Issue 7 of Riff-Raff, a Swedish journal influenced by left communist and autonomist Marxist strains, published in summer 2005.
Riff-Raff No. 7: Critique of political organisation
In our seventh issue we criticise and discuss political organisation from different perspectives, as the welfare-state, democracy and activism. In connection to this, Marcel from the editorial board stresses the importance of the de-subjecification of the proletariat, i.e. its abolishing as a class. As a continuation of the discussion on the theories of decadence and crisis, we present an article by the Italian Giacomo Marramao where he enthrones the question of method in the treatment of the subject–object-relation in defence of, among others, Grossman and Mattick. Finally, in his King of Prussia, Marx emphasises the social character of the revolution and maintains that its political side chiefly is dissolving.
-Amadeo Bordiga: Seize power or seize the factory?
-Giacomo Marramao: Theory of crisis and the problem of constitution
-Communism of attack, and communism of withdrawal (PDF of rough translation attached)
-J. Kellstadt: The Necessity and Impossibility of Anti-Activism
Critique of Political Organisation: Introduction
from Riff-Raff #7
The best points in my book are: 1. (this is fundamental to all understanding of the facts) the two-fold character of labour according to whether it is expressed in use-value or exchange-value, which is brought out in the very First Chapter; 2. the treatment of surplus-value regardless of its particular forms as profit, interest, ground rent, etc. (Marx to Engels, August 24, 18671)
The question of the relations of communists to the capitalist society, and even more so to the class they claim to be the social force that constitute the real movement of communism, is central to every "political" context"”party, organisation, collective and journal. Perhaps even more so for a "theoretical" journal, such as the riff-raff, that from bourgeoisie (in the widest sense of the word) standards at first glance seems to have least of immediate raison d'Ãªtre, and in the end merely is the non-successful result of the capitalist division of labour. In our last issue (#6 summer 2004) we tried to start localising ourselves"”for us, and for our readers"”with the help of the concept of "practical reflexivity"2 (guided by Marx's first thesis on Feuerbach and the British Marxist R. Gunn3). With our seventh issue, we have set out to continue this effort of localisation"”why we have called this issue's theme "Critique of Political Organisation".
The question (and critique) of political organisation is closely connected to the question of class consciousness and its genesis. The "obligatory point of departure" we have set out in determining the communist movement/the class consciousness is the critical determination of Marx's work with political economy, with its "double character as a theory of real abstraction and as a critique of the forms of reified consciousness". Since, like we wrote in our last issue, the concepts of bourgeoisie economy (and philosophy, politics, etc.) are "not just any produced categories to deliberately obscure the capitalist process of production as a process of exploitation, but 'objective forms of thought'".4 From this critique we may abstract "the fundamental categories of political theory, of the theory of classes and of the theory of the state" (Marramao, "The Theory of Crisis and the Problem of Constitution"), and with this as its base"”a theory of organisation.
Ever since the days of Marx himself the question of Marx's method of scientific work has been central to the labour movement. Not as a question of method in itself, but for the implications it gives to the interpretation of Marx's critique of the political economy.
In our last issue, with the help of Aufheben, we tried to discuss the subtitle to Marx's magnum opus, i.e. the critique of political economy, and in so emphasising its critical program. As a critique of political economy (qua 'economy'), and not a new "proletarian economy", we put the Marxian theory in the context which Marx placed himself and his work in, i.e. capitalism and the movement of its overthrow (communism). Thus we rejected any specific Marxian theory of crisis (nor any Marxian economy in general, nor a Marxian philosophy, history, sociology, etc.), even if the presence of crisis of course is a moment in Marx's overarching theory. He spent time with German philosophy in the morning, British political economy in the afternoon, and French socialism in the evening, at his own discretion, without ever becoming either German philosopher, British economist, or French socialist.
Thus the question of levels of abstraction and mode of presentation is central to understand both capitalism and Marx. The work of inquiry (Forschung) and presentation (Darstellung) is a relation we must keep in mind when we study, measure and draw revolutionary conclusions from Marx's critique of political economy... Marx himself was clear on this point:
In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both. (Marx, Capital vol. I, Preface to the First German Edition)
So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange value either in a pearl or a diamond. (Marx, Capital vol. I)
He notes that,
... all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided. (Marx, Capital vol. III)
... the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction. (Marx, Capital vol. I)
The Marxian question of method is thoroughly discussed by G. Marramao in his "The Theory of Crisis and the Problem of Constitution"5. The immediate link to the discussion in our last issue is that Marramao connects the question of method on the one hand to the discussion on capitalist crises and the collapse/finitude of capitalism in and around the council communist movement (primarily by Pannekoek, Korsch and Mattick) and on the other hand one of the main characters in what has come to be called Autonomist Marxism, Raniero Panzieri, and the alleged "putting Marx on his feet", i.e. the claim to change theoretical focus from "capital" to "the working class". This "back to the working class", however, is paradoxically, since it at the same time guides the way to a real understanding of the antagonistic capital relation qua class struggle, but in the end "the one who wants to have to much, often looses it all", like so many others before and after, "in misinterpreting the significance and the function of the representation". Marx himself wrote to Engels, after having explained the aimed outlines of vols. II and III of Capital, that at the end, "we have the class struggle, as the conclusion in which the movement and disintegration of the whole shit resolves itself.6. Nota bene, at the end of Capital (as an "artistic whole"). It is this paradox that makes Panzieri line up with Korsch and Pannekoek at the dead-end of "subjectivism". At this point Marramao claims that the parias of the Marxist theorists, Mattick and Grossmann, in their theorisation are closer both to Marx and to the real conditions. But at the same time as they succeed in tracing the genesis of class consciousness in the capitalist relations of (re-) production, and that it is presented theoretically in the critique of political economy, they reduce their theory of revolution and consciousness to be the "Siamese twin" of the capitalist "economic crises", which lead them to an "objectivist and mechanical reduction of the problem of constitution". Rather their theoretical merits appear "ex negativo" compared to Korsch and Pannekoek (and Panzieri).
In his text on democracy, "Democracy as the Community of Capital", Leo BjÃ¶rk starts, for us, a new discussion on a communist perspective on bourgeoisie democracy. It is loosely based on the Antagonism Press pamphlet, Bordiga versus Pannekoek, which we have translated into Swedish and are going to publish later this year.
Class struggle, by many socialists, is seen as a struggle for power. But what power?, LB asks. Too often as a formal power, that in itself "mystifies the proletarians' real conditions of existence", where struggle is "reduced to a fight of principles" with a perspective of power over economy or politics. But "the proletarians' real situation" shows us that struggle is about the power" over our "life-activity" and not about some juridical, moral or metaphysic individual freedom. Democracy, as an expression of the class relations of capitalism, rests on the division of labour between decision and execution, between those who decide and those who execute what is decided. So "against democratism and self-managementism we therefore must understand communism not as the extension of democracy to economy, but as the abolition of both as we know them today". As an "appendix" to the text on democracy we have translated (for the first time in Swedish) Bordiga's 1920 text "Seize Power or Seize the Factory?" (from Il Soviet, February 20, 1920).
