A 2004 programmatic statement by a Galician council communist group, which observes that “social change and self-transformation proceed in tandem in real revolutionary practice”—for which purpose certain “useful elements” of “western psychology and the currents of eastern spirituality” can help us confront the challenges of life in capitalism—and “the spiritual transformation of life and the material transformation of life [are] indissolubly linked, as parallel and interacting processes and realities”, but that only “class struggle” enables the proletariat to “become capable of advancing its own self-transformation”, which is presently of an “experimental nature”.
The Self-Liberation of the Proletariat Is the Collapse of Capitalism!1 - Grupo de Comunistas de Consejos de Galiza
1. All over the world, living conditions for the working class are deteriorating continuously and irreversibly. Capitalism, which until the 1970s had successfully mitigated its structural crisis as a mode of production, has since then failed as a progressive system for humanity.
During the 1930s capital accumulation, which had become increasingly internationalized, and which had until then been based on the development of the social productive forces—that is, on the raising of the productivity of labor by way of technological development—which constitutes the essential progressive characteristic of capitalism, began to develop a different basis for its existence.2 Now, we suffer from the absolute pauperization of the working class in every country: absolute wage reductions, prolongation of the working day, speed-ups, flexible contract work, cutbacks in job security, and attacks on all the historical conquests of the workers movement. Capitalism can no longer uphold the profitability of capital except by means of the absolute degradation of labor, thereby provoking the continuous historical decline of our standard of living.
The internal contradiction of the capitalist mode of production, between the development of the productive forces of social labor and the capitalist relations of production, which was scientifically analyzed as a dynamic whole by Karl Marx in Capital, is now entering its final stage of historical decline, a decline which is basically looming over the working class and the oppressed of the planet like a wave of barbarism and decomposition of social life that is destroying humanity as a species and in its essence.
In order to address the falling rate of profit, caused by the development of the social forces of production themselves, which by economizing on human labor also undermines the real source of value—labor itself—the capitalist class needed to totally destroy the old social welfare politics, based on interventionist State spending, in order to reduce these expenses to the minimum necessary for the continuation of private capitalism. In this way the bourgeois class rid itself of those tax burdens which had become unbearable for the preservation of the competitive profitability of capital—or, in other words, for the maximization of profit, its increase in proportion to investment—which was necessary to prevent capitalism from being paralyzed by an endless crisis brought about precisely because the means of production of social wealth are the private property of a minority.
Unless the proletariat once again launches its historical struggle with all its forces, all the old conquests of the workers movement are condemned to disappear, and our situation will get even worse. But this force can only be liberated from the chains of its material and spiritual submission to capitalism by setting ourselves the goal of the authentic substantial transformation of our collective conditions of existence, which is only possible by way of the revolutionary struggle for the destruction of capitalism.
2. The proletariat, the international class dispossessed of its instruments and conditions of labor, of the means to produce its own material life, incarnates the negation of private property, which is nothing but the product of its own labor transformed into an alien power that dominates it. Its interests therefore spontaneously orient it towards unity against this privation and towards the struggle to abolish it. Communism is nothing less than the real movement of the proletariat fighting for the abolition of its alienated existence, its existence “for others”: for capital, for the capitalist. More precisely: communism is the mode of activity of the proletariat when it acts in a revolutionary manner to abolish private property.
The only alternative to capitalism is an authentic communism, that is, the suppression of society’s division into classes, which is the root of the limitations and decline of contemporary society. The proletarian revolution, the construction of communism as a social regime, the creation of a communist society, must begin with the abolition of wage labor—whose essence is the subordination of living labor to the accumulation of capital (materialized labor)—and all the other economic features and categories of capitalist functioning: value and surplus value, commodity and market, the division between intellectual and manual labor, and competition.
