Review of "What Is To Be Done? New Times and the Anniversary of a Question"

Review of:
What is to be Done? New Times and the Anniversary of a Question
Werner Bonefeld and Sergio Tischler, Eds.

"What is to be done?" Indeed, this question resonates with us today more than ever, as the world sits gripped in a crisis now some 30 years old, a crisis which has finally over the last decade given rise to a renewal of communist theory and hope, grounded in the anti-capitalist movements from Chiapas to Brazil to Seattle to Genoa. This book argues that the new movements against globalization must in fact not be lulled back into the quagmire of Leninism, in whatever form, and that is must project a new anti-capitalism, but one grounded not in hopes of state power and vanguard parties, but in the self-activity, the emancipatory and revolutionary self-activity of the proletariat.

The book operates on three levels: a critique of Leninism/Bolshevism in relation to its historical practice under Lenin, a critique of Leninism's theoretical underpinnings, and a projection of a different understanding of "What is to be done?" Obviously, all three are related, though especially the critique of Bolshevism as a historical practice, which has to take up a critique of Lenin's theorizing of organization, revolution, and communism.

The essays focus to one degree or another on all of these, but the strength of the work lies in the moments where the focus is on the critique of Lenin's theorization of the fundamental problems of struggle and revolution, and on the projection of a different notion of class, struggle, revolution and communism. The book founders, however, in those essays which take up the historical practice of Leninism, too often presenting a caricature of Lenin's ideas and his relationship to the revolutionaries of the turn of the 20th century.

In the course of the book, the essays take up three critical questions: Firstly, what is the status of Lenin for today's crisis? Secondly, what is the content of an alternative to Leninism?
Finally, what is the meaning of revolution today?

All three of these questions are answered from a broadly class struggle-centric analysis and the possibility of a communist anti-politics which sees itself as the moving negation of the existing social relations, rather than as moving through the institutions of capital. This involves a fundamentally anti-sociological and anti-instrumental approach to class, state and crisis.

In The Beginning

The Introduction by the two editors, Sergio Tischler and Werner Bonefeld is quite excellent, as it takes us to the current crisis, the anti-globalization movement and the notion of freedom, but there is one point in particular that I want to quote as summing up all that is excellent and innovative in the Introduction:

What, then, is to be done? The idea of the revolutionary party as the organizational form of revolution has to be abandoned. The form of the party contradicts the content of revolution, and that is, human emancipation - the emancipation of the dependent masses can only be achieved by the dependent masses themselves. The notion of the form of the state as an instrument of revolution has to go. The idea of the seizure of power on behalf of the dependent masses has to be exposed for what it is: the denial of the society of the free and equal. Moaning about the 'excesses' of capital has to stop. A lamenting critique merely seeks to create a fairer capitalism, conferring on capital the capacity to adopt a benevolent developmental logic. Capital is with necessity 'excessive' in its exploitation of labour. To lament this is to misunderstand its social constitution. The attempt to define the revolutionary subject has to be abandoned. This subject can neither be derived analytically from the 'logic' of capital, nor can its existence be decreed by the party, as if it were a mere foot-soldier. The revolutionary subject develops through a constant conflict with capital and its state, and the social composition of this subject will depend on those who stand on the side of human emancipation. In theoretical terms, the revolutionary subject can only be determined as human dignity.

This section engages us with a sophisticated preliminary critique of Leninism and sets out an entirely different notion of struggle, revolution and communism. This is a high standard to meet.

The Historical Critique of Lenin and the Posing of an Anti-Leninist Left

The second chapter, a reprint of council communist Cajo Brendel's "Kronstadt: Proletarian Spin-Off of the Russian Revolution" focuses on the Kronstadt Rebellion and its meaning for us today, attempting also to take up how Leninism responded to Kronstadt as an outgrowth of its own limitations.

Brendel argues that Kronstadt was the last gasp of the revolutionary moment in Russia begun in 1917, and that it represented the beginning of the end of the revolutionary upheaval from 1917 to 1921. All of this is true enough. Brendel is completely justified in his assessment that the crushing of Kronstadt showed finally and fully the anti-working class nature of the Bolshevik regime, as it had developed from its first decrees in 1917. Brendel wants to show us that there is something powerful to be learned from the Kronstadt uprising and that this, rather than the Bolsheviks' regime, points towards a liberatory practice. These mark the strengths of the article.

The article is marked by two fundamental weaknesses, however, which are shared to one degree or another by the third and fourth essays, as well: a historical determinism that forecloses a really radical critique, and a kind of moral criticism which rests upon this historical determinism and which seeks to create a 'good Marxism' which can be counterpoised to a 'bad Leninism.'

