On the Thread of Time
The last Filo del Tempo entitled “Batrachomyomachia”, alluded to the French review Socialisme ou Barbarie (nos. 1 to11, March/April 1950 to November/December 1952) and to the small group gathered around it. This petty school, seemingly made up of a circle of a few people, within which each of its few members is allowed and encouraged to give their “apport”, their “contribution” in a continuing “libre débat”, in other words, in a discussion that never ends, can be characterized in short by its redefinition of modern capitalism as a “bourgeois-bureaucracy”. The school describes itself as “Marxist”, but states that a new theory of “class society” needs to be set on foot; a theory in which the proletariat is exploited and ruled by the “bureaucracy”, in a society which Marx did not foresee, standing midway between “private” capitalism and socialism.
Not only are we determined to show that this is not an improvement, but we have asserted that such a position is equivalent to a negation of all of the component parts of Marxism, namely economics, the history of class struggle, and the materialist theory of human society.
Furthermore we showed that this challenge to Marxism, rather than “improving” on the classic ones already in place, instead follows in the footsteps of familiar anti-Marxist positions, and defends pre-Marxist concepts, that is ones which already existed before Marxism, and which are still upheld today by those who, either through class interest or impotence, have proved incapable of drawing Marxist conclusions.
Finally we illustrated the difference between such a position and our revolutionary one by drawing a parallel with the Batrachomyomachia and the Iliad, as though in the former Homer, the alleged author, were expressing a parodist struggle between the Kingdoms of the Mice and of the Frogs in which the entire “theory of praxis” is reduced to banality: seeing myself as a mouse, I take my place along other mice in the battle against the frogs, or vice versa – whereas in the latter he narrates the epic battle between forces representing two historical forms of human social life, separated from each other by thousands of kilometres of space and millennia of time, namely, the Asiatic and Mediterranean forms.
That «such epochs of social subversion cannot be judged by the consciousness they have of themselves», which we quoted at them when they were rashly boasting of their orthodoxy, applies also to the Greeks and Trojans, and our comparison is therefore entirely appropriate, even if we do not go along within the blind poet in believing that the consciousness of the warriors came down to Menelaus being cuckolded by Paris.
Batrachomyomachia then, because it is a struggle whose protagonist armies are artificial and not real, whose aims do not even attain the heights of a cuckold’s crusade, a struggle in which the battle order is explained not «by the contradictions of material life and of the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production», but sought in a vacuous analysis of metaphysical, immobile, static, social statistics, related not to the great global transition from capitalism to socialism but to a cold survey of incomes and a private detective’s investigation of misappropriation and embezzlement; and of the Marxism they claim to be correcting, they haven’t assimilated one syllable.
Despite this group being of little consequence, the fact of the historical regularity with which “updates” of Marxism are periodically vomited forth is an important matter, and deserves further clarification.
If we believe that a very important factor in the formation of the revolutionary party is the continuous use of material derived from the experience of past struggles between “tendencies” which led to “splits” in the movement, this is because under various conditions, in various places and under various forms, the same “attacks” on the integral body of revolutionary doctrine have been repeated over and over again, and over the course of the long struggle have had the same outcome. Precisely by following a method that is historical and not scholastic we can assess them on the basis of a precise appeal to established, verifiable facts, which allow them to be situated at the points of arrival of aforementioned cycles, by supplying clear experimental evidence of the correct lay out of original Marxism, crystallized by history in the one era in which its delineation could, and had to, take place.
