Franz Jakubowski: consciousness and the critique of political economy - Radical Chains

Franz Jakubowski: consciousness and the critique of political economy - Radical Chains

This article examines the attempt by Franz Jakubowski, a trotskyist leader of the 1930s, to confront those conceptions of consciousness that were dominant within the Second and Third Internationals... Unable to comprehend the impact of the prevention of communism on working class consciousness, Jakubowski is able only to reassert an abstract dichotomy of "false" and "correct" consciousness. This critique of Jakubowski has ramifications that go beyond the bolshevik tradition itself. From Radical Chains no.3

radical chains

The question of consciousness has been the Achilles heel of marxism throughout the present epoch. Failure in the revolutionary project has been explained away by invoking the supposed "false" consciousness of the working class. This is true of the left as a whole and is more obvious within bolshevism perhaps only because of heavy reliance on crude formulations from Lenin's What is to be Done? Other currents, often more academic in orientation, have tended to disguise crudity of conception behind a veil of language sophisticated to the point of impenetrability.

Bolshevism is not, however, monolithic. In this article D.Gorman examines the attempt by Franz Jakubowski, a trotskyist leader of the 1930s, to confront those conceptions of consciousness that were dominant within the Second and Third Internationals. Arguing that Jakubowski ultimately fails to go beyond the positions of those, like Lenin, who he criticises, Gorman traces this failure to Jakubowski's attempt to develop a critique of consciousness in abstraction from any consideration of the concrete, historically developing, political economy of his time. Unable to comprehend the impact of the prevention of communism on working class consciousness, Jakubowski is able only to reassert an abstract dichotomy of "false" and "correct" consciousness. This critique of Jakubowski has ramifications that go beyond the bolshevik tradition itself.

In the present epoch the left has been crippled by its compromise with various forms of administrative control. Appearing as the basis of transition to the alternative society, such forms have in fact blocked the process, thus preserving the existing order. In so far as the left has been unable to properly apprehend this tendency, it has found itself trapped in an apparent dichotomy between the maturity of the objective conditions for communism and the immaturity of the necessary subjective awareness. The left has thus had to explain away as 'false' consciousness the refusal of the working class to endorse the socialist future as it appeared in the USSR and similar social formations. The disintegration of stalinism, under the pressure of the working class, tends to undermine this appearance and opens up space for critical thought about consciousness. Such thought can best develop by confronting the ideological legacy of the past.

The destruction of the October revolution virtually destroyed the left, scattering and isolating opposition. Little space was left for criticism within existing left milieux and in particular those compromised in some way by the defence of the USSR. Criticism did, however, take place and one of the most interesting examples from within the bolshevik tradition is Franz Jakubowski's recently reprinted Ideology and Superstructure in Historical Materialism (second English edition, Pluto Press, 1990; introduction by Frank Furedi). First published in Danzig in 1936 this book attempts to confront the conceptions of the relations between consciousness and being that were dominant in the Second and Third internationals at the time.

Jakubowski was born in Poznan in Poland in 1912 and brought up in Danzig. Although he had become attracted to marxism in 1930, he spent the period up to 1933 studying law at various universities across Europe. However, when Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Jakubowski, then studying at Wroclaw, joined the trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. He went on to study politics at Basle, where he met Fritz Belleville - a leader of the trotskyist movement in Germany, friend and disciple of Karl Korsch and member of the Frankfurt school. At Basle, Jakubowski and Belleville were active in a group of revolutionary socialist students but in 1936 Jakubowski returned to the 'free city' of Danzig, where a Nazi administration had just come to power. There he became a leader of the Spartacus League, a trotskyist organisation whose activities included working with dockers to obstruct the shipment of arms to Franco in Spain. Arrested by the Nazis along with sixty members of this organisation in December 1936 he and nine others were sentenced to three years imprisonment. His trial, which Jakubowski himself compared to the Moscow show trials, won him the support of Trotsky who defended him in the pages of Lutte Ouvriere. His release was secured by his parents on the technical grounds that he was a German citizen and not a citizen of Danzig. On his release he became, like many others in that period a political refugee. He travelled via Denmark and Cuba to America where he changed his name to Frank Fisher.

Little is known about Jakubowski's life beyond this point, beyond the fact that he became a founder of the Alexander Herzen Foundation. His choice of America rather than Russia as a place of refuge was natural given the show trials and the Comintern's denunciation of all communist oppositionists as Gestapo agents. This choice not only saved his life but spared him suspicion of implication in stalinism associated with those who, like Lukacs and Brecht, went east. Yet American exile, for Jakubowski as for many others - for example, Horkheimer, Reich, and Rosdolsky -must have spelled isolation, both linguistic and cultural. Such isolation would have been reinforced by the general political confusion within emigre circles and by the Cold War and Jakubowski seems to have lost contact with the workers movement. He died in 1970.

The main interest in Jakubowski lies 'in the fact that his book constitutes an attempt by a leader of the trotskyist movement to develop a critique of Lenin's understanding of consciousness and the party as the 'bearer' of consciousness. This is significant, first, because it goes against the evolution of Trotsky himself, who in his later years was to repudiate his earlier criticisms of What is to be Done? But, in addition, in so far as Jakubowski undertakes this critique, he begins to converge on positions adopted by the left communists - indeed, Jakubowski's critique owes much to the influence of Korsch. That he did not take this critique further is partly a function of his acceptance of Trotsky's analysis of the USSR.

Ideology and Superstructure is interesting also because it tends ultimately to reproduce, if in a more sophisticated form, the position it sets out to criticise. It contains a compelling critique of Lenin, enshrined within a theoretical framework which shares many of the deeper assumptions of What is to be Done? The failure to actually go beyond Lenin is a common feature of anti-leninism and important to the survival of leninism. The phenomenon is not limited to Jakubowski. In so far, however, as it appears in a particularly clear form in Ideology and Superstructure, it thus permits the kind of detailed examination of the problem not often afforded by other works. Jakubowski can thus be taken as a prime example of the failure of anti-leninism from Paul Mattick through to Herbert Marcuse. It is possible to discern in it the mechanisms through which the process of 're-thinking' goes astray.

