationship were between worker and State, it would be a unique relationship, and there would be no difference between them, and no class struggle. Such unreal and arbitrary selection is the very worst parody of Marxism.
Here it is useful to substitute the clash between two historical forms, described mythically in the Iliad, with a battle of species between mice and the frogs which Homer himself may have humorously celebrated in verse in the Batrachomyomachia (5).
In the Iliad two ancient civilizations clash head on and determine the history of future centuries. On the one hand an immobile, agrarian, satrapic Asiatic society of eternal monarchies and theocracies which receive tribute from still nomadic peoples and the still communist tribes (with hardly any bureaucracy at all, as Marx shows – maybe a dozen or so people in each tribe, astrologist included. And because the men of letters with whom we are dealing have invented nothing at all, not even on the level of rhetoric, they should know that between ruling bureaucracy and barbarism there is no parallel, only direct antithesis!) – and on the other hand the seagoing, trading, and industrial (relative to the time) Aeolian and Ionian stock, whose juridical and philosophical superstructure and brilliant individualism comes close to that of the romantic bourgeoisie in modern Europe’s best era. Two worlds and two seriously different forms of human organization, their characteristics determined by geographical distance itself, between the sheer vastness of the immensity of the deserts and hinterlands and the jagged, unruly coastlines of peninsulas and archipelagos, between the glacial and at the same time sultry climate of the super-continent and the soft, temperate weather of the sunny Mediterranean shores; two worlds collide when Hector’s and Achilles’ chariots crash into one another.
But with statistics about monthly paycheques the image fades, just as when, distinguishable from one another at first glance, the mice and frogs come to blows, repeating loudly the invectives of the heros before the dual, imitating the ups and downs of the ten year inter-continental war, and mimicking the Trojans and the Argives with their ridiculous nicknames.
The clash between the capitalist and socialist modes of production, in relation to their attempts to describe Russian society (although not a single historical episode or news report is cited, not even enough to fill a Reuter dispatch, never mind a Homeric tome!), is equivalent to that between the great epic poem, and the pleasant toporanocchiata.
The Croaking of Praxis
[Il Programma Comunista, no. 11, 1953]
[ ePub ]
13. The umpteenth grouplet of innovators
The last Filo del Tempo entitled “Batrachomyomachia”, alluded to the French review Socialisme ou Barbarie (nos. 1 to 11, March/April 1950 to November/December 1952) and to the small group gathered around it. This petty school, seemingly made up of a circle of a few people, within which each of its few members is allowed and encouraged to give their “apport”, their “contribution” in a continuing “libre débat”, in other words, in a discussion that never ends, can be characterized in short by its redefinition of modern capitalism as a “bourgeois-bureaucracy”. The school describes itself as “Marxist”, but states that a new theory of “class society” needs to be set on foot; a theory in which the proletariat is exploited and ruled by the “bureaucracy”, in a society which Marx did not foresee, standing midway between “private” capitalism and socialism.
Not only are we determined to show that this is not an improvement, but we have asserted that such a position is equivalent to a negation of all of the component parts of Marxism, namely economics, the history of class struggle, and the materialist theory of human society.
Furthermore we showed that this challenge to Marxism, rather than “improving” on the classic ones already in place, instead follows in the footsteps of familiar anti-Marxist positions, and defends pre-Marxist concepts, that is ones which already existed before Marxism, and which are still upheld today by those who, either through class interest or impotence, have proved incapable of drawing Marxist conclusions.
Finally we illustrated the difference between such a position and our revolutionary one by drawing a parallel with the Batrachomyomachia and the Iliad, as though in the former Homer, the alleged author, were expressing a parodist struggle between the Kingdoms of the Mice and of the Frogs in which the entire “theory of praxis” is reduced to banality: seeing myself as a mouse, I take my place along other mice in the battle against the frogs, or vice versa — whereas in the latter he narrates the epic battle between forces representing two historical forms of human social life, separated from each other by thousands of kilometres of space and millennia of time, namely, the Asiatic and Mediterranean forms.
That «such epochs of social subversion cannot be judged by the consciousness they have of themselves», which we quoted at them when they were rashly boasting of their orthodoxy, applies also to the Greeks and Trojans, and our comparison is therefore entirely appropriate, even if we do not go along within the blind poet in believing that the consciousness of the warriors came down to Menelaus being cuckolded by Paris.
Batrachomyomachia then, because it is a struggle whose protagonist armies are artificial and not real, whose aims do not even attain the heights of a cuckold’s crusade, a struggle in which the battle order is explained not «by the contradictions of material life and of the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production», but sought in a vacuous analysis of metaphysical, immobile, static, social statistics, related not to the great global transition from capitalism to socialism but to a cold survey of incomes and a private detective’s investigation of misappropriation and embezzlement; and of the Marxism they claim to be correcting, they haven’t assimilated one syllable.
Despite this group being of little consequence, the fact of the historical regularity with which “updates” of Marxism are periodically vomited forth is an important matter, and deserves further clarification.
14. Two opposing points of view
If we believe that a very important factor in the formation of the revolutionary party is the continuous use of material derived from the experience of past struggles between “tendencies” which led to “splits” in the movement, this is because under various conditions, in various places and under various forms, the same “attacks” on the integral body of revolutionary doctrine have been repeated over and over again, and over the course of the long struggle have had the same outcome. Precisely by following a method that is historical and not scholastic we can assess them on the basis of a precise appeal to established, verifiable facts, which allow them to be situated at the points of arrival of aforementioned cycles, by supplying clear experimental evidence of the correct lay out of original Marxism, crystallized by history in the one era in which its delineation could, and had to, take place.
The first of the two systems of viewing modern society undoubtedly senses the power of the revolutionary one, destroyer of all traditional prejudices, but only copies certain forms of it, creating a parody of it, and in the final analysis its serves merely as a field of manoeuvre for the counterrevolutionary forces. It seems to be taking a step beyond the bourgeois enlightenment sociology current, which established itself on the ruins, at least in a theoretical sense, of the doctrine of a society divided into estates (in French états, states, but not in the sense of the word State, which indicates a country’s political organ of power, and which for the sake of clarity is written with a capital letter). The theory of the liberal and democratic bourgeoisie shattered that “form of production” based on the orders, which, like the castes of ancient societies, were almost impenetrable insofar as any transactions between them for the purposes of generation and reproduction were concerned. It said: no longer will there be nobles and plebs, but only citizens, all equal before the law, despite the family or place of origin. The first of the two social conceptions which we are alluding to managed to articulate an embryonic criticism of this society of equals and denied that it had only one type of component: it divided society into two sections, taking into account the economic factor. Going little beyond the millenarian distinction between rich and poor, “it stole” the word “class” from us, reducing it to a column in a register — whereas in Marx it has more power than the physical energy generated by nuclear fission — and divided the homogeneous social group into workers and bosses, vaguely indicating that the interests of the former were in opposition to those of the latter.
If it is true that at first the “classical” ideologists of the bourgeoisie and its revolution tried to deny this demarcation line cutting through the citizens and the people, it is no less true that very soon on all sides its existence, and the problem it presented, was recognised, making it the subject of a thousand and one proposals whose boring assonance we certainly do not need to recall again here, whether reformist, Christian socialist, Mazzinian, etc., or later on fascist.
Anyone who limits themselves to merely recognizing that in modern industrial society classes exist, and struggle against one another in defence of their interests, has therefore not left the bourgeois camp: Marx, after all, protested that he had neither discovered classes nor the class struggle.
The second and very different point of view to which we have alluded, and to which we are connected is the one which can certainly see the divergence of interests even on a daily and local basis and the antagonism between one class and another, but it sees them as the expression of a deeper and more determinant fact, which extends over a large part of the contemporary world, and which has been unfolding for decades and even centuries, that is: the struggle between a new, clearly defined mode of production, the socialist one, now rendered possible by the development of the productive forces, and the present capitalist one, defended by the present forms of production, property and State.