The precondition for this essentially economic process is the violent destruction of the capitalist State and its replacement by the autonomously organized and democratic power of the proletariat, of society’s majority, in order to abolish private property in the social means of production and the separation between civil society and organized political power. The so-called “socialist” or “communist” regimes, and bolshevism itself, not only did not realize communism but also did not even achieve a material level of development of society comparable to the advanced capitalism of the 20th century. Bolshevism created a totalitarian form of State capitalism based on the exploitation of wage labor and consequently on the political and ideological rule of a new ruling class over the proletariat, a bureaucracy as the collective owner of the means of production.
Needless to say, these social systems were a far cry from bringing about real freedom and human self-realization, in both a material and a spiritual sense.
3. In the 1920s a revolutionary minority, practically as well as theoretically formed in the class struggle, which constituted the vanguard nucleus of the revolutionary proletariat in Germany and Holland, finalized its break with social democracy by making a qualitative leap forward. Its program was not a theoretical invention, but expressed both the real tendency of the most conscious sectors of the proletarian movement as well as the needs of the class as a whole, which was compelled to achieve its autonomy in opposition to all the forces that tied it to capitalism.
These positions led this vanguard to quickly proceed, first, to form a left opposition against Bolshevism in the Third International (the Communist International), and then later to make a clean break with Bolshevism, elaborating the communist current of thought and action that Lenin called “leftism”—a term that served at the time to conceal the opportunism and connivance of the Bolsheviks with the western social reformists and bourgeoisie, as well as the dictatorial and capitalist character of the Bolshevik regime, which was denounced by revolutionary communists.
After their break with the Third International these revolutionary militants, seeking to differentiate themselves from the “left communists” who restricted themselves to a partial opposition to Bolshevism, adopted the name “council communists”, a reference to the strict connection between their concept of communism and the development of the organized power of the proletarians themselves by soviets or workers councils.
Council communism is opposed to the Leninist concept of the proletarian revolution and the realization of communism, and views the Russian revolution of 1917 and its subsequent imitators as bourgeois revolutions, which led to totalitarian forms of State capitalism. Nor do its proponents think that trade unions and political parties, which have been increasingly integrated as instruments of the capitalist State, and which arose during the era of the ascendant and progressive capitalism of the 19th century, can be the vehicles and forms of organization of the revolutionary struggle in either its initial phase within capitalism or during and after the revolution itself. The proletariat needs new forms of organization that respond to its individual and collective emancipation as human beings, and which can be of use in providing a foundation for its autonomous development as a conscious revolutionary class and as the power of the masses against capitalism, forms of organization that constitute the basis of its future revolutionary power organized in workers councils.
In the view of council communism, the function of the revolutionary vanguard, the advanced nucleus of the proletariat itself, is to help the workers themselves, by their own efforts, to free themselves from the spiritual chains of capitalism and to become conscious of their power, of their capacity for action, awakening all their forces that have been lulled to sleep by a life of slavery at work and political and intellectual nullity. This combined effort, which is itself a part of the class struggle, impelled by immediate needs, and which finds in this struggle the source of vitality and experience necessary for the autonomous development of the working class as revolutionary subject, constitutes the active and fundamental element of the real communist movement, of the revolutionary workers movement.
Council communism places all its hopes in the abilities of the proletarians to fight and to think for themselves, and assumes the real practical, radical and universal applicability of the historic international rallying cry: “THE EMANCIPATION OF THE WORKING CLASS MUST BE THE TASK OF THE WORKERS THEMSELVES”.
4. We Revolutionary Communists are the heirs of council communism, which constitutes the historical current of the revolutionary thought of the proletariat, emerging from the original Marxism and converging with the best contributions of anarchism, but realizing revolutionary praxis in a higher synthesis.
We consider that our task as a group, which responds to the immediate and future needs of the working class and humanity as a whole, is to construct a program for the integral development of the proletariat as revolutionary subject, a program that would be an authentic method for understanding and transforming the world, a guide for action in our era, an era distinguished by the confusionism created by capital’s ideological powers and by the anachronism of the concepts, the organizations and the practice of the old workers movement.