Ideology and Superstructure - the product of Jakubowski's doctoral dissertation - stands out as a critical, scholarly work, and is in many ways a model that it worthy of emulation. It is clearly and economically written, its argument unfolding organically, each part leading up to and supporting the next - a virtue which makes it relatively easy to trace the sources of its problems. In the course of his argument, Jakubowski polemicises against such thinkers as Lenin, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Hilferding, Weber, Mannheim and Kelsen. No comment will be made about his appropriation of their work -except that of Lenin - beyond noting the non-sectarian nature of that appropriation. Jakubowski examines the logic of opponents' arguments rather than indulging in invective or neutralisation through the attachment of labels - practices which in some quarters are still identified with historical materialist analysis.

One problem for the contemporary reader is Jakubowski's language. Ideology and Superstructure is replete with phrases such as 'base and superstructure', 'theory and practice', and 'metaphysical materialism' -even the title itself will be enough to put some people off. Today such language is unfortunately redolent of the official language of the Soviet elite. Categories which had once been a means of critical analysis have become, through their petrification, a means of pre-empting criticism; language which was in an earlier period the means of subversive communication has become recuperated by bureaucracy as the prevention of communication. This is a real problem, and a common obstacle to the critical appropriation of marxist texts from the '20s and '30s. To engage with it, moreover, is to risk being drawn into its reproduction. Nonetheless, whatever the connotations of such terminology now, for Jakubowski it had a different - real - meaning. The attempt will be made to re-state the real core of Jakubowski's argument in language that is more accessible to the modern reader.


The following discussion focuses on Jakubowski's critique of Lenin. The aim is not, however, to develop a narrow, textual analysis of Jakubowski, but rather to use Jakubowski in order to raise general questions about consciousness and being, the nature of ideology in bourgeois society, and the place of philosophy within communist theory. It begins by outlining Jakubowski's conception of conscious being and pays particular attention to his criticisms of Lenin's account. This is followed by an analysis of Jakubowski's alternative which draws upon previous work (see Gorman, Radical Chains 2). It is argued that Jakubowski's alternative tends ultimately to reproduce the standpoint to which it is opposed. This has its roots in Jakubowski's marginalisation of the significance of political economy within marxism and his tendency to regard the critique of political economy as being finished. This in turn results in an incomplete and even ambiguous understanding of commodity fetishism and a dichotomised conception of consciousness. It leads also to an inadequate understanding of the nature of class, and a lack of sensitivity to the complex determination of consciousness in the 20th century. This results in an abstract problem of consciousness, separated from the question of needs. It is this false problematic of consciousness that has dominated the marxism of the last one hundred years or so.

The central theme of Ideology and Superstructure is 'the relation between consciousness and being in historical materialism' (pl3). This relation, Jakubowski argues, is one of 'dialectical unity'. Being, for Jakubowski, must be understood in terms of the historically developing social relations of humanity and consciousness as an expression of social being. Consciousness, in this conception, does not merely 'reflect' being, but is an integral part of social reality. Although he accepts the 'base-superstructure' distinction, Jakubowski takes care to stress that this distinction is not equivalent to that between consciousness and being. The 'base' is defined in terms of 'the economic structure of society' (p33) and the 'superstructure' in terms of political and legal relations as well as ideology. The political and legal superstructures are, in Jakubowski's view, just as much aspects of social being as is the 'economy'. The ideological superstructure, moreover, contains not only economic ideas but political and legal ones too, as well as the general 'intellectual structure' of society (p53).

From this conception of the unity of consciousness and being, Jakubowski argues, it follows that it is not enough to change ideas alone. On the contrary, if bourgeois ideas are to be removed, it is necessary to abolish in practice the material conditions of those ideas, bourgeois society itself. On the other hand, such practical abolition must itself be conscious. That is to say, the struggle against the reified ideas of bourgeois society requires a conscious struggle against the material condition of reification. The unity of the subject and object of knowledge and the unity of consciousness and being achieve expression in the unity of theory and practice and the association of marxism with the workers' movement' (p60).


From this basis Jakubowski develops a persuasive critique of the conceptions of consciousness and being of the dominant strands of Second and Third International marxism. Whatever the differences between the representatives of the different tendencies, he argues, all tended to 'abandon Marx's dialectic and consequently fail to understand the humanist character of his theory' (p68). Failing to comprehend marxism as a doctrine of human liberation, all tended to separate consciousness from its object and theory from practice. Jakubowski develops these points through critiques of Kautsky, Lenin and Adler, but the focus here will be on his discussion of the most important of the three: Lenin.

Jakubowski's critique centres on Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909) and What is to be Done? (1902) and it is worth briefly outlining the central propositions of those documents before examining Jakubowski's critique. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was written in 1909 as a response to the attempts by Bogdanov and others to incorporate the work of Avenarius and Mach into marxism. What is of interest here is not so much Lenin's negative criticisms of Mach and Avenarius as his positive statement of his own understanding of materialism, which can be illustrated by means of quotes other than those supplied by Jakubowski.

In Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Lenin is concerned to defend 'dialectical materialism' against its 'idealist' critics. For Lenin, 'the fundamental distinction between the materialist and the adherent of idealist philosophy, consists in the fact that the materialist regards sensation, perception, idea, and the mind of man generally as an image of objective reality' (MAEC, p320). Lenin wants to defend 'dialectical materialism' rather than its 'metaphysical' variants, yet, despite his repeated assertion of a distinction between the two kinds of materialism, it never emerges what, for Lenin, the distinction actually is. For the most part, Lenin restricts himself to a defence of the materialism of the natural sciences. Thus, for example, Lenin upholds the notions of absolute time and space and of the real existence of atoms as the fundamental stuff of the universe. The influence of the natural sciences carries over into Lenin's discussion of social being.

