David Brown's letter of resignation from the Solidarity group, and critique of the groups' - and by extension Cornelius Castoriadis' - fundamental misunderstanding of Marx's critique of political economy.
Editorial notes by the Hobgoblin Collective, 21 January 2011
We publish for the first time the following text, written in 1975 as a letter to the membership of the Solidarity group – also known as ‘Solidarity For Workers Power’. This group was founded in 1960 by Chris Pallis, an eminent neurologist who wrote under the name “Maurice Brinton,” and Ken Weller, a young shop steward working in the motor industry. The group, initially known as Socialism Reaffirmed, published a journal, Agitator, which after six issues was renamed Solidarity. Both Brinton and Weller had previously been members of Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League, founded amidst the mass defections from the Communist Party after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. As Richard Abernethy put in an obituary for Chris Pallis in Hobgoblin in 2005,
“Solidarity punctured and deflated some favourite left-wing illusions. It recognised that there was no actually existing socialism, no worker’s states, in the world. Notwithstanding all differences between the Western capitalist bloc, the Eastern bloc ruled by Communist parties, and the Third World, the basic divide between rulers and ruled existed everywhere.”
The Solidarity group, despite never having much more than a hundred members, was influential, not least because Solidarity became the main conduit of the political theories of Cornelius Castoriadis aka Paul Cardan (1922-97), founder of Socialisme ou Barbarie in France.
The following resignation statement by Solidarity member, David Brown, was written at a time (1975) when the group was in decline, facing splits and having to deal with the fact that Castoriadis/Cardan had, following the demise of Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1965, moved to the Right. Brown, was influenced by French ex-Bordigist, Jacques Camatte, some of whose writings he translated, by the Russian value-theorist, II Rubin, and by Karl Korsch, author of Marxism and Philosophy.
According to Brown, Castoriadis and Solidarity shared with the traditional left a restricted understanding of Marx’s ideas, not recognising the liberatory core of Marx’s Capital, and taking the shortcoming of the traditional left as grounds for breaking with Marx. Brown argues that Castoriadis, Brinton and the Solidarity group misunderstood the cardinal term of the Marx’s critique of political economy – value. Brown writes:
“The attack on the labour theory of value is only a prelude to a more general attack on the materialist conception of history. By reducing the general conception of the mode of production to mean technology and the word ‘determine’ to mean the same as ‘cause’, a simple transformation of marxism into banality follows.”
Castoriadis had argued that,
"The revolutionary movement... must become the place (the only place in contemporary society, outside the factory) where... individuals learn about collective life, run their own affairs and fulfill and develop themselves, working for a common objective in reciprocal recognition."
Brown finds this position to be “entirely false,” and argues (following Jacques Camatte) that “all organisations are despotic” because, basing themselves on “critique of other organisations and individuals” they are “already” the conception of competitive capital.
Two of the editors of The Hobgoblin (Richard Abernethy and George Shaw) are former members of the Solidarity group. As Marxist-Humanists, we do not agree with a lot of the positions David Brown expressed in 1975. If the statement that “all organisations are despotic” means that all attempts to overcome atomization and individual isolation are doomed, then we certainly disagree, believing, as we do, in a philosophically-grounded alternative to capitalism (something Castoriadis, as a “positivist,” never even considered). Nor do we agree that “support for oppressed peoples” was part of the degeneration of Marxism (this in spite of Marx's own statements on Ireland, Poland etc), or that people who voted Labour in 1974 "voted for capitalism."
We are publishing this text not only because of its historical interest as a critique of a (dead) organization of the Left, once significant (and still influential “beyond the grave,” through the works of its theoreticians and the legacy of its activists) , but also because of the general theoretic questions it raises have, in the 21st century Left, not been surpassed.
The Illusions of ‘Solidarity’
By David Brown
1. Explanatory Introduction1
The letter of resignation needs some sort of explanatory introduction in order that the former should not be misunderstood. Firstly, a detail that might be rather obscure. The text on Poland referred to in the first paragraph was a study, begun in late 1973 and completed in mid-1975, on the revolt of the Polish workers in 1970-1 [with] a mass of historical detail. The text was NEVER discussed by the London group, except in literary terms, its “boring” nature etc. (one can get this kind of thing from any publishers). It was even suggested that the massacre of thousands of Polish workers was treated too somberly and should be written up with greater liveliness and humour! No one outside the London group expressed such philistine sentiments, either of the literary or of the humorous nature, and many other people have read it without any sensation of boredom. One can thus only seek the source of the boredom elsewhere.
Much more important, though, is the theory of the group, the theoretical critique etc., which the differences over the Poland text are, I feel sure, only an expression. Thus, according to Solidarity:
"The revolutionary movement... must become the place (the only place in contemporary society, outside the factory) where... individuals learn about collective life, run their own affairs and fulfill and develop themselves, working for a common objective in reciprocal recognition." ('Modern Capitalism and Revolution', 1974 edition, p.94 // 11 and ‘Redefining Revolution' p.l8 //41).
This I find to be entirely false. All organisations are despotic in a double sense. They behave despotically in order to sustain themselves in this society. But this is merely to state what is even deeper: all organisations are personifications of a theory and a critique of other organisations and individuals. The critique form is merely the continued form of theory from the bourgeois revolution, the form necessary to combat adversaries which, did or would, constitute the vast majority of society.
All organisations hold this form, or try to attain it. But all that this is is the searching for the best form in which they will personify the basis of the bourgeois revolution, capital, and individual capital, real in some cases, fictitious in most. But the organisation as an entity is not the root of the problem. It is in the relation of the group with others that capital realises itself as the supreme mystification of man by his own creation. Thus, the group does not control its internal functioning, not because of the pressures of capitalism “outside,” i.e., through competition, but because it is already the conception of capital.
