The second part of Amadeo Bordiga’s exposition of the features of communist society and of the revolutionary party that, in his estimation, is the only entity able to bring it into being. Critique of democracy, and of the “immediatist” conceptions of those who would like to see the party replaced by different forms of organization, is here tightly interlinked with a vision of society which will know nothing of classes or exchange and which will spatially and temporally integrate the entire human species into the Social Man, who will not even have any use for “freedom” in the conventional sense of the word.
Why dialectical materialism
Notwithstanding the fact that dialectical materialism was very poorly presented by Stalin in his book [on the subject], which had as its sole aim the justification – with concessions to an aberrant historical voluntarism – of the pretense of building artificial socialism in isolated and backward Russia, we can now make a clarification with regard to the fact that the expression “dialectical materialism” can be accepted as the perfect equivalent of “historical materialism”. The dialectic should not be interpreted as consisting of saying: the economy makes politics, but then politics (basely reduced to state practice) in its own way alters the economy. That is a thesis turned upside down, rather than the synthesis of a thesis and a fruitful antithesis. Marx said that men make their own history – an old objection of various parroters. Without doubt they do make it, with their hands, feet, even mouths, and with their weapons; materially they make it, but what we deny is that they make it with their heads, namely, that they so much as “construct it” (a detestable phrase, and one fitting for the bourgeois entrepreneur) according to a model, or a project – everything already thought out. They make it, yes, but not in the way they understood and believed they would, nor the way they expected and desired to make it. That is the point.
The dialectic arises from asking: does this impotence, this negation of human free will, concern the individual, or does it concern human society as well?
Here, the Marxist response is a classic one. The personal subject is immersed in this impotence to foresee and lead to the utmost, and in societies with an individualist structure all the more so. In these societies, and above all in those that take grandiloquent liberalism for their ideology, the higher the level that an individual occupies in the hierarchy, the more of a puppet on the string of determinism he is.
Even society as a whole, as long as it is a society divided into classes, possesses no vision or direction for its own future; within it, the interests of the contending classes disguise themselves over the course of history as anticipations (prophecies) and contrasting ideologies, but they do not attain the power to foresee and prepare the future.
Only that single class which, present in this capitalist society, has an interest in the abolition of society divided into classes, can aspire to the ability to fight for this end and to obtain within itself knowledge and a vision; and this class (Marxism revealed) is the modern proletariat.
But as long as this class exists in capitalist society, the conscious vision of its future cannot arise in each of its members or even in its totality, and it is simply foolish to demand this consciousness and will of the majority of the class; this is nothing but one of the great many bourgeois derivatives which muddle the minds of proletarians and which only the passing of generations can erase.
Therefore an individual cannot rise to the vision of communist society as a result of reflecting on his personal interests and benefits; that would be vulgar materialism. Nor can he concentrate in himself the vision of the class and the future of human society except as a convergence of class forces.
The contradiction is that the individual cannot, and neither can the collectivity; and this would lead to an eternal inability to not only want the future, but also to foresee it.
The dialectical exit from this double thesis (that the proletariat both can and cannot, that it is the first class which tends toward classless society, but that it does not possess the light which will shine on the human species after the death of classes) lies in the double step described in the Communist Manifesto: first, party; then, dictatorship. The amorphous mass of the proletariat organizes itself into a political party and becomes a class. Only by leveraging this first conquest does it organize itself into the dominant class. [Armed] with a class dictatorship, it goes on to abolish classes. Dialectic!
The ability to describe in advance and to hasten [the arrival of] the communist future, dialectically sought neither within the individual nor within the universal, is found in the following formula that synthesizes historical potentiality: the political party, actor and subject of the dictatorship.
Established passivity of the individual
The thesis we have established puts vulgar or bourgeois materialism and its communist counterpart in their place. The former, even in its classical origins, hinges on the person. When the Frenchman d’Holbach says “nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensu”1 , that is, nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses, he establishes a relationship between the material influence of nature over the individual and the individual’s mental manifestations; his opinions. Even for Marx, this was a step forward, because it made it possible to overcome fideism – according to which there is an innate given (soul) in every individual’s mind that has a divine origin – and also contemporary Saxon idealism, for which too, even though it dispensed with God, there was an ideal substrate located inside every head that did not develop from any material sensations.
But the position of bourgeois materialism falls far short of ours. In Marx, the relationship is [instead] established between the average material conditions in which a certain social aggregate lives and their corresponding manifestations in the realms of the intellect, which are taken to include religion, ideology, art, culture, and politics. The passivity of “spirit” with respect to matter within the individual continues to be an established fact for us, but its mechanics remains inaccessible to the science of the capitalist era, which has chased after it in vain and which today finds itself in a full-blown degenerative crisis. Conventional thought – and it only gets worse at philosophical congresses – does not possess the dialectical key [needed] to unlock its contradictions. According to the fideist, [it was] God [who] arranged everything in man’s head (as in every nook and cranny of the physical nature that surrounds him), but the point of departure is [still] a person, endowed with free will to opine and act and with responsibility (the indispensable complement of that annoying fetish, personality): hence the system of rewards and punishments.
The bourgeois atheist at first knocked free will off its pedestal and subordinated the head to the belly, but since (to put it briefly) his new “form of production” required empty bellies, he authorized the corresponding brains to think and form opinions, and founded the system of general electoral democracy and legal responsibility, going so far as to make his State – the State of the dominant class – into the social [and] ethical Absolute. Modern culture, which the deserters of the revolution basely blend into, oscillates between these two papier-mâché puppets: the individual endowed with responsibility, and the absolute ethical State.
We hold the result of the unconscious passivity of the individual to be true, but in our determinism we do not expect to be able to verify it or to make predictions on its basis at the individual scale. We demonstrate it in the social realm by means of historical (and economical) analysis, and we do not rule out the possibility that the general, average rule should be contradicted by a most diverse array of individual cases, without this affecting our theory. We do not attempt to find the proof of determinism in the opinions located in the heads of men taken individually, nor do we seek a break therewith in persons’ conscience, will, or drive for action, however small or large those may be.
The break [with determinism] does take place, however, and over the course of history the fact of the break has generally always preceded the exact theoretical consciousness thereof. The break that will follow the determination of the bourgeois era, on account of which the victims of the system think in terms of its own ideology, will come, generally speaking; but for the first time ever, its coming will take place in history (and therefore not in the divine creative act through the innate effect thereof, nor in the immanence of the Idea) – and in this consists the “overturning of the praxis”2 – as a result of the appearance of a knowing and willing subject acting on its own initiative, which is not a person but the revolutionary party. The party expresses the organization of the modern proletarian class, but rather than representing the class in the bourgeois sense of a democratic mandate, it represents it in its program and in the future implementation of this program; it represents the communist society of tomorrow, and this is the meaning of the leap (Marx-Engels) from the realm of necessity to that of freedom, which is accomplished not by the individual with respect to society, but by the human Species with respect to Nature.
Negation of the individual, affirmation of the Social Man, of the Species emerging out of its tormented prehistory: we are dealing here with a continuum and, we repeat tirelessly, with a demonstration that the thesis is an original one of the Marxist school, and that it dispels all the stubborn and sickly immediatisms, whose common diagnosis is the paralysis of the dialectic, [which must be] universal rather than contingent and petty [to be] fitting for revolutionary Marxism.
[To demonstrate] the first of these effects, let us return to Marx’s classical passage found in the pages of the preface to the Critique of Political Economy. When we make the entirety of men appear on the scene, instead of [just] the individual, we carry out not only a quantitative and, it might be said, spatial integration from one to many, but a temporal integration as well. The life of the species has no temporal limits comparable to those of the fleeting Person; and in Marxism, Production not only keeps the individual human animal alive, but also constitutes a link in [the chain of] his Reproduction. The aforementioned baron-philosopher (who, as a person, escaped the determinism of his feudal class) would not have ruled out heritability: every brain draws not only upon the sensations of its own life, but also upon those of its progenitors. That is completely scientific, but no less so is the statement – itself quite materialist – that everyone thinks [not only with their own brain but] with the brains of others as well, even with those of their contemporaries. It is all well and good to say that the brain is a gland that secretes thought, but in this regard we are not vulgar materialists, and we are not waiting for someone to discover the thought-hormone; for us, true materialists, there is a collective brain, and the Social Man shall see a development – neglected by ancient generations – of the Social Brain. That one thinks with the heads of others, however, is a certain fact, past and present.
“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production”3 . The text goes on to define as the foundation the relations of production that constitute the economic structure of society.
On this real foundation there “arises a legal and political superstructure […] to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness”4 . As in our faithful retread, the person did not appear on the scene at all. It is not the socio-economic position of the individual that determines his ideology; this has been said just as frequently as incorrectly. Marx’s formula is: “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life”5 . What follows is the well-known presentation of the conflict between the productive forces and the forms of production or property relations – that is, the theory of revolutions (of all revolutions). At this stage, the critique goes straight to the point, after making short work of the consciousness of the person and of any given society, that same “consciousness which the revolution has of itself”. The text says: “Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation (and, we add, even less so a period of conformism) by its consciousness”6 .
When a little later on Marx, after having listed the classical sequence of historical modes of production, declares that “[t]he prehistory of human society accordingly closes”7 with the bourgeois form, since the productive forces have become such as to resolve the antagonism between relations and forms of production, that is, to transition to a society without classes, it is clarified that these bourgeois relations, the last to be antagonistic, are such “not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence”8 .
Thus our reduction to zero of the individual factor in history, in revolutions, and in the communist revolution is scrupulously traditional. So is the elimination of the individual person as the subject of revolutionary action, and even of social antagonism (class struggle).
Requiem for immediatism
The democratic form of opportunism has a long (and infamous) history reaching back to the Second International; it was buried by Lenin and exhumed by Khrushchev. It says that socialism can be realized by the majority using the parliamentary mechanism. The crass reasoning is a despicable parody of the polemical formula of the Manifesto: communism is the movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority. If this distorted formula were true, the proletarian revolution would be the first… to not be a revolution at all, and to resolve without bloodshed the conflict between productive forces and forms of property, the social antagonism intrinsic to the previous form, to the capitalist era! The Marxist denial of this possibility lies in the basic thesis of determinism: the ruling ideology of every epoch is a superstructural mirror of its economico-productive base, which today consists of capitalist property. The rupture in the superstructure will be a result of the rupture in the base; the oppressed class of the workers will move en masse in violent revolution, but only after this revolution will they acquire en masse the new superstructure: the communist ideology. To consult their opinions before the fact, even if it were true that proletarians comprise the majority of voters, would mean making the revolution impossible and capitalism eternal.