The result is that Lenin separates consciousness from being. Thus, for example, Lenin speaks of the objective logic or laws of historical change, defining 'objective ... in the sense that social being is independent of the social consciousness of men'(MAEC, p393). From this abstract conception of social being necessarily follows the residual character of consciousness. And from the residual character of consciousness derives the centrality of consciousness to Lenin's political project, in abstraction from social being. Thus: The highest task of humanity is to comprehend the objective logic of economic evolution (the evolution of social life) in its general and fundamental features, so that it may be possible to adapt to it one's social consciousness and the consciousness of the advanced classes in all the capitalist countries in as definite, clear and critical a fashion as possible' (MAEC, p393-4). There are clear parallels between this philosophical conception of consciousness and the political project of What is to be Done? according to which consciousness must be brought to the workers. Although What is to be Done? is the earlier work, it clearly presupposes the kind of philosophical position stated later in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.

The central focus of What is to be Done? concerns the question of consciousness and ideology and the relation of the party to the working class. Lenin was, in this work, responding to the 'economist' doctrine, associated with Bernstein and others, according to which the working class will spontaneously develop a 'social democratic' consciousness through the struggle for higher wages and better conditions of work. In so far as this doctrine ignores the questions of the social totality and the ideological forms of bourgeois society, Lenin was certainly right to oppose it. Yet in doing so he accepts the validity of the economist notion of a spontaneous 'economic' or 'trade union' struggle separate from the 'political' struggle against the totality of bourgeois society. This economic struggle, to which the working class is confined, has, for Lenin, no impact on the laws of capital or its ideological forms. It follows, then, that bourgeois ideology can be dissolved only by forces external to the proletariat and from this derives the need for the party as the bearer of consciousness.

Jakubowski's critique of Lenin clearly owes much to the influence of Korsch's The Present State of the Problem of 'Marxism and Philosophy' (1930) and broaches themes developed in greater detail by Pannekoek in Lenin as Philosopher (1938). Jakubowski's main point is that Lenin defines being in terms of an 'abstract', 'metaphysical' conception of matter, as a result of which 'consciousness loses its reality and becomes an attribute of matter which alone is real: consciousness becomes the mere duplicated reflection of matter (p71). This 'metaphysical materialism' entails an absolute separation of consciousness from being' (p71). In so far as Lenin distinguishes, moreover, between 'consciousness' and 'social consciousness', in Jakubowski's view he introduces a distinction between human consciousness' and a kind of hegelian 'suprahuman consciousness'. Although he does not spell it out-and it is not clear why he does not do so - there is in Jakubowski a clearly implied link between Lenin's philosophy and his politics. Lenin's project in What is to be Done? of bringing consciousness to the workers 'rupture[s] the marxist unity of theory and practice' (p119).

Jakubowski's critique of Lenin is generally quite compelling although not without problems. As acknowledged earlier, Jakubowski's language can be quite alienating to the contemporary reader and the terminology used in his critique of Lenin is a prime example. Essentially, Jakubowski is criticising atomistic or reductive forms of materialism which tend to take reality as static or given, existing independently of conscious human practice. Such conceptions could be regarded as a mere inversion of idealism and could be contrasted with the 'dialectical' conception which analyses the development of consciousness and being as integrally related aspects of the same dynamic totality. Understood in these terms it is could be argued that Materialism and Empirio-Criticism does embody a 'metaphysical' conception of materialism.

The result is, as Jakubowski argues, that Lenin separates consciousness from being. But to make this point it is not necessary to argue, as Jakubowski does, that Lenin uses the concept 'social consciousness' in contrast to Marx's 'social being' (p72). It is quite clear that Lenin uses the concept of social being, and, indeed, Jakubowski even quotes Lenin's use of it, for example Lenin's claim that 'social consciousness reflects social being'(MAEC, p391; quoted in Jakubowski, p71-2). This said, it remains that Lenin's use of the term social being is abstract, presupposing the separation of being and consciousness to which Jakubowski refers.

There is much that is of value in Jakubowski's critique of Lenin and it is unfortunate that Frank Furedi, in his introduction to Jakubowski, should have avoided responding to the substance of Jakubowski's arguments. Furedi prefaces his discussion of Jakubowski's critique with the warning: 'Jakubowski's critical attitude to Lenin should be understood in the context of the isolation and defeat of the Russian Revolution in the 1920s'. Furedi briefly notes these criticisms and proceeds to restate, unproblematically, the main theses of What is to be Done?. For Furedi, it is not so much that there is no need for any further thought on the subject; the need is rather that there should be no such further thought: The existing state of society imposes sharp limits on how far it is possible to clarify the problem of class consciousness without mystifying it further'. Furedi makes no effort to refute Jakubowski; to do so, given the many shared assumptions, would involve him also in refuting Lenin.

However, it is possible to accept this critique yet argue that it misses its target. A common claim is that Lenin later rejected those formulations in What is to be Done? that had been criticised by his opponents and that through his reading of Hegel he developed a more dialectical approach to philosophical questions (Leibman, Leninism Under Lenin, Merlin, 1971; Lowy, Critique 6, 1976). Thus in the opinion of Furedi, for example, Jakubowski's interpretation of Lenin 'was perhaps understandable if his 1909 polemical pamphlet Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was taken as Lenin's major statement on the method of dialectical materialism'. However, Furedi adds, Lenin's later philosophical writings 'reveal a remarkably clear appreciation of the dialectical unity of theory and practice', one which 'was in fact quite consistent with Jakubowski's approach'. To ignore this, it might be argued, is to distort Lenin and miss what is of real value in his work., Against this argument, two lines of defence are possible.

