From 1970s situationist journal, Point Blank! Analysis of the state of the world and the class struggle in 1972. Subtitled "Theses on the end of the Cold War."
"Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national form; the national governments are as one against the proletariat."
Karl Marx. The Civil War in France.
That banal melodrama, the Cold War, has ended its record run on the stage of history, taking only the naive by surprise. Even before the curtain has finally closed, the protagonists have regrouped their forces; enemies embrace and nations shed their masks to reveal to the world that everybody looks the same. What formerly presented itself as high tragedy now appears as farce; Nixon visits Peking, China supports the quasi-Trotskyist government of Ceylon against a Maoist-style insurrection, the "arch-renegade" Tito is awarded the Lenin prize. Old foes have become reconciled: China and Japan, North and South Korea.
Even characters that once appeared rebellions are now as respectable as the rest; Regis Debray is a public-relations man for Allende - the heroic guerrilla has become a social-democrat. While analysts Left and Right seem dazed by the sudden turn of events, it should be noted that this script had been determined long in advance; behind the ecumenical festivities, we recognize that experienced director, the commodity economy. Though the masters of state power toast each other with celestial platitudes in the banquet halls of the world, a more mundane force has been issuing the invitations. If the Chinese have learned to play the U.S. national anthem, it is because American businessmen have learned how to speak Chinese.
The global peace proclaimed by capitalism today is merely another victory in the perpetual war of the commodity a war which has imposed itself everywhere, above and below the surface of political reality. Only a journalist would think that China and the U.S. merely intend to exchange ambassadors. The resolution of former political antagonisms is only the reflection of a convergence of economic interests; this similarity was always implicitly present, but the need for an expansion of advanced capitalism's markets, coinciding with the primitive development of modern industry (lack of consumer goods, etc.) in the bureaucratic states necessitates that such an affinity be openly expressed. The Cold War was an ideological ruse whereby the competing variants of capitalism could present each other as the absolute enemy; in the pseudo-socialist countries this accomplished a social unification in the face of the "enemy," which concealed the class divisions existing in these societies. In the West the spectre of totalitarianism was flung in the face of the proletariat as the meaning of "communism," effectively intimidating much of the working class. But this charade has long since served its purpose, and the prospect of economic gain has consigned it to an irrevocable past.
The decline of the spectacular pseudo-conflict between "Eastern" and "Western" forms of capitalism has come as an especially hard blow to all the leftist ideologues who had built a career out of it The movement of history has put an end to all their feeble hopes of a "revolution from the Third World." The "anti-imperialist" ideology, which sought to transpose the concept of "class-struggle" onto a global context where the Third World would represent the "proletariat" has proved bankrupt as the Third World "socialist" bloc disintegrates into an infinity of local nationalisms. Unlike their vicarious imitators in the West, the real Maoists in Peking have had sufficient intelligence to know who their friends are and who their enemies are. The new-found friendship between the U.S. and China, which became a military reality during the India-Pakistan war, may have upset the well-laid plans of all the idiotic leftist sects, but those who have arranged the romance know what they have in common. The imperialism which lies at the heart of commodity production is not the exclusive domain of the Western powers; Russia and China have proved themselves adept at mastering this technique. Capitalism reigns everywhere.
The various local pseudo-socialisms in China, Cuba, etc. which once "opposed" capitalism have not escaped the fate of their 'Bolshevik forebears, These peculiar forms of state-capitalism have emerged in countries which had no indigenous bourgeois class capable of maintaining an effective social hegemony, and the bureaucracies have only taken the place of the bourgeoisie in effecting a transition from feudal to capitalist modes of production. This "revolution," which sought to export itself everywhere in the Third World, has now shown its true nature China now demands full partnership in the capitalist .community of nations; Cuba is only an impotent colony of the Soviet Union. Castroism, which once trained its guerrillas for an armed conquest of Latin America, now finds its task much easier; besides recognizing itself in Allende's Chile, it openly flirts with the military regime of Peru. Maoism, having sustained numerous defeats in Africa, Indonesia, and India, has abandoned People's War (Lin Piao) for People's Diplomacy (Chou Enlai); its latest converts to the new line include Greece and Iran. Bureaucratic power makes strange bedfellows.
