III. The Petty-Bourgeois Distortion of the Features of Communist Society in the "Syndicalist" and "Enterprise Socialist" Conceptions of Proletarian Organisation

The Political Party is Irreplaceable

The view that the organisations formed by workers to conduct their struggles should be entirely structured around the production network of the bourgeois industrial economy – a view taken to its furthest extreme in Gramsci's system and revived today by various anti-Stalinist groups – has proved to be entirely ineffectual in practice and invariably goes hand in hand with a failure to identify the fundamental differences between the economic structure of today and tomorrow: between the present capitalist society and the communist society which will take its place after the victory of the proletarian class. Any such theory therefore falls far short of the Marxist critique of the present capitalist economic system.

The anti-Stalinists, Stalinists and XXth Congress post-Stalinists all make the same error. All of them share the illusion of a society in which the workers have defeated their employers at a local level, within their trade, or within their firm, but have remained trapped in the web of a surviving market economy. They don't seem to realize that this market economy is the same thing as capitalism.

The features of a non-capitalist and non-mercantile society which emerge from a genuine Marxist analysis, resulting from a critical and scientific forecast which is free of any trace of utopianism, are only thoroughly understood and shaped into a programme by the political party of the working-class. This is precisely because the party doesn't slavishly adhere to the system of organisation which the capitalist world imposes on the producing class. Any hesitation about the necessity for the party and State forms leads to a complete loss of the Marxist movement's programmatic conquests concerning the complete antithesis of the communist and capitalist forms; conquests thoroughly mastered by the party of the Marxist school. If we consider some key Marxist postulates, such as the abolition of the social and technical division of labour, meaning the breaking down of barriers between separate enterprises; the abolition of the conflict between town and country; and the social synthesis between science and practical human activity, we can immediately see that any 'concrete' plan to organise proletarian action which sets out to mirror the structure of the present-day economic world is doomed to remain trapped within the characteristic limitations of today's capitalist forms, and to be counter-revolutionary without even realising it.

The way to overcome this short-coming – which will involve many battles along the way – is through forming organisations which avoid modelling themselves on those drawn from the bourgeois world. These organisations are the proletarian party and the proletarian State, within which the society of tomorrow crystallizes in advance of its existence in a historical sense. Within those organisations which we define as "immediatist", which copy and bear the physiological imprint of present-day society, all they can do is crystallize and perpetuate this society.

The 'Commune' Form

It is a very strange fact that the libertarians, who around 1870 or so engaged in their polemics against Marx in the First International, and whose short-sightedness we have already referred to, are still widely considered to be "to the Left" of Marx. Actually, in spite of their verbal opposition to militarism and patriotism, they never grasped the importance of going beyond the purely national level when criticising bourgeois economy and studying how it spreads onto the global scale.

Marx described the formation of the international market as the ultimate and crowning historical task of the modern bourgeoisie; after that it only remained to fight to establish the proletarian dictatorship in the countries which were most advanced, and, after the destruction of the national states which arose alongside capitalism, an expansion onto an ever vaster scale of the power of the international proletarian class. The anarchist proposal, when not actually advocating unlimited autonomy for all individuals, whatever their class, was to destroy the capitalist State so as to replace it with small social units, the famous communities of producers, which after the collapse of the central government would supposedly be totally autonomous, even with respect to each other.

The rather abstract form of future society based on local "communes" doesn't seem that different from today's bourgeois society, and its economic procedures don't seem that different either. Those who set out to describe this future society, such as Bakunin and Kropotkin, thought it enough merely to link it to a set of philosophical ideologisms, rather than to an analysis of historically verified laws of social production. When they did take up Marx's critique, it was only in the most minimal and selective way since they were unable to infer the conclusions implied by the theory: they were impressed by the concept of surplus value (which is an economic theorem) but used it merely to support their moral condemnation of exploitation, which they saw as arising from human beings exerting "power" over each other. Unable to attain the theoretical level of dialectics, they were debarred from understanding, for instance, that in the transition from the appropriation of the physical product of the serf's labour by the landowning lord to the production of surplus value in the capitalist system, an actual "liberation" from more crushing forms of servitude and oppression has taken place; for even if the division into classes, and the existence of a State power, still remained a historical necessity, and benefited the bourgeois class, in that period it also benefited the whole of the rest of society as well.

One of the principal causes of the greater output of labour as a whole, and of the higher average remuneration for the same amount of labour, was the creation of the nationwide market and the division of productive labour into different branches of industry, with the latter enabled to exchange their fully and semi-worked products within a zone of free circulation of commodities, and increasingly impelled to extend this zone beyond the State boundaries.

This increase (fully condoning the Marxist view) in the wealth of the bourgeoisie and in the power of each of each of its states, and along with this the production of surplus-value, does not immediately mean that an absolute increase in the gross revenue extracted is at the expense of the lower classes. To a certain extent, it is still compatible with a lessening of the hours of labour and with a general improvement in the satisfaction of needs. Therefore, the idea of dismantling capitalism by breaking up the national State into little islands of power, characteristic of the pre-bourgeois Middle Ages, makes no sense at all. It would clearly be a retrograde step to force the economy back into these limited confines, even if the sole aim were to prevent a few lazy, non-workers from appropriating any of the resources from each of the little communes.

In this system of egalitarian communes, it is certain that the cost of the daily food supply, calculated in terms of the hours of labour of all the adult members of the community (leaving aside the niggling question of those who didn't want to work, and who would compel them to do so!) would be more than if production was organised at the level of the nation, take modern France for instance, where there is a continuous and regular economic traffic between the different communes, and a given manufactured article is obtained from the places where it is produced with least difficulty; even if the "hundred families" still gobble everything up for free.

In fact, these various communes would have no option but to trade amongst each other on the basis of free exchange. And even if we admitted that a "universal consciousness" would suffice to peacefully regulate these relations between the different locally based economic nuclei, there would still be nothing to prevent one commune extracting surplus value from another due to a fluctuating equivalence between one commodity and another.