In different forms and with different names the demand for a "guaranteed income" is raised by various Leftists and environmentalists et al. Wildcat (Germany) wrote about and criticised this in their 1999 "Reforming the Welfare State in Order to Save Capitalism" that appeared in the pamphlet Stop the Clock! by Wildcat, Mouvement Communiste, Aufheben and Precari-Nati as a contribution to a collective international discussion on the reformation of the capitalist welfare state.
We are also happy to introduce, for the first time in Swedish, a translation of Marx's 1844 "Critical Notes on 'The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian'" from VorwÃ¤rts!. It is, like so many texts by Marx and Engels, disregarded by all"”tendentious"”translations and selections in Swedish hitherto. This text, among other things, discuss issues related to both LB and Wildcat when it comes to an economic and/or a political versus a social revolution"”for Marx, this time, in relation to the insurrection of the Silesian weavers at the beginning of the 1840s: "Every revolution dissolves the old order of society; to that extent it is social. Every revolution brings down the old ruling power; to that extent it is political. ... All revolution"”the overthrow of the existing ruling power and the dissolution of the old order"”is a political act. But without revolution, socialism cannot be made possible. It stands in need of this political act just as it stands in need of destruction and dissolution. But as soon as its organising functions begin and its goal, its soul emerges, socialism throws its political mask aside."
This time we have a more overtly polemical section, starting with J. Kellstadt's critique of the text "Give up Activism" that, for example, appeared in Do or Die? and Collective Action Notes a couple of years ago, and was translated into Swedish by an Autonomist reading group in Stockholm. It is called "The Necessity and Impossibility of Anti-Activism". The primal critique in it is that the cure for "activism" in the end is a idealistic and moral individual "giving up" of the activist role, without realising the role of the "activist", like other "roles", in the capitalist society. It also criticises the text by C. Price from the same issue of CAN, "Fragile Prosperity? Fragile Social Peace?" that we published in the first issue of riff-raff. Just like Kellstadt we hope that Price in the future will acknowledge also his own (theoretical) practice in producing a communist journal as part of his list of (more "workerist") examples of adequate practices.
Perhaps the most devastating theoretical cluster-bomb this time is written by a member of the editorial board, the thrilling "Communism of Attack, and Communism of Withdrawal". The text has sparked off a lot of discussion within the editorial board. However, we have to say that the text"”for the moment"”do not represent the entire editorial board, which is why we have published it in the (more) polemical section of the issue. This is not to say that we do not agree with any aspect of the text. On the contrary, some parts of it reflect very well the positions of riff-raff, and still some more than so. Certain"”and fundamental to that"”aspects, however, makes us want to publish it as a polemical contribution to our theory production. See it as a reflection of our notion of theory as dynamic elaborations of the contradictory "real movement".
The red thread throughout the essay is the relation between theory and practice, "that is, the organisational implications of communist theory". The implications appear in the effort to specify the movement of communisation in its (schematically) two aspects: communisation as an "internal movement in the class struggle" and as an "external dimension". These aspects are produced by "different forms of practices", even if they are tied together. The former must be "developed and advanced" before the latter can be expressed. The transition between the two aspects is the transition from a "negative critique of capital to creative critique, i.e. the constitution of non-mercantile relations". "The internal movement against capital is the capital-negating tendencies in the actual class struggle, and the external dimension is the spaces where other relations than the capitalist are being produced".
The points where the most obvious divergences appeared were the disputation against "the mythology of Marxism about the proletariat", i.e. what we in our last issue discussed as communism being "the result of an internal contradiction in the capital relation", as Aufhebung, as "teleology", etc. The divergences were about whether this dispute actually contradicted what we said in the Introduction to the last issue or if it on the contrary was implicit in our notion that even if communism is not the goal for capitalism, capitalism nevertheless is a precondition for communism.
In this issue we also publish an excerpt from a correspondence between parts of the editorial board and Gilles Dauvé, mainly about the discussion between Aufheben and Théorie Communiste in the last three issues of the former.
When it comes to the "political" implications of the discussions this time we will continue keeping our eyes on "commons", workfare/the new welfare model, the "other" workers' movement, informal workplace struggle, and theories of the "social factory". Globally, perhaps the most urgent issue is coming to grips with the class composition in Asia with its sparkling upheavals spreading through the old Stalinist Eastern bloc, for example in Kyrgyzstan. But also its neighbour, the rapidly growing accumulation giant, China, provide us with a clandestine workers' movement in being. According to The New York Times no less than 60.000 riots occurred in China only during the last year. The situation is brought to a head. All independent workers' organisations are struck by repression, including assassinations. Kyrgyzstan is facing a permanent curfew and protests were drained in blood in the city of Andizjan, where hundreds of civilians have been massacred and many more have disappeared.
Loren Goldner7 makes the analysis that China is facing a situation similar to that in Russia during the decades prior to 1917, with the possibility of an uprising evolving to a proletarian revolution (the same estimation Marx did of the 1848 Germany). In any case, the Asian drama is an issue we have all reasons to return to. The last days we have been reached by the signs of an upcoming trade war between China and the US, on the one side, and China and the EU, on the other. The US is facing an all time low trade deficit to China (approximately USD 125 billions), that might get even worse due to the quotas on textiles that were abandoned at the end of last year. Now there is a growing concern among the American industry and Union movement that the American market will be flooded by strategic Chinese goods, such as steel, cars, etc. The pressure is increasing for the US Congress, and Bush has explained to China that its low valued currency is a threat to the free world trade"”and warns them, in the name of the free trade, to reinstate the quotas for the textiles import, if China will not revalue.
The same lament for the free trade has made the EU threaten China that also they will reinstate the import quotas for t-shirts and linens (the vanguard nations for this brand of free trade are primarily Portugal, Greece and Slovenia).
We may, once again, refer to the old Marxian beard:
But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade. (Marx, "Speech on the Question of Free Trade", 1848)
riff-raff, May 2005
1. Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress, Moscow 1965, p. 192.
2. See riff-raff #6 (summer 2004), "Past Decline and Beyond: Introduction"
3. We use the expression as it appear in his "Against Historical Materialism: Marxism as a First-Order Discourse" in Open Marxism vol. II, Pluto Press, London 2002.
4. Cf. perhaps the most central passage of Capital at the end of its first chapter, "The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof".
5. We have translated it from the English version in Telos #26, Winter 1975-76. The text though originally was published in Italian in Critica Marxista #2-3, 1975.
6. Marx to Engels, April 30, 1868, p. 208.
7. China in the Contemporary World Dynamic of Accumulation and Class Struggle: A Challenge for the Radical Left, at Break Their Haughty Power
Democracy as the Community of Capital - Leo Björk
The article as follows is a terse critique of democracy both as ideology and material reality. It has its points of departure in the pamphlet Bordiga versus Pannekoek from Antagonism Press, which riff-raff plan to publish in Swedish translation later this year.
