2002 Note: The following was the self-introduction of the sole issue of the journal Strategy, which appeared, and disappeared, in the spring of 1977, with little fanfare. Though I would write it rather differently today, I think its basic point–the difference between a Marxist conjunctural perspective and the typical left-wing politics of populist resentment–remains entirely valid. When I wrote it, in December 1976, I would have characterized my politics as something like Trotskyo-Luxemburgism. The text does suffer from a vanguardism and a preoccupation with leadership I acquired during my apprenticeship in the Schactmanite milieu in the late 1960’s. The text is entirely productivist, and refers to an (at minimum) limited notion of capitalist “decadence”. I was still several years from the discovery of Marx’s theory of Gemeinwesen (the material human community) and the implications for capitalist history of the Unpublished Sixth Chapter of Capital. I was still in the throes of a mid-1970’s apocalyptic view of the crisis that began in 1973. I had only begun to rethink the very early (First Three Congresses) of the Communist International and, for example, refer positively (in passing) to Gramsci in a way I would not do today.I am a bit harsh on the 1960’s counter-culture, which by then was already all but dead.
On the other hand, the text makes a number of basic points I still retain. It sees an edge for the American working class vis a vis Europe in the absence of mediating institutions (“working-class” parties, nominally anti-capitalist unions). The critique of the European far-left of 25 years ago, while lacking nuance, as tied “critically” to Social Democracy and Stalinism has largely been confirmed by subsequent events, and in the U.S., the myth of the Roosevelt era and the vain hope for a “new New Deal” (today best known as ‘global Keynesianism’) has not been laid to rest on the left. The critique of leftist victimology was ahead of its time, but the assertion of the radical break between revolution and radicalized bourgeois ideology was not.
Finally, while the view argued here for a revolutionary organization is inadequate, the analysis of how bourgeois social relations are reproduced in such organizations still seems pertinent.
In March, 1977, capitalism finds itself more than three years into a crisis from which its most optimistic apologists foresee no exit. The “Hundred Days” of Jimmy Carter have revealed this “peanut farmer” to be the pure product of one of the most self-conscious and carefully planned political strategies in history, the mouthpiece for a technocratic-Bonapartist reorganization of U.S. and world capitalism whose scope and breadth pales the most ambitious “crisis management” of the 1930s, while reproducing it a a far greater level of sophistication. Perhaps never before in American history has the Eastern faction of finance capital controlled so totally the command posts of the state, and the very fact that it is obliged to exercise its rule openly is one indicator of the depths of the crisis and the capitalist consciousness of its gravity.
Throughout Western Europe, where the direct weight of the crisis has fallen far more bluntly, the tools of self-defense refined over five decades are being prepared for the moment of truth: under the slogan of “The Left to Power”, it is the nightmare of the Popular Front which is emerging on the political horizon of France, Spain and Italy, ready to sacrifice another generation of workers and revolutionaries to a suicidal alliance with the “progressive wing of the bourgeoisie”. In northern Europe, where Social Democracy has managed the crisis in Britain, Germany and most of Scandinavia since its onset, the ideology of a “left” solution within the capitalist framework has just about run its course, and the only question on the agenda is whether capital will cast aside its Social Democratic lieutenants before or after the working class explodes.
In the eye of the storm, in the U.S., the revolutionary left finds itself reduced to tiny groups of individuals, gathered within a set of organizations which constitute without exception obstacles to the socialist transformation of the world, and handfuls of others scattered outside of them. It is to these individuals, for the most part socialist intellectuals and an advanced stratum of working-class militants, that we address ourselves.
The problem is posed for us in a slightly different fashion in Western Europe. In contrast to the U.S., where a small room would be adequate for a meeting of those who are in formal agreement with our perspectives on the Popular Front and related questions, a modest auditorium might be necessary in Western Europe. In Britain, France, Germany and Italy, where large Social Democratic or “Communist” Parties retain the nominal allegiance of the mass of workers, there exist large peripheries of “extreme-left” currents which, in every country where mass struggles have erupted (and most recently in Portugal), have surged to the fore and contended with the official working-class parties for leadership. (1)
The problem in Europe is that the vast majority of this “extreme left” is centrist, i.e. the loyal opposition to the official left. In Britain, almost every current on the scene is busy engaging one or another faction of the Left Labourites and the TUC bureaucracy. In France, the bulk of the groupings there will invariably support the Union of the Left in the 1978 elections, “if only on the second ballot”. In Italy, the bankrupt elements which make up the Democrazia Proletaria will, in one fashion or another, constitute themselves as the ginger men for a PCI austerity government. From the Chilean Unidad Popular to the “historical compromise”, the Popular Front has known how to assume a hundred masks and guises, which has never stopped the resourceful “extreme left” from finding a hundred ways of “critically” tailing it to the slaughter.
