Preface to the Japanese edition of №1 and №2 of 'Le Mouvement Communiste'
The first two essays in this book were translated and published in Japan in the 1970s. Here is the 1973 preface, modified and abridged with new notes added.(1)
In France, as everywhere else, what is usually known as Marxism has nothing to do with revolution. In this topsyturvy world, wage-labourers are exploited in “socialist” countries, while “communist parties” support capitalism in more ways than one. Communism has become a synonym for working hard and obeying one’s “socialist” boss. Most parties called communist have been and are nationalist, colonialist, and imperialist. As Paul Mattick wrote at the close of the Second World War: “Today every programme and designation has lost its meaning; socialists speak in capitalistic terms, capitalists in socialistic terms and everybody believes anything and nothing. This situation is merely the climax of a long development which has been initiated by the labour movement itself… Only by standing outside the labour movement has it been possible to work towards decisive social changes.”(2)
The first condition for a minimum revolutionary action is indeed to “stand outside” and break with all forms of Marxism, whether they come from CPs or left-wing intellectuals. Marxism is part of capitalist society in its theory as well as its practice.(3)
Nowadays, when the long counter-revolution which followed the post-1917 revolutionary movement is finally coming to a close, a new movement is rising.(4) At the same time, capital is trying to defang it, and is preparing to destroy it violently if it cannot be deflected. The re-emergence of revolution is accompanied by many forms of superficial criticism which do not go to the heart of the matter, and help capital adapt itself. Obviously radicalisation results from diverse experiences. But pseudo-revolutionary groups deliberately gather people on partial demands in order to prevent them to go any further. They claim to go back to revolutionary principles, but are ignorant of them. At best, their view of communism mixes a partial social re-shuffling with democratic worker control or management, plus automation. In other words, no more than what capital itself talks about. They “critically” support the official CPs, socialist parties, the USSR, China, Cuba, etc. These groups are counter-revolutionary. The argument that they organise workers is irrelevant: CPs do the same, which does not prevent them from repressing workers when they think it necessary. Trotskyism, Maoism, even anarchism in some bureaucratic and degenerated forms, are counter-revolutionary.
Past experience shows why demarcation lines are necessary. In 1939, the capitalist system could only recover through a full-scale worldwide war. Russia had been forced to develop capitalism after the defeat of revolution in Europe, and was ready to ally with one side or the other according to its State interests. Germany, Italy, and Japan were fascist. In the Western democracies, socialist and “communist” parties managed to rally the masses and persuaded them that unlike 1914–18, the new world war was to free mankind from the horrors of dictatorship. Trotskyism also supported this view and most Trotskyists took the side of the allied powers against Germany and Japan. Yet the triumph of democracy in 1945 has proved destructive. People no longer die in concentration camps—except where there are concentration camps, as in Russia, China, etc. But millions starve. The extreme left (Trotsky and many others) had helped capitalism rejuvenate itself.
Marx had to fight against Proudhon. Lenin, Pannekoek, Bordiga had to fight against Kautsky. Pannekoek and Bordiga had to fight against Lenin, and later against Trotsky.(5)
The present communist movement needs to assimilate its past, to fully grasp what really happened in 1917–21 and how today differs from yesterday. Communist revolution will not promote a further development of production: capital has already accomplished this in a large number of countries. The transitional phase will consist of the immediate communisation of society, which includes armed insurrection: the State’s military might cannot be underestimated. Besides, the working class has become such a potential social force that it is vital for capitalism to control it: this is the job of the unions and workers’ parties, so one must prepare to confront them.
This is only possible through the implementation of the communist programme: abolition of the market economy; creation of new social relations where labour does not rule the whole of life, but is integrated into it; destruction of economics as such, of politics as such, of art as such, etc.
Speaking of theory, one can and must use Marx’s works (which includes translating and publishing them when they are not available). Our motto is: Do not read the Marxists, read Marx!(6) It is also useful to study those who resisted counterrevolution: people like Pannekoek, Bordiga, etc., who despite misconceptions are relevant to our problems. Other groups, like the Situationist International, are also important, though they lack an understanding of capital.(7) Also it is important for revolutionaries everywhere to study the revolutionary past of their country.
Such activity implies a break with politics. Revolutionaries do not only have different ideas (or even actions) from pseudorevolutionaries. What they are is different, and the way they act is. They do not try to enrol people in order to represent them and be a power in their name. Revolutionaries are not leaders, educators, memory keepers or information providers. We neither lead nor serve the proles.
Communists are not isolated from the proletariat. Their action is never an attempt to organise others, only to express their own subversive response to the world. Ultimately, revolutionary initiatives will interconnect. But our task is not primarily one of organisation: it is to convey (in a text or an action) an antagonistic relation to the world. However big or small it may be, such an act is an attack against the old world.
1. Le Mouvement Communiste was a bulletin published in France, 1972–74. There was also a book with the same title (1972). An extract, “Capital and State,” can be read in English on the For Communism–John Gray site, http://www.oocities.org/~johngray/capstat.htm.
2. Paul Mattick, “Otto Rühle and the German Labour Movement,” 1945, https://www.marxists.org/archive/mattick-paul/1945/otto-ruhle.htm.
3.Academia is not what it used to be. As a prominent production place of established knowledge, the university has kept its prestige, but lost its privilege when it merged with business and media. Acamedia would be a better word. Because it is a reflection of society, the university differs in 2013 from 1913 or even 1953. Marx was rarely taught in most Western countries until after World War II, the (less and less Marxist, actually) “Frankfurt School” in the United States being an exception. It all changed in the 1960s, for better (lecturers discussing Marx’s concept of alienation), or worse (comparing the merits of Mao with those of Althusser). After the 1970s, with the demise of the western worker movement, public class discourse became outmoded. A global universal shapeless critique now prevails, where Debord meets Spinoza and Deleuze, alongside radical geography, unorthodox economics, peace studies, environment studies, gender studies, post-colonial studies… A century ago, Arthur Cravan said there would come a day when everyone in the street would be an artist. We are all critics now. Capitalist democracy excels in self-examination.
4. Though it may look odd to qualify the 1920s–30s as “counter-revolutionary,” the fact is that after the post-1917 earthquake, revolution suffered one defeat after another, in different contrasted forms: bureaucratic dictatorship in Russia, fascism in Italy, powerful social-democrat and Stalinist parties in the West, authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, and Nazism to cap it all. In 1936, the Spanish revolutionary wave—one of the highest points ever reached by proletarian action—occurred in such a negative context that the insurgents were ultimately doomed.
5. In the 1970s, the official left consisted of social-democrat and Stalinist parties. The CPs were still quite strong in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and several Latin American countries like Argentina or Chile, and supported by a predominantly militant yet reformist working class, so these parties were able to blunt the edge of class struggle.
By “pseudo-revolutionary groups,” we meant Maoists and Trotskyists.
Now the picture has changed. Hardly any comment is needed on the decline of Western CPs. The CPUSA and the CPBG have self-euthanised. There is not much left of the Italian CP, and the French one only retains some power in local government and the CGT union federation. The far left has been unable to fill the vacuum, in spite of its constant effort to appear less radical and more acceptable: revolutionary pretence is over, and social ambitions have been downsized to a “Share the riches” programme, of course with an ecological touch. This does not mean that political forces like the German Linke, the French Left Front (which the much declined CP is part of, and where its members meet up with ex-Trots) or the Greek Syriza have lost all political significance. Though “frontlines” have shifted and demarcations are blurred, the left and far left retain a capacity to contain and stifle many an autonomous movement.
6. Advocating a “return to Marx” is as imperative now as it used to be, providing Marx himself is addressed too. See chapter 5: “Value, Time, and Communism: Re-reading Marx.”
7. Today I would not write that the IS had no “understanding of capital.” While its critique focused more on commodity than on capital, on alienation than on exploitation, it did not ignore the wage-labour/capital relation, hence class struggle, though Situationists approached it via an emphasis on commodity.