The mentioned pamphlet gives a passage of the differences and convergences of the Dutch-German and Italian communist left (Pannekoek and Bordiga stand as representatives of each side of left communism), in issues as party, class, self-management, trade unions and, which we here have seized upon, workers’ democracy and proletarian dictatorship. The article is not near to be a complete critique of democracy, but at least in its modest number of pages, offers a draught to a more extensive analysis. In spite of the fact that it has been written with Bordiga versus Pannekoek as a reference it can without difficulty be read alone, but will later on also work as a proper complement to the pamphlet.
A Provisional Critique of Democracy
Democracy is, as I take all forms of government to be, a contradiction in itself, an untruth, nothing but hypocrisy … Political liberty is sham-liberty, the worst possible slavery; the appearance of liberty, and therefore the reality of servitude.
- Friedrich Engels1
Just like Marx and Engels because of the experiences of the Paris Commune had to revise the concept in the Communist Manifesto of “win the battle of democracy” to “the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”2 , the revolutionary experiences of the twentieth century lead us to—even though Marx theory in itself should have led us here, and even though it already have been understood from time to time by this or that theoretician and in this or that insurrection—that the establishment of a proletarian (political) power body is not enough, although it may be necessary. The authors of the pamphlet Bordiga versus Pannekoek give an account of Amadeo Bordiga’s critique of democracy, as well as they point out his insufficient societal perspectives. Contrasting against his political perspective is the democratism and economism of the Dutch-German communist left.3 The both starting points prove to be inadequate and to some extent complementary to each other. One conclusion is that the proletariat “aims neither to become the ruler of the state (rejecting a statist interpretation of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’) nor ruler of the enterprise (rejecting self-management), but abolishes its own conditions of existence and so itself as a class”. We will here approach the same issue but try to give some topics more attention, and also, in the light of the rejection of both the statist interpretation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and self-management, further stress what this aim of the proletariat is.
The pre-capitalist political doctrines were based on spiritual conceptions and religious revelations, and claimed supernatural forces had assigned the individuals diverse positions and tasks in society. The church explained for the peasants in villeinage that the feudal lord had been given his peculiar position by God. No sovereignty was above God, and thus the social order was made clear as the natural state of things. The political and economical power of the feudal lord had the right on its side. This metaphysics would at the time of the bourgeois revolutions, seemingly left the history with the appearance of the democratic philosophy. In the feudal society, the economical and political power was intimately connected on an individual level: the state apparatus was formed on the basis of the rich land owners. The ownership of the primary mean of production, the land, naturally offered geographical marked off areas for the exercise of the power of the state. But the dispersion of the commodity relations dissolved the feudal geographical units. With the development of capitalism the means of production were concentrated to the factory, the society was urbanised, the flow of commodities between capitalists and from capitalists to immediate consumption, and vice versa from the immediate producers to capitalists, became the critical point of the realisation of value. The bourgeoisie needed a new political mechanism to be able to exercise its dictatorship. It would be shown to be exactly the democracy. With the old metaphysics left behind a new one was introduced with the individual as the sovereign unit.4
Instead of appraising the value of the individual’s opinion in the light of his manifold conditions of existence, that is, his relations with others, it postulates this value a priori with the hypothesis of the “sovereignty” of the individual. Again this amounts to denying that the consciousness of men is a concrete reflection of the facts and material conditions of their existence
– – –
Without any doubt, the individual is a unit from a biological point of view, but one cannot make this individual the basis of social organization without falling into metaphysical nonsense. From a social perspective, all the individual units do not have the same value. The collectivity is born from relations and groupings in which the status and activity of each individual do not derive from an individual function but from a collective one determined by the multiple influences of the social milieu.
– – –
The divine creator - or a single power governing the destiny of the universe has given each individual this elementary property of being an autonomous well-defined molecule endowed with consciousness, will and responsibility within the social aggregate, independent of contingent factors deriving from the physical influence of the environment.5
This line of argument is analogous with Marx’ statement “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”6 Bordiga’s conception of the party only enclosing a minority of the working class finds a correspondence in “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”7 . Bordiga dwell on this issue in “Party and Class” and finds his solution in the party as bearer of the consciousness of the proletariat. Here may Bordiga’s critique of democracy combined with Anton Pannekoek’s “spontanism” give a somewhat different solution which place more confidence in the own consciousness of the proletarians. Martin Glaberman, following Marx and Antonio Gramsci, gives an answer as he realize that it lies a difference in what workers think, and what they really think.8 In the sixth issue of riff-raff we also introduced the conception of practical reflexivity, which can be seen as a transcending of these two opposite pools, where Leninism (and Bordiga) tends to have practice without reflection and council communism reflection without practice. That is to say, the Leninist comprehends herself as being outside the objectivity she wants to change, she does not reflect on her situation as being a proletarian, whereas the council communist is reflecting as a proletarian but is scared to death of intervening in the class struggle and thereby substitute the struggle of the class. With practical reflexivity we comprehend understanding and change as moments of the same social process, not as the same thing, but still inseparable from each other. “We do not stand outside and reflect upon some object, but are situated in this ‘object’. Our theoretical project, riff-raff, is our ‘practical reflexivity’…” 9
The bourgeois metaphysics understands democracy as universal principle—as ideology—and it is thus expected to be a concept which comprises all aspects of society. It is represented as synonymous with market economy, tolerance, openness, etc. The democratic ideology is based on the illusion that the right mediating procedures give the individuals in society the greatest possible control of their lives.10 Democracy thus mystifies our comprehension of the world. From Bordiga’s critique of the Third international’s “democratic centralism”11 , we would say it is concealed that the democracy is an organisational mechanism, which is entirely conditioned by the content it operates with. Democratism is placed like a smoke screen: it makes us look for the decisions that are made about the conditions, instead of seeing how the societal conditions determine the decisions that are made. In every institution, in the governmental office as well as in the leftist organisation, the decisions are made outside of it before the chairman has slammed his gavel down on the table and declared the meeting opened: the institution mediates an inflow of interpersonal relations12 . With this point of departure we can neither reject, nor praise democracy, but merely see it as an instrument in specific situations. But to treat democracy as a form which can enclose essential different content, ultimately gives no more than a partially critique of alienation. The content of democracy is inseparable from its form.—something that is not especially amazing since the modern democracy emerged synchronously with the development of modern society—which we here hopefully can come a few steps closer. When the bourgeoisie incorporated democracy with political life, it was something exclusively meant for themselves. Democracy was not “democratic” (or rather it was neither more nor less democratic than the democracy of today)—politics was separated from the working class—it became that later on, with beginning in the second part of the nineteenth century, through the working class’ struggle to win influence. The democratisation of society through the worker’s movement was a part of the integration of the class in the state. A class who suppress itself is more tractable than a class that have to be oppressed from above. When worker’s social being increasingly is determined by capital, political-democratic activity becomes harmless. The influence on the politics that democracy has given workers is commensurate with their influence in their work. The democratisation can in this way be seen as a political aspect of the real subsumption of labour under capital