In the U.S., on the other hand, there are no mass official working-class institutions capable of containing the radicalization of the class in motion. The AFL-CIO bureaucracy is a decrepit, utterly compromised group of piecards whose sole experience of working-class insurgency was forty years ago, and even that experience was in opposition to the actual insurgent movement. The only hope in the U.S. for using the existing unions against a working-class revolt comes from the Arnold Millers, Ed Sadlowskis and other similar “insurgent” figures. And if the experience of the Miller bureaucracy of the UMW with the wildcats of 1975-76 is any indication, it may already be a case of “too little, too late”.
But if it is too late for a facelift on the traditional American institutions of working-class containment –the Democratic Party and the unions–it is not for lack of effort on the part of a sizeable fraction of the U.S. left. Within the past year, an ominous constellation of forces has begun to crystallize in the ranks of various burnt-out New Left milieus, and it is under the sign of Social Democracy that these currents hope to link up with an American working class which will be increasingly looking leftward for solutions. The Sadlowski campaign in the United Steel Workers achieved a spectrum of “left” participation, to say nothing of the liberal counterinsurgents involved, not seen since the last, moribund days of the anti-war movement in 1971-72.
We wish to point out to these forces preparing to relive the thirties, with all the defeats implied therein, that the reactionary thrust of their aspirations notwithstanding, American capitalism is at the end, not on the upward slope, of its phase of imperialist expansion, and that consequently there will be no new F.D.R., no “radical” career opportunities in various government and labor bureaucracies, and no “new New Deal”, as if the last New Deal were not already an ingenious counter-insurgency not explicitly remembered as a counter-revolution only because the labor movement which it tied to the American flag was already under the leadership of elements -we refer primarily to the Communist Party USA- who could hardly be called revolutionary even then, to say nothing of now. And yet it is to such an ignominious period that the bulk of the contemporary left refers explicitly for answers to today’s crisis.
In Western Europe as in the U.S., the absolute exigency confronting the revolutionary left, which as yet has no serious organizational expression, is a complete break with the official working-class institutions. In Europe, this means the destruction of the existing Social Democratic and “Communist” Parties in their current forms, and the regroupment of their left-wing membership in united-front formations for the seizure of power; in the U.S., this means direct intervention into the working class, not to refurbish or create institutions (e.g. unions) which can subsequently “betray” the class, but to give programmatic content to the mass-strike upsurge which, sooner or later, must come in response to capitalist collapse.
Further, it is not sufficient to call on the working class to break with bankrupt institutions to “seize power” in the abstract. What will be absolutely decisive in a revolutionary intervention into the working class is the question of program, an elaboration of the content of the first phase of the socialist reconstruction of a world economy gutted by capitalism. For the working class to respond to a revolutionary alternative amidst the collapse of its traditional institutions of self-defense such a unions, the revolutionaries in question must offer not only new institutions, be they mass-strike formations, soviets, or workers’ councils (the form is utterly without importance) but they must above all present a coherent elaboration of what the working class is to DO with the productive apparatus of society once it has taken over.
The elaboration of such a program is the task of a revolutionary organization; without such an organization and such a program, the most heroic upsurge of the working class will end in defeat. The working class in motion is capable of tremendous power, but as has been demonstrated in countless situations, without a self-conscious and programatically-prepared revolutionary organization to make explicit the necessary content of such a movement, the dimensions of the ensuing defeat will be precisely proportionate to the terror which the defeated mass strike has inspired in the capitalist class. From Turin in 1920 to Santiago in 1913, the spontaneist myth that the necessary
program would “emerge in the course of the struggle” has been paid for dearly in mounds of working-class corpses. The guiding of the ebbs and flows of the struggle for power and the dissemination, within the widest possible circles of the working population of the programmatic conceptions and technical knowledge necessary for the democratic management of global production are the major tasks of a revolutionary organization; they are the necessary components of its activity.
While it is one of the major aims of Strategy to put forward in detail an elaboration of a program for reconstruction, we summarily state our aims in these first approximations:
1) the reconstruction of the U.S., Western European and Japanese industry and infrastructure needed to eradicate the effects of sixty years of capitalist decadence and capitalist growth. Such a reconstruction would obviously necessitate
2) the scientific conversion of military production and technology to useful production;
3) a crash program for the development of nuclear fusion power, an inexhaustible and pollution-free definitive solution to the capitalist “energy crisis”; maximizing industrialization in the Third World, with the aim of producing a work force in those sectors of the skill, education, productivity and living standards of the advanced sector in the shortest possible time.