The Revolutionary Communists maintain that capitalism is currently in its stage of open decline, and that working class reformism and its organizations—the old workers movement, which has for some time now been increasingly subject to being abandoned by the workers themselves, by the most conscious elements of the class—must be superseded. The struggle for reforms only makes sense now as a necessary means for survival and, at the same time, for building the consciousness and the organization of the proletariat as a revolutionary power. Capitalism cannot be reformed; it can only be destroyed. The old workers organizations, the trade unions and parties, are today for the most part mere appendages of the capitalist State, tools for capital’s use against labor, incapable in even the best cases—the minority “radical” trade unions and parties—of confronting capitalist power, of organizing the proletariat as a revolutionary power, or of growing without falling into the nets of capitalist power.
The old forms of organization are forms that reproduce capitalist social relations, the subordination of living labor to materialized labor and of the energies of the class to structures of representation, respectively based on the mere aggregation of masses in the case of the trade unions, and on the rule of ideology over the thoughts of the individual in the case of the political parties. The construction of a new workers movement starts with basing everything on free and enthusiastic cooperation among equals, replacing the rallying of individuals behind a handful of leaders with the creation of autonomous groups founded on individual commitment to the political struggle and a spirit of community and fraternity: authentic communities of proletarian struggle. It also implies the suppression of every particular form of party based on intellectual submission at the personal level and on the struggle for political and ideological hegemony over the masses—when it is not purely and simply a struggle for power in the bourgeois State. Political parties must be replaced by groups of a new type, based on class commitment and on an ongoing labor of theoretical development, propaganda and agitation, whose function is to contribute elements for the self-clarification of the working class and to thus spur it towards autonomous action, not to lead it politically or to “educate” it in revolutionary ideas.
Just as capitalist production relations changed from positive conditions for the development of society into the hindrances of that development that they are now, so too have the traditional forms of workers organization been transformed into obstacles to the development of the proletariat as revolutionary subject, preventing the proletariat from making a spiritual break with its enslaved, alienated and unnatural condition as a ruled class. The construction of new forms of organization, however, can only result from needs determined by the class struggle, together with the indispensable maturation of the consciousness of the proletariat with respect to those needs. Therefore, for revolutionary communism, the development of the class struggle with a practical revolutionary orientation, organization based on free cooperation, and the growth of the consciousness of the proletariat, all constitute an interdependent unity.
5. As a result, the Revolutionary Communists conceive of the class struggle and the development of the consciousness and organization of the class as parallel processes. Social change and self-transformation proceed in tandem in real revolutionary practice. Thus we are not fighting only for material freedom, but also and indissolubly for a profound spiritual liberation, and we view the suppression of psychological limitations and dependencies as a decisive precondition for the progress of the real revolutionary movement. The proletariat can only become capable of transforming society and building its independent movement by simultaneously transforming its own life and its own existence, striving for the suppression of its human alienation.
The suppression of the division between leaders and led within the proletarian movement that must be founded upon a continuous effort, both individual and collective, to develop the abilities and autonomous activity of each person and to achieve an integral human transformation, is in accordance with our common essence as a social species, breaking with the vulgarly materialist egoism of private property, commodity consumerism and possessive authoritarianism, which constitute the outward face of the spiritual poverty in which today’s society “lives”.
Against this spiritual poverty, the real wealth of the human spirit resides in total sharing, in the real human community, in the full realization of the universal principle of communism, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”; it resides in our collective consciousness and identity as a species, in superseding a limited life that has been reduced to the mindless accumulation of material wealth to the detriment of the development of our mental, emotional and creative faculties.
The deepest psychological needs of the human being will never be realized through the possession of external goods, as is sought in the culture of private property, but only by means of an integral and complete development of human autonomous activity, a limitless development of all human powers and abilities. Without spiritual fullness, without true happiness, material freedom is empty and material life ephemeral. Real spiritual freedom begins with the negation of authoritarianism based on possession and exclusionary and miserly egoism; it is seeing one’s own freedom realized through the freedom of others.