Herein lies the cornerstone of total opportunism, such as that of the reformists at the turn of the century – champions of legality turned nasty – or that of the much-vaunted Marxists-Leninists, fathered by Stalin and brooded by Khrushchev and other such mother hens.
But we claimed to [be able to] reduce to an analogous denial of the basic thesis, of the first principle of Marxism also the positions of the immediatists. Are these also opportunist? Undoubtedly yes in their substance, a little less perhaps in their form; that is, in the phony “consciousness which they have of themselves”. A type, then, of third-stage syphilis: non-lethal but hereditary. The opposite would be preferable.
The libertarian position is hopelessly individualist. Once the knowledge is acquired that society is unjust, the rebel, with his possibly heroic unselfishness, considers himself awakened: the spirit before the body. [This is] the exact opposite of determinism. As far as others are concerned, he does not want to use violence against them: that would mean accepting the position of Marx and Engels that a revolution is an authoritarian act par excellence. Everyone will therefore have to liberate themselves, starting as much with the person as with the superstructure: Marxism turned upside down. (The rest we do not care about: everyone is allowed to deny Marxism… until true Marxism is in power.)
The workerist position, which comprises both the laboralism of the right and the syndicalism of the left, falls under the same analysis. It is not a political party that has to lead the revolutionary struggle, but rather economic organizations uniting all workers (and only workers), they say. But the association of worker with worker (and one that furthermore takes place within the restricted circle of [one’s] trade) does not detract from the fact that the worker lives as a wage earner within the bourgeois relation of production and [as such] should be predestined for the bourgeois superstructural ideology. To associate the workers strangled by the capitalist relation, and to believe that in so doing the conditions for socialist society have been prepared – that is the colossal error [of the workerists]. To demand of these proletarian organizations, of their internal democracy, doctrinal and programmatic elaboration; to demand that they take action – in this consists the immediatist illusion. Such a mechanism will never rise above the immediate contact with the bourgeois structure of production, and therefore with the ideology derived therefrom, which must be destroyed rather than denied and which, by following this formula, would be neither denied nor destroyed.
A negation of the immediatism that lies at the root of every fake leftism (attributable to all historical groups except our so-called ‘Italian’ Left), consists in acknowledging, in accordance with sound Marxism, that just like a member of the oppressed class may well happen to belong to [one of] the parties of the ruling class, conversely it may well happen that a member of the revolutionary party does not belong to the oppressed class. In a mediated way rather than immediately, [even] those elements that have no direct interest in the revolution end up contributing to it. To immediatism, this is incomprehensible.
But that is what the Manifesto, basing itself on social history, expresses in its description of the revolutionary climax in the following words: “in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour […] a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands […]”9 and so on, showing that bourgeois ideologues go over to the proletariat and to the revolution, just like sections of the nobility went over to the enlightenment, to [its] philosophy, and sometimes to the extremism of the sansculottes.
Here, we find the immediatist coupled with – no, tripled with!10 – the hypocrite and the demagogue in one and the same person. The opportunist danger [we are told] does not consist in the blindness of immediatism, but rather in this acceptance of non-worker ideologues and leaders! Where is the remedy to be found? We answer without hesitation: in the political party, once it has overcome the diseases of opportunism and immediatism and once the decisive criterion is affirmed that the cause of the revolution prevails over every consultative majority.
Recently, we quoted a statement made by Engels at the end of his life, as dark and unselfish as that of Marx: “[W]e can use in our Party individuals from every class of society, but we have no use whatever for any groups representing capitalist, middle-bourgeois or middle-peasant interests”11 . If you reduce the party – the depository of the revolution – to a complex of economic associations or enterprise councils, you can boast about its membership being limited strictly to workers as much as you like, but the fact is that you have made it a slave to petty bourgeois and bourgeois interests. The historical examples are innumerable, first among them the English one. We only need to recall Lenin’s most resolute position on this matter, as illustrated in our Russian studies, in theoretical works such as What is to be done?, and in the historical revolutionary practice of the Bolsheviks; in the condemnation of every risible “economism” and “enterprise socialism”.
Only a working class capable of association can take the direct revolutionary road. But an immediate collage, an inert bond is not enough. There are dialectical and dynamic mediating terms, indispensable and mutually reinforcing: the revolutionary theory of historical determinism, the program of communist society, the party-form of organization; and it is only in these that the subject and the engine, the will and the power of complete revolution find their realization.
Freedom and value?
One of the subjects [discussed] at the philosophizing Congress excited the Stalinists, who were unable to see that the topic Man and Nature was raised with bourgeois aims in mind, and in a conformist manner to which one can apply the following trite binomial: “I” and the “Universe”, followed by making two autonomous spheres of these, and worse still, by reducing the Universe to a deformed function of the “I” – and it is certainly not the opportunist or immediatist ex-Marxists who can counterpose [to this] the correct formulation, that of Nature and Species, between which there does not arise a dualism but a monism. This monism places the science of the species within the domain of nature, and it does so using that same scientific methodology – or a unified philosophy, as we can call it until we finally see both the noun and the profession abolished. Only so long as we speak of philosophers will we continue to have discussions about the nobleness or dignity of the elements: but if we wished to accept the use of this language for a moment, we would declare that there is more Beauty, Harmony, and Dignity to be found in extrahuman nature than the history of human nature has hitherto offered.