Clearly the implementation of such a program for the qualitative re-industrialization of the planet will further necessitate parallel developments in the housing, education, transportation and health care of the working population, as well as massive research and development allocation for the ongoing improvement of technology.(2)
In a relatively short period of time, it is necessary to combine the viable individuals today trapped inside a multitude of ostensibly “left” organizations, an even larger mass of independents without perspectives, and the most combative layer of the working class into a fighting force capable of wielding the political and programmatic perspectives outlined above. In 1978-79, the currently liquid U.S. corporations will again be returning to the capital markets in a fashion similar to the stampede of l974-75, just as a mass of loans to various Third World countries reach maturity. The resulting credit crunch will deliver the coup de grace to the international banking system, if a wave of Third World bankruptcies and defaults have not already done so, and the post-1968 contraction of production will finally issue into the full-blown depression so long awaited on every side. At that point, the presence or absence of a programmatically-prepared revolutionary vanguard will be the precise determinant of Marx’s scientific prediction of one hundred years ago: socialism or barbarism.
This vanguard, moreover, must be qualitatively superior in its theoretical and practical activity to any previous political formation calling itself Marxist. With the single exception of the Russian Bolsheviks, every working-class party in existence on the eve of the First World War proved itself completely subjugated to the laws of centrist sociology and gutted by centrism’s most concrete social symptom, bureaucracy. Lenin’s own head-on confrontation with the Bolshevik Party itself in April, 1917, moreover, demonstrated the extent to which even that organization was susceptible to bourgeois social pressures, a susceptibility which did not fail to manifest itself in the massive degeneration of the party apparatus in power in the 1921-27 period and thereafter. The early degeneration of the Bolshevik Party under the blows of the world-wide ebb in class struggle after 1921 intersected centrist tendencies in the newly-formed Communist Parties of Western Europe and the U.S., (themselves containing a mass of undigested left-Social Democrats) with the result that the parties of the Third International, after 1924, quickly became the local replicas of the initial Stalinist travesty. The International initially founded by figures of the stature of Lenin and Trotsky, and the plausible leadership represented by a Levi, a Gramsci or a Rosmer, became within a few years the International of Stalin, Manuilsky, Bela Kun, Thaelmann, Togliatti, Thorez and Browder.
Finally, the organizations founded by the International Left Opposition after 1928, the eventual founders of the Trotskyist Fourth International, preserved at best the formal aspects of the pre-l924 Bolshevik party, and in the extended period of counter-revolution and ebb which followed their creation, became what they are without exception today: centrist formations wedded “critically” to this or that Popular Front formation, or, as exemplified by slightly more coherent groups such as the U.S.-based international Spartacist tendency, historical cargo cults which formally recapitulate a more principled “true Trotskyism”, but one which by its failure to examine the flaws in Lenin and Trotsky (and particularly in Trotsky) themselves, serve only to discredit the positive moment imprisoned within their hypostatized and formalized world outlook.
While the contemporary revolutionary movement has much to learn from the successive abortions of Social Democracy, Bolshevism and Trotskyism, these tendencies even in their finest moments cannot be seen as even crude approximations of what must be achieved in the present period. For most of its history as the theory of the revolutionary working class (and especially in the U.S.) Marxism has been popularized as an eclectic rationalization of the prevailing local “radical” ideology, be it porkchop trade- unionism, populist resentment of “the rich” or other variations on bourgeois ideology.. The greatest single illusion prevailing among most pro-socialist layers in the advanced capitalist sector is the assumption of a continuum between the various “radical” attitudes which occur in various strata of decomposing capitalism (trade-union militancy, “Third World” nationalisms, womens’ liberation) on one hand, and revolutionary Marxism on the other. The “radicalism” of such attitudes is on the contrary at best a pre-condition for the development of a revolutionary consciousness, and in their institutionalized forms (trade unions, nationalist and “community”-based movements, womens’ groups) are usually the most virulent opponents of actual socialist organizing. It can be said without hesitation that the bulk of those formations spawned by the middle-class and minority ferment of the 1960s, to the extent that they survive today in the form of various “Third World” community organizations and “Affirmative Action” hustles, are an indispensable prop to the perpetuation of capitalism in the U.S. today.
We cannot insist too much on this distinction between “radicalization” and the development of an actually Marxist critique, for this distinction is the sine qua non of an organization which will not adapt itself to the ