Marking out the Foundations
"Tracciato d’impostazione" appeared in July 1946 as the introductory article in the first edition of our review Prometeo
|Marxism is not a matter of choice between conflicting opinions – How Marxists are connected with a historic tradition – Setting out the dialectical method of Marxism – The contradiction between the productive forces and social forms – Class, class struggle, party – Conformism, reformism, antiformism – Interpretation of the characteristics of the present historic period; dialectical criteria for evaluating past and present institutions and social organizations – Dialectical evaluation of historic forms – Economic example: mercantilism – Social example: the family – Political example: monarchy and republic – Ideological example: Christian religion – The capitalist cycle: revolutionary phase; evolutionary and democratic phase; fascist and imperialist phase – Proletarian strategy during the period of bourgeois revolutions – Socialist tendencies during the democratic-pacifist stage – Proletarian strategy during capitalism’s imperialist and fascist phases. The Russian Revolution; errors and deviations of the Third International; retrogression of the proletarian regime in Russia – The current approach to the problem of proletarian strategy. Definitive historic rejection of any kind of support for liberal-democratic demands. Decisive rejection of the idea of supporting the ’progressive’ forces taking capitalism into its most modern phase, monopolist on the economic plane, and totalitarian and fascist in the political domain.|
This writing, for obvious reasons, doesn’t contain within itself the proof of what it asserts. It sets itself the task of establishing, as clearly as possible, the political tendency of the publication within which it appears. It is a declaration of cardinal principles which aims to prevent confusion and misunderstandings, whether involuntary or intentional.Before convincing the reader, it is matter of getting him to understand our basic positions first. Persuasion, propaganda and proselytising come later.
When presenting their programmes, all political movements stake a claim to historical precedents, and in a certain sense to traditions; whether of the recent or distant past, national or international.It is acceptable to denominate this orientation with the terms Marxism, socialism, communism or the political movement of the working class; the problem is that these terms are abused. In 1917, Lenin thought changing the name of party, going back to the ’Communist’ of the 1848 Manifesto, was a fundamental requirement. Today, the immense abuse of the word ’Communist’, by parties which are way off any revolutionary class line, still creates major confusion. Movements which are open defenders of bourgeois institutions have the nerve to call themselves proletarian parties, and the term ’Marxist’ is used to define the most absurd agglomerations of parties, such as those collected under the banner of Spanish anti-Francoism.
The movement of which this magazine is the theoretical organ stakes its claim to clearly defined origins, too. However, as opposed to other movements, it does not set out from a revealed word which is attributed to super-human sources; it does not recognise the authority of unchangeable texts, and nor does it recognise that, in order to understand an issue, one needs resort to moral, philosophical, or legal canons since it rejects the notion that these are somehow innate or immanent in the way man thinks and feels.
Any investigation must be based on a consideration of the entire historical process up to the present and on an objective examination of contemporary social phenomena.This method is aptly defined by the expressions: historical materialism, dialectical materialism, economic determinism, scientific socialism and critical communism.
It is a method which although stated often, has been corrupted often in the course of its application.
The basis of the investigation must be the material means by which human groupings satisfy their needs, their productive technique, therefore, and in the course of its development the economic relations that arise.
These factors determine the superstructure of the legal, political and military institutions of the different historical periods and the characteristics of the dominant ideologies.
The productive forces, which consist principally of the men assigned to production and the way in which they are grouped together, as well as the tools and mechanical means they are able to utilise, operate within the framework of forms of production.The Marxist dialectical method discovers and applies its solutions, and sees them confirmed, on the level of large-scale collective phenomena using the scientific and experimental method (the very same method, that is, which the thinkers of the bourgeois epoch applied to the natural world, in the course of an ideological struggle which was a reflection of the revolutionary social struggle of their class against the theocratic and absolutist regimes, but which they could not dare to extend into the social domain). From the results it acquires on this collective plane it deduces solutions to the question of individual conduct, whereas all the rival religious, legal, philosophic and economic schools instead proceed in exactly the opposite direction: building, that is, their standards of collective conduct on the inconsistent basis of this myth of the individual, whether portrayed as an individual immortal spirit, a citizen subject to the rule of law, or conceived of as an immutable unit of economic policy, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, science has gone beyond its various hypotheses about indivisible, material individuals: rather than defining atoms as incorruptible, monad-type units, they define them instead as rich complexes, as meeting points of the radiant dynamics issuing from the external energy field; thus today one can schematically say that the cosmos is not the function of units, but every unit is the function of the cosmos.
