On the Thread of Time
"Sul Filo del Tempo", Il programma Comunista, n.10, 1953
In the previous Filo del Tempo article [Carlylian Phantoms] in order to plot the declining role of the individual in history, in both the realms of mental activity and the economy, we quoted the passage from Engels in which he defines the arrival of the fourth and final phase of capitalism as the disappearance of the bourgeoisie, which, by entrusting production and exchange to the State, is revealed to be “a superfluous class”, whose social functions “are carried out by salaried employees” (1).
Engels reaffirms this fact in various vivid passages which tie in with Marx’s no less expressive writing on the impersonal nature of capital, in which the capitalist merely performs a simple walk‑on part.
Clearly these passages were cited to establish that where there is State control and management of productive enterprises, and even where the whole of industry is under State control, you cannot for this reason speak of socialism.
But that is certainly not all. Two further things need to be drawn from those quotations. In the first place cases of capitalist state control had already been realized and recorded when the Marxist doctrine was in the process of formation, and thus for Marx and Engels they were not new historical facts; in the second place, they not only predicted the systematic diffusion of such forms as an essential outcome of capitalist concentration, but they based this prediction on the Marxist definition of capital, not the bourgeois one. From its very first appearance capital is a social form of production and not a new historical form of personal, private property.
Actually then, if State control had not been achieved, and the modern State had managed to keep out of the economy, not only would just one prediction of Marxism have been shown to be wrong, but the anti‑Marxist theory of capitalist production would have given our theory the knock‑out blow.
In other words, right from its first appearance, the ownership of capital by individual private proprietors is not its essential and discriminating characteristic.
Capitalism’s essential characteristics, which we have often recalled before, and will patiently return to now, are to be sought elsewhere.
Due to the clarity with which these things are set out, we are utterly amazed that those texts seem to be known in detail (given that they use the same quotations) to certain intellectual leaders of small groups and movements whose fault lies not in their limited forces, but in presuming that with limited forces they can set up dry docks for theories that have navigated centuries of history, and attracted millions of followers.
If such a position were logical, then clearly the Marxist thesis that a new historical program cannot appear in the head of an individual author, or worse still within a cliquey existentialist type “boutique”, would have to be dropped in its entirety.
The example we are going to occupy ourselves with is the review Socialisme ou Barbarie, and its editor Chaulieu (2), who we don’t actually think is the stupidest and most asinine of a‑marxists. A real shame.
Who will repair the repairers? Here we are only concerned to remove their patches (pecette), without shedding a tear for any of their fans and collaborators who mimic their pretensions; however painful it is that before, whether rightly or wrongly, they staked a claim to the Marxist orthodoxy of our school. The great ship now cuts through the stormy ocean better than ever, but were it up to those guys it would have gone straight to the bottom ages ago.
In order to take personalities and places out of the equation, we shall talk mainly of repairers and patchers – pecettisti – (in Roman dialect a pecetta is the patch you use to plug a hole or gap, for instance to repair a flat tyre, mostly with that kind of success which the Venetians famously refer to as “pezo el tacon dal buso”, the repair is worse than the damage.
The attempt to demonstrate that ‘leaks’ and ‘gaps’ exist appears clearly in phrases like this: “both the evolution of capitalism and the development of the workers’ movement itself have given rise to new problems, to unforeseen and unforeseeable factors, to previously unexpected tasks, under the weight of which the workers’ movement buckled, leading to its current disappearance”.
Marxism is back in the docks then for a minor overhaul so as “to take note of these tasks and respond to these problems”. In Rome they would say “hai detto un prospero”; [a damp squib]
After a brief nod to the Communist Manifesto which is vaguely acknowledged for having affirmed some initial revolutionary intuitions, and for having discovered the class struggle, which Marx said he didn’t discover, we go back and forth until eventually it is concluded that today’s theory must be very different to the 1848 one. And that the intention is not merely to add a few chapters, or to cut out some of the dead wood so new shoots can be grafted on, but rather to replace the entire trunk itself, is made clear by the puerile subtitles in an initial document which mimics the classical ones: bourgeoisie and bureaucracy – bureaucracy and proletariat – proletariat and revolution, instead of the famous: bourgeois and proletarians – proletarians and communists. However, as we will shortly go on to show, the fact of the matter is that by admitting this central thesis – exit bourgeoisie, enter bureaucracy – it is not a part that is being replaced but the whole, and not a repair of the wooden hull which is being proposed, but its replacement with a steel one.