The first of the two systems of viewing modern society undoubtedly senses the power of the revolutionary one, destroyer of all traditional prejudices, but only copies certain forms of it, creating a parody of it, and in the final analysis its serves merely as a field of manoeuvre for the counterrevolutionary forces. It seems to be taking a step beyond the bourgeois enlightenment sociology current, which established itself on the ruins, at least in a theoretical sense, of the doctrine of a society divided into estates (in French états, states, but not in the sense of the word State, which indicates a country’s political organ of power, and which for the sake of clarity is written with a capital letter). The theory of the liberal and democratic bourgeoisie shattered that “form of production” based on the orders, which, like the castes of ancient societies, were almost impenetrable insofar as any transactions between them for the purposes of generation and reproduction were concerned. It said: no longer will there be nobles and plebs, but only citizens, all equal before the law, despite the family or place of origin. The first of the two social conceptions which we are alluding to managed to articulate an embryonic criticism of this society of equals and denied that it had only one type of component: it divided society into two sections, taking into account the economic factor. Going little beyond the millenarian distinction between rich and poor, “it stole” the word “class” from us, reducing it to a column in a register – whereas in Marx it has more power than the physical energy generated by nuclear fission – and divided the homogeneous social group into workers and bosses, vaguely indicating that the interests of the former were in opposition to those of the latter.
If it is true that at first the “classical” ideologists of the bourgeoisie and its revolution tried to deny this demarcation line cutting through the citizens and the people, it is no less true that very soon on all sides its existence, and the problem it presented, was recognised, making it the subject of a thousand and one proposals whose boring assonance we certainly do not need to recall again here, whether reformist, Christian socialist, Mazzinian, etc., or later on fascist.
Anyone who limits themselves to merely recognizing that in modern industrial society classes exist, and struggle against one another in defence of their interests, has therefore not left the bourgeois camp: Marx, after all, protested that he had neither discovered classes nor the class struggle.
The second and very different point of view to which we have alluded, and to which we are connected is the one which can certainly see the divergence of interests even on a daily and local basis and the antagonism between one class and another, but it sees them as the expression of a deeper and more determinant fact, which extends over a large part of the contemporary world, and which has been unfolding for decades and even centuries, that is: the struggle between a new, clearly defined mode of production, the socialist one, now rendered possible by the development of the productive forces, and the present capitalist one, defended by the present forms of production, property and State.
The goal that the class has to reach lies “before” the class, before its consciousness and its will, which can be incorrectly thought to extend to all and everyone who are members of that class. It is posed today because material production now has technical and scientific resources at its disposal such as to allow it to develop relations that are very different to the present ones, which therefore have to be dismantled. For this to happen class action, not by all or even the majority of the class, is indispensable. But knowledge, consciousness and culture are not indispensable, and it is not only an illusion but a betrayal to “test for them” in the class as it exists today: they will come after action, in fact after the victory.
Proletarians against bourgeois is a formula used by Marxists to describe present day society, not a Marxist formula for revolution. The correct formula for that is communism against capitalism. But surely it is people who are fighting one another! And who can deny it? In the infinite entanglements of history the form that is dying and the form yet to be born determine the alignment of their agents and followers, fighting one another, but at very different levels as regards awareness of the transition taking place. It is not by taking a course in philosophy of history, but by taking sides in an organisational and political sense that will enable you to talk about communists versus capitalists; as long as capitalists is understood to mean not the owners of capital, but the representatives and defenders of the capitalist system.
The extremely odd theory that describes a class society in which there are wage labourers on the one hand, and a bureaucracy, or higher bureaucracy, on the other, and the only division of income resides in the fact that the surplus value extorted from the workers is converted back into other wages, paid to the state functionaries, is a theory that has not only come off the rails with regard to the sequence of the forms of production, but also lags behind the “economist” view, which restricts itself to distinguishing within the social body the immediate interests of the workers. A worker is in fact someone whose income is derived solely from wages paid in money for time worked, a bourgeois derives his income by assigning to himself a chunk of the products of labour (whether in the form of profit, interest or rent). Descriptively at least, the two groups are defined by the very different relationship each has with the factors of production, which presently consist of: land, factories, commodities produced, cash deposits etc., on the one hand, and of labour power on the other. But even this cold and sterile formula falls down when defining the bureaucracy. The functionary is paid, a little or a lot, for his time, with a monthly or annual salary in cash. Both the worker at Dynamo and the USSR commissar for electrification will go to prison if they take a ball-bearing home with them, or if they go off shoplifting. So what kind of class society is this?
