Reply to the Real Movement - Monsieur Dupont

The following article by Monsieur Dupont is a reply to The Real Movement in Red & Black Notes #14 -

It is difficult to reply to your article because it doesn't really get anywhere. At one point in the article you say "Yet, all of this begs the question of what exactly is the real movement?" But you fail to arrive at any sort of real conclusion, even though you have already stated what Marx and Engels thought and already described their thoughts as "clear." (For the record, we don't think Marx and Engels were very clear on the issue of how a revolution that might overthrow capitalism could develop. Look at this example (also from The German Ideology, where the term "real movement" is used)"Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew." What does Marx mean here by "movement," by "practical movement," by "the cause," by "revolution"? Is "the movement" the actual physical revolution (seizing the means of production), or is "the revolution" a continuing accumulation of acts of revolt (a "real movement") wherein mass communist consciousness is formed? Or is he talking about something else entirely? Don't try to answer these questions. The point of asking them is not to encourage further interpretations of the Works of Marx, but to indicate where the limits of his theory, logic and explanation lie. We do not need to "go back to Marx" to examine the concept of "the real movement", we can look at ourselves and the world around us to see if this marries up to what present day ideologues of "the real movement" are trying to tell us. In so doing we will be examining the way communists generally see themselves.)

One problem with your article is that you haven't looked at what the word "movement" really means, such an examination is surely the first criteria for your article? When we look at various activities that are going on around us that are related to the working class and its inherent opposition to the economic system do we see a movement? Do we see a real movement that is heading in the direction of the overthrow of capital? Marx also described upheavals of the working class as "convulsions", were these convulsions part of a real, continuous movement, or unconnected spasms, connected, of course, by the fact that they were brought on by the same conditions? The article ends with this vague, and meaningless statement, that also implies that the whole debate is a waste of time anyway "We end by concluding [sic] that the resistance to capital must be the prerogative of those who struggle against it". It seems that the main angle of the writer of the article is to continue a refutation of Leninist and Trotskyist notions of Party vanguardism. Unfortunately, the writer does not seem to sense the possible vanguardism, despite our previous correspondence, that lies inside the concept of "the real movement" itself. Below are some partial thoughts on the subject.

You say that capitalism has produced its own gravedigger in the form of the proletariat. But you don't say why this is. Why is the proletariat any more the gravedigger of capitalism than the slaves were the gravediggers of Ancient Greek society? What is the difference between the world today and the world before capitalism?

You make some linking of the proletariat with class struggle (ie, its role as the revolutionary subject) in your web page introduction as printed in the last issue, here you say to look for class struggle in "strike figures, wildcats, sabotage" but then you abandon the direct link of the proletariat with economic production by continuing with, "and above all resistance to capitalism in all its forms" (my italics). Here we have left the realm of the working class and entered the world of political movements, single issues, and most importantly, the heart of capitalist economics resistance to capitalism comes mainly from capitalists themselves and ideologues of capitalism. Every corner shop resists the onslaught of capitalism, every big firm resists the onslaught of rival capitalist firms. The ideological basis of capitalism is democracy, which is another word for competition. Globalization and anti- globalization is the latest public arena in which capitalism is testing itself, checking horizons and re- formulating strategies.

But what is the proletariat anyway? Academics, sociologists, and communists and anarchists usually only help to confuse matters.

