In this concise1953 programmatic text presented at the Genoa Meeting of the International Communist Party, Amadeo Bordiga sets forth a series of theses outlining the perspectives for revolution in the post-war world, and emphasizes that it will have to take place in the West, because of its more advanced capitalism, rather than in the less developed capitalism of Russia, based on Marx’s theory of the increasing productivity of labor and the falling rate of profit, and refers to the absence of a “communist party in the U.S. [with] an integral revolutionary program”, despite the maturity of the objective conditions there, as a “major historical problem”.
The Anti-capitalist Revolution in the West – Amadeo Bordiga
Now that we are able to assess the worldwide phase following the second imperialist war, and now that it is clear that the consolidation, after two victorious wars, of the major capitalist imperialist power centers will not be characterized by their coexistence (since they cannot coexist) with the consolidation of a workers state that is building socialism in the east, but that we are instead witnessing a relation between mature forms of capitalism and young and recent forms of capitalism, which will unfold in the framework of a single worldwide commodity economy, and that armed conflicts over markets will ensue, since there are many possible points of fracture, our attention must be directed to the transition from full capitalism to socialist society in the West. Here we are dealing with a revolution that is not double, and not “impure”.
Just as we have reduced Stalin’s “official” data concerning the Russian social economy to the classical elements that define capitalism, thus refuting the two theories according to which these same data are supposed to correspond to either the socialist form or to a “new” form previously unknown to Marxism (the second thesis is more catastrophic than the first), so too do the data from the western economy, and, in the first place, the data from the U.S., even though they are taken from the “official” sources of the infectious propaganda of the “free world”, totally coincide with the Marxist description of capitalism, from which we may deduce, without any other recourse and in opposition to the apologetics of equilibrium and progress, the course of the internal crises of production, wars for markets, the revolutionary overthrow, the proletarian conquest of power with the destruction of the capitalist state, the proletarian dictatorship and the elimination of all bourgeois forms of production.
Once the capitalist mode of production had been established, it was only capable of sustaining itself by the continuous growth, not of the provision of resources and means of production for a better life for man, with fewer risks and torments and less effort, but of the mass of commodities produced and sold. Because the population grew at a slower rate than the mass of products, the latter had to be transformed into more items of consumption (regardless of their nature), and new means of production, thus leading the system to an impasse. This is the essential nature of the capitalist mode of production, inseparable from the increasing productive power of the material mechanisms provided by science and technology. All its other features relating to the statistical composition of the classes and the mechanisms—which are undoubtedly influential—of its administrative, juridical, political, organization and ideological superstructures, are merely secondary and accessory, and do not modify the terms of its fundamental antithesis with the communist mode of production, contained in toto and immutably, since the “Manifesto” of 1848, in the revolutionary proletarian doctrine.
In the whole world economy the characteristics of the rise and development of capitalism, crystallized in Marx’s monolithic evaluation, have been repeatedly verified, and what is more, they have been further reinforced, in conformity with the laws that were deduced above all from the cycles of English capitalism: successive and merciless expropriations of all the possessors of reserves of commodities and means of production (artisans, peasants, small- and medium-sized merchants, manufacturers and depositors); the accumulation of capital in the form of an increasingly larger mass, in the relative and absolute sense, of instruments of production that are augmented and renewed endlessly (and also irrationally), and the concentration of these social forces in a constantly diminishing number of “hands” (and not of “heads”, which was a pre-capitalist concept), thus creating gigantic complexes of factories and productive facilities such as had never been seen before; an uncontrollable extension, after the formation of the national markets, of the world market, and the dissolution of the closed islands of labor-consumption that still survived in the world.
This series of affirmations of a process that has proceeded at a faster rate than was even expected by our theoreticians is presented most conspicuously by the U.S. economy, by its production data and by its constantly expanding domestic economic development. The question is whether the continuous development without convulsions of such a social form is possible; or whether we should expect harsh shocks, profound crises and upheavals that will strike at the foundations of the system. The events of the two great world wars and of the gigantic crisis of the entire economic apparatus that took place between them, together with the instability, in every sense of the word, of this agitated post-war world, are sufficient to provide an answer to this question, so that the description of this society as prosperous, as heading towards a leveling of the standard of living and individual wealth, as composed of a middle class without extremes of rich or poor, and furthermore as lacking open trade union struggles and parties with an anti-constitutional program, will be shattered into pieces. Currently, even the most banal analysis of the American economic structure allows us to relegate among the ghosts of the past the old administrative, federative, non-bureaucratic and non-militaristic state, which used to be contrasted to the belligerent European powers that had been engaged in struggles for hegemony for centuries: in this respect, the data from the U.S. are far in excess of all the absolute and relative indices of today’s world and of human history.
The description of such an economy, even though based for the moment on deductions concerning only domestic relations, which are eulogized as stable amidst the confessed instabilities of international affairs (since the U.S. has renounced, on the other hand, its old theory of not getting involved in foreign entanglements outside North America), leads directly to the confirmation of all the Marxist laws and to the historical condemnation of the capitalist mode of production, which no one can stop in its race towards catastrophe and revolution.