First, Brendel discusses the nature of the Russian Revolution and its possibilities. In effect, Brendel argues that the material conditions for a proletarian revolution did not exist in Russia in 1917. The result of this argument, however, is to foreclose a real critique of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. After all, if the only possibility for Russia was a "bourgeois revolution" (an idea which itself deserves to be criticized along the lines of Comninel's Rethinking the French Revolution11, whereby most Marxists conflate the overthrow of the absolutist state with social revolution), then the Bolsheviks followed a reasonable policy relative to the tasks at hand and smashing Kronstadt would not, in fact, have mattered since the Kronstadters were in effect 'storming heaven' in an isolated upsurge anyway. We are left with taking the side of the Kronstadt uprising because we take the side of the workers in all struggles, but with no hope that Kronstadt could have been anything other than an exercise in defeat.

The Bolsheviks, from this point of view, carried out a rigorous line of attack on feudal and semi-feudal social relations and opened up the possibility of the accumulation of capital i.e. the expansion of the capital-labor relation into the dominant social relation. The smashing of Kronstadt can be condemned as anti-working class, but it ends up being in fact the logical conclusion of a bourgeois regime establishing its power over and against the mass of workers and peasants.

The problem is that this point rests on historicist comparisons to 1796, 1848 and 1871. Neither the internal conditions in Russia, nor the international conditions, were anything like 1871, much less 1848 or 1796. In 1796, the working class as such barely even existed and the capital-labor relation held sway nowhere outside of England in any substantial way. In 1848 and even in 1871, the working class in France produced in workplaces of generally less than 10 workers, in highly skilled labor, and outside of Paris and Lyonnes, barely existed at all. In Russia, while the working class was small, at less than 10 percent of the total population in 1913, it was organized in large-scale production facilities, such as the Putilov works where tens of thousands of workers worked together under conditions more similar to their West and Central European counterparts. The working class also, despite its small size, accounted for over 40% of the wealth produced in Russia by 1913, giving it a disproportional social weight.

Internationally, even in 1871, capital itself had established itself as the dominant social relation only in England and in a handful of cities and regions in France, Germany, Holland, and the United States. In 1921, the capital-labor relation was the dominant social relation in Central and Western Europe and the United States and was spreading itself into Eastern Europe as well (both Poland and Czechoslovakia were more industrially developed than Russia in 1917.) The mass of workers and their degree of organization had expanded enormously.

The comparison does no hold up and instead, therefore, of a closed, deterministic, objectivist, and narrowly national approach, I suggest that we approach Kronstadt from the view that nothing was that decided, that Russia could still have reached out to an actually existing international working class movement. We do not know what might have happened had the workers' and peasants' struggles been allowed to unfold without their suppression by the Bolsheviks. It is this foreclosure on tremendous possibility that marks the counter-revolutionary nature of the Bolshevik regime, not just its conformity to the 'bourgeois stage' of development. But this is a critique unavailable to Brendel and it seriously undermines contemporary attempts to establish a radical basis for the critique of Lenin and Bolshevism in power.

This short circuits the critique of Leninism theoretically by separating 'Marxism' qua Leninism from 'Marxism' as some kind of, in my reading, positivist 'proletarian science.' I think that the dualism, between theory and practice/consciousness and matter/economics and politics in Brendel's critique bears the weaknesses of council communism, which never wholly broke with the 2nd International's positivist 'Marxism.' This problem resurfaces in the next two essays.

Brendel wants to posit Leninism as having nothing to do with 'Marxism.' Actually, 'Marxism' itself had precious little to do with Marx's work and even much of Engels' work, though Engels is in part to blame for the propagation of a positivist 'Marxism'. Lenin did not exist at all outside the 'Marxism' of the 2nd International, which had little to do with Marx.

We cannot support the idea, on the basis of their theory and practice, of a 'Marxism' in the 2nd International that was 'pure' relative to Lenin.2 Brendel says something that at first seems incoherent, which however replicates his moralistic critique of the Bolsheviks as if 'Marxism' did not already accord quite well with bourgeois ends. He says,

"Marxism, as Lenin understood it - and as he had to understand it - made it possible for him to gain deep insight into the essential problems of the Russian Revolution. That same Marxism provided the Bolshevik Party with a conceptual apparatus that stood in the most blatant contradiction to its own tasks and also to its practice."

And later Brendel says that

"This meant, as Preobraschenski publicly acknowledged during a regional conference in 1925, that Marxism in Russia had become a mere ideology."

We can only respond that this was already true of most 'Marxism', which via Social Democracy in power, would kill Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and become the platform of capitalist development in Europe, alongside fascism, for the next 75 years.

