First published in 1995 in France: Section One, “The Historical Balance Sheet” includes chapters on: communist movements throughout history; Marx and Engels and communism; “Real” vs. “Formal” domination of capital and the importance of this distinction for understanding the failure of the old workers movements (capitalism was not “obsolete” prior to 1945). Section Two, “Perspectives”, contains an extensive discussion of: the economic roots of capitalism’s current crisis (the “final stage of its cycle”); the communist revolution; and socialism.
Communism Has Not Yet Begun – Claude Bitot
Author’s Preface to the Spanish Edition
This preface to the Spanish edition of this book, first published in France in 1995, provides the opportunity to clearly set forth the resolutely determinist conception that informed the book’s assessment of communism’s past as well as its future, without which the latter would be unintelligible.
Marx’s great contribution was to have revealed the laws and tendencies that are engendered with “an iron necessity” by the capitalist mode of production. Marx also claimed, with reference to England, that “the most industrially developed country only shows the less developed countries the image of their own future”. This prediction has been fully confirmed. Since Marx’s time capitalism has done nothing but expand and grow, in the process of transformation from a still totally “formal” domination to an increasingly “real” domination (a transition explained in this book).
This capitalist determinism explains why the communist movement of the past, whose balance sheet is set forth in this book, could not succeed in its revolutionary enterprise of overthrowing capitalism. The latter, programmed in such a way as to reach the end of its historical trajectory, had sufficient resources and solvency to confront such a movement and thus engineer its downfall. Hence the successive defeats, the dead ends, the capitulations and the deformations experienced by the communist movement, to the point where today one could say that nothing remains of it, at a time when its perspective is totally eclipsed. If it has not completely disappeared, nothing is left of it except a weak, vacillating and flickering appeal. Thus, it is said that communism might be “one possibility” among others of history, a “choice” on the part of humanity that could be taken provided that humanity makes “the correct choice”. Why is this “possibility” better than any other? No one knows. Why the “correct choice” rather than “a mistaken one”? No one knows this either. In short, the fact that nothing is known amounts to full indeterminism and everything is left to a vague “free will”. In fact, the time is long past when revolutionary fervor was in the ascendant, and militants proclaimed communism in a resolute manner, without equivocations, as if it had already come about.
Such “disenchantment” did not arise by chance. It derives from modern capitalist domination, which has “rationalized” the world in such a way that it has created a world in its own image: a world driven by economic and social determinisms that are thought to be eternal and from which no one can escape including the capitalists. “There is no future”, as the English punks said.
From this moment on, finding ourselves in a closed world, padlocked and without a key, must we conclude, together with the minions of capitalism, that this is “the impassable and limitless horizon of humanity”, inviting those peoples who have not yet totally surrendered to it to stop procrastinating? Once again it is the merit of Marx that he shed light upon the fact that the laws and tendencies that rule the capitalist mode of production will ultimately enter into an increasingly striking contradiction with the productive forces that capitalism caused to arise, which will bring about its collapse, by finally making such a contradiction unendurable. Marx therefore concluded that capitalism, as a mode of production, was only a transitory form that corresponded to a “particular historical stage of the development of production”.
In other words, if there is an economic determinism that has worked in favor of capitalist development, there is also a determinism that tends to interrupt that development, thereby serving notice to capitalism that it has reached its limits. This zone of limitation, which we call “the end of the historical cycle” of capitalism, can now be discerned by means of various indices. The productive forces have reached such a degree of development that capital’s fixed portion (machines and plant) has far outdistanced living capital (workers’ labor power), the sole creator of value, which means capitalism is sawing off the branch upon which it rests: it simultaneously makes the exploitation of living labor the source of its profits but also suppresses it. Hence the rate of profit—the stimulus for capitalist production—is constantly diminished, while this process is accentuated by an extraordinary expansion of unproductive labor (labor that does not create surplus value), to prevent a no less stupendous level of unemployment, which becomes a real absurdity for capitalist production, which conceives of the utilization of labor power only in terms of producing surplus value. It is true that capital attempts to counteract this decline of the rate of profit, but it is becoming more and more difficult to do so: attacks on wages, social “conquests”, the “welfare state” that it created for the purpose of social regulation, not without posing a risk for the good stability of the capitalist system, which has seen the “social peace” giving way to social explosions that are ultimately becoming uncontrollable. Which is why, for the present, governments temporize, more or less hoping for better days (“strong growth”, “full employment”), which is in turn a way of acknowledging that the problem is still posed in its totality. As for the capitalists, their inability to invest fruitfully in the real economy leads them to hope for compensation in the fictitious, stock market economy, where it seems that money can be magically made from money without passing through production. But this increasing financialization of capital that we have witnessed over the last couple of decades is also reaching its limits, the “financial bubbles” that break out periodically, turning masses of capital into dust, and thus indicating the artificial side of such an operation.
