The revolutionary alternative to left-wing politics

Subversion's critique of the radical left as being merely the state capitalist left wing of capital, as opposed to a revolutionary working class force.

Submitted by Steven. on July 28, 2011

The Left has not failed. And that is one of the greatest disasters ever to befall the working class.

Most people think that the Left is the movement of the working class for socialism (albeit riven by opportunism and muddle-headed interpretations on the part of many in its ranks).

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We in Subversion (and the wider movement of which we are a part) believe that left-wing politics are simply an updated version of the bourgeois democratic politics of the French revolution, supplemented by a state capitalist economic programme.


In the French revolution, the up and coming capitalist class were confronted not only by the old order, but also by a large and growing urban plebeian population (the working class in formation, artisans, petty traders and the like), who had their own genuine aspirations for freedom from oppression, however incoherent.

Bourgeois democracy was the device that enabled the capitalist class to disguise their own aspirations for power as the liberation of everyone outside the feudal power structure.

The notion of the People (as though different classes, exploiters and exploited, could be reduced to a single entity) was thus born.

The notion of Equality and the notion of Rights possessed by all presented a fictitious view of society as a mass of individuals involved who all stood in the same relations to the law – completely ignoring the difference between the property owners and those whose labour they exploit.

And, above all, the notion of the Nation – that the oppressed class should identify with those of their oppressors who live in the same geographical area or speak the same language, and see as alien those of our class who are on the other side of "national borders".

By means of this imaginary view of society, capitalism was able to dominate the consciousness of the newly forming working class. Bourgeois democracy is the biggest con in history.

Consider also:

As capitalism developed more and more, the material position of the working class forced it to engage in struggle despite its bourgeois consciousness – thus enabling this consciousness to be undermined.

The existing capitalist regimes often came to be hated. Thus there was a need for a more radical version of bourgeois democracy with a more specifically working class image. Left wing politics fulfilled this role in the 19th and 20th centuries, first in the form of Social Democracy or Labourism and then in the form of Bolshevism: Both of these variants managed to dress up support for capitalism in working class language, and became major players in the full development of capitalism (this was especially true in Russia, where State Capitalism, introduced by the Bolsheviks, a supposedly working class party. was the only way capitalism could be developed).

So what does Leftism consist of?

At first blush it seems to be about supporting the struggle of the workers, but when you look more closely everything is on the terrain of capitalist politics. The main features of Leftism are:

Support for radical capitalist parties

Such as the Labour Party in this country and the ANC in South Africa (precisely because its goal is to widen bourgeois democracy – the vote etc.), and support for Parliament. Some "revolutionary" groups who don't support the Labour Party nevertheless still support participation in parliament – thereby helping in practice to uphold the ideology of bourgeois democracy.

Support for State Capitalism

Already referred to above, State Capitalism (a term with various meanings, but here we mean the form of society that developed in Russia and its imitators) collects all property into the hands of the state. And this is a capitalist state, not a "workers' state" because capitalist property relations still exist – wage labour, money, the market – and of course the workers do not control the state. The state, indeed, confronts the workers as the "collective capitalist", extracting surplus value from them for the ruling bureaucrats, who are themselves the "collective bourgeoisie".

Let us be clear about this: the only way capitalism can be dismantled is for the working class to immediately abolish money and the market, and distribute goods according to need (albeit with scarce goods being rationed for a time if necessary). Those who argue that this cannot be done immediately are in fact arguing for retaining the very core of capitalist social relations – if that is done the revolution is as good as dead.

The idea that state capitalism is not capitalism doesn't merely justify' support for anti-working class dictatorships like Russia, China, Cuba etc., but creates the very real danger of such a society being created in any future revolution.

Support for Nationalism in its ''radical'' form

Left wing groups routinely advocate support for weaker, e.g. "third world", nation-states – meaning the governments of nation-states, against stronger ones (Iraq in the Gulf War, etc.). This is described as anti-imperialism(!) as though the victory of the weaker country would do more than slightly alter the ranking of states within the world imperialist pecking order. Imperialism is a historical stage of capitalism and opposing it, as opposed to opposing capitalism itself via working class revolution, is meaningless.

The most common form of this "radical" nationalism consists of so-called "national liberation movements", such as the IRA, who don't yet have state power. As soon as they do come to power they always crush the working class – that is, of course, the nature of bourgeois state power.