First, it is necessary to place Jakubowski's work in its historical context. Jakubowski, it might be conceded, was not responding to the real, historical Lenin, but to the Lenin' constructed by the Comintern. His understanding of Lenin would have been derived from those works canonised by the Comintern and prominent amongst these were What is to be Done? and Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. A greatly impoverished Lenin this might have been but it was the only one on offer and Jakubowski had to criticise it. Furedi himself notes that the Philosophical Notebooks in which Lenin is supposed to have developed a more dialectical understanding of consciousness and being, was 'a work that was probably not available to Jakubowski'. To understand Jakubowski's critique of Lenin it is necessary to apply to it the standards of historical materialist analysis.

But, secondly, it is possible to question the extent to which Lenin did reject the formulations which Jakubowski criticises. Many commentators have found in Lenin's post-What is to be Done? writings a more sophisticated account of the relation between class and party and between consciousness and spontaneity. Indeed, by 1907 Lenin had begun to distance himself from What is to be done? Referring to 'particular expressions which I had not quite adroitly or precisely formulated', Lenin warns his critics not to elevate certain formulations contained in this text 'to "programmatic" level, constituting special principles' ('Preface to the Collection Twelve Years', Collected Works, Vol 13, p107). Yet his own later formulations remain at best ambiguous. Even his most libertarian' work, The State and Revolution, presupposes a conception of the party similar to that contained in What is to be Done? (See Dixon and Gorman, Radical Chains, this issue).Much the same can be said of Lenin's philosophical break with mechanistic materialism. Although there is some evidence of such a break in the Philosophical Notebooks, especially around the years 1914-1915, it did not last. In his preface to the second edition of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1920), Lenin expresses his belief that the book 'will prove useful as an aid to an acquaintance with the philosophy of Marxism, dialectical materialism' (MAEC, p8).


While Jakubowski's negative critique of Lenin points in the right direction, his own account of consciousness and ideology, for all its philosophical sophistication, nevertheless fails to challenge the deeper assumptions of Lenin's thought, and thus tends to reproduce them.

Jakubowski's account of consciousness is derived from the lukacsian problematic of reification. In bourgeois society, Jakubowski argues, conditions of alienated labour give rise to the fetishism of commodities. Social relations, in Jakubowski's words, 'appear to be relations between things' (p89). The fetishism of commodities is the basis of the reified ideology of bourgeois society which prevents individuals developing a 'correct' consciousness of their conditions of existence. This 'false' consciousness must be changed if revolution is to be possible. But ideology 'is not a mere subjective fantasy but a 'conscious' expression of the objective appearance assumed by capitalist reality. As conscious being it is therefore an essential and necessary part of this reality' (pl03-4). Its removal is possible only from the standpoint of a class - the proletariat - whose conditions of existence force it to overthrow capitalist society.

The worker, however, 'can only become conscious of his social being by becoming conscious of himself as a commodity' (p114). Under capitalism workers are forced to sell their labour power for a wage; in doing so they thus sell themselves as commodities. At the same time, however, workers are human. From this tension between commodity object and human subject arises the possibility of a 'correct' consciousness. Because the worker experiences the labour relation 'both as subject and object, he is in a position to see through the fetish appearance of the commodity labour power' (p115).

Potentiality is not actuality: To state that the proletariat's position in society allows it a correct, non-ideological consciousness, a non-reified knowledge of reality in its concrete totality, does not mean that the proletariat actually has such a consciousness (pll6).' Indeed, this potentiality might amount to little more than logical possibility: This developed proletarian class consciousness is therefore not an actual consciousness but an imputed (zugerechnet) one, one that the proletariat would have if it were fully capable of comprehending its situation' (pll6). Finally it transpires that: The humanist, dialectical materialist theory represents non-reified knowledge. It anticipates what the proletariat as a whole can only know after its liberation' (p117). If however, class consciousness can be acquired by the proletariat as a whole only after it has been liberated is questionable to what extent it is possible to speak of self-emancipation. Indeed, this is a term that Jakubowski never uses.

Jakubowski is aware that this argument might seem to imply acceptance of the assumption - implicit in both Kautsky and Lenin -that 'the working class movement and marxist theory develop independently of each other and only connect externally' (p118). To avoid this conclusion Jakubowski uses two related arguments. First, he attacks Lenin's understanding of working class spontaneity. In limiting working class spontaneity to a reformist or trades union consciousness, Lenin, Jakubowski argues, 'overlooks the other ideology which is spontaneously produced by the proletariat: the ideology which aims at the revolutionary liberation of the working class at times when revolutionary action cannot be brought into line with objective conditions' (p119). This 'utopian, subjective consciousness', Jakubowski calls anarchism. The two spontaneous ideologies, he argues, are produced by the contradictory social existence of the proletariat. For Jakubowski, 'trade union consciousness' expresses the fact that the working class is 'a constituent part of capitalism', while anarchism is an expression of the fact that the proletariat is also its negation. Marxism, he claims, 'is the synthesis of both conceptions' (p120). It is because of this contradictory social being and consciousness of the proletariat that 'part' of the working class is able to adopt marxist theory on the basis of experience alone before 'the actual removal of reification'. As 'the revolutionary party' this section of the class is able to orient the rest of the class towards its goal (p120-121).

Against this argument, flawed as it may be, it is not enough merely to restate Lenin as Furedi does: 'Lenin argued that trade union consciousness was the spontaneous reaction of wage labourers in struggle, just as anarchism was the instinctive outlook of the angry petit-bourgeois'. All this can show is that Lenin and Jakubowski had different understandings of the nature of working class spontaneity and of the class nature of anarchism; it can give no reason to prefer Lenin's account to that of Jakubowski (unless it has already been decided that Lenin must be right). The real problem about Jakubowski's argument does not lie in its difference from Lenin's, ie., its more complex understanding of working class spontaneity, but in what it shares with it. What it shares with Lenin is a static account of spontaneity. In Jakubowski's account, spontaneity is complex but it is always the same complexity. As with Lenin, it leaves no room for the historically changing nature of spontaneity - workers' councils, for example, are the product of a very different kind of proletarian spontaneity than that which produced food riots. To appeal to this contradictory nature of spontaneity, moreover, does not explain what it is supposed to explain: why some workers (but not others) are able to adopt marxist theory on the basis of experience before the 'removal of reification'. Finally, to reduce marxism to a 'synthesis' of trade unionist and anarchist ideology, although it may (or may not) have been politically expedient, is to empty that theory of its specificity: the theoretical analysis of forms of surplus extraction and labour process control from the standpoint of communism.

