A History of Impotent Systems
In our fight against the Stalinist betrayal, we have always considered its distortions of economic theory as a thousand times more serious than the "abuse of power" which so scandalised Trotskyists and Khruschevians, or the famous 'crimes' which world philistinism keeps on harking on about. In order to combat these distortions, we always have recourse to Marx's classical thesis against Proudhon which appears in the first volume of Capital, chapter XXIV, note: "We may well, therefore, be astonished at the cleverness of Proudhon, who would abolish capitalistic property by enforcing the eternal laws of property that are based on commodity production".
Every criticism and 'improved' programme put out by all the various so-called anti-Stalinist groups relies on the ridiculous notion that there needs to be a detoxification – sterilisation as far as the revolution is concerned – of the Party and the State, forms (according to the extremely hackneyed thesis of 'the tyrant and his cronies') which were supposedly abused by Stalin because of his "insatiable lust for power". It is important show that all those who nurture this bigoted preoccupation (and who probably want to be leaders, and crave personal success, themselves) have succumbed, as far as economic and social matters are concerned, to the same reactionary illusion as Proudhon: they are blind to the fact that the historical opposition between communism and capitalism means that communism and socialism are opposed to mercantilism.
First of all we need to consider the historical evidence. This shows us that every interpretation which has attempted to repel the monsters of Party and political State, by putting forward new types of organisation to marshal the proletarian class in its struggle against capital and to establish a post-capitalist society, has been a miserable failure.
In the third part of this report, we will deal with economics, or rather we shall demonstrate that the goal, the programme, which all these "non-party" and "non-State" movements set themselves is not a socialist and communist society, but rather a petty-bourgeois economic pipedream, which has resulted in them all ending up bogged down in modern capitalism's game of Parties and States.
First of all, it must be recognised that all these attempts based on formulas or "recipes" for organisational miracle cures are clearly not Marxist. They echo the stale banalities of the political hucksters of fifty years ago, who used to treat the events of historical struggle as though they'd been selected from a trendy fashion magazine. According to these gossiping pedants the political club was the motive force of the French Revolution (Girondins, Jacobins), then along came the electoral parties, followed by the locally based organisations advocated by the anarchists. Then (let's say, around 1900) the fashionable thing becomes workers' occupational trade unions, with an inherent tendency to replace all the other organisational forms and use their revolutionary potential to set themselves up in opposition to Party and State (Georges Sorel). A very hackneyed refrain. Today (1957), another "self-sufficient" form – the factory council – is given pride of place under various guises by the Dutch "tribunists", Italian Gramscists, Yugoslavian Titoists, the so-called Trotskyists, and a number of other batracomiomachian "left-wing" groups.
Just one of Marx, Engels and Lenin's theses is enough to bury all this empty talk: "Revolution is not a question of forms of organisation".
The real issue is the clash of historical forces and the new social programme which will replace capitalism when its long cycle is over. Instead of discovering the goal scientifically, in determining factors of past and present, the old pre-Marxist utopianism invented it instead. The new post-Marxist utopianism eliminates the goal, and replaces it with the frantically active organisation (or in the words of Bernstein, chief social-democratic revisionist: "The aim is nothing: the movement is everything").
We shall briefly record the "proposals" of these fashion designers, who want to parade the battle-weary proletariat up the political catwalk with a new set of chains yoking it to capital.
The Superstition of the Local 'Commune'
Anarchist doctrines are the expression of the following thesis: centralised power is evil; and they assume that the entire question of the liberation of the oppressed class can be resolved by getting rid of it. But for the anarchist, class is only an accessory concept. He wishes to liberate the individual, the person, and thereby conforms with the programme of the liberal and bourgeois revolution. He only reproaches the latter for having installed a new form of power, failing to see that this is merely the necessary consequence of the fact that it didn't have as its content and motive-force the liberation of the person or the citizen, but the achieving of dominion of a new social class over the means of production. Anarchism, libertarianism – and even Stalinism, in its Westernised guise – is nothing other than classical revolutionary bourgeois liberalism plus something else (which they call local autonomy, administrative State, and entry of the working class into the constitutional powers). When such petty-bourgeois peccadilloes are grafted on to it, bourgeois liberalism, which in its time was a real and serious matter, becomes just an illusion with which to castrate the workers' revolution.
Marxism, on the other hand, is the dialectic negation of capitalist liberalism. It doesn't wish to keep part of capitalism in order to improve it here and there, but to crush it with the class institutions it has produced at the local, and especially centralised, level. Such a task can't be achieved by encouraging complete autonomy and independence, but only by the formation of a centralised and destructivist power, whose essential and specific forms are the Party and the State, and these forms alone.
The idea of freeing the individual, the person, and making him autonomous, boils down to the ridiculous formula of the subjective refractory individual, who shuts his eyes to society and its oppressive structure because he is convinced that he can't change it, or else he dreams about one day planting a bomb somewhere; the end result is contemporary existentialism which is unable to effect Society in the slightest.