This imaginary system of little economic communes is nothing more than a philosophical caricature of that age-old petty-bourgeois dream self-government. It can easily be seen that this system is just as mercantile as the one which existed in Stalin's Russia or in the increasingly anti-proletarian post-Stalinist Russia, and it is equally clear that it involves a totally bourgeois system of monetary equivalents (without a State mint?!) which is bound to weigh down the average productive labourer far more than a system of national or imperialist, large-scale industries.

The 'Trade Union' Form

So far, we have been elaborating the historico-political part of our criticism of the trade-unionist (or syndicalist) conception of the proletarian struggle. Using the bitter proof of past experience, we have highlighted the doctrinal insufficiency and the ineptitude of the formula "Trade unions versus the bourgeois State": a formula put forward with the intention of getting rid of not only the organ of political struggle, the party, but also the organ of social direction – as indispensable as it is historically transitory – represented by the revolutionary State which Marx envisaged.

According to the thinking of Sorel and his followers, the trade union is sufficient, on its own, to both lead the struggle, and to organise and manage the no-longer-capitalist proletarian economy. In this part, we will show that such a position makes sense only on the basis of an unhistorical and distorted vision of the characteristic features of the opposed form of production which will succeed bourgeois capitalism. Such a distorted vision, which will never be realized and nor can it be, survives only in the semi-bourgeois imagination; nourished by a certain hatred against the big bosses, it fails to see the depth of the antithesis which exists between today's society, and the one which will emerge from the proletarian victory.

A lot of confusion has always been caused by Opportunism on the subject of what form the future society will take: we need only think of those political parties which, though considering themselves Marxist, would go so far as to declare that the formulation of such a historically final programme – which they called "maximal", not to contrast it with a programme which was immediate and "minimum", but rather to deride the necessity of attaining it – was entirely superfluous. For a long time we have fought to prove that the decisive features of such a programme have been known to us since the Marxist current first appeared, and we will neede to continue to fight to prove it. But the vision of the imaginary socialist which will supposedly result from the victory of the trade union organisations over the capitalist bosses, and from the supposedly ensuing destruction and collapse of the bourgeois political State, is much more indefinite and vague than ours.

Throughout the history of the various socialist currents there has been – even in important texts – a great deal of confusing of co-operative forms – which are nothing but a derivation from pre-Marxist utopianism – with the socialist economic form. But this view of a society based on a network of co-operative producers we will examine later on when we describe the factory council current of socialism. As for the Sorelian syndicalist vision of the society subsequent to the collapse of capitalism, the first question we must ask ourselves is whether the fundamental unit of this society will be the small, locally based trade union, or the national, potentially international, trade union.

We should not forget that, within the framework of the organisations of economic defence which the working class formed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, there was one institution, chiefly in the Latin countries, which would excel in terms of dynamism and energy. In Italy, it was known as the Camera del Lavoro and in France, less appropriately, it was called the Bourse du Travail. Whilst the Italian denomination certainly reeks of bourgeois parliamentarism, the latter is worse in that it conveys the idea of a labour market, a place where workers are on sale to the highest bidder amongst the employers; it therefore gives the impression of being even further removed from the struggle to root out capitalist ideology.

Whereas individual trade unions and leagues, and even their national federations, being much less unitary and centralised, suffer the limitations of particular trade interests, which concern themselves with short-term, restricted demands, the chambers of labour of city and country, by developing solidarity amongst workers from different trades and workplaces, were more inclined to consider class problems at a deeper level. Even though the locally based nature of these organisations meant they couldn't completely free themselves of those defects which we examined earlier on (in our criticism of localist and "communalist" forms), real political problems were discussed there, not in the trite electoral sense, but in terms of revolutionary activity.

The Vigour of Inter-Syndical Forms

We could mention many episodes, which occurred in those post world war Red Years, in which the specific and highly active organ of the chambers of labour, the General Council of the Leagues, rallied the Italian workers to mass movements and uprisings, often entirely bypassing the trade-union officials by openly issuing their appeals in the name of socialist and then communist groups.

In France during the first part of this century, the Sûreté was shivering in its boots at the wave of movements emanating from the Bourses du Travail. Without knowing it, the Bourses' were political organs of the struggle for power, but the reformist and sometimes even anarchist trade-union "bonzes" would take advantage of their local isolation and prevent the movement spreading to the national level (or, as in the case of the aborted strike called in defence of Red Russia, which was under attack from the bourgeois armies of the Entente, an international level).

In September, 1920, during the occupation of the factories, terror stricken bourgeois shop-keepers unrolled their shutters allowing stocks of their consumer goods to be taken and pooled at the Chambers of Labour, who distributed them to the unemployed: involving the Chambers going well beyond a narrow trade-unionist concern with wages; under these circumstances, the supreme guardian of the established order, Prime minister Giolitti, kept his cool and was clever enough not to indict us for larceny, as a rigorous observance of the law would have required.

In the subsequent fascist phase, it was not Mussolini's squads, which at that time were suffering a series of bloody defeats, but the regular armed forces of the State which were deployed to attack the workers (in Empoli, Prato, Sarzana, Parma and Ancona, artillery was used, in Bari, even the navy) and only after repeated assaults did they defeat the armed workers holding out in heavily fortified Chambers of Labour.

The August 1922 strike failed because this defence wasn't co-ordinated at a nationwide level, which only the newly formed Communist Party would attempt: once again the trade-union leaders and the maximalist-reformist controlled Socialist party managed to curb the movement in the main cities, where the fascist movement counted for nothing, having gained control only of Florence and Bologna; in Milan, Rome, Genoa, Turin, Venice, and Palermo, the workers would be brought, peacefully and legally, under their paralysing leadership. Therefore it is from August 1922, and not October, 1922, the date of the ridiculous "March on Rome", that we can really date the victory of Italian capitalism over the proletarian revolution, killed by the infamous opportunist plague – but enough about Italy.