In a way, this brings us to the second topic of the Congress, also expressed as a binomial: Freedom and Value. Here, too, the ex-Marxists have grazed in the pastures of petty bourgeois ideology. [For them] it would be a matter of an eternal, laborious search that humanity has been tragically launched into, and all the revolutionary battles would have been variations on the same theme: taking a step further toward absolute Freedom, and the Discovery of the true Values of life. The most daring of philosophers have admitted that this race is not yet over, for Man – it is understood that it is always the individual whom they are thinking of when using that word – while no longer a slave or a feudal serf, is nevertheless not free. But this is not so because he is a commodity-producing wage earner, but rather because violence is still used in the wars among States and classes, producing totalitarian power and the suppression of opinions. Hence a vague desire to end “exploitation” and war, [phenomena] which make it difficult to talk about freedom and values. A similar stale pacifism and tolerantism has also been adopted by the Stalinists to be placed side by side with that fundamental requirement of Marxism, humanism! And here we have another disgusting commonplace to join the already swelling ranks of the philistine repertoire.
It must be declared very forcefully that revolutionary Marxism has nothing to do with vague proclamations of humanism, which can be historically defined in different ways – all of which, however, are profoundly alien to us.
Historically, humanists were the first bourgeois who in the fields of art and philosophy reacted against theological domination by rediscovering the real and non-mystical values of the pagan life of Classical times: values which were useful for the bourgeois revolution in the broad sense but which have nothing to do with proletarian revolution, which finds itself pitted against the atheist as well as mystical bourgeoisie. In more recent times, the oft-abused term humanism has become nothing but a cover for all the deceits which certain sectors of this capitalist world of brigandage have used in this century for their ugly little comedy – the prime cause of opportunist betrayals – of pompously condemning aggression, atrocities, personicide, and genocide.
To these people, Marx gave his classic reply that up to now and in one more stage still to come – and worse still if, as the philistine would have it, our ultra-optimistic theory, according to which we are the last of the class societies, should be mistaken – the inexorable advance of history has passed and will pass right through persons and individuals, and thus through human bodies and “spirits”; and also (it might well be added, even though we have no quotation handy) through whole nations – a fact that the puritan civilization of ultra-humanist America knows a thing or two about!
The Marxist position
The first topic of the Congress that a bunch of oh-so-learned professors held in Venice prompted us at our little meeting in Parma12 to vividly highlight our anti-individualist thesis, which resolves the old standoff between monists and dualists, between matter and spirit. The second topic, apart from the obvious connections between the two, gives us an opportunity to restate our anti-market thesis. Just as our revolution will be the first and only to decisively break with personalism, so too will it be the first and only to overcome another plague that takes on many forms: that of production for the market.
The category of value, now very fashionable, is nothing but a hollow superstructure that corresponds to the economic base of exchange value. We are not joining the procession of those who search for new values, nor do we stand at the head of it. When the product of human labor and this labor itself no longer have as their purpose that of being exchanged for another product or for their equivalent in money; when work and production is performed for its own intrinsic joy, going beyond the restrictive aim of consumption – then there will remain no ideological values to blather about in literature and at congresses. Just as the category of freedom, which has historically always signified the struggle of men against their oppressors, will lose its subjective meaning in a society free of hired work, and thus of antagonisms – and freedom will [accordingly] no longer have the individual or the oppressed class as its subject, but rather the Social Man, who will have no one and nothing to lose it to aside from the limits imposed by natural, physical necessity – so too the category of value, emptied of its content in the realm of economy, will disappear as a topic of verbal exercises with only sheer nothingness behind them.
A few pages further in our Critique of Political Economy, we read:
“As useful activity directed to the appropriation of natural factors in one form or another, labour is a natural condition of human existence, a condition of material interchange between man and nature, quite independent of the form of society. On the other hand, the labour which posits exchange value is a specific social form of labour.”13
The text goes on to give the example of a tailor whose work, in its aspect as concrete labor, produces coats but not exchange value, but which today nevertheless does produce exchange value as abstract generic labor, which is unique to a specific social framework (artisanal or capitalist market production) “that was not sewn with the tailor’s needle”.
In ancient times, weavers produced coats without producing the exchange value of coats, adds Marx. And we confidently add: in communist society, too, coats will be produced, just like everything else, without producing exchange values. Socialism – always [in] a dialogue with Stalin!14 – is the economy without exchange values, both in the lower phase and in the higher.
If Marxists, then, eliminate value from the economic structure of the base in their theory, what values will they have left to pursue in the superstructure? When there appears an economic value, then, by the law of exchange, for another party it must have necessarily disappeared. Where there is value, there is subjugation. That same “abolition of economic exploitation” is a formula that we have already criticized (see above15 ) for being inadequate and historically incomplete, and we say more precisely that it will be a question of abolishing every [form of] exchange value and every [form of] value production by labor. If no values are being produced by labor, what values should there remain in the sphere of “philosophical” research, which we gladly leave to the philistines? In conclusion, the binomial freedom and value only resonates with some meaning within a society like the present one where the ripping off of man by man is not an isolated, more or less criminal incident, but rather the very basis of its structure of production and consumption, and thus of its thought.