Often the line will be used that, even if one disapproves of nationalism, that nevertheless nations have a right to self-determination, and one must support their rights. A purer example of bourgeois democratic double-talk could not be imagined: Rights are not something that actually exists, but are a bourgeois mystification (see above). The working class should not talk about its rights but about its class interest. Talking about a right to national "self-determination" (as though a geographical grouping of antagonistic classes can be a "self"!) is like saying that workers have a "right" to be slaves if they want to, or a "right" to beat themselves over the head with a hammer if they want to. Anyone who supports the "right" to something anti-working class is actually helping to advocate it, whatever their mealy-mouthed language.

Siding with the working class against all capitalist factions necessitates opposing all forms of nationalism whatsoever. Any wobbling on this will lead the working class to defeat yet again.

Support for Trade Unionism

Seemingly the most working class activity of all, Trade Unionism is above all a movement to reconcile the workers to capitalism. Its stated aim is to get workers the best deal within capitalism, but it's not even that:

The mass of workers have bourgeois consciousness, but because capitalism forces them to struggle, they can resist despite that consciousness and thereby begin to change that consciousness.

Struggles of the working class are the seeds of revolutionary change. But because Trade Unions are made up of the mass of workers (with bourgeois consciousness) and exist all the time – i.e. when there's no class struggle (and although the day-to-day life of workers can well be called a struggle, we are of course talking about collective struggle) the said Unions inevitably fail to challenge capitalism, and furthermore become dominated by a clique of bureaucrats who rise above the passive mass of workers. These bureaucrats get their livelihood from the day-to-day existence within capitalism that is Trade Unionism. They are thus materially tied to it. That is why when struggle breaks out, the Union machine sabotages it and stabs workers in the back in the time honoured tradition. This will always be the case – the workers can never seize the unions. The very nature of Trade Unionism produces anti-working class bureaucratic control.

We believe the workers must create new structures, controlled from the bottom up, to run every struggle that occurs, outside and against the Unions, if the struggle is to go forward. Left wing groups' support for Trade Unions is just one more way in which they help shackle the working class to capitalism.

And last but certainly not least, advocacy of the Leadership of ''revolutionaries'' over the working class

This division between a mass of followers and an elite of leaders mirrors the divide in mainstream capitalism (and indeed all forms of class society) between rulers and ruled, and serves well the project of constructing state capitalism, after the future revolution.

None of this means that all workers will come simultaneously to revolutionary ideas, because to begin with only a minority will be revolutionaries, but their task is to argue their case with the rest of their fellow workers as equals.

What the left do however, is to perpetuate the sheep-like mentality workers learn under capitalism and harness it to their aim to be in charge after the revolution. We say that if anyone is in charge, if the working class does not lead itself and consciously build a new society, then it will fare no better than in Russia and China and all the rest.

We believe that all left wing groups, whether Stalinist or Trotskyist (or Maoist or Anarchist or whatever they call themselves) are merely radical capitalist organisations who, if they ever came to power, would erect new state capitalist dictatorships in the name of the very working class they would proceed to crush.

This is not a matter of the subjective intentions of their members, whose sincerity we are not questioning here, but the objective result of their policies.

This is why the Left has not failed. Its aim was never more than to save capitalism by disguising it as something it was not – just as the original form of bourgeois democracy did in an earlier age.

In opposition to the Left there exists a political movement, consisting of both groups and individuals, some of whom might call themselves Communists, while some might call themselves Anarchists (the Marxist-Anarchist split is an outdated historical division that bears no relationship to the real class line, which cuts across it), but who all stand united against the fake radicalism of the Left, and for a genuinely communist alternative. We in SUBVERSION are a part of this movement.

What is the Alternative?

We believe that, despite the obstacles put in its way by both Right and Left, the working class has the power to destroy capitalism for real, and create a society without classes, without the state, national boundaries, oppression or inequality. A society not based on money or other forms of exchange, but on collective ownership of, and free access to, all society's goods on the part of the whole of humanity.

This society, which we call Communism or Socialism or Anarchism interchangeably, will be the first truly free society ever to exist.

The social movement that will create this society will grow from the existing struggles of the working class. As part of this process, our class must surmount the barriers put in its way by bourgeois ideology, including left wing ideology. Our task in SUBVERSION is not to be leaders (see above), but to be part of the process of creation of a revolutionary working class movement that will put an end to our world's long history of oppression and exploitation, and begin the long history of the free, world human community to come.


11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

But surely if the left succeeded in saving capitalism by ensuring that everyone really was paid fairly and was not exploited then there wouldn't be any need to get rid of it?