All these hull restorers are really launching is paper boats.
A NEW LEADING ACTOR
If you want to know, in short, what was “unforeseen and unexpected” in 1848 or in 1914 for Marx and his followers, we can infer it immediately from another key sentence: “By and large, we can say that the profound difference between the situation today and in 1848 is the appearance of the bureaucracy as a social stratum which tends to stand in for the traditional bourgeoisie during the period of capitalism’s decline”. This entity, described as new to the historical scene, is not a bit part actor but a lead player. In fact it is presented as a social stratum (couche), but soon it is raised to the status of a class – how else could one define the Russian social situation, with the bourgeoisie gone, as a class economy and class 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 for one second, the entire theory as it stood at the time of the Manifesto, and up to Lenin (and happily up to now) would crumble into dust, and none of it not a single chapter would survive. This would still not latter that much: it would just be one more demolition job on Marxism to add to all the others: let them break their teeth on it! But the fact of the matter is, the inherent error in this doctrine has already been fully expounded in not just anti‑marxist theses but pre‑marxist ones, which Marxism not only foresaw and found suspect, but repeatedly denounced as already rancid at the time, and crushed with classic “passage à tabac” (given the third degree).
We will gird our loins then and get ready to show that whoever wishes to follow the repairing and patching up line à la rive gauche can go ahead, but only after reading and digesting every page of both Capital and State and Revolution.
Because we could hardly define better the exact opposite of the position of the international Marxist left, before and after Lenin, than with the words “The program of the proletarian revolution cannot remain what it was before the experience of the Russian revolution and the transformations that took place after the Second World War in all of the countries in the Russian sphere of influence”. What just happens is this: that precisely those who have given the clearest evidence of never having understood what the program of the proletarian revolution was, is, or will be, set about changing it!
Our movement pulls in the opposite direction, and we believe our contribution to that effort has been by no means negligible: “The programme of the proletarian revolution must remain as it was before the Russian revolution and the First World War and before the corruption of the Second International”. Marx recognized in the Paris Commune of 1871 the program of the Manifesto of 1848. Lenin in October 1917 and in the aftermath of the First World War discovered the self same program. The important fact is that we do not see this program being implemented in Russia, that much is clear; but not for the reasons given by the repairers; insofar as if their postulates of democracy and proletarian control, and reduction of bureaucratic privileges, had won out, they wouldn’t have been implemented either. And these are the only demands they are capable of making.
One sole consideration suffices to put the discovery of this new planet in the solar system of historical social classes – the ‘bureaucracy class’ – mercifully beyond the most minimum comprehension of the materialist dialectic, casting it back into the metaphysical limbos of totally bourgeois thinking. The incautiously attempted parody of the 1848 Manifesto lacks any explanation, justification or “apologia” of this new, original class that is to take the place of the old ones. If we have been witness, as is claimed, to its rise, we have been witness to the formation and victory of a “useless” class for as soon as it appeared we deemed it worthy only of insults. How different its presentation is from the one the Manifesto gives of the bourgeois revolution, of the bourgeois conquest of the world! An error then, a distraction, a historical abortion? Is this Marxism; or the soiled idealism of the decadent bourgeoisie!?
But why, instead of pickling it in a specimen jar, does this abortion with the horrid face of a decrepit hag inspire so much fear that the entire “programme of the revolution” has to be changed, and the “midwife of history” sent back to school to be instructed by these pale sawbones?
This hypothesis that the apparatus of class power – in Marxist language the bureaucracy is just that; the State is just that – holds power not to defend one of the modes of class production, but for itself, for its own benefit, to get money out of it to spend at the cinema or the brothel, is nothing but the lowest version of the most banal objection to proletarian socialism: you put new forces at the summit of society, and you just have to start all over again, because whoever governs and leads only does so on their own account. And as any Philistine will tell you, the only remedy for that is a moral one, for both governed and governors to be honest, a liberal solution (control, tut‑tut!) in which those elected to lead are the servants of the electorate, as for example in old England, or in young America! And you think with all this you will teach Karl Marx something that he, poor fellow, somehow missed? Why, you’d be better off in the more serious business of digging up evidence for cuckolded husbands!