Within the trade-union organisation network, therefore, we can see how each trade is totally impotent at both the local and national levels, and how the national leadership is controlled almost everywhere by the opportunist parties, whereas the only real centres of class activity are the old regional and city based inter-trade centres.

During the present phase of Stalinist opportunism, even this one, last, precious resource has been destroyed. And since the Chambers of Labour, as main venues for the hectic meetings of the most combative workers, no longer exist (traditionally, thousands of workers used to attend every evening, making it easy for decisions to reach the whole area by the next morning) today's horrible, rose-tinted union officials have replaced it with corridors full of rows of bureaucratic counter windows, where each isolated, intimidated worker goes to ask what is due to him; or to accept orders from on high about some stupid, little action, so that he may later whisper around the orders, and bewail the latest castrated strike.

The Economic Function

Let us suppose the working class had defeated the established order by trade-union action alone, and that a new economic and productive activity had started to unfold after bourgeois control was eliminated. In the case of a city with a strong, centralised and closely linked trade-union organisation, such a hypothesis is perhaps least far from reality, but we are still left with the objections we made about the "communal" form; as to the possibility of attaining a definitive victory in a particular city or region without having achieved it in the neighbouring areas of the same country too.

In order, therefore, to understand what the Sorelians mean by trade-union management of the "future" economy (without repeating what we have already said about the illusion of a system of locally managed communes) we have to imagine a system of economic management which, in any given country (with our usual reservations about the negative prospects of a victory over capitalism limited to one country) assigns responsibility for the different branches of the economy to the leading bodies of the various national Trade Unions.

To clarify our point, let us imagine that the organisation of bread production, and of all other wheat-based products, is entrusted to the "Bakers' Union", with analogous arrangements for all other trades and industries. In other words, we have to imagine that all the products of a given branch of production have been placed at the disposal of large organisations resembling national trusts. Since all the capitalist managers would long since have been removed, these organisations would need to make decisions about how to utilise the entire product (in our example: bread, pasta etc.,) in such a way as to receive, from other parallel organisations, not only what their members require for their personal consumption, but new raw materials, instruments of labour, etc., as well. Such an economy is an exchange economy, and it continues to be so whether or not the exchanges take place at the "higher", or the "lower", levels of the organisation. In the first case, exchange takes place at the apex of the various sectors of production, each of which distributes the various products required for production and consumption down through its hierarchical structure. Here the system of exchange remains, at its upper levels, a mercantile one, that is, it requires some law of equivalence in order to equate the value of the stocks of one syndicate with another; and we can easily suppose that these syndicates would be very numerous, and just as easily suppose that each of them would need to separately negotiate with all the others. Let us not even ask who is to establish this system of equivalent values, or what would guarantee the "social atmosphere" within which all this fantastical independence and "equality" of the various producers' unions, would take place. But let us be so "liberal" as to think it possible that the various equivalent values could be peacefully determined through a spontaneously arrived at equilibrium. A measuring system of such complexity couldn't operate without the age-old expedient of a general equivalent, in other words, money, the logical measure of every exchange.

It is no less easy to conclude that the "higher" system would eventually break down into the "lower", since it would be impossible to restrict the handling of money in such a society just to those top people entrusted with arranging the exchanges between one production trust and another (and here the word syndicate is entirely appropriate); inevitably this right would be extended to all trust members, to all trust workers, who would thus be empowered to "buy" whatever they wanted after receiving their quota of money from their particular trade syndicate: in other words, their wages, just like today, the only alleged difference being that it would be 'undiminished' (as in Dühring, Lassalle et all) by the bosses profit margin.

The bourgeois, Liberal, illusion of a system of trade unions existing independently from one another, and free to negotiate the terms under which they part with their stock of (monopolised) products, is connected with the idea that each producer, having been remunerated with the "undiminished proceeds of his labour" (a nonsense ridiculed by Marx) would then be able to do whatever he liked with it in terms of the consumer goods he acquired. And here is the rub: that these "free producers' economies" are shown to be just as far removed from the social economy, which Marx called socialism and communism, as capitalism, if not further.

In the socialist economy, it is not the individual who makes decisions about production (what is to be produced, and how much) or about consumption, but society, the human species as a whole. Here is the essential point. The independence of the producer is just another of those vacuous, democratic stock-phrases which achieve precisely nothing. In the present society, the wage-earning worker, the slave of capital, may not be an independent producer, but he is independent as a consumer, insofar as (within a certain quantitative limit which isn't determined by sheer hunger as Lassalle's "iron law of wages" maintains, but which increases to a certain extent as bourgeois society expands) he can spend his wage-packet on whatever he wants.

In bourgeois society, the proletarian produces whatever the capitalist requires (or put in a more generalised and scientific way whatever the general laws of the capitalist mode of production require; whatever the inhuman monstrosity of capital requires) but as far as his own consumption is concerned, although restricted in terms of quantity, the proletarian can consume whatever, and however, he likes. In Socialist society, individuals will not be free to make "independent" choices regarding what productive activities they take part in, and what they consume, as both these spheres will be dictated by society, and in the interests of society. By whom? is the inevitable stupid question. To which we unhesitatingly reply: in the initial phase it will be the "dictatorship" of the revolutionary proletarian class, whose only organ capable of arriving at a prior understanding of the forces which will then come into play is the revolutionary party; in a second historical phase, society as a whole will exert its will spontaneously through a diffused economy, which will have abolished both the independence of classes and of individual persons, in all fields of human activity.

The Same Old Controversy

At each step of the way our discussion has turned up formulas which appear rather strange. As a result, we feel obliged to stop every now and again, and patiently explain that our clearly defined school of Marxism has abided by these formulas for more than a century. But we are also keen to explain that it is not only the Stalinists and the rickety Semi-Stalinists currently in power who make us sick, but also the anti-Stalinists, currently swarming around like a plague of locusts who simply echo the corrected and 'enriched' old-fashioned Marxism of their alleged opponents, and who are content instead to break their lances on the violators of 'autonomy', attributing to such violations the constant succession of revolutionary defeats.

