The «Invariance» of Marxism (2)

(General Meeting of the Party, Milan September 1952)

(«Proletarian»; Nr. 10; Winter-Spring 2014)

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II- The False Resource of Activism


1. There is a current objection - by no means original, since it has already surfaced in the worst episodes of the workers’ movement - that consists in underestimating the clarity and continuity of our principles and seeking to “be political”, to plunge into the activity of the movement, which would itself indicate what path to follow, and in not pausing to study our texts in order to draw the lessons of past experience before making decisions, and instead forging ahead blindly in the thick of the action.

2. This practical activism is yet another deformation of Marxism, either because it seeks to give priority to the decisiveness and vigor of leadership and vanguard groups without substantial theoretical scruples, or because it reduces everything to the decision or a consultation of “the class” and its majorities on the pretext of choosing the path most workers prefer, impelled by economic interest, These are old tricks, and no traitor who has sold out to the ruling class has ever left the party without claiming first that he was the best and most active “practical” defender of the workers’ interests, and second, that his actions were sanctioned by the manifest will of the mass of his partisans - or electors!

3. The revisionist deviation (e.g. Bernstein’s reformist, legalitarian evolutionism) was fundamentally activistic, not ultra-determinist. It did not merely consist in replacing the revolutionary goal, deemed too high, with limited demands the situation brought within reach, but in closing ones eyes to the burning vision of the complete trajectory of history. It reasoned: the immediate result is everything, so let us set ourselves immediate, limited goals, not on the universal scale, but on the local, transitory one, and we will be able to shape the results by our will. The Sorelian syndicalists, who advocated violence, said the same thing, and came to the same end: the former concentrated on obtaining legal concessions through parliament, and the latter on winning sectorial victories in the factory. Both turned their backs on the historical tasks.

4. These forms of eclecticism - a deviation which consists in claiming the freedom to change the battlefront and alter the doctrine - began, like all others, with a falsification: they claimed that this continuous self-correction (or rather, changing of course) derived from the attitude and writings of Marx and Engels. In all our work, with the help of quotes and detailed studies, we have revealed the continuity of the Marxist line, noting that their later texts are intimately connected with passages and fundamental theories in their first works, with the same expressions and the same scope.

5. Hence the emptiness of the legend that attributes two different, successive “spirits” to Marx: the young Marx was presumably idealistic, voluntaristic, Hegelian and, under the influence of the last tremors of bourgeois revolutions, insurrectionary and ready to leap on the barricades; whereas the mature Marx is alleged to have occupied himself with a cold study of contemporary economic phenomena and to have become positivist, evolutionist and legalitarian. This is just one recurring deviation in the long series that we have analyzed, and it may appear as extremist or moderate. Unable to grasp the revolutionary tension of dialectical materialism, this deviation leads to another, equally bourgeois, deviation which, idealist and individualist in nature, gives priority to the role of “consciousness”: futile and contingent practical activity in the short run; passivity, or rather irremediable revolutionary impotence on the historical scale.

6. We need only recall that the conclusion of the first volume of Capital, which describes the expropriation of the expropriators, is - as is indicated in a note - nothing other than a repetition of the corresponding passage in the Manifesto. The economic theories in the second and third volumes are only a development of the theory of value and surplus value expounded in the first. The expressions and formulations are the same, as are the symbols (Antonio Graziadei tried in vain to break apart this unity). Any attempt to separate the analytic part of the description of capitalism from the programmatic part, which defines the conquest of socialism, would be a fiction. None of the deviations has ever understood the strength of the Marxist critique of utopianism, or of the critique of democratism. It is not sufficient to imagine a goal and content oneself with dreaming about it or despairing because the pretty colors of the dream do not inspire people to make it come true. The problem is to identify a goal that can be solidly and physically achieved, and to aim straight for it, aware that people’s blindness and lack of consciousness will not prevent it from being attained.

7. Marx’s fundamental achievement was to establish the connection (sensed by the best of the utopians) between the distant conquest and the immediate physical movement of a class in struggle, the modern proletariat. But this is not sufficient for an understanding of the complete dynamic of the class revolution. Anyone familiar with the overall construction of Marx’s work, which he was not able to finish, can see that he intended to summarize the whole with a study of the problem of the impersonal character of the class and its activity, which was already explicit in his thought and writings. The only way to encapsulate the entire economic and social construction of Marxism in accordance with the method that forms its foundation is by means of discussion of this question.

8. It would be quite insufficient to say that Marxist determinism eliminates the quality and theoretical or practical activity of exceptional individuals as the motive force of history (as usual, one should not confuse motive force and direct agent), and replaces them with classes, understood as statistical collectivities of individuals, merely by shifting the factor of ideas (consciousness and will) from the individual to the mass. This would imply no more than a passage from an aristocratic philosophy to a democratic, populist philosophy, which in fact is just as alien to us as the former. Instead, Marxism inverts the cause-effect relationship completely, placing the cause not in ideas (consciousness), but in physical, material facts.