The commodity has indeed succeeded in levelling all the walls of China. But this fact is only a superficial manifestation of a global realignment of power which is presently taking place the Peking and Moscow summits, if nothing else, have established the necessary formalities. The various partners have recognized each other for what they are, masters of state and economy who have a vested interest in maintaining this power. This recognition is only the prelude to the formation of an international counter-revolutionary alliance which has already made itself felt in Ceylon, Poland, and Bangladesh, and which will be heard from again whenever the actions of the world proletariat threaten its continued existence. However, concerted action is only possible if traditional areas of conflict have been neutralized; such a reduction in tension has begun, in the Middle East and Indochina. The Stalinist bureaucracy of North Vietnam and the hyper-national Arab states find themselves isolated even among their "socialist" comrades; like their counterparts in the Western camp (South Vietnam, Israel),these countries have only been the pawns of an international chess-game in which the players sit in Washington, Peking, and Moscow. The deals made there will bring an end to the Vietnam War and at least continue the stalemate in the Mideast. Formerly troublesome elements such as the Palestinian guerrillas have been rendered virtually harmless within the Mideast; the Palestinian movement, which never advanced beyond a militantly primitive nationalism and hardly posed a revolutionary alternative to the institutionalized nationalism of the Arab states, has been reduced to a state of absolute impotence (reflected in terrorism) in the wake of the destruction of its forces in Jordan, 1970. The lesson of nationalism which the West taught all the other areas of the world returned to haunt it in the form of wars of "national liberation." But as the more advanced countries move into an era of internationalism, the nationalist rites of other countries will necessarily be cut short.
The global unification of capitalism has proceeded with less pageantry elsewhere in the world. Previous formal power groupings are dissolving: NATO and the Warsaw Pact now only exist in the minds of the two major powers that created them. The European countries may well pride themselves on having met the "American challenge" and turning it into a challenge to American economic predominance. Independent power groupings are emerging in Europe and Japan which can negotiate on an equal economic basis with the U.S. While unable to agree on the exact method of exchanging their currency, the European countries have succeeded in putting their Markets truly in Common. But while the European bloc proclaims its "independence" from the U-S., it acts as proxy for it in foreign affairs. The conciliatory German, Willy Brandt, has managed to demolish the rusting Iron Curtain. Behind the Ostpolitik for which Brandt was awarded the Nobel prize lies the Realpolitik of the commodity. The eventual demolition of the Berlin Wall will only he a physical complement to the destruction of trade barriers that is currently in progress. Brandt is not merely under-taking these policies in order to be a "statesman" - the trump card that he holds is the stability of the German Mark. The new economic order in Europe, which began with the EEC and is now being extended, allows each country to compensate for its individual economic deficiencies; nations that are heavily industrialized (like West Germany) can draw upon other countries' excess labor in order to maintain their position and to compete with the more advanced powers. The Marshall Plan has paid off its dividend in the form of a blitzkrieg of Volkswagens and Toyotas.
The developments in the bureaucratic sphere of Eastern Europe under the hegemony of the Soviet Union have been of an entirely different nature. Economic development in the individual countries ha been hindered by the permanent political crisis confronted by the ruling bureaucracies. The events of 1968 (Czechoslovakia) and 1970 (Poland gave the bureaucrats of the Soviet bloc a bad scare- Since the Czech uprising, the USSR has been forced to grant a certain degree of parochial "autonomy" to its satellite countries; these regimes are permitted room to experiment with their own "individual roads to socialism," within certain defined limits. The hard-line Stalinists, like Moczar in Poland and Ulbricht in East Germany, are disappearing in favor of more "flexible" technocrats. in the realm of international politics, such mavericks as Ceauceseu can be easily tolerated the Rumanian Premier, after all, beat everybody else to the punch two years ago by inviting Nixon to pay a diplomatic visit. But the essential relationship of these countries to the U.S.S.R. must be maintained: the Czechoslovak rebellion, precisely because it took place in the most industrially advanced Eastern European country, posed a serious threat to the economic interests of the Soviet Union, and the Kremlin cannot allow a similar situation to occur again. The same considerations are at work in Poland. In 1970, the Polish bureaucrats were faced with the specter of their annihilation in Gdansk when the workers spontaneously revolted against Party rule; widespread looting occurred, and in Szceczin, the CP headquarters was destroyed. The workers answered the oppressive "socialism" of the Communist bureaucracy by maintaining their strike despite State repression and setting fire to several of the tanks that were sent in to crush the insurrection. The danger of a repetition of these events has led the ox-coal-miner Gierek to remodel the government from top to bottom.
"The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a world-historical existence. World-historical existence of individuals means, existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history.'