The solidarity of this circle stopped at an unknown salary of X Roubles, i.e., by cutting with an arbitrary horizontal plane the laughable “incomes pyramid” – warhorse of every anti-marxist polemicist – cannot lead to a solidarity of interest in holding on to state and power unless there arises a society of estates, a new aristocracy of functionaries. Should the factory guard with his monthly salary be excluded from the proletariat because he adds nothing to the products that are produced? Or the poor office clerk who earns less than the assembly foreman, etc? We showed that the level of pay is not a criterion for determining class.
Here one not only falls short of Marxism and relapses into a crudely “socialitarian” view, it is not even up to the modern bourgeois level. In fact, with their elect family networks who have wormed their way into power, they have actually relapsed into pre-bourgeois society.
Could history really take such an about-turn? Not as far as we are concerned, and for all the reasons that make us Marxists. But if someone advances such a possibility and demonstrates it with the Russian or some other social type, and let us say for sake of argument they succeed, Marx along with his work would be knocked out and never get up again!
So, bold and stately Ferdinand Lassalle – strong agitator but weak theorist even when copying – are you reborn? Or reincarnated, after that tragic August 30th in 1864, when you were lost to the struggle, taking a bullet in a duel from a “Wallachian adventurer” whose young fiancée you had seduced? Marx, depicted as full of bile and cruelty, was so grief stricken by the news that his polemics were put on ice. The more balanced Engels tried to comfort him. «Such a thing could only happen to L., with his strange and altogether unique mixture of frivolity and sentimentality, Jewishness and chivalresquerie».
Shortly beforehand, on January 28 1863, Marx had written to Engels to give his opinion on a work sent to him by Lassalle entitled “Rede uber den Arbeiterstand”, or “Speech on ’the workers’ estate’ ”, or workers’ order we might better say. Marx wrote: «As you know, the thing’s no more no less than a badly done vulgarization of the Manifesto and of other things we have advocated so often that they have already become commonplace to a certain extent. (For instance the fellow calls the working class (Arbeiterklasse) an “estate” (Stand, order)».
In Italy these entries certainly ring a bell: Ordine Nuovo, Stato Operaio.
In another letter of June 12, 1863, we have further criticism of
Lassalle’s writings. «Quite touching how he imparts to the court “his”
discoveries, the fruit of the most profound “learning and truth” and of
terrible “night vigils”, specifically:
that in the Middle Ages landed property prevailed;
that in modern times that role is of capital;
that now it is the principle of the workers’ estate, labour, or the moral principle of labour.
«And on the same day as he was imparting this discovery to the workers, Chief Government Councillor Engel was imparting it to a more refined audience at the Academy of Singing. He and Engel mutually congratulated each other “by letter” upon their “simultaneous” scientific findings. The “workers’ estate” and the “moral principle” are indeed achievements on the part of Lassalle and the Senior Councillor to the Government».
The “discovery” of the bureaucracy class, which Marx, so diffident, never could have suspected (!) can be traced back to this scheme. As there are no more bourgeois in Russia, the workers there form a State, an order exploited and oppressed by the opposing order of higher functionaries. The “moral principle” is violated in so far as the lavish emoluments of the bureaucrats are derived by “skimming” the wages of the factory workers. That’s it. Naturally after having discovered this new historical type of society, it is necessary to discover the new laws of the revolution.
Since, like Marx, we consider workers a class, we seek the aims and precise historical boundaries of the new society that will emerge from their revolution, and these we know to the extent that it is given to us to know the material data pertaining to the most modern productive forces. But a “revolution by an order” is something else. What its method and goal is, no-one knows, as it is “the order’s business”, which it will go on discovering and establishing according to its own “autonomy of consciousness and will”. An autonomy that is nothing other than the dolled up little sister of bourgeois constitutional democracy and Lassalle’s “moral principle”. Which with 1950 now in the past, we see being condescendingly rediscovered!