The goal that the class has to reach lies “before” the class, before its consciousness and its will, which can be incorrectly thought to extend to all and everyone who are members of that class. It is posed today because material production now has technical and scientific resources at its disposal such as to allow it to develop relations that are very different to the present ones, which therefore have to be dismantled. For this to happen class action, not by all or even the majority of the class, is indispensable. But knowledge, consciousness and culture are not indispensable, and it is not only an illusion but a betrayal to “test for them” in the class as it exists today: they will come after action, in fact after the victory.
Proletarians against bourgeois is a formula used by Marxists to describe present day society, not a Marxist formula for revolution. The correct formula for that is communism against capitalism. But surely it is people who are fighting one another! And who can deny it? In the infinite entanglements of history the form that is dying and the form yet to be born determine the alignment of their agents and followers, fighting one another, but at very different levels as regards awareness of the transition taking place. It is not by taking a course in philosophy of history, but by taking sides in an organisational and political sense that will enable you to talk about communists versus capitalists; as long as capitalists is understood to mean not the owners of capital, but the representatives and defenders of the capitalist system.
15. Lassalle resurrected
The extremely odd theory that describes a class society in which there are wage labourers on the one hand, and a bureaucracy, or higher bureaucracy, on the other, and the only division of income resides in the fact that the surplus value extorted from the workers is converted back into other wages, paid to the State functionaries, is a theory that has not only come off the rails with regard to the sequence of the forms of production, but also lags behind the “economist” view, which restricts itself to distinguishing within the social body the immediate interests of the workers. A worker is in fact someone whose income is derived solely from wages paid in money for time worked, a bourgeois derives his income by assigning to himself a chunk of the products of labour (whether in the form of profit, interest or rent). Descriptively at least, the two groups are defined by the very different relationship each has with the factors of production, which presently consist of: land, factories, commodities produced, cash deposits etc., on the one hand, and of labour power on the other. But even this cold and sterile formula falls down when defining the bureaucracy. The functionary is paid, a little or a lot, for his time, with a monthly or annual salary in cash. Both the worker at Dynamo and the USSR commissar for electrification will go to prison if they take a ball-bearing home with them, or if they go off shoplifting. So what kind of class society is this?
The solidarity of this circle stopped at an unknown salary of X Roubles, i.e., by cutting with an arbitrary horizontal plane the laughable “incomes pyramid” – warhorse of every anti-marxist polemicist – cannot lead to a solidarity of interest in holding on to State and power unless there arises a society of estates, a new aristocracy of functionaries. Should the factory guard with his monthly salary be excluded from the proletariat because he adds nothing to the products that are produced? Or the poor office clerk who earns less than the assembly foreman, etc? We showed that the level of pay is not a criterion for determining class.
Here one not only falls short of Marxism and relapses into a crudely “socialitarian” view, it is not even up to the modern bourgeois level. In fact, with their elect family networks who have wormed their way into power, they have actually relapsed into pre-bourgeois society.
Could history really take such an about-turn? Not as far as we are concerned, and for all the reasons that make us Marxists. But if someone advances such a possibility and demonstrates it with the Russian or some other social type, and let us say for sake of argument they succeed, Marx along with his work would be knocked out and never get up again!
So, bold and stately Ferdinand Lassalle – strong agitator but weak theorist even when copying – are you reborn? Or reincarnated, after that tragic August 30th in 1864, when you were lost to the struggle, taking a bullet in a duel from a “Wallachian adventurer” whose young fiancée you had seduced? Marx, depicted as full of bile and cruelty, was so grief stricken by the news that his polemics were put on ice. The more balanced Engels tried to comfort him. «Such a thing could only happen to L., with his strange and altogether unique mixture of frivolity and sentimentality, Jewishness and chivalresquerie».
Shortly beforehand, on January 28 1863, Marx had written to Engels to give his opinion on a work sent to him by Lassalle entitled “Rede uber den Arbeiterstand”, or “Speech on ‘the workers’ estate’”, or workers’ order we might better say. Marx wrote: «As you know, the thing’s no more no less than a badly done vulgarization of the Manifesto and of other things we have advocated so often that they have already become commonplace to a certain extent. (For instance the fellow calls the working class (Arbeiterklasse) an ‘estate’ (Stand, order)».
In Italy these entries certainly ring a bell: Ordine Nuovo, Stato Operaio.
In another letter of June 12, 1863, we have further criticism of Lassalle’s
writings. «Quite touching how he imparts to the court “his” discoveries, the
fruit of the most profound “learning and truth” and of terrible “night
that in the Middle Ages landed property prevailed;
that in modern times that role is of capital;
that now it is the principle of the workers’ estate, labour, or the moral principle of labour,
and on the same day as he was imparting this discovery to the workers, Chief Government Councillor Engel was imparting it to a more refined audience at the Academy of Singing. He and Engel mutually congratulated each other “by letter” upon their “simultaneous” scientific findings. The “workers’ estate” and the “moral principle” are indeed achievements on the part of Lassalle and the Senior Councillor to the Government».
The “discovery” of the bureaucracy class, which Marx, so diffident, never could have suspected (!) can be traced back to this scheme. As there are no more bourgeois in Russia, the workers there form a State, an order exploited and oppressed by the opposing order of higher functionaries. The “moral principle” is violated in so far as the lavish emoluments of the bureaucrats are derived by “skimming” the wages of the factory workers. That’s it. Naturally after having discovered this new historical type of society, it is necessary to discover the new laws of the revolution.
Since, like Marx, we consider workers a class, we seek the aims and precise historical boundaries of the new society that will emerge from their revolution, and these we know to the extent that it is given to us to know the material data pertaining to the most modern productive forces. But a “revolution by an order” is something else. What its method and goal is, no-one knows, as it is “the order’s business”, which it will go on discovering and establishing according to its own “autonomy of consciousness and will”. An autonomy that is nothing other than the dolled up little sister of bourgeois constitutional democracy and Lassalle’s “moral principle”. Which with 1950 now in the past, we see being condescendingly rediscovered!
16. Everything smashed to smithereens
Clearly it wouldn’t be worth chasing these dandies, were they not associated with a claim to be expressing the latest development and modern expression of Marxism; indeed the version of Marxism from which the fightback against the degeneration in the world movement caused by the predomination of the Muscovite State and party bureaucracy must be launched, even outside Russia. More serious still is it when such things, and with an even greater confusion of terms and theses, are proposed by alleged coherent followers and continuers of the left oppositions, who thirty years ago took up the fight against the first symptoms of Stalinist opportunism.
So we must insist that these odd positions (introduced bit-by-bit using Lassalle’s technique: copying page after page of Marxist texts, or rather, paraphrasing them badly and then affecting to have made a complementary “discovery” that completes and corrects them), if they were allowed at all, would lead directly to an abolition and nullification of Marxism as a whole.
It seems a nullity to say: we have emerged from the capitalist era in which the battle was between large scale industrialists and workers; today the battle is between the managers, that is the organizers, the masters of production, and the manual or intellectual employees. Whether this scheme is put forward by those who defend a society run by technocrats, by a brains trust, instead of ignorant plutocrats, or – still more insidiously – by those who fancy themselves as front-line soldiers in a revolutionary adjustment of what the aim of the working class – or ex-class! – should be, the fight no longer being against the private bourgeois but against this monstrous new “management” apparatus instead, we have gone right off the rails. From being a movement crossing from one general form of production to another, as doctrine, as organization, as unitary, international struggle, in one cycle spanning several generations, it is reduced to being an accidental and local revolt of the “exploited”, a stupid word in defence of the “moral principle”, which turns pari passu from defence against the boss to defence of the order-taker against the order-giver; this new form in which the millenial Spirit of Evil has clothed itself.