At which point, we fittingly arrive at Behrens' account, in the third essay, of some of the ideas of the Left within Social Democracy.

I found several useful starting points for further study of the Social Democratic Left, but Behrens' treatment suffers from feeling like a hodgepodge of different ideas and critiques. I suspect that that feeling has to do with the way in which Brendel lumps together a variety of Left oppositions to the Center and Right within social democracy. The movements from Luxemburg to the Bremen Left to the formation of the KAPD and the debates and differences between them is lost in what feels like the creation of a too-coherent already-anti-Leninist Left, a Left which in fact lacked the coherence one would expect from Behrens' article, and whose move to an explicit anti-Leninism after 1917 was founded upon a critique of Kautsky, Bebel, and the German Social Democracy itself.

This is not to say that it is not worthwhile to show that a variety of substantive critiques of both Lenin and Kautskyism existed in social democracy and that they may have had some common touchstones, but substantive critiques should be treated substantively and critically. Phillippe Bourinet's The Dutch and German Communist Left, 1900-1968 or John Gerber's Anton Pannekoek, which have the benefit of being book-length histories, do a much better job of capturing the complexity of the Social Democratic Left. The Behrens article, and not because it is too short, feels hagiographic.

This brings us to Simon Clark's essay, the fourth in the book. It is rigorously argued, careful, and detailed. However, it is mostly a critique of Plekhanov and Lenin prior to 1902. As such, it is an excellent primer on Russian the revolutionary movement in the 19th century, as well as the material situation in Russia up to 1902.

I especially like his extended critique of Plekhanov and Lenin's materialism as the recapitulation of 18th century French materialism and the linkages between Russian Populism and Bolshevism.

Clark decides, unlike Behrens but similarly to Brendel, to set up a fairly tight separation between Social Democracy as a whole and the Bolsheviks, by posing that they owed more to Russian Populism than to the SPD and Kautsky. Clark sites four key ideas Lenin imports from Populism that he counterpoises to 'mainstream' or 'orthodox' Social Democracy.

First, Clark says that Russian populism

"stressed the active role of revolutionary ideas in determining the course of history, and so gave the intellectuals a prominent political role. This was the element which was developed by Plekhanov and adopted from him by Lenin. The orthodox Marxism of the Second International certainly did not underestimate the role of ideas in historical development, but revolutionary ideas emerged out of the revolutionary movement, however much intellectuals might play a role in their formulation. Although Kautsky's theory gave the intellectuals a special position in the struggle for socialism, it did not give them any special authority."

The problem is that this is just plain wrong. Karl Kautsky, referred to at the time as the 'Pope of Marxism', who looked to Plekhanov for his philosophical ideas, most certainly did give them a special authority. However, the material situation between Germany and Russia differed radically. The dissident intelligentsia in Russia faced repression from Czarism and actively promoted the overthrow of the Czarist state. In 1905, the liberal intelligentsia was calling for the defeat of Russia by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War! The dissident intelligentsia under German capitalism was confronted with a much more open, liberal monarchist state which appeared to be reformable. Social Democracy even provided a space from which to affect democratic reform through its parliamentary and trade union organs. To compare the political situations flatly is to violate the vast contextual differences that underlay the different responses.

Supplementing this first claim about Populism privileging the intelligentsia over the masses, Clark then goes on to claim that Kautsky did not separate the political and the economic as Lenin did. But Kautsky clearly privileged the parliamentary and trade union elements within the party, that is those apparatuses which could most likely affect reform of a state perceived as mostly bourgeois democratic. This had nothing in common with the struggle to overthrow a feudal, absolutist state that blocked bourgeois democratic development. Lenin clearly understood this and also understood the unreliability of the bourgeois intelligentsia when he formulated the slogan of the 'democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants.'

The second major point for Clark is that

"populism stressed the power of the revolutionary will, expressed through a disciplined organization of dedicated revolutionaries, in realizing the revolutionary ideal. This was the idea which Lenin took from his revolutionary mentor, Chernyshevsky, but one which had been rejected by orthodox Marxists, who stressed the mass democratic character of the proletarian movement."

Kautsky and mainstream social democracy stressed the bourgeois democratic character of the movement. A radical, revolutionary will was unnecessary in Germany, according to the mainstream. Lenin and Kautsky differed, not theoretically, but on the application of that theory to their specific situations.