The necessary complements to spiritual poverty are the diverse forms of religious and ideological egoism, and all forms of irrational belief and worship. Religion and all spiritual ideologies (including atheism itself in many cases) are the alienated expressions of human powerlessness in the world; all the aspirations that are currently projected into the illusory world of religious or even allegedly atheist mythology (the “Idea”, the “Leader”, etc.) will only find their full and true realization by being put into practice for the purpose of the radical and universal transformation, both internal and external, of human life. For this purpose we welcome, from an experimental and scientific perspective, the useful elements developed by western psychology and the currents of eastern spirituality which serve to catalyze and spread this internal revolution, and to improve and perfect our physical and intellectual abilities, to activate our spiritual energy and intensify its force, and to struggle within ourselves and in our daily lives against the total mystification produced by wage labor and the total poverty of capitalist life in general.
Nonetheless, we do not advocate any particular “ethic” or doctrine, or any particular kind of spiritual transformation as a precondition for the material transformation of human life. We see the spiritual transformation of life and the material transformation of life as indissolubly linked, as parallel and interacting processes and realities; both are therefore equally limited and antagonistic with respect to our experience as exploited workers in conflict with capitalist society as a whole. Internal transformation and the struggle for communism are thus inseparable.
Spiritual liberation is decisive for the development of the revolutionary movement, but what determines the revolutionary character of the movement is the class antagonism that is diffused throughout capitalist society in all aspects of social life. Communism is not the idea of a genius, but above all the living need of the proletariat to overthrow the existing society. Its realization will require, as Marx and Engels said, all the energies at the disposal of the revolutionary class, the development of their abilities in step with the tasks and goals that must be fulfilled, and its association to carry out this immense transformation, which will signify the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.
The development of the productive forces takes the form, under the rule of private property, of a proportionate development of the forms of class rule. This is why the difficulties faced by the proletariat in its attempt to rid itself of all the spiritual chains that bind it to bourgeois society are more evident today than ever before, and it is becoming obvious that this spiritual liberation requires more potent means and the application of greater efforts to this task. Against the totalitarian unity of the rule of capital, which is both material and spiritual, the proletariat must marshal the integral character of its self-liberation, always keeping in mind the fact that “not criticism but revolution is the motor force of history”.
The spiritual slavery presupposed by wage labor and alienated life have until now prevented, and will do so even more in the future, any revolutionary movement from being—beyond the level of appearances—the result of any kind of spiritual or intellectual revolution. It is by way of the class struggle, which shatters the material rule of capital, that the proletariat will become capable of advancing its own self-transformation. Only with the maturation of this spontaneous process will proletarians in general become capable of taking the step—naturally and out of pure necessity—from immediate consciousness to a rational and theoretical consciousness concerning their struggle and, at the same time, they will become capable of raising themselves to a similar understanding of their own internal transformation, which is today still of a preeminently experimental nature.
The Revolutionary Communists call upon all workers to join us in the effort to begin this struggle for an authentic and integral communism!
Ígneo, no. 1, 2004
Translated in June 2009 from the Spanish original.
- 1 Ígneo No. 1, Fall 2004, “La autoliberación del proletariado es el derrumbe del capitalismo!!!” [Ígneo, el boletín trimestral de los Comunistas Revolucionários (Grupo de Comunistas de Consejos de Galiza - Estado español)—Translator’s Note.]
- 2 The development of the productivity of labor in capitalism itself implies a relative impoverishment of the workers, insofar as their wages and standards of living do not increase in proportion to the magnitude by which the productivity of social labor, and with the latter, the mass of capitalist wealth, increases. One must therefore differentiate between relative impoverishment and absolute pauperization, the increase of exploitation by way of the productivity of labor and the increase of exploitation by way of the destruction of the proletariat’s social conditions of existence.