We, at Monsieur Dupont, aim for a simplicity that is strategic and tactical in analysis, since definitions of the proletariat/working class that are ideological or cultural have never had any use but to mystify (protect) capitalism. We would say that the relevant part of the working class, for an analysis of how a revolution might come about, is that section which works in industries without which the economy would stop functioning (Marx called the proletariat those workers who work in big industry). They are relevant not because they have some sort of working class "cultural identity" (all cultural identifications help mystify the true nature of society) but simply because when they are at work they have in their hands the levers of production, the mechanisms whereby capitalism can continue to function. How it comes to pass that these workers stop production is entirely out of the hands of those who would call themselves "revolutionaries" (we prefer the term pro-revolutionary, since the description "revolutionary" bestows on the holder of the title an expertise all out of proportion with reality since there has never been a revolution that has got rid of capitalism how can anyone be an expert on it?). As Paul Mattick has said, "Thus far, […] revolutionary actions have occurred only in connection with social catastrophe, such as were released by lost wars and the associated economic dislocations. This does not mean that such situations are an absolute pre-condition for revolution, but it indicates the extent of social disintegration that precedes revolutionary upheavals. There will be no movement created that will destroy capitalism. Capitalism will only flounder under the incompetence of its directors and managers, when a situation might emerge in which workers are forced into certain acts, and, in particular, when those workers who work in the essential industries are forced to stop production, thereby halting the capitalist process; thereby creating the possibility for a new material basis of living to assert itself.

We would agree with Marx that capitalism creates the grounds for its own removal not because of any (mystical) "necessity" or "movement of the class towards {…] self-actualisation" [?] as you (Marx also talks about communist revolution in terms of "necessity") would have it, but simply because capitalism is a global condition. In antiquity it was possible for people to live in different ways across the globe but only to a certain extent due to the limited technologies of the time, these days there is the possibility, due to advanced technology, for everyone to live comfortably, but the economic system prevents this. In antiquity any successful revolt of people from oppression would eventually be brought down by the imperatives of survival. These days there is no possibility of any revolt, of any people, escaping capitalism, there is nowhere to go, and nowhere to stay. Any direct opposition to capitalism (seizing its productive apparatus) is always forced to expand into a global phenomenon, if revolt fails to do what it must then it is quickly brought right back into the capitalist arena (we see this truth in every strike, and in every revolutionary event in recent history). This is what the proletarians of Russia in 1917, and beyond, knew instinctively, what they knew in Germany in 1919, what they knew in Spain in 1936, ETC. It is also what the "revolutionary" leaders knew of course. All of this explains why, at some point early on during all these events, the workers started giving up, going home, and they allowed "their leaders" to try to get into power under capitalist/anti-working class terms.

Back to "the real movement." Capitalism is an economic system that relies on certain industries (these rise and fall in their importance over time) to keep it functioning. Now, these industries, which make, dig, extract, build, distribute, all, at their base, rely on the work of supervised workers. In times of economic crisis these workers might feel forced to take over their workplaces as a collectivity (thus disrupting the reality and continuation of capitalism; creating a new material base), and, in their making of connections to other workers and other parts of the working class (which tactics their revolt forces on them), they may establish a new way of living. But this new way of living cannot be established, or planned, before the old way of living (capital accumulation) is stopped. The ruling ideas of society are the ideas of the ruling class, to put it another way, there is no possibility of a new way of thinking arising before the material basis for it has been established. Who, amongst the readers of this magazine, really thinks that a movement is needed before capitalism will be halted? Yes, we thought as much, all of you no less. Does history count for nothing? Everywhere in the pro-revolutionary milieu we see aspirant midwives for communism, self-proclaimed experts who insist on putting their ideological cart before the horse of material events. The problem we see with the concept of "the real movement" is that it is another ideological trick by which pro-revolutionaries can trumpet their sense of self-importance and their ownership of understanding, the leadership role which they refuse to give up. The British group Aufheben use the concept in the most explicit, and authoritarian, way, they say, "The real movement must always be open, self-critical, prepared to identify limits to its present practice and to overcome them" (Aufheben 9, 2000). Here Aufheben have gone beyond merely looking for connections between events and given the concept a personality and suit of clothes, that is, they have themselves actually become "the real movement". The gods have put themselves in heaven. Marx was vague about this concept that he coined, he himself cast about uncertainly for "signs of resistance" like many others do now, and we will never know whether he understood the kind of use that the term might be put to.

