On the Thread of Time
Under the Bulk of the Leviathan
Battaglia Comunista, no.4 of 1952
The newspapers report that Marshal Tito, this fine example of history’s “spontaneous generation”, at the outbreak of the Korean conflict, in July 1950, blurted out a 12,000-word speech intended not for the then-current political situation, but for the exposition of his interpretation of communism, of Marx and Lenin. 624 deputies listened, did not add a twelvethousandth and one word to it, and voted unanimously for its approval.
It goes without saying that Tito’s version of Marxism-Leninism was openly opposed to Stalin’s version, since the times in Yugoslavia where anyone who had broken the official Marx-Lenin-Stalin "troika" would be shot are long gone, of course shot by Tito’s order and approved by 625 votes out of 624.
Unfortunately, only a few scattered groups in Europe and the rest of the world follow the line of condemnation of Stalin’s deviations from Lenin and Marx; and nobody has any desire or interest in knowing them, or discussing with them; thus as far as "general opinion" is concerned they remain hidden in the shadows. The controversy would be difficult and uncomfortable for today’s experts to analyze, since they are only trained to struggle against their opponent through horrified hustle-and-bustle, never again on the ground of reality and scientific examination.
It thus happens that whenever an accuser rises up to speak in the name of true communism and defines the Cominformists as renegades of an old faith, right in front of Stalin and his whole system, everything is stirred up. And then you see liberals, trotskists, anarchists, and other species one can study in the field of political zoology, singing the praises of this vindicator and stigmatizer of the bloodthirsty tyrant of Moscow, without realizing that it’s nothing but a noose in the gallows.
At the time we’re talking about, around two and a half years ago, Stalin or whoever else wrote it, in the infrequent but measured statements of principle he occasionally sends around, had already theorized that the doctrine of old man Engels on the weakening of the State following the victory of the proletarian revolution should be revised. It was an openly revisionist statement. The Marxist thesis is clear: according to the classical expositions of Engels and Lenin, after the revolution and the proletarian dictatorship, with the abolition of classes and the construction of a socialist economy, the State machine gradually withers away and disappears.
Now the official Cominformist propaganda, when it can take a moment off from the usual ad hominem arguments (He’s wrong! He’s an enemy of peace, of democracy, of his country! He’s a fascist! Thus if he writes a sentence the syntax is wrong, if he makes a calculation the arithmetic is false, without any further proof needed!) and lingers on the theory of the great historical questions, he has only the choice between two theses: either in Russia, since the State swells instead of withering away, and gets stiffer instead of softer, the socialist revolution has not taken place – or Engels’ prediction deserves to be abandoned. Don’t be insane! We’d lose everything if, for the sake of doctrinal coherence, or in order to interpret literally the agitated cry of father Marx repeated by uncle Vladimir (“Above all, don’t trade in principles!”), we were to dismantle parts of the Moscow State machinery, the Sovnarkom or the NKVD.
And then one takes father Engels’ shadow by the ear and whispers to him, as if in a confession: who made you take on these commitments that we would have to carry on after your death? How do you think we’d pay for them?
It’s at that point when the professor of pure Marxism stands up, along with his fellow class of Balkan parliamentarians, and smugly examines fussily and carefully the work of Stalin (and of his mighty network of propaganda and dissemination), who revoked his mandate as his representative in little Slavia, and the inherent responsabilities.
Do you want to see pure Marxism and genuine communism? Come to Belgrade: we have done away with exasperating centralism, we are federalists and tolerant of a whole series of autonomies in economic and social life as well as in politics! Let us leave to Big Mustache/Stalin the shame of despotism, of borderless authority, of tyrannical oppression of peoples and classes. And after this the whole plan of Yugoslav reforms is displayed.
Since it’s a matter of the dismantling of the Leviathan State, of the fearful monster that subjects everything to its irresistible will, so much so that according to Hobbes man has only one way to escape it: to abandon the field of material reality and take refuge (having stored in the travel luggage the totem of the sacred human personality) in the spheres of idealism, let us begin with the head.