The massive American network of bases and installations, which possesses world supremacy, and hyper-industrialization extended every sphere of activity, shows a society that is head and shoulders above all the others with respect to the rule of “dead labor” (Marx), or capital crystallized in the form of machinery, buildings and masses of raw and semi-finished materials, over “living labor”, that is, the incessant activity of living men in production. The constantly lauded freedom on the juridical plane cannot dissimulate the weight and the pressure of this corpse that rules over the bodies of the living.
The rising standard of living of the worker, with respect to the mass of his consumption reduced to a single measure of value, merely serves to confirm the Marxist laws of the increasing productivity of labor. Certain crucial dates—1848, 1914, 1929, 1932, 1952—stand out in the statistics, but they only illustrate the already foreseen development of the cycle. If the statistics boast of an increase of wages in ten years of 280%, while the increase of the cost of living was 180%, this is to say that the worker with a wage of 380 can buy 280, that is, that the increase is reduced to 35%. At the same time, it is admitted that productivity has increased by 250%! Thus, the worker gives three and a half times more but only receives one and a third times as much: exploitation and surplus value have increased enormously.
It is absolutely clear that the law of increasing pauperization does not mean a decline of the nominal or real wage, but the increase of the extortion of surplus value and the increase in the number of those who are expropriated of all their reserves.
The increase of the productivity of labor, which over the course of the whole cycle of capitalism in the U.S. has grown by hundreds of percent, means that in the same duration of labor hundreds of times more products are produced than in the past. Previously, the capitalist anticipated that one unit of labor power would work up one unit of raw materials; today, the proportion is one unit of labor power to ten or twenty units of raw materials. If his profit margin is still the same with respect to the value of the product sold, his profit would be ten or twenty times higher. For this to be the case, however, it would be necessary for this quantity of products, now ten or twenty times greater, to find buyers. And then the capitalist would content himself with a lesser “rate of profit” and increase the worker’s pay, even if we assume that the real value doubled every time that productivity is increased tenfold; at the same time, the sales price is reduced because the commodity contains two rather than ten units of labor power, and finds customers in his own labor force. This is the law of the falling rate of profit with the increase of the productivity of labor and of the organic composition of capital (that is, the relation between constant capital and total capital). All the discussions about the impossibility of the continuation of this system derive from and are based upon the verification of the law of the falling rate of profit (which Stalin disregards as a result of imprudence or capitalist inclinations).1
Against these positions (and all the more insofar as they become more obvious and oppressive) stand the opposed positions of the communists: Living labor must dominate dead labor! Increasing productivity must be oriented, not towards a demented parallel increase in the production of what is useless—when not of what is harmful—but towards the improvement of the conditions of living labor, that is, to the drastic reduction of the working day.
The U.S. (which Engels already defined in 1850 as the country that doubled its population every twenty years), although now it might be the country in which productivity triples every ten years and therefore multiplies by a factor of six in twenty years (or, with the law of geometrical progression that Stalin dreamed of applying in Russia, it would be nine times more), is therefore not the country where “European” socialism is inapplicable, but the one that has left us far behind in the advance towards the crisis of overproduction and towards the explosion point of capitalism.
In the economic sense, the availability to the proletarian of consumer credit for luxury articles turns him into a total “pauper” without any reserves: his balance sheet has not only come to be that of someone who possesses zero, but that of someone who has mortgaged a mass of future labor in order even to reach zero: it is a veritable partial slavery. Socially, all these consumer transactions correspond to networks of influence and often to degenerative corruption for the benefit of the ruling class and to trends with regard to customs and ideologies that are advantageous to the ruling class. The monstrous apparatus of advertising constrains the proletariat to buy with his disposable income products of consumption of dubious quality which are frequently harmful. Personal freedom in prosperous America adds to the despotism of the factory of capital the despotism and the dictatorship over standardized consumption goods based on canned food for the exploited class, for which absurd needs are fabricated in order not to give it free time and in order not to staunch the flood of commodities.
The system of distributing minimal percentages of the factory’s profits proportionally to the annual wage does not have any different effect. Once one examines certain statistical data, one obtains in the best case a wage increase of 5%, or a little more, which is more than compensated for by the zeal for hard work thereby induced in the ingenuous and duped “stockholder”.
The theory of recurring and ever more serious crises has as its basis the theory of the increase of productivity and of the falling rate of profit. This theory would be refuted only if these characteristic trends of the course of capitalist development were to cease to be displayed. But it is entirely otherwise in the U.S., and this is demonstrated even by comparison with the industrialists here in Italy who seek, for example, to increase the current 80 tons of steel produced annually per worker to the U.S. level of 200 tons of steel per worker per year. Who does not want to have 4% of 200 instead of 5% of 80?