Clearly it wouldn’t be worth chasing these dandies, were they not associated with a claim to be expressing the latest development and modern expression of Marxism; indeed the version of Marxism from which the fightback against the degeneration in the world movement caused by the predomination of the Muscovite state and party bureaucracy must be launched, even outside Russia. More serious still is it when such things, and with an even greater confusion of terms and theses, are proposed by alleged coherent followers and continuers of the left oppositions, who thirty years ago took up the fight against the first symptoms of Stalinist opportunism.
So we must insist that these odd positions (introduced bit-by-bit using Lassalle’s technique: copying page after page of Marxist texts, or rather, paraphrasing them badly and then affecting to have made a complementary “discovery” that completes and corrects them), if they were allowed at all, would lead directly to an abolition and nullification of Marxism as a whole.
It seems a nullity to say: we have emerged from the capitalist era in which the battle was between large scale industrialists and workers; today the battle is between the managers, that is the organizers, the masters of production, and the manual or intellectual employees. Whether this scheme is put forward by those who defend a society run by technocrats, by a brains trust, instead of ignorant plutocrats, or – still more insidiously – by those who fancy themselves as front-line soldiers in a revolutionary adjustment of what the aim of the working class – or ex-class! – should be, the fight no longer being against the private bourgeois but against this monstrous new “management” apparatus instead, we have gone right off the rails. From being a movement crossing from one general form of production to another, as doctrine, as organization, as unitary, international struggle, in one cycle spanning several generations, it is reduced to being an accidental and local revolt of the “exploited”, a stupid word in defence of the “moral principle”, which turns pari passu from defence against the boss to defence of the order-taker against the order-giver; this new form in which the millenial Spirit of Evil has clothed itself.
We believe we explained the economic side of the question in the last “Filo” article. Everything becomes clear, and is found to be perfectly in keeping with Marxist terminology and methodology and the predictions made by its schema of historical revolutions that form its backbone, if we evaluate Russian society as it is today in the light of the transition from one mode of production to another, examining the relationships within which people work, and consume, their products. Since we are in the middle of the palingenesis which is replacing feudal, Asiatic, and small scale production with the capitalist mode of production, and can see, respectively: small islands of local consumption being rapidly absorbed by the domestic and global market, large-scale labour appearing for the first time, and planned technology being achieved in a tenth of the time required by the capitalisms of the nineteenth century due to the differing technical and scientific potential of the newly available productive forms, since, in a word, we are seeing the scattered means of production becoming capital, it is therefore clear that if there are bureaucratic organizations, and there are, then they are agents of the capitalist mode of production, which is always and everywhere the same.
We have dealt with this at length, above all in the Dialogato con Stalin and what we are putting forward here is not an opinion but a statement of fact. The question is this: if instead of capitalist power we are dealing with a new form of power, of an allegedly new class such as the bureaucracy, but without a new economic form having arisen, then we have to abandon the theory that periods of social upheaval follow new developments of the productive forces, and make them instead depend on a group within society, that happens to be different, developing an appetite for replacing the previous one, and relying on its own “autonomous” impulse to do so. This is basically the pre-marxist and antimarxist construction of the course of history.
Herein lies the renunciation of the historical Marxist dialectic. Naturally then the usual quid pro quo in economics, handed down from Proudhon to Lassalle to DÃ¼hring to Sorel to Gramsci: socialism is winning back for the workers the profit margin taken by the company. Socialism, as we keep on insisting, is the conquering by the workers associated together not in companies but in a completely international society, of the entire product, and therefore not just surplus value, which it is tritely stated goes to the bosses, whereas it is instead a social withdrawal which capitalism usefully introduced. So, a conquering of all of the value, after which value will be destroyed, just as by conquering all power, power will be destroyed.