- Karl Marx. The German Ideology
The answer to the riddle of history, which Marx discovered so long ago in the economy, now reveals itself openly. But at the same time the present masters of the economy - the bourgeoisie and its bureaucratic counterpart - wish to put an end to history by presenting the current state of affairs as the only possible order. Despite their schemes, however, history has already exploded on the scene: the historical forces of the negation of capitalism announced themselves in the May-June 1968 events in France. The revolt of May heralded the physical reappearance of the class struggle; the myth of the "immunity" of advanced capitalism to revolutionary developments was conclusively shattered. The movement of occupations that extended itself throughout the country was not confined to one sector of production alone - professionals, office workers, and high school students as well as industrial workers occupied the vital terrain of society. That such a crisis could even have occurred at all sent the ideologues scurrying for various convenient ways of explaining it away the struggle was presented as essentially a student revolt that had gotten out of hand or a general demand for long-needed reforms in the outmoded Gaullist system. But the initial panic of the authorities was succeeded by calculations on how they could maintain themselves; the call for self-management that emerged (often unconsciously) from the occupations was adopted by many of the trade-union leaders and used as a weapon to get the workers to return to their jobs. In one sense, the May movement formed the basis of an orgy of reform whereby capitalism could perpetuate itself. Despite its recuperation, however, the real implications of this movement cannot be suppressed, and they will continue to manifest themselves in France and elsewhere. The radical history made by the proletariat has already disturbed the calm of the sleep that capitalism imposes throughout its world.
No sooner had the old world regained its balance than new proletarian movements emerged in the wake of May. Perhaps the most important of these arose in Italy, where workers and students took to the streets, defying both the cops and the Italian CP. What began as a series of strikes for higher wages soon developed into a movement wildcat strikes and fighting in the factories which left the trade union behind. New forms of struggle grew out of this activity - in factories spontaneous work stoppages which mobilized entire shop floors won occur, often resulting in managers being roughed up and machines smashed. In the Southern town of Battipaglia, the workers took over the local administration and elected a committee of delegates to a municipal affairs. But the "hot autumn" of 1969 had its initial source the specific character of the Italian economy, which because of concentration in the Northern industrial area has forced many workers from the underdeveloped South to seek employment in major centers such as Turin and Milan. It is these workers who are among the most militant in factory struggles. Furthermore, the government in Italy has been traditionally unstable since the end of World War II, with the constantly changing assortment of center-left and center-right coalitions producing an extremely fluid situation conducive to a variety of movements - including neo-fascism. And if the Italian workers have gone beyond the labor unions, they still remain vulnerable to the leftist groups (Potere Operaio, Lotta Continua, Il Manifesto) that prepare the basis for a new bureaucratic structure while proclaiming their support for the most extremist actions taken by the workers: the Base Committees that appeared in many plants in 1969 were often infiltrated and taken over by these manipulators. But the mere fact that all the powers of the Italian State have been marshalled to prevent another "hot autumn" demonstrates that the struggle of the Italian proletariat has gone beyond the stage where it can be easily defused - it continues unabated despite overt police repression. When the proletariat discovers that the true source of revolution lies only in themselves and in their own autonomous action, the "issues" that initially appeared to direct their struggle are swept away: the essential demand of the proletariat transcends all particular demands.
The proletariat has also announced itself elsewhere, but in a less coherent form than in Italy. Behind the "religious" civil war in Northern Ireland lies the class struggle which is at its origin. But here the ideologists (IRA, People's Democracy) have been at work for a long time to ensure the maintenance of the false divisions in the Irish proletariat, The immediate issues - discrimination in job opportunities and in housing - still play a major role in determining the direction of the struggle, which has remained confined to the Catholic enclaves and has yet to extend itself to the factories and other areas of production. The twin factions of the IRA, with their archaic nationalist ideology, have attempted through such spectacular actions as bombing and terrorism to recuperate the struggle into a purely military conflict. At present, the situation in Ireland remains tenuous; the initial conquests of the proletariat have been virtually eradicated by the British troops, and the growth of reactionary Protestant militantism has strengthened the hand of the IRA by raising the possibility of sectarian war. The true depth of the class struggle in Ireland will be measured by the Irish workers' response to the attempted subversion of their actions. But visible class conflict in Great Britain has not been confined to Ireland. In the "home" country of England, there have been several instances of factory occupations. to protest Heath's "redundancy" cutbacks; however backward their principal slogan, "the right to work," may be, these actions are in themselves quite radical and concretely pose the question of the occupation of the means of production. The recent unofficial activity of British dock workers demonstrates that the struggle has already begun to go beyond the unions; the workers organized the wildcat strike on a nationwide level, electing delegates to coordinate strike activity. Battles with police occurred, and when the union leaders attempted to gain control over the strike, the workers disobeyed their orders and on one occasion physically attacked the head unionist after a strike settlement meeting. Radical incidents have taken place in other countries: during the recent general strike in Quebec, workers seized several radio stations, and mines have been occupied in Australia. But in each case the trade unions have remained in control.