A critique of capitalism for its lack of democracy imply nothing more than a critique of capitalism in its present concrete form—by no means a critique of capitalism as such. It is a political critique, not a societal ditto. Our aim is not economical democracy—self-management—that is to say, the extension of democracy to economy. Such a perspective implies that democracy will start to operate with an unchanged content: capital will be managed in a democratic way instead of by independent capitalists. But the management does not change the general laws of movement of capital. A company managed by workers will, as an example, be under the same pressure of the market mechanisms as the typical capitalist-owned company. The production is limited to the generally prevailing work organisation and technique: the technology the workers have at their disposal is a capitalist technology, the competitive work organisation is a capitalist work organisation. It is not the capitalist who rule capital, capital rule the capitalist. In the same way, it can never be the workers who rule capital, it will always rule them. The workers can destroy capital through destroying themselves, but never control and rule it beyond the logic of capital. Every attempt to take over capital, to direct it in a direction which will serve the whole of humanity, is in practice contra-revolutionary as it obstructs all attempts of creating communism. This self-management perspective, which has been a recurrent tendency in council communism (as well as in the anarchist tradition), can possibly be tracked to the council communists’ analysis of the “Soviet” union. They focused on the bureaucracy, and tended to depict party discipline and leaders as the reason to the failure of the October revolution to make up with capitalism. Against the hierarchical they enthroned its opposite: struggle from below, condemning of leaders, etc. Such a critique of Leninism is of course necessary (something that Bordiga lacked of), but revolution becomes, without a complete view of capitalism, easily a question of those who lead and those who are being led. Instead of bureaucracy one proposes self-management. Bordiga, on the contrary, was not especially interested in the bureaucracy or in any other specific political forms of “degenerated” Russia; he merely tried to point out that the mode of production to its content was capitalist. According to him, it was not state capitalism, only capitalism. Bureaucracy merely was a privileged political stratum, and he opposed the obsession with finding individuals who could be defined as capitalists or as any kind of substitute for them. This, he argued, lacked of Marx’ comprehension of capital as above all an impersonal force. The first perspective runs risk of removing the capitalist mode of production from theory, whereas the latter directly tackle the capital relation. But that is not to say that Bordiga’s theory on Russia is correctly as a whole, just that it has a more interesting point of departure.13
According to Bordiga the content of communism appears in doctrinal analysis and critique, it is something to be easily understood with an adequate use of the Marxian method; if we just hold our theoretical tools right, we can chisel a victorious tactic and so form a disciplined uniform party and fire a centralised attack on capital. Certainly you neither create revolutions nor parties, according to Bordiga14 ; they emerge dynamically with the development of class and capital. But with the understanding that communism is latent described between the lines in Capital, you can be too sure of the possibility of predicting it. The real movement that form the program, which continuously have to be investigated, is broadening to a thorough homogeneous representation. Thus revolution is comprehended as a more or less planned process. The social forces, the numberless subjects, the representative organs, the schizophrenia of the proletarians as both workers and humans, just to mention some of the things that form the muddled composition of the movement, rather give us a picture of revolution as an opaque complexity. If revolution by Bordiga is understood as homogeneous and planned, with occasional heterogeneous and chaotic deviations, it is by us understood as heterogeneous and chaotic with a homogeneous core, which emerge from the communist tendencies of class, and with planned partial moments. Speaking with Marx: the party of anarchy against the party of order. Since the birth of the class, it have in its striving been on the way beyond capital, but no one knows—not even Marx knew—what our final destination will be until the class has created it. There is no in advance marked out road to the communist utopia, the class have to mark out its own way in struggle. With Bordiga’s attitude it is easy to adopt a one-sided political perspective. With our conception it is inevitable with a critique of the same perspective. Bordiga undoubtedly have an understanding of communism as the movement of class and sees the revolutionary project as a complete transformation of society. He, however, canalise the real movement through the party, with the obvious risk to leave the fields outside the proletarian dictatorship untouched.
The force in society with power to blast capital to pieces is not the establishment of democratic electoral and decision mechanisms in production, no matter if it feeds or strangles capital, but the refusal of the proletariat, in its rudimentary and more developed forms. Thus the burning question is not who is managing but what is to be managed.15 Bordiga state this critique against council communism—which he rejects as a form of anarcho-syndicalism16 —but with his perspective the critique comprises above all only the strict political spectrum. Against the bourgeois division between decision-making and executive mechanism, he enthrones the Russian experiences, where “Participation in the functions of political life, if not of the whole mass of electors, then at least of a wide layer of their delegates, is not intermittent but continuous”17 . Here he finds an essential content: the characteristic of the struggle of class is the movement. We here let it be unspoken how well Bordiga’s analysis of the Russians’ progress towards bourgeois democracy is in accordance with reality. The interesting part is the critique of the axiom of democracy: the dividing of life into separate realms which are alienated from one another. Whereas the capital relation in itself implies such a separation, the democracy is a deepening which is passed on by heredity from its preconditioned mode of production. Capital is laying the foundation of the relations productive–reproductive, work–leisure (something that was concretised first in the nineteenth century), economics–politics, etc. Democracy in its turn creates another separation in an already secluded field: it further divides the alienated political life. The activity to form ourselves and the world is restricted by formal procedures. If you want to change your surroundings, you should turn to the politician. It’s his task. And if you choose to go the democratic way, the politician is available only one day every fourth year. Your own task is determined as wage worker, housewife, unemployed, student, etc. The possibilities for creative activity are defined within the narrowest scopes. The communist critique of democracy starts from that decision and action must be integrated with each other in a total process of human life. Communism presupposes the dissolvement of the mediations.
Class struggle is by many socialists seen as a struggle for power. But what power? It is mostly understood as the political power or as the power over the means of production. It is spoken of a formal power which mystifies the proletarians’ real conditions of existence. Struggle is reduced to a fight of principles. This applies to a one-sided economical perspective of self-management, as well as to a political perspective where the greatest importance is attached to the seizing of power. The struggle of the class emerges from our immediate needs, from necessity. The constant contradiction in our lives, which is especially evident when illustrated from and manifested in the places of work, between our lives and our creativity and the striving of capital for continuous and accelerating capital accumulation, between our, as humans, from outside assigned position, in relation to the machinery, in the work organisation, and our striving for a break with alienation and overcome the obstacles put in the way for us to take control of our creative activity. We are permitted to exist, but are denied life in itself. The proletarians’ real situation shows us that struggle is about the power over our life activity. The freedom strived for in such a struggle is not a juridical, moral or metaphysic freedom. It is the real freedom in our daily lives. The freedom to decide what, and how much, to produce, and above all how to produce. That is, how and in which social contexts we realize our creative activity.18 Such a freedom in our daily activities means the conquering of human life. The communist project thus implies breaking with all isolations and separations of our lives, that different aspects of our existence is divided into separated activities; where the production of our means of existence is the ultimately determining activity. This is the meaning of communism as the material human community. The democratic point of view merely catches the need of conquering political and economical life.19 Democracy proves to be insufficient when faced with alienation, and appear in conflict with communism, as a mediation between humans in a society where we are isolated from one another—in other words, as a mediated community in a world of capital. Against democratism and self-managementism, we therefore must understand communism not as the extension of democracy to economy, but as the abolition of both as we know them today.