This is also a rejection of the theory of the revolutionary. But most of all it means the overthrow of the critique form of expression of ideas and most especially all the “new ideas” movement and the voluntaristic surpassing of this and that theory without at all understanding what this means in real terms rather than the self-refining of the theory. The critique form will otherwise return to claim its own. Historically speaking, Aristotle's view on revolution has never been more surpassed and less realised. 2
This is where one can discuss the nature of Marx's work. The letter itself gives many interesting cases of the greater or lesser extent of misunderstanding of Marx by Solidarity (see also footnote ‘3’ to this introduction). But Solidarity has never treated the question of what Marx's writings represent and why they are insufficient (which is because Capital was a description of the rise of capital - not even capitalism - in western Europe up to 1860's, and not its entire course, particularly as the revolution forseen in Capital did not occur and so end capital). This has nothing to do with the vague polemical attitude to Marx and marxism. It is nothing short of intellectual aristocratism (or Bourbon monarchism, because there is an inability to learn anything new or to forget the old) to believe that Marx can simply be surpassed by the uttering of a few pages of critique, especially when the debate is always posed in terms of the banalisation of marxism or the usual quotation-clipping and paste-up of the quotes in a rearranged order. This is the invention of the ideologically redundant.
One may one cite here one of the most important recent works: Norman Levine's 'The Tragic Deception: Marx Contra Engels' (Clio Books 1975) which shows the strong contradistinction between the linear approach to history of Engels’ and Marx's approach to communism as a movement in all society and not just the alpha and omega of society.3
Having discussed organisation and theory in a thoroughly traditional order, one can now go on to practice. Solidarity abounds with the Lenin quotes, e.g. “without revolutionary theory no revolutionary practice,” or its activated form, inserting “development of” in two cases. Let us use this statement as a measure for its own users. How was it that the works of Cardan which Solidarity has published (nearly all from the last 10 issues of Socialisme ou Barbarie) were produced simultaneously with what Richard Gombin call Cardan’s "Leninist" period, in which Cardan's conception of the organisation "...bears a certain resemblance to the Bolshevik type of party" and "entirely in the tradition of the Trotskyist groups..." (R Gombin, The Origins of Modern Leftism, Penguin books 1975. Trans. from French ed. 1971 (p101-101)
So, if one measures by Lenin's statement, one finds precisely Lenin's solutions, because a certain and rigidly determinist division (here, that practice is within theory) and the very separation theory-practice leads to one end. It is not the end that would be achieved if the point-of-departure were the examination of the movement of communism and not the theoretical device for inventing a new way of viewing society. Solidarity has never noticed this nor Socialisme ou Barbarie's support for the "struggles of colonial peoples", its indecision on trade unionism (in 1968 Cardan supported the CFDT, in 1975 he wrote for its “trade paper”). In short, the practice of S. ou B. can be seen in its theory too. Much of what Cardan wrote was and is thoroughly admirable and could even be the foundation for other work, but to blur the edges and to ignore the limitations is to transform from appreciation to hagiography, of which there is already enough.
All these reasons would not be enough to persuade any individual to leave a group. It is when the individual characteristics of the group are seen as part of a general tendency that everything comes out into the open. Taking a case in early 1974 [when] there was great social tension [and] parts of the bourgeoisie panicking, some members of Solidarity decided to support capitalism and voted for the Labour Party. This did not lead to organizational dissolution, expulsion or any other action. Why? Because a common point remained: the organisation. Whether or not we dress this up in fancy names such as “collectivity” or “affinity group,” just as Gramsci rewrote the despotic state in terms of “praxis,” is irrelevant. Similarly, because of this, it is impossible to form an organisation or anti-organisation within Solidarity (London) because this would be to exclude de facto what is the basic point of contact, the organisation. One would become at best a circus bear, growling when provoked but really quite impotent and not at all menacing. This author refused this role, left and is circulating this text.
This is not at all to suggest that the membership of Solidarity (London) is a group of evil, scheming people. Nor is it good enough to lend a crucified look and say “forgive them... they don't know what they are doing.” Both views are incorrect and instead one could say that “up to now, man has made a false representation of himself.” The organisation is both personal and impersonal force, the question is whether it is human or not. This is far from being a theoreticist wrangle over whether the author is an “economic determinist” or not (the allegation is that of the London group). This characterisation originates almost exactly in the “false representation,” which is all that is to be challenged.
Summing-up, it is impossible for me to adopt the forms of action of those I wish to see through; here, the form critique, the relation of theory-practice and the group practice. Such an enterprise would merely be a return to the origin in the foundation of another organisation and its attempt to dominate and defeat. Instead I have tried to state a few facts, in the fullest sense of that word. If this draws the characterisation of “'economic determinist political views” I regret it because this is a profound misunderstanding .
The general tendency of any group that has separated theory from practice is to make itself central, either per se, or in the theoretical sense and as "the only place..." Hence an intellectual centre, a real aristocratism, the real court of the King. Except that the courts were historical forms of domination; the group tries instead to be non-historical, even trans-historical, an objective scene not on the broader canvass. To be blunt, one cannot see a revolutionary movement in the terms of organisation or of its theory, classist, populist etc. On the contrary, such views are merely to limit activity to a spectral form that appears to walk through the very walls of the structure of capitalist society, but, actually, is only another illusion of the reduction of the revolutionary movement.
Thus I have rejected the theory of the organisation (which does not mean the rejection of organisation), the critique form of theory and the concept of activity based on a programme. Capitalism came into being on the destruction of other modes of being, most especially the communism of the peasant communities (e.g. the Russian mir) nomade (e.g. the Amerindians) and, later, modern communism, as much as it existed, in Russia and elsewhere. Capitalism cannot tolerate other modes of production and ceaselessly obliterates all attempts to overthrow it. It would be a miracle if it were to tolerate the “communism” of the groups. But it tolerates the groups, why? Because it shares an illusion with them, that of politics.
