Property and Capital (17)
17. Utopia, Science, Action
It is intended by all, with the expressions socialism (scientific) and communism (critical), the whole complex interpretation of the process of human social facts, of the expectation and claim that the future process presents given characteristics, of the struggle that the working class leads to get there and of the methods of its struggle.
In this, it is implicit to affirm that one can, in broad terms, establish the lines of future development, and at the same time that a mobilisation of forces is needed to favour and hasten such development.
If all these traits are eloquently found in Marxism - to such an extent that from the moment it was formulated, even those who do not accept it must at all times settle their scores with it, they nevertheless appear - albeit in an inorganic form - in all the previous "systems".
Leaving aside abstruse questions, such as considering a common illusion of theorists, authors, propagandists, party militants of all colours of all tendencies, that it is worthwhile to influence social events, to study their development and to prostitute ourselves for them, we will find that each manifestation of expectation of the future, each struggle to "change things", presupposes a certain experience and notion of the past and present situations, and on the other hand each study and description of the past and the facts that surround us has never been carried out other than to arrive in a certain way at plausible predictions and practical innovations. It is necessary to limit oneself to ascertaining that this has been the case for all real movements, without approaching at the outset (that is, metaphysically and vainly) the usual brainteasers of finalism or mechanism.
Beings, men and groups indifferent to knowing "where we were going" or seeking to change the direction of motion, have always been equally inept at the seductions of a coldly cognitive and descriptive research, that classifies the results without taking care of anything else or finding any use in the archives. If it were only possible to take a photograph of reality and the world, we would not have need to go beyond the first photograph: when we take a series of them, it means that we are looking for rules of uniformity or disuniformity between the various clichéd imprints, and if we do this it is to say in a certain way what a subsequent photograph would reveal, before we have taken it.
Human groups are, on the contrary, set out from attempts to know the future before building even initial systems of knowledge of the nature and history of past events. The first system is the hereditary tradition of notions that concern how to protect oneself from inconveniences, dangers, cataclysms; it comes after the registration, even embryonic, of facts and data that are contemporary and historical. The chronicle was born after the practice. The same instinct of animals, which is reduced to a first form of knowledge quantitatively low, regulates the conduct regarding future events that are to be avoided or facilitated: a scholar of the subject gives this beautiful definition: "instinct is the hereditary knowledge of a specific plan of life". Everyone who forms and possesses plans works on data for the future. All the better if we take the specific adjective as connected to "species", that is, not a particular plan, but a "plan for the species". Flying through the whole cycle, communism is the "knowledge of a plan of life for the species". That is, for the human species.
In the utopian sense, communism wanted to elaborate the future forgetting or neglecting the past and the present. Marxism gave the most complete and definitive criticism of utopia as a plan or dream of an enlightened author or sect, which seemed to say: with our coming, the problem is solved, as it would have been, with the same plan, if we had come a thousand years ago.
According to Marxism, all systems of thought and ideas, religious or philosophical, are not the product of individual brains, but rather an expression, albeit shapeless, of the data of knowledge of a certain social epoch ordered for the purpose of its rules of conduct. They are not causes but products of the general historical movement. In their succession they find themselves to be aged, that is they reflect in their formulations the ancient conditions, and in other cases to be anticipatory, that is, to be the effect of the decomposition of those old forms and their contrasts, so that they express the future. Thus, at the time of slavery, the demand before the law and the custom that one man should not be property of another took the mysterious form of the equality of souls before the one God. But this does not happen because God has decided to reveal himself, but because of the decomposition and the inconvenience of slave production: Christians will apply it against the negroes when the suitable conditions will reappear, as much free land to a few occupiers, as a result of geographical discoveries.
However, the theses on the unity of God and the immortality of the soul are not emitted by chance, but they say in other words that the time is imminent when every worker will be free in the person. For believers, ideologists, jurists it is a conquest of the human person, for us it is a conquest which has come at its time, of a new and more efficient "plan of life of the species".