Taken from [url=http://www.riff-raff.se/en/7/]Riff-raff #7[/url].
- 1 F. Engels, “Progress of Social Reform On the Continent”, The New Moral World No.19, 1843
- 2 K. Marx, The Civil War in France, 1871
- 3 We are here, as so often in comparisons, using a two somewhat vulgarised pictures of the two opposite pools of left communism. The Dutch-Germans of course was not pure democrats and economists, but they had a bias to it. Bordiga was not either the confirmed Leninist, which it sometimes makes a show of being, but he had, as with the Dutch-German left, a bias to it.
- 4 Italian Communist Party (the real author is likely Amadeo Bordiga), “The Democratic Principle”, 1922
- 6K. Marx, Foreword to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859
- 7K. Marx & F. Engels, The German Ideology, 1845
- 8 “The idea that in the UAW in World War II a majority voted to sustain the no-strike pledge, and while that vote was taking place an absolute majority of auto-workers went on strike. So what the hell do they believe: A no-strike pledge or they had the right to go on strike? It's contradictory. They believed you should have a no-strike pledge, but when the foreman looked at them that way, they walked off the job. That was what Marx was about. Marx says it doesn't matter what that worker thinks, or even the working class as a whole thinks, it's a matter of what they will be forced to do. They are forced to resist the nature of work.”, Revolutionary Optimist – An interview with Martin Glaberman, Red & Black Notes, 2000
- 9 Riff-raff, “Past Decline and Beyond: An Introduction”, riff-raff #6, 2004. See also Marcel, “Communism of Attack, and Communism of Withdrawal”, riff-raff #7, 2005
- 10 See “The Implosion Point of Democratist Ideology”, Le brise-glace nr 2–3, 1989, for a similar line of argument.
- 11 Bordiga instead proposed an “organic centralism”, where “organic” express the continuity in time, and “centralism” continuity in space. He indeed meant that democratic mechanisms could work, and did, at present within the party, but democracy in itself could not be raised to a question of the communist program. See The Democratic Principle
- 12 This is somewhat rough to say, the decisions is of course not absolutely determined in advance. But the interesting point is that the institution is not autonomous of the context it is within. The democratic institution is no sovereignty, but a part of the totality of capitalism, and with this is the latter a precondition of the former.
- 13 For further reading about the views on Russia of the Dutch-German and the Italian communist left, see “What was the USSR?: Towards a theory of the deformation of value under state capitalism, part III, Left communism and the Russian revolution”, Aufheben No.8, 1999.
- 14 ”Partito e azione di classe” (’Party and class action’), Rassegna comunista no. 4, 31 May, 1921
- 15 Amadeo Bordiga, Seize Power or Seize the Factory?
- 16 Bordiga could reject them like this, as he associated worker councils with trade unions and economism (in comparison with Germany had the worker councils in Italy to greater extent been attached to the trade unions). Bordiga did not oppose trade unions, but he demanded the leadership of the party. Thus, when the council communists demanded the power of worker councils, he saw it as economism similar to anarcho-syndicalism.
- 17 Italian Communist Party, The Democratic Principle
- 18 Paul Cardan, The Meaning of Socialism
- 19 K. Marx, Critical Notes on the Article “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian”, 1844
Correspondence between parts of the riff-raff-collective and Gilles Dauvé (aka Jean Barrot)
From Riff-Raff #7.
G., March 28, 2004
- - -
Finally I have some personal questions I'd like to ask you. This is however not to ask you for "what you can't deliver".
First of all, I must admit that I turned out to be an easy target for your consciously - I guess - provocative statement that capital only can be questioned when a production cycle reaches its peak, when the capitalist wealth - and not poverty - is questioned by the workers. Of course, for me, this is more sympathetic than the average objectivist/determinist notion of a direct relation between crisis/material poverty and revolution, excluding or even denying the subjectivity of the proletariat. I guess that you, with your position, want to emphasize this subjective as opposed to the objective pole of the dialectic process. But from what you write in your "Whither the world?" I get a feeling of you more or less only flipping the dualism of subjectivity and objectivity. I'd prefer a stronger emphasis on the dialectic relation. Because, as Marx pointed out already in his critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, revolution (also) needs a "passive element, a material base"; a material base that of course is a product of alienated subjectivity; alienated labour.
As I guess you know from M we have discussed the Aufheben-Théorie Communiste-polemic. I read your comments on TC in your letter to M. And your "To work or not to work" that we translated and published is obviously a critique of TC's positions. The immediate reason we discussed their polemic is that we, just like TC, are going to translate and publish the Aufheben trilogy on "Decadence".
Personally what I, at least at first (?), found stimulating with TC's positions was that they seemed to take the theoretization of the subject-object dialectic a bit further/deeper than the "Decadence" texts, and certainly than myself. I like their use of the concept of real and formal subsumtion, the self-presupposition of capital, the mutual involvement between proletariat and capital in their contradiction, etc. This is, however, not unique to the TC; I think you too are dealing with these "issues". However, in the end, I side with Aufheben in this polemic; their positions seem to me more sympathetic. And I can't really say anything about TC, since I - unfortunately - don't read any French, and only have got to "know" them through this polemic.
From what I understand you think that the fundamental problem with TC is their method, that they are looking for a clue, a key to explain why there hasn't been, and couldn't have been, no communism. This key, then, is their use of the real and formal subsumtion to periodize the evolution of the capital relation/class struggle. Here, I agree - again - with Aufheben that they risk to use this periodization much too rigid (and you can relate this to the other conceptions of a/the final breakdown of capitalism - the way you put it in your letter to M there is a striking similarity with the positions of the ICC, that no reforms at all are possible in the era of the decline of capitalism...). The way I first interpretated the TC they only tried to provide a more "structuralist" explaination, with a strong touch of "determinism post festum". To me, this is more than a clue, or a key (wheather you agree or disagree). There is to me atleast a moment of truth in this and their notion of the "affirmation of labour" (however, you problematize this in a better way in your text "To work..."), if one concider the role played by the workers' unions and parties during the XXs Century. I would like to relate this to another text we published last year, Goldners piece on "Bordiga", which I guess you are familiar with. He talks about how the workers'/labour movement pushed capitalism into its phase of real subsumtion. For me, there is a whole lot of truth in this, particularily in Sweden, where the face of "capital" and the state for almost 100 years has been the union and the Social Democratic Party, with the whole of the Left as its loyal supporters.
Generally I prefer your more open questions and conclusions with the stronger emphasis on the possibility of communism. But I don't get more "satisfied" (and you can never be, really, can you) from your writings. I think one can - or at least try to - give general explainations of the failings of the proletariat; explainations that however must be general and provisional, and more or less post festum.
