9. "Final" crisis and determinism

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 17, 2009

For us revolution is a possibility, not a certainty. There's no historical automatism. But some Marxists come forward with theories of the breakdown of the capitalist mode of production, in which social revolution happens at a certain point of the development of the capitalist productive forces. History has produced many theories of that sort, but capitalism still exists today. These theories leave no place for the individual: so the people are the fulfiller of a historical mission. We think it's necessary to have a certain development of the productive forces AND the will of great parts of the masses to destroy this destructive and totalitarian capitalist power. What do you think ? Wasn't Pannekoek nearer to the possible reality when he wrote in 1934: "The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the breakdown of capitalism"?

That quote is profound indeed. It's significant it should come as a conclusion of The Theory of the breakdown of capitalism, which studies how this system "naturally" breeds crises (in the interpretation of which Pannekoek agrees with Grossmann and disagrees with Luxemburg - by and large, we share Pannekoeks's view). So the same text that is a reflection on the inner contradictions of capitalism declares that only proletarian activity will get rid of that system. This duality requires some explanation.

From the 1840s onwards, unlike "utopian socialists" that appealed to morals, to bourgeois good will or to worker idealism, communism has wanted to found itself on the historical grounds created by capitalism, because this system gives "modern" proletarians the ability to make a revolution that formerly the exploited could not and would not make. At the same time, as they repeatedly said that the emancipation of the workers would only be carried out by the workers themselves, the communists ruled out a revolution that would result from the automatic interplay of the productive forces unleashed by capitalism. On the eve of 1914, when Luxemburg set out to prove the inevitability of a final crisis, she did not expect revolution to derive from this crisis, as an effect inevitably follows its specific cause: capitalism was heading towards destruction and war, but not to its self-destruction. The author of The Accumulation of capital saw the overthrow of capitalism as a result of the conscious action of the exploited. About twenty years later, as Pannekoek was writing in the midst of a world crisis on a scale hitherto unknown but which led to few revolutionary endeavours (on the contrary, it coincided with the triumph of Hitler and Stalin), he made it clear that capitalism brings about the possibility of human emancipation, not its certainty.

If Marx never completed the "Magnus Opus" that was supposed to be his life's work, only published the first volume of Capital and wrote manuscripts for the next two, instead of the six he'd planned, it's not just because of perfectionism, illness or lack of time. It couldn't escape him that communism had no real need for such a big treatise. Those that came after his death have found more food for thought in apparently more circumstantial, more personal, or unfinished texts like some of his early articles, the first part of The German Ideology, the 1844 Manuscripts, his book against Proudhon, the Manifesto, the 1857-61 and 1861-65 manuscripts, his defence of the Paris Commune, his letters (like those on Russia), etc., which include many texts Marx himself had discarded. Revolutionaries find more inspiration in the Grundrisse than in volumes II and III of Capital. The closer communist theory gets to "science", the less communist it becomes.

Subjective and objective levels do not stand in opposition to each other like black versus white, nor do they fade to grey. Communist revolution will never be just the product of free will. Capitalism is the mutual involvement of capital and labour, and the stages and crises of that involvement give the general framework of the proletarian movement. Not everything is possible at any given time. Revolution is neither the fruit of long-cultivated undermining action, nor of will power. It was off the agenda in 1852, in 1872, or in 1945 (although some mistook the end of World War II for the dawning of a new Red October). Critical moments give opportunities: it depends on the proletarians, it depends on us to exploit these capabilities. Nothing guarantees the coming of a communist revolution, nor its success if it comes. In chess, the theory is the reality: not in history. Class struggle is not to be understood with the mind of the chemist analysing molecular reactions. Communism is not to be proved.