Only by conquering the whole of the product for the collectivity will it be possible to make use of the increased productivity by compressing the labour time to a minimum, which will be a little more than the labour time given to society – today surplus labour, due to having to pass through worker to company, from company to society, but which still remains the same without the boss figure. Without this outcome talking about proletarian consciousness and culture is just hot air.
The income pyramid is not a pyramid but rather a spire, tapering to a peak, as there are very few super-salary earners. Even if bureaucrats were a fifth of the proletarians, which is absurd, the “volume of the peak” is minimal. Even if the volumetric average of the peak of the spire was double the salary of the four fifths (which would mean a maximum of fifteen to twenty times their salary), the surplus labour “exploited” (assuming that these office workers were actually just sitting around navel-gazing) would only be ten to fifteen percent of the product, and with the bureaucracy jettisoned, the standard of living would rise by an imperceptible amount, or labour time be reduced by only an hour. Is this really so difficult to understand? Certainly the revolution doesn’t happen just to grab one hour off the managers, but to take back the whole of the day, meaning life as whole, or what idiots call freedom. The proletariat which launches a revolution just to cut the peak off the pyramid would be the most stupid one imaginable.
In Russia, the accumulation of social capital, having to be done in ten years instead of a hundred years in the west, could not have been done without long working hours and high surplus value. No transitional economy can escape this fate, and if instead of only that from feudalism to capitalism it had been able to embark on the transition from capitalism to socialism, the effort would have been immeasurably greater. It was not possible to take this further step unless the proletariat in the west at least took charge of the super-accumulated capital of Europe, still desperately clinging on for dear life in its company-mercantile phase; and this has been known and stated very clearly from 1917 onwards.
Let these would-be original authors of the last word in Marxism go back to page one, which still towers above them, and start again. May they no longer dip their gossipy and pretentious quills in ink, and may they keep their smart-alec beaks firmly shut.
Having done justice to economics, history and the Marxist dialectical materialism, it only remained for them to throw themselves with equal gusto into the questions of action, such as organization and tactics. To tell the truth, here there are no uniform opinions and the groups split up and reform, reshuffle every so often, once separated they complement one another, consult one another, and write for the same newspapers and reviews: in the end Lady Liberty, booted out by history and society, is readmitted, ever more insistent, back into the “class” and the “party”, although, we might add, according to these gentlemen both have supposedly completely disappeared. If the class is downgraded to an estate, the party is downgraded to Heraldic society or people’s seat in Parliament. These people think they can describe the next millennium but can’t see they are back in the time of the Round Table or the Court of Miracles.
That they are backing down the road of history in reverse gear is proven by the fact that although they differ on the date of the death of the “party” (which scares them as there are, in their words, Leaders and Executives) all are agreed on the thesis that for the class the party becomes progressively less necessary. Essentially, once you scratch the surface, they are all just idealists, moralists and individualists who support the sanctity of the individual; and their understanding of the Russian business is that a criminal band of power-hungry, luxury-seeking people supplanted the proletariat, by instilling in them the necessity for these two ominous tools: government and political party – which were centralized to boot – and that they suffocated autonomy, the supreme obsession of anyone educated in the crass bourgeois mentality which survives within the empty refractory attitudes of â€¦ existentialism.
Because the correct thesis is the exact opposite: on the long historical course towards revolution, the working class needs its political party more and more! Successively the first forms of association die off: the mutualist and cooperative forms; and then the trade union ones (after the revolution), and the company and state organizations (soviets or similar which arise after the revolution insofar as there is a class dictatorship); whereas the party, over the entire period, becomes increasingly powerful and, in a certain sense, doesn’t disappear even after the disappearance of classes, since it becomes the organ of study and organization of the struggle between the human species and natural conditions. For these people the party must instead perish; only that some of them find it necessary to promote their petty councils to party status, to replace the ones that have fallen into opportunism, others (here we are again) have already passed judgement: « the notion of revolutionary party is linked to a past period of proletarian history».
