10. Bordigism, Councilism, the SI and operaism in a nutshell

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 17, 2009

Where do you think the strength and the weakness of Bordigism, council communism, situationism and operaism lie ? We believe that these theories, together with much (not all !) of the intellectual work of Marx, as well as the experiences and fights of the working class, are the main sources of anti-capitalist thought and action. What do you think are the achievements and the failures of these theories and movements ?

As the answer is partly to be found in The Story of our Origins (La Banquise # 2, 1983), we'll concentrate on the positive contribution made by those schools of thought, bearing in mind that the first two did much more than produce theory: they were active historical forces, albeit minority ones, but for a short while sizeable ones.

The "German" Left (in the broad sense, including a lot of Dutch people, not forgetting remote cousins, some of them forgetful of their ancestors, like Socialisme ou Barbarie) emphasised revolution as self-activity, and self-production of their emancipation by the exploited. Hence a rejection of all mediations: parliament, parties or unions.

The "Italian" Left (here again, it went beyond the borders of one country, and developed particularly in Belgium) reminds us that getting rid of wage labour means doing away with money in all its forms, with value accounting, with the firm as a separate entity, with the economy as a specialised field of human activity. (We'll only mention here the analysis of fascism and antifascism, since this was already dealt with in answer 5.)

What Bordiga and the Bordigists understood as a programme to be realised once bourgeois political power is smashed, can only succeed, according to the situationists, by the withering of commodity exchange, of the wage system, of the economy, by a transformation of all aspects of daily life. Although this cannot be achieved in a week or a year, it must start from Day One if it wants to have any chance of completion.

In a nutshell, the German Left helped to see the form of the revolution, the Italian Left its content, and the SI the process that is the only way of obtaining that content.

Operaismo does not lie on the same level as the other three: among other reasons, because it was originally uncritical of State capitalist countries which it perceived as "socialist" (such was the attitude of the Quaderni Rossi (1961-66), one of the founding fathers of that current). Operaism underlines the centrality of wage labour (inside and outside the workplace), sees the working class as a major factor (if not the major factor) in the history of capitalism, divides this history in periods according to the successive forms of organisation of labour by capital, and the successive forms of labour's rebellion against this organisation, and thereby suggests a prospective analysis.

It may be difficult to admit that at least the first three contributors are opposed yet converging. The German Left bases its theory on the proletarian experience, Bordiga on the future and the Situationists on the present: "hot ice and wondrous shape now. How shall we find the concord of this discord ?" (A Midsummer's Night Dream) Some people obviously regard our joint interest in the German and Italian Left as a form of mental cross-dressing. However, in spite and because of their contradictions, these contributions help us understand revolution as communisation: a destruction of State power which is at the same time a transformation of the whole of social relations, each moment of this double process consolidating the other one.