We believe we explained the economic side of the question in the last “Filo” article. Everything becomes clear, and is found to be perfectly in keeping with Marxist terminology and methodology and the predictions made by its schema of historical revolutions that form its backbone, if we evaluate Russian society as it is today in the light of the transition from one mode of production to another, examining the relationships within which people work, and consume, their products. Since we are in the middle of the palingenesis which is replacing feudal, Asiatic, and small scale production with the capitalist mode of production, and can see, respectively: small islands of local consumption being rapidly absorbed by the domestic and global market, large-scale labour appearing for the first time, and planned technology being achieved in a tenth of the time required by the capitalisms of the nineteenth century due to the differing technical and scientific potential of the newly available productive forms, since, in a word, we are seeing the scattered means of production becoming capital, it is therefore clear that if there are bureaucratic organizations, and there are, then they are agents of the capitalist mode of production, which is always and everywhere the same.
We have dealt with this at length, above all in the Dialogato con Stalin and what we are putting forward here is not an opinion but a statement of fact. The question is this: if instead of capitalist power we are dealing with a new form of power, of an allegedly new class such as the bureaucracy, but without a new economic form having arisen, then we have to abandon the theory that periods of social upheaval follow new developments of the productive forces, and make them instead depend on a group within society, that happens to be different, developing an appetite for replacing the previous one, and relying on its own “autonomous” impulse to do so. This is basically the pre-marxist and antimarxist construction of the course of history.
Herein lies the renunciation of the historical Marxist dialectic. Naturally then the usual quid pro quo in economics, handed down from Proudhon to Lassalle to Dühring to Sorel to Gramsci: socialism is winning back for the workers the profit margin taken by the company. Socialism, as we keep on insisting, is the conquering by the workers associated together not in companies but in a completely international society, of the entire product, and therefore not just surplus value, which it is tritely stated goes to the bosses, whereas it is instead a social withdrawal which capitalism usefully introduced. So, a conquering of all of the value, after which value will be destroyed, just as by conquering all power, power will be destroyed.
Only by conquering the whole of the product for the collectivity will it be possible to make use of the increased productivity by compressing the labour time to a minimum, which will be a little more than the labour time given to society – today surplus labour, due to having to pass through worker to company, from company to society, but which still remains the same without the boss figure. Without this outcome talking about proletarian consciousness and culture is just hot air.
The income pyramid is not a pyramid but rather a spire, tapering to a peak, as there are very few super-salary earners. Even if bureaucrats were a fifth of the proletarians, which is absurd, the “volume of the peak” is minimal. Even if the volumetric average of the peak of the spire was double the salary of the four fifths (which would mean a maximum of fifteen to twenty times their salary), the surplus labour “exploited” (assuming that these office workers were actually just sitting around navel-gazing) would only be ten to fifteen percent of the product, and with the bureaucracy jettisoned, the standard of living would rise by an imperceptible amount, or labour time be reduced by only an hour. Is this really so difficult to understand? Certainly the revolution doesn’t happen just to grab one hour off the managers, but to take back the whole of the day, meaning life as whole, or what idiots call freedom. The proletariat which launches a revolution just to cut the peak off the pyramid would be the most stupid one imaginable.
In Russia, the accumulation of social capital, having to be done in ten years instead of a hundred years in the west, could not have been done without long working hours and high surplus value. No transitional economy can escape this fate, and if instead of only that from feudalism to capitalism it had been able to embark on the transition from capitalism to socialism, the effort would have been immeasurably greater. It was not possible to take this further step unless the proletariat in the west at least took charge of the super-accumulated capital of Europe, still desperately clinging on for dear life in its company-mercantile phase; and this has been known and stated very clearly from 1917 onwards.
Let these would-be original authors of the last word in Marxism go back to page one, which still towers above them, and start again. May they no longer dip their gossipy and pretentious quills in ink, and may they keep their smart-alec beaks firmly shut.
17. Party and Class
Having done justice to economics, history and the Marxist dialectical materialism, it only remained for them to throw themselves with equal gusto into the questions of action, such as organization and tactics. To tell the truth, here there are no uniform opinions and the groups split up and reform, reshuffle every so often, once separated they complement one another, consult one another, and write for the same newspapers and reviews: in the end Lady Liberty, booted out by history and society, is readmitted, ever more insistent, back into the “class” and the “party”, although, we might add, according to these gentlemen both have supposedly completely disappeared. If the class is downgraded to an estate, the party is downgraded to Heraldic society or people’s seat in Parliament. These people think they can describe the next millennium but can’t see they are back in the time of the Round Table or the Court of Miracles.
That they are backing down the road of history in reverse gear is proven by the fact that although they differ on the date of the death of the “party” (which scares them as there are, in their words, Leaders and Executives) all are agreed on the thesis that for the class the party becomes progressively less necessary. Essentially, once you scratch the surface, they are all just idealists, moralists and individualists who support the sanctity of the individual; and their understanding of the Russian business is that a criminal band of power-hungry, luxury-seeking people supplanted the proletariat, by instilling in them the necessity for these two ominous tools: government and political party – which were centralized to boot – and that they suffocated autonomy, the supreme obsession of anyone educated in the crass bourgeois mentality which survives within the empty refractory attitudes of … existentialism.
Because the correct thesis is the exact opposite: on the long historical course towards revolution, the working class needs its political party more and more! Successively the first forms of association die off: the mutualist and cooperative forms; and then the trade union ones (after the revolution), and the company and State organizations (soviets or similar which arise after the revolution insofar as there is a class dictatorship); whereas the party, over the entire period, becomes increasingly powerful and, in a certain sense, doesn’t disappear even after the disappearance of classes, since it becomes the organ of study and organization of the struggle between the human species and natural conditions. For these people the party must instead perish; only that some of them find it necessary to promote their petty councils to party status, to replace the ones that have fallen into opportunism, others (here we are again) have already passed judgement: «the notion of revolutionary party is linked to a past period of proletarian history».
Maestro Sartre has introduced into literature a certain word from the French language, which has allowed us to say, in existentialist French: quelle putainade!
18. From the Manifesto to What is to be done?
In any case those talking tentatively about constructing a party (ever an act of consciousness! of will! whereas the Founders, on the contrary, founded nothing!) assign to it, as regards the class not a – tut! tut! – leadership role, but one of simple orientation!
You remember good old Engels and the anarchists back in 1872? «When I submitted arguments like these to the most rabid antiauthoritarians the only response they were able to give was the following: Yes that’s true, but here it is not a case of authority which we confer on our delegates, but of a commission entrusted! These gentlemen think when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world». Could our Frederick ever had the slightest suspicion before dying that in 1953, fortified by the experiences of 80 years of history, they would discover in Paris that it is not about leadership, but orientation? If a commission is perhaps more imperative than a delegation, the new formula is even more banal. The captain instead of telling the pilot to “set course to 135 degrees!” just shouts at him “head south east!” And thus have the updaters demonstrated to History the urgency of their appearance.
Certainly not for the first time we will comment on the passage from the Manifesto which states: the communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: in the various stages of development they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole; and this after having declared, in 1848, that it needed to counterpose to the spectre of communism the party manifesto. In 1848 any party that is anti-constitutional is revolutionary for that reason alone (a century later the most brazenly constitutional parties have the nerve to call themselves communist!) and the bourgeois State banned a party not because of its opinions but on the basis of which side of the social divide it stood: it would have tolerated the communist party reckoning that communism was just a credo, but never a workers’ party. Since then we have repeatedly explained that communism is not a credo, but that the communist party is the historical expression of a class’s doctrine and the political organization of those who adhere to it, who can originate from any class. This is most annoying we know for the demagogues, who stupidly court the worker and workerism in order to base their success on it with the bourgeois air of not wanting to lead but to serve (their place is in the captains of industry’s Rotary Club!), but above all it is supremely annoying to the counter-revolution.