This petty-bourgeois demand, which arises out of the anger of the small autonomous producer expropriated by big capital and therefore from the defence of property (which Stirner and other individualists consider an inviolable "extension of the individual") adapted itself to the great historic advance of the working masses, and over the course of time acknowledged some forms of organisation. At the time of the crisis in the 1st International (after 1870) there was a split between the Marxists and anarchists over the latter's refusal to recognise economic organisations, or even strikes. Engels established that economic trade-unions and strikes weren't enough to resolve the question of revolution, but that the revolutionary party should support them, inasmuch as their value (as already stated in the Communist Manifesto) lies in the extension of proletarian organisation towards a single, centralised form, which is political.
During this phase, the libertarians would propose an ill-defined local, revolutionary "commune", sometimes described as a force which struggles against the constituted power and asserts its autonomy by breaking all links with the central State, and sometimes as a form which manages a new economy. This idea wasn't new but harked back to the first capitalist forms which appeared at the end of the Middle-Ages: the autonomous communes, which existed in Italy and in German Flanders where a young bourgeoisie was fighting against the Empire. As always in such cases, events which were then revolutionary, in terms of economic development, have today become an empty repetition disguised as false extremism.
For the anarchists, during over fifty years of commemorations, the model for this local organ was the Paris Commune of 1871. In Marx and Lenin's far more powerful and irrevocable analysis it is, on the contrary, history's first great example of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, of a centralised, though here only territorial, proletarian State.
The French capitalist State, as embodied in Thier's 3rd Republic, moved to crush proletarian Paris and eject it from its capital city, having prepared its assault from behind the Prussian army lines. After the desperate resistance and horrifying massacre, Marx was able to write that from that day onwards all the bourgeois national armies were in league against the proletariat.
It wasn't a question of reducing the historical conflict from a national to the communal level (just think of the inanity of a poor defenceless provincial town!) but of extending it onto an international scale. At the time of the 2nd International there even emerged a new version of socialism (impressing the restless mind of the young Mussolini) called "communalism", which aimed to create cells of the future society by conquering municipal administrations: not – alas – with dynamite like the anarchists, but by winning local elections. Since then, the relentless forces of economic development, well known to Marxists, have ensured that every local structure has become tangled in an ever more inextricable web of economic, administrative, and political ties with the central government: just think of the ridiculousness of each little rebel town council setting up its own radio and TV stations to annoy the hated central State!
The idea of organisations forming confederations of workers in each town, and each town declaring itself politically independent, is therefore now defunct. Bourgeois illusions about self-government still survive, however, and will continue to befuddle the minds, and paralyse the hands, of working class militants for a long time to come.
The other forms of workers' "immediate" organisation would have a longer and more complex history, with a tendency to get caught up in the craft and professional trade unions, industrial unions, and the factory councils. Insofar as such forms are proposed as alternatives to the revolutionary political party, the history of these movements and the doctrines which are more or less confusedly based upon them, coincide with the history of opportunism during the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. As we have covered the subject on numerous occasions elsewhere, we will give only a brief summary here, but we will remark that the European masses are still largely ignorant of their class's history, and they will really need to learn from the immense sacrifices which have been made one day, and treasure them,
The history of localism, and of so-called anarchist and libertarian communism, is the story of opportunism within the 1st International. Marx fought to free the International of these tendencies by means of both theoretical criticism, and hard organisational struggle against Bakunin and his intractable supporters in France, Switzerland, Spain and Italy.
Despite being able to draw on the rich historical experience of the Russian Revolution, many "left-wingers", and declared enemies of Stalinism, nevertheless still look to the anarchists for potential support. We therefore need to reiterate that libertarianism was the first of the diseases to infect the proletarian movement, and was the precursor to all later opportunisms (including Stalinism) in that it falsified politics and history in order to attract the petty and middle bourgeois strata of society onto the proletarian side – despite the fact that these classes have always ruined everything, and been the source of every kind of calamity and error. What resulted from this approach wasn't proletarian leadership over the "popular masses", but destruction of any proletarian features of the general movement, and a reinforced enslavement of the proletariat to capital.
This danger has been denounced by Marxism since its earliest days, and it is extremely sad to hear people say that it can be dealt with more effectively now than in Marx's day because there are more facts available, whilst they meanwhile misinterpret what was already clear over a century ago. The "popular" version of working-class revolution used to horrify Engels, and he condemned it often. In the preface to "The Class Struggles in France", for instance, he wrote: "After the defeats of 1849 we in no way shared the illusions of the vulgar democracy (...) This vulgar democracy reckoned on a speedy and finally decisive victory of the "people" over the "tyrants"; we looked to a long struggle after the removal of the "tyrants", among the antagonistic elements concealed within this "people" itself".
As far as Marxist doctrine is concerned, from that time on it was equipped with the basic concepts and principles needed to criticise all of today's popular variants of opportunism; including the models put forward by groups such as the Barbarists who in their lengthy palinodes dedicated to the Hungarian events have presented a "popular" movement as a class movement.