Consequently, Marxism, while paying homage to the utopianism of the eighteenth century, which in turn approximately expressed a mature condition, shows its weakness in not being able to connect the end of the economy of private property, not only of man over man, but also of man over labour of man, to the complete evolution of a given social form, capitalism.
Utopianism is an anticipation of the future; scientific communism draws us back to the cognition of the past and the present, only because an arbitrary and romantic anticipation of the future is not enough, but a scientific anticipation is necessary; that specific anticipation which is made possible by the full maturation of the capitalist form of production, and which is tightly connected to the characteristics of that form, of its development, and of the peculiar antagonisms which arise in it.
While in the old doctrines myth and mystery were expressions of the description of the preceding and current events, and while the modern philosophy of the capitalist class boasts (with ever decreasing decisiveness) of having eliminated these fantastic elements from the science of facts recorded so far, the new proletarian doctrine builds the lines of the science of the future, completely devoid of arbitrary and passionate elements.
If a general knowledge of nature and history, part of it, is possible, it includes, inseparable from itself, the search for the future: any well-founded polemic against Marxism can only be on the ground of the negation of human knowledge and science.
The point here is not to draw a complete picture of this problem, but of eliminating the deformations that pretend to admit Marxism as the incomparable original analysis of human history and of the present capitalist social framework, arriving then, by dissipation of energy, at sceptical, agnostic and elastic positions about the precise itinerary of the revolutionary future, and the possibility of having known and traced it essentially, ever since the proletarian class has de facto been on the social scene in efficient masses.
Once the accounts with the prophets have been settled, it has been the same with the heroes, that the old conceptions of history have placed at the summit, both in the form of captains of arms, and in that of legislators and ordinators of peoples and States. Needless to say here too that, like any prophetic system, any feat of political conquerors or innovators comes from the Marxist critique weighed up as an expression or result that translates the profound effects of the "plans of life" that follow one another, that grow old, and that impose themselves.
The new doctrine therefore cannot be tied to a system of tables or texts, premised on the whole battle; just as it cannot rely on the success of a chief or of a vanguard fighter rich in will and strength. Prophesying a future, or wanting to realise a future, are both inadequate positions for communists. All this is substituted by the history of the struggle of a class considered as a unitary course, of which, at every contingent moment, only one part has already been carried out, and the other part is expected. The data of the further course are equally fundamental and indispensable as those of the past course. Moreover, errors and deflections are equally possible in the evaluation of the preceding movement, and in that of the following one: and all the party and party polemics are proof of this.
Consequently, the problem with the praxis of the party is not of knowing the future, which would be little, nor of wanting the future, which would be too much, but of "conserving the future line of one's class".
It is clear that if the movement does not know how to study, investigate and know it, it will not even be able to conserve it. No less clear is that if the movement does not know how to distinguish between the will of the established and enemy classes and its own, equally the game is lost, the line destroyed. The communist movement is not a question of pure doctrine; it is not a question of pure will: however, the defect of doctrine paralyses it, the defect of will paralyses it. And defect means the absorption of other people's doctrines, of other people's will.
Those who mock the possibility of plotting a great historical trajectory when its course is only halfway down the river (as would happen to those who, having descended the river from its source at midpoint, would begin to draw its map to the ocean; induction that is not accessible to the science of physical geography) are inclined to exclude any possibility of influence by individuals and groups on history or to exaggerate it, at least with regard to the immediate future.
Voluntary errors were in the two great revisionist deviations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reformism, pretending to preserve classical doctrine as a study of history and economics, refused as illusory the trajectory of the future course, and reduced itself to working on detailed and short-term goals, to be renovated from time to time. Its motto was "the end is nothing, the movement is everything"; and it is equivalent to saying: "principles are nothing, the movement is everything". In such an address arises the doubt between the aim of a close interest of the working class, and that of its leaders and managers: both can find themselves opposed to the aim of a distant and general class. Here is opportunism. The other school, trade unionism, refused determinism, assuming to accept the doctrine of the economic class struggle and the violent, but not political, method: which locked it out of the struggle for the general class course. Reformism and trade unionism coalesced into social-patriotic degeneration.