Back then even the simple trade union association was anticonstitutional, and it was a revolutionary act when the Communist League or First International made contributions to union strike funds. Marx always loved to recall that the Jacobin revolution prohibited the first workers’ unions, considering them attempts to refound the corporations. Letter of 30 January 1865 to Engels: «En passant, the Prussian Anti-Combination Law, like all continental laws of this kind, has its origins in the decree of the Constituent Assembly of 14 June 1791 by which the French bourgeois imposed the most severe penalties — e.g. the loss of civil rights for a year — on anything of the sort, in fact workers’ associations of any kind, on the pretext that this constituted restoration of the guilds (dissolved by the 1789 constitution) and is in contravention of constitutional liberty and the rights of man».
So it is the old formula of workers’ organization, with its clear historical rationale, in which all workers’ parties are lumped together into one political movement, with trade unions and political clubs adhering to it as well. From 1871 onwards, during the phase of modern bourgeois politics that is, the workerist formula on the contrary becomes increasingly conservative and counterrevolutionary. Whereas the formula of the proletarian political party, understood as organ of the revolution and not of electioneering, increasingly prevails among radical Marxists, and is strongly defended against apolitical syndicalism in the first decade of the century, it is nevertheless the discussions in the Russian party that bring out the function of the party most clearly. In all of the literature we find the question discussed in terms of the function of “social democracy” owing to the unfortunate name given to the German party, as ever due to Lassallean influence: we will always read it to mean “party”. Marx: letter of 16 Nov. 1864: «And what a dreadful title: the Social Democrat! Why do these fellows not simply call it the Proletarian?» Letter of 18 Nov: «The Social Democrat! Bad title. But there is no need to throw away the best titles immediately on things that may prove to be failures».
19. Hapless Lenin
A veritable storm has been whipped up by a certain Chacal, if we’ve got his name right, about the “errors committed by Lenin” in What is to be Done? But the significance of the famous pamphlet by Lenin goes beyond the particular questions faced by the Russian movement when it was first published, when the Marxist party was overloaded first with the task of supporting the anti-tsarist struggle and then the anti-bourgeois one. The pamphlet faithfully repeats and recollects the fundamentals of Marxism, and if it is all wrong, then so is the whole of Marx’s construction as well. And Lenin supports his thesis by repeatedly referring to the fundamental texts. In the Unification Congress of 1901, as we recalled elsewhere, Lenin hardly spoke about the programme at all, protesting only when an amendment was proposed which stated that the discontent, solidarity, number of, and the consciousness of proletarians was increasing. “The change”, he masterfully stated, «was not an improvement. It would give the impression that the development of consciousness is a spontaneous fact. But there is no conscious activity by the workers apart from the influence of the party». Would Lenin take this back? How and where? He himself underlined the term consciousness. And in fact if activity is the workers’ domain, consciousness is their party’s alone. Activity, praxis, is direct and spontaneous; consciousness is reflected, delayed, and anticipated only in the party, and only when the latter is there, and doing its work, does the class cease to be a cold statistic in a census and become an acting force in the “epoch of subversion”, able to let fly against a hostile world in actions whose aim is known and desired. Known and desired not by individuals, be they leaders or led, generals or soldiers, but by the impersonal collectivity of the party, spread across distant countries and across generations, and therefore a patrimony enclosed not inside a head but rather in texts; there being no better way of passing through the most rigid checks both the soldier, and more importantly, the general; whereas it is an endless banality to talk of an immanent contrast between order-giver and order-taker, the latest insipid blague to arrive from north of the Alps.
The right-wing of the Russian party wanted party members to be from the professional or factory workers’ groups that were federated with the party: the unions were called professional associations by the Russians. Lenin coined the historical phrase that the party is above all an organization of professional revolutionaries. You do not ask them, are you a worker? What is your profession? Mechanic, plater, wood worker? They can equally be factory workers, students or even sons of the nobility; they will respond: “revolutionary, that is my profession”. Only Stalinist cretinism can give the phrase the meaning of revolutionary by profession, of party employee. This useless formula leaves the problem unresolved, and the question still remains: can functionaries only be recruited from among the workers, or from outside as well? But the question was quite different.
That thesis of course validates this other one: the doctrine and the consciousness of the revolutionary objective are not to be sought by conducting a survey among de facto proletarians. It is the same as the phrase in the Manifesto that in times of revolution some deserters change class, and line up with the insurgents; it is same as what Marx wrote a thousand times over (Notes on Bakunin): «the proletariat in the period of struggle for the overthrow of the old society, still acts on the basis of that old society, and hence also moves within political forms which more or less correspond to it...».
The organic and repeated theses of What is to be Done? are not therefore personal opinions of Marx, Lenin or, let us allow, ours. We have shown that with Lenin, the lion who still roared, it was quite possible to argue, and to voice disagreements in the party, but it was forbidden to budge on this crucial point, without passing to the other side of the barricade.
Let us therefore rip spontaneity and autonomy of class consciousness to pieces with his formidable words.
20. Throwing consciousness overboard
«We have said that there could not have been communist consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals”. Youthfully blunt, but still today useful for lambasting idiots!
«[quoted from Kautsky] Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and class struggle create not only the conditions for socialist struggle, but also, and directly, the consciousness of its necessity. (…) But this is absolutely untrue. (…) Socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other (…) consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously (urwuechsig)”. The long quotation is crystal clear, and we can see that it might, for example, leave a Gramscian perplexed: you need a long dialectical preparation to understand how the illusion of “the spontaneous autonomy of consciousness” is totally counterrevolutionary.
«“But why”, the reader might ask, “does a spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology?” For the simple reason that in terms of its origins bourgeois ideology is a lot older than socialist ideology; it is better elaborated in all of its aspects; and it has immeasurably greater means of dissemination at its disposal (see above curt, assonant passage in Marx).
«Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers (pick this up and take it home). The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the State and the government, the sphere of inter-relationships between all classes. For that reason, the reply to the question as to what must be done to bring political knowledge to the workers cannot be merely: ”...to go among the workers”. To bring political knowledge to the workers, the communists must go among all classes of the population; they must dispatch units of their army in all directions». Bitter medicine, but very necessary to cure the worst philistinism, that of the “seducers of the proletariat”!
Nothing more is needed to demonstrate the inexorable concatenation of Marxist historical positions. Boulevard dilettantes are not allowed to “choose” what and what not to adhere to. They would be better off directing their steps elsewhere and doing us the kindness of leaving us all on the side of our knotty, inveterate errors. Let them wander down the pleasant avenues of absolute Truth, which they can have as present from us along with other artistic fetishes, which is about all they are up to.
That Lenin in his turn followed in Marx’s footsteps in many of his writings, when it wasn’t in both his and Engel’s footsteps he was following, can be seen in yet another letter, regarding the foundation of the First International in London, dated February 25 1865: «A further factor is this: the workers seem to want to take things to the point of excluding any literary man, which is absurd, as they need them in the press, but it is pardonable in view of the repeated treachery of the literary men. Conversely the latter are suspicious of any workers movement, which displays hostility towards them». And from a letter of 20 November 1866: «By way of demonstration against the French gentlemen – who wanted to exclude everyone except manual labourers in the first instance from membership of the International, or at least from eligibility for election as delegate to the congress – the English yesterday proposed me as President of the Central Council. I declared that under no circumstance could I accept such a thing. And proposed Odger in my turn, he was then in fact re-elected, although some people voted for me despite my declaration. Dupont, incidentally, has given me the key to the Tolain and Fribourg operation. They want to stand as workers’ candidates for the French legislative body, on the “principle” that only workers can represent workers. That is why it was exceedingly important for these gentlemen to get this principle proclaimed through the Congress».
So back in 1866, whatever you may think, Marx had already suspected it all, including that the tongue always turns to the aching tooth. Do you really believe that in your 1953 gossiping there are fresh and untold tales?