And what have these restless inventors of the latest formula come up with now? In one of the periodicals of the highly eclectic quadrifoglio (a federation of small groups claiming allegiance to the communist left) we see nothing other than the republished writings (from 1880-1890) of Francesco Saverio Merlino, the "libertarian socialist": early propagator of an ultra-rancid recipe which is still being cooked up today, in an eclectic variety of sauces, by a whole brood of little newspapers who have perched outside Palmiro Togliatti's window to provoke him with their naughty twitterings; but what they have failed to understand, when it comes to this particular recipe, is that good old Palmiro is a masterchef ! Compared to him they are just a bunch of scullery boys. And here is the recipe: salvation lies in grafting the values of Socialism onto those of Liberty!

Today we are told that the weird ideas of old Merlino, the valiant saviour from Marxism and revolutionary science, were triumphantly applied not only in Russia in 1905, and 1917(!), but in the 1956 Polish and Hungarian uprisings, and even during the so-called Yugoslavian "experience".

Merlino's formulas are mainly drawn from an article he wrote about the 1891 "Erfurt Programme". Not bad as an example for modernizers, these old formulas simply revive the notorious confusion – dispelled by the Marxist school in the post-World War One years – of the nonsensical "popular free State" which the German Social Democrats proposed with Marx's powerful central tenet of the proletarian dictatorship; having failed to take into account that it was on this very issue, after 1875, that Marx and Engels were on the verge of disowning the German socialists. We will come onto that later. Meanwhile, here are a few excerpts from Merlino's article: "The power to direct, to manage, and to administrate the socialist society must belong not to a mythical 'People's and Workers' State', but to the mutually confederated workers associations themselves". "Shall we commit everything to one central power, or allow the workers' associations the right to organise themselves as they like, taking possession of the instruments of labour?". "We do not want a central government "or administration, which would constitute the most exorbitant of autocracies, but properly and freely confederated workers' organisations".

These formulas suit us well insofar as we can show how perfectly they express the thinking of Togliatti, Khrushchev, and Tito and co, and how perfectly they express the exact opposite of what we are fighting for. Let all associated and confederated anti-Stalinist groups take up their places beside them.

For them, their ultimate heart-felt cry is always "Bureaucratic centralism, or class autonomy?” If such indeed were the antithesis, instead of Marx and Lenin's "capitalist dictatorship or proletarian dictatorship", we would have no hesitation about opting for bureaucratic centralism (oh horror of horrors!), which at certain key historical junctures may be a necessary evil, and which would be easily controllable by a party which didn't "haggle over principles" (Marx), which was free from organisational slackness and tactical acrobatics, and which was immune to the plague of autonomism and federalism. As to "class autonomy", all we can say is that it is complete and utter crap. The socialist society is one in which classes have been abolished. Even if we concede that under a regime of class domination the dominated class may advance the demand for independence as a form of protest, in a society without a capitalist class, 'independence' can only signify a struggle between one set of workers and another, between one confederation and another, between different trade unions, between different sets of "producers". Under Socialism, producers are no longer a distinct and separate part of society.

Each association in possession of 'its own' instruments of labour, and producing in "its own" way, does not socialism make! Instead it substitutes class struggle, whose ultimate aim is dictatorship, with the absurd bellum omnium contra omnes: the war of all against all; a historical outcome which, fortunately, has proved to be as fruitless as it is absurd.

Slaves would be in a position of "Class autonomy" if they were to declare 'we are happy to remain slaves, but we want to decide what food to serve to our masters at table, and which of our daughters they can take to their beds!' Even the Christian position was thousands of times more revolutionary than that, for although it didn't herald a classless society, it did nevertheless clearly proclaim: "no difference between slaves and free men".

The concepts expressed here are all to be found, word for word, in Marx's writings as we will now proceed to demonstrate.

Unforgettable Words

The syndicalist and labourist currents – all of which we prefer to call "immediatist" because they confuse dialectically distinct moments of current organisation, historical development and revolutionary theory – would like to restrict the entire historic cycle of the proletarian class to a simple enrolment of the workers in particular factories, trades or other small isolated sectors, and they base everything on this cold, lifeless model. And therein lies their fundamental error. Marxist determinism, on the other hand, destroys the bourgeois fiction of "the individual", "The person", "the citizen", and reveals that the philosophical attributes of this mythical entity are nothing but a universalization and eternalization of the relations which benefit the individual member of the modern ruling class, the bourgeois, the capitalist, the owners of land and money, the merchant. Having turned this wretched idol, the individual, on its head, Marxism replaces it with the economic society, which is "temporarily a national society".

All immediatists – that is to say, all those who have travelled only a thousandth of the distance separating them from the level of communist thought – want to get rid of society and put in its place a particular group of workers. This group they choose from the confines of one of the various prisons which constitute the bourgeois society of "free men" i.e.; the factory, the trade, the territorial or legal patch. Their entire miserable effort consists in telling the non-free, the non-citizens, the non-individuals (such is the great idea with which the bourgeois revolution unconsciously inspires them) to envy and imitate their oppressors: be independent! Free! Be citizens! People! In a word: be bourgeois!

For us, the objective is not simply to take one of the existing groups from the present social set-up and attribute to it functions which already exist under capitalism; our goal is a non-capitalist society. Such is the abyss which separates us from these petty little groups with their endless bickering. Confronted with the abortive results of their theories, they witter on about a new autocracy, a bureaucratic centre, an oppressive leadership having been created, and that in order to avoid this, that all-powerful, impersonal entity – society – will have to be broken up into lots of 'autonomous' fragments, free to ape the ignoble (and, furthermore, already obsolete) bourgeois models.