Jakubowski's second argument contends that 'theory is not introduced into the workers' movement arbitrary' (p120). There are, according to Jakubowski, 'revolutionary' and 'reformist' phases or periods in the class struggle. The initial development of marxism, he argues, coincided with a period 'when a revolutionary situation was already posing the task of the seizure of power to the young working class movement' (pl21). Only in revolutionary periods can the working class adopt marxist theory. In non-revolutionary periods, as from, eg., 1850 to the turn of the century, the workers' movement either fails to adopt marxism at all or adopts only a garbled version of it which corresponds to its non-revolutionary orientation. It is not necessary to accept Jakubowski's periodisation - contradicted by the example of 1871 - to see his point. The real isolation of marxism from a revolutionary workers movement leads to its degeneration ; it collapses into, one the one hand, eclectic abandonment of central categories and, on the other, rigidly held lines which define the self-identity of the group but which have no critical purchase on reality.

Again, there are valuable insights in this argument but they are not consolidated. Jakubowski describes Lenin as 'a practical revolutionary' who 'tried to raise the practice of the workers' movement to the same level as that the theory had achieved with its founders' (p124-5). Such a strategy, Jakubowski argues, 'cannot succeed at any point in time, regardless of the objective situation. Until 1917 the separation of theory and practice continued to exist; this much was evident from Lenin's theory itself in that period as we have already seen' (p125). This, however, seems arbitrary. Jakubowski asserts that observed alternations between reform and revolution are the necessary outcome of changes in the objective situation, but he does not argue his case. Lacking any such argument, Jakubowski is open to the criticism that such alternations are subjective in origin and therefore amenable to alteration by the presence of the appropriate organisational forms. To preserve Jakubowski's insight, and prevent its recuperation into the notion of a crisis of leadership, it is necessary to go beyond the parameters of his theory.


When Ideology and Superstructure first appeared in English in 1976, Jakubowski was described as 'a Marxist who, during the dark night of the Third International and the rise of Fascism, remained in contact with authentic Marxist theory and practice' and his book as 'a record of the existence of that authentic Marxism, and as such is an important landmark in the development of contemporary Western Marxism' (David- Hillel Ruben, Critique 8, Summer 1977). Such an assessment is over-eulogistic for Jakubowski fails to advance beyond the standpoint he rejects. But it would be wrong to dismiss it as a book that is primarily concerned with 'the 'correct' exposition of the texts of Marx and Engels' and therefore one whose interest 'must surely be mainly historical - an' even in that respect limited' in so far as it fails to 'deal with the specific historical events of its time (Kate Soper, Wait for the Workers', Radical Philosophy, 17, Summer 1977).

Ideology and Superstructure is an important book and much can be learned from its failings. It is both the product of its period and of a struggle against the barriers apparent in that epoch. Its failure is not an individual failing but the product of the historical destruction of the workers' movement in the 1920s and '30s through which the transition to communism was blocked. In many ways it embodies the ideological legacy of that defeat, one which has not yet been overcome. By examining Jakubowski's work carefully it is possible to obtain a deeper understanding of that legacy. Ideology and Superstructure, for all its limitations, or, perhaps, because of them, deserves more than the uncritical eulogy it received from David-Hillel Ruben or the uncomprehending dismissal it received at the hands of Kate Soper when it first appeared in English.

The roots of the problem lie in Jakubowski's marginalisation of the contribution of the critique of political economy to the development of the historical materialist method. Arguing that any new theory can only develop through a critical confrontation with the intellectual milieu within which it arose, Jakubowski outlines the relation, as he sees it, of marxism to the idealist and materialist theories which preceded it. According to Jakubowski: 'Marx's problematic springs from this dispute with Hegel and Feuerbach, who he sees as the typical representatives of the idealist and materialist philosophies' (pl4). It is not necessary to agree with the account expressed in Lenin's The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913), for example - which describes marxism as the successor of 'German philosophy, English political economy, and French socialism' - to recognise that Jakubowski has specified only part of the total intellectual milieu which Marx confronted.

Marx's method developed not only from the critique of preceding philosophical doctrines, but also, and crucially, through the critique of political economy. The critique of political economy is not merely the 'application' to . a particular sphere of knowledge of a completed 'dialectical materialist method'. If it were, it would be possible to obtain an adequate understanding of bourgeois consciousness without developing a concrete political economy of bourgeois society. Consciousness could be regarded as a 'philosophical' problem to be studied independently of any knowledge of the marxist theory of 'economics', which deals with the objective development of bourgeois society independently of consciousness. By contrast, Marx's understanding of consciousness developed as much through the critique of political economy as through the critiques of Hegel and Feuerbach. The theory of commodity fetishism, the necessary starting point for an adequate understanding of bourgeois ideology, is premised on an understanding of the value form and so could not have arisen from the critique of bourgeois philosophy alone.

To say that Jakubowski marginalises the importance of the critique of political economy within marxism is not to deny that the categories of this critique do appear in his work. However, to the extent that they do appear, they do so only as inert supports fora philosophical discourse on 'false' and 'correct' consciousness. Categories such as abstract labour, fetishism, value, and surplus value, for example, do no more than provide a context for this discourse. The categories of the critique of political economy serve merely as a means to another end, apparently unconnected to that critique. They act as place markers within a theoretical grid but in themselves they do no work.

For Jakubowski, the point about the fetish character of commodity production is that 'it makes what are social relations between persons appear to be relations between things'(p89). This is vague and ambiguous but carries the implication of a gap between illusion and reality or a discrepancy between consciousness and its (hidden) object - the classic puzzle of western philosophy. Thus Jakubowski characterises ideology as 'first of all, a false consciousness which is not in accord with reality, which neither discovers nor expresses reality in an adequate manner' (p98). Having defined ideology as 'false' consciousness, it becomes necessary to 'examine each individual position in society to see how far it permits a correct, total view, and how far it leads to ideology' (p104-105). The task is to foster in the revolutionary subject a 'correct' consciousness of an unchanging, external, object.

For Jakubowski the objective conditions for communism exist - all that is lacking is the necessary consciousness: The lack of a developed proletarian class consciousness is thus vital to the existence of the capitalist state. If the state apparatus is to maintain the class rule of the bourgeoisie in a period when the objective economic conditions for its defeat are already a reality, then to have monopoly over the ownership of weapons is not enough. The maintenance of bourgeois rule requires also that the proletariat and the other oppressed classes have no clear socialist consciousness. If the proletariat had this consciousness it would not only be able to see the class struggle, it would also be able to recognise capitalism as a merely historical stage of development, situated at a particular level of productive forces' (p52).

From this it follows that the critique of political economy is finished. If the objective conditions necessary for communism exist, and the problem is merely a lack of a 'correct' consciousness of those conditions, there is no need to develop the critique of political economy further. There is, in other words, no need to develop new categories of political economy through the concrete analysis of existing social reality. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the social determinants of consciousness it is enough to study Capital; indeed Capital becomes an a priori model of bourgeois society. All that can be known about the political economy of bourgeois society is, in this analysis, already known. For practical purposes it can even be ignored.

Although Jakubowski tries to develop a dynamic understanding of conscious being, his conception of social being remains static, exhausted for the most part by the first three chapters of Capital, supplemented by the writings of Pashukanis and Trotsky. Social being is restricted to the economic structure of commodity production, the legal form of contract, and a diversity of bourgeois state forms (bonapartist, fascist, and so on).

One consequence of the assumption of a finished political economy is the tendency to detach consciousness form the rest of social reality. Jakubowski defines bourgeois ideology as the 'false' consciousness characterised by the reification inherent in the fetish character of commodity production. As such, bourgeois ideology is, in Jakubowski's account, the ever present obstacle to the appearance of a 'correct' consciousness. Bourgeois society is treated as being eternally the same until such time as it is overthrown. Politics and philosophy, for example, are abstracted from political economy as if they constituted separate, hermetically sealed spheres. Class struggle is discussed as if it took place at a distinct political level and had no ramifications in terms of the law of value. The problem of consciousness can thus be isolated from any concrete analysis of bourgeois society; such an analysis could shed no further light on the problem and cannot impinge upon it. It becomes a problem of logic amenable to illumination by the light of reason alone.

This, however, renders Jakubowski unable to theorise real changes that had been developing within social being since the late 19th century and in particular in the period following the October revolution. It leaves him unable to comprehend the complex determination of proletarian consciousness in the 20th century. In particular, lacking a political economy of his epoch, Jakubowski is unable to develop a critique of the administrative forms through which the working class has been contained. This is indicated primarily in Jakubowski's acceptance of the characterisation of the USSR as a workers' state: 'In the USSR, which in spite of the extent of bureaucratisation, can still be referred to as an example of a proletarian state, the economy is above all a state economy, and the state an economic state' (p45). It is also suggested by his contention that the real unity of marxist theory with the workers' movement in the period 1917-1923 'appears at its clearest in Lenin's The State and Revolution'(pl25). Jakubowski emphasises Lenin's renewal of Marx's 'theory of the conquest and exercise of power by the proletariat' but The State and Revolution is also characterised by a conception of planning which effectively marginalises the possibilities of workers control. (see Dixon and Gorman in this issue of Radical Chains).

This lack of clarity about the nature of the USSR, for example, necessarily colours his understanding of proletarian consciousness. When Jakubowski argues that if the workers had a developed class consciousness they would be able to 'see' the class struggle, it is difficult to avoid concluding that what he means is that they would support or identify with the USSR and so defend it. This is implied by his claim that such consciousness 'does not currently prevail among the proletariat or even a major part of it in any country, apart from the Soviet Union' (p116). For Jakubowski, the question of the development of class consciousness is ultimately a question of adapting the consciousness of the proletariat to the defence of the USSR. The tragedy is that this intervention into the consciousness of the proletariat necessarily becomes an aspect of the containment of the proletariat within the existing order.


This again is a general problem and not one specific to Jakubowski. The left as a whole has failed to come to terms with the historical refusal of the working class to endorse stalinism. For many on the left, it is a sign of purity for the left to criticize stalinism, but the practical criticism of stalinism by the working class must be ascribed to 'false' consciousness. This is a serious problem. It is, moreover, insurmountable so long as the left holds the kind of understanding of ideology and consciousness that is particularly evident in Jakubowski. Such a conception supposes fetishism to be, within bourgeois society, a permanent, unchanging, and impenetrable obstacle to proletarian consciousness. As such, this conception precludes the very possibility of their being other, historically specific determinants of consciousness. In particular, it rules out serious examination of the real and traumatic impact of stalinism on the proletariat.

Such an approach to consciousness and ideology, it has been argued, is the necessary result of the marginalisation of the critique of political economy. If the limitations of such an approach are to be avoided, it is necessary to analyse consciousness in its real relation to the concrete and changing political economy of bourgeois society. In particular, the impact of the self-formation of the process of the working class and the real changes that have occurred in the operation of the law of value in the present epoch must be analyzed. It is possible to sketch out only the outlines of such a political economy here. This sketch, however, which draws heavily on previous work (See Radical Chains 2), is necessary in order to take the critique of Jakubowski further.