Therefore, the search for freedom and value does not interest revolutionary Marxism, which in the doctrine of its party posits the struggle of the proletariat in a way completely different from any participation in the universal competition for a new formula to be added to that deceptive sequence which antagonistic societies have offered to men throughout the vicissitudes of their prehistory. This sequence ends with the present-day bourgeois era, which leaves us with just one more step to climb, but which is the most adversarial and hostile of all, and the most deserving of totalitarian destruction as well as the ruthless negation of all the lie-packed values to which it so tortuously aspires in its official masquerades while degenerating to the extreme.
Person and Party
The vulgar trap which our adversaries lay before the formidable Marxist construction of the theory of the revolutionary party consists in this: after our critique has overcome the problem of the relationship between the individual and society, they tendentiously put forward that of the relationship between the person and the party – or in other words, the old subject of the leader and hierarchies. This subject concerns every form of organization and not just the political party, to the extent that every type of organization has its notorious “apparatus”. Therefore, we have shown on numerous occasions (among others, at the Pentecost meeting16 ) that if there are dangers, they can only be brought under control and overcome within the party-form – in opposition to all others, whose history is full of degenerative phenomena that have accompanied the [successive] waves of opportunism. The classic “boss rule” of the executives, commanding lavish salaries and rendered uncriticizable by a stupid reverential fear against which we fought tooth and nail in Lenin’s times, was the connective tissue of the Second International, and spread to the union and electoral forms, stifling the vitality of the organic centers of the political movement and subjugating them to itself. Herein lies the crux of Lenin’s destructive critique of opportunism – in all countries.
When responding to this insinuation on the part of the detractors of Marxism, it should not be forgotten that we are not defending the “party” in general, whatever historical party among many, but rather that special and unique form which is the revolutionary party: that revolutionary party which is the first and only one to embody the historical task of the modern proletarian class, and makes that task not just an end in itself, but a means to the realization of the communist program. Socialism, said Engels in his first catechetical draft of the Manifesto17 , is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat. No less common is it to quote the sentence that the emancipation of the workers must be the act of the workers themselves. These are dialectical positions, meant to confront the claim that the modern proletariat has already been emancipated by bourgeois liberalism in the latter’s final stage, and the even worse and now pervasive claim that it can be emancipated by the petty bourgeois mass of “the people” – the claim of populism.
And another maxim, this time Lenin’s, that the revolution has to serve the proletariat instead of the proletariat having to serve the revolution, must be understood dialectically (each of our theses should be used [only] after clarifying the antithesis that gave rise to it) in the sense that the working class is not a force at the service of any revolution whatever (at the time, it referred to the revolution that created the German Weimar Republic) but that for us, the revolutionary struggle has to be carried out for the proletariat’s own ends, namely for the communist program.
The objection that the leaders will ruin everything is a centuries-old resort of the anti-socialist polemic of the gilded bellies18 , who say to the workers: you want to unite so as to defend yourselves? Very well, but you will need someone to organize you, and you will have to offer them the same sacrifices that you claim to now be making for us, the bosses. The highly modern timidity displayed by the embittered spinsters of the revolution in the face of the brave, fair, and disinterested claim of the dictatorship of the communist party to represent the only real form of the dictatorship of the proletariat is nothing but yet another iteration of this traditional reactionary objection.
The only form that will avoid degeneration into boss rule is the one in which the open proclamation by the party of exercising total control over the revolutionary struggle will not be replaced by the hypocritical offer to democratically consult the masses, more or less “popular”, and to serve their will thus expressed, whatever it might be. First of all, in practical experience, the formula of serving the proletariat has historically been used by all traitors to the revolution, sell-outs as well as demagogues; besides, it echoes with a filthy bourgeois mentality. Service (one profits most who serves best) is the slogan of the international Rotary Club, that is, of the world organization of plunderers of surplus value interested in making a show of caring about the customary common good.
The long and bloody history of the travails of the workers’ class party will end when the party has overcome the shameful phase of stupidly courting the proletarians, whom it wants to turn into voters or dues-paying union members, but whom it does not revolutionarily free from the chains of their servitude, chains that are less visible and against which all heroism is powerless – the chains that they carry within themselves.
We will therefore not repeat the history of the past [errors] and of the dangers inherent in non-party forms. Is it possible, for example, to find a remedy for the problems of bossy leaders, of the much-feared cliques and gangs usurping power, of palace coups, and of other such novel-like sinister shadows in decentralization, in the devolution of power from the State to local communes, as some Chinese ideologues seem to have deluded themselves into thinking? It is enough to respond to this baby talk with an episode that has been recounted to generations of youngsters. After passing through a poor Alpine village, Julius Caesar, the dictator par excellence (in comparison with whom the modern ones are nothing but piss-poor losers), manfully exclaimed: I had rather be the first man in this village than the second man in Rome!
If the person poses a danger – [while] in actuality, the person is nothing but a thousand-year old daydream of men [wandering] in the shadows, which cuts them off from their species history – the means to combat it is only [to be found] in the universal qualitative unitariness of the party, in which there is effected revolutionary concentration beyond the limits of [one’s] locality, nationality, category of work, beyond the limits even of the enterprise, that life sentence of wage earners; in which there lives-in-waiting [vive anticipata] the future society without classes and without exchange.