Those who substitute "people" for class, by prioritising the proletarian class above the party, believe they are rendering it a supreme homage whilst in fact they are declassing it, drowning it in "popular" confusion, and sacrificing it on the altar of counter-revolution.
The Myth of the Revolutionary Trade Union
By the end of the 19th century, the political parties of the proletarian class in Europe had become large and powerful organisations. Their role model was the German "Sozialdemokratie", which after a long struggle had forced the bourgeois Kaiserist State to repeal Bismarck’s special anti-socialist laws, and had also steadily increased its share of the votes and the parliamentary seats at each successive general election. This party was supposed to be the depository of Marx and Engel's tradition, and to this fact was due the prestige it enjoyed within the new 2nd International when it was set up in 1889.
But in this party a new current, Revisionism, had been growing with Eduard Bernstein as its main theoretician. This tendency openly stated that bourgeois society, during the relatively peaceful international and social period which followed the Franco-Prussian War, had developed new aspects which were pointing to "new ways to socialism", different from Marx's.
Be it no wonder to today's young militants that it was this very same phrase which was used to launch the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956: exactly the same words, but with everybody thinking they were brand new and hot off the press! The Italian revisionist Bonomi, expelled from the party in 1912 and later appointed as Secretary of State for War in Giolitti's cabinet, would end up shooting not fascists, but the proletarians who were fighting against them. Later on he would even became one of the leaders of the anti-fascist Republic. Before his expulsion he wrote a book which boasted the title: The New Ways to Socialism. Giolitti drew the fine sentence that socialists had relegated Marx to the attic from this same book. Today's international communist left movement is directly derived from the left fraction groups who, all those years ago, replied to this provocation by naming their journal The Attic.
The revisionists maintained that given the new developments within European, and world capitalism, neither insurrectional struggles nor the use of armed violence and the revolutionary conquest of power, were needed to achieve the passage to socialism and to achieve working-class emancipation; they therefore totally excluded Marx's central thesis: the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Instead of Marx's "catastrophic vision" there would be legal and electoral activity and legislative changes in Parliament. It even got to the stage where socialist MPs were participating in bourgeois cabinets (Possibilism, Millerandism) in order to pass laws favourable to the working class, despite the fact that every international congress up to the 1st World War had consistently condemned such tactics, and despite the expulsion from the parties of collaborationists like Bonomi (though not the Bernsteins, nor the Turatis in Italy).
This political and theoretical degeneracy of the socialist parties, which we won't go into detail about here, led to a wave of distrust towards the organisational form of the party amongst large sections of the proletariat, and provided a favourable atmosphere for a range of anarchist and anti-Marxist critics. To begin with, only a few currents of minor importance fought the revisionists on the grounds of strict conformity to Marx's original doctrine (radicals in German, intransigent revolutionaries in Italy; and groups elsewhere dubbed "hard", "strict", "orthodox" etc.).
These currents, which in Russia were represented by the bolshevism of Plekhanov and Lenin (although during the war Plekhanov turned out to be just as bad as the German Kautsky) never ceased for an instant to defend the Party-form (though only Lenin would clearly defend the State-form, that is to say, the Dictatorship-form). But for about ten years or so, there had been another current fighting against social-democratic revisionism, namely revolutionary syndicalism. Georges Sorel was their main theoretician and leader, even if earlier antecedents certainly existed. It was a movement which was particularly strong in the Latin countries: to begin with they fought inside the socialist parties, but later split off, both because of the vicissitudes of the struggle and in order to be consistent with a doctrine which rejected the necessity of the party as a revolutionary class organ.
The primary form of proletarian organisation for the syndicalists was the economic trade union, whose main task was supposed to be not only leading the class struggle to defend the immediate interests of the working class, but also preparing, without being subject to any political party, to lead the final revolutionary war against the capitalist system.
Sorelians and Marxism
A complete analysis of the origins and evolution of this doctrine, both as we find it in Sorel's work, and in the multifarious groups which in various countries subscribed to it, would take us too far off our track; at this point we shall therefore just discuss its historical balance sheet, and its very questionable view of a future non-capitalist society.
Sorel and many of his followers, in Italy as well, started off by declaring that they were the true successors of Marx in fighting against legalitarian revisionism in its pacifist and evolutionist guise. Eventually they were forced to admit that their tendency represented a new revisionism; left rather than right wing in appearance but actually issuing from the same source, and containing the same dangers.
The part of Marx's doctrine which Sorel reckoned to have retained was the use of violence and the struggle of the proletarian class against bourgeois institutions and authority, especially the State. Thus he appeared to be in strict conformity with the Marxist historical critique according to which the contemporary State which emerged from the bourgeois revolution, in its democratic and parliamentarian forms, remains an organisation perfectly adapted for the defence of the dominant class, whose power cannot be removed by legal means. The Sorelians defended the use of illegal action, violence, and the revolutionary general strike, and raised the latter to the rank of the supreme ideal, precisely at a time when in most socialist parties such slogans were being fiercely repudiated.