To the Membership of Solidarity (London) 1975 4
This notice marks the summation of the many differences between one individual (myself) and the majority or a large section of the group. In one way it is a self-criticism, as its author was for several years (three to be precise) an active proponent of the “ideas” of the group, but only later found that the rigorous examination of these ideas proved not their efficaciousness in the face of the events since 1968 but their uselessness in dealing with events in general and a prolonged and highly detailed study of one revolt in particular, that of the Polish workers in 1970-1. Because the author was not privileged to receive any comments on his text on Poland, except those of any literary editor, he could not draw out any differences to any defendable degree of precision. The chimera turns a different colour not to please its own aesthetic sense, but to surprise a would-be attacker. Solidarity too changes its colour, from political group to literary executor in this case, but, like any chimera, it cannot change its species.
This author was thus obliged to reconsider the usefulness of any political debate over the many subjects he had raised and finally to make the outcome of the whole of this investigation known to those involved.
The basis and the logical (if not historical), origin of the positions held by Solidarity I derive from the attack on the critique of political economy, thus on the leading edge of “the materialist conception of history. “ One cannot use the word “critique“ for this attack as the attack is in no way historical-scientific but remains on the level of empiricism with occasional attempts at positivism too. The attack is sustained by a delusion: that Solidarity has understood the cardinal term of the critique of political economy – value. In the attack value is always skated around and never confronted directly. This a priori limits the best of critiques to making a few references, but the Solidarity attack merely scores points in an illusory game of its own invention.
The first case in this attack is that labour power is not an integral commodity, since its use-value is extracted in the course of a struggle, but a different kind of commodity. Also this struggle over the use and exchange value of the commodity labour power is lost by the capitalists "half the time" (Modern Capitalism and Revolution, 1974 edn. p.35 col. II, 1). Let us examine this.
Struggles of the workers, either individual, group or class wide, can only change the price of labour power. To change the value of labour power, they would, have to be able to travel through time as time is the only measure of value. To show that the average proletarian has increased his standard of living in value terms (even in price terms this is often very difficult), one would have to show that the average proletarian consumption is more values per hour of work he performs than before, i.e., that he consumes more hours of labour crystallised as value per hour of his work than before. Since the proletariat is not a class in constant expansion on a world scale and the hours of labour have been vastly reduced in the last fifty years, it is clear that the average proletarian probably consumes less values than ever before, while enjoying a better diet, health, housing etc. This change is merely a function of the technical development of the mode of production and the reduction of socially necessary labour time as a consequence. In no way does it contradict the law of value. This change, from absolute surplus value production, signified by the prolongation of the working day etc., to relative surplus value production, was outlined by Marx himself in 'Formelle und Reale Subsumption der Arbeit unter das Kapital' and in Theories of Surplus Value II. 5 The destruction of the law of value as it appeared in the formal domination of capital was also dealt with by Marx:
"But to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth becomes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time..." (Grundrisse p.704) 6
"As the value of labour is only the irrational expression for the value of labour-power [see more on this later - D.B.] it follows, of course, that the value of labour must always be less than the value it produces..." (Capital I p.549 -- many other cases could be cited)
Thus the confusion of price and value allows for an easy “refutation“ of the labour theory of value on empiricist grounds. The political economic changes due to the movement from the formal to the real domination of capital (and this is all that Solidarity, in its confused way is dealing with) were clearly outlined by Marx and this is the point of departure of the critique of marxism (or critical marxism, the name means the same thing) and not, as in Modern Capitalism and Revolution, the early and partly negated Wage Labour and Capital 7 and the later but incomplete Wages, Price and Profit (there are 10 quotes from these two pamphlets in Marxist Political Economy (the title itself is reductionist; Marx never recognised political economy, considering it to be ideology, thus he wrote a critique of political economy) -- but only 3 from Capital, the most finished and rigorous outcome of the critique which partly overturned the previous writings on the subject.
Turning now to the second part of the critique' of the labour theory of value, labour power is paid for a posteriori and thus the individual capitalist has the ability to not pay for the hours of labour that he considers to be below the necessary level of productivity. If workers can alter the capitalist market to their advantage, and this is what Modern Capitalism and Revolution alleges, they would merely bankrupt the capitalists concerned and thus cease to sell their labour power at all. It is a complete illusion that anyone, worker or capitalist, can control the market as the market is the place where all the contradictions of capitalism work themselves out. Workers can never win under capitalism in any shape or form; the assertion to the contrary is justification for gradualism and reformism. Any so-called victory merely gives the illusion that capitalism cannot rearrange itself militarily or economically to resist pressures. Certainly the rise in the standard of living since the 50's (which is now ended for the time being; real wages have fallen in Britain since late 1974 according to the OECD) occurred, that is in the nature of the real domination of capital. But the illusion that workers are winning is too, part of the real domination of capital over politics and ideology. It does not harm the capitalist system to pretend that workers are winning; on the contrary, it strengthens it substantially. The resolution of this riddle is not in the anti-economism of Solidarity, but in the real practice of class struggle since 1968 which demonstrates that a new revolutionary movement has arisen without the illusion of “gains.“
The attack on the labour theory of value is only a prelude to a more general attack on the materialist conception of history. By reducing the general conception of the mode of production to mean technology and the word “determine“ to mean the same as “cause, “ a simple transformation of marxism into banality follows. That others, like Trotsky for instance, have already beaten this path does not mean that marxism follows in his wake. A critical investigation of marxism does not come from an interpretation of Marx, of the epigones or even of the modern Marxists; it comes from an analysis of the history of which marxism was an integral part, the history of the class struggle in capitalism. Thus the analysis given by Solidarity is not bad merely because it misrepresents and misunderstands what Marx said, nor because it ignores nearly all the important marxists of this century (Korsch, Pannekoek, Bordiga, the Frankfurt School, the Russian economic historians Rubin, Rosdolsky and Riazanov), but because it in no way relates the development of marxism into banality by social-democracy and stalinism to the class nature of these organisational forms.
One can show that “mode of production“ does not mean “technology“ and that “determine“ cannot mean “cause“ (at one stage Cardan realises this and engages in the phrase “causally determine“ which, apart from being a self-contradiction, is merely a sleight of hand to make Marx look stupid). One can show that Marx did not intend the materialist conception of history as worked out in Capital to be extended to all times and places, but limited as "my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in western Europe". 8 He roundly condemned its use as an "historical-philosophical theory of the general path every people is fated to tread".
Marx did not worship capitalism as such, although he noted the progressive element of capitalism (as an aside, ‘progressive’ is always given a moral meaning in the attack on Marx but really only means self-developing). Marx called capitalism a destructive force (in the German Ideology) and a "Moloch" (in Theories of Surplus Value). 9 But all this demonstration (as in the author's small work on Pannekoek) 10 is pooh-poohed as its anti-dogmatic character threatens the doctrines of Solidarity. Those who were once soi-disant Marxists (actually Stalinists and Trotskyists) who were engaged in Diamat and its reductions and censorship now find it necessary to return to a very partial attack on it. 11 This, of course, is obligatory for a group and, in this case, such an attack has to be made anti-historical to avoid the questions of what are the real origins of the group. Did it mark the change enforced by the class struggle or was it the offering of the faction fight in a capitalist organization (trotskyist, stalinist etc.)?
On the contrary, one can only understand Marx and Marxism critically-historically. 12 One needs to see that social democracy and stalinism were always converging on the path of capital in general and thus had two conflicting tendencies:
These are the real conditions in which Marx's writings became theoretical garbage, not the resolution of a “theory“ into “practice“ of a self-contradictory kind. This allegation is an ideological fog which prevents one from seeing exactly the inner limitations of Marx's work.
The confusion between Price and Value already noted in the context of the labour theory of value is again present in the discussion on socialism in “Workers Councils. “ Here it is alleged that money, wages and. value all exist in socialist society.
First, money, about which many absurdities have been said. Money, or the circulation of commodities, allegedly does not have the same function under socialism as it is no longer "a means of accumulation". But in no way does this entail the suppression of the commodity form and value relations on which accumulation is founded. Second, wages. Wages are a commodity relationship representing labour power as a commodity. Both money and wages are vastly different from coinage "(which) is nothing but a piece of metal" and a "certificate he can withdraw from the social supply of the means of consumption as much as costs an equivalent amount of labour" (Marx, Theories of Surplus Value and Critique of the Gotha Programme). Thus we have a veritable Proudhonism of wages:
The good: "wage equality will give a real meaning to consumption, every individual at last being assured of an equal vote."
The bad: "money (as) means of accumulation."
The synthesis: abolish the accumulation aspect of money.
But one can no more do this than divide the two sides of the coin, one can no more do this than to transform bourgeois relations into communist ones by a change of name.
“Thirdly and finally one has to deal with the invention of labour value." Marx stated that "Labour...has itself no value." (Capital I, p.547) and "Value is labour”' (Capital III, p.815). Labour is the measure of value and thus is value, like the hour is time. "Labour value" is thus as scientific and decipherable word as is "colourless red". If what is meant is "value of labour", a common expression of political economy, one can recall Marx's remark, "In the expression 'value of labour', the idea of value is not only completely obliterated, but actually reversed. It is an expression as imaginary as the value of the earth." (‘Capital’ I. ibid.) Permit this too; one can allow the term labour time; Marx is attacked because Marx did not call for wage equality and distribution and accountancy by "labour value". Capital itself ensures the first of these more and more, reducing the mass of the population to labour, the second, in its deciphered form of labour time, already applies with the law of value, (it is certainly amusing to see that the law of value does not operate under capitalism, according to Cardan and Solidarity, but it will be enforced under socialism). In no way is this an anti-capitalist programme at all.
Communism is not a matter of labour time - "Miserable was the man who invented the clock" (Heine) - but of the development of the community, the relations of communism. Thus - and this is all that Marx said - communism was distinguished by free time.
Last of all, one can certainly agree that "many absurdities have been said about money", but the author [Marx] does not see how true this is.
The whole of the problem of “socialism“ here arises from the confusion of the mode of production of society with management. Thus one comes to the social theory of Solidarity: the abandonment of the critique of political economy and the ignorance of the introduction of the real domination of capital leads inevitably to the need for a new social theory. Solidarity is by no means unique in discussing the bureaucratic phenomena. Since the ‘30s the firing off of damp squibs on bureaucracy has been performed by academic sociology (Hawthorn Study 1927-32, published as Management and Work), trotskyists and ex-trotskyists, leftists of all kinds, laissez-faire capitalists etc. ad inf.. All these alternative means for managing the social problems associated with the growth of capital in no way question capital; they are merely debates over the many ways to prepare the sacrifice for that Moloch. Nothing in the theory of Solidarity on the bureaucratic phenomena could not be found in the research material of the ‘30s and the text-books of the ‘40's and ‘50's. Actually the problem as posed by Solidarity ignores the most important of this work: contingency theory and action theory. Also the descriptions of the work process refer almost exclusively to line-production plant, the most formally bureaucratised type of production (see Woodward, Industrial Organisation, parts I & II).
The question of the nature of the bureaucracy and its historical nature can best be summed up by a few notes. (The author did this at an internal group discussion a year ago. It was obvious from the response that no one was willing to reconsider the problem.) Bureaucratic management has existed many thousands of years without in any way changing the different modes of production it dominated. Capitalist bureaucracy was the product of the industrial revolution, and not the late involution of capital during some mystical state capitalist epoch after 1918. The tendency for capital to centralise (as seen by Engels, refuted by Bernstein, and partly reintroduced by Lenin) was only one part of the more general tendency for the individual and collective capitalists to disappear and to have their function removed as well. Capital was depersonalised because the needs for its self-expansion could be found, in the changes involved in the real domination of capital, including the destruction of liberalism or political representation. This is the opposite to the process of bureaucratisation. Politics now is just a useless appendix to the situation blown up to look like the stomach. That is why the play over bureaucracy by all the political groups and parties is shadow boxing. Anti-bureaucratism can no more dissolve capitalism than the Wars of the Roses abolished the monarchy.
Self-management was not the abolition of the bureaucracy, an anti bureaucratic revolt. Self-management was a real part of the movement after 1968 and represented all the internal limitations of that movement at that time, and all the external problems too - isolation, domination by the ideology of activism of the leftists. Also many of these struggles were those of people united as consumers and thus very limited in their conception. Of course self-management has been “recuperated” -- as an “idea.” But the real movement is far beyond the squabbles of those who want to write the dictionary of the revolution and thus enforce their definitions. One can leave this particular “Dialogue with the Dead” to the dead. The real movement since 1968 has, not manifested an overall merely anti-bureaucratic tendency.
The countries with the most developed, systems of bureaucratic management where there have been large revolts, Poland, and Spain, in no way showed anti-bureaucratic tendencies. Instead these revolts confirm that capital, since it is self-expanding value, has to reduce all relations to value ones. This is the heart of the conflict.
One has to come to the nature of Solidarity in toto. Like all groups, the problem as posed by Solidarity is one of organisation and consciousness. The uniqueness of this group certainly exists, but for that matter all groups are unique. Since the group wishes "to make a total critique of their (those in conflict) condition and of its causes, and. to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed." (As We See It) and advises that "the real" problem is ''building rank and- file organisations." (See Introduction to J. Zerzan's 'Organised Labour...') it has engaged in a certain activity. It has a programme which distinguishes it not so much from the other groups with their programmes but from the mass of humanity which never has any interest in groups with their programmes. The works of the group are advertised in the most banal, commodity manner: see 'Revolutionary Supermarket' on Solidarity Vol. VI, 3 p.20, and 'National Solidarity Meeting' in Vol. VII,6 p.20 - "...they (the 'marxist faction') had gone to the wrong shop (Solidarity), and bought the wrong goods - although the goods had been clearly labelled."
Because Solidarity made an abandonment of the critique of political economy the origins of its organisational practice, it naturally tends towards voluntarism and other developments. Because the organisation does not have any origins in the struggles, since 1968 in particular, it is not the historical product of the crisis of capitalism; it has to find another reason for its existence. Thus one has the internal hagiography and perturbing reaction to the past, such as to Third Worldism. The Third Worldism of Solidarity until recently can perhaps be attributed to the Third Worldism of Socialisme ou Barbarie, particularly those aspects published in English (Modern Capitalism and Revolution p.94 - "The revolutionary [sic] movement must ...seek to promote the solidarity of the workers of the imperialist countries with the struggles of colonial peoples." -- my emphasis). The same also appears in Redefining Revolution p.18). In Britain there are also examples of support for fractions of the bourgeoisie against others, struggles for bourgeois rights, voting for the Labour Party capitalists etc. These are too many to be aberrations. So too is the fascination with the “Left,” the endless attending of the meetings of the Left and the constant appeals, the latest being “Malaise on the Left.” Thus Solidarity finds itself as a shop among shops, a sect among sects and a gang among gangs. In this it is surely not unique.
Solidarity follows a path from an anti-historical attack on marxism to a sociological theory (from empiricism to positivism). It then continues to a voluntarist social practice, except when it comes to “nature,” when the most banal objectivism is observed. By cutting itself loose from any possibility of historical investigation, this descent is inevitable.
Like the rest of the groups, this prevents any appreciation of the society of capital and the communist movement that will overthrow it. It therefore finds itself outside the revolutionary movement in a cul-de-sac of its own making.
This author never attempted in any way to form any form or type of organised resistance within the group on the points outlined. On the other hand, it is clear that the exceptional measures taken against him and another member of the group [Joe Jacobs – eds.], the manipulation of the National Conference meeting on October 5th to allow for the attack on another comrade was perhaps the clearest case in point. Also the refusal to raise any political points on this author’s book on Poland, despite the considerable chatter about it behind the author's back, the need to ask for, repeatedly, a discussion on the text on Pannekoek and then to receive all manner of sophisms and so on, denote an internal orthodoxy of the group [that] has a life independent of the sum of its members. It is certainly unjust to criticise too strongly the philistinismism and extreme rudeness of the opinions of the majority of the group on the text on Poland (those who were not so inclined are an honourable exception.)
Sed caveat scriptori 13
Under such circumstances the only possible course open is the resignation to the degeneracy of the group and thus to resign from it,
LONDON 29-30 November 1975.