Maestro Sartre has introduced into literature a certain word from the French language, which has allowed us to say, in existentialist French: quelle putainade!
In any case those talking tentatively about constructing a party (ever an act of consciousness! of will! whereas the Founders, on the contrary, founded nothing!) assign to it, as regards the class not a – tut! tut! – leadership role, but one of simple orientation!
You remember good old Engels and the anarchists back in 1872? «When I submitted arguments like these to the most rabid antiauthoritarians the only response they were able to give was the following: Yes that’s true, but here it is not a case of authority which we confer on our delegates, but of a commission entrusted! These gentlemen think when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world». Could our Frederick ever had the slightest suspicion before dying that in 1953, fortified by the experiences of 80 years of history, they would discover in Paris that it is not about leadership, but orientation? If a commission is perhaps more imperative than a delegation, the new formula is even more banal. The captain instead of telling the pilot to “set course to 135 degrees!” just shouts at him “head south east!” And thus have the updaters demonstrated to History the urgency of their appearance.
Certainly not for the first time we will comment on the passage from the Manifesto which states: the communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: in the various stages of development they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole; and this after having declared, in 1848, that it needed to counterpose to the spectre of communism the party manifesto. In 1848 any party that is anti-constitutional is revolutionary for that reason alone (a century later the most brazenly constitutional parties have the nerve to call themselves communist!) and the bourgeois state banned a party not because of its opinions but on the basis of which side of the social divide it stood: it would have tolerated the communist party reckoning that communism was just a credo, but never a workers’ party. Since then we have repeatedly explained that communism is not a credo, but that the communist party is the historical expression of a class’s doctrine and the political organization of those who adhere to it, who can originate from any class. This is most annoying we know for the demagogues, who stupidly court the worker and workerism in order to base their success on it with the bourgeois air of not wanting to lead but to serve (their place is in the captains of industry’s Rotary Club!), but above all it is supremely annoying to the counter-revolution.
Back then even the simple trade union association was anticonstitutional, and it was a revolutionary act when the Communist League or First International made contributions to union strike funds. Marx always loved to recall that the Jacobin revolution prohibited the first workers’ unions, considering them attempts to refound the corporations. Letter of 30 January 1865 to Engels: «En passant, the Prussian Anti-Combination Law, like all continental laws of this kind, has its origins in the decree of the Constituent Assembly of 14 June 1791 by which the French bourgeois imposed the most severe penalties – e.g. the loss of civil rights for a year – on anything of the sort, in fact workers’ associations of any kind, on the pretext that this constituted restoration of the guilds (dissolved by the 1789 constitution) and is in contravention of constitutional liberty and the rights of man».
So it is the old formula of workers’ organization, with its clear historical rationale, in which all workers’ parties are lumped together into one political movement, with trade unions and political clubs adhering to it as well. From 1871 onwards, during the phase of modern bourgeois politics that is, the workerist formula on the contrary becomes increasingly conservative and counterrevolutionary. Whereas the formula of the proletarian political party, understood as organ of the revolution and not of electioneering, increasingly prevails among radical Marxists, and is strongly defended against apolitical syndicalism in the first decade of the century, it is nevertheless the discussions in the Russian party that bring out the function of the party most clearly. In all of the literature we find the question discussed in terms of the function of “social democracy” owing to the unfortunate name given to the German party, as ever due to Lassallean influence: we will always read it to mean “party”. Marx: letter of 16 Nov. 1864: «And what a dreadful title: the Social Democrat ! Why do these fellows not simply call it the Proletarian?» Letter of 18 Nov: «The Social Democrat ! Bad title. But there is no need to throw away the best titles immediately on things that may prove to be failures».