21. A straight and safe line
There is already, in the Italian Left’s contributions after 1920 on the subject of “Party and class”, an exhaustive response to the “workerists” and those who exaggerate the role of consciousness, who after having established that aren’t able to discern anything precise in “post-capitalism”, want to make do being enlightened by some kind of Gallup poll among the factory workers, who have a “feeling” for the extraction of surplus value! Which doesn’t take away from the fact that all this omnipotent consciousness is expected to achieve is calling for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, not the realization of socialist society.
If we corral all these free-floating phrases together, we can only conclude that as the bourgeoisie has been ‘overthrown’, as they say, in Russia, the proletariat there will never be conscious of anything, and the projected anti-bureaucratic revolution will not know how to draw, from Paris, its distinctive features.
Our theorem is very precise. Not only in the party alone is found consciousness of the path ahead, the will to achieve set aims, and the capacity to act to achieve them, by adapting its actions to “the given historical epoch”; hence insurrection, government, dictatorship and a class economic plan are tasks of the party – while the resources against degeneration we so many times indicated are elsewhere, and don’t lie in a fading of the party and of its strict boundaries – but the theorem must be enunciated: the class is a class insofar as it has the party.
One more sentence, just one from Marx, who on 18 February 1865 wrote to Liebknecht, deploring the legacy of Lassalle, who had illusions about an intervention by Bismark’s feudal government against the bourgeoisie, and for socialism: “The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing”.
And just one final quote, on the untimely heroicism of those who at the right moment are struck by impotence: this time let us see what Engels wrote, on 11 June 1866, as the hoped for defeat of Prussia seemed to be slipping away: «If this opportunity passes without being used, and if the people allow that to happen, we can then calmly pack up our revolutionary paraphernalia and devote ourselves to pure theory».
The Dance of the Puppets: from Consciousness to Culture
[Il Programma Comunista, no 12, 1953]
22. Order and Class
In this third Thread on the same argument, that is, on the deformed doctrine of the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie, whose only importance lies in furnishing a useful occasion for interesting elucidations, we make a link between the formidable historical blunder of seeing (in Russia and everywhere else) the bureaucracy as a new social class, and an obvious confusion between the concepts of order and of class.
The word class, which Marxism has made its own, is the same in all modern languages: Romance, Germanic, Slavonic. It was Marxism which originally introduced the use of the word to mean a social-historical entity, even if it had been used before. The word comes from Latin, but it should be noted that for the Romans the classis was the fleet, the military naval squadron. The concept is therefore of a collection of units which act together, move in the same direction and which face the same enemy. The essence of the concept is therefore moving and fighting, and not (as in an assonance that is entirely …bureaucratic) classification, which later on took on a static meaning. Linnaeus classified botanical and zoological species metaphysically into fixed groups. Darwin demonstrated the evolutionary development from one species to another, de Vries provided the proof that at given turning points what we have is not extremely slow imperceptible changes, but sudden unforeseen mutations.
Those who reduce Marxism to an analysis in which society is catalogued according to economic interests seem really odd when posing as the modern completers of Marxism, considering they haven’t even assimilated its first vital keystrokes. Allegedly Marxism merely “began” the analysis of modern society, merely laid the foundations for a socialist programme, whereas it is these gentlemen who have taken on «the continuation of this analysis today, using the infinitely richer material that a century of historical development has accumulated, and which allows them to advance much further than Marx in their new elaboration of the socialist programme». To exercise our dialectical skills to dispel such pleasantries is too much to ask, when blowing a raspberry is quite sufficient.
So without taking such stuff seriously, we still deem it useful to take our argument a few steps further and reconstruct the organic presentation of Marxism, an edifice we know from the ground floor up so we don’t need to get new materials from anywhere else. These social analyses remind us, for whatever reason, of a cartoon about the military, still stuck in our minds from our schooldays. A new recruit looks at the notices on the toilet doors: “Privates”, “Corporals”, “NCOs”, “Officers” and says to himself, “These gentlemen must be producing something of much higher quality”.
Class therefore points not to a different page in the census report, but to historical motion, to struggle, to a historical programme. That the class still needs to find its programme is an expression devoid of meaning. The programme determines the class.
23. Pre-bourgeois societies
An Order is instead a division of a society which wants to remain as it is and to be guaranteed against revolution. To very varying degrees the social divisions presented by history have had an inherent tendency to lead to outbreaks of class struggle. Marx explained why Asiatic societies are obstinately immutable: the local mode of production, which is often still “communist”, does not result in conflict between the productive forces and the social structure. Hence the massive importance if in Persia, in India, in Indochina and in China, class conflicts are set off.
At a certain point the orders in medieval society are no longer able resist their transformation into classes; and it is navigation, trade, manufacture and new discoveries in mechanics that are able to accomplish this miracle.
In French instead of “order” they say “état”, and use the same word for the central political State, which under early feudalism existed in the background, having barely taken shape, and boiling down essentially to the military court of the emperor or monarch. When Louis XIV, during the full flowering of capitalist forces of production under the absolute monarchy, stated “L’état c’est moi”, I am the State, he meant the political State. According to the feudal organization of the orders, there were three of them. The first order, premier état, was the nobility, closed off in an hereditary group of families with heraldic titles, the second order, deuxième état, was the clergy, following the hierarchical organization of the Catholic church, the third order, troisième état, was known as the bourgeoisie, which in fact had no power although it was represented in the “estates general”, that is in the national assembly of the orders, which had no legislative powers much less executive ones, and was just a consultative body for the King and his government. The bourgeois back then consisted of merchants, financiers and functionaries. In the Paris and France of the time Parliament was understood to mean the judicial magistracy in its various grades, which, although serving the King, enjoyed a certain autonomy in a doctrinal sense at least, which capitalism has since removed.
Remembered from school, but when viewed from a Marxist perspective are seen in a new light. When the humble and not very decorative third estate became the powerful and revolutionary capitalist class, they asked themselves: what is the third estate? Nothing. What does it want to be? Everything!
But since with the capitalists a new class arrived on the scene, the workers in the manufacturing sector (it would not be wrong to say the free craftsmen were a constituted order as well, but they were organized in trade guilds, and only the professions had their place in the third estate) in what may be called its romantic period, liked to talk not about the new revolutionary class in bourgeois society, but of a new order, of a fourth estate.
No constitution in history has ever recognized such an estate. The feudal ones denied participation to orders of peasant serfs and proletarians, and the bourgeois ones noisily abolished all estates and recognized just citizens with equal rights.
Many well-known deviations from Marxism, whose thorough, documented autopsy reports we have in our possession, can be reduced to a confusion between class and estate, and we recall Marx’s indignation when Lassalle changed turned the Arbeiterklasse into the Arbeiterstand, an insipid workers’ estate. Repetita juvant [Repetition is useful].
These gentlemen, with their doctorates in the “material” from the century after Marx, cannot see that their material, their “infinitely richer” historical data, have not yet got up to the storming of the Bastille. Not analyse de la misère, but misère de l’analyse.
24. Labour aristocracy
At the beginning of the century, Georges Sorel, the brilliant and energetic founder of the doctrine of revolutionary syndicalism, accredited the expression labour aristocracy among his many followers. It was only after Lenin’s critique, which was based above all on precise guidelines laid down by Marx and Engels (especially for English industry), that our school designated as proletarian aristocracy, or rather the top part of the proletariat, the workers on a higher salary, the much sought after, skilled – and better educated – specialists, easily ensnared by conformist ideologies, and who were prey to, and supporters of, the opportunist leaders. But the way Sorelian syndicalism conceived of it was not as one part of the working class above the other parts; rather it considered the entire proletariat, the class of wage labourers, as an aristocracy in the societal complex, thus overturning the primacy and leadership of the opposed capitalist class, and deriding – only up to here were they right – their parliamentary democracy, which made a mockery of their equality before the State.