In a strange and shabby polemic with Trotsky, in which everything right he said they find wrong, and vice versa, they pick up on a bad literary progression from one sentence which is correct (the certainty that the bureaucracy has no historical future) to the next: if a setback in the revolution allowed the bureaucracy to establish itself in power on a global scale, “it would be a regime in decline, signifying the eclipse of civilization”. The proletariat and revolutionary Marxism would they therefore be ready to trade in their class programme, if progress should turn into decline, and a civilization common to all classes and above class struggles were threatened with extinction? Progress, and the light of historical civilization: serving for nothing but total relapse into what Marx and Engels lambasted a thousand times over as ideology of bourgeois and petty bourgeois socialism.
The repairers want to go beyond our little Marxism: well, let them enjoy this valuable confession: in order to prevent decadent regimes and the eclipse of present‑day civilization (for us already about as horrible as it could be) coming after capitalism, we are not going to hit a single typewriter key, set a single letter of linotype, or come up with a single brilliant idea to save it: as long as the bourgeois regime is got rid of, it can die in the dark for all we care.
But in order to show that the so‑called repair job is really an attempt – albeit futile – to dismantle it bit by, we need a minimum of order. So let us have a quick look at the matter of economic trends, and then political power.
The polemic is rooted in the desire to contradict Trotsky’s thesis that in Russia there was still a workers’ State even after the victory of the bureaucracy. Trotsky said (in fact critical judgements of Trotsky should be examined in a rather better logical order) that the economy was socialist in production due to the State ownership of industry, and non‑socialist only in the distribution (or rather re‑division) of the revenue (or rather the product). But in refuting this position with the obvious argument that each of the historical forms of production presents inseparable characteristics of its own also in the realm of distribution, much confusion is caused due to the sloppy use of the basic terms and concepts of Marxist economics.
We disagree with Trotsky as regards the various stages through which Russian social development has passed since February 1917, as to what they were, and how they are to be defined, and we feel that there was a constant “time lag” in him acknowledging that various revolutionary positions had been abandoned, firstly in the field of tactics, then in politics, and finally in economics. But Trotsky, as his companion Sedova has apparently already stated, would no longer talk today about room for manoeuvre, or proletarian power, or proletarian economy in Russia, 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 strategic manoeuvres and economic policy is clarified when account is taken of the interaction between all social factors, at home or abroad; and he knows how to distinguish between the very different paths leading to victory, to a standoff, and to the defeat of revolutions already underway, even when his solution does not fit the problem.
These critics of his view nothing historically and dialectically, and when they attempt to recount the international sequence of events they do it in a very stilted fashion, seeing everything in a terribly static and statistical way, and only because they use words and phrases picked up from Marx do they feel they have found new and appropriate solutions. In truth they do not rise above a stupid “analysis” according to which if you give me an aerial photo of a country I can explain to you what the initial position is as far as the relations of production and distribution are concerned, and can then pass judgement on the “colour” of the “regime”.
This dialectical impotence makes it impossible for them to understand that there are moments when economy and politics, production and distribution for instance, and even the interests of the ruled class and the ruling class, appear to move in opposite directions: this is what Marx learnt from the history of the pre‑1848 revolutions and counterrevolutions, and what re‑examining later events has so amply confirmed: that not one of the nails holding the hull together should have been placed elsewhere.
THE RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION
This primary Marxist concept has not been digested at all, even if they do fall back on classical formulations. In fact it has been turned on its head. Their vaunted goal is to link production relations with those of distribution, which is quite right and we did it correctly with regard to the mercantile characteristics of the Russian economy, which demonstrates its capitalist character given the present general historical and political conditions. But at the time, for example, of the introduction of the NEP, it was possible to draw very different conclusions.
But the gravity of the error consists in the fact that in redefining the relations of production, the Marxist criterion gets so deformed as to relapse completely into a crassly bourgeois, anti‑determinist idealism. In spite of the point of departure being correct, we end up with the following type of thesis repeated ad infinitum: “We know (!) that every production relation is, in the first case and immediately (?), the organization of the productive forces in view of the productive outcome”.
In this enunciation of a dozen words or so, all placed in the wrong order, we recognise all of the modes of bourgeois thinking in economics and philosophy.
The point of arrival towards which this entire tortuous exposition inclines, that is, consciousness and will, is slipped in under the false premises of the distorted starting point.