A completely parallel degeneration is that of the Third International and of the Russian party in the second quarter of the present century: abandoning the general objective of the class and pursuing immediate, local, variable results from phase to phase.
The question of communist action, strategy, tactics or praxis is the same question, that is of preserving the future line of the class, and this question is posed as soon as the socially proletarian class appears. That there are different solutions from time to time and from country to country is not disputed, but in this same succession of solutions there must be a continuity and a rule, abandonment of which leads the movement astray. In this light, the questions of organisation, of discipline, emerge from the constitutionalism of legal formulas, which connect the base, the cadres, and the centre, in order to bind the leading centre not to abandon the "rule" of action, without which there is no party, let alone a revolutionary party.
So, if no one contests that in the nations in which the bourgeoisie had yet to overthrow feudal power, the proletariat cannot fail to join this struggle, the Marxist Left wanted it to be brought into rule that in the countries with capitalist power there could not be alliances with fractions of the bourgeoisie. At the time of Lenin, proletarian criticism and politics assimilated with those parties that, claiming to be workers, rejected the postulate of violent action and proletarian dictatorship.
The Left in the Third International had to fight, being beaten organisationally, as a new gradualist and possibilist form that of the united front with the social-democratic parties: theoretically it had a winning game in the forecast that such a method would lead to collaboration with capitalist and imperialist parties, classes and states, and to the destruction of the revolutionary movement.
This is enough to demonstrate that the revolutionary party and International can only have a rigid system of principles of praxis, that the centres (and the so-called leaders) must not have the authority to transgress under the pretext of new and unpredictable situations. Either this construction of principles by a group of well-founded predictions about the development of the facts is possible, and then the Left was correct; or so it is not, but then it would not only be wrong for the Marxist Left, but it would be the Marxist method that had fallen, as it was reduced to a recording of social meteorology and to a defence, place by place and day by day, of the contingent interests of the categories that work, an insufficient pretence to distinguish itself from any other political party in action today in any country.
The guarantee against the repeated, ruinous landslides of the movement never lies in anything other than in the historical demonstration that it rises again, not only with the affirmed Marxist and determinist theory, but with a body of norms of action drawn from the centuries-old accumulated experience, and above all from the very useful apprenticeship of failures and defeats, managing to keep out of the inconveniences owed to the sudden manoeuvres, abilities, political stratagems of the leaders, who if necessary must be constantly renewed, and dismissed as individuals, as soon as they falter and fall into such degenerate practice.
In other texts it was shown how every statutory or regulatory resource to establish who is on the great historical line is an illusion: until it is supposed possible to summon to the supreme hypocrisy of consultations, exquisitely bourgeois form, the successive historical generations of the class: the dead, the living and the unborn!
As a theory of the past, present and future, we base our work on the 1848 Manifesto, Capital, the critical works of Marx and Engels, especially on the value of the struggles for power and the Paris Commune, the anti-revisionist restoration of Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the time of the First World War.
Concerning tactical praxis, one can rely firmly on the Manifesto, it being understood that many capitalist revolutions still remained to be accomplished, and that at that time no party claimed to be a worker party if it was not on the ground of the anti-bourgeois armed struggle. That later, over the course of a century, workers' parties with not only constitutional but also anti-revolutionary programmes were born is not a new historical fact, but a confirmation of the course of the predictions that were built on the Manifesto.
We only need to highlight two passages from the Manifesto:
"The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement."
For the determinists, every present motion is a datum that cannot be denied. But the communists are the only ones to "represent the future of the movement", that is, of the class in struggle, and struggling to suppress the classes.