Go ahead and say it, but at least be open about it like Merlino. Go and place Karl Marx with the autocrats, the oppressors, the corrupters of the proletarian class; and with Lenin, it goes without saying, though Merlino didn't know him.

Antonio Labriola would agree with Merlino though when he protested against the idea of Lassalle (an immediatist par excellence) of "paving the way to the solution of the social question by establishing producers' co-operatives with the help of the State under the democratic control of the working people". This ghastly sentence would actually find its way into the Gotha Programme (1875), and only didn't appear in the 1891 Erfurt Programme due to Engel's tough interventions.

In texts which were kept hidden away for 15 years, Marx, and Engels as well, tore this despicable formulation into shreds, and in so doing they offered – in the Critique of the Gotha Programme – the most classic dialectical construction of future society ever; in those pages they smashed to pieces not only the immediatist concept of the State as foster-mother to the working class, but every federalism and particularism, every distorted notion of "autonomous spheres of economic organisation". Let us then look at these texts, complimented by Lenin's masterly commentary, and prove it once more.

Almost suffocated as we are today by all these damn "questions of structure", "problems to be solved" and "ways to be paved", let us breath in some vital oxygen from those pages left to grow yellow in Bebel's desk drawer.

"The existing class struggle is discarded in favour of the hack phrase of a newspaper scribbler – "the social question", for the solution of which one 'paves the way'. Instead of being the result of the revolutionary process of social transformation in society, the 'socialist organisation of the total labour' (in a previous passage, Marx had already pulverised another idiotic expression still much used today – "emancipation of labour " – whereas he always talks of the working class) 'arises' from 'state aid'".

A few lines on, Marx derides the formula of democratic control of the working people "a working people which in presenting the State with demands such as these is expressing full awareness of the fact that it neither rules nor is mature enough to rule!".

But the passage from the same text which shows what is, for us Marxists, the form of tomorrow's society is this: "The workers' desire to create the conditions for cooperative production on a social and, by beginning at home, at first on a national scale, means nothing beyond that they are working to revolutionise the present conditions of production; it has nothing in common with the foundation of cooperative societies with State aid!".

On the Scale of Society as a Whole

This passage, along with many similar ones, is enough to establish that anyone who sinks from the "level of society", which at a certain historical point prior to the conquest of power coincides with the "national level", down to federal/trade-union levels (municipal, individual enterprise level, or worse still), falls into immediatism, betrays Marxism, and lacks any conception of communist society: in other words, they are nothing to do with the revolutionary struggle.

As to the other cyclopean antithesis between the "revolutionary transformation of society" and the "socialist organisation of labour", it could equally be addressed to Moscow's builders of socialism, just so we can look them in the eyes and say the transition to socialism is not something you contract out to a building firm. Marx, who weighed his words carefully (just as Lenin re-weighed them), would never have dreamed of using such a crassly bourgeois and vulgarly voluntaristic expression as "building socialism".

We won't recall here Marx's famously pointed criticism of the Popular Free State which were later re-echoed by Lenin before millions of people, no longer from the confines of a study, but under the blazing skies of the greatest revolution in History! And how much more miserable are they who have ignored the lesson for the second time! The freer the State, the more it crushes the working class to protect capitalism! We don't want to free the State, we want to put it in chains, and then strangle it. And with words such as these the anti-statism of the various Bakunin's and the Merlino's is sent back where it belongs: to take up its place among the clownish parodies of political thought. In place of the anti-State – and this is the height of dialectical thinking! – will be put the new State (Engels), whose purpose will not be freedom, but repression, but which will need to arise only to finally die once and for all, having attained the abolition of classes. The Popular Free State and class autonomy are well-suited and we hope they'll be very happy together! They are both nothing but forms of the immediatist impotence, and immanence of bourgeois thought.

As to the fundamental concept of a "unitary" society in place of the antithesis between capitalists and proletarians – between producers and consumers too – it is worth tracing the evolution of this idea as it appeared in the various, highly criticised, programmes of the German party. It was the Lassallean programme (Leipzig, 1863) which contained the formula which Marx felt obliged to lash out at: elimination of class antagonisms, whereas Marx would say that classes themselves needed to be eliminated, and the means of achieving that was precisely through the antagonism which existed between them.

The programme of the "Marxists" (Eisenach, 1869), which Marx judged to have been drawn up without taking into account the theoretical conquests of the socialist movement, demanded the ending of class rule and the wages-system, but spoke still of the "undiminished proceeds of labour" to be given to each worker, and of an organisation of labour to be formed on the basis of cooperativism (but without State aid).

The Gotha programme, which was drawn up in 1875 after the highly disapproved of fusion between Eisenachians and Lassalleans, and which remained unaltered in spite of Marx's severe criticisms, talks about the instruments of labour becoming "the common property of the whole of society". Marx's only criticism of this phrase was that the expression "promotion of the instruments of labour into the common property" ought obviously to read their "conversion into the common property". We assume that Marx's correction here was intended to combat activism.

The Erfurt programme, influenced by Engel's suggestions, which had been largely accepted after the publication of the Critique of the Gotha Programme, is clear on this point: "Transformation of capitalist property into social property, and transformation of the production of commodities into socialist production, to be carried out by society and for society".

We can therefore draw certain conclusions about the doctrine which prompted the vision of a "society in which production is managed by workers' trade-unions": firstly, it doesn't constitute a historic foreshadowing of proletarian science; secondly, it won't ever come about in reality – unless socialist science itself springs a leak, and Marx, Engels, Lenin and all the rest of us sink without a trace – and thirdly, it doesn't have anything to do with the socialist and communist forms, not even as a transitory phase.

It is a scheme in which production and distribution do not attain the social, or even "national", level, since it is the "freely confederated" or "confederately free" trades unions who have the instruments and products of labour at their disposal, and who are free to do with them whatever they like. And even if these sectional organisations did manage to shut themselves off within their respective "independent" spheres of production, a competitive struggle would inevitably follow and lead to physical confrontations, especially given the "absence" of any kind of State.

In this fictitious programme, not only production is not carried out by society for society, but by trade unions for trade unions, but commodities continue to be produced; meaning that production is still non-socialist, since each article of consumption transferred from one trade-union to another does so as a commodity, and since this cannot occur without the existence of a monetary equivalent, it is necessarily transferred, as such, to each individual producer. As is always the case in these utopias of undiminished labour, the wage system still survives, and the accumulation of capital in the hands of the autonomous trades unions, and eventually into those of private individuals, also survives. If our critique has relied largely on a "reductio ad absurdum" approach, it is entirely the petty-bourgeois content of all these various utopias which is to blame!

We'll finish this doctrinal part by taking another passage from Critique of the Gotha Programme, directing it at both the "immediatists" and, the "State capitalists" to remind them that the task of our indispensable proletarian dictatorial State is not to liberate capital, but to repress it, along with those who defend it whether they be bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, or even proletarian (that is those enslaved by bourgeois or lumpen-bourgeois tradition). It is a passage which Marx wrote to ridicule the "minimalist" proposal of a "single progressive income tax" (as it exists today in Russia): "Income tax presupposes varied sources of income for varied social classes, and HENCE CAPITALIST SOCIETY".

The Russian Experience and Lenin

In the period between the 1920 and the 1921 international communist congresses, a debate took place at the 10th congress of the Russian party (3-16 March, 1921) with the so-called "Workers' opposition" (we've covered this topic in greater depth elsewhere in our study of Russia). We should remark that the oppositional stance put up by the Italian Left in 1920/21 (see our publication La Question Parlementaire dans L'Internationale Comuniste) was very different from the line of this opposition, which was harshly defined by Lenin as a "syndicalist and anarchist deviation within our party".

One of the many falsifications of Stalin's Brief History of the Communist Party was lumping Trotsky in together with these "workerists" simply because he happened to be engaged in a debate regarding the tasks of the trade unions. In fact, Trotsky was completely on Lenin's side at that stage, and the genuinely Marxist proposal he made was that the Trade unions should be absolutely subordinated to the proletarian State and Party (a party which, back in 1921, he did not consider – and neither did we – as having degenerated).

The "workers' opposition" based themselves on the immediatist conception of socialist economy and on the false and naïve opinion that socialism can be established in any place, at any time, as long as the workers are left alone and allowed to get on with managing the economy by themselves. Lenin reports the main 'thesis' of the workers opposition as: "The organisation of the management of the national economy is the function of an All-Russia Congress of Producers organised in industrial unions which shall elect a central body to run the whole of the national economy of the Republic".

You can bet that if Nikita Khrushchev pushes on with his Sovnarkos any further, it won't be long before he revives this old idea but in an even worse form: but with regional unions instead of national unions of producers. Instead of considering the conquering and the gaining of control over a national territory as merely a springboard for the achievement of further international conquests (a cardinal rule of Marxism) these people make a point of rushing off to set up organisations at the local and regional levels instead; persisting in their mad pursuit of autonomy when all they'll end up with will be autonomous capitalist enterprises.

Although we don't propose to undertake a detailed description of Russian economic management at this point (we have covered it in depth in other party texts) it is worth pointing out that it was at this same congress, in his classic speech The Tax in Kind, that Lenin showed that it was not the transition to socialism which was on the agenda, but the transition to State-capitalism or even, for those who can see these things in a Marxist way, from an atomised form of production to private capitalism. This was a powerful clarification of doctrinal matters which would set everything straight, whereas the vile opportunism which followed would throw everything into confusion again.

It is important to show that the arguments Lenin used against the proponents of a producer-managed economy are exactly the same as the ones used by Marx and Engels, which we continue to use today against the latest syndicalist and anarchist distortions – which are emerging even amongst groups who never supported Stalin, Togliatti or Thorez, or for that matter even Khrushchev (though they like Tito, considering him as one of their "forerunners"!).

The Producers' Unions meet the same sorry fate in Lenin's writings as Lassalle's cooperatives do in Marx's.

“Ideas which are completely false from the theoretical point of view… complete break with Marxism and communism… contradiction with the experience of all semi-proletarian revolutions (take note!) and the current proletarian revolution" those are a few of the things Lenin said about them, and here are some more quotes from the debates at the 10th congress of the Russian Party.

"First, the concept "producer" combines proletarians with semi-proletarians and small commodity producers, thus radically departing from the fundamental concept of the class struggle and from the fundamental demand that a precise distinction be drawn between classes" [take note again! and compare this with the blasphemies of Stalin, of the 20th congress, of the enthusiastic defenders of the latest movements in Hungary and Poland].

"[F]lirting with, relying on the party-less masses [take note Barbarists! And other demagogues preaching to empty halls!] is an equally radical departure from Marxism".

Can this be the same Lenin speaking who, according to certain diehard Stalinists, discovered the invaluable resource of "diving into the masses"!?

"Marxism teaches (here Lenin refers to statements issued at previous world congresses) that only the political party of the working class, i.e., the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training, and organising a vanguard of the proletariat and of the whole mass of the working people that alone will be capable of withstanding the inevitable petty-bourgeois vacillations of this mass and the inevitable traditions and relapses of narrow craft unionism or craft prejudices among the proletariat".

This passage emphasises the inferiority of all the immediate organizations with respect to the political party, as well as the serious risks which these organizations take due to their historically inevitable contact with the semi-proletarian and petty-bourgeois classes. Lenin once again concludes by saying: "without the political direction of the party, the proletarian dictatorship is impossible".

In this same text Lenin denies that the 1919 programme of the Russian party had ever conceded the function of economic management to the trade unions. Certainly a few sentences from that programme spoke about the management of the whole of the national economy as "a single economic entity", and of the "indissoluble ties between the central State administration, the national economy and the broad masses of working people" as a target to be achieved, on condition that the Trade unions "divest themselves of the narrow craft-union spirit, and embrace the majority and eventually all of the working people".