At this point, a common failing of all three of the 'historical' essays stands out. This is a failure prompted and covered by the failure to deal with Lenin and Bolshevism in a genuinely historical manner. If Lenin and Bolshevism were so outside of the mainstream, and if the Left of Social Democracy was, already in 1903, so "anti-Leninist", then why is it that Lenin and the Bolsheviks ended up on the same side as Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter, et al in the struggles within Social Democracy from 1905 to 1918? Why is Lenin partnered with them at the conferences at Stuttgart and Basel? Why are the Bolsheviks key in the formation of the Kienthal and Zimmerwald Left? In fact, in 1918, Luxemburg, for all of her criticism of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, says that at least they dared. One could read this as saying, "At least they had the revolutionary will!" Pannekoek, Gorter and the Bremen Left do not break with Lenin and the Third International until 1920. None of the three essays can answer this question because they construct a counter-ideology, instead of a historically grounded critique of both Lenin and of the rest of the Social Democratic Left.

The third major point really confused me. Let me quote a substantial part of it for the reader:

Third, it was marked by a radical rejection of the state, and opposition to any involvement in constitutional politics, on the grounds that the state was essentially the agent of capitalist development, while the basis of the new society lay outside the state, in the commune and in co-operative production. It accordingly had an insurrectionary view of the revolution, the task of which was to destroy the economic and political forces of capitalism to set free the elements of socialism. This idea was also rejected by orthodox Marxists, who certainly did not believe that socialism could be achieved by electoral means, but who regarded the democratization of the state and the achievement of civil liberties as a primary condition for the development of the workers' movement, and political agitation as a primary form of propaganda.

I have never heard anyone claim that Lenin rejected the state or that the basis of the new society was in the commune. The anti-statist view was supported by Pannekoek in his fights with Kautsky as early as 1910-11, well ahead of Lenin. Nor did Lenin reject participation in the state, as he argued that presence in the Dumas from the period from 1907-1912 was a tactical, not a principled question. Lenin also saw the revolution in terms of the 'democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants', a dictatorship that "regarded the democratization of the state and the achievement of civil liberties as a primary condition for the development of the workers' movement, and political agitation as a primary form of propaganda."

The fourth point may be summed up in this quote,

"Lenin's conception of revolutionary politics meant that it did not matter that the rural population was not organized as a part of the proletariat, and did not express proletarian or socialist aspirations, for the operative interests and aspirations of the peasantry were not those expressed by the peasants themselves, but those expressed on their behalf by the revolutionary party."

A cursory review of Lenin and the Bolsheviks' works from 1904 to 1912 clearly show that Lenin trusted the bourgeois revolutionary needs of the peasants more than that of the intelligentsia, but that beyond this point the peasantry would follow a directly bourgeois course of development and that would present a major obstacle for the working class.

The common crises of all three articles then find their expression in the failure to take up both the real history of Bolshevism and Lenin's politics, the relationship between Lenin and the rest of the Social Democratic Left, and the common limitations. Without such a careful operation, we are left with critiques which miss the mark and which do not dig deep enough to satisfy us.

The last article I found lacking in real historical grounding was George Caffentzis' piece. I understand and applaud Caffentzis' idea: we need to circulate struggles and create a public domain and public culture of revolution. And I am very much in agreement with the critique of Hardt and Negri's 'militantism', which should have been dispensed with ever since the Situationist International dealt that idea a theoretical death blow, even if it continues to reproduce itself because it reflects the interiorization of bourgeois social relations among radical movements.

My problem with Caffentzis' piece is that he reads his (valuable) insights and concerns into Lenin. I would say that if anything, it is Negri who remains true to Lenin, as the Militant, posed as the 'brain' of the 'brainless' Multitude, remains true to Lenin, or rather to the young Lenin, since a careful reading of Lenin's work after 1905 shows that he moves away from his notion, taken directly from Kautsky, that "socialist consciousness comes from the outside", from the scientific intellectuals of the party. Lenin goes much further than Kautsky or mainstream Social Democracy on this question, but he never breaks with a statist and state capitalist conception of the revolution. If Lenin clings to the vanguard party, it is because he clings to the statist notions of revolution appropriate and reflective of a bourgeois revolution, but not of workers' revolution. And these ideas found their base in classical Social Democracy, not outside of it.

A Historically anti-Leninist Left and an anti-Leninist practice developed, and in so far as we see that from the discussion of Kronstadt and the work of people like Luxemburg and Pannekoek, the first three articles are valuable. But this practice consciously, and only partially, broke with Social Democracy before it broke with Lenin. A more accurate, less demonizing, and therefore more genuinely damning historical critique of Bolshevism, however, has yet to be made.

What About Today?

The more historical articles do not constitute what is most important in this book. The remaining articles take up where the Introduction left off, putting forward very sharp critiques of Leninism and projecting a very powerful way of rethinking struggle and revolution.