When I read some of your writings - that I generally really like - I get the feeling that you stop by just stating that the Bolsheviks (for example) came to power in Russia out of the struggle of the proletariat, not how and "why". One explaination you give is that they had the advantage of a coherent political line, which to me smells a little like idealism. In the same way the Italian workers gave up chaning the world; why? And you say the Italian workers in 1945 got crushed in a more conventional way - union and party bureaucrats. But these are (degenerated/incorporated...) workers' organisations, as I said above. You also - rightly - say that the only limit for capitalism is the conscious activity of the proletariat, and that social subjectivity is essential for all real critique. But what is this constituted of, act of will or moral demands? Of course not, and I don't think that you think so. The way I interpretated TC they came up with atleast a partial "structuralistic-logical" answer, that has to be balanced up with more open, social subjective, approaches - like yours.
So far for now, and I hope you don't see this critique as being to harsh or negative. Basically I agree with most of the stuff I've read by you.- - -
* * *
riff-raff, May 2004
Dear H & other comrades up North,
First let me tell you how much we value hering from you. Ideas and information from a country like Sweden are precious to us, as we certainly get less news from Scandinavia as you get from Britain or France. And of course we truly appreciate your interest in what we try to do. Once again, we were very pleased by your publishing two of our essays (and we're looking forward to the forthcoming anthology M and other friends are prepering). - - -
As you are about to see, nearly all of this letter will deal with Therorie Communiste.
First, real and formal domination. When did the real one start? After 1918? after 1945? after the 1960s and 70s? If I understand people like TC, real domination (and all it entails: the end of the workers' movement and the end of a possible worker led capitalism) was only born around 1980. Is that what Marx meant in his unpublished VIth chapter of Capital volume I and in Grundrisse? I'm not saying we should only stick to Marx's writings. But if we borrow a concept from him and turn it into something very different, then we'd better realize it. I now hear about a first and a second phase in real domination. I guess real was not real enough until about 1980.
About thirty years ago, when Invariance (J. Camatte) and others began making much of that formal/real distinction, a friend of ours said: "To them, real domination means that from now on everything will be different." I am afraid he was right. Camatte thought capital had become the only reality, and concluded that the very notions of capital, class, proletariat and revolution were obsolete. Those who remained Marxist and build everything on the theorization of real domination interpret it as the period when (at last) revolution becomes possible.
Maybe we ought to read those passages by Marx again. (A little while ago, I happened to read an article in International Perspective, published by some ex-ICC members, on the transition from formal to real domination. IP may not grasp the whole issue of communization as we hope to to, but the article certainly is closer to history than some theorizations we are new used to.)
In the aftermath (and demise) of the mid-sixties movement, there came the idea that the workers had failed because they had wished and tried (and probably always wished and tried, so far) to run capitalism themselves, in som way or other: in a soft way (social-democracy), in a hard way (Stalinism), or even in a genuine workers' democratic way (council communism), but always with the illusion of managing or co-managing capital in the interests of labour. In short, revolutionary failure was explained by the workers' longstanding attempt to assert themselves positively within capital. Groups like Invariance decided this was inevitable, and that a totally new perspective was needed. Groups like TC argued this had been only inevitable as long as capital allowed labour some space and self-organization, but was becoming impossible now that capitalist relationship rules the whole of society. This is where the notion of real submission of labour fits in, as a guarantee that no worker self-assertion is now feasible. Therefore the proletariat is now faced with only one alternative: to be nothing, or to act as revolutionary.
Now, this view is not supported by facts. It is simply not true that the attempt to take over capitalism and run it in the place of the bourgeois, or even a play a large part in its management, ever was a big (or the main) characteristic of the workers' movement. Evidence rather points out the opposite: a constant deep tendancy to dodge work, and a reluctance to get involved in the running of the firms. "Counter-planning on the shopfloor", as it was called in the 1970s, was a resistance to capitalist organization of work, and hardly ever turned into worker planning of the workplace.
The workers were moved by demands related to their concrete life (basically: more pay, better work conditions and less working hours), and sometimes acted in a revolutionary way, but they rarely rose to take over capital. This was the programme put formward by the unions and parties, with the workers' support and consent of course, but the rank-and-file never really got involved, and whenever bureaucrats ruled economic sectors, the workers rebelled as much against them as they do against the traditional bourgeois.
Our Love of labour?... gives a few examples. I'll add something about miners. In France (as elsewhere) the mining profession was long heralded as one of the archetypal workers, with a strong community feeling and a supposedly equally strong adherence to work. But a closer look shows that this was mainly the case for a few years, after 1945, at the zenith of the French CP as an agent of post-war reconstruction of the French economy. The average miner resisted it, only took part in the production effort when it was forced to, and even then for a short while. The miners only bothered to self-manage unprofitable mines that had been abandoned by the owners, and again did so for short periods. Workers' pride or workers' belif in the dignity of labour has never been the main obstacle to revolution.
The "affirmation of labour" was neither a dominant feature of working class history, nor a major cause of revolutionary defeat. Swedish social-democracy did not succeed because it glorified work or integrated workers in the co-management of industry, but above all because it contributed to the workers working less and getting more to buy. It's fascism and Stalinism (and more Stalinism than Bolshevism) that had posters of muscular steelworkers cheerfully contributing to the national or socialist productive effort. Social reactionaries were the ones who glorified work. Roosevelt and the CIO didn't: they glorified what work could give, i.e. less work time and more money to buy fridges and cars. The average Swedish car worker may have believed that his country was recognizing the dignity of his work, or that he had a say in the running of the economy, but he was more concerned with what his relatively high income and job protection gave him. It's a socially weak capitalism that praises work as such: a dynamic capitalism emphasizes the results of work, not its content. The truth and paradox is, work is usually glorified when it is constrained by police rule.
In a society like present Sweden or France, the ideology of work does not prevail among factory or office underlings, but among professionals (doctors, lawyers...), traditional middle class members (shopkeepers), and highly placed modern middle class members (the Personal Assistant that does a 60 hour week), who all have responsibilities, social recognition and high incomes.
You ask me how and why the proletarians left the bolcheviks stay in power in 1917-21. The same question could be asked of the German proles faced with the socialists in 1919, or the Spanish proles with the Republic in 1936. I'll answer with a passage from Aufheben:
from time to time, the relation between capitalist development and the class reaches a point of possible rupture. Revolutionaries and the class take their chance; if the wave fails to go beyond capital, capital continues to a higher level.
When it quoted this, TC added it was "a little dissatisfied" with such a remark (this is translated in Aufheben, #11, p. 52).
Your letter expresses a similar dissatisfaction. Well, I am dissatisfied too. We all are. But there's no way we can avoid this dissatisfaction. We can be tempted to build an apparently solid theoretical framework that will provide us with reasons why events were bound to happen or not to happen. But this would only be valid on paper, and we know it.
Revolutionary movements (and even more so a successful communist revolution) are possible at certain times, but never necessary in the sense that they would provide the one and only possible solution to the historical crisis they are born out of.