Trade Unions and State Capitalism

The question of the Trade Unions and centralised State economic management would be back on the agenda in Russia, and indeed in the rest of the world, because it constitutes a modern, convenient expedient for the capitalism of every country, especially in the United States.

The "Leninist" criterion for dealing with this problem is that the Trade Unions lag far behind the revolutionary party, and if left to their own devices fall prey to petty-bourgeois weaknesses and collaboration with the bourgeois economy.

In Russian society between 1919 and 1921, with industrialisation was at its lowest point, the first, faltering steps were being taken in managing of industry which had recently been wrenched from the hands of private capitalism. At this stage it was clear that the Communist Party could establish a strong and reliable foothold in the industrial workers' unions as long as these were not autonomous, but solidly influenced by the Party itself, and, as Trotsky rightly maintained in 1926, as long as they were considered as parts and organs of the centralized State.

In order to understand this problem more clearly, we need to bear in mind that throughout this period we are witnessing not the creation of a socialist industry and economy, but rather a process of nationalisation. Industries, which have been taken from the private owners and trusts without awarding compensation, are managed by the State within an economic system which is still shaped by commercial transactions and individual enterprises. No matter how socialist this government may be in terms of its class base and its foreign policy, the industrial system of this society is still to be defined as State-capitalist, and not socialist. We do not need to rely on later developments in the Russian economy in order to define this economy as State-capitalist. The State loses its socialist-political, and class, content, when it is no longer dedicated to spreading revolution to other bourgeois States; because it contracts war alliances with them; because within the bourgeois States it establishes alliances with bourgeois and democratic parties, even to the extent of sharing political power; because it subordinates, within Russia, the interests of city and country proletarians to those of the petty-bourgeoisie and the peasant classes.

It is therefore worth asking ourselves what role do trade unions occupy during the State-capitalist stage. If the State is ruled by a party which not only doesn't carry out the policies of the world proletarian revolution but opposes them, then labour power is obviously still being dealt with within the framework of a mercantile-commercial system based on money and wages, and the existence of trade unions as organized bodies for the defence of the conditions of labour (whose opponent – whose boss – is precisely the employer State) is therefore justified. But even in such circumstances as these, dividing up the centralised running of the State amongst the different trade unions is not a useful formula. What is required is that the trade unions accept the leadership of a proletarian political party capable of resolving the question of the conquest of central power. If such a party does not exist, or where it only exists as an empty shell turned into an instrument in the hands of the capitalist State (as in Russia), then there must have been a relapse into the system of wage slavery; a situation which will never be resolved through the efforts of autonomous groups of workers aiming to seize control of separate sectors of production, and through the stupid scheme of 'redoing' the liberal revolution (in fact precisely such an empty manoeuvre is currently being adopted in Russia by Khrushchev’s State). Moreover, if these sectors of production should break away and generally disintegrate, they would fall into the hands of private capitalism, or at any rate into the long, grasping hands of international capital.

In the contrary situation – the decidedly progressive stage of State capitalism, in which the central political power strives to carry out the historic work of spreading the international revolution – trade unions, unless they end up as defeatist organisations which have to be repressed, must be prepared to learn from the class party, the authentic party of the industrial wage-earners of the entire world, how to obtain from the class of factory workers (of whose courage and self-sacrifice history has given numerous inspiring examples) their contribution of labour, surplus labour and surplus value for the revolution, for the civil war, for the red armies of every country, for ammunition to be used in a social class conflict which overrides all borders and frontiers. Even in such historic circumstances as these, for the trade unions to claim the undiminished proceeds of labour would not only be anti-economic and anti-social, but defeatist too with regard to the terrible task which history has assigned to the class of pure wage-earners, and to that class alone: that of bring about the bloody delivery of the new society.

This task – the end point of centuries and centuries of tortured history – is exactly contrary to the dreams and superstitions of the 'immediatist' school of book-keepers and second-hand dealers, each generation of which wants to get its stunted hands on the advantages it would reap from "autonomously confederating".

The Factory-based Form

After our detailed examination of the 'immediatist' vision of a post-capitalist society managed by the trade unions, all the defects of the "factory council" form can be clearly seen.

The Italian Left current sounded the alarm when the first symptoms of faith in this revived myth took shape: at the time of the FIAT "shop-stewards" congresses held in Turin and of Antonio Gramsci's review Ordine Nuovo (New Order). The latter we both admonished and welcomed at the same time insofar as it bravely and resolutely entered the field against the Menshevik opportunism of the traditional Italian trade unions and against the inconsistency of the Socialist Party which, back in 1919, was claiming to be pro-Bolshevik.

Gramsci was then at the beginning of his ideological evolution – an evolution which he never dissimulated as the peculiar clearness of this man required – having passing from idealistic philosopher and war-interventionist to the anti-defencist Marxism restored by Lenin, and he gave his journal an honest title. He didn't talk of political rule by the new class, or the new Class-State, and only slowly did he accept the Marxist principles concerning the dictatorship of the party, and those concerning the influence of the Marxist view on factual relations occurring in the human and natural world outside the narrow limits of mere factory-economics. He openly admitted this at the 1926 congress of the Italian Communist Party in Lyon. We will always prefer those who learn new chapters of Marxism to those who forget them. In 1919, Antonio Gramsci was just emerging from an evaluation of the October Revolution which detected in it a reversal of determinism; as the miracle of the human will violating adverse economic conditions. Later on, seeing Lenin – the miracle maker – defend Marxist determinism in its strictest form, didn't fail to have an effect on him: both master and pupil were outstanding.

