On the Thread of Time
"Sul Filo del Tempo", Il programma Comunista, n.10, 1953
Let us reread the chapter in Engels’ Antidühring concerning phase D of the capitalist cycle (that the fools “discovered” in 1950).
«D. Partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces forced upon the capitalists themselves. Taking over of the great institutions of production and communication, first by joint-stock companies, later on by trusts, then by the State. The bourgeoisie demonstrated to be a superfluous class. All its social functions are now performed by salaried employees» (1).
We have quoted this passage from Engels, which defines the arrival of the fourth and final phase of capitalism with the disappearance of the bourgeoisie which, by handing over the organizations of production and exchange shows that it is “a superfluous class” whose social functions are “entrusted to salaried staff”, in order to link the termination of individual functions in history both as regards mental and economic activities.
This fact is confirmed by Engels in various vivid passages, harking back to those no less expressive ones of Marx on the impersonal nature of capital and the purely vacuous and figurative nature of the capitalist.
Clearly these passages have been quoted to establish that where State control and management of productive enterprises have arrived, or even where industry as a whole has come under State control, we cannot for this reason speak of socialism.
But that is far from all. We have to draw two further conclusions from the quotations. Firstly, cases of State control had already been carried through and were well known when the Marxist doctrine was created, and thus for Marx and Engels they were not new historical facts. Secondly, not only did they foresee the systematic spreading of such forms as an essential outcome of capitalist concentration, but they also based that forecast on the Marxist, as opposed to the bourgeois, definition of capital. Right from the beginning capital is a social form of production and not a new historical form of personal private property.
So then if we had not in fact arrived at State control, or if the modern State had shown itself able to keep out of the economy, not only would a forecast of Marxism have been undermined, but also the anti-Marxist theory of capitalist production would have been floored.
In other words, right from its very appearance the ownership of capital by individual private proprietors is not its essential and discriminating characteristic.
Capitalism’s essential characteristics, which we have recalled many times before and will patiently return to now, are to be sought elsewhere.
If such a position were logical, then clearly the Marxist thesis that asserts that new historical programmes don’t make their appearance in the heads of just one author, or even, worse, in cliquey existentialist type “boutiques”, would be totally wrong.
The example we are going to deal with is that of the review Socialisme ou Barbarie and its compiler Chaulieu (2), who actually doesn’t seem the stupidest of amarxist asses. A real shame.
Who will patch up the patcher-uperers? Here we have only to clear the field of their bodge repairs, without shedding a tear for any of their admirers and helpers who mimic their pretensions; however distressing it may be when at other times, whether rightly or wrongly, they have boasted the orthodoxy of their school. The great ship cuts through the ocean storm waves better than ever, but if it were up to people like them to keep it afloat, it would have gone straight to the bottom a while back.
In order to take personalities and places out of the equation, we shall talk mainly of repairs and repairers, bearing in mind that the repair is often worse than the damage (3).
The attempt to demonstrate the existence of holes appears clearly in phrases such as «both the evolution of capitalism and the development of the workers’ movement itself have given rise to new problems, unforeseen and unforeseeable factors, tasks previously unexpected, under the weight of which the workers’ movement has been so crushed so as to have disappeared today».
So back to the docks for a minor overhaul of the ship of Marxism, for a “taking note of these tasks and responding to these problems”. In Rome they say “hai detto un prospero”; that’s quite an issue!
After briefly recalling the Communist Manifesto which is vaguely acknowledged for having stated some early revolutionary intuitions, and for having discovered the class struggle, which Marx himself said he didn’t discover, we go to and fro until we arrive at the conclusion that today’s theory has to be very different from the 1848 one. That the intention isn’t just to add a few chapters, or even to cut out some dead wood in order to graft on new shoots, but rather to replace the entire trunk itself, is made clear by the puerile subtitles, mimicking the classical ones, which appear in an initial document,: bourgeoisie and bureaucracy - bureaucracy and proletariat - proletariat and revolution, appears instead of the famous: bourgeois and proletarians - proletarians and communists. But even if we admit the central thesis of exit bourgeoisie, stage left, enter bureaucracy stage right, it is still not a part which is being substituted, but the whole: it isn’t a repair of the wooden hull which is being proposed, but rather its substitution with a steel one, as we shall shortly go on to show.