The culmination of the Sorelian theory of "direct action" – that is, without legally elected intermediaries between proletarians and the the bourgeoisie – is the general strike. But in spite of it being conceived of as occurring simultaneously in all trades, in all cities of a particular country, or even on an international scale, in reality the insurrection of the syndicalists is still restricted, insofar as it takes the form of actions by individuals, or at most, actions by isolated groups; in neither case does it attain the level of class action. This was due to Sorel's horror of a revolutionary political organisation necessarily taking on a military form, and after victory, a State form (proletarian State, Dictatorship); and since Sorelians don't agree with Party, State, and Dictatorship they would end up treading the same path as Bakunin had thirty years before. The national general strike, assuming it to be victorious, would supposedly coincide (on the same day?) with a general expropriation (the "expropriating strike"), but such a vision of the passage from one social form to another is as nebulous and weak as it is disappointing and ephemeral.
In Italy in 1920 – in an atmosphere of general enthusiasm for Lenin, for the party, for taking power, and for the "expropriating dictatorship" – this superficially extreme slogan of the "expropriating strike" was adopted by both maximalists and ordinovists; this was one of many occasions when we had to defend Marxist positions strenuously and pitilessly, even at risk of being accused of bridling the movement.
Sorel and his followers are actually far removed from Marxist determinism, and the interaction which occurs between the economic and political spheres is a dead letter to them. Since they are individualist and voluntarist, they see revolution as an act of force which can only take place after an impossible act of consciousness. As Lenin demonstrated in What is To Be Done?, they turn Marxism on its head. They treat consciousness and will as though they came from the inner-self, from the "person", and thus, in one deft movement, they sweep away bourgeois State, class divisions, and class psychology. Since they are unable to understand the inevitable alternative – capitalist dictatorship or communist dictatorship – they evade the dilemma in the only way that is historically possible: by re-establishing the former. And whether this is done consciously or not may be a burning issue for them but, frankly, we are not that interested.
We are not really interested in following the logical evolution of Georges Sorel's thinking after that: idealism, spiritualism, and then a return to the womb of the Catholic Church.
The Test of the First World War
As already stated above, we certainly can't provide here an in-depth analysis of the crisis of socialism which occurred in August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. We just need to see if the crisis affected only the political parties, or the trade unions, and indeed the syndicalist ideologists, as well. And the latter, although never thinking of themselves as a party, were in fact precisely that; indeed their members were drawn mainly from the petty-bourgeois class, despite their superstitious attachment to notions of working-class purity. At that time, in typical anarchist fashion, the syndicalists consisted of a variety of ill-defined "groups" which declared themselves to be non-political, non-electoral, non-parliamentary, and non-party etc., etc. And we have plenty of contemporary examples to show that this show of chaste reserve with regard to political parties and revolutionary politics doesn't stop these free and easy "groupists" from joining bourgeois and opportunist parties, or even fighting in electoral campaigns for filthy class traitors. Autonomy rules!
There is no doubt – indeed it would form the basis for the restoration of revolutionary Marxism in Lenin's time – that the biggest European socialist parties had displayed a shameless bankruptcy. We need hardly recall that Lenin, unable to accept the news, would crush the newspapers underfoot as he furiously paced about his small Swiss room like a caged wild animal, unapproachable even to his incomparable wife for three whole weeks.
We retract not a single word we have ever said, or action we have taken, against these betrayers of socialism, who voted for war credits, and who entered the "union sacrée" cabinets. However in Italy, facilitated by a nine month delay (Italy entered the war on May 24th, 1915) the struggle to prevent the party leaders from deserting proletarian positions lasted until just days before the mobilisation order was issued. The leadership of the socialist party held firm, and although the reformist current predominated in the parliamentary group and was opposed to calling a general strike, it nevertheless pledged to vote against the Government and its war credits and actually did so, and unanimously at that. In fact it was the leaders of the General Confederation of Labour (CGL – broadly the Italian equivalent of the TUC) who took up the most defeatist position, and it was them we had to unmask in their sabotage of the strike proposal: although they said they feared the strike's failure, in fact they feared its success, and purely for bourgeois patriotic reasons.
In all countries it was the big trade unions which dragged the political parties down this road of incommensurable shame. Such it was in France, in Germany, and in Austria. In England, the Labour Party, that perennial bugbear and champion of counter-revolution to which the trade unions are affiliated, stepped bodily into the ranks of the war-mongers whilst Britain's small socialist party took up a firm opposition stand.
Sorelian critics of parliamentarism had quite rightly denounced the disgraceful manoeuvrings of worker MPs, but they failed to realise that these gentlemen, as they roamed around the bourgeois government lobbies, were being forcibly petitioned by trade union organisers to obtain material concessions for their members. Lenin warned that the betrayal and cowardice of the revolutionary leaders was not a cause of Opportunism, which was at its most virulent during the 1914 crisis, but rather an inseparable manifestation of opportunism, and indeed this had been the view of Marx and Engel ever since their letters about the German counter-revolution in 1850. Opportunism is a social fact, a deeply entrenched compromise between classes, and it would be sheer madness to ignore it. Capitalism would later offer a pact of mutual collaboration to certain sections of industrial workers who were exempted from military service. The Railway Workers Union in Italy would oppose the CGL's repudiation of the general strike (and in doing so put their members' exemption from military service at stake) and were only able to do so because of their political strength, and the close ties which this combative workers' organisation had forged with the radical wing of the Marxist party.