9. The Marxist thesis states in particular that it is not possible for an individual brain to encompass a consciousness of the entire course of history in advance, for two reasons. First of all, because consciousness does not precede, but follows being, i.e. the material conditions that surround the subject of this consciousness; and secondly because all forms of social consciousness emerge – with a certain lag that enables a general determination of this consciousness – from the analogous, parallel circumstances, i.e. economic relations, in which the individuals who (thereby) constitute a social class are placed. These individuals are forced to «act together» historically long before they can «think together». The theory that defines this relationship between class conditions and class action and its ultimate goal has nothing in common with a revealed doctrine proclaimed by individuals, i.e. by a specific author or leader, or by the «whole class» conceived of as the aggregate, momentary sum of a number of individuals in a given country or at a given moment: and it most definitely cannot be deduced from a very bourgeois «consultation» within the class.

10. For us, the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a consultative democracy transplanted into the proletariat; it is the organized force which, followed at a given moment by part of the proletariat, not necessarily the majority, expresses the material pressure that overthrows the bourgeois mode of production to open the way for the new communist mode of production. One factor in this process, whose importance is not negligible, is repeatedly pointed out by Marx: the deserters of the ruling class who go over to the revolutionary camp. They counteract the action of whole masses of proletarians which, because of their material and ideological subjugation, are subservient to the bourgeoisie and almost always represent the statistical majority of the class.

11. The balance sheet drawn by our current of the revolution in Russia does not suggest that its liabilities should be attributed to a violation of internal class democracy, or that we should doubt the Marxist and Leninist theory of the dictatorship, which is judged, not according to constitutional or organizational criteria and limits, but only by the historical relationship of forces . 

Rather, the complete abandonment of the terrain of class dictatorship is precisely demonstrated by Stalinism’s complete inversion of the revolutionary method.

No less than all the others, the former Communists everywhere pass over into the camp of democracy, by standing on the terrain of popular and national democracy. In Russia, no less than outside it, their entire policy is one of abandoning class aims for national aims; even if we adopt the usual vulgar description of this policy as purely and simply the state’s espionage network abroad. Those who attempt to take the democratic road are embarking on the road to capitalism; and that includes the waves of anti-Stalinists who clamour indignantly about the suppression of proletarian «opinion» in Russia.

12. We could cite innumerable passages from Marx which demonstrate the impersonal factor of historical events; otherwise it would be impossible to advance a materialist theory of history. 

We know that only the first volume of his great work Capital was completely assembled and edited by Marx. In his letters and prefaces Engels would recall the difficulties he encountered in preparing the second and third volumes (not to mention the fourth, which is a history of bourgeois economic theories) for publication.

Engels even had doubts as to the order of the chapters and sections of the two books, which study the process of capitalist production as a whole, not in order to «describe» the capitalism of Marx’s time, but to show that, whatever may happen, the general process advances not toward an equilibrium or a «state of normalcy» (like a river whose waters neither swell nor subside), but toward a series of increasingly acute crises and a revolutionary collapse of the «general form»  under investigation.

13. As he indicated in his 1859 preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, the first draft of Capital, after discussing the three fundamental classes of modern society – landowners, capitalists and proletarians – Marx intended to examine three other questions: «The state, international trade and the world market». The question of the state is dealt with in the text on the 1871 Commune, in Engels’ classic chapters and, naturally, in Lenin’s State and Revolution. The question of international trade is dealt with in Lenin’s Imperialism… . The work is that of an entire historical school, not one person’s «complete works». The question of the world market is today written in letters of fire in the book of facts, that nobody is able to decipher, there is a even a brief reference to it in the stupid theory of the double market advanced by Stalin shortly before his death; it would nonetheless reveal the embers of the fire which will consume world capitalism in the second half of the century if those who study it did not concern themselves so much with Country and Nation and did not pursue the decrepit chimeras of the bourgeois epoch: Peace, Freedom, Independence, the sacredness of the individual and the constitutionality of government decisions!

14. After explaining how the social product is divided among the three basic classes to form national income as rent, profit and wages, and after showing that the transfer of rent to the state would not change the capitalist structure of the economy and that even the transfer of the total surplus-value to the state would not transcend the boundaries of the capitalist form of production (since the squandering of living labor, i.e. the intensity and length of the working day, would stay the same, while the division into enterprises and the mercantile character of the system would remain unchanged), Marx concludes the strictly economic part as follows: «The second distinctive feature of the capitalist mode of production is the production of surplus-value as the direct aim and determining motive of production. Capital produces essentially capital, and does so only to the extent that it produces surplus-value.» (Only communism will be able to produce a surplus that is not capital.)