The only things these hull restorers are really launching is paper boats.
Since you probably want to know what for Marx and his followers, in 1848 and 1914, was “unforeseen and unexpected”, we can deduce it immediately from another key sentence: «By and large, we can say that the profound difference between the situation today and in 1848 is that of the appearance of the bureaucracy as a social stratum tending to take over from the traditional bourgeoisie during the period of the decline of capitalism». This personality, new to the historical scene, is not just a bit part actor but also a lead player. Indeed it is presented as a social stratum (couche), but soon it is raised to the status of a class – however else could the Russian social situation, with the bourgeoisie gone, be defined as a class economy and structure? One class is the proletariat, and the other? Clearly, the bureaucracy.
The definition of the bureaucracy as a social class is such nonsense that if we admitted it for one second the entire theory, from the time of the Manifesto up to Lenin (and happily up to now) would crumble into dust and none of it, not a single chapter, would survive. This would be just the start. There would have come about yet another demolition job on Marxism to add to all the others: let them break their backs on it! But the fact of the matter is that the inherent error in this doctrine lies entirely in theses that are not just anti-marxist, but pre-marxist, which Marxism not only foresaw and expected, but also repeatedly revealed as rotten at the time, crushing them with classic third degree interrogations.
We will thus go on to show that whoever wishes to follow the repairing and patching up line, à la rive gauche, should only do so after reading and digesting every page of both Capital and State and Revolution.
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 programme of the proletarian revolution cannot remain the same as it was before the experience of the Russian revolution and the transformations that have taken place since the Second World War in all the countries under the Russian sphere of influence». What happens is that precisely those who give the clearest evidence of never having learnt what the programme of the proletarian revolution actually is, was or will be are those who set out to change it!
Our movement pulls in the opposite direction, and we feel that we have made a considerable contribution to that effort: «The programme of the proletarian revolution must remain as it was before the Russian revolution and the corruption of the Second International». Marx rediscovered in the Paris Commune of 1871 the programme of the Manifesto of 1848; Lenin in October 1917 and in the situation following the First World War discovered the self same programme. The main thing is we can see the programme has not been implemented in Russia at all, that much is clear, but not for the reasons given by the repairers, for neither would it have been implemented if their postulates – of democracy and proletarian control and reduction of bureaucratic privileges – were to have won the day either. But then those are the only demands they are capable of making.
Mercifully, just a single consideration is enough to put the discovery of this new planet in the solar system of historical social classes – the bureaucracy class – totally beyond the pale of the materialist dialectic, pushing it back into the metaphysical limbos of specifically bourgeois thought. The incautious attempted parody of the 1848 Manifesto lacks any explanation, justification or “apologia” for this new and original class that is to replace the old ones. If, as is claimed, we have been witness to its coming, we have been witness to the development and victory of a “useless” class and from the moment it appeared we deemed it worthy only of insults. How different is this from the Manifesto’s presentation of the bourgeois revolution, of the bourgeois conquest of the world! So then, an error, a diversion, a historical abortion? Marxism? or just the filthy idealism of the decadent bourgeoisie!?
But why instead of being thrust into the jar of preserving alcohol does this abortion, with the horrible face of an old hag, instil fear such that the entire “programme of the revolution” has to be changed, and the “midwife of history” sent back to the school for pale sawbones?
The hypothesis that the apparatus of class power – in Marxist language, the bureaucracy is nothing more than that; the State is nothing more than that – holds on to power not to defend one of the class modes of production, but for itself, to ensure its own comfort, to get the money to go to the cinema or to the brothel; this is nothing but the basest version of the most banal objection to proletarian socialism: by all means bring new forces to the summit of society if you want, but you will only have to start all over again, because whoever governs and leads only does so on their own account. As any Philistine can tell you, the only solution is a moral one, of both governed and governors being honest, a liberal solution (control, my God!) with the one elected to lead the servant of the electors, as for example in Old England, or young America! And maybe by adopting this style you could teach Karl Marx a thing or two, something that he, poor chap, failed to suspect? But maybe you’d be better off in the job of revealing the truth to cuckold husbands, something far more serious.