By forms we mean the arrangement, the relationships of dependence within which is developed productive and social activity. Such forms include all the established hierarchies (family, military, theocratical, political), the State and all its organisms, the law and the courts which apply the law, and all the rules and dispositions – of an economic and legal character – which are in place to counter any transgression.
A given type of society survives as long as the productive forces maintain themselves within the framework of its forms of production. At a given moment in history, this equilibrium tends to be broken. For various reasons, amongst which advances in technology, population growth and improved communications, the productive forces expand. These forces come into conflict with the traditional forms, try and break down the barriers, and when successful, you have a revolution: the community organises itself into new economic, social and legal relationships. New forms take the place of old.
The contradiction between productive forces and social forms is manifested as a struggle between classes defending opposed economic interests. In the final stages, this struggle becomes the armed struggle for the conquest of power.Class is not seen by Marxism as cold, statistical data, but as an active organic force, and it appears when the mere combination of economic conditions and interests leads on to action and to a common struggle.
In spite of the great difficulty and complexity of the issues, one cannot clarify principles and directives without simplification. With this in mind, we draw attention to three historical types of political movement into which they can all be classified.Any schematisation involves the risk of errors. One could ask whether the Marxist dialectic doesn’t also lead to the construction of an artificial and generalised model of historical events, by reducing all development to a succession of class dominations which start off revolutionary, become reformist, and end up conservative. The evocative conclusion to this sequence of events, achieved by the revolutionary victory of the proletariat and with the advent of the classless society (which Marx referred to as, "the end of human pre-history") might seem to be a finalistic construct, and therefore metaphysical like those false philosophies of the past. Hegel was denounced by Marx for reducing his dialectic system to an absolute construction, for falling unconsciously into a metaphysic which he had managed to overcome in the destructive part of his critique (philosophical reflection of the bourgeois revolutionary struggle).
Conformist: movements which fight to preserve the existing forms and institutions, prohibiting all change, and appealing to immutable principles; be they presented in religious, philosophic or legal guises.
Reformist: though not calling for a sharp and violent overthrow of traditional institutions, these movements realise that the productive forces are exerting strong pressure. They therefore propose gradual and partial changes of the existing order.
Revolutionary: (here we adopt the provisional term Antiformist); movements which proclaim, and put into practice, the attack on old forms, and which, even before knowing how to theorise about the character of the new regime, tend to crush the old, provoking the irresistible birth of new forms.
Conformism – Reformism – Antiformism.
The revolutionary Communist movement of this convulsive period must be characterised not only by its theoretical destruction of every conformism with, and reformism of, the present world, but also by its practical and tactical position: by the fact that it can have no common road with any movement whatsoever, whether conformist or reformist, not even for limited periods in particular sectors.An essential difference between the metaphysical method and the dialectical method in its application to History lies in this latter point.
It must be based, above all, on the historically acquired and irrevocable knowledge that capitalism has exhausted its initial antiformism, that is to say, it no longer has the historic task of destroying pre-capitalist forms and resisting the threat of their possible restoration.
This means that we do not deny that, for as long as the powerful forces of capitalist development, which have accelerated the transformation of the world to an unprecedented degree, were acting on such production relations, the proletarian class could, and should, dialectically, condemn it from a doctrinal viewpoint whilst supporting it in practice.