The reader, having digested this note or otherwise, may wish to end up on a practical theme. The communist movement I have referred to is as old as society; one must therefore work inside a history that is as old as that of society and outside speculative philosophy, the “new ideas” illusion (for it is only old wine in rejuvenated bottles), and the non-existent division of theory and practice, finally, outside the theory of the group too. For me, to take away Marx is to destroy part of this history and to develop the theoretical myths of the group and the ideas. Once again, the revolution comes from Aristotle, it is deeply implanted in society and cannot be subsumed under any theoretical aristocratism. I dealt with this before in a text circulated after the Day School in Philosophy in Coventry in July 1975. This text was posed in classist terms (capital-labour), which was insufficient, but did try to come to terms with the problem and with the interesting work of Karl Korsch. Solidarity never dealt with Korsch at all, except in passing and with incorrect characterizations (see 'Malaise on the Left'). Perhaps the perceptive words of Serge Bricianer can be used to display the importance of Korsch in relation to Socialisme ou Barbarie;
"Reflection on the old workers' movement and its theoretical marxist expressions (...) had already led the group Socialisme ou Barbarie independently to conclusions often near to Korsch's; ‘independently’ because this group, imbued with a sociologising prejudice and also with its ‘originality’ -- which is undeniable, but cannot be, by definition, complete -- had decided to ignore superbly theoretical efforts of the past. It was to deprive itself of previous elements of orientation even if they remained to be integrated in the critical mode.... On the other hand, the review (S. ou B.) gave, by means of abstract analysis and witness accounts, a depth to that infinitely flat being of the traditional doctrine: the worker.... Korsch proceeded differently; starting from the political concepts that had issued from the historical experience of bourgeois society and its critique, he prolonged and specified them, without ignoring the socio-economic context. Thus he dealt with the 'jacobinism', the unconditional delegation of power to a specialised body, inherent in the model of the bourgeois revolution. So too with totalitarian counter-revolution which accomplished the famous 'minimum programme' of classical socialism inside a re-organisasion of the capitalist system, And the analysis of this evolution, and evolution which our epoch follows and recasts endlessly, is duplicated by him into a critique of democratic, fascist and marxist (i.e. marxian) illusions, which owe nothing to the phenomenological category as badly constituted as that of ‘Bureaucratisation’, such as Socialisme ou Barbarie makes the deus ex machina of modern societies, irrespective of their various levels of development. (See Karl Korsch . Marxisme et Contre-revolution, ed. Serge Bricianer 1975 pp. 62,64, 65)”
This entirely one-dimensional view held by of Socialisme ou Barbarie -- everything in terms of bureaucracy-anti-bureaucracy and its later developments -- is completely confirmed by Dick Howard:
"In discussing the evolution of Socialisme ou Barbarie, Castoriadis once remarked that they ‘pulled the right string' - that of bureaucratisation - and had simply and ruthlessly kept pulling." (Telos #23 p.119)
“ ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, it is now a question of changing it.’ This does not mean, as the epigones imagine, that all philosophy is shown to be mere phantasy. It only expresses a categorical rejection of all theory that is not at the same time practice - real, terrestrial, immanent, human and sensuous practice, and not the speculative activity of the philosophical idea that basically does nothing but comprehend itself. Theoretical criticism and practical overthrow are here inseparable activities, not in any abstract sense but as the concrete and real alteration of the concrete and real world of bourgeois society." (Karl Korsch Marxism and Philosophy, 1923)
This short text tries to explore the implications of the text Worldview, Revolution and Social Change. It is in clear opposition to the premises, method and theses of this latter text, but here the criticism is reserved to the relation between class struggle and worldview (Weltanschauung) as expressed there.
The worldview (Weltanschauung also means ideology) systematisation has, in all cases, a specific significance. The ruling class after (not in) the bourgeois revolution formulated a world view to legitimise their role as a parasitic elite that dominated humanity and the world in general and the proletariat, pre-capitalist classes and sections of the bourgeoisie in particular. Worldview was the passing-off the ruling class as a class that was both necessary and permanent. The bourgeois Weltanschauung did not make economics central (as MB and AO [Maurice Brinton and Aki Orr - eds.] say) but it made value, value relations, central: the relationship of humanity to nature (i.e. the production of real life - manufacture, sex, religion, state). As such it made the proletariat central, the only productive class, the only producers of value. For, to legitimise the existence of the bourgeoisie, the Weltanschauung has, a priori, to legitimise the existence of the proletariat, that is, a class exploited and de-humanised by its relations with other classes, with nature and with itself. The Weltanschauung was thus the codified ideology of domination and tyranny.
Resistance to such a worldview was a great difficulty. It is false and absurd to suggest that socialism continued to have a bourgeois worldview of economics as this never existed in the first place - as we have shown. All the scientific socialists at least were opposed to a Weltanschauung. After all, Marx did not write “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains and there is my Weltanschauung to enact.” Worse than this insistence on the bourgeois worldview dominating socialism is the assumption that the worldview and social change are in close relation -- “both are essential” -- or that the worldview can be seen “in context.” Worldview is class struggle in its essential form. It is an aspect of class struggle, not a relation to it. This typical categorisation of the worldview and social change is false for proletarian revolution where it was not so for bourgeois revolutions.
Is there a communist Weltanschauung?
The proletariat in its class struggle has no other class (as a whole) as a supporter. It has no need to legitimise its activities to other classes because they all oppose it. If it were possible (and this author sees this as impossible) to formulate a new worldview, where would it use it, or, inversely, if there was no need for it, how could it be constructed in the first case? A world view is a pretense (conscious or not) to understand nature, to have a correct relationship to it. A worldview is necessarily alienating as it is based on alienation from nature. Communism suppresses classes which are merely reflections of human alienation from nature. It therefore does not need to legitimise one class to another (as already stated) nor to legitimise the human role regarding nature. This is also true for the struggle for communisation. But this does not mean that there will be no post-bourgeois Weltanschauung. But such worldviews will only be legitimisations again, this time of the soi-disant revolutionaries legitimising their ideas to the proletariat. Instead of expressing the movement of communisation, it will express particularistic aims and goals:
"It stands out that there is an abyss between what Kautsky represented as the nature of his own materialist vision and the remarks of Marx and Engels on the same subject. Never did the latter exalt the new 'dialectical materialist method' which they founded, nor ‘the communist vision of the world' which that governs, in a 'purely scientific doctrine' called such in order to provoke a 'revolution in science’. They left that to Eugen Duhring. Neither did they present their practical activity of their theory in the form of a doctrine that progressively spread to the mass of its partisans in a 'guiding' manner .,, They left that to the founders of sects.''
"What the end goal was for Luxemburg, the party was for Lenin." (Karl Korsch)
Remove a few names and there is the condemnation of the neo-worldview. This post-bourgeois Weltanschauung was the outcome of the “maximum programme” of social democracy in the period of the allowance of the “'minimum programme.”
Further, it is exactly the worldview problem that MB/AO [Maurice Brinton and Aki Orr - eds.] put forward, that expresses deeply capitalist ideology. Everything, philosophy included, has a use value under capitalism. The pragmatism and utilitarianism of the statements in “Worldview..” (which Dave Lamb's 'Philosophy' and interventions at Coventry deal with) are quite reactionary.
Ours is not to pose a new world view, to indulge in Utopias and science fiction, but to see what is far more interesting, class struggle as it defines itself and determines society. One cannot have a worldview that helps interpret the world as it is struggles that describe the possibility of communism and so create views (even reactionary worldviews).
In fact, worldview [which] opposes itself to social movements as a worldview always has an act of finality in it; the evolution of humanity has no finality, only alienation as a specific relation creates a Weltanschauung.
Taken from the Hobgoblin website.
- 1 For me, the term 'economic determinism' is either a contradiction or a repetition. It is based on the a priori division of social, political and economic factors and their separation. Such a method is theoretically impotent, lacking all idea of a general equivalent. Let us see what Marx meant by ' economy' :
"On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on the economization of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself." ('Grundrisse', Pelican ed. 1973 pp 172-3).
Thus to say that economy determines politics is basically true, but that is because politics is within the “economy of time.” But “economic determinism” is a tautology… if “determine’’ is supposed to be cause, this is to assume that the whole creates its parts, or, again, that politics is separate and hence autonomous in its “laws of motion”; but really the economy determines (causes) politics. Thus one is using a theory worked up from abstract categories and then applied to the concrete and found to be self-contradictory ("..as if the task were the dialectic balancing of concepts, and not the grasping of real relations" -- ibid. p.90). It is only the bourgeois theories of the economy that try to create autonomous areas of politics and society in the theory of the civil society and equality before the law. Once again, to see politics as autonomous is to recreate the reality of the bourgeois revolution (development of politics) in the reality of the capitalist despotism where politics have become the mask, the illusion, and not the grasping of the “real relation.” But the "concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse." (ibid. p. 101l)
(One should read the rest of this section of the Grundrisse to see that Marx's ideas were very much more interesting than ever envisaged by Solidarity). As to my alleged “economic determinist political views,” in neither case does this deal with the nature of politics and the nature of the economy. There is no notion of process. For instance, one cannot talk of the spheres of society and nature; as the former “metabolises” the latter, humanity creates its nature. To take another example, in Marx's notes from Morgan's Ancient Societies, "The element of property, which has controlled society to a great extent during the comparatively short period of civilisation, gave mankind despotism, imperialism, monarchy, privileged classes, and finally representative democracy." (Marx, 'Ethnological Notebooks', Krader ed. p.233). Seeing this in liason with the fact that Marx saw property and production as combined, one can state how it is the mode of production as a whole that determines the form of the parts too, that property is a united whole in its development and cannot be altered by some autonomous moment such as the vulgar attitude to politics.
“All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and through a specific form of society. In this sense it is a tautology to say that property (appropriation) is a precondition of production. But it is altogether ridiculous to leap from that to a specific form of property, e.g. private property. (Which further and equally presupposes an antithetical form, non-property.) History rather shows common property (e.g. in lndia, among the Slavs, the early Celts, etc.) to be the more original form, a form which long continues to play a significant role in the shape of communal property. The question whether wealth develops better in this or another form of property is still quite beside the point here. But that there can be no production and hence no society where some form of property does not exist is a tautology. An appropriation which does not make something into property is a contradictio in subject. [Grundrisse pp. 87-8])
So, far from being a criticism of this author, or of Marx (my “return to Marxism”), the phrase “economic determinist political views” does not even mean anything except a most banal and incomplete theorisation. Engels' famous “final instances” (e.g. in his last letters, to Schmidt 5/8/90. and Bloch 21/9/90 etc,) were attempts to combat the charge of “economic determinism,” but from the standpoint of a linear type historical explanation which had little to do with Marx's work (incidentally, Karl Korsch had shown this earlier, more fully and better than Cardan did, with many imperfections, in 'History and Revolution'; see Korsch’s 'Karl Marx' 1938 pp.221-4).
The arguments here do make a case for a “return to Marx,” but for very good reasons that I shall now expand. It is precisely because the Solidarity attack on marxism is so inexact and selective (one quote from the 'Grundrisse' , none from the various late notebooks on Wagner and Ancient Society, nothing from the 'Theories of Surplus Value' etc.) that one has to go back to Marx to go beyond him. This cannot be conceived voluntaristically. It requires profound study of history and the nature of the continuity of the communist movement in all societies, Marx having largely failed (for lack of material) here. Also, Marx was a moment in this continuity and to try to open him up by the critique form is to apply the same method to him as the application of modem arms to the plains Indians; it is a reference from the bourgeois forms of domination.