The “charismatic” party
The typical bourgeois as well as some left-wingers gone bad see instead another remedy for the recent forms of bourgeois degeneration; for the oligarchies, praetorian cliques, criminal gangs, packs of power-hungry vampires, and other cartoon-like figures which, thanks to the gullibility of idiots, fill the pages of the press and form the subject of so much contemporary chatter. The remedy: a “guarantee” borrowed no less idiotically from the arsenals of the bourgeoisie, “democracy” transported from [the realm of] constitutional universality to the more restricted terrain – where it represents an even more hollow illusion – of the class and of the party.
Within well-defined historical limits, the elective and consultative mechanism has a certain effective role to play, to the extent that it can never escape from the constitutional and market-imposed bourgeois confines, but it can serve to mitigate – for clearly counterrevolutionary purposes – some of the worst blunders of mismanagement and abuse of power, which benefit individual members of the ruling class but not the cause of self-preservation of the ruling class as a whole. But even within these specific confines, we would like to observe, the guarantee that abuse [of authority] will be avoided or suppressed does not lie in the autonomy of the peripheries or of trades but rather in the extension of the scope of organization and power, which, as it rises and extends further and further, applies higher authorities and corrective powers to lower and limited ones.
The internal organization of the party was (and will be) able to make use of a similar system for purely mechanical purposes, a system which undoubtedly has a hierarchical character, but this internal organization does not, by virtue of its inner workings, confer any “safeguard” against historical crises whose causes lie elsewhere. Therefore, our Left has been saying for decades that not even the party is infallible at any given time, and that its structure is dialectically affected by its own outward-facing actions; that it suffers crises and ailments, and when it deviates from the invariant classical doctrine or muddies its internal organization and strategic operation, it pays the price with curative scissions and long historical [periods of] waiting: hence our condemnation of blocs, fronts, amalgamations, networks embedded in other parties and so on. This is not the place to demonstrate how all lapses into opportunism are historically linked to episodes of this nature; that will be shown in greater detail in a “history” of the struggles of the Left [currently] in preparation19 .
This difficult problem of contemporary life is [only] comprehended in a banal way by bourgeois ideologues, who treat developments in the structure of all modern parties in all countries in [the same] metaphysical way, completely generally, regardless of their program, or as we would more accurately put it, their class base.
In the liberal revolution, the pure and healthy form of the party would play by the rules of internal democracy and the free association of members resulting from their cherished opinions, their beliefs. This mechanism is [now] presented as a predominance of “culture” over “politics”. It did not rule out the possibility that the general party should be hierarchically organized, but it defended this hierarchy with the following ingenuous schema: the leader would be the wisest and most learned [person of all], and in the 19th century, that sweet heyday of the liberal bourgeoisie, the political leadership would have been exercised by teachers over pupils; authority within the parties would therefore have had intellectual content to it. This political apparatus would have even provided a corrective to the burdensome administrative bureaucracy!
It is obvious, however, that democracy was the panacea, and that in these party-schools the pupils elected their own teachers. Over the last century, [however], such illusions were dispelled, because there arose “mass parties” in which the base lost its democratic rights, while the leaders somehow fell from the sky and were mysteriously legitimized after the fact. The whole lesson that we can derive from this historical recapitulation consists in saying that the herd follows the leader and the small entourage that backs him up because they see in him certain “charisma”, that is to say divine-like grace, which is possessed by him alone and which he can confer on others if he so wishes. Culture ended up screwed; in 20th century society, politics would trample “culture” underfoot. The Leader does not become who he is because he is the wisest man of all; rather, his word becomes law because he is the Leader. Even if he is a fool, he shall be the Best20 .
Force or reason
We famously criticized the conception of the mass party and the manner of leadership of communist parties that was introduced in the Third International under the malformed name of Bolshevization, but we have never wanted to see this criticism of ours confused with a criticism conducted from the standpoint of apologetics for general democracy, which proposes an ideal model to be adopted by parties of all stripes, and which leads to the exact same place where the Stalinists, as we were easily able to predict, ended up as well: a dull social pacifism.
Thus we are dealing with two very different questions: that of the nature of the communist party, and that of the evolution of the party-form during the bourgeois age, or the relationship between politics and culture.
This present-day formula of turning such a relation on its head in favor of the political term and at the expense of the cultural one we find attributed in Perticone’s21 articles to the renowned German sociologist Max Weber, who at the time of the Great War still theorized the “demo-cultural” party, only for it to be later swept away in the Hitlerist-Stalinist disillusion. It is, it would appear, always the former semi-Marxists who get in the way of good intentions…
We are interested in establishing, before we go on to say anything about the most recent totalitarian forms and before we explain (and lament) the “charismatic” conception, that Marxism has never had anything in common with those theories “of parties” in which the dynamic of these parties is determined by the mass equilibrium of the opinions of their adherents. In our conception of the revolutionary party, said party has its doctrine that all of its members accept and share, but that does not give them the ability to change it at every turn with numerical consultations, because the doctrine is born collective but unitary – due to the force of historical events rather than any association of individual cells. But then, our conception is that of a single party.