Jakubowski emphasises atomization and its mediation by exchange, rather than the conditions of that mediation. He is therefore unable to integrate into his account the self formation of the working class through the struggle for the direct satisfaction of needs. Indeed, the category of needs is entirely absent from Ideology and Superstructure. Needs do not appear even as a negative determination, as 'false' needs, as they do in Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. The problem of consciousness, liberated from the question of needs, becomes a problem of consciousness alone. It can have no dynamic and necessarily collapses into an attempt to judge - condemn - the consciousness of the proletariat according to some abstract yardstick visible only to those suspended outside history and society.

Bourgeois society, as has been argued elsewhere, presupposes and reproduces abstract labour and absolute poverty. Separated by force from the means of production labour confronts capital as an alien force. Characterised by its total exclusion from objective wealth, labour power can obtain its subsistence only through exchange with capital. Its subordination to capital is, however, mediated individually by the wage. Separation of the direct producers from the means of production requires - entails - their separation from each other. The full operation of the law of value requires therefore the existence of a class of direct producers which is not a class. Its members must, in other words, be forced to be on hostile terms to each other as competitors. This requirement creates the real need for external mediation.

The social basis of exchange, abstract labour, does not appear directly, despite its being an essential presupposition of exchange. The universal takes the form of the particular - abstract labour, the basis of collectivity appears as concrete, particular, individual labour. This form of appearance of abstract labour is a real appearance and not a mere illusion hiding a deeper reality. In so far as value appears in the use value of the equivalent form, and so ultimately in money as the universal equivalent, it thus expresses its own inadequacy and its consequent need for mediation. The form is not a mere appearance but the expressed reality of the socially imposed need for external mediation and for external discipline.

Access to objects of need is mediated by money as universal equivalent. Money separates workers from the objects of need that they themselves create and from this alienation derives the struggle for the direct satisfaction of needs. This struggle is the basis of the process of the self-formation of labour power into a class, through which the conditions of existence of fetishism are abolished. The direct producers overcome their separation from the means of life by overcoming their separation from each other. By combining against the mediation of needs by the value form, workers undermine the operation of the law of value. In proportion as the satisfaction of needs becomes direct, so too do relations between individuals - direct relations between individuals itself becomes a need. In this process, material relations between persons on the one hand and social relations between things on the other give way to direct relations between individuals founded on the direct satisfaction of needs. This transition is simultaneously a move from scarcity to abundance.

This is not a question of workers attaining a 'correct' consciousness of their alienation as atomised commodities. Rather, they develop an awareness of their power as combined labour to engage in the conscious determination of needs. Jakubowski's account presupposes that class struggle takes place at a distinct political level and does not impinge on the political economy of capitalism. This is assumed to remain forever the same until bourgeois society is overthrown. Class struggle, however, must be understood as an aspect of class formation, and as such is inseparable from the developing political economy of bourgeois society. The process of class formation is organically connected to the fate of the law of value, tending to suspend the latter and so to dissolve its corresponding ideological forms.

The real need for exchange mediation derives from the transformation of material necessity into social necessity, although this transformation, in turn, ultimately creates the conditions for its own supersession. Through the developing division of labour and the emergence of combined labour, scarcity gives way to abundance. This tendency is itself mediated by the long process whereby labour power comes to constitute itself as a collectivity, thus abolishing itself as labour power separated from the conditions of life. The move from atomization to collectivity - from scarcity to abundance - hinges on the struggle for the direct satisfaction of needs through which the real need for exchange mediation is eliminated.

This process is not a smooth or immediate transformation of a class in itself into a class for itself. As argued elsewhere, the process is necessarily interrupted and rupturous, a consideration which permits an understanding of the rational core of Jakubowski's distinction between 'revolutionary' and 'reformist' phases in the class struggle. Although Jakubowski says such alternations have an objective basis he does not actually identify this basis and so opens the door to the kind of political project he rejects. The periods that Jakubowski identifies politically as 'non-revolutionary' are, in fact, ones in which the threat of proletarian self-formation has been contained and the movement to collectivity undermined by real changes in the operation of the law of value. New barriers to proletarian self-formation emerge which have to be broken down (See Shepherd in Radical Chains 2).. This is not a problem of 'false' consciousness but rather of the composition of the working class at a particular stage in its self-formation.

Such a perspective can also help elucidate the real changes in the social determination of consciousness that have occurred in the present period. These changes, as argued elsewhere (see previous issues of Radical Chains), involve primarily, partial suspensions of the law of value. Class formation tends to suspend the law of value but this is acknowledged by capital and is institutionalised in the growing administration of needs. This process, which became evident in the late 19th century, became even more pronounced in the period after 1917. The present epoch is characterized primarily by the decline of the law of value through the emergence of forms which preserve it only by limiting it. The extension of the administrative prevention of communism is thus an expression of and an intensification of the decline of the law of value. On the one hand, expansion of value itself is subordinated to the process of circulation through the move to finance capital. On the other, expansion takes place through non- value forms such as the welfare state. This process entails the emergence of forms -nationalisation, full employment, central economic administration - which are neither value forms nor forms of planning. The product is therefore both value and non-value (Ticktin, Critique 21-22, 1988).

Jakubowski identifies reification as the dominant characteristic of bourgeois ideology. Reification, however, has its roots in the production of commodities and so in the law of value. To the extent that the law of value declines into bureaucratic administration, however, social relations become more transparent and less reified. For Jakubowski, who identifies ideology as 'false' consciousness, the problem is to develop a 'correct' consciousness of an unchanging - external - object. The 'object' itself has, however, become changed. Recognition of this fact opens the way to a more complex understanding of the relation between - or unity of - consciousness and being.