The intrinsic economic crisis, that is, that of the “abstract” (as in Marx) America that must eat all that it produces, is inscribed in formulas and sketched out in inexorable trend lines. A graph that depicts the average price of bread, tells us that today the worker buys a pound of bread with 6 minutes of his pay, while in 1914 he had to purchase it with 17 minutes of his pay. The working class population has certainly grown at a faster rate than the total population. How will the American citizens eat triple the quantity of bread compared to what they ate in 1914, and maybe ten times as much as in 1848? So that all that bread does not spoil they will have to follow the old advice of “let them eat cake”! At a certain point, on the one hand, a pound of bread will no longer be sold, and, on the other hand, the worker will be fired and will not even be able to buy a pound of bread. Briefly, this is why another, even blacker, Black Friday will come.
One solution lies in stuffing bread down the throats of the peoples who have until recently eaten millet, rice or plantains (maybe the Mau-Mau are right?). And to accomplish this, anyone who tries to prevent such shipments will be bombed, and later the same fate will await anyone who tries to sell rice and plantains at a cheaper price than that of the imported wheat. This is imperialism. If the Marxist theory of crises and catastrophe fits like a ring on a finger, this is no less true of imperialism and war, and the data that lie at the basis of Lenin’s Imperialism, which were compiled in 1915, are today supplied by the American statistics with even greater effect.
Likewise, the statistics contrasting the standard of living in the U.S. with that of the other countries that compose its court: first of all, with its allies; then with its enemies, if one pound of flour costs 4 out of the 6 minutes the worker needs to work to buy bread in America, it costs 27 minutes in Russia, according to U.S. statistics. Even if the Russian figure were to be lower, it is nonetheless true that in the eastern zone the laws of increasing productivity, of the composition of capital and of the falling rate of profit still have a long way to go, sowing much confusion as a result among those who have a contrary view of the comparative prospects for revolution in these two countries.
Once the first launch platform has been built, regardless of where—maybe on the moon—and the first V2 is fired, it will certainly have to strike at the very heart of the American system in order to deal the powerful blow that will result in a cessation of locally increasing consumption and production, demonstrating that it is quite true that “man does not live on bread alone”, but it is also true that if this man makes a day’s worth of bread in six minutes, when he works more than two hours a day he is not a man but a fool.
It is a major historical problem that is posed on a world scale: the determination of why there is no communist party in the U.S. that has an integral revolutionary program, despite the fact that its program would be so “up to date” and also that the maturity of the conditions in the U.S. is so advanced that it actually means rotting on its feet.
The third opportunist wave that has shattered the Marxist movement of the post-war periods after the first and second worldwide conflicts has three aspects: reduction to capitalism of the form of production that was developing in Russia; abandonment of communist demands by the Russian political state; policy of military alliances of the latter and of political alliances of its parallel parties in the West for demands of a bourgeois and democratic nature.
The sudden transition from apology for the American capitalist regime, as the friend and savior of the world proletariat, to its denunciation as the enemy of the working class, as if it had only become such an enemy in 1946, can only sabotage in advance the revolutionary preparation of the proletariat in the U.S. and interpose historical obstacles to the development of a real class party in that country.
It is not possible to overcome this situation except with regard to all its aspects: the demonstration that there is no construction of socialism in Russia; that if the Russian state will fight it will not be for socialism, but for imperial rivalries; the demonstration, above all, that in the west, democratic, popular and progressive goals do not serve the interests of the working class, but serve to maintain a rotten capitalism on its feet.
Over the course of this long labor of reconstruction (which must proceed at the same pace as the advance of the crisis of the western and U.S. form of production, which possesses all the determinant objective conditions for this crisis to take place within no more than a few decades, regardless of the diversions of internal politics and world politics), we must not succumb to the illusion that new expedients or alignments that are proclaimed by some alleged students of history are worth more than the historical confirmations already provided by events for the correctly understood and followed original Marxist construction. The ideological conditions, the conditions of consciousness, and of will, are not a separate problem nor are they regulated by different influences than the conditions of reality, of interests and of forces.
The communist party advocates a future in which there will be a shorter working day directed towards useful goals in the service of life, and works in favor of this outcome for the future, basing itself for this purpose on all real developments. This conquest, which seems to be wretchedly expressed in hours and reduced to a material accounting, represents a gigantic victory, the greatest one possible, with respect to the necessity that enslaves us and is dragging all of us along in its wake. Even then, once capitalism and classes have been abolished, the human species will still be subject to necessity imposed by natural forces, and the absolute philosophical proposition of freedom will still be a fantasy.
Anyone who, precisely in the maelstrom of today’s world, instead of finding the focal point of the current, of this impersonal notion of the future conditions, in a labor that has lasted entire generations, and wants to instead locate new exciting recipes in the domain of his poor head and dictate new formulas, must be considered to be more harmful than the most accursed conformists and servants of the system of capital, and than the priests of its eternity.
International Communist Party, Genoa Meeting, April 26, 1953
Translated in December 2013 from the Spanish translation published in El Programa Comunista, no. 33.
Source of Spanish translation: http://www.sinistra.net/lib/upt/elproc/moqa/moqaajocis.html
- 1 See the pamphlet, Dialogato con Stalin (French translation: Dialogue avec Staline).