Starting with economic forms, it makes no sense to declare general support for an economy which is communist or private, liberal or monopolist, individual or collective, or to judge the merits of each system according to the general well-being: doing so one falls into Utopianism, which is the exact reverse of the Marxist dialectic.The mercantile economy, in which objects satisfying human needs ceased, at the end of the period of barbarism, to be directly acquired and consumed by the occupying force or the primitive producer, and became objects of exchange, initially through barter, and later by means of a common monetary equivalent; this economy represented a great social revolution.
We know Engels’ classic description of communism as “the negation of the negation”. The first forms of human production were communist, thence arose private property, a system which was much more complex and efficient. From there, human society returns to Communism.
This modern communism would be unrealisable if primitive communism had not been superseded, conquered and destroyed by the system of private property. The Marxist considers as an advantage, and not as a misfortune, this initial transformation. What we say of communism applies as well to all other economic forms such as slavery, serfdom, manufacturing, industrial and monopolist capitalism, and so on.
The various types of social aggregations which have succeeded one another have been the means whereby collective life has differentiated itself from primitive, animal individualism: passing through an immense cycle, which has made the relations within which the individual lives and moves increasingly complicated, these forms of society cannot, taken individually, be judged as favourable or unfavourable; they must be considered in relation to historical development, which has given them a changing role within a succession of transformations and revolutions.The institution of the family appears as primal social form when, within the human species, the bond between parents and offspring prolongs itself well beyond the period that is physiologically necessary. The first form of authority is born, which the mother, then the father, exerts over their descendants even when the latter are strong and physically mature individuals. We are witnessing a revolution also at this stage, since there appears the first possibility of a collectively organised life, establishing the basis for those further developments which lead ultimately to the first forms of organised society and the State.
Each of these institutions arises as a revolutionary conquest, develops and reforms in long historic cycles, until finally it becomes a reactionary and conformist obstacle.
The different forms of the State, such as monarchy and republic, alternate in the course of history in a complex manner, and can represent a revolutionary, progressive, or conservative force, depending on the historic situation. Although we may admit in a general sense that the capitalist regime will probably manage, before its collapse, to liquidate any remaining dynastic regimes, still, even on this question, one must not proceed according to absolute criteria situated outside of time and space.In the past it has been possible for Republican movements or parties to be revolutionary, reformist, or even markedly conservative.
The first monarchies appeared as the political expression of a division of material tasks: whilst certain elements within the family unit or the primitive tribe took to hunting, fishing, agriculture or the first handicrafts, others were assigned to armed defence, or indeed to the armed plundering of other groups and peoples; and so the first warriors and kings attained the privilege of power at major risk to themselves. Yet there still appeared social forms, of a most developed and complex nature, which would previously have been impossible, and which therefore represented the road toward a revolution in social relationships.
The institution of monarchy would mean that in later phases the establishment and development of vast national State organisations was made possible which could be directed against the federations of principalities and small nobility. It had an innovatory and reformist function. Dante is the great monarchical reformist of early Modern Times.
More recently, the monarchy (and indeed the republic) has served in many countries to cloak the stricter forms of class power of the bourgeoisie.
Crises within economic forms are reflected not only in political and social institutions, but also in religious beliefs and philosophical opinions.The movement which bears Christ’s name was once the antiformist and revolutionary movement par excellence.
Every legal, religious and philosophical stance must be considered in relation to historic situations and social crises, since each appears, in its turn, under the revolutionary, the reformist, and the conformist banners.
In the major countries, the modern capitalist bourgeoisie has already gone through three characteristic historical stages.The capitalist class appears in history as an antiformist force using its immense repressed energy to destroy all material and ideological obstacles lying in its path. Old beliefs and old canons are overturned by its thinkers in the most radical manner.
The bourgeoisie comes into view as an openly revolutionary class and leads an armed struggle to break the chains of feudal and clerical absolutism, which tie the productive forces of peasants to the land and the artisans to medieval corporations (guilds).
The requirement of liberation from these chains coincides with the development of the productive forces which, with the resources of modern technology, tends to concentrate the workers into great masses.