As for other parties, we cannot but laugh at the myth of a golden age, democratic and of a scholastic or kindergarten-like character. In [the period of] bourgeois revolution, these other parties, too, rested on dictatorship and terror; they called themselves enlightened, but this self-deception was destroyed not even by Marx, but already by Babeuf, when he theorized that force was more powerful than reason in the social struggle. Thus the rational party envisioned by Weber has no proletarian-socialist origin. We are always ready; the school of the proletarians will be the victorious revolution, which, for the time being, asks for their armed hands but cannot ask for their diploma in politics; even those who become members of the party are not asked to take a “cultural exam” first. Ever since the struggles within the Second International, the Left has mocked the idea of a “culturalist” party22 .
Ever since their inception, the parties of the bourgeoisie have expressed and defended its class interests instead of crystallizing its professed opinions: the many middle-bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties have established mechanisms for transforming the demands of big capital into political superstitions23 of the middle classes and petty bourgeoisie. Those which mainly recruited their adherents from the ranks of “intellectuals” were the ones that perceived history and society less clearly, and ended up supplying naïve heroes for the conquests and endeavors of European capitalism by allowing its unsavory appetites to be turned into high ideals. In the entire [history of the] Italian Risorgimento24 , we find only one great exception to this mystified rationality and “culturalist” political struggle: in the person of Carlo Pisacane, the Marxist who never got a chance to read Marx, but who nevertheless dedicated his life to the national cause, killed by a mob of illiterate and class-unconscious peasant rabble before the police was able to do so.
The ridiculous epoch of the big25
As for the contrast made by Perticone between the phase of voluntary-democratic parties and those [which are characterized by] blind obedience to a central driving force, which the base identifies with particular names or worse yet, with a single Name – and here we do not mourn à la Weber [the disappearance of] the former type, and see no possibility of its future reissue in [the form of] a new liberal pluralist merry-go-round (which never really had any importance in the past) – it can only be understood in the context of a critique of the contemporary degeneration of bourgeois society, and insofar as this critique is sufficiently developed as to not metaphysically take the opposite direction, in which one would arrive, for example, at the party of Stalin, or at those of Hitler, Mussolini, or today, we imagine, of de Gaulle.
What is characteristic of these monstrous organizations – whose real cause is the passivity of the masses in a decomposing society, which is due, not to any deficit of “culture” or lack of “teachers”, but rather to the lack of revolutionary physical force, whose causes are well-known [but] complex and remote – is the strange paradox that the very same modern “charismatic” system which, wherever it is found, under all skies and in all climes, make the leader into an idol (and what a fragile and fleeting one!), defends itself from all sides precisely by exalting the stupid democratic panacea, and boasts of holding plebiscites to consult the so-called “consciences” of its membership.
Totalitarian states like Germany, Italy, and Japan were swept away by the war, and with them their governmental parties. Among the winners, the Western Allies are permanent parliamentary democracies, and it is to this juridical form that they have been increasingly trying to convert the countries of the world on which exert influence. Russia and her satellite States have internally preserved the one-party system and have no parties competing for power, but the policies which the nominally communist parties carry out abroad are all based on open promotion of electoral democracy, which they demand of local governments. In the dispute between the two blocs of States and parties, the demand for democracy is always at the forefront, and the most common accusation is that of offenses against the electoral manifestation of the will of the people. Either contender uses the accusation that the other perpetrates this infamy as a self-evident truth.
Despite this profusion of invocations of popular sovereignty on the broadest [possible] basis, every time these world powers meet, they observe a common rule while contradicting each other: namely, that the millions of people whose interests (we refuse to say: “whose opinions”) are at stake are but distant spectators to a gathering of four or five personages firmly perched at the top, representing the four or five governments of the most monstrous States on the world, and everything in this democratic and popular world is decided by these five “biggest” [cinque al massimo “big”]; that is, by five specimens of the two billion members of the human species, all of them “demo-sovereign”; by the five highest figures to whom we dedicate the apostrophe26 of a forgotten poet, ironically cited as the most beautiful hendecasyllable27 of Italian literature: “O big piramidal, che fai tu lì?” (O pyramidal big [man], what are you doing there?)
Could democracy possibly get more decadent and disgustingly shameless than this?
Against this, what chance does rational sociology stand, the sociology of the opinions of the élites, of the choices made by cultivated men, who according to Weber’s fantasies should lead the world’s political life, every so often exchanging power among themselves, always with elegant “fair play” and tolerant chivalry?
The Marxist left, that persistent disbeliever in the monstrous mega-party [partitone] and in the adulation of the masses, used to be accused of holding a theory of intellectual élites. But we are just as much against democracy in society, in the class, and in the party, where we call for organic centrality, as we are against any role for executive élites, nasty substitutes for the Leader-person, a collective puppet offered as a substitute for an individual one, which at given moments actually represents a step backwards. The difference in substance consists in the fact that our doctrine does not prescribe a [whole] constellation of parties, but the role of a single party, whose dialogue with all the others is neither intellectual nor cultural, and never again electoral and parliamentary, but rather entrusted to class violence, to the material force that has as its aim the subjugation and destruction of all other parties.
The party, which we are sure to see resurrected in a bright future, will be composed of a spirited minority of proletarians and anonymous revolutionaries who, like the organs of the same living being, may perform different functions, but who will all – whether at the center or at the base – be bound by an inflexible rule that will override everything else: the rule of deferring to the theory, of continuity and rigor in organization, of a precise method for strategic action. The acceptable range of possibilities for such action will be drawn – and will in the same manner become binding for all – from the terrible historical lesson of the devastation inflicted by opportunism.