In a strange and shabby polemic with Trotsky, in which they say he is wrong where he is right and vice versa, they pick up on a bad literary progression in a sentence following on from one which is correct (the certainty that the bureaucracy has no historical future) – if the revolution were to be checked, allowing the bureaucracy to install itself stably in power worldwide, “it would be a regime in decline, meaning the eclipse of civilization”. So, should the proletariat and revolutionary Marxism be ready to trade in their class programme if progress should turn into decline, and if civilization, common to all classes and above class struggles, were threatened with extinction? Progress, and the splendours of historical civilization – other than that is not needed to relapse totally into what Marx and Engels lambasted a thousand times over as the ideology of bourgeois and petty bourgeois socialism.
The patchers want to surpass our poor Marxism, and they rejoice in this precious confession: to avoid declining regimes coming after capitalism and the eclipse of present day civilization (for us the darkest possible) we will not touch a single typewriter or linotype key, and we will have no more of our illuminating ‘bright ideas’. As long as the bourgeois regime finishes itself off, we will let it take to its bed in the dark.
But to show that the claim to be patching up is really an attempt, inane certainly, to dismantle it piece by piece, we need some kind of order. So let us look first of all at the question of the economic transition, then at political power.
The polemic starts out with the attempt to contradict Trotsky’s thesis that Russia was still a workers’ State even after the victory of the bureaucracy. Trotsky would have said (in fact the critical judgements of Trotsky should be examined in a rather better logical order) that the economy was socialist in production due to the State ownership of industry, and only non-socialist in the distribution of income (or rather, division of the product). But whilst refuting this position with the obvious argument that each historical form of production also presents inseparable characteristics of its own in the realm of distribution, wild confusion reigns over the basic terms and concepts of Marxist economics.
We disagree with Trotsky about the various stages that Russian social development has passed through since February 1917, what they were, and how they are to be defined, and we feel that he had a constant “phase delay” in noticing the abandonment of various revolutionary positions, firstly in the field of tactics, then in politics, and finally in economics. But Trotsky, as his companion Sedova has apparently already stated, wouldn’t talk about room for manoeuvre, or proletarian power, or proletarian economy in Russia now, that much seems certain.
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 the strategy of manoeuvre and economic policy is clarified by taking into account all internal and external social factors; and he knows how to distinguish between the very varied paths leading to victory, to a standoff, and to the defeat of revolutions already underway, even when his solutions don’t fit the problems.
These critics of his do not view anything historically and dialectically, and when they attempt to recount the international succession of facts they do it in a very stilted fashion, seeing everything in a despairingly static and statistical way, and it is only because they apply words and phrases picked up from Marx that they feel they have found new and fortunate solutions. In truth they do not rise above an idiotic “analysis” along the lines of, if you give me an aerial photo of a country I can explain to you what the position is to begin with as far as production and distribution relations are concerned, and can then pass judgement as to the “colour” of the “regime”.
This dialectical impotence fails to comprehend that there are moments when the economy and politics, for example, production and distribution, and even the interests of the ruled and ruling class, appear to move in opposite directions: this is what Marx learnt from the history of the pre-1848 revolutions and counter-revolutions, and what a re-examination of later events has so amply confirmed, to the extent that not a single rivet in the plate of the hull needs to be replaced.
This primary Marxist concept has not been digested at all, even if lip service is paid to classical formulations. In fact it has been turned upside down. Their vaunted goal is to link production relations with those of distribution, which is quite right and we did it correctly with regard to the mercantile characters of the Russian economy, which shows its capitalist character, given today’s general historical and political conditions. But when, for example, the NEP was introduced, it was possible to draw very different conclusions.
But the important point is that in redefining the relations of production the Marxist criterion is so deformed that it relapses completely into a crassly bourgeois, anti-determinist idealism. Starting out in fact from the right position, we end up with the following type of thesis, which is repeated several times over: «We know (!) that every production relation is, in the first case and immediately (?), the organization of the productive forces in view of the productive result».