In order that these new economic forms may develop freely, the traditional regimes need to be forcibly overthrown.
The bourgeois class not only leads the insurrectionary struggle, but after its initial victory installs an iron dictatorship to prevent any counter-attack on the part of the monarchies, feudal lords, and ecclesiastical hierarchies.
In the second phase, after the capitalist regime has become established, the bourgeoisie declares itself the representative of the higher development and welfare of the social collectivity as a whole, and goes through a relatively tranquil phase in which there is a development of the productive forces, integration of the entire inhabited world into its system, and intensification of the economic rhythm as a whole. This is the progressive and reformist phase of the capitalist cycle.In this second bourgeois phase, the mechanism of parliamentary democracy runs parallel to the reformist trend. The dominant class is interested in making its system appear susceptible to representing and reflecting the interests and demands of the working class. Its government claims to satisfy them with economic and legislative measures which nevertheless allow the legal norms of the bourgeois system to be maintained. Parliamentarism and democracy no longer feature as revolutionary slogans but rather take on a reformist content, guaranteeing the development of the capitalist system by warding off the violent clashes and explosions of the class struggle.
The third phase is that of modern imperialism, characterised by the monopolist concentration of the economy, by the formation of capitalist trusts and syndicates, and by large-scale State planning. The bourgeois economy is transformed and loses those characteristics of classic liberalism, in which each business enterprise was autonomous in relation to its economic decisions and relations of exchange. An increasingly strict discipline is imposed on production and distribution. The economic indices of production and distribution no longer the result of the free play of competition but due to the influence of associations of capitalists, then to the concentration brought about by banking and financial organs, and finally directly to the State. Their political State, which in Marxist parlance is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, guards the latter’s interests as government organ and police protector and asserts itself more and more as the organ of control, and even of administration, of the economy.Since this phase is accompanied by an absolutely astronomical increase in the pace of industry and finance, previously ignored both in terms of quality and quantity in the pre-bourgeois world, the appearance of this third capitalist phase is not to be confused with the return of pre-capitalist institutions and forms. Capitalism thus effectively repudiates the democratic and representative apparatus and establishes centres of government which are absolutely despotic.
This concentration of economic power in the hands of the State is not to be interpreted as a step from private economy to a collective economy. Indeed, it can only be passed off as such by ignoring the fact that the contemporary State merely expresses the interests of a minority, and that all nationalisation realised within the framework of commodity exchange leads to a capitalist concentration which strengthens, rather than weakens, the capitalist character of the economy. The political development of the parties of the bourgeoisie in this contemporary phase (as Lenin clearly proved in his critique of modern imperialism) lends itself to the most narrow forms of oppression, and this has been manifested by the advent of regimes defined as totalitarian and fascist. These regimes constitute the most modern political type of bourgeois society, as they spread throughout the entire world the process by which this happens will become abundantly clear. A concomitant aspect of this political concentration resides in the absolute predominance of a few great States at the expense of the autonomy of the intermediate and smaller States.
Corresponding to the cycle of the capitalist world we have the cycle of the proletarian movement.The first outline of a class strategy by the nascent proletariat involves the prospect of realizing anti-bourgeois movements under the impetus of the very insurrectional struggle it is fighting alongside the bourgeoisie, arriving immediately at a simultaneous liberation from feudal oppression and capitalist exploitation.
Right from its inception, the great industrial proletariat starts to construct a critique of the economic, juridical and political formulations of the bourgeoisie. It is discovered, and the discovery is theorised, that the bourgeois class neither liberates nor emancipates humanity, but substitutes its own class domination, and its own system of exploitation, to that of the classes which preceded it.
Nevertheless, the workers of all countries cannot avoid fighting side by side with the bourgeoisie in order to overthrow feudal institutions. It also cannot avoid falling under the influence of reactionary socialism, which, brandishing the spectre of a new, merciless capitalist master, calls upon the workers to ally themselves with the leading monarchical and agrarian classes.