It is not merely that, in addition to commodity fetishism, there are now the parallel ideological forms of stalinism and social democracy. What is involved are real changes within social being. The working class is faced today with real obstacles which are the outcomes of previous struggles and in which the left still manages to implicate itself. The clearest example is the USSR, the mere existence of which is an obstacle to class formation. The early destruction of the October Revolution led ultimately to the emergence of a form of society which stands as a warning to the proletariat not to take the revolutionary road again. Regulated neither by the law of value nor consciously by the collectivity of the direct producers, the soviet economy is characterised chiefly by the phenomenon of waste. The labour process is controlled neither by the elite nor by the workers and the result is the production of use values whose major quality is their uselessness. The workforce is atomised primarily through state terror and the general interference of the state in all aspects of society. Terror exists, not to make workers work, but to stop them uniting. To improve the quality of the product would require the elite establishing control over the labour process by moving in the direction of abstract labour and exchange mediation, as Gorbachev is currently trying to do, but this in turn creates the real danger, for the elite, of the formation of collectivity (see Ticktin in Critique; and Bob Arnot - Controlling Soviet Labour: Experimental Change From Brezhnev to Gorbachev, MacMillan, 1988).

If the USSR is an example of what happens when the law of value is overthrown, it is not surprising that workers have tended to fight against capital within bourgeois society. This cannot be put down to 'false' consciousness as many have argued. On the contrary, workers have seen that if the USSR is communism then communism is not in their interest. The question of needs is of central importance: the working class, unlike the bourgeoisie, does not need the USSR. The bourgeoisie, which has been forced to recognise the existence of the working class as a collective subject, colludes with the left in offering to the workers as the only alternative to the rule of capital,the USSR and similar entities. It is not that the bourgeoisie cannot become conscious as Jakubowski argues but that in becoming conscious it changes its objective conditions of existence. In face of such complexity, the dichotomy of 'false' and 'correct' consciousness collapses.


It might be objected that the foregoing criticisms amount to an ahistorical and therefore sectarian attack on Jakubowski. Thus, for example, it could be argued that to criticise Jakubowski for failing to develop a concrete political economy of his times misses the point. For one thing, the tendencies which might be clear now would not have been so clear in Jakubowski's day and the criticisms outlined above unreasonably assume the knowledge of hindsight. In addition, it might be argued, it should be remembered that Ideology and Superstructure was the outcome of Jakubowski's doctoral dissertation, published when he was 24, and probably completed earlier. Perhaps the above criticisms betray unreasonably high
expectations on the part of the critic.

The point, however, has not been to attack Jakubowski but to indicate real limitations in his work which must be acknowledged if his critical appropriation is to be possible now. The central problem is his dichotomised conception of consciousness which implies the existence of some abstract yardstick by which to judge the consciousness of the proletariat. Such a conception is not so much useless as dangerous. The only position from which it is possible to judge the consciousness of the proletariat as 'false', is from the standpoint of some pure marxism, itself miraculously immune to the ravages of history. To explain the continued existence of bourgeois society by reference to the 'false' consciousness of the proletariat is to perpetuate the myth that there is nothing much wrong with the existing left and to deny history. Yet the left as a whole has much re-thinking to do and the concept of 'false' consciousness, by preserving the illusion of a pristine correctness, is an obstacle to the necessary theoretical regeneration.

That such regeneration is necessary cannot be seriously denied. This point will be obvious to anyone who has observed the destruction of thought that has taken place within the small groups which, despite their chronic isolation from the working class, have persisted in regarding themselves as the revolutionary vanguard. But degeneration has also occurred among those who, aware of the irrelevance of revolutionary theory to a non-revolutionary working class, have retreated into academia and worse, and a self-justifying discourse on the irrelevance of the working class to revolutionary theory, thereby making their peace with the existing order.

Marxist theory has become fragmented. In place of Marx's attempt to comprehend the totality of bourgeois society through the critique of political economy, stands a plethora of tenuously related discourses: the 'marxist' theory of art, of politics, ideology, history, and religion; 'marxist' economics, 'marxist' philosophy, etc. This fragmentation is, in part, testimony to the success of the attack on marxism through the creation of the social sciences. The problem is not particular to Jakubowski but has affected marxism as a whole from the Second International onwards. Indeed, it is one of Jakubowski's strengths that he recognises the problem even if he does not solve it.

It is another of Jakubowski's strengths that he does not regard such fragmentation as a purely intellectual problem but to a large extent as an historical one. Thus he links the degeneration of marxism to the isolation of marxism from the working class in periods in which the working class has no need for revolutionary theory. He was, moreover, aware of the increasing isolation of marxism in his own day: The tendency towards the unity of the theory of marxism with the workers' movement, and with it the restoration of the real sense of marxist theory, only became a reality in the 1917-23 period in spite of the isolated individual attempts which had been taking place since the beginning of the century. The ebbing of the revolutionary movement since then has deepened the rift between theory and practice once again, and this has had distorting effects on the theory. (p126). Indeed, it had distorting effects on Jakubowski's own development of marxist theory as will be apparent. More importantly, it seems to have fostered a formal acknowledgement of the unity of consciousness and being within an overall theoretical structure which actually confirms their separation.

If an adequate understanding of the social determinants of consciousness in the present epoch is to be developed, it is necessary to try to re-integrate the critique of consciousness into the critique of political economy; a purely political or philosophical approach is not enough. Such a project contributes to the theoretical regeneration that is needed. Theoretical regeneration is, however, not an abstract intellectual process, but part of a wider social process and therefore subject to real material constraints. The obstacles to proletarian self-emancipation - in particular Stalinism and social democracy - are crumbling, but this cannot translate into immediate communist victory. The overthrow of bourgeois society will come only as the result of the historical process through which labour power re-constitutes itself as a class. Theoretical regeneration can develop only as part of that process.

This is not to advocate immediate immersion in frenetic activism or the formation of the Party. The point is that theory can only be derived from the actual social processes going on in the world and not from a priori schema. This means attempting to comprehend the class relation at the present stage in the self-formation of the working class. Revolutionary theory, separated from the working class, does not represent the 'correct' consciousness of the working class. In so far as it persuades itself of this fallacy it sets itself up in opposition to the working class.