A veritable storm has been whipped up by a certain Chacal, if we’ve got his name right, about the “errors committed by Lenin” in What is to be Done? But the significance of the famous pamphlet by Lenin goes beyond the particular questions faced by the Russian movement when it was first published, when the Marxist party was overloaded first with the task of supporting the anti-tsarist struggle and then the anti-bourgeois one. The pamphlet faithfully repeats and recollects the fundamentals of Marxism, and if it is all wrong, then so is the whole of Marx’s construction as well. And Lenin supports his thesis by repeatedly referring to the fundamental texts. In the Unification Congress of 1901, as we recalled elsewhere, Lenin hardly spoke about the programme at all, protesting only when an amendment was proposed which stated that the discontent, solidarity, number of, and the consciousness of proletarians was increasing. “The change”, he masterfully stated, « was not an improvement. It would give the impression that the development of consciousness is a spontaneous fact. But there is no conscious activity by the workers apart from the influence of the party». Would Lenin take this back? How and where? He himself underlined the term consciousness. And in fact if activity is the workers’ domain, consciousness is their party’s alone. Activity, praxis, is direct and spontaneous; consciousness is reflected, delayed, and anticipated only in the party, and only when the latter is there, and doing its work, does the class cease to be a cold statistic in a census and become an acting force in the “epoch of subversion”, able to let fly against a hostile world in actions whose aim is known and desired. Known and desired not by individuals, be they leaders or led, generals or soldiers, but by the impersonal collectivity of the party, spread across distant countries and across generations, and therefore a patrimony enclosed not inside a head but rather in texts; there being no better way of passing through the most rigid checks both the soldier, and more importantly, the general; whereas it is an endless banality to talk of an immanent contrast between order-giver and order-taker, the latest insipid blague to arrive from north of the Alps.
The right-wing of the Russian party wanted party members to be from the professional or factory workers’ groups that were federated with the party: the unions were called professional associations by the Russians. Lenin coined the historical phrase that the party is above all an organization of professional revolutionaries. You do not ask them, are you a worker? What is your profession? Mechanic, plater, wood worker? They can equally be factory workers, students or even sons of the nobility; they will respond: “revolutionary, that is my profession”. Only Stalinist cretinism can give the phrase the meaning of revolutionary by profession, of party employee. This useless formula leaves the problem unresolved, and the question still remains: can functionaries only be recruited from among the workers, or from outside as well? But the question was quite different.
That thesis of course validates this other one: the doctrine and the consciousness of the revolutionary objective are not to be sought by conducting a survey among de facto proletarians. It is the same as the phrase in the Manifesto that in times of revolution some deserters change class, and line up with the insurgents; it is same as what Marx wrote a thousand times over (Notes on Bakunin): «the proletariat in the period of struggle for the overthrow of the old society, still acts on the basis of that old society, and hence also moves within political forms which more or less correspond to it...».
The organic and repeated theses of What is to be Done? are not therefore personal opinions of Marx, Lenin or, let us allow, ours. We have shown that with Lenin, the lion who still roared, it was quite possible to argue, and to voice disagreements in the party, but it was forbidden to budge on this crucial point, without passing to the other side of the barricade.Let us therefore rip spontaneity and autonomy of class consciousness to pieces with his formidable words.
«We have said that there could not have been communist consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals». Youthfully blunt, but still today useful for lambasting idiots!
«[quoted from Kautsky] Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and class struggle create not only the conditions for socialist struggle, but also, and directly, the consciousness of its necessity (...) But this is absolutely untrue (...) Socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other (...) consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously (urwuechsig)». The long quotation is crystal clear, and we can see that it might, for example, leave a Gramscian perplexed: you need a long dialectical preparation to understand how the illusion of “the spontaneous autonomy of consciousness” is totally counterrevolutionary.
“But why”, the reader might ask, «does a spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that in terms of its origins bourgeois ideology is a lot older than socialist ideology; it is better elaborated in all of its aspects; and it has immeasurably greater means of dissemination at its disposal» (see above curt, assonant passage in Marx).
«Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers (pick this up and take it home). The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the state and the government, the sphere of inter-relationships between all classes. For that reason, the reply to the question as to what must be done to bring political knowledge to the workers cannot be merely: ”... to go among the workers”. To bring political knowledge to the workers, the communists must go among all classes of the population; they must dispatch units of their army in all directions». Bitter medicine, but very necessary to cure the worst philistinism, that of the “seducers of the proletariat”!
Nothing more is needed to demonstrate the inexorable concatenation of Marxist historical positions. Boulevard dilettantes are not allowed to “choose” what and what not to adhere to. They would be better off directing their steps elsewhere and doing us the kindness of leaving us all on the side of our knotty, inveterate errors. Let them wander down the pleasant avenues of absolute Truth, which they can have as present from us along with other artistic fetishes, which is about all they are up to.
That Lenin in his turn followed in Marx’s footsteps in many of his writings, when it wasn’t in both his and Engel’s footsteps he was following, can be seen in yet another letter, regarding the foundation of the First International in London, dated February 25 1865: «A further factor is this: the workers seem to want to take things to the point of excluding any literary man, which is absurd, as they need them in the press, but it is pardonable in view of the repeated treachery of the literary men. Conversely the latter are suspicious of any workers movement, which displays hostility towards them». And from a letter of 20 November 1866: «By way of demonstration against the French gentlemen – who wanted to exclude everyone except manual labourers in the first instance from membership of the International, or at least from eligibility for election as delegate to the congress – the English yesterday proposed me as President of the Central Council. I declared that under no circumstance could I accept such a thing. And proposed Odger in my turn, he was then in fact re-elected, although some people voted for me despite my declaration. Dupont, incidentally, has given me the key to the Tolain and Fribourg operation. They want to stand as workers’ candidates for the French legislative body, on the “principle” that only workers can represent workers. That is why it was exceedingly important for these gentlemen to get this principle proclaimed through the Congress».
So back in 1866, whatever you may think, Marx had already suspected it all, including that the tongue always turns to the aching tooth. Do you really believe that in your 1953 gossiping there are fresh and untold tales?
There is already, in the Italian Left’s contributions after 1920 on the subject of “Party and class”, an exhaustive response to the “workerists” and those who exaggerate the role of consciousness, who after having established that aren’t able to discern anything precise in “post-capitalism”, want to make do being enlightened by some kind of Gallup poll among the factory workers, who have a “feeling” for the extraction of surplus value! Which doesn’t take away from the fact that all this omnipotent consciousness is expected to achieve is calling for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, not the realization of socialist society.
If we corral all these free-floating phrases together, we can only conclude that as the bourgeoisie has been “overthrown”, as they say, in Russia, the proletariat there will never be conscious of anything, and the projected anti-bureaucratic revolution will not know how to draw, from Paris, its distinctive features.
Our theorem is very precise. Not only in the party alone is found consciousness of the path ahead, the will to achieve set aims, and the capacity to act to achieve them, by adapting its actions to “the given historical epoch”; hence insurrection, government, dictatorship and a class economic plan are tasks of the party – while the resources against degeneration we so many times indicated are elsewhere, and don’t lie in a fading of the party and of its strict boundaries – but the theorem must be enunciated: the class is a class insofar as it has the party.
One more sentence, just one from Marx, who on 18 February 1865 wrote to Liebknecht, deploring the legacy of Lassalle, who had illusions about an intervention by Bismark’s feudal government against the bourgeoisie, and for socialism: “The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing”.
And just one final quote, on the untimely heroicism of those who at the right moment are struck by impotence: this time let us see what Engels wrote, on 11 June 1866, as the hoped for defeat of Prussia seemed to be slipping away: «If this opportunity passes without being used, and if the people allow that to happen, we can then calmly pack up our revolutionary paraphernalia and devote ourselves to pure theory».