The piece I am most ambiguous on, but which I think is largely excellent, is Mike Rooke's The Dialectic of Labour and Human Emancipation. His working up of Marx's ideas as a critique, of a break, with philosophy, is excellent. He shows in painstaking detail the critique of Enlightenment dualism by Marx, and its re-emergence in Orthodox Marxism, including Plekhanov and Lenin. He shows us the importance of the concepts of alienated labor, of fetishism, and of the dialectic of working class self-emancipation. His resurrection of communism as "the free association of producers" and as the abolition of classes, including the proletariat, is a welcome return to the core of Marx's liberatory critique of capital.

He has sharp grasp of Marx's work as a critique of political economy and philosophy, not a perfection of them. Marx is not creating an alternate, better version, but is critiquing them as fundamentally the expressions of a society based upon alienated social relations. In the process, he, like the rest of the articles of this book, resituates the activity of the working class as the Subject of the revolution, not the Party.

Rooke shows how the re-emergence of materialist dualism in the 2nd and 3rd Internationals both flowed from the conditions obtaining in Russia and Germany, but also how it played into the Bolshevik conception of a statist revolution that involved a re-imposition of the separation of the producers from the means of producing that is at the heart of the capital-labor relation. He also grounds the various Left critiques of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the course of the revolutionary struggles from 1917-23 and why Trotskyism merely recapitulated Lenin's weaknesses and therefore has no real critique, for all of its at times valid criticisms, of what happened with the Russian Revolution.

Now I want to quibble on two points.

First, I disagree with Rooke's conception that Marx founded an "ontology of labour." The reason I want to make an issue of this is that a certain brand of 'Spinozist' communism descended from Deleuze and Guattari, has made its way into serious communist discourse, especially through Negri and Hardt. As I see it, the nexus of their arguments has a lot to do with reading Marx's work as ontological (this is also something to be found in Bashkar's Critical Realism.) The problem is that ontology is concerned with 'being', with what 'is.' I am not per se against seeing the ontological aspects of Marx's work, so much as I see Marx (and Hegel) as putting ontology into its proper place, as subordinate to the process of becoming. Being finds itself reified, objectified, under capital, and as such appears to be the primary category. But this leads us back to the objectivism of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals.

Objectivism tends to annihilate the activity of the Subject, to reduce capital to a capitalist system and class struggle to a mediating role between structures, reducing practical-critical activity to a question of agency. The self-creating, and therefore the self-liberating, aspect of labor is lost. Communism, of course, is not the obliteration of objectification, but the return of objectification to the flow of life. Objects no longer stand as reified, over and against us. Our activity is objectified in one moment only to return to us again because the objects of our self-activity have become subordinated to our conscious control.

The smaller, second point, involves Rooke's answer to the question "What is to be done?" (Not literally, but I think most of the articles address their conclusion to that question implicitly.) We need to give "theoretical and programmatic" form to the dialectic of class struggle. It is the programmatic aspect that I wonder about. A programme, according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary [my italics], is "That which is written or printed as a public notice or advertisement; a scheme; a prospectus; especially, a brief outline or explanation of the order to be pursued, or the subjects embraced, in any public exercise, performance, or entertainment; a preliminary sketch."

I am concerned that we see the return of the idea of a pedagogical politics, of a politics of 'showing the way.' This seems to me a back door to a kind of party politics. And I see it as connected to the approach to Marx and labor as one which is properly speaking 'ontological.' Even if Rooke raises the matter only obliquely, this gets at a question I will return to in the conclusion, which is the relative absence in the book of any discussion of what pro-revolutionaries should do and what organizational activity, if any, we should embrace.

Following this essay, and opening up the second section of the book, is the excellent piece by Alberto Bonnet, The Command of Money-Capital and the Latin American Crises. Focussing on the Latin America, Bonnet provides a look at the current crisis which goes beyond the typical imperialism-centered analysis. The book is not a critique of Lenin in a textual sense, but in the sense that he provides a radical alternative grounded in the idea that crisis is the expression of class struggle.

Unlike Lenin's approach and that of most contemporary Marxists, Bonnet does not situate crisis at the level of the competition between capitals, but on the level of global capital versus global labor.

Through this, Bonnet shows how the crises of the last 10 years have been grounded in what he calls "the command-in-crisis of money capital", in which the crisis between capital and labor, over re-establishing a regime of accumulation has taken the form of the flight of capital from the main centers of accumulation in the post-WWII period to the rest of the world in the form of money-capital.