The factory system appealed to Gramsci's nimble spirit and he became besotted with its ideal, quasi-literary, even artistic, construction. And he was right to call it the New Order insofar as it encompassed the idea of the factory proletariat setting up, on its immediate foundation, a New Order, resembling those which existed prior to the liberal revolution, such as the three estates of pre-1789 French society. This is not surprising: all the "immediatists" which we have reviewed so far have done nothing but translate the claim of a dictating class that suppresses classes, and which doesn't even aspire to be the One Class, into a pedestrian request to be raised to the Fourth Estate. The immediatist can't help but passively design the New on the template of the Old. Antonio would call his brand of immediatism 'concretism', having derived this word from the attitudes of bourgeois-intellectual enemies of the revolution: he didn't realise, and there wasn't much we could do make him realise, that "concretism" equals counter-revolution.

If Humanity had had to rely on the immediatists, it would never have known that the earth is round and that it moves, that air has weight, that Epicurus's atoms exist, that the recently discovered subatomic particles exist; it would never have known about Galileo's and Einstein's theories of relativity…. And it could never have forecast any social revolution, past or future.

Antonio did not know (and not through any lack of reading … he had the misfortune of being one of those people who read everything) that the concept of 'Orders' had been left behind as early as 1847 when Marx wrote about it in his anti-Proudhonist book, Poverty of Philosophy: "Can it be supposed that after the collapse of ancient society there will be a new class rule, expressing itself in a new political power? NO". (If only our many contradictors had just read this one monosyllable).

But why not?

Because "the redemption of the working class consists in the abolition of all classes, in the same way as the redemption of the Third Estate, of the bourgeois Order, consisted in the abolition of all estates, of all Orders".

Many generations have come and gone, three Internationals have lived and died. We have seen hundreds of people shuffle off this mortal coil who thought they could go one better than Marx and Lenin, without even attaining the level of that incorruptible bourgeois, Maximilien Robespierre: who for 160 years has lain under the tombstone marking the death of all New Orders!

Marxism and 'Council Economy'

Out text demonstrates the irreconcilable antithesis between Marxism and Gramscism. This is a subject which interests us not so much because of the history of the polemics between him and us, but because there are groups of confused anti-Stalinists and squalid epigones who still want to revive these positions.

The independent, local enterprise is the smallest social unit which we can think of, being limited both by the nature of its particular trade and the local area. Even if we concede, as we did earlier, that it was somehow possible to eliminate privilege and exploitation from within such an enterprise by distributing to its workers that elusive 'total value of the labour', still, outside its own four walls, the tentacles of the market and exchange would continue to exist. And they would continue to exist in their worst form at that, with the plague of capitalistic economic anarchy infecting everything in its path. But this party-less and State-less system of councils prompts the question – who, before the elimination of classes is accomplished, is going to manage the functions which are not strictly concerned with the technical side of production? And, to consider only one point, who is going to take care of those who are not enrolled in one of these enterprises – what about the unemployed? In such a system, and much more so than in any other cell-based commune or trade union system, it would be possible for the cycle of accumulation to start all over again (supposing it had ever been stopped) in the form of accumulation of money or of huge stocks of raw materials or finished products. Within this hypothetical system, conditions are particularly fertile for shrewdly accumulated savings to grow into dominating capital.

The real danger lies in the individual enterprise itself, not in the fact it has a boss. How are you going to calculate economic equivalents between one enterprise and another, especially when the bigger ones will be stifling the smaller, when some will have more productive equipment than others, when some will be using 'conventional' instruments of production and others nuclear powered ones? This system, whose starting point is a fetishism about equality and justice amongst individuals, as well as a comical dread of privilege, exploitation and oppression, would be an even worse breeding ground for all these horrors than the present society.

In fact, is it so difficult to believe that those big words, 'Privilege' and 'exploitation', are excluded from the Marxist lexicon? Let's look at Critique of the Gotha Programme again. The passage which really makes Marx spit blood, containing as it does some Lassallean rubbish about the "Free State" and the "iron law of wages", ends with what Marx (and Engels in another passage) call "the indefinite concluding phrase of the paragraph"; here it is: "The party strives for the abolition of exploitation in every form and for the removal of all social and political equality".

Here, according to Marx and Engels, is what they should have said instead: "With the abolition of class distinctions, all forms of social and political inequality arising from them will disappear of their own accord".

This scientific way of talking – not to mention the long critical note on the equal distribution formula, which is compared to the bourgeois insinuation that socialism cannot abolish poverty but only generalize it to everybody – is enough in itself to dispose of a whole gamut of reviews and articles which – alas! – are being written, in the years 1956-7, about the content of socialism as a philosophy of exploitation.

In the same passage Marx also deals with the limitations of Lassalle's vision – which, significantly, he links to Malthusian theories, today restored to life by the American, anti-Marxist "welfarist" schools – according to which socialism is roused to action only inasmuch as the workers' wages are frozen at too low a level; whereas in fact it is a matter of abolishing wage-labour because "it is a system of slavery – a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social forces of labour productivity develop, whether or not the worker is paid well, or badly".

Here Marx develops a historical parallel with the slave-economy (one we touched on earlier when discussing the idiotic demand for wage-earners' autonomy): "it is as if, among slaves who have finally got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, one slave, still in thrall to obsolete notions, were to inscribe on the programme of rebellion [an immediatist, Ordinovist, non-Marxist slave we should say]: slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!".

To the "welfarist" gentlement we say: even if capitalism could increase average living standards to the umpteenth degree, we reiterate to you our historic prediction: capitalism's death!

The standards offered by the great FIAT industrial plants appeared to Gramsci as a noble order when compared to the sad and brutalised existence of the Sardinian shepherd, worse than the Fourth Estate even.

In the Five Year Plan – fashioned on the pattern of the economy of the Soviet Union – which we presented to the great FIAT, we forecast for 1956 a 15.7% increase in sales over 1955, up from 310 billion to 358 billion lira. Although only 340 billion have been announced, the nominal capital has been raised from 76 to 100 billion, which is to say, by 32% in two years.

Can it be that the new order, in Turin and Moscow, is already beginning to display less brilliant curves?