During the crisis in 1914, and during many other analogous though less sensational ones, the trade unions (we refer to their leadership, who the workers can only get rid of after years of struggle, ditto, party militants their leaders, and socialist electors their MPs) were veritable shackles on the class parties. The Sorelians, obviously not having seen this impressive array of evidence, proposed to remedy revisionism by boycotting parties and seeking refuge in the workers' unions.
The situation was worst in France and Italy, where there were even anarcho-syndicalist trade-union confederations. In France they were in the majority and led by Jouhaux, Sorelian to the marrow, and sworn enemy of the party and the socialist MPs group. But, as the First World War broke out, Jouhaux would subscribe to the jingoist politics of the socialist parliamentary deputies, and drag his organisation and its mass membership along behind him, barring a few, negligible exceptions. But he was not the only one. He would be joined by the famous anarchist scholar Elisée Reclus, and by the even more famous (total idiot) Gustave Hervé, leader of the European anti-militarists, editor of La Guerre Sociale, and organiser of the "citoyen Browning" (revolver-citizen), who had earlier felt obliged to stick the drapeau tricolore dans le fumier, the French flag into the dungheap. Hervé would change the title of his journal to "Victoire", start an incredibly venomous campaign against the "boches", and finally end up joining le fumier himself; the best place for him.
Nothing better emerged from the Sorelian ranks than from the French Socialist Party (S.F.I.O) which, even then, was not worth a brass farthing as far as Marxism was concerned. The "anti-party" syndicalists ended up like messieurs Guesde and Cachin; who came to buy Mussolini's newspaper with the Francs of the French State (Cachin later became a communist, and then a Hitler supporter, and then a staunch anti-fascist).
In Italy, the Confederation of Labour was confronted with the Italian Syndicalist Union. Although thoroughly imbued with a shallow reformism, the former had never complied with war politics. But the anarcho-syndicalist union had split into two currents, one against the war, the other with De Ambris and Corridoni openly interventionist.
The socialist party acquitted itself rather better: when Mussolini walked out in October 1914, at the Milan section's expulsion meeting not one voice was raised on his behalf.
The Factory Organisation
In the first place, the idea that the proletarian political party should be sacrificed in order to shift the centre of revolutionary gravity towards the trade unions involves a complete abandonment of the basic tenets of Marxist theory. It is thus a view which only receives support from those who have abjured Marxism's philosophical and economic creed (as did the Sorelians eventually, and the Bakunians right from the start); it is a view, moreover, which history has shown to be totally baseless. The argument that political parties allow non-working class elements to join, and that these elements end up in the executive posts, whilst this never occurs (simply not true) in the trade unions, flies in the face of the most resounding historical evidence to the contrary.
The narrowness of the trade-unionist perspective, when compared to the political, resides in the fact it is restricted within a trade, rather than a class, context, and is affected by a rigid, mediaeval separation of crafts. Neither should the recent transformation of trade – or professional – trade-unions into industrial unions be regarded as a significant step forward. In this latter form, for instance, a carpenter operative who works in an automobile plant has to join the metal-workers union rather than the carpenters' union. But both forms are equally characterised by the fact that amongst the rank-and-file, contact between the union members is restricted is to dealing with the problems of just one narrow sector of production rather than that of society as a whole. Bringing about a synthesis of the various interests of local, professional and industrial proletarian groups, can only be accomplished by an apparatus which includes officials from the various organisations.
The different sectional interests of the proletarian class can therefore only be overcome in the party organisation, which avoids dividing its members according to trade or profession.
Not long after the First World War, with the large trade unions and confederations clearly co-responsible with the socialist MPs and parties for the betrayal of the socialist cause, there was a widespread tendency to overestimate a new form of immediatist organisation which had arisen amongst the industrial proletariat: the factory council.
The theorizers of this system maintained that it expressed, better than any other, the historical function of the modern working class. The defence of the workers' interests would pass out of the hands of the trade union and be entrusted to the local factory council, with the latter connected to other councils via a "councils system", operating at the local, regional and national levels as well as within the different sectors of industry. There was, however, a new demand which arose: the control, and eventually management, of production. Factory councils would demand a say not only in setting wages, hours, and everything else to do with management-labour relations, but also a say in the technical-economic operations decided hitherto by management, i.e., production quotas, acquisition of raw materials, and disposal of the products. A whole range of "conquests" of this nature would lead to total management by the workers, that is to say the effective elimination and expropriation of the employers.