In such a party – one that is finally impersonal – no one will be able to abuse power, pertaining to its inimitable characteristic that has distinguished it in an uninterrupted thread stretching back to 1848.
That characteristic is the absence of any hesitation on the part of the party and its members to affirm that their sole purpose is the conquest of political power and its centralized exercise, without ever concealing this purpose even for a moment and until all the parties of Capital and its petty bourgeois lackeys have been exterminated.
Translated in July through August 2019 from the Italian original published in Il Programma Comunista N°21 (November 18, 1958) and N°22 (December 4, 1958), and available from quinterna.org.
- 1The Latin phrase itself predates d’Holbach; it can be found in Aquinas and summarizes a view already expressed by Aristotle.
- 2 A concept originating with the Italian philosopher Rodolfo Mondolfo (1877–1976), based on Giovanni Gentile’s (1875–1944) mistranslation of the phrase “umwälzende Praxis” occurring in Engels’ 1888 revision of the third of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. The phrase is usually rendered as “revolutionary practice” in English (in agreement with Marx’s original 1845 wording, revolutionäre Praxis) and can be more literally translated as “overturning praxis”, i.e., a praxis that overturns. Mondolfo used the incorrect translation “overturned praxis” to argue for a two-way, “dialectical” relationship between will (theory, critique, subjectivity) and action (practice, objectivity), and considered this interpretation to be so philosophically fertile that even after acknowledging the error, he insisted that it corresponded to the spirit of Marx’s text at least as well as the actual wording. The concept became firmly entrenched in Italian Marxism; it was taken up by Gramsci with enthusiasm, and even Bordiga, while criticizing Gramsci, took it for granted as an integral part of Marx’s theory, as documented by his report on The reversal of praxis in Marxist theory, presented at the Rome meeting of the Internationalist Communist Party on April 1, 1951.
- 3 English translation taken from MECW Vol. 29, p. 263.
- 6 Ibid. The insertions are Bordiga’s.
- 7 Ibid., 264.
- 8 Ibid., 264.
- 9MECW Vol. 6, p. 494.
- 10 In the original text, a play on words making use of the French verb se doubler.
- 11 From the article The Peasant Question in France and Germany, written by Engels in November 1894 as a critique of the agrarian program adopted by the French Workers’ Party at its Nantes congress in September of the same year (English translation taken from MECW Vol. 27, p. 492). When Bordiga says that the party recently quoted this text, he is referring to the theoretical appendix The revolutionary program of communist society eliminates all forms of ownership of land, the instruments of production and the products of labor, published in Il Programma Comunista two months earlier.
- 12 The interfederal meeting of the Internationalist Communist Party that Bordiga refers to here took place on September 20–21, 1958, and the present article makes up the minutes of its third session.
- 13 MECW Vol. 29, p. 278.
- 14 A reference to Bordiga’s earlier text of a similar title, published in Il Programma Comunista N°1 (October 10, 1952), N°2 (October 24, 1952), N°3 (November 6, 1952), and N°4 (November 20, 1952).
- 15 See the section “Marxism and property” in Part I of this article.
- 16 The internationalist meeting that Bordiga is referring to was held in Paris on June 8–9, 1957. The minutes were published in Il Programma Comunista N°13 (July 3, 1957), N°14 (July 18, 1957), and N°15 (August 2, 1957) under the title I fondamenti del comunismo rivoluzionario marxista nella dottrina e nella storia della lotta proletaria internazionale [The fundamentals of Marxist revolutionary communism in the doctrine and history of the international proletarian struggle] and are available online in both Italian and English.
- 17 A reference to The Principles of Communism, written by Engels in October and November 1847. In his letter to Marx of November 24, 1847, Engels, referring to this work, wrote: “I think we would do best to abandon the catechetical form and call the thing Communist Manifesto”.
- 18 Big capitalists; from the title of Émile Fabre’s comedy dealing with the same subject.
- 19 Only the first volume of the intended series was completed before Bordiga’s death in 1970: Storia della Sinistra comunista Vol. I, published in 1964 and dealing with the period of 1912–1919. Four more volumes have since been published by Edizioni Il Programma Comunista (the last one in 2017), still only covering events up to the fascist offensive against the Italian party in the early months of 1923.
- 20 An allusion to Palmiro Togliatti (1893–1964), the long-time leader of the Stalinist Italian Communist Party, whose nickname was “Il Migliore” (“The Best”).
- 21 Giacomo Perticone (1892–1979), an Italian philosopher specializing in the history of political parties and movements. He edited the proceedings of the above-mentioned session on “Freedom and Value” of the 12th International Congress of Philosophy (published in 1960).
- 22 Cf. Bordiga as quoted in Avanguardia, October 20, 1912: “The need for study should be proclaimed in a congress of school-teachers, not socialists.”
- 23 A reference to The Holy Family: “Only political superstition still imagines today that civil life must be held together by the state, whereas in reality, on the contrary, the state is held together by civil life.” (MECW Vol. 4, p. 121)
- 24 Literally “resurgence”; the bourgeois revolutionary struggle for Italian unification, starting in the 1830s and ending in 1871.
- 25 In English in the original text.
- 26 A literary device consisting of a solemn exclamation addressed to someone who is absent or cannot respond.
- 27 A line of verse consisting of eleven syllables.