Nota bene: the theorem wishes to define what is common to all production relations in history, even the most ancient ones.
The formula is therefore based on idealist and 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 outcome clearly in mind, in him already resided the science and consciousness of economic laws as well.
But who is this someone? Whoever replies “the average man in the street” is a bona fide, loyal anti‑Marxist liberal. Whoever states “the exceptional man”, is a standard issue idealist from one of the many schools. Whoever says “the messenger of God”, is a believer in revelation. But the ‘someone’ of the repairers we can say without hesitation is “the ruling class” (in Russia, therefore, the bureaucracy, which holds sway over economic laws and production quotas). And that’s the whole scheme in a nutshell.
They think they are Marxist because they introduce class even when it isn’t there (and maybe only then). They have read and thoroughly studied Marx, and perhaps quote him more than us; in particular when he shows that “organization in view of a productive result” is NOT the case. It would have been better If they hadn’t read him, for there is also a way of reading books similar to the way a burglar flicks through wads of banknotes. In the hours before dawn a comrade can have fun recalling the names of all the people who know Marx and his works down to the last detail, but who are Marxism’s worst enemies.
We repeat the formula is generalised to all of the historical relations of production. As though the Indian Maharajah who receives his weight in gold as tribute, as though the feudal baron off on the Crusades for years on end, had ever organized production of any kind. But when we think of it as applied to capitalism we can see a relapse has occurred, as in philosophy, into the bourgeois science of economics: the pursuit of the productive outcome. The irresistible impulse to produce limitlessly and irrationally, and thus without consciousness of the outcome and without organization, becomes, instead of the contradictory and unstable manifestation revealed to us by economic determinism, a conscious and intentional search for outcomes by the ruling class, which “builds” ad hoc “material and personal” relationships. We have arrived at the desired point: everything is a relationship between two persons: the boss and the worker. And so, too, in general, are all the historical classes defined in this fossilized way – one group of people that know and want and direct, and another group of people which submits and passively follows orders. Thus the struggle between classes, and above all between the forces that derive from the old and new modes of production, is reduced, amidst all this superficial chatter, to a series of aspects of the same eternal conflict between the order‑giver and the order‑taker! Here then is the other key formula in their rickety system.
If the formula given above were then to define the socialist mode of production, only then could we say: organization of the productive forces in view of the outcome. But we shouldn’t add the word productive, which stinks of business dealings and capitalist economism a mile off, but rather, outcome in terms of consumption, of use. This will exist much later, in a society without classes when the Philistine problem of preventing the order‑giver from diddling the order‑taker has been resolved. But for as long as there are still classes, it is impossible for individuals, and classes, to consciously achieve the outcome. Only the party can! As they reproach Lenin for having proclaimed.
MISSING THE POINT
What they want to prove is that nationalised State property is not socialism, which is correct, but the path taken is wrong. They say that the relations of production are one thing and the forms of property another. In Marx they are instead two aspects of the same thing. Whether a private bourgeois company, or a State one, the form of property is the same. To understand this, 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 this is also the case as regards the means of production, but it derives from the material fact of associated labour: it would be quite something (even if it was decided by an autonomous factory council) if the workers could each walk off with a brick from the wall and a cog from the machinery…
And yet we set off from the most perfect of Marx’s pronunciations, the 1859 Introduction to The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy; presumably written on one of those days when those damned carbuncles of his weren’t making him lose the will to live, or he had smoked one less of those awful cigars. We will cite it in its entirety, placing the words that weren’t quoted from the text in brackets:
“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, (namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production). The totality of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which arises a legal and political superstructure (and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness). At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. (From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations) it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, (which can be determined with the precision of natural science) and the legal, political, (religious, artistic of philosophic) – in short, ideological forms (in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production)”.