In this enunciation of a dozen words or so all placed in the wrong order, we can
detect all the ways of bourgeois thinking in economics and philosophy.
The point of arrival at which the whole tortuous exposition is directed, 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 therefore is based on idealist and voluntary 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 result clearly in mind, they must already have had science and consciousness of economic laws as well.
But who is this someone? Whoever replies “the man in the street”, would be a correct and loyal, anti-marxist liberal. Whoever states “the man of destiny”, would be a decent idealist of one of a number of schools. Whoever says “God’s envoy”, would be a believer in revelation. But the ‘whoever’ of the patchers would immediately say “it is the ruling class” (in Russia, therefore, the bureaucracy, sovereign of economic laws and productive results). And that’s the whole scheme.
They think they are Marxist because they introduce class even when it isn’t there (and perhaps only then). They have read Marx and studied him thoroughly, and perhaps quote him even more than us, but precisely when he proves the opposite of the “organization in view of a productive result”. It would have been better not to have read him. There is also a way of reading books similar to the way a burglar flicks through wads of dough. A comrade from his earliest days often has fun recalling the names of the many people who know Marx down to the last detail, and his works too, but are the worst enemies of Marxism.
Let us repeat that the formula is a general one for all the historical relations of production. As if the Indian Maharajah who receives his weight in gold as tribute, or the feudal baron off on the Crusades for years on end had ever organized any areas of production. But when we think of it as applied to capitalism we can see the relapse, as in philosophy, into the bourgeois science of economics: the pursuit of productive results. The irresistible thrust to produce limitlessly and without reason, and thus without consciousness of the outcome and without organization, becomes, rather than the contradictory and unstable manifestations revealed to us by economic determinism, a conscious and intentional search for outcomes by the ruling class, which “builds material and personal” relationships in an ad hoc way. We have arrived at the desired point: everything is a relationship between two persons: boss and worker. And so in general are all the historical classes defined in this fossilized way – a group of people that know, want, and manage, and another group of people which submits to them and does what it is told. 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.
Only if one then went on to use the above formula to define the socialist mode of production could one say: organization of the productive forces in view of the result. But the word ‘productive’ shouldn’t be added, which stinks of business dealings and capitalist economism a mile off, but rather the result in terms of consumption, of use. This is what will exist much later in a classless society when the Philistine problem of preventing the order-giver from diddling the order-taker has been resolved. But while there are still classes, the conscious realization of the result is impossible for individuals and classes. Only for the party! As they reproach Lenin for having proclaimed.
They want to show that nationalised State property is not socialism; this is correct, but the path taken is wrong. They say that the relations of production are one thing and property forms another. Instead in Marx they are two aspects of the same thing. Both in a private bourgeois company and a State one, the form of property is the same. To understand this, one need only consider the relationship between the wage labourer and the product rather than thinking about the factory or the machinery. The bourgeois form of property exists when the worker loses any right to appropriate the product of the company. Naturally the means of production are also removed, but this derives from the material fact there is associated labour. It would be a wonder (even if decided by an autonomous factory council) if each worker walked away with a brick from the wall and a cog from the machine...
Nonetheless, we can start from the most perfect pronunciations of Marx, the 1859 Introduction to The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy; presumably written on one of those days when those terrible bugs that later made him beg to die weren’t giving him the gyp, or when he was smoking fewer of those awful cigars. We quote it, 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)» (4).
The lesson of the text is clear. And it is not us who are saying that, but those who have mutilated it by removing all the passages in brackets. Clear! After reading the text just once, in full possession of your physiological faculties, you can set fire to your library and tear any circumvolution of the alphabet from the cerebral matter. But randomly omitting passages is not justifiable (worse than randomly, since the omitted passages place the material condition to the fore whilst consciousness tails behind, delayed until long after each revolution, whilst this becomes, on the contrary, the landing point towards which this entire hotch-potch of confused ideas heads, pathetically a century after the Critique’s blinding flash of light). If then someone comes forward, swollen with pride after their thorough examination of what was published in 1859, to change a few words, then it only remains to give consciousness a few good kicks up its substructure.