Yugoslavia is a federal State of six autonomous republics, and a whole series of government offices are to be moved from Belgrade to the country’s peripheries. This, according to Tito, is a "drastic reduction of the powers of the State". The latter (he said as if flirting with Leninism) nevertheless retains the task of repressing the minority of exploiters and enemies of the new Yugoslavia. Evidently the army and the gendarmerie are thus ready to act against any subversive, let’s say the "guerrillas" and of course "patriots" that the Cominform ostensibly has already put into action.
Apart from this repression of exploiters, it goes much further: decentralization not only economic, but also political and cultural, marking the first appearance of the retreat of State machinery as a tool for repression. It’s Engels himself, you can tell, reincarnated!
The economic part is the most brilliant: the economic functions of the State must be transferred to the hands of the workers (why not transfer the State then, which is in the hands of the Titos?), and the legislation in those days had already achieved the goal of really giving the factory to the workers. Here we go, to true Marxism! Our factories (says Tito) and mines will be run by the workers themselves. They alone will determine their work times and how they work: a true model for the treatment of the working class for the whole world!
We have arrived at the great demagogic cry: the company to its wage earners! So Tito puts himself at the end of a very long line: the trivial Proudhon and the ascetic Mazzini, the bungler Bakunin and the muddle-head Sorel, the renegade Bombacci and the incorruptible Malatesta.
After such a formula, of which we have not yet seen a single concrete example of practical application that has escaped failure or ridicule for the benefit of capitalism, the uninhibited Balkan leader feels he is on the right platform to give a lesson in Marxism to the Muscovites.
The Kremlin, he cries, allows itself to follow a path diametrically opposed to ours! and assumes an uncontrollable authority like that of the ancient deities, in the primitive world, which was based on the veneration of the invisible and the incomprehensible; this world is over today: today we want to hear and see (then turn your head a little the other way)!
Too often we find these ancient deities disturbed: we think that the power of a non-existent ghost does not weigh as much as that of a physical band of charlatans, whether they be priests or the State. The Leviathan that weighs down on us, and crushes our bones and joints, is made of a solid mass, quite visible and palpable; it is not a matter of escaping from it into the mists of the ideal, but of destroying it for good. Stalin’s apparatus, therefore, is very contemporary and material, and it it’s backed up by gun barrels and not by mysticism: even if by a neverending series of mystical theology the organization of class interests has always covered the ringing of gold and steel.
Stalin is wrong not because he has done "bad things" and thus must be brought before the tribunal of history or ethics. It is useless to shout, from certain pulpits: he tore millions of Soviet citizens from their homes by deporting them, with horrible consequences, to the deadly climate of Siberia (in many Balkan areas the climate is far worse) – Russian workers are oppressed by a monstrous bureaucracy and an ever-tightening internal police force!
No, we won’t look for the outcome of this matter in an appeal to an impalpable court, for abuse of power, and
never again will we find it in the halls of the Yugoslav Parliament or in those of the ex-King’s Palace of Milan
and of Draga.
It’s a matter, in the true sense of the expression, of putting the dots on the i, in order to see clearly in this rancid affair of the "autonomous unions of free producers" and of the "power in the factory" that’s posed against the "power in the State", without wasting any more time laughing at the idea that the Titos would just spontaneously give up the slightest bit of State power.
A famous passage by Engels contained in the so many times recalled "Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State" is thus translated as such in recent editions:
"The society which organizes production on the basis of a free and equal association of producers will put the whole State machinery where it will then belong – into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe". This is how Togliatti translates the quotation given by Lenin in his 1914 paper on Karl Marx.
It could be interpreted in the sense that what counts, to be able to see the disappearance of the State machinery is a system of production based on the freedom and equality of individual producers, or on the freedom and autonomy of many associations of producers. In this way, we would go drive off road and straight into Titoism.