From this end of the historical cycle of capitalism, which could encompass an entire period (measured on this scale, 30 or 50 years are nothing), and which will be, as it advances, the stage for increasingly severe economic crises accompanied by equally severe social crises, we do not deduce the “possibility” of communism, but its imperious necessity. In other words, we are saying that communism (which all the bourgeois commentators have announced is dead and buried) will rise from the ashes like the Phoenix, not because it is a “beautiful utopia” (there is no more utopia!) but because it will be inscribed along determinist lines that leave no other choice other than this way out, the only one that is viable due to the enormous development of the productive forces which has taken place, henceforth rendering any steps backward towards earlier forms of exploitation and domination impractical, as is demonstrated by the failures—whatever anyone may say—of the various regressive movements we have seen (religious fundamentalisms, micro-nationalisms, ethnic identity movements), which are capable of causing harm but which are still incapable of transforming their gloomy dreams into reality.
How will such a determinism unfold, which leads towards communism? First of all, we reject that imbecilic ideology which, confusing determinism with an insipid fatalism, holds that men no longer have to do anything except simply wait passively and peacefully for some mysterious or magical power to act in their stead and thereby grant them a “happy ending”. This is how gods, prophets, saviors and other charlatans are presented. Determinism, in its eminently Marxist sense, is just the opposite: it pushes men into action, it compels them to fight, it incites them to act and to exercise their will and thus to abandon their usual inertia. Furthermore, there is nothing mysterious about it because of its economic and social determinations. This economic and social determinism that impels towards action has a name: the class struggle, the motor of history, as Marx called it. For it is by way of this struggle, which is today still rejected and held in check, that the proletarian masses will succeed in clearing the way to communism; this struggle which, as Marx told Weydemeyer 150 years ago (Letter dated March 5, 1852), “necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat” and “that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society”. The communist movement of the past did not originate in the mind of an especially inspired thinker, but as a result of the ruthless exploitation of man by man that characterized the early days of capitalism. The proletariat of that era contributed a more or less utopian dimension to this struggle. Today’s proletariat (that is, in its widest sense, the majority of the active population) will enter the struggle without any poetic illusions or preconceived ideologies. Coldly and realistically, it will assess the situation by pronouncing it all the more intolerable the more that capitalism has in the meantime caused substantial productive forces to arise (in fact, for the needs of communism, there are already too many in the highly developed countries) that will make the poverty, the misery and the uncertainty of existence all the more unendurable. For communism has not yet begun!
Well it took me a while to
Well it took me a while to read this having been distracted by a number of other interesting and shorter texts posted recently to the library but it has certainly been worthwhile in challenging a number of my preconceptions and not just mine.....
If the range of communist political tendencies represented on libcom are as follows:
anarchist, left communist, council communist, impossiblist eg spgb/slp, autonomist, communisationist, nihilist and various mixtures of these,
then I think it's fair to say that they could all find something in this text that they could agree with and take comfort from despite the fact that it represents a full frontal attack on many of the most fundamental aspects of the analysis and political strategies of all of them!
But to date there seems to have been little response to the posting of this text on libcom - perhaps it has just been overlooked?
The author puts forward a particularly historical and economic determinist analysis drawing heavily on the works of both Marx and Engels. He doesn't however deny or downgrade the role of class struggle todate as a powerful force for change alongside capitalist competition, so much as reinforce the limitation of that struggle as one which, up to recent times, was unable to transcend capitalism, leading to the work of genuine communist minorities remaining as a largely utopian excercise and beqeathing to subsequent generations a number of false assumptions and strategies.