The lesson of the text is clear. And it is not us who are saying that, but those who have mutilated it by removing all the passages in brackets. Clear! After reading this text just once, in full possession of your physiological faculties, you can set fire to your library and your brain need never be bothered again by any further juggling with words. But randomly omitting passages is not justifiable (worse than randomly, since the omitted passages place the material condition to the fore, and consciousness way behind, delayed until long after any revolution, but which on the contrary is where this entire hotch‑potch of confused ideas, pitifully lagging a century behind the Critique’s blinding flash of light, ends up). If then someone steps 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 the quote again, calmly. Social production of life. A relationship which completely transcends the individual person and his balance sheet of giving and getting, around which any supposed revisions are desperately condemned to revolve. Production for human associations of their food, and biological reproduction of the species, of tomorrow’s producers. All of this planned not by one head, or many, but determined by the state of the material productive forces. Even human beings are a productive force, that evolves, but cannot break the conditions determined by what is technically possible: spade or plough, oar or sail, sledge or wheel, fauna, flora, the geological terrain. These are material conditions, not cash in a wallet. Maybe the “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, 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 consciousness of zilch.
Relations of production are the same thing as relations or forms of property, only that the former are expressed in economic, and the latter in legal terms. It is no use trying to make out they are different things, by keeping quiet about the passages which establish how Law derives from economic relationships.
Under slavery, the relation of production is that the product of the slave’s labour is at his master’s disposal, without any compensation over and above the minimum of sustenance, and that the slave cannot leave, or produce for others or for himself. The property relation is that over the person and life of the slave, and it expresses same thing, in legal terms.
Productive forces are the tools, machines, vehicles of all kinds, the raw materials and the resources that nature offers, and of course the laboring class of each era. The Mode of production (Produktionsweise) or form of production refers to the great historical types of production relations: technical resources and forms of property. Successive adaptions to cultivating the land occur under primitive communism, slavery, serfdom and wage labour successively adapt themselves. For the production of manufactured goods gradually primitive communism, slavery, free handicraft production and finally, at a certain stage, wage labour itself, are found wanting.
Capitalism is one of the great historical modes of production and one of the most important forms of property. This clearly defined form with its specific characteristics cannot be avoided by calling it something else, whether it be private capitalism, State capitalism or bourgeois-bureaucracy.
But there is a further misunderstanding. Forms of property are legal relationships. These can be explained as determined by economic factors. But it one thing to explain them, and quite another procedure to understand ideology, religion, philosophy and so on.
The relation of property is a material relation. The State which functions according to officially sanctioned accepted juridical norms is a much more palpable material mechanism than a philosophical system. If the slave absconds, the agents of the State will hunt him down. If a wage labourer takes something from work, and even if he is confined to the factory by the industrialist or manager at the factory, the police will come and arrest him or free him. Property forms are material economic agents and not factors that exist merely ‘to mystify’! I, for instance, have a consciousness of things that goes well beyond mercantile mystification, but when I consume, I buy in complete and spontaneous obedience to the law of value. And thus it is with these people – not one concept is out of place.
THE METAPHYSICS OF EXPLOITATION
We do not leave the economic theme just yet. The entire conception of class struggle is reduced to an endless battle against one sole enemy: exploitation. The monster stays the same, the victims in revolt change: slaves, serfs, wage labourers and so on. We are in full Philosophy of Poverty mode, á la Proudhon. Stuff that was buried in 1847, and certainly not above suspicion in 1848.
It is a case of having read, but not understood the following extract: “From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters”: It is only now, under advanced capitalism, that the exploitation of the wage labourer, surplus labour and surplus value are fetters. In capitalism’s infancy they were useful evolutionary forms of the forces of production. Liberté, equalité, fraternité were mystifications (as is recalled by our friends completely “en passant”), quite so; and they still are when hypocritically reapplied by them within the proletarian class, forgetting to apply the conscious prescription, that they will apply only when class or proletariat have ceased to exist. But it wasn’t a mystification that the same object, let us say a pair of scissors, made by a wage labourer and not a free craftsman, allowed the “poor” to have one pair of scissors in their homes instead of none at all, or four instead of one. The cruelly expropriated craftsman, who just because he is the unconscious victim of the traditional forms resists his subjective interests, will achieve a higher standard of living by becoming a wage labourer.
The craftsman did not produce, at least not directly, surplus labour. But making wage laborers offer up masses of surplus labour in the new works and factories was the only way to accumulate capital, from then on social, and evolve towards the present advanced levels of machine readiness. If exploitation there was it is still a stupidly moral and non‑marxist objection.
The basic economic error consists in reducing everything to the competition 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 future more intense 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 as regards social output. Naturally these people, who in patching up Marx sink lower than Lassalle, see in the struggle between two historical modes of production only the conflict between worker and boss, or worker and bureaucracy, and circumscribe it within the bounds of profits, which today are low in relation to the rate of surplus value which, for purely mechanical reasons, is high.
So then, blinded as they by confining themselves to the field of the income distribution, and reading back to front the passages that really matter from that other formidable text the Critique of the Gotha Programme regarding the division of poverty, they cannot see, for a start, how the following thesis is proposable: that the expenses footed by company and State bureaucracies are just one of the many fractions into which profit is divided: with a view to passing rapidly from the fragmentary semi‑Asiatic economy to a national market and a flourishing industry, the amount exploited by the present Russian bureaucracy, insofar as it is consumption in and for itself, is possibly the least of the many problems to be encountered on the difficult global road to the Marxist improvement of “the condition of living labour”. The discussion they conduct using Trotsky’s figures and those of the Stalinist apologists, which forms the substance of their highfalutin and overly fastidious analysis, only goes to show they have a long way to go before they will reach the level economic science had got to when it was reconstructed to express the interests of the modern proletariat. They want to argue about how to save a few cents, haggle over prices like a maidservant in the local street market. They cannot see that there is a world to be won.
After having seen how their mania to improve and update, and their sadly snobbish fear of not being in the know about the latest developments in conformist science, have led them to challenge, paragraph by paragraph, all of our economic texts, let us see something on the political line.
What is the State for us? It is an apparatus composed of people charged with given tasks, and above all of armed men; something that is not necessary for every human community (and on this, Lenin used to say the anarchists had got it right), given that there were and there will be (Engels explains why) societies without a State.
But there will only be States for as long as there are societies divided into classes in conflict with one another. The anarchist might go along with that too.
More exactly the State in a given epoch is a form of property which corresponds to given economic relationships, which appeared alongside them, and which then tends to conserve them and defend them by force even when they have become “fetters on the new productive forces” which are capable of improving the general well‑being.
The State, an ensemble of bodies armed and unarmed, that is a system of bureaucracies (police, militia, judiciary, administration, even the clergy) is not therefore always an absolute evil. After the anti‑feudal revolution the function of the French State, with its phalanx of functionaries, standing army, National Guard, gendarmerie etc., is to fight off reaction. Let’s say it expresses the struggle of the new capitalists against the old landed aristocracy. That’s not all. The State is explained by the presence of these two classes and for the time being it is a chain cutter not a chain maker. Put more precisely let’s say it expresses the struggle between a future mode of production (the capitalist one) and a past inferior one (feudalism), a struggle that is historical and universal. Such a state at such a moment, apart from just the partition of the population of France, expresses the pressure of all of the bourgeois and proletarian classes in struggle, and it could be said that along with a worldwide network of interests it represents the potential of something even bigger: the irresistible generative force of future material productive forces.
So it is by this standard that we must judge the forms and the conflicts of such an apparatus, and the shocking interconnections between given in Marx’s three classic texts.
It is not through continuous development but through a much more complex process that such an apparatus transforms its “anti‑formist” functions into “conformist” functions and there arises against it a class and a power whose aim is to destroy it.
The State is therefore that apparatus which rests on a class which defends and lays claim to a given mode of production and which after its revolutionary success resists the return of the old forces, and modes.
It is therefore clear that every social revolution which bestrides two great types of the form of production, and in particular the coming revolution of the proletariat, will have to smash the old State to pieces, disbanding its hierarchy and personnel. But it is also clear that – and here the anarchists do not understand, and the more or less anarchoid groups wrinkle their noses – that as long as the old mode of production has forces at its disposal to defend it, not only within the given territory but also outside it, the new State form will need bodies of armed men and a bureaucracy.
An anarchoid tendency appears in these curious words: “the power of the armed masses is no longer a State in the usual sense of the word”! Here, over Marxism, liberalism and libertarianism clasp hands in a romantic embrace.
EXTINCTION OF THE BUREAUCRACY
The reason why Marx and Lenin held the formation of the new revolutionary State, the dictatorship of the proletariat, to be necessary was because whereas the conquest of political power by revolutionary means is a sudden jump, that is not the case for the following factors, which are diluted over time: the complete replacement of the old mode of production with the new; the corresponding disappearance at a local level of the class which held power previously and which reflected the old mode of production; the influence of the foreign powers which defend that same mode of production and hold out against the new, and, above all, the residual super‑structural influences of every kind which still dominate social ideology and psychology. So the State is not abolished but a new one founded by overthrowing the old one. It is only at the end of this long process, the length of which depends on the level of development of the domestic social forces and on international relations of class power, that the State is finally extinguished. All of this is well known, and the repairers claim not to have included it in their repair cycle.