This has involved money-capital taking several forms, first as long-term public debt through loans to the so-called 'Third World' in the late 1970's and early 1980's, until the debt crisis of 1982. Then, we see the inflation of the stock market and the financial balloons which successively blew up in the US in 1987 and then, more seriously, in Germany and Japan in the early 1990's, until the crisis reached a new point around the Peso Crisis in 1994, brought on, in no small part, by the specific situation created by the uprising in Chiapas.

He shows how money-capital has been the form used by capital to flee insubordinate labor in some places with the hope of finding subordinate labor in other places. Much to capital's dismay, the 'other places' have often turned into spots of increasingly sharp class struggle as well, such as South Korea, Brazil, Ecuador and now Argentina. In effect, money-capital, transformed by the Brady Plan from long-term public debt to long-term private debt by the transformation of debt into title or share equity, through the privatization of state-owned companies, has been an attempt to discipline labor without direct confrontation.

The result has been the increasing inflation of credit and titles which are nothing but a promise that capital will tomorrow or the day after or at some point in the future be able to secure fresh surplus value from the exploitation of labor. And therein lays the problem of the current crises: labor does not come so willingly and money-capital requires that, at some point, the piper be paid with fresh values, i.e. that exploitation resume at a level adequate to a new round of accumulation.

I cannot do this long article justice in a short review, but it is an excellent formulation of the current situation, one which offers a cogent alternative to the capital versus capital model of Leninism which has no grounding in exploitation. He also problematizes the attempt to periodize capital through transformations at the level of capitalist competition, of what would by some like Aglietta be referred to as 'regimes of accumulation.'

On the whole, this piece lays out the current crisis as one between capital and labor globally. My only critique is that I wished it had drawn more on the crisis as one of over-accumulation, which is to say, one of over-exploitation. But the central issue was to show the form of the current crisis and this essay paints a rather more convincing picture than that of Brenner's 1998 book or of much else that I have seen, one in which struggle is resituated as the center of crisis.

In his solo essay, Bonefeld takes up the problem of communism as 'human emancipation.' What is the content of communism, even though we cannot specify its form? It is the abolition of alienated social relations and the reconstitution of society on the basis of the social individual and the freely associated producers.

Where does the state fit into this? Well, quite simply, it doesn't. The statist notion of revolution is nothing else but the return to capitalism, the subversion of the movement of the class. Bonefeld shows how the state rests upon the capital-labor relation, upon the very relations it is charged with overcoming. The means must be appropriate to the ends and vice versa. In the process of critiquing the party-state dialectic, Bonefeld resurrects the notion of spontaneity, rescued from the treatment of it as intuitive action counterpoised to conscious action. Bonefeld returns us to a more Hegelian notion of spontaneity, in which spontaneity depends on the conscious acceptance of the conditions which give rise to activity. Spontaneity is here reflexive and a process of self-determination relative to the conditions which determine my actions.3

Bonefeld's piece returns us in a rigorous way to the idea that Marx was not joking when he said that "Communism is the real movement of the class", but where by real Marx was indicating actual. Communism is not a state or a society 'out there', but the real content of our struggles to emancipate ourselves. In the process, he makes a detailed critique of the central tenets of Leninism which is well worth the work.

Sergio Tischler's solo essay starts from Lenin's reification of the political and economic as separate and separable moments, and the resulting separating of the subject of revolution from the object of revolution. For Tischler, Lenin aims at revolution, but conceives of this within the dominant forms of reified social theory, and therefore ends up mirroring Max Weber. Lenin's 'professional revolutionary' and Weber's 'politics as a vocation' are two sides of the same process, one grounded in the oppositional party and the other grounded in the state, but with the same logic, which Guy Debord, in Society of the Spectacle referred to as the logic of "total social management." The party and the state are granted theoretical and practical autonomy and equivalence, relative to society and social classes, a point reinforced by Lenin's argument that the vanguard party form was appropriate to battle with the state under monopoly capital.

Tischler then goes on to situate the means by which Lenin became so important a presence, and it is not on the basis of Lenin's success, but on the basis of the failure of the European revolutions. Their defeat creates the conditions under which Lenin and Bolshevism appear victorious, to have answers not given by anyone else. This also coincides with Lenin theorizing the problems of bourgeois democratic 'revolution' in a country with a moribund bourgeois class. The problem then is for the party to take up the role as Subject of the revolution, in which the Party now becomes the Subject of the revolution and the working class becomes the Object of the Party's activity, its milieu, its instrument.

Counterpoising Luxemburg to Lenin here involves a problem, in that Tischler overlooks the degree to which Luxemburg is involved in, and dedicated to, the importance of Social Democracy as a political organization, as the organized expression of the working class. She cannot be lumped incautiously, then, with Pannekoek, Gorter and Ruhle, who break with this conception, nor could an adequate treatment of Luxemburg's critique ignore or treat as irrelevant, Luxemburg's own dictatorial control of the Polish social democratic party to which she belonged.