In an unpublished text on Pannekoek's Lenin as Philosopher, I tried to show the importance of showing that, for Marx, the concept of the mode of production cannot be reduced to technology (as Cardan does) or to the structure of labour (as the structuralists and their critics e.g. Baudrillard in The Mirror of Production and the Bolsheviks do). Marx had a very rich notion of the mode of production and the economy. (This is the text referred to in the letter). Unfortunately, Solidarity does not seem able to see the world except in terms of marxism-anti-marxism, leninism-anti-leninism, those who are the problem and. those who are the solution, or, finally and most arrogantly, as those who accept the system and those who fight it. (Solidarity is more reticent than Cardan here, see Redefining Revolution footnote.23). But Cardan (Castoriadis) states that "The level of wages interpretation... used consistently and on a world scale.. would require us to say that the least paid wage-earner in a developed capitalist country is still an exploiter of two thirds of humanity." (see 'Interview with C. Castoriadis' in Telos #23, p.150, my emphases). Solidarity, for its part, is forced to find leninists to criticise as its raison de etre, even to invent them, such as with the group which distributed “To the silent majority” and then formed a council-communist group and later "World Revolution.” This group opposes all united fronts, trade unions, parliamentary tactics, anti-fascist fronts, national liberation struggles etc., all decisions of the first three congresses of the Comintern, which Maurice Brinton repeatedly said they support. Moreover, they strongly base their critique of the Comintem on that of the left-communists who were expelled from the Comintem at the Third Congress. Such is their alleged “Leninism”!
For my part, I shall not engage in a full rejection of the characterisations made of me. Instead the reader can see from what I have written here what are my real views.
- 2Editors’ note: Aristotle’s views on revolution, which lack any notion of historical progress, are completely political, objective and value-free; revolution is simply regime-change.
- 3 The following is an extract from an unpublished review of Pannekoek's Lenin as Philosopher:
Incidentally, the critique of Marx by Cardan, “History and Revolution,” states that Marx reduces human activity to "the level of the 'productive forces' i.e. in the end to the level of technology." [p.7] This critique is symmetrical to the bolshevik idea of marxism and as such is anti-leninist while calling itself a critique of Marx. One has to refute the belief that Marx's work was technological-determinist, either approvingly or disapprovingly. Marx was quite clear on the significance of technology - or technique:
"Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the labourer." (Capital p.515, 1889 pagination)”
Note: capitalist production and technology are not synonymous and that it is not technology that causes capitalist development (literally, deus ex machina) but the reverse.
"Technology discloses man's mode of dealing with nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations and of the mental conceptions that flow from them." (Capital I, p.367 fn.1)
Note: technology discloses and does not cause; it lays bare and does not define.
"...capitalist production...revolutionises, through the organisation of the labour process and the enormous improvement in technique." (Capital II, p.37, Moscow 1971)
For Marx the productive forces was not a listing of machinery, his conception of the productive forces was not reductionist:
"Religion, family, state, law, morality, science, art, etc., are only particular modes of production, and fall under its (production and consumption) general law." (Marx, Collected Works III, p. 297)
"It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a ‘productive force'." (Marx/Engels, The German Ideology, London 1971 P.50)
"Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself." (Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, p,151, Moscow 1955)
"The development of fixed capital shows to what extent general social knowledge has become an immediate productive force, and thus up to what point the conditions for the social life process are themselves subjected to the control of the general intellect, and are remodelled to suit it, and to what extent social productive forces are produced not only in the form of knowledge but also as the direct organs of social practice; of the real life process." (Marx's Grundrisse, trans. ed. David McLellan, St. Albans 1973, p.166)
"It (the division of labour in manufacturing) is completed in modern industry, which makes science a productive force distinct from labour and presses it into the service of capital." (Marx ,Capital I, p.355)" [Marx deals with the destruction of the law of value three times in this section. On p.706 he states it in the context of the destruction of value, on p.708 he deals with it as a measure of the reappropriation of labour time by the workers, i.e. as the revolution as seen in 'Capital'. But on p.704 it is clear that he sees that if this revolution does not come first; there can also be a continuity of capital in the overcoming of the confines of the labour theory of value, but not value per se.]
I hope that this selection, which could be greatly prolonged, is sufficient to show the nature of the “metabolism“ of nature by humanity and that Marx never held a technologically determinist position (least of all a causal position). This is important because it divides off Marx from the notion of the development of technology as a prerequisite for socialism and re-places him in what I mentioned earlier, the communist movement. Cardan quite correctly condemns technological determinism as the legitimation of bourgeois practice in so-called socialist organisations. But he never traces the break and is faulty at every step he takes to reduce Marx to social-democracy, bolshevism etc.
- 4 All notes are added for this circularisation
- 5 See 'The unpublished sixth chapter of ' Capital" (ed. 10/18 Paris 1971) p;l91-223(in French) and. 'Theories of Surplus Value' Vol. II p.405-6. The first published text, which lies between the first two volumes of 'Capital' is essential for a complete understanding of Marx’s economic work.
- 6 Marx deals with the destruction of the law of value three times in this section. On p.706 he states it in the context of the destruction of value, on p.708 he deals with it as a measure of the reappropriation of labour time by the workers, i.e. as the revolution as seen in 'Capital'. But on p.704 it is clear that he sees that if this revolution does not come first; there can also be a continuity of capital in the overcoming of the confines of the labour theory of value, but not value per se.
- 7 One cannot base an attack on Marx's theory of wages on this pamphlet, published in 1849 and very undeveloped with clear contradictions with later works, nor on Wages, Price and Profit, which was an attack on the “iron law of wages” in a very condensed form. An honest effort would trace all the developments of Marx's theory of wages and then take on a discussion of this whole, without pretending that Marx never changed his ideas on wages.
- 8 See Marx to Zasulich 8/3/81 and to Otechestvenniye Zapiski 11.77.
- 9 See The German Ideology p.85 and Theories of Surplus Value III p. 456. (The use of- Moloch also appears in Le Capital III Ch. XXIV, but not in the English ed.)
- 10 see footnote 3, above
- 11 i.e. dialectical materialism, the Ideology of Plekhanov to Stalin
- 12 i.e. as a critical historical work. Marx adopted some of the form of the critique in his theory, which was both a strength and a weakness.
- 13 'Let the writer beware’'