Let us read it again, calmly. Social production of life. Relationship which completely rises above the individual and his balance sheet of “giving and taking” around which any supposed theoretical updates are condemned to desperately revolve. Production for human associations: production of their food and biological reproduction of the species, of tomorrow’s producers. None of it planned, whether in the mind of one or the many, but determined by the state of material productive forces. Even human beings are a productive force that evolves, but cannot break with the conditions determined by what is technically possible: spade or plough, oar or sail, sledge or wheel, fauna, flora, the geological terrain. These are the material conditions, not cash in the pocket. Maybe “Consciousness” of these turning points is 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, who was 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 zero consciousness.
Relations of production relations 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 trying to make them into different things, and do this by keeping quiet about the passages that show that Law derives from economic relationships.
Under slavery, the production relationship is that the product of the slave’s labour is at his owner’s disposal, without any compensation over and above the minimum of sustenance, and the slave cannot leave, or produce for others or for himself. The property relationship regards the person and life of the slave and the same thing is expressed in law.
Productive forces are the tools, the machines, the vehicles of all kinds, the raw materials and the stock that nature offers and, clearly, the working class in any epoch. Mode of production (Produktionsweise) or the form of production is one of the great historical kinds of production relations – technical resources and forms of property. Primitive communism and slavery, serfdom and wage labour adapt themselves successively to the cultivation of land. One after another, primitive communism, slavery, free artisanship and finally, at a certain stage, wage labour too, are found to be inadequate for the production of manufactures.
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, can’t be evaded by claiming to substitute it with the categories: private capitalism; State capitalism or bourgeoisie-bureaucracy.
But there is a further equivocation. Forms of property are legal relationships. They have been determined by economic factors. But explaining that is one thing, it is quite another to understand ideology, religion, philosophy etc.
The relation of property is a material relation. The State which functions according to sanctioned juridical norms is a material mechanism that is far more real than a philosophical system. If the slave absconds, the agents of the State will hunt him down. If a wage labourer purloins an object produced, even if the industrialist or manager confine him in the factory, the police come to arrest and free him. Property forms are material economic agents. There is nothing ‘mysterious’ about it! My own consciousness of things, for example, 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.
Continuing on the economic theme, the whole conception of class struggle is reduced to an endless battle against a single enemy: exploitation. But if exploitation is ever the monster, the victims who revolt against it change from the slave to the serf, to the wage labourer and so on. We are in full Philosophy of Poverty mode, á la Proudhon. Buried in 1847, far from above suspicion in 1848.
The following passage (from the Critique) has been read, but not understood: «From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters» [quoted in the previous passage from the Critique]: It is only now, in advanced capitalism, that the exploitation of the wage labourer, surplus labour and surplus value are fetters. In capitalism’s infancy they were evolutionary forms that were useful to the forces of production. Liberty, equality and fraternity were mystifications (as is recalled by our friends completely “en passant”), quite so; and they still are when they go off and reapply them hypocritically within the proletarian class, forgetting to give us the conscious recipe for when – finally – class or proletariat will no longer exist. But there was no mystification in the fact that one and the same object, let us say a pair of scissors, made by a wage labourer and not a free craftsman, at least allowed the “poor” to have a pair of scissors in their homes instead of none at all, or four pairs instead of just one. The cruelly expropriated craftsman, who just because he was 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 making wage labourers offer up masses of surplus labour in the new works and factories was the only way to accumulate capital, which from then was on social, and evolve towards the present advanced levels of technical equipment. If exploitation there was, it is still a stupidly moral and non-marxist objection.
The basic economic error lies in reducing everything to a contest for surplus value, confusing it 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 stupidity, but rather the determinist material influences of the modern and even more fervent future productive forces that led proletarians to help break the chains of serfdom and small-scale production. Bit by bit the law of the hunt for surplus labour, which prevents capital from “organizing with an end in view”, renders the new form unfavourable. There is therefore no absolute ethical value involved, but a quantitative transition of social production. Naturally these people, who patch up Marx by sinking lower than Lassalle, perceive in the struggle between two historical modes of production merely the conflict between worker and boss, or worker and bureaucracy, circumscribing it within the bounds of profit margins which today are low with a raised rate of surplus value for mechanical reasons.
Blinded by the question of the division of income and having turned what they read about the division of poverty in that other formidable text, the Critique of the Gotha Programme, upside down, they cannot see how it is possible in principle to propose the following thesis: that the expenses footed by company and State bureaucracies are but one of the many fractions into which profit is divided. In pursuance of the aim of passing rapidly from the fragmentary semi-Asiatic economy to a national market and flourishing industry, the sum exploited by the present Russian bureaucracy, insofar as it is consumption in and for itself, is possibly the least of the problems faced on the complex worldwide road towards the Marxist improvement of “the condition of living labour”. The discussion they conduct using Trotsky’s figures and those of the Stalinist apologists, in which their highfalutin and overly fastidious analysis consists, only goes to show that they have a long way to go before reaching the level economic science achieved when it was reconstructed to express the interests of the modern proletariat. They want to argue about saving a few pennies, haggle over prices like a servant at the market. They cannot see that there is a world to be won.
After having seen that their mania to improve and update, their sadly snobbish fear of not being in the know about the latest developments in conformist science, have led them to deny, paragraph by paragraph, all of our economic texts, let us look at the political aspect.
What is the State for us? It is an apparatus composed of people with given functions, and above all, armed men. Such an apparatus is certainly not necessary for every human community (Lenin used to say that here the anarchists had got it right), given that there were, and will be (Engels explains why) societies without States.
But there will only be States for as long as there are societies divided into
classes engaged in mutual conflict. 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 relations which appear with them, which it then tends to conserve and defend with force even when they have become “fetters on new productive forces” capable of improving the general well-being.
The State, including all its armed and unarmed bodies, that is, a bureaucratic system (police, militia, judiciary, administration, even the clergy) is therefore not always an absolute evil. After the anti-feudal revolution the French State, with its phalanx of functionaries, standing army, national guard, gendarmerie etc., had the function of fighting off reaction. We could say they expressed the struggle of the new capitalists against the old landed aristocracy. The State is explained by the presence of these two classes and it was a chain cutter not a chain maker, for the time being. But we could say more precisely that it expressed the struggle between a future mode of production (the capitalist one) and a past and inferior one (feudalism). A struggle that was historical and universal. Beyond the division of the population of France, such a State in such an historical moment expresses the pressure of every bourgeois and proletarian class in struggle, and it could be said that along with a worldwide network of interests, it represented the even wider potential of the irresistible generative force of future productive forces.
So that is the yardstick we must use to judge the forms and struggles of such an apparatus, and Marx provides the startling interconnections that arise in three classical texts.
But rather than continuous progress it is through a much more complex process that such an apparatus transforms its “anti-reformist” functions into “conformist” functions, and a class and a force rises up against it whose aim is to destroy it.
The State is therefore an apparatus based on a class defending and supporting a given mode of production; an apparatus that, after revolutionary success, resists the return of the old modes and forces.
It is therefore clear that every form of social revolution bestrides two great forms of production and, in the case of the coming revolution of the proletariat, it will have to smash the old State to pieces and disperse its hierarchy and personnel. But it is also clear that – and here the anarchists do not understand, and the more or less anarchoid groups turn up their noses – that as long as the old mode of production has forces at its disposal to defend it, not only within the given country, but equally outside it, a new State form, with bodies of armed men and a bureaucracy, will be needed.
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 Marxism, liberalism and libertarianism of a romantic nature go hand in hand.
If Marx and Lenin see the formation of the new revolutionary State, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as necessary, it is due to the fact that while the conquest of political power by revolutionary means is a sudden leap, the same is not true of other factors, which tend to be diluted as time goes by. These are: the complete substitution of the old mode of production with the new; the corresponding local disappearance of the class that previously held power and reflected the old mode of production; the influence of foreign powers which defend the old mode of production and hold out against the new one, and, above all; the residual super-structural influences of all the various ruling ideologies and social psychologies. So the State is not abolished, but a new one is founded by overthrowing the old one. Over this long process, whose time span depends on the level of development of the internal social forces, international relations and the relative strength of classes, the State is finally extinguished. This is all well known, and the patchers claim it doesn’t need to be included in their repair cycle.