Even in the struggles led by the young capitalist regimes to prevent reactionary restorations, the proletariat cannot refuse support to the bourgeoisie.
In the second phase, in which reformism within the framework of the bourgeois economy is associated with the widest use of representative and parliamentary systems, the proletariat is confronted with alternatives of epoch-making significance.The idyllic, intermediate phase of capitalism (1871-1914) witnesses the growth of the revisionist currents of Marxism. The Marxist approach is distorted and the fundamental texts falsified. A new strategy is established, according to which vast economic and political organisations of the working class penetrate and conquer the political institutions by using legal means, preparing for a gradual transformation of the entire capitalist economic machine.
On the theoretical side, a question of interpretation arises as regards the revolutionary doctrine, considered, that is, as a critique of bourgeois institutions and the ideologies which defend it: the collapse of capitalist domination and the substitution of a new economic order, will it come about by means of a violent conflict, or can it be achieved with gradual changes and using the legalitarian mechanism of parliament?
On the practical side, the question is no longer whether the party of the working class should join with the bourgeoisie against the forces of pre-capitalist regimes, by now disappeared, but whether it should ally itself with an advanced and progressive section of the bourgeoisie which is better disposed to reform capitalism.
In its third phase – due to capitalism’s need to continue developing the mass of productive forces whilst at the same time keeping them from destroying the equilibrium of its organisation – it is compelled to abandon liberal and democratic methods, leading to concentration not only of the political sphere in the hands of powerful State organs, but of economic life as well which is subjected to strict controls. In this phase the workers’ movement is again confronted with two alternatives.At the end of the 1st world war, the most burning issue of contemporary history crosses over into the present period – the crisis of the Tsarist regime; a feudal State structure surviving alongside a rapidly developing capitalism.
On the theoretical side, it is necessary to affirm that these narrower, stricter forms of domination by the capitalist class constitute the necessary, most developed, and modern phase that capitalism can achieve, in order to finally arrive at the end of its cycle having exhausted its historical possibilities. They do not, therefore, represent a merely temporary worsening of political and policing methodology, after which a return to an alleged liberal tolerance is to be expected.
On the tactical side, it is wrong to ask the proletariat to fight for a capitalism able to make liberal and democratic concessions since the climate of democratic politics is no longer required to further the growth of capitalist productive energies; an indispensable premise for the socialist economy.
Such a question, in the first, revolutionary, bourgeois phase, was not only posed by history, but found a solution in the joint struggle of the Third and Fourth Estates, and the alliance between the two classes was an indispensable step on the road toward socialism.
In the second phase, the question is legitimately posed of a concomitant action between democratic reformism and the proletarian socialist parties. If History has since agreed with the rejection of this solution, a rejection defended by the revolutionary Marxist left against the revisionist and reformist right wing, the latter cannot be considered conformist before the fatal degeneration of 1914-1918. They might have believed that the wheels of history turned at a slow rhythm, they didn’t attempt (not yet) to turn the wheels back. It is necessary to render this justice to Bebel, Jaures and Turati.
In the present phase of rapacious Imperialism and savage world wars, the possibility of a parallel action between the proletariat and the democratic bourgeoisie is no longer posed in a historical sense. Those who have adopted the opposite view no longer represent an alternative version, or tendency, of the workers’ movement, but have gone over totally to conservative conformism.
The only alternative to be posed, and resolved, today is altogether different. Given that the world capitalist regime is developing in a centralist, totalitarian, and "fascist” direction, should not the working class join forces with this movement since it is the only reformist aspect of the bourgeois order which now remains? Can there be a dawning of Socialism installed within this inexorable advance of State Capitalism, helping it to disperse the last traditional resistance of the free-enterprisers, liberals, and bourgeois conformists of the first period?