In Italy at least, this enticing mirage was immediately described by revolutionary Marxists as extremely deceptive. It was a view which ignored the question of centralised power, insofar as the bourgeois State was supposed to co-exist (an early example of coexistence between wolf and lambs!) with an advanced degree of workers' control; or even with a network of workers' management spread over a number of industrial concerns.
All this was nothing other than a new revisionism, a worse version of reformism. This hypothetical scheme, insofar as it involved a network of locally managed operations, was even worse than that of the classical revisionists, who at least accepted the need for socially planned production, even though they entrusted it to a political State which was supposed to be conquered by the working class through peaceful means.
From a doctrinal perspective it is easy to establish that such a system is just as anti-Marxist as Sorelian syndicalism. In a very similar way we see those two suspect characters – class party and class State – totally banished from the political stage; at least the classical revisionists just confined themselves to just open sabotage of class violence and class dictatorship! In essence, though, it is revolution and socialism which are eliminated in both cases.
This banal suspicion of the Party and State forms continued to gain ground over the decades that followed, and the "content of socialism" came to be confused with these two postulates: workers' control of production, and workers' management of production. And all this stuff was supposedly the "new Marxism".
Did Marx ever say what "the content of socialism" was? No. Marx never replied to such a metaphysical question. The content of a receptacle can just as well be water as wine, or indeed a rather more unpleasant liquid. As Marxists, it is appropriate to ask: what is the historical process which leads to socialism? What relations will exist between individuals "under socialism", i.e. within a society which is no longer capitalist?
To such questions it would be a nonsense to reply: control of production, management of the factory, or as is so often said: autonomy of the working class.
For over a century now, we have defined the historical process which leads from fully industrialised capitalist society to Socialism as follows: formation of the proletarian class, organisation of the proletariat into a class political party, organisation of the proletariat into the ruling class. The control and management of production can only start after reaching the latter stage. This will occur not in individual factories managed by staff councils, but within society as a whole, managed by the class State with the class party at its helm.
If the ridiculous search for "content" is applied to a fully socialist society, we have all the more reason for saying that the formulae "workers' control" and "workers' management" are lacking in any content. Under socialism, society isn't divided into producers and non-producers anymore because society is no longer divided into classes. The "content" (if we have to use such an insipid expression) won't be proletarian autonomy, control, and management of production, but the disappearance of the proletarian class; of the wage system; of exchange – even in its last surviving form as the exchange of money for labour-power; and, finally, the individual enterprise will disappear as well. There will be nothing to control and manage, and nobody to demand autonomy from.
Those who have taken up these ideologies have shown their total inability, both theoretically and in practice, to struggle for anything beyond a pale imitation of bourgeois society. What they really want is their own autonomy from the power of the class party and the revolutionary dictatorship. When Marx was still very young, and imbued with Hegelian ideas (ideas which these people still believe in even now) he would have answered that those who seek proletarian autonomy find instead bourgeois autonomy, raised up as an eternal model of mankind (see On the Jewish Question).
History of 'Factory Socialism'
The ancestors of the Italian ordinovist factory councils are the old Anglo-Saxon craft-guilds, which were formed not to fight against bourgeois employers but against feudal lords and rival guilds.
As soon as the Russian Revolution came to no longer be considered as an initial phase of the European proletarian revolution, but as a struggle of the peasantry to "seize the land" instead, this wretched distortion would give rise to the superficial parallel of "seizing the factories". In such ways as this does one end up wandering off the via maestra which leads to the conquest of power and the conquest of society.
Elsewhere in our press we have examined how Lenin settled the Russian agrarian and industrial questions, and we won't go into it here. Syndicalists and anarchists everywhere would withdraw their support from the Russian revolution when they realised that Lenin saw "workers' and peasants' control" as subsidiary to the main aim of gaining control of central power; as a slogan to invoke in enterprises which the Russian State had not yet managed to expropriate. Attempts at achieving autonomous management of the factories by their operatives had to be repressed, sometimes by force, in order to avoid pointless economic damage; damage which was anti-socialist insofar as it adversely effected the military and political direction of the civil war.
Confusion between the State of the workers' councils, with the councils functioning as political and territorial organs, and the fictitious ordinovist factory Council State, with each council managing itself independently, was rapidly dispelled. On this subject we need only read the Theses of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International on Trade Unions and Factory Councils which define the tasks of such bodies before and after the revolution. The Marxist solution to the problem is the penetration of these organisms by the revolutionary party, and their subordination to (rather than autonomy from!) the revolutionary State.
We shall now briefly refer to the Italian experience. In 1920, the famous episode of the factory occupations took place. The workers, openly dissatisfied with the cowardly attitude of the big unions federations, and forced into action by the economic situation and the injurious demands imposed by the industrialists after the initial post-war euphoria, barricaded themselves inside the factories, set about organising their defence and expelled the management. In some places they tried to keep the factories running and even to dispose of the products they had manufactured through regular sale.