We are unable to compare in either Engels’ or Lenin’s texts the gender number and case of the nouns involved, but it is certain for reasons of principle that the correct translation is the one we find in another edition of more or less the same source. "The society which reorganizes production on the basis of a free and equal association of producers, will put the State machine in the place etc. etc...".
In the Marxist view is the struggle not for liberation of man but for liberation of a class: liberation that occurs through the struggle between classes and ends with the abolition of classes.
With these abolished, since the State is the organ of domination of one class over another, it disappears:
"the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production" ("Anti-Dühring").
The Marxist understanding of the socialist society has nothing to do with the alleged administrative autonomy of production companies, managed by a democratic council of those who work there.
It doesn’t seem unjustified to repeat some basic quotes. The program present in the "Manifesto" closes as follows: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. This sentence is doctrinally correct, but it is above all a polemical closure: you bourgeois and liberals conceive the claim of free development of the individual as the right to stifle the development of another or of many others. On the contrary, we claim that the whole society must be considered as a productive association.
The administrative, economic and productive centralization not only remains, but it stands out against the chaotic disorder of bourgeois production. Only when the capitalist State machinery is broken into pieces, when proletarian power is implemented, when social classes are abolished, will we no longer be able to speak of coercion on groups and individuals, or even of an administration of interests, but of an absolute centralization which we can simply call technical, or even physical, of all production.
In our classics we have defined socialism as the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom: in our doctrine the isolated man, even when he deludes himself with some philosophical freedom, is a slave to external determinations and class domination and to the levers of the inexorable machine of government; as a social collectivity, as a revolutionary class, as a class party, he acquires the conditions and the forces for emancipation from the social yoke and the foundation of a free society organized by conscious norms.
But before we can come to tend to this supreme limit, it is necessary to employ the power of government and coercion over both class enemies and opposing groups and individuals – having reached that limit, the centralization of social technique remains and constitutes the fulcrum of the whole system:
From the "Manifesto": “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible”. (what a Sunday gospel reader our marshal is, speaking of power to the working class while belittling the State...).
A little further ahead:
"When … all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character".
From "Capital": “centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder”. Therefore, the great conquest of the centralization of socialization must be "liberated" from the capitalist integument, which was the thing that allowed the development of the means of production in the first place, but which at the end of the cycle suffocates and strangles them. Liberation, for us Marxist determinists, is not the permission given to every fool or crazy existentialist candidate to throw a tantrum, for whom there will always be an adequate sanitary care, but the fracture, the rupture, the explosion of integuments without which, in the given maturity of conditions, the natural processes do not lead to their proper result, as happens in the sprouting of the bud, in the hinging of skeletal structures of the pregnant during birth, or in the cataclysm of the heavens from which a supernova star rises.
If these old concepts are not brought into clear light nothing can be understood of the historic struggle in the First International between Marx and Bakunin. There centralism and federalism, authoritarian and libertarian methods clashed; but for many decades there was a general misunderstanding about the content of the dispute, which led to the anarchists being understood as radicals and the Marxists for cooled-down revolutionaries and even reformists. The debate on freedom and authority was understood as a discussion between freedom and legality, for example, as a central point of division in Italy at the Genoa Congress of 1892 was put forward the electoral method, with the improper term "conquest of public powers", and remained in the shadows the real contrast. According to the libertarians the revolution had to be the destruction of State power (and up to this point, as Lenin said, we agree with them and we consider our distance from them much less serious than that from the opportunistic social democrats) but that it could not be the establishment of a new class power and a new State, a dictatorship of revolutionaries.
This, says the anarchist, leads to disregard the free will of individuals and groups. Certainly, replies the Marxist, and this isn’t at all worrying, both because I have not established any thesis that is contradicted by it, and because it’s historically demonstrated that a ruling social class is never extirpated by any other means. But this, says the anarchist, also leads to the repression of the free initiative of some individual or group which is not part of the ruling class but of the poor classes and of even the proletariat itself. This is also, we reply, inevitable, and derives from the secular influences of the apparatus of domination in all its forms on the components of the subject class.