Syndicalism met with success because it countered the encroachments of legalitarian reformism during the period of prosperous and progressive, pacifist and idyllic capitalism. The syndicalists exposed the grave dangers of the kind of parliamentary action which wanted arbitration by the legal powers to replace the clash of economic interests in labor disputes, and it criticized the union leaders who stopped the workers from using violence in struggles against the bosses, and who repudiated the use of the general strike as a means of struggle.
At a certain point (for example in France and in Italy between 1900 and 1910) the entire problem of proletarian action looked as though it boiled down to a dialogue between reformists and Sorelian syndicalists. Only slowly did radical Marxism react to the grave deviations of the latter.
Sorel denied the function of the proletarian political party and saw the revolution as a direct clash between the red trade unions and the bourgeois State. He did not recognize the question of power in relation to historical phases as raised by Marxism, of class centralism: for him the struggles at the local, trade and company level were enough as long as they were inoculated against the poison of class collaboration, and thereby rendered capable of overthrowing bourgeois power and achieving the expropriation of the bosses. This illusory vision of the expropriating general strike not only ignored the necessary phases involved in social transformation, and reduced the conquest of society to conquering factories, but above all failed to recognize that if the plague of collaboration between classes keeps recurring, it is precisely because the struggles that have taken place within the confines of the factory, or at the local or national level, have not been able to rise to the level of the general unity of the political struggle of the world proletariat, which has its sole organ in the world communist party.
Sorel reduced dialectical determinism to a heightened and active class voluntarism, one place at a time, one group at a time; no different phases, neither as regards individuals in struggle, nor the group of which they were a part, in terms of their interests, consciousness and will. Pure proletarians, wage labourers standing side by side; and nothing more than that required to give them the will to fight and gain awareness of the objectives. Basically – as we never tire of repeating – it is action as an end in itself with no need of a general direction towards a distant historical point of arrival; and in this it just ended up falling back on pre-marxist philosophy, and, like its distant descendants today, speculated on a Marx’s comment – an ounce of action is worth more than a dozen programmes – which he made when lashing out at the programmers of day-to-day and contingent successes within the established order.
Historically, the error of Sorel and his followers was revealed by the fact that in 1914, no less than the right-wing revisionists, these ardent, extremist left-wing revisionists passed over to the cause of the war along with most of their well-known leaders and workers’ confederations (suffice to recall Hervé, Corridoni etc.). And their error lay precisely in treating the revolutionary proletariat not as a class, in the potent sense that Marx attributed to it, but as a mere order. The society that these people today call post capitalism is supposedly distinguished by this: instead of workers being subjected to the lies of democracy under a bourgeois aristocracy, it is under a workers’ aristocracy. The fourth estate becomes the first: and that’s it.
For them, the serious problems of the movement’s theory and organization, resolved at the outset by Marxism fully and thoroughly, such that whoever tampers with it damages it, as Lenin and every other orthodox Marxist has repeated a hundred times over, can be blithely merged with the concept of aristocratic order. Someone born into the nobility has no need of education, culture, a role, or organization: all of that is part and parcel of his existence from birth, from his first wail: his consciousness of being a member of an elect estate is in his blood, and he will always set himself apart from the subjugated estates and from their human material. Alone or organized, ignorant or intelligent, he is by nature, will and automatic consciousness cut from one cloth: he’s a noble. He is inseparable from his income — just like the bureaucrat is from his salary.
The modern bourgeoisie is supposedly an estate hidden behind the abolition of orders and it only remains for it to meet its executioner: just as the bourgeoisie, the third estate, brushed aside the nobility and clergy, so the fourth estate will sweep away the estate of company bosses.
Having reduced the recipe to this, it only remains to tear out every brilliant page in which the master describes the epic deeds of the bourgeoisie over ten centuries, revealing itself as a class, abolishing not just some estates, but the whole system of estates; it only remains to tear out every page of Marx’s most important work, Capital, in which this social force appears on the scene, no longer linked like earlier ones to groups of persons or to personal types of dependence. Bourgeoisie does not bring order to mind, but risk.
Evidently they are not up to understanding what Marx or Engels meant when they wrote about the difference between the personal servitude that characterised the Middle Ages, and the labour power that characterises the modern period, between the rule over the person of the slave, over the power of the serf, and over the commodity.
These radical, drastic transitions between various forms of production and society are reduced to a simple succession of changing groups involved in the same banal activity: exploitation.
Only those condemned to their dying day to think like a corrupt bourgeois see exploitation at the centre of everything: relationships between people are just viewed as business deals; and the relationship between classes? Just a deal that went wrong!
Therefore, if the revolution is reduced to fighting for an aristocracy, to conquering power for an estate, we can understand where the famous discovery comes from, according to which the factory owners’ estate was replaced by the functionary’s estate, with the bureaucracy becoming the modern aristocracy: so just turn the proletarians in the workshops into aristocrats and the revolution is back on the right track! The automatic consultation of their conscience will be the salvation of all.
For just as those born into the nobility have an innate knowledge of correct social comportment so those who live within the boundaries of the factory walls and get a wage packet know everything about revolution, and have the physical sensation of exploitation.
And so there is no point having a programme of a society without classes and without a ruling class, that for all the more reason is without an aristocracy, and we entirely understand, as wished for by Sorel, that there is no point in having a party.
And entirely pointless also is the history which showed, in the tumultuous years after the storming of the Bastille, so many refined aristocrats forgetting the call of blood, and awaking from their private speculator’s indolence to the grandiose class task, the bourgeoisie of France, the capitalists of the world.
26. Democracy for internal use only
We all know about the Trotskyite opponents of Stalinist repression and their “proletarian democracy”. According to these various small groups the critique of bourgeois democracy entirely consists of condemning the way it blurs the outlines of the two, or more, opposed social classes, and in the fraud that since workers are more numerous than the bourgeoisie, the electoral system will operate in their favour. To tell the truth even this criticism would not hold up, since the proletariat attaining “full” class consciousness under a capitalist regime is to be ruled out. However, to the critique of “bourgeois” democracy and democracy “in general”, there is then made to follow not just tolerance, but a call for “internal class democracy”. It is stated that the entire Stalinist degeneration was due to having failed to achieve a mechanism of electoral delegation and a parliamentary type representation that functioned in the interests of the working class, allowing it to hold consultations, take control and make majority decisions on the State’s policies.
All of this is totally crazy. The historical form of democracy is that which corresponds to the politics of the capitalist class as it emerges from the womb of the feudal world, and it consists of representative bodies for all citizens, on which the ruling ideology declares the material power of the State to be based. Just as capitalist production is a necessary stage of economic development, so too, in given “areas” and in given periods, does the full legal development of democratic forms represent a necessary historical transition. When as regards Europe between 1848-1871, and Russia between 1902-1917, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky asserted as much, and as could be asserted for Asia today, they weren’t talking about democracy in general let alone the hybrid of proletarian democracy, but exactly and specifically about bourgeois democracy, that is, about a political form that corresponds, insofar as it was, or is still necessary, to the development of bourgeois revolutionary forms supported by the proletariat, as a preliminary step towards taking the next step beyond.
The political form of the specifically proletarian revolution is the dictatorship. Not a personal dictatorship, of course, but a class dictatorship which creates its own special and original organs, namely: the organs for controlling State power during the period of open struggle. But if the dictatorship of an estate or order can easily be identified with an “internal democracy within the estate”, the revolutionary class dictatorship is something far less banal, far less formalistic and not subject to the ups and downs of stupid vote counts. The dictatorship is defined by its strength and by where it directs that strength; one cannot say that it will build socialism on condition it is the right dictatorship, but that it is the true proletarian dictatorship when it is on the road to communism.