They themselves quote Engels in some very clear passages, to prove that such a course isn’t changed if concentration has reached the stage of State industrialism. “The means of production, by becoming State owned, do not lose their character of capital. The State is the ideal collective capitalist.”
This is the crucial point. If the scattered, individual property which is the means of production of the independent worker becomes capital, whether via a private financier or State intervention, the process is heading towards the capitalist mode of production. If from capital they become social means of production, that is, they are used without the wage form of production and the mercantile form of distribution, then the 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 between wages in Russia — a disproportion which within the framework of developed capitalism only a socialist revolution, in the glorious footsteps of the Commune, will be able to remove.
It must however be recognized that the workers’ State, which alone can absolve these tasks of transforming the form of production, might well, in periods not only of domestic evolution and technical development, but also of international political struggle, be forced to manage forms of State capitalism on a wage and mercantile basis, in other words at certain stages – which the Stalinist one of today passed beyond many years ago – it remains a political State of the proletariat and of the future worldwide socialist mode of production, even though still attending to the preliminary transformation “of means of production into capital”.
Just like any other young capitalist state, the sole ‘responsibility’ of the Russian State today, with its inevitable bureaucracy, is to transform the means of production into capital: it has become an apparatus that no longer struggles for the proletarian mode of production, but, like all the others, it is ready to defend the capitalist one.
So you want to see this theorising bureaucracy disappear without recourse to revolutions and wars? You think the passage to the socialist mode of production is really possible: you learn that this means the disappearance of the market and price fixing, disappearance of the division into companies and wage fixing, disappearance of the division of labour into professions and of the difference between town and country, and you understand that the final curtain will come down on these snotty nosed functionaries as a matter of course, without these pen pushers needing to be dignified by having a period of history named after them!
ILIAD AND BATRACHOMYAMACHIA
Here then is “the other solution”, all worked out centuries ago, which serves to shed light on the problems of the patchers and their alleged data ignored by Marxism.
In place of these powerful critical weapons they instead dish the dirt with statistics on incomes, they search out, but do not understand, the income and surplus value distribution figures, and above all they do not know how to indicate their qualitative variations, whether up or down, by verifying the progressive spread of capitalism. Instead we get the same old palinode: increasing extortion, falling living standards, and other baloney.
Their solution: if the Russian bourgeoisie is marked as absent, then the model of two classes (at least), and the State for only one of them, is destroyed (with Marx’s writings on the Commune and Lenin’s on the State torn to shreds along with it), and you have soviet citizens divided between “workers” and “bureaucrats”. However if the relation of production were between worker and State, it would be a unique relationship and there would be no difference between them and no class struggle. Such 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 battle between species the mice and the frogs which Homer himself may have humourously celebrated in verse in the Batrachomyomachia (3).
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 nomadic peoples, and still communist tribes (severely lacking, 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 between ruling bureaucracy and barbarism there is no parallel, only direct antithesis!) – and on the other hand, there is the navigating, trading, and industrial (for the time) Aeolian and Ionian race, whose juridical and philosophical superstructure and brilliant individualism comes close to that of the romantic bourgeoisie during modern Europe’s best era. Two worlds and two seriously different forms of human organization, their characteristics determined by the massive geographical differences between them, between immense deserts and hinterlands and the jagged, unruly coastlines of peninsulas and archipelagos, between the glacial and at the same time sultry climate of the super‑continent and the soft, temperate one of the sunny Mediterranean shores; two worlds collide when Hector’s and Achilles’ chariots smash into one another.
But with the statistics about monthly paycheques the image fades, as when, distinguishable from one another at first glance, the mice and frogs come to blows, repeating loudly the invectives of the heros before the dual, imitating the ups and downs of the ten year inter‑continental war, and mimicking the Trojans and the Argives with their ridiculous nicknames.
The clash between the capitalist and socialist modes of production, in relation to their attempt to describe (incapable of citing a single historical episode or news report to fill not a Homeric tome we say but a Reuter dispatch) Russian society, is equivalent to that between the great epic poem, and the pleasant toporanocchiata.