The determining factor is thus by no means the existence of the capitalist, or the capitalist class, which are not only just effects, but unnecessary effects as well. «Whereas, on the basis of capitalist production, the mass of direct producers is confronted by the social character of their production in the form of strictly regulating authority and a social mechanism of the labour process organized as a complete hierarchy (i.e. bureaucratized!) this authority reaching its bearers, however, only as the personification of the conditions of labour in contrast to labour, and not as political and theocratic rulers as under earlier modes of production – among the bearers of this authority, the capitalists themselves, who confront one another only as commodity owners, there reigns complete anarchy within which the social interrelations of production assert themselves only as an overwhelming natural law in relation to individual free will»

It is therefore necessary, and sufficient, to hold to the monumental invariance of the original text in order to reject all the false modernizers who have, in reality, plunged into the depths of the most vulgar bourgeois prejudice, which consists in seeking the cause of all social inferiority in «free will» or, worse yet, in the «collective responsibility of a social class». After Capital everything was quite clear: the capitalist, or the capitalist class, could easily cease here or there to «personify» capital, which would nonetheless remain opposed to society as a «social mechanism», an «overwhelming natural law» of the productive process.

15. Such is the monumental Chapter 51, which closes the «description» of the modern economy, and on each page evokes the spectre of the revolution. We then come to Chapter 52, which amounts to little more than a page. Under the point at which the last sentence is interrupted, Engels’ tired hand wrote, in brackets: «Here the manuscript breaks off».

Its title: Classes. We are at the threshold of the inversion of praxis, and, having eliminated free will, we seek the agent of the revolution.

In essence, the chapter says this: we have given the laws of pure capitalist society, with its three classes. But this doesn’t exist even in England (even in 1953 it doesn’t exist there or elsewhere, and it will never exist, any more than the two material points endowed with mass to which Newton’s laws reduce the cosmos.

«The first question to be answered is this: What constitutes a class? At first glance – the identity of revenues and sources of revenue. However, from this standpoint, physicians and officials, e.g., would also constitute two social classes, for they belong to two distinct social groups, the members of each of these groups receiving their revenue from one and the same source. The same would also be true of the infinite fragmentation of interest and rank into which the division of social labour splits laborers as well as capitalists and landlords – the latter, e.g., into owners of vineyards, farm owners, owners of forests, mine owners, and owners of fisheries...»

The sentence and the thought are interrupted here. But we have what we need.

16. Without applying for a copyright for a single sentence, we can complete this crucial chapter cut short by the author’s death, an arbitrary individual incident according to Karl Marx, who liked to quote Epicurus (about whom he had written his doctoral thesis) in this connection. As Engels once said: «Every event conditioned by necessity bears its own consolation». No unnecessary regrets.

Classes are not defined, as it appears «at first glance», by the identity of sources of revenue.

This single sentence buries forever all past and future syndicalisms, laborisms, corporatisms, Mazzinisms and Christian socialisms.

The insipid ideologues of the spirit and the individual, of liberal society and the constitutional State, are content to recognize only the existence of collective sectoral interests, and that they cannot be ignored. But our theoretical conquest went far beyond this. The fact that it was not possible to make a face and close one’s eyes to the «social question», even reduced to pills, was only a preliminary victory. It would gradually penetrate the modern world. But penetrating the world is one thing, smashing it into a thousand pieces is another.

There is no use building statistical tables to «qualitatively» select classes according to the source of their pecuniary income. It is even more stupid to select them quantitatively according to a «pyramid of income». Such a pyramid was built centuries ago; the Roman state censuses were income scales. Since centuries, simple arithmetical operations made it possible to answer the philosophers of poverty that by decapitating the pyramid and reducing it to a trapezoid with the same base they would only have founded a society of beggars.

How could this predicament be avoided, both quantitatively and qualitatively? A senior official is paid a salary, thus according to time, just like a wage-earning laborer who works in, say, a nationalized industry. But the former has a higher income than many merchants and industrial capitalists who live off profits. And the latter has a higher income than many small peasant landowners as well as many small landlords who live off apartment rents…

A class is not defined only by economic criteria, but also by the historical position it occupies in the gigantic struggle through which a new general form of production transcends, defeats and replaces the old.

If it is stupid to claim that society is a mere sum of individuals in ideological terms, it is just as stupid to claim that the class is a mere sum of individuals in economic terms. Individual, class and society are not pure economic or ideological categories, but products (changing continuously according to place and period) of a general process of which the powerful Marxist construction reproduces the real laws.

The operative social mechanism determines and models individuals, classes and societies without «consulting» them in any way.

A class is defined by its path and historical task; and our class is defined by the fact that it quantitatively and qualitatively demands its own disappearance (and above all its own disappearance, since the disappearance of enemy classes, a process already well underway, represents almost nothing): such is the dialectical culmination of its immense effort.

Today the class as a whole is assuming without hesitation a different meaning: for the moment it is for Stalin and a capitalist state like the Russian state, for a clique of parliamentarians and candidates who, in terms of anti-Marxism, far outdo the performances of yesterday’s Turati, Bissolati, Longuet and Millerand.

17. Therefore all that remains is the party, as the existing organ that defines the class, struggles for it, governs for the class in the crucial moment, and prepares the end of govermnments and classes.

On the condition that it is not the party of Peter or Paul, that it doesn’t succumb to the cult of the leader, and that it returns to defend, with blind faith if necessary, the invariable theory, rigid organization and method of Marxism, which is not based on sectarian a priori, but knows that in a society that has achieved its typical form (Israel in the year 0 or Europe in 1900) the battlecry «Those who are not for us are against us» applies unconditionally.



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