This possibility does include some choice on the part of the proletarians (just as the members of the ruling class always have several options open to them: there is more than one way of restoring order and putting capitalism back on a profitable track). This is not to say that any choice is possible any time any place. No social force ever makes choices outside of or against historical realities (to which its action contributes, but which is not only made of its own doing). If some comrades dismiss the notion of choice altogether because such a concept would be anti-materialistic or anti-Marxist or anti-dialectic, all I can say is they're reducing history to physics or chemistry.
Much is being currently written about capitalism as the mutual involvment of capital and wage labour, or of the bourgeois and the proletarians. Karl [Nesic] and I fully endorse the notion! But precisely, it means that each "partner" matters as much as its opponent in the evolution of the dual relationship, so history is never foretold.
In the 1929, for instance, the proletarians of many countries realized the depth of the social crisis, yet (mainly because of their defeats in 1917-21) felt they were unable to act upon the deep causes of the crisis. So they accepted anything that passed off as a major (or even a "revolutionary") change, be it fascism, the New Deal, Stalinism, Popular Fronts...
In the 1960s-70s, on the other hand, although there definately was a proletarian assault against wage labour, the State, parties, unions etc., it remained limited to a minority of the class. And this time we can't seriously relate it to previos defeats. So how and why did it happen (or not happen)? I'd say that we do not know why most proletarians then remained reformist. No more than we can tell why in Berlin, January 1919, there were a few thousand revolutionaries ready to fight and a few hundred thousand proletarians somehow supporting them but unwilling to join them. TC does not know either, it only comes up with what looks like an answer.
Supposing that I would be too subjectivist and TC too objectivist, then it would be impossible to combine these two mistakes and look for an adequate solution half way between them. You never correct an error by adding the symetrically opposed (and symetrically wrong) error, only by finding whatever is logically at fault at the basis of both. You couldn't balance a partly idealistic-humanist method with a structuralist-logical method, and approach the truth by a sensible combination of the two.
The core of the divergence probably lies in TC's belief that revolutionary theory has to be reconstructed, on the basis of past communist thought of course, but in order to produce a theory of revolution for our time, a theory that would account for the impossibility of communism in the past and its necessity in the present. In other words, TC is aiming at a refoundation of communism. I am not. I feel the essential has be laid down in the 1840s. Not everything: the destruction of the State, the critique of the workers' movement, the understanding of revolution as communization, these positions only became clear later, and some only in the past 40 or 50 years or so. By the essential, I meant the definition of the proletariat as a historical force, obviously related to the slaves or the poor of the past, but different from them, because of its existence within capitalism, its interrelation with capital, the "mutual involvement" that gives it the capacity to act as the agent of social change, able to bring about a human community. In that respect, there is no fundamental difference between the 1950 English miner or Paris proletarianized craftsman, and the 2004 Indian call centre worker or Californian supermarket delivery lorry driver. What they all have in common (in terms of possibilties and predicaments) is a lot more importmant than where they differ. That's what I'd call the essential. That essential might be wrong. If it is, no theory can prove or disprove it. Only history (=the future) can.
There is no privileged time or place, no possible vantage point from which the whole meaning of history could at last be revealed to those who master the right theory. TC offers another example of an understandable but misplaced belief in the power of human thought.
After nearly 200 years of communist endeavour and misfortunes, the relation between proletariat and revolution is problemartic, to say the least... The relation is a historical and logical one. It is a possibility, not a necessity.
Incidently, if revolution was doomed in 1920, since no-one among us suggests we sholud have sided with the SPD against the KAPD, TC's vision implies that people like us were indeed right to go and try for something that we now was totally out of reach. This also applies to what TC writes or myself attempted to do thirty years ago. In other words, every communist effort up to now was quixotic. We prefer Gorter to Kautsky but Gorter was a dreamer. Stalin was a bastard but he was logically right. Now the contradiction is over: we're finally aiming at a target really exists. New we know. Do you believe that?
I presume you won't mind my sending a copy of these remarks to M, but would it be allright if we put passages of your letter and of mine in our newsletter, or on our site? (I'm not sure we will. But we might, IF YOU AGREE: please tell me.)
In future, I sincerely hope we'll exchange on other topics. Still, the issues at stake here are worth it, regardless of the respective merits of TC and Troploin.
And let's hope we meet in flesh and blood one day. Till then, very fraternal greetings,
* * *
V., January 16, 2005
It has now been quite a while since we had our little "correspondence" about Aufheben/Théorie Communiste and the use of the periodization of capitalism with the formal/real domination concept. - - -
As I think you know from M, the VÃ¤grandets dynamik anthology is released - at last! And after (re-) reading it, I must say what an excellent compilation of communist theory it is. Everything I've heard about it has been positive - apart from a review in the weekly of the Left Party. However, if the latter had been positive, then what use would all the spiritual and material (money for example) efforts be, for you and for us? But for people (young people first of all) who are willing the efforts of communist activities and theorization, the book is a must-read (or must-study). The theories that you have been part of developing and articulating now really have a life of their own (cf. the circulation of the Eclipse... in different editions and languages worldwide, not the least on the internet) which proves the value of all your efforts.
When it comes to the use of the concepts of formal/real domination, I still hold the use for them as provisional work hypothesises and abstract models which de facto correspond to the general development tendencies of the capitalist mode of production. They may be useful to grasp the patterns of the full complexity of social life in the capitalist mode of production, a complexity that can't be grasped immediately as it is - or rather as it appears. This is however a sort of criteria for theory and abstractions per se (in abstracto-in general).
From what I understand from your letter, you appreciate the work by Internationalist Perspectives on this issue, apart from, as you wrote, their lack of understanding of communisation. I appreciated reading their stuff too, really, but sometimes got a feeling that they just changed the ICC dogma of "the era of decadence of capital", from which they origin, to the same catastrophic thesis on "the era of the real domination...". However, their theories and, not the least, their attitude to the issue as well as other revolutionaries are far better. And I can't really see how their use of the concepts formal/real domination fit with your critique of the TC.
And shortly for now, what I meant with "determinism post festum" - which isn't a good expression - is from my point of view close to what F. Martin wrote 30 years ago in the Eclipse (p. 53, Antagonism edition), that "the failure of a movement is itself an adequate demonstration of its limits". It was in this sense that I wanted to historize the non-reality of communism (and non-ability, retrospectively "after the party"). But, I'm not sure about this, I'm all ears and eyes for theoretical efforts to try to get to grips with explainations of the communist failures/"non-actualization" up to now (however abstract, provisional and conceited they may be).
I also noticed recently that you used the formal/real... concept yourself earlier, when I read some of your older stuff that - unfortunately - are not in the VÃ¤grandets dynamik: "State and Capital" in Le Mouvement Communiste and "Le Roman de nos Origines" that I found on the John Gray website (ie. the English parts). I know of course that you have evolved theoretically over these 30-something years, and maybe you dropped these babies with the bathwater.