This movement might have gone on to achieve great things at this crucial time if the Italian proletariat had had a strong and resolute revolutionary party. Instead, following the 1919 unitary congress in Bologna and the sensational election victory with 150 socialist deputies elected to parliament, the Socialist Party was going through a profound crisis as the false extremism of Serrati's "maximalists" took hold. It was a crisis which wouldn't be resolved until January 1921, when the communist current seceded to form a new party at Livorno.
In the P.S.I (Italian Socialist Party) of the time, the procedure was always to refer decisions to various hybrid committees. These would include representatives of the party leadership (along with some of its peripheral organisations, contested by the various currents), socialist MPs, and the leaders of the Confederation of Labour. In vain did the Left declare that it was the party alone which was authorised to deal with problems relating to the political struggle of the working class. The socialist MPs and the trade-union leaders should be bound by its instructions since they were members of the party. It was a case of needing to take action on a nationwide scale, action which was about as political as you can get.
Moreover, as a veritable orgy of false extremist positions swept the country, we had proof of how damaging it was to the party to be lacking a solid doctrinal platform. The great factory occupation movement of the time led to the mistaken notion that the Soviet, or workers' council, system as established in Russia, could be immediately extended to Italy; indeed even open adversaries of the revolutionary conquest of power talked about proclaiming it. But Lenin and the World congresses had taken a very clear stand on the issue, and stated that Soviets are not bodies which can coexist with the traditional State. On the contrary, they arise when an open struggle for power is taking place, when their function becomes that of replacing the executive and legislative organs of a bourgeois State teetering on the verge of collapse. But all this would be forgotten, and in the midst of general confusion and an absurd alliance between pacifists and revolutionaries, the movement would collapse into impotence.
The bourgeois leader Giolitti was much more clear-headed though. Despite the Law allowing him to deploy troops to expel the workers occupying the industrial plants, and despite being spurred on to do so by the forces of the right and of nascent fascism, he purposely refrained from issuing such orders. The workers and their organisations, occupying factories which had come to a virtual standstill, didn't look as though they were about to burst out of the factories with arms in hand, attack the bourgeois forces, and occupy the State and Police headquarters; hunger alone would be enough to undermine their untenable position. With Giolitti hardly needing to fire a single shot, the movement collapsed of its own accord. After a few isolated incidents, the bourgeois managers and bosses were soon back in charge of the factories and running them in exactly the same way as before. The storm had abated, and bourgeois power and privilege had escaped relatively unscathed.
The whole history of post-war Italy clearly shows that the proletarian struggle, even under favourable conditions, is doomed to failure unless it is led by a revolutionary party capable of settling the question of power in a radical way; a fact equally borne out by Fascism's history.
It was the final bankruptcy of that system of ideas which rejects revolution as a means to gain political control of society; which rejects launching the attack on the bourgeois State and establishing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; which wishes to replace these measures with the petty delusion that workers will conquer and control the factories, and supposedly organise themselves into factory-councils which embrace the entire workforce, with no heed taken of political positions or party stand.
The Italian Ordinovist current had not yet gone so far as declaring the political party unnecessary since it broadly agreed with the 111rd International tactic of establishing contacts with other proletarian parties, even reformist and opportunist ones, since it supported the idea of a class-front composed of manual workers, industrialists and the petty-bourgeoisie. But future events, and the triumph of opportunism within Italy and the Communist International, would show that the doctrine of self-sufficient factory councils (with their own little self-contained revolutions), was a very dangerous starting point; as indeed was the illusion that communist victory was assured as soon as individual enterprises had passed from the hands of the management into those of their employees. In fact Communism involves the reorganisation of the whole of human life, and the old productive model – to which the spontaneously arisen networks of trade-union and factory based organisations subscribe – needs to be denounced, and then totally destroyed from top to bottom.
A Futile Return to Vacuous Formulas
The great Russian tragedy has been accompanied at every stage of its involution by attempts to breathe life into new forms of proletarian organisation. And this in despite of the fact that political party and Dictatorship of the Proletariat were considered central factors by the great pioneers of the October Revolution; central to their immense organisational effort which carried them to the forefront of the proletarian, anti-capitalist, advance which menaced capitalism at the end of the First World War.
No useful contribution towards a theoretical and practical revival of the class movement will ever emerge from an anxious mistrust about the Party and State forms of organisation. These are forms which are absolutely indispensable if the relations of class domination are to be over-turned once and for all. The childish objection to these forms boils down to the idea that man is doomed by his very nature to resort to the exercise of power, whether defending the cause of forces within society (as part of a "hierarchical" system authorised to protect it), whether to defend the interests of individuals, or simply in order to satisfy an insatiable lust for power on the part of those who are invested with power within the party and the State.
Marxism demonstrates the non-existence of such a ridiculous fate; moreover, it states that the actions of individuals depend on forces developed by general, wider interests, and this is e just as much when individuals react as single molecules of the mass acting in concert with others, as – and above all – when they are brought together into groups, at crucial junctures in the historic struggle, by the general dynamics of society.
Either we read history as Marxists, or we relapse into scholastic masturbations which explain great events as due to monarchical manoeuvrings over hereditary claims and the transmission of the crown to heirs, or as the exploits of dashing buccaneers, urged on to perform great exploits in the quest for personal glory and posthumous immortality!