Indeed, in order to show us that such a road is unchanged if concentration has reached the stage of State industrialism, they themselves cite some very clear passages from Engels, «The means of production, 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 and individual property in 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 transition 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 performed 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 of salaries in Russia, a disproportion against which, following the line laid down by the glorious Commune, only a socialist revolution can rise up against in the framework of advanced capitalism.
We must all the same recognize that the workers’ State, that alone can carry out these tasks of transforming the form of production, can also in periods not only of internal 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, during certain stages – which today’s Stalinist one has exceeded for years and years – it can still remain a political State of the proletariat and the future worldwide socialist mode of production, even while busying itself with the preliminary transformation “of means of production into capital”.
The Russian State, with its inevitable bureaucracy, ‘works’ today merely to transform means of production into capital just as in a young capitalist State, and has become an apparatus that no longer struggles for the proletarian mode of production, but is instead, like all the others, ready to defend the capitalist one.
So you want to see this terrifying bureaucracy disappear without the recourse to revolutions and wars. Do you then really suppose it would be possible to pass to the socialist mode of production? Perhaps when you have learnt that it means the disappearance of the market and registration of prices, of division into companies and the registration of wages, of the division of labour into professions and the difference between town and country, then you will understand that the ejection of all the various snotty functionaries from their plush offices will happen as a matter of course, without having dignified them by naming a period of history after them!
So that is “the other solution”, worked out centuries ago, which can be used to clear up the problem of the patchers and of their alleged data ignored by Marxism.
Instead of these powerful critical arms however, they substitute chit-chat statistics on incomes, and seek, but do not understand, quotas of income and surplus value; above all they do not know how to indicate their quantitative variations, up or down, by verifying the progress in the spreading of capitalism. Instead we get the same old palinode: increasing extortion, falling living standards, and other bollocks.
Given the absence of the Russian bourgeoisie, which destroys the schema of two (at least) classes and the State for only one of them (thereby tearing up Marx’s writings on the Commune and Lenin’s on the State), the solution lies in classifying soviet citizens as “workers” and “bureaucrats”. But if the relation of production were worker-State, it would be a single relationship and so there would be no differences and so no class struggle. This arbitrary and unreal selection is the very worst parody of Marxism. It means substituting the clash of two historical forms, described mythically in the Iliad, with a fight between two species, mice and frogs, which Homer himself may have laughingly sung along with 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 with eternal monarchies and theocracies which receive tribute from still surviving nomadic populations and communist tribes (and severely lacking, as Marx shows, in bureaucracy – a dozen or so people for 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 ruling bureaucracy and barbarism are not in parallel, but in direct antithesis!) – while, on the other hand, there is the navigating, trading, and industrial (for the time) Aeolian and Ionian race, with a juridical and philosophical superstructure and brilliant individualism approaching that of the romantic bourgeoisie of the best modern European era. Two worlds with two seriously different forms of human organization, their characteristics determined by vastly different geographical settings, from the immense deserts and hinterlands to the jagged unruly coastlines of peninsulas and archipelagos, from the glacial and sultry climate of the super-continent to the soft and temperate one of the sweet Mediterranean shores; two worlds collide as Hector’s and Achilles’ chariots smash together.
But with statistics about monthly paycheques, the image fades, as when, distinguishable at first sight, the mice and frogs fight it out, repeating loudly the invectives of the heros before the dual, recalling the changing fortunes of the ten year war between the continents, and mimicking with ridiculous nicknames the Trojans and the Argives.
The clash between the capitalist and socialist modes of production takes on the same proportions as the attempted description (which is incapable of citing even one historical episode or news item; we’re not saying a Homeric epic, but at least a Reuter dispatch!) of Russian society. It stands in the same proportion as the great epic poem to the pleasant parody of the mice and frogs.