In Dauvé and Martin's Eclipse and Re- Emergence… it says, "Communism is not an ideal to be realized it already exists, not as a society, but as an effort, a task to prepare for. It is a movement which tries to abolish the conditions of life determined by wage labour, and it will abolish them by revolution". Here communism, or "the real movement", is clearly described as "an effort, a task to prepare for". This, plus the use of the term "movement" would imply that it is the continuous accumulation of certain acts that will bring us to the revolution. Of course, once such a (flawed see below) prognosis has been accepted then it is up to the experts to identify which acts are to be considered worthy. It would seem that we have replaced the notion of The Party of the Working Class as the holder of truth and understanding with the notion that the politicized element (the communists) of the "real movement" now hold understanding. Thus the "historic mission" of "revolutionaries" is not damaged at all. "Revolutionaries" are still the experts, despite their history of failure and betrayal. We are stuck at about 1860, we are still in the period of anti-tsarist populism, communists have not escaped Lenin (who was not a disciple of Marx but an anti-tsarist populist, and finally an agent of the German State, if Germany hadn't used him he would not be mentioned or remembered by communists). When they are pushed, communists always go back to what Lenin said (as R&B Notes did), because he "won" ("Lenin [is] perhaps more than any other person, responsible for the course of twentieth century history", R&B Notes, by the way, what happened to the materialist conception of history?). The owners of understanding (the modern, friendly face of the old-style Party) can display some interesting characteristics, characteristics that are no different from those of the old Leninist Parties, take this threat from Aufheben"Our interest in the struggle in Mexico is how it expresses the universal movement towards the supersession of the capitalist mode of production. One needs to avoid acting as judge of every manifestation of this universal movement, dismissing those manifestations which don't measure up, while at the same time avoiding uncritical prostration before such expression" (Aufheben 9, 2000). This is from an article that championed the movement of the Zapatistas and criticized the views of people they termed "ultra- leftists" on the matter. At first glance what they say above might seem reasonable, until one realizes that to ask people not to "judge every manifestation of this universal movement" is, in fact, their bullying defence of their own judgement of events in Mexico. Where is the intelligence here? Where is the self- reflection?

The concept of the real movement and communists self-employed status as the holders-on to consciousness, the performers of understanding of the movement is grounded in an ideology of inter- subjectivity. (Aufheben again"Our task is to understand, and to be consciously part of something which already truly exists the real movement that seeks to abolish the existing conditions.") Communism for the understanders is made of acts. But we understand from the works of charity that inter-subjective acts, no matter how profoundly good intentioned and no matter how many thousands or even millions might be involved, address only surface phenomena of society and not the structural causes - acts at their best, can only ever achieve a status of a political intransigence, but always trapped by conditions. There is no means by which a symptom may turn on and attack its cause, puppets cannot cut their strings. Fi Fie Fo Fum, an Englishman cannot be anti-English, as many are, of course, without expressing one of the possible forms of Englishness. Communism cannot be itself in an ideological form, that is, as a current, or movement of political values and acts acting in present conditions without being wholly determined by conditions, which in an almost unanimous majority are capitalist (how infinitesimal, how like the mustard seed, is the negative moment). Communism, breaking out right now, is a variant of capitalism. It is precisely because communism is absent, is in a future, that we search for it. Search for it but do not work for it, there is no proof that acts or works, that teaspoon paddling against the current, makes our desire more possible. In the dingy bars where we hold our meetings, communism is always not here. To say, as we do, do nothing, is only an admittance of the difference between structure and perception. The cup of the world is not shaped by many people talking to each other, rather the world is a cup that holds many people talking to each other. Structure precedes acts. This is not to say do nothing. Some lives are better lived than others, some have the life force stronger than others. Don Quixote's adventures reveal a flawed but good human being but he never approached political and social power, his vision of a better world made up of noble acts never passed beyond fancy, reality is always a drag. It is important to be a good human, to work good works, to perform noble acts, after all, what else is there to do? But works and acts address the merely and immediate human, this cannot bring about the revolution. Good acts in the capitalist world is pissing in the wind (the cherry saplings on the estate where we live have all been snapped). A generality of good acts depends upon an entirely different configuration of social power, communism comes after revolution.

First Published in Red and Black Notes #15, summer 2002, this article has been archived on from the Red and Black Notes website.

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Fall Back
Jul 9 2009 16:33


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