History is full of democracies within the estates. They are pre-capitalist forms, insofar as the bourgeoisie was the first, theoretically, formally and constitutionally, to implement democracy for all. The Greek and Roman democracies were democracies within estates: free citizens were equal but the mass of slaves and serfs were entirely excluded from power. In the Germanic feudal system, when the nobles or princes of a certain grade elected the king, it was a case of democracy being used within an estate, and so too in the cases when the barons elected the prince. This was the case in the oligarchic Italian and Flemish republics. Even within the ecclesiastic estate the Pope is elected by means of an internal democracy (and formerly bishops were too).
A posthumous mimicking of these countless antiquated systems can be found in the proposal for a workers’ parliamentarianism which can supposedly “freely” control the machinery of the dictatorship, in the State established after the workers’ revolution, and in which, quite clearly, private owners and company bosses, in so far as they have survived, have no political rights (which does not simply mean casting a vote, but having organizations, parties, offices, newspapers, platforms from which to speak, etc; influence upon education, art, the theatre etc.).
The barbarists find this most embarassing, as do almost all analysts of the Russian mystery. There are no longer proprietors and businessmen, and so the dictatorship should be cast aside and free elections to all posts re-established. But for fear of being lumped in with the pure social democrats, or having to confess they are no different from them, they say that the dictatorship consists of not giving the vote to … the functionaries. And so only non-functionaries can elect the functionaries, in order to then … hand everything over to them. This empty fiction is not therefore the product of a new doctrine, but of a narrowing down of the concept of revolutionary class to that of aristocracy, of the horny handed in place of the well-manicured, with an internal parliamentary mechanism to elect who knows who to do who knows what.
What the productive forces might be, what the relations of production are, what type of transition from one social mode of production to another is taking place and how this determines the clash of the various social classes, and what, therefore, reflects and sustains the power of the present day State, about such things they do not even think to wonder.
27. Madame Consciousness
Anyway all these hypothetical and fantastical devices for exercising control and choice will not work unless one admits, after however having accepted that is based it on the members of one class only, that not only every individual that belongs to it is conscious, but that the consciousness of each member of it is the same, without which the copying the fraudulent bourgeois election system becomes totally inexplicable. Because only with these presuppositions can it be assumed that the right historical direction will be the one indicated, at given junctures, by a numerical majority of votes cast by the workers.
If a pack of voting slips got lost on their way to the count, it could cause an 180 degree change in the path to revolution!
Worse still is when they want to apply the same formula under fully functioning capitalism, to rediscover the lost road to socialism and revolution by using analogous statistical pulse-takings of all proletarians,.
In their stupid work of control and critique – and whoever wrote it should be giving themselves a good dressing down rather than criticising others – we can get a glimpse of how easy it is to reverse the meaning of Marxist arguments by reading back to front, for example in Trotsky, what they wrongly approve, and in other cases what they condemn, when it is right.
The drafters of inauspicious “documents” in which they pass everything through the sieve of their own wretched heads, in the name of freedom of criticism (they get any further than Luther, the biggest hypocrite of them all), grant their approval to Trotsky when he says “Socialism, as opposed to capitalism, is built consciously”. But shortly afterwards, as we shall see, they engage in non-stop criticism of other theses by the same author. These poor creatures fail to see that before attaining the heights of a Trotsky, who can be counted on not to produce isolated theses that are out of synch with a unified and organic line, they will need to eat a whole ton of humble pie.
And how do they paraphrase Trotsky’s statement? By making him say something entirely different, to the extent that if his expression is rigorous and precise, the way his “auditors”, or pupils in this case, express it is totally wrong, especially as regards the blatantly bourgeois arrière-pensée: «therefore the conscious activity of the masses is the essential condition for socialist development». This meaningless thesis, which not only every right wing socialist but every bourgeois would subscribe to, is beneath Trotsky, and more fitting of Bertoldo, who when granted the favour of being hung from a tree of his choice chose the strawberry plant. Well, any capitalist can fully accept socialism if the essential (!) condition for it is that it is preceded by the conscious activity of the masses.
This whole palinode is supposed to correct Marx who would practice no less than “empiricism” as regards the socialist programme, asserting that we only need to destroy the capitalist class and State to give free play to the construction of socialism. Marx is supposed to have had this ambiguous idea of the programmatic characteristics of socialist society, coming off with State planning of production, and so these documentarians now go on by attributing him an “unambiguous” notion of socialism, which boils down to this idiocy: eliminating exploitation! or inequality!
For much less than this was Herr Dűhring accused of “delusions of grandeur”.
For a description of socialist society we are happy to refer back to everything Marx wrote. But Marx dealt a death blow to utopianism! And how! Utopianism describes future society as it proposes it should be, and would like it to be, while Marx describes it as it will be. But the descriptions he gives of it are so salient and sharp in every field, that the belated and shallow, non ambiguous although decidedly antirevolutionary, egalitarianism and judicialism of Marx’s “patcher uppers” just seem like a rehash of centuries-old doléances.
Let us return to Trotsky. Capitalism was not preceded by a conscious awareness of its characteristics, but socialism is. This concept has nothing at all to do with the purely idealistic notion of “conscious activity” of the masses, inevitably reduced to a conscious activity on the part of individuals, who are thereby raised to the motor cause of social events.
28. Ideology of the revolutions
We referred a while back [in the ‘Croaking of Praxis’, Ed.] to the classic passage about it not being possible to judge the epochs of social subversion by the consciousness they have of themselves. The leaders and promoters of the anti-slavery revolution disguised their fight against the form of production based on slavery, in which the real content of this historical transition was to be found, under a doctrine, complete and exhaustive, in which the motive force behind the action appeared as the liberation of the spirit from the flesh and the objective of a life in the after world. The activity of the masses was not conscious, they were not fighting for paradise, and neither did they know that in place of slavery a new form of servitude would arise. The consciousness of the change lay not with the masses, nor in any school, doctrine or group. Only afterwards did it become clear.
It was similar with the capitalist revolution against feudalism. It involved a transition to a mode of production based on wage labour, but the postulates, of a no less powerful philosophical and political school, were presented very differently, as the freedom of man or of the citizen … triumph of reason.
In these and many other transitions a new ruling class arose after the fall of the old one. But in the socialist revolution, which will abolish classes, there exists a sufficiently clear cut consciousness of its objectives in advance. From where and from whom does it arise? This is the point. To attribute to Trotsky the idea that this pre-existing consciousness of the process must have developed in anyone lining up to fight for the revolution and against the obstacles that lie in its way, is absolutely ridiculous. For us Marxists it is enough that there is consciousness before the process; but not universally so, not en masse, not in a majority (a term without a deterministic meaning) of the class, but in a minority of it albeit a small one, and at a certain point even in a tiny group, or even – be scandalized o activists! – in a momentarily forgotten written text. But groups, schools, movements, texts and theses, over a long period of time, form a continuum that is nothing other than the party, which is impersonal, organic and unique, precisely because of this pre-existing consciousness of revolutionary development. Capitalism did not present a similar phenomenon, process and development: that is what Trotsky said, and nothing else.
As usual, in order to show that Trotsky was not one of those fools spewing out new documents, but someone who expressed theses that are the common patrimony of the party, that is, which overstep the limitations of peoples and generations, is rammed home again Marx’s central thesis that social revolutions derive from conflicts between material relations and generally have a deformed consciousness of themselves: true consciousness comes long after the clashes, the struggle and the victory.
Put aside the crap about the State taking over and planning a mercantile/monetary and wage labour economy, and, for once, listen. Do not prepare documents, Do not exercise the supreme right to free criticism, just do something anyone can do: just prick up your ears: clean out your auditory canal, and listen to Engels decisive words:
«With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then for the first time man, in a certain sense, is finally marked of from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones (...) The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him.
«Man’s own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, with full consciousness, make his own history – only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.