On the other hand, it is a great misunderstanding to say that the Marxist socialists were not libertarian but legalitarian, insofar as they not only participated to elections, but believed that by this means they would reach proletarian power.
This very serious deviation, however, came well after the crisis of the First International (1871) and reached its peak at the time of the First World War. The fact that parliamentary elections could not lead the proletariat to power was always a cornerstone of the Marxist method. The anarchist theses against which Marx fought in an insuperable controversy did not consist in the proposal not to go to the elective parliament, but in these very serious counter-revolutionary errors: the proletariat must be indifferent to political action; the proletariat must not organize itself into a political party; the proletariat must not establish a political State after the revolution.
A no less important thesis was that the coalitions that emerged from the struggles for economic demands should provide a basis for the proletarian political struggle against the exploiters. At that time the libertarians refused not only political organization, but even economic organization and strikes; eventually they admitted the latter, and since the beginning of the century they have been on the same level as the revolutionary syndicalists; committing, however, the no less serious error of considering the trade union, or another economic body, as capable of conducting the revolutionary struggle without a Party.
It may be difficult to understand that wherever there is still a political struggle, a political party and a political State, there is coercion on individuals and social groups and denial of peripheral autonomy. This is a strange thing for all the Titos and Peróns of the world, and for the exasperated liberators of the Individual, because they see in that the violation of the famous inherent rights of Liberty, Equality and Justice. This argument has never been taken even the slightest bit seriously by Marxists and it was with fierce sarcasm that Marx published and commented on the Bakuninist statutes.
"The constitution of a society on the sole basis of uniquely associated labor (?) based on collective property, equality and justice..."; "a truly socialist revolution, destroying the State and creating freedom with equality and justice..."; "the confiscation (Mikhael, how do you confiscate anything without a tax office?) of all productive capital and work tools for the benefit of workers’ associations, which will have to make them produce collectively".
It is clear how backward and in a certain sense even below capitalism itself this economic conception is; but there are many other mistakes at which Marx kept going: there will be a federal alliance of all the Workers’ Associations, there will be the Commune, a permanent federation of barricades, a Council of the Commune... the federated autonomy of Associations, provinces and communes... Tito thought he read Engels when he had only read to his shool Bakunin: the fact that Tito is actually applying it would make us angry even if instead of Engelsian we were genuine anarchists.
Moron! is the kindest word that father Marx can say to this. Hear for example the commentary on these phrases of Bakunin:
If there is a State [gosudarstvo], then there is unavoidably domination [gospodstvo], and consequently slavery. Domination without slavery, open or veiled, is unthinkable -- this is why we are enemies of the State… All people will rule, and there won’t be rulers”.
If a man rules himself, he does not really do so, for he is after all himself and no other. Then there will be no government and no State, but if there is a State, there will be both rulers and slaves! This only means one thing: when class rule has disappeared, there won’t be a State in the present political sense.
As for Engels, whom Tito claimed to protect against Kremlin revisionism, he is no less brilliant when he refutes the Freudian horror for authority, in the nice little article that first appeared in 1874 in Italy, in which he calmly and gracefully explains how in the light of modern productive organization “everywhere, combined action displaces independent action by individuals. But whoever mentions combined action speaks of organization. Is it possible to have organization without authority?” There follow the easy examples of a cotton spinning mill; of a railroad...
“It is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good”. And here the writer distinguishes between the method of authority in production and in politics, he explains that even in the latter it must be employed during the revolution, with the famous phrase: “Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is the most authoritarian thing there is”. And again mentions the famous concept of the end of the State: “Public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society”.
In less than twelve thousand words we have lined up a lot of quotations, and almost all of them very well known. We only need to sum up the old nails we’ve hit. For Marx, Engels and Lenin the matter goes like this:
First: the proletariat, organized into a political party, assaults the bourgeois State and destroys it.