In the process the author usefully develops Marx's analysis of the formal and real subsumption of labour as an inherent tendency, driven by both class struggle and competition, through an examination of the actual phases which capitalist society has passed through taking in key moments from the Paris Commune, the rise of German Social Democracy, the Russian and Spanish revolutions, the rise of Fascism and Stalinism, post war Keynesian state policies and up to the 1968 rebellions. He sees the real domination of capital appearing on a world scale as a fully historical accomplishment only after World War 2 and the exhaustion of the post war boom. Certainly this periodisation seems a good deal more realistic than the various shared 'post 1914 decadence' theories of the leninist, luxumbourgist and left communist tendencies.
Whilst I appeciate the emphasis which the author places on the significance of the real domination of capital in terms of the trajectory of capitalism's economic crisis and the 'choices' this place on the working class, Bitot's certainty as to how this will inevitably force the class to break through all the false alternatives of apathetic resignation, leftism, nationalism, racism, religious fundamentalism and other irrationalism to mount a frontal assault on capitalism is hard to accept. This partly because there is still some doubt even on Bitot's own terms as to whether capital really has achieved it's historic real domination and with it 'the end of it's historic cycle' ( he may well have underestimated the role of China for example) and also despite his references to the social and cultural implications of real domination these seem to deny the depth to which real domination has sunk into the very psychological roots of our being. Bitot struggles to explain why up to 1995, and even more so now, that the working class has not been forced to fully challenge capitalism seeming to put this down largely to the power of 'the spectacle'.
In some other respects Bitot seems to have only transplanted provisional aspects of Marx's and Engel's gueswork as to how a transition to communism might be practically achieved from the very beginnings of the formal domination of capital to it's latest appearance as the real domination without fully taking into account the material changes over that time, (eg. preserving a whole historic lower 'socialist phase', retention of outdated 'labour time voucher' systems, emphasis on national frameworks etc).
This text is a good counterweight to much of the 'idealist' undercurrent in libcom discussions but does it go too far?
Since this was published in 1995 there has surely been some earlier criticism of it from the communist milieu - perhaps others could point these out and if possible provide a link?
I see that Dauve makes a few
I see that Dauve makes a few brief but relevant comments on the problem of treating the 'real domination of capital' as a single historically achieved and all-encompassing reality at various different dates in the correspondence with the riff-raff collective elsewhere on this site here:
I was also looking for a bit of 'compare and contrast' with some of the Junge Linke critique of 'historical materialism' but no takers so far.
So no further discussion of
So no further discussion of this book on this site but it was remiss of me not to have noticed a review, and response from Bitot, a while back on the Internationalist Perspective website here:
Edit: search relevant issues here: https://internationalistperspective.org
I'm not too interested in a '1914 versus 1974' battle for the most significant historical dates in the continueing evolution of capitalism accross the world from the formal to the real domination of capital but agree with IP's view that Bitot is indeed 'overly deterministic'.
Bitot and GM Tamas (linked elsewhere on the 'Are Council Communists Libertarian' thread) seem to take a similar view in support of 'democracy' versus 'Fascism' in the Second World War which IP and Dauve rightly criticise in my opinion.
Just bumping this as it seems
Just bumping this as it seems relevant to the other more recent discussion of 'Decadence' theory.
Review of Bitot's book from
Review of Bitot's book from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard:
Circuses as well as bread
Thanks imposs1904 for that
Thanks imposs1904 for that link though it's a very thin review for a very substantial piece of work which is far more of a challenge to the spgb's views than the review would imply. See also my additional comments here: http://libcom.org/library/investigation-supposedly-victorious-capitalism-claude-bitot
That's a fair point that the
That's a fair point that the review is only a general overview of the book. I just posted the link on the thread because the review had just been uploaded on the net for the first time today and I found this thread whilst looking up more information on Biton.
ajj in his discussion with
ajj in his discussion with Tom Henry elsewhere on this site might find this book and the problems it seeks to address of interest though the author of course doesn't in the end 'escape the Leninist loop ' altogether either.
Bumping this as its still…
Bumping this as its still relevant even if a lot of the links mentioned in earlier comments are not active.