For us, and for Marx, it is just not possible for the lone individual, taking conscious foresight as his starting point, to go out and 'mould' society and History in conformity with his motive will. And this goes not only for the poor devil of a molecule floundering about in the social magma, but even more so for kings and the queens, for those invested with high office and honours, for those with dozens of titles and initials after their names. It is indeed particularly these people who don't know what they want, don't achieve what they thought they would, and to whom, if you'll excuse the noble expression, historical determinism reserves its biggest kick up the backside. In fact, if you accept our doctrine, leaders are more puppets of history than anyone else.
When viewed in the context of a succession of productive forms, each one replacing the one before, it will be seen that all revolutions go through a particularly dynamic stage in which the combatants, who at this point appear as the expression of socially determined forces pushing them towards a greater good, will as a general rule put up with any number of sacrifices and privations: there will be those, both in the ranks and in the higher profile roles, who will give up their lives, and their "hunger for power", whilst obeying the still un-deciphered forces which accompany the birth of every new social form.
In the final phase of each form, this social dynamism evaporates due to the fact that a new, opposed, social form is arising within the old. At this point there appears a conservative defence of the traditional form which tends to manifest itself as an underwriting of personal egoisms, individual belly-stuffing, and open corruption; bribe-takers, praetorians, feudal courtiers, debauched clerics, and the shady speculators and corrupt accountants of today's bourgeois regime are some examples.
But even though capitalism's hired thugs and scullery maids may be bogged down in a social mire of cynicism and existential arrogance, the work of defending capitalism and preventing its collapse continues as before. The organised State and political party networks are strongly committed to this task, and at key historical junctures they have demonstrated that they are quite capable of welding themselves into a unified, centralised, counter-revolutionary force (and if you can see beyond all the bogus intellectual hypocrisy, this is clearly also the case in contemporary Britain, America and Russia, and not just in fascist Germany and Italy). And since they are aware that the source of our power is the knowledge we have of the 'geological stratification' of the historical underground, they even try and steal that from us as well!
Us, of all people, should we really be so unwarlike as to dishonour the power and the form which this unstoppable energy of ours will have to assume, namely: the revolutionary party and the iron State of the Dictatorship? Within these organisational structures particular individuals will hold certainly key positions, of course, but their duty, far from engaging in personal manoeuvring and secret intrigues and conspiracies, will be to rigorously abide by the tasks which the historical process has set these organs of irreversibly revolutionising the economic and social forms.
The assertion by certain organisations, different from the party, that they can guarantee against the degeneration of leaders, or other official appointees, is tantamount to a repudiation of our entire doctrinal edifice.
In fact the network of "leaders" and "hierarchs" in these organisations is the same as in the party, and in general it isn't even solely composed of workers. And even if they were, History has taught us the unhappy truth that the ex-worker who leaves his job to work in the trade-union bureaucracy is generally more likely to betray his class than somebody originating from the non-proletarian classes. Examples? We could provide thousands of them.
This entire palinode is generally presented as a move towards, an establishing of tighter bonds, of closer links, with the "masses". But who are the masses? They are the working class when deprived of historic energy, i.e. without a party to set them on the historic revolutionary path; a class, therefore, tied to and resigned to its state of subjection and tied to the way it happens to be distributed throughout the bourgeois social organism. And in certain historic situations, the masses may include also the semi-proletarian layers which have overflowed from the labouring "class".
Our approach to this issue, in total conformity with the dictates of the Marxist school, is to show that a dual historical moment occurs in such situations, and by making the proper distinction between the two aspects we can synthesise everything we have said before.
In the period before the bourgeois revolution proper breaks out, when feudal forms still need to be brought crashing down, as for example in Russia in 1917, elements amongst these still un-proletarianized "people" confront the power of the State and contest society's leadership. At certain decisive moments these strata tend to side with the proletarian class, adding not only a numerical advantage, but also contributing a potentially revolutionary factor which can be used during the transitional phase; on condition, that is, that the party of the workers' dictatorship has a clear historical vision, a powerful and autonomous organisation, and has guaranteed its hegemony by retaining close links with the proletarian class throughout the world. The situation changes when the revolutionary anti-feudal pressure subsides: the popular "framework" which encased the revolutionary and classist proletariat now becomes not only reactionary, but even more reactionary than the bourgeoisie itself. Now any steps to retain links with it lead to opportunism, to destruction of the revolutionary power, and to solidarity with capitalist conservatism. Today, throughout the whole of the "white world", this principle is still valid.
The present Russian opportunists, in their mad dash towards a total repudiation of anything that smacks of revolution, have not – yet – dumped the party-form, but they still seek to justify each successive stage of their involution with an Appeal to the Masses, and every now and again to proclaim their solidarity with them.
No further a posteriori or historical evidence is required to show the sheer inconsistency of this hackneyed, insidious and irritating slogan, and the essential part it has played in the liquidation of the revolutionary party.