Second: the proletariat founds its own class State, its own dictatorship, its own government; of course with a network of men and "rulers".
Third: the proletarian State intervenes despotically in the social economy by smashing capitalist integuments sector by sector and firm by firm, abolishing the class system of the wage-earner, and increasing the combined, intertwined, centralized, organized, planned character of productive technique.
Fourth: as this process matures, the State as a political apparatus withers away and becomes superfluous, and finally disappears.
The mistake is to think that this emptying foreseen by Engels, or rather formulated by him in a suggestive way on the basis of Marxist materialism, leads to the dissolution of the organized network of production throughout the territory and internationally, when in fact the process goes in the exact opposite direction. The bourgeois integument was condemned, attacked and destroyed not because it centralized against the principle of autonomy, but precisely because it had come to prevent the rational development of the general centralization of productive activities.
The mistake is to say: let’s go back from Stalin to Engels, raising the cry: the factories to the workers, the
fields to the peasants, the fire pumps to the firemen! What this is, is going back to Proudhon, “to the oracle
of these doctors of social science”, which is to say the non plus ultra of the proprietary, petit-bourgeois, and
counter-revolutionary cries. Anti-authoritarians, Engels closed, either confuse or betray the proletariat: in
either case they serve the reaction.
Any examination of the productive technique of 1952 compared to that of 1874 can only be an immense contributions to the confirmation of Engels’ demonstration of the progressive interdependence of all working activities. From the isolated producer of the Middle Ages, to the associated producers under capitalist rule, and then: negation of negation! Let it not be mere flippancy: by denying the bourgeois form of association, the firm, one does not fall back into the fragmentary production of the artisan or of the autonomous guild, but rises to the unitary classless society, where everyone, for the two and a half hours of wise old Bebel, works.
Against the defendant Džugašvili Iosif, and after hearing the prosecutor Tito (you remember what the hell his name was if you like him so much) the appeal for abuse of despotic power and excess of authority is not accepted, and neither is the dissolution of Russian industrial and agricultural enterprises to make them administered by internal councils, this after reading the thesis of a certain Ulyanov on the topic, in 1920, and recalling the Karl-Friedrich codes.
Under the pressure of the international reach of technology and the market and the combined effect of the two complementary dialectical factors: competition and monopoly in the backward areas and the centralization of the means of production and socialization of the productive forces cannot be executed to the tired drum beat of democratic-Enlightenment marching: the gloves of Moscow cannot be fancy gloves, or Parisian gloves. The prejudiced can’t even say that he excruciatingly stopped the clock of history so that it would not mark the Engels hour. The Engels hour has just not yet come.
It cannot ring as long as the great State centrals of the capitalist Leviathan are standing. These will have to fall, before a world proletarian dictatorship experiments with methods more rigorous than those of Stalin.
The Engels hour will sound much further and will not choose Balkan timekeepers. Even if it were not a country where the historical necessity is still to build capitalism, but a country of first-rate technique ready to build socialism, never would the hour of the demobilization of the State sound as long as in other countries the class revolution was still to be fought, with all the forces of the entire world working class.
And that the Russian government, in the light not of its methods, which are never absolutely good or bad, but of its historical functions, was really a proletarian government preoccupied with developing capitalism, instead of having become a capitalist government occupied with building capitalism and then with preserving it both at home and abroad, would be seen not only from the declaration that Engelsian demobilization is premature in Russia and the world, but firmly true in our program – instead of the hastily-made revisions.
It would be seen in the fact that, instead of going around with a caravan of peace, we would send out the vanguards of class warfare and the revolutionary offensive.
Only after the world peace of the bourgeoisie has been put to the sword, can the libertarian dreamers hope that the Revolution, having re-read Engels, will dismantle the red weapons and do away with the red soldiers and the red police.
We broke with Stalin. And we chose authority.