The struggle against capitalism is not necessarily confined to the "advanced" sector. The advance of bureaucratic state-capitalism in the Third World does not preclude the possibilities of genuinely revolutionary activity occurring in "underdeveloped' countries; it only means that no one can entertain any illusions as to the exact nature of a revolution which opposes every imperialism and ruling class. The experience, however brief, of the struggle for self-management in Algeria has already outlined the possibilities for such a revolution, The revolution in the Third World must begin where this struggle left off, guarding against the emergence of future Ben Bellas and consciously posing (both practically and theoretically the question of workers' councils and self-management. The radical movements that have recently occurred in the Third World have been dominated by all sorts of mystifications. The expropriations of large estates by Chilean peasants have mostly been accomplished under the leadership of the Guevarist MIR, and the spontaneous insurrection of Cordoba, Argentina, in 1969, where militias and armed occupations appeared during the fighting, was to return as a caricature in 1971 when Peronists and various guerrilla groups dominated the street actions. In order for the possibilities contained in these revolts to extend themselves, future
movements in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World must take place over the ruins of these long-discredited ideologies.
Despite the situation in Italy and elsewhere, revolutionary possibilities have not emerged everywhere. In most areas absolute tranquillity reigns; the more advanced welfare states (Sweden, Netherlands) have perfected their pacification programs - here, the recuperators have realized the Bolshevik dream of remaining one step ahead of the masses. The once-promising revolts of youth and minorities have in many cases proved to be ephemeral; their demands have been easily integrated into the system. Capitalism has succeeded in rivalling the leftists in an ability to reform society. But despite this reform, capitalism has yet to find a solution to the social crisis which is latently present, even in the most advanced societies. While revolution is by no means inevitable, it is equally true that radical activity exists on a potentially international level.
The two facts which dominate history today, the end of the Cold War and the reappearance of the proletariat as a radical force, only confirm the critique of modern society presented by the Situationist International ten years ago. But this confirmation will be of purely academic interest unless the situationist critique is executed in practice, and no one can delude himself about the nature of the practical task which remains to be accomplished. It would be empty voluntarism to talk of any present "world-wide revolt" or the workers' councils of the future without delineating precisely the specific nature of the struggles now taking place. Another May '68 will not simply "happen," any practical advance towards self-management will not occur until the critique enters as a decisive force in history. Those who talk about the "unity of theory and practice" without attempting to pursue an immediate radical practice are mere spectators of revolution. Rather than adopt a contemplative attitude, which admires at a distance past theoretical and practical achievements, the task of any revolutionary organization is to go beyond what has already been done, elaborating a theory and practice which is commensurate with contemporary conditions. The situationist revolution has yet to be made; the world is still the terrain of capitalism - the point remains to change it.
The International of capitalism has yet to be answered by an effective International of revolution. This does not mean, however, that the formation of such an International can he conceived in a purely formal sense; since objective conditions differ in each country, the application of revolutionary theory to a given practical situation cannot adhere to a mechanical "universal" pattern. Interventions in potentially radical struggles must analyze the specific characteristics of these situations a well as place them within a global context; although they are part of the same general struggle, a wildcat strike in America and a factory occupation in Italy pose different tactical requirements. In the past few years the most radical proletarian struggles have been isolated in order to generalize these struggles, an exchange of experiences between revolutionaries is needed. In the same way, the potential for self-management contained in each situation must be concretely brought out from the events, rather than imposed from outside. It is not enough merely to invoke a past tradition of workers' councils (Russia 1905 Kronstadt 1921, Spain 1986, Hungary 1956 - unless the present possibilities for self-management are examined, such reliance on the past degenerates into ideology.
Self-management is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call self-management the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.
Those interested in other
Those interested in other texts by Point-Blank and subsequent texts by former members of that group can contact me at the email address below. Our complete archives (including all texts published by PB, our response to Shutes, break with Knabb, etc.) will be posted at the Collective Reinventions website in the near future. The archive will also include several rare texts written and published by PB members after the group folded its tent in 1975. These will include At Dusk and La guerre civile en Pologne, 1976 (Paris), available in French and English. Copies of the latter two publications can
be obtained by writing CR at the same email address.
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