«To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism» (Engels, “Anti-Dűhring”, in MECW XXV, 270-271).
What other documents are you ever going to need? Stop coming up with such miserable constructs with your “so much richer” material.
The now pictured in this powerful quote from Engels is what will come after the social taking possession of the means of production and the ending of economic competition and commerce; that is, it will come long after the conquest of political power. Then, for the first time there will be conscious activity of men, of the human collectivity. Then, since there will no longer be classes.
Consciousness, as far as Marxists are concerned, is therefore not a condition, and much less an essential requirement, for class activity of all kinds, but is actually absent, since it will appear for the first time not as class consciousness, but as consciousness of a human society that is at last controller of its own process of development, which was determined from outside of it for as long as there were oppressed classes.
The revolution is the historical task of the proletarian class called into action by forces which, for the time being, it is unaware of. Awareness of the final outcome resides not in the masses, but only in the specific organ that bears the doctrine of the class, the party. Revolution, dictatorship, party are inseparable processes, and anyone looking for a way round it which pits one against the other is just a defeatist.
29. Mademoiselle Culture
As far as “class” culture goes — we will soon see what kind of classism this is — Trotsky is given a severe telling off. However in the cited passages he is only saying the same thing as that which was triumphantly taken up in order to launch conscious activity, and it wasn’t him who dreamt it up, or took out a patent on it: it is Marx’s, Engels’ and Lenin’s own theses we are talking about: what are we saying? in fact of hundreds and thousands of publicizers of the Marxist school, or as our good old Greek comrades used to say, of all the “archeiomarxists”, the old Marxists. Hardly updaters!
As though it wasn’t enough to have put one spoke put in the wheel of the revolution, the unachievable consciousness, they have another one. «The construction of communism presupposes the appropriation of culture by the proletariat, and this does not mean just the assimilation of bourgeois culture, but also the creation of the first elements of communist culture». Magnificent. All of this has only one sense: believing that to achieve wellbeing you have to have power, to have power it is necessary to have the will to struggle, for the will to struggle you need consciousness, for consciousness you need culture, that culture is not an expression of class, but an eternal “absolute value of thought” and that therefore it is not material factors that trigger action and shape ideology, but rather spiritual processes that condition historical struggle. Only someone who has this in mind, and either conceals it or is unaware of it, can write this way.
So Trotsky then, who actually sets things out correctly, is “patched up” and set to rights. He took the liberty of saying that «The proletariat can at most absorb bourgeois culture». And also: «as long as the proletariat remains as such, it will not be able to absorb other culture than the bourgeois one, and when a new culture can be created it will not be a proletarian culture because the proletariat as a class will have ceased to exist». Such Trotsky’s positions cause indignation, but reporting on the load of old twaddle with which they countered them is hardly worth the effort. They in fact express the essence of Marxist determinism very well. In school, the press, propaganda, church etc., as long as the working class is exploited, the dissemination of bourgeois ideology will always have an enormous advantage over the spread of scientific socialism. The revolutionary cause is bound to fail until it can count on a large section of the masses taking up the struggle, and not because they had liberated themselves from bourgeois cultural and economic influences, we don’t believe that for one minute, but due to the ineluctable thrust of the conflict between material productive forces, yet to become consciousness of the combatants, and much less then of scientific culture!
But the purely idealist backdrop to the – extremely old – position of the antibarbarist group is revealed in the prospect of this struggle between two cultures. Very soon it boils down to the struggle for one culture, for the culture.
The proletariat—before delivering itself from the much execrated exploitation, before it has the right to rise up—must supposedly construct the bases of a new culture through the assimilation of existing cultures. Does this mean the class must develop its own ideology in order to be able to fight? It means something worse! «A culture is never an ideology or an orientation, but an organic (?) whole, a constellation of ideologies and currents (organicity then, or just low grade eclecticism?)». And what on earth does this mean? The answer to that is explained by the deductions drawn from it. «The plurality of tendencies that constitute a culture implies that the essential condition for the creative appropriation of culture on the part of the proletariat is freedom of expression». So there we have it: but what the hell is this freedom of expression? Here is the clarification: «The reactionary ideological currents which are bound to appear in the transitional society must be fought, inasmuch as they are expressed in the ideological field alone (?!) with ideological arms and not with mechanical means limiting the freedom of expression».
So this then is the purpose of class culture, the communist culture they want to force on the proletariat before it takes power! When it has taken power it will have to respect all cultures and exercise its dictatorship in such a way that a bourgeois cannot put bombs in the machines, but can preach “reactionary” ideology and philosophy, it being obligated to fight him only by ideological means, and, tut tut! not with mechanical ones. The mechanical one evidently being a bash on the head with a truncheon or taking away his printing press. On the contrary, he will be asked to write for the communist newspapers, and to speak at meetings and he will be opposed only with a deferential philosophical “confutation” and with ideological weapons!
30. Those with the swords have the science
No more than this is needed – the final conclusion of an alleged study of the “socialist programme” to replace Karl Marx’s “empirical” and “ambiguous” one – to establish that it is fully-fledged idealism and bourgeois democratism we are dealing with, reeking of the accumulated mould of three centuries (at least). Freedom of expression! And what is there in this new addition to Marx that has not already been said by Enlightenment thinkers and protestants, whose doctrines have been crushed once and for all by Marxism?
Here it is a case not just of getting Lenin to back off, of making Marx retreat, but of diluting even the burning passion of the first communist, Babeuf, who entered the political struggle wanting to use physical force in the battle against powerful ideas.
Even Blanqui in his later years said “Those with the swords have the bread!”, understanding as he did that at certain key historical junctures economic claims are resolved by brute force. Do we really need to discuss our adversary’s culture then? And to allow him the freedom of expression to regain his lost cause, sword in hand? Babeuf and Blanqui, with such poor material, had clearly discovered that those with swords have the science.
The antibarbarists want to teach the dictatorship about the most unwarlike of limitations. But it is precisely this spineless demand that illustrates the abyss that separates Marxism from the various little groups who go on pilgrimages and do penance for the disgraceful affronts caused by the revolution – Stalinist though it is – to the extra-historical sanctity of freedom of expression.
All we need now is for the advocates of “conscious activity” to support a stupid slogan like: No to freedom of action. Yes to freedom of expression!
It is above all for this reason that, apart from the forms of capitalist State dictatorship operating in Russia, the function of the party as an agent of the dictatorship must be asserted. Because it is not just about repressing sabotage attempts and plots against the proletarian power, but of protecting the rigorous doctrinal unity of the communist current, which excludes all the others.
It would be pointless then to bind the bourgeoisie hand and foot, and even more so the sprawling, impersonal monster of capital, and then to respect their verbal apology. A nebulous workerist order might stoop to this suicide, but the proletarian revolution will triumph when, and only insofar as, its doctrinal organ, the party, imposes a gag on the freedom of expression of the slow to die ideologies and traditional cultures associated with the defeated classes.
These ultra-modern studies on the dictatorship of the proletariat and on the socialist programme are therefore nothing other than a complete undermining of both; they advocate for a return to a hypocritical contest of ideas that is in nothing dissimilar to that extolled by the very worst propaganda of the western bourgeoisie.
The circle therefore closes as only it must: with support for freedom and democracy “within the class” merely serving as the prelude to a complete relapse into the only kind of freedom and democracy that is historically possible until society is completely transformed by communism, i.e., bourgeois democracy and bourgeois freedom. Which coincide with the bourgeois dictatorship, and whereas the only free speech that they really allow is the cawing of crows and the prattling of gossips, in the revolutionary organization, it is precisely freedom of expression, first and foremost, that is curtailed.
The current period does not favour the proletarian class, the revolution and the revolutionary party. But when the hour arrives all three will re-emerge as one. What is urgent now, even within our movement small though it is, is to totally rid ourselves of any foolish nostalgia for this dissipative freedom to talk rubbish.