Or, should not the proletarian movement, lacking in unity and badly affected by its inability during the two world wars to break with the practice of class-collaboration, reconstruct itself by rejecting such a method, by rejecting the illusion that pacifist forms of bourgeois organisation will reappear and be susceptible of legal penetration, or at any rate vulnerable to pressure from the masses (two forms, these, equally dangerous due to their defeatism to any revolutionary movement)?
The Marxist dialectical method replies in the negative to the question about whether there should be an alliance with the new, modern bourgeois forms, and the reasons are the same as the ones used previously against the alliance with reformism during the democratic and pacifist phase.
Capitalism, dialectical premise of socialism, no longer needs to be assisted during its birth pangs (affirming its revolutionary dictatorship) nor to develop (in its liberal and democratic phase).
In the modern phase it must inevitably concentrate its economic and political forms into monstrous units.
Its transformism and its reformism assure its development at the same time as its conservatism is defended.
The movement of the working class will only avoid succumbing to bourgeois domination if it refuses to offer assistance to capitalism during its latter stages of development, even if these stages are inevitable. If it is to reorganise its forces, the working class must reject these antiquated perspectives. It must free itself from the burden of old traditions and denounce – already a whole historical stage late – any tactical settlement with any form of reformism.
The adoption by the Communist Parties of the strategy of the great anti-fascist bloc – exasperated by the slogans of national collaboration in the anti-German war of 1939, the partisan movements, the committees of national liberation, and most shamefully of all by the collaboration in ministerial coalitions – marks the second disastrous defeat of the world revolutionary movement.
The proletarian revolutionary movement can only be rebuilt, in a theoretical and organisational sense, and in terms of what action it takes, if it rids itself of, and struggles against, politics of this kind; a politics which today unites the socialist and communist parties inspired by Moscow. The new movement must base itself on a political line which completely opposes the slogans spread about by these opportunist movements, whose anti-fascism – as a dialectical approach clearly reveals – places them completely in line – in deeds if not in words – with the fascist evolution of social organisation.
The new revolutionary movement of the proletariat, characteristic of the imperialist and fascist stage, bases itself on the following general positions:
1) Rejection of the view that, after the defeat of Italy, Germany and Japan, a phase has begun in which there is a general return to democracy; assertion of the opposite view, according to which the end of the war is accompanied by a conversion, on the part of the bourgeois governments in the victor countries, to the methods and programmes of fascism, even, and indeed particularly, when reformist and labourite parties participate in government. Refusal to take up the cause of a return to liberal forms – an illusory demand which is not in the interests of the proletariat.
2) Declaration that the present Russian regime has lost its proletarian character, and that this occurred in parallel with the abandonment of revolutionary politics by the Third International. A progressive involution has led the political, economic and social forms in Russia to take on bourgeois characteristics once again. This process should not be seen as a return to praetorian forms of autocratic tyranny, or pre-bourgeois forms, but as the advent, by a different historic road, of the same type of advanced social organisation presented by the State Capitalisms of those countries with a totalitarian regime: regimes in which State planning opens the way to imposing developments and provides an enhanced potential to pursue an imperialist line. Faced with such a situation, we do not call on Russia to return to parliamentary democratic forms, which is in decay in all modern States in any case; instead we work for the reestablishment, in Russia too, of the totalitarian revolutionary communist party.
3) Rejection of all invitations to participate in any kind of national solidarity of classes and parties; a solidarity evoked not long ago in order to over-throw the so-called totalitarian regimes and to fight the Axis States, whilst now it is required in order to reconstruct, by way of legal methods, the war-damaged capitalist world.
4) Rejection of manoeuvre and tactic of the united front, that is, of inviting the so-called socialist and Communist parties, which by now have nothing proletarian about them, to abandon their government coalitions and create a so-called proletarian unity.
5) Determined struggle against all ideological crusades which attempt to mobilise the working classes of the various countries onto patriotic fronts for a new Imperialist War; whether they are called on to fight for ’Red’ Russia against Anglo-Saxon Imperialism or, in a war presented as anti-fascist, to support Western democracy against Stalinist totalitarianism.