This aside, since a critique of history of Luxemburg is not Tischler's object, is his treatment of class as an 'illumination', as in effect, a defetishizing, negative category and social formation, instead of Lenin's instrumental and objectivist one. This is a notion of class that accords well with Bonefeld and Holloway's rejection of a definitional, sociological conception of class and the class Subject.

Finally, Tischler poses revolution as the liberation of time from capital's homogenous, abstract linearity. Revolution is not 'progressive', but negating. We move here from revolutions as the 'locomotive of history', but which is also history as the longest running train wreck, to time as open and uncertain, as multiple and diffuse and non-linear, as non-commodity time. Certainty belongs to capital and its timeline, ours is rather the non-linear time of the Zapatista struggle and discourse, which has refused immediate decisions and fixed timetable because they would assume the ability of the Zapatistas to decide that which can only be decided collectively, by obeying. And this opens us to what is exciting and novel in the Zapatista's reformulation of the problem of civil society which goes beyond and therefore escapes the defining and constraining limitations of its Enlightenment (bourgeois) usage.

Finally, in the last section, we come to Johannes Agnoli and John Holloway's essays.

Agnoli's essay is best understood as a critique of the possibility of institutional politics and the entrapment of resistance in the state. There are no shortcuts through the houses of state power. Using the example of the German Greens, Agnoli makes the point that instead of entering the front door and then slipping out the back, use of the institutions requires us to enter at the bottom floor and ascend upwards. The problem is that there is no backdoor out. To use the house, one must ascend to the upper floors, where no backdoors exist and where eventually even jumping out a window appears to be suicide (my expansion on Agnoli's pithy metaphor.)

He concludes that a revolutionary politics must remain rigorously outside the halls of power if it wishes to affect radical social transformation. Put simply, you won't burn the house down if you are sitting inside of it! But the organizational forms appropriate to this task cannot be given in advance. Without discussing any of the previous attempts at organization, Agnoli encourages us to not think formalistically about the problem, as if we could theorize in advance the 'correct' organizational form, but instead challenges us to look for it in our practice, in the conditions of our struggles.

The book ends with John Holloway's essay. I like the title, Revolt and Revolution Or Get out of the Way, Capital! It captures the essence of Holloway's piece: that we seek to get capital out of the way of our access to the means of creating our own lives (commonly referred to in Marxist literature as the socialization of the means of production.)

Taking up the language and categories of his book, Holloway shows how capital is based on repulsion, on the capacity of capital to flee labor and labor to flee capital. Unlike slavery and feudalism, where flight was not a part of the relationship of exploitation, but rather of its breaking point, the capital-labor relation allows a relative freedom, what Marx called the 'dual freedom of labor': free from physical compulsion and free from the means of production. Both labor and capital can and do move, in a dance of repulsion and attraction.

But this dance is not symmetrical. Capital must always come back to labor, must reproduce itself as the conditions of the exploitation of labor, as the extraction of surplus value from labor as value-creating. Labor, however, is not required to come back to capital. But in reusing to come back, labor faces grave dangers. In refusing to come back as individuals, we risk starvation, imprisonment, ostracization and ultimately annihilation, socially, physically or both. This means that to really flee, to be done with capital, our flight must be collective.

Our flight must also pose, either before or after we flee, but in the process of fleeing to be certain, the means by which we will survive to enjoy and expand on our new found freedom. We must create the conditions for our reproduction and that involves the development of new social relations in the process of fleeing.

In less literary language, flight is revolt, and collective flight is revolution, but revolution cannot except itself from immediately generating new human relations, new means of living. In other words, we are returned to Werner Bonefeld's point that means and ends/ends and means, are inextricably intertwined. We cannot struggle alienatedly today with the thought that when we have escaped 'the capitalists' that we will build something new then. Rather, our escape is not spatial, but an escape from social relations whose conditions we cannot afford to reproduce, lest we, like Lenin and the Bolsheviks, find ourselves creating new masters to stand in for the alienated relations of capital we have preserved. Emancipation does not happen after 'the' revolution; revolution and emancipation are one and the same process of negation and creation.

Lenin and Social Democracy cut off emancipation from revolution, as did council communism to the degree that it accepted the idea that revolution is about who controls the means of production rather than the total transformation of social relations in the process of revolution. The only major objection I have to Holloway's piece is that, in emphasizing a dialectic of negativity, Holloway does not emphasize sufficiently the content of communism. Given that other articles did so, this is less of a problem than it might otherwise be.