Well, at the end of the day, neither concepts, whole theories nor "work hypothesises" or "abstract models" are interesting in themselves. They are only valid if and when they correspond to the actual (however not immediate) experiences from the class struggle/capitalist mode of production, ie. society today. And this is of course debatable - and concepts from Marx, and bourgeois economy and philosophy, and concepts to come, might correspond to what is at stake - our understanding of capital/ism and class struggle, and communism, in our struggle in and against the present state of affaires. - - -
I'd also like to ask you about the concept "communization"; have you, or anyone else, written anything more explicit and lengthy about this concept than what is written in the Eclipse? I'd be interested in reading more about it, because I think it really has a lot to recommend it. What was the origin of this use of the concept, was it invented by you? From what I understand even your "antagonist", the TC, use the concept (as an example). - - -
And when I got you on line, more boring and silly questions: I've been wondering ever since I first read the Eclipse if Paul Mattick ever replied to your text (ie. "Leninism and the Ultra-Left")? If so, this reply should definately be on the internet. - - -
This is it for now, I think. And I (still) really hope we could meet someday.
* * *
January 30, 2005
thank you for your letter. - - -
Once again, I am very happy about the book, as I wrote to riff-raff. If there were any critiques you regard as valuable, please send them up for me in English.
Formal/real domination is a very useful concept and, like any useful concept, can be ruined into an "It'll-explain-it-all" tool. Maybe I was wrong to refer you to the article in "Internationalist Perspective". I only found it more interesting (more informative) than TC's theoretical constructions which are only good as fas as discourse goes. But you're right to point out that I.P. is still looking for some form of decadence. Basically, I'd say that any theory that claims to divide history into two periods (one when revolution was not yet possible, one when it is both necessary and possible), any such theory is blowed, wrong from the start.
The concept is most relevant as (and only inasmuch as) it differentiates between 2 very different things. A period when capital dominates society but does not yet penetrate it thoroughly. Capital and wage-labour are at the core of society, they influence it, they force it to obey the logic of value accumulation, but they are not present everywhere.
And another period when capital reproduces most social structures according to its logic. Bluntly, the money world is everywhere. Parents pay their kids to wash the car, and Japanese commuters pay for the air they breathe on a special mask they can buy on the subway. Religion, art, the family, politics, everything is organized as a market. This is not true... Total absolute capitalization would be a nonsense. You can't pay teachers just by the good marks their pupils will get of the exam, the cops according to the number of crimes they solve, or the US marine by the number of Iraki rebels he kills, etc. It's only true as a deep tendency. Still, it is true, to that extent.
This distinction is important. The question is what we make of it. Domination can be real in Sweden or Italy, it is still formal in Senegal. Some parts of Senegal are really submitted to capital, while most of the countryside is not.
Let's bear in mind that the man at the origin of the concept, Marx, believed real domination was already born [? - hard to read] (at least in England) in the 1860s, that is nearly 150 years ago. Whether he used the phrase "real/formal domination" or not, Gorter would certainly have thought that labour submission to capital, and capital rule over Europe, were real in 1920. Debord and Bordiga would have thought that capital ruled really most of the (at least, Western) world by 1960. So I am cautious about people being tempted to declare their time as the one which "at last" is going through real domination by capital.
The distinction is most useful, as it explains the emergence and then decline of quite a few historical realities, the workers' movement for example, or parliamentarism. But people stop explaining anything when they merely divide history in BEFORE/NOW. Just one example. It's quite true that party politics, parliamentary democracy, large labour parties, etc., were connected to a capital that was mastering society without deeply and totally reducing all instructions to capitalist functions. But it would be naive and wrong to assume that democracy, for instance, or unions, are now devoid of meaning or social impact. The family that exists now in Paris or Stockholm is a lot more "capitalized" and "commodified" than my parents' family in the 1920s and 1930s, but it still functions, it still works as a social conservative agent, albeit in a very different way from 1930.
About "post festum determinism". In the early 1970s, we were tempted by a mistake that I can explain, but it was a mistake. We had to address the common belief that revolution was first and foremost a question of organization, spontaneity and will. So we tended to bend the stick too much the other way. Therefore we were very fond of Marx's formula: No matter what some proletarians or the proletariat as a whole want, the important thing is what they will be forced to do. OK. Marx was right. I guess Francois Martin was also right to write: "the failure of a movement is itself an adequate demonstration of its limits". But he was only right as fas as he was rejecting the idealism of those who turn the social question into a question of self-organization + free will.
Anyhow, all concepts (domination of capital, proletariat, historical constraints, social determination, etc.) are only, as you say, abstract models that de facto correspond to the general development of real events. No more, no less. - - -
You as me about the notion of communization. For the last ...30 years, we've repeated: this is one of our major issues, so we ought to think and write more about it, but we haven't. We've certainly thought about it a lot, but not written much. The forthcoming (not in a near future) text on democracy will deal with communization.
As far as I remember, the word itself came up around 1972-74 among a number of people who were critical of but inspired by the S.I., the German and Italian left, etc. Maybe the first person who used the word was Pierre Guillaume, the bookseller (and ex. "Socialisme ou Barbarie" member) of "The Old Mole" (that was the bookshop's name). He certainly was the first one to give the concept its importance. Maybe the word was coined by Dominique Blaue, who was then to be the main person in the group LA GUERRE SOCIALE, who wrote a very stimulating and pionering essay "A world without Money"... The sad thing is, this very forceful notion was not really developed by the small mileau it came from. Maybe sign of the weakness on the part of the communist movement (as a social movement, not just people like you and me).
And, sadly again, it's now taken up by people like TC who (to me) are not really interested in the actual communizing process a revolution would be. Their main interest is to use the concept as a proof that now is totally different from before. - - -
Paul Mattick... Well, back in 1969, I translated the critique of the ultra-left text for him as he was staying in Paris, and had it sent to where he lived, rue Dante..., maybe, and we met a few days later. Some of the words I remember as if it all happened yesterday.
- Is this the work of your group?
- It's very weak, and sometimes it's embarrasingly weak.
A bad start. So I tried to shift the conversation to our wish to inherit not just from the German left, but also from the Italian left. The idea was to try and explain him why we were critical of workers' management. But I was wrong again.
- Bordiga is a Leninist.
From then on, we sort of moved to the Spanish civil war. I said we were critical to anarchy as a principle, as a theory, not just of the CNT. He replied as if I was dismissing anarchism as a grass root genuine product of proletarian activity.
- I don't care if they raped the nuns.
I guess I've forgotten the rest. All the time, he was unsymphathetic, like he was talking to a half-wit leftist intellectual with subversive pretensions he can't and won't live up to. (Maybe we'd feel the same towards a pro-situ.) Anyway, I've only ever met hostility from the heirs of the German-Dutch left, ICO and recently ECHANGES ET MOUVEMENT - I suppose their aggressiveness comes from deep incomprehension. To them, borrowing from both Bordiga and Pannekoek must appear like crossdressing appeared to my mother.
I hope the anecdote wasn't too boring.
All the best to you all,