11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

You would still be exploited albeit primarily by the state. 'Fairly' in the context your using it doesn't really mean anything. In the age of the bourgeoisie 'fair' simply means their right to exploit, which needs to be counterposed with internationalism and workers councils.

I think the piece is an excellent overview and probably needs reproducing more widely.


11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Sorry if I'm coming across as negative but I just feel that people wouldn't actually mind any system if it allowed them to work and earn enough to look after their family and so on.

I just mean that even slavery would be acceptable to most people if their master gave them a nice house and a good job and so on. The differences between free workers and rich slaves is an academic one in some sense (?)

working class

11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by


Sorry if I'm coming across as negative but I just feel that people wouldn't actually mind any system if it allowed them to work and earn enough to look after their family and so on.

State capitalism is bound to the same economic laws that bind capitalism, leading to its own ultimate destruction. There is no reason to suppose that a leftist state capitalism will actually allow people to "work and earn enough". It may exist for a few years, but, like the former Soviet state and its satellites, will collapse eventually. Moreover, there is almost no chance currently that the former social democracies or Soviet-style state capitalism will ever come back, irrespective of the nostalgia such systems arouse in some people.


11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by


Sorry if I'm coming across as negative but I just feel that people wouldn't actually mind any system if it allowed them to work and earn enough to look after their family and so on.

I just mean that even slavery would be acceptable to most people if their master gave them a nice house and a good job and so on. The differences between free workers and rich slaves is an academic one in some sense (?)

Yo, so I wanted to come back on this when I read it but haven't had the time.

Basically, I think this is a very common idea that people have about socialism, class struggle etc. Basically, poor and hungry people rise up against their oppressors, decently paid people don't. However, I think that history has proven this wrong.

I mean, France 1968 was not an uprising that occured at a time of economic crisis, where people were scared for their homes, livelihoods etc. It was during a time of economic stability, people were buying TVs and fridges and whatnot and some of the main actors in the uprising were students and car factory workers. I think this is equally true of other revolts like Hungary 1956, Italy in 1969 etc..

The thing about car factory workers itself is interesting as well, as probably until the 1970s they were amongst the best paid workers in the world, and yet it was their struggles that basically defined the class struggle in every country they existed in.

Last thing, also, the workers that struggle will also tend to be better off in relation to workers that don't (as if you go on strike, stick together etc, your bosses will be more likely to give in to your demands for better pay and conditions). And through these struggles, radical ideas become normalised and more developed and so more likely to happen again. So again, the idea that 'if everyone's got enough money and can look after their family they won't struggle' is not true.. in fact, having workers having enough money in the first place is often a sign that there has been struggle (and will likely be more in the future)..

Anyway, that was long.. :)


11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Ed, that's exactly right. Often, if you look in the places where people are the absolute poorest there may not be much class struggle there


10 years 8 months ago

In reply to by


We in Subversion (and the wider movement of which we are a part) believe that left-wing politics are simply an updated version of the bourgeois democratic politics of the French revolution, supplemented by a state capitalist economic programme.

fuck me, this is spot on


10 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

It's somewhat of a side point but, when they say that state capitalism, as implemented by the bolsheviks was the only way capitalism could develop in Russia, does that mean that the revolution was really only over who was going to be in charge of that state capitalism and that the economic conditions were going to be the same whatever happened politically? that only the justification and language and personalities could have been different? Is there evidence for that point of view?

And in terms of trade unions are they saying that not only are trade unions insufficient and always going to be reactionary at the crucial moment in struggle but something that we shouldn't engage in at all? Or just something we should realise is not revolutionary?


10 years 8 months ago

In reply to by


The statement about Russia and state capitalism is of course made with the benefit of hindsight but we (in Subversion) were always clear that a combination of both objective and subjective factors played into the subsequent developments following the initial working class and peasant rebellion. State capitalism provided an extended primitive accumulation of capital.

Had that working class rebellion spread throughout Europe and further afield (and at the time many, rightly or wrongly, though it was spreading exactly in that way) then the course of history may have been different, though whether communism was on the cards is still debateable.

As to the trade unions we generally favoured, at least in the British context, members belonging to their respective unions but actively pushing relevant struggles outside of that framework. Except in exceptional and temporary circumstances members did not take up even low level official positions within unions.

There is plenty published around these issues in the Subversion archive on this site if you are interested and some other material on the Russian Revolution by the London based Wildcat Group worth a read.