"The Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order". Two conditions make it possible to recognise revolutionary movements: they use force, they break the law; they change the power relations of the classes. "In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time".
In Marxist texts the question of ownership is equivalent to the question of economy, to the question of class: forms of ownership are equivalent to relations of production.
Therefore, the capitalist revolution in Germany 1848 and Russia 1917 interested the communists for two reasons: first, because it could start the immediate European proletarian revolution; second, because, even in the hypothesis that the movement would run aground in the bourgeois revolution, it would upset the fund of feudal production relations and unhook the irresistible start of the modern forms of capitalist and mercantile production and exchange, instead of the feudal lethargy.
In 1848, or in 1917, or in 1952, the existence of a party equally solid in doctrine, organisation and tactics is the only guarantee that those two motives, reasons, aims, of full historical reality, are not exchanged with a fictitious and ruinous other party: that first of all, and before the specific class struggle between them, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have a certain common sphere of theory and action, according to the postulates of a so-called human civilisation, as would be the various liberal, egalitarian, pacifist, patriotic ideologies.
Every time the movement, not having grasped the dialectic of the historical positions, has foundered in that same swamp.
We have dealt with property and capital so that it is clear that in the historical age we live in, after the fall of feudalism not only in Germany, Russia and Japan, but also in China and India, there is only one world historical question of property, and it is the question of capital, of the death of capital, whose history must continue to be written in advance.
To write this course, once again theory and action, historical and economic science and political programme, proceed inseparably. And looking at the general point of arrival of the movement, in time and space.
What is decisive with regard to false communism and the Russian state is not the study, which leaves no doubt, of the economic situation beyond the Iron Curtain and the corresponding social relations, but the study and simple observation of the active policy of this party, of this state.
In given limits of space and time, the thesis of a victorious party of workers' dictatorship, occupied in transferring forms of feudal property into capitalist forms, is not marxistically absurd. But such a party would not hide it, but would proclaim its own aims, as the Manifesto imposed; to break the revolution out in the classical capitalist countries, keeping power and weapons in its hands until then, and then to set in to motion the social transformation.
Against the application of such a hypothesis to Russia today is the degeneration of tactics since 1923, the policy of alliance with states and parties of bourgeois forms of production on the domestic and international political planes and that of the military of the Second World War. There is no need for a greater response; and as proof of this diagnosis it is only to see in the workers' ranks the shameful propaganda of social and constitutional pacifism in the bourgeois countries and of emulation and pacifism on the international scale.
One cannot deny importance to a situation in which the imperialist war, instead of seeing two groups of openly capitalist states in conflict, sees all these on the one hand, and on the other hand only, or almost, the "crypto-capitalist" state, heir of a proletarian revolution; inasmuch as such a situation would involve the "denouncement" in the internal politics of all the enemy states of any tactic of relaxation and social collaboration, or even the use of sabotage and civil warfare by the so-called communist forces.
The certainty that, even in this hypothesis, it will be a counter-revolutionary policy, that is, discordant with the general aim of proletarian communism, does not derive from deceptive economic and social chemisms, but is grounded in the observed breaks and reversals of the historical line, and in the conviction of deception to which are historically linked those who have presented as revolutionary the policy aimed at the illusory restoration of democracy against world fascism, and who present as a communist society a banal industrial mercantilism, which, nevertheless, has been burning the heart of Asia asleep for millennia.
Or the phase of peace and of the world market without curtains, or that of the Third War, will put Marxism to the test. If it emerges, it will be with the conquest that on track of the great historical course, traced as if Columbus traced it towards the East dialectically taken from the West, there are horrific and dangerous slowdowns, frightening obstacles, but the course must remain that of the day when the anchors were set to sail, in a dazzling certainty shouted at an enemy world.
Prometeo, No. 4, July-September 1952.
Translation by Libri Incogniti
The potent defence of the Programme and of the Communist Party