By Way of a Conclusion

Not that I have taken an uncritical view of this book, but I would like to begin with some critical comments. I had two general problems with the book. The first is the book's failure to deal accurately and satisfyingly with Leninism in Lenin's lifetime and its real, historical relationship to the rest of the Social Democratic Left. I have dealt with this above and won't repeat myself except to say that the articles of which I am largely critical will confuse, not clarify, the questions raised so well in the rest of this book for the reader who is not already well-informed on the history and the theory of early 20th century Social Democracy and its oppositions.

The second problem I have is that while at times the book does an excellent job of posing the content of the self-organization of the class, i.e. of the content of revolution and communism, it almost never breaches the problem of the role of pro-revolutionaries and their organization, and the relationship of pro-revolutionaries and pro-revolutionary organizations to the class struggle and the revolutionary organizations of the class as a whole. I am not proposing that the book should have speculated on the correct form of such an organization any more than the essays should have made a fetish out of the council form of workers' anti-power. But I can assume that some of the people who read this book will want to participate with other communists and anarchists in an organized way, to work together collectively not to lead or direct the class struggle, but to participate in it in a way which is effective and which promotes the struggles of the class.

Therefore, relative to the idea of the book, only Caffentzis' piece takes up the problem concretely, whether or not he reads Lenin too generously, and proposes that we need to create a culture, a public space, for revolutionary struggle and ideas. He promotes the idea that this be a space open to and designed for us sinners, rather than a space for Negri and Hardt's saints. This space would circulate the struggles of the class, of all struggles against capital and be a forum for the critique of capital. Tischler and Agnoli also provide us with clues in this direction, as does Bonefeld, albeit only implicitly.

But I admit that a discussion of the ideas of C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya's "full fountain pen" idea, that an organization of revolutionaries provide a medium or multiple mediums, for the workers to say what they want in their own words, to allow them to hear each other and debate, would have been both useful and appropriate. Or to take up James' later idea that the task of an organization of revolutionaries involves recognizing and recording the changes and struggles of the class; to, as Rooke puts it, theorize the developments adequately in order to bring out as clearly as possible the ways in which current, seemingly limited struggles contain within themselves the seeds of the abolition of capital. Or to take up the practice of the Situationist International as a body that not only attempted to take up these ideas, but to also find a form of organization in which ends and means reflected each other so that the organization did not become another bureaucratic organization existing for its own sake (something which the S.I. lived up to in dissolving itself when it seemed to no longer have a role to play.) If nothing else, to point the less-than-encyclopaedic among us to people who have grappled seriously with this question of what the revolutionaries without access to university publishing houses should take up these tasks.

Towards this end, I want to quote the document "What We Stand For" from the British group Solidarity, which captures all of these in some way, whatever its limitations were, if for no other reason than Solidarity drew from the tradition of James, Dunayevskaya, Socialisme ou Barbarie and the S.I., and because maybe this provides a leaping-off point, not a point of closure, to this question:

7. Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.
8. No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its power without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious, autonomous action of the vast majority of the people themselves. The building of socialism will require mass understanding and mass participation. By their rigid hierarchical structure, by their ideas and by their activities, both social- democratic and Bolshevik types of organisations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of participation. The idea that socialism can somehow be achieved by an elite party (however revolutionary') acting 'on behalf of' the working class is both absurd and reactionary.
9. We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness. On the contrary we believe that its conditions of life and its experiences in production constantly drive the working class to adopt priorities and values and to find methods of Organisation which challenge the established social order and established pattern of thought. These responses are implicitly socialist, On the other hand, the working class is fragmented, dispossessed of the means of communication, and its various sections are at different levels of awareness and consciousness. The task of the revolutionary Organisation is to help give proletarian consciousness an explicitly socialist content, to give practical assistance to workers in struggle, and to help those in different areas to exchange experiences and link up with one another.
10. We do not see ourselves as yet another leadership, but merely as an instrument of working class action. The function of SOLIDARITY is to help all those who are in conflict with the present authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to generalise their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed.

On the whole, this is an excellent book for those who want a critique of Leninism as an ideology of revolution and who want to wrestle seriously with the relevance and meaning of anti-capitalism and revolution. The critiques are generally strong and exciting. Whatever its weaknesses, the greatest weakness is the price, its form as a commodity! This will require people to come up with novel ways of getting their hands on this important contribution to the critique of capital in all its forms, including in the guise of 'revolutionary' ideology, and which resituates dignity as the Subject of our struggles.4 This book deserves to be read and circulated widely as a counter to the ideological baggage of past generations.

Chris Wright
March 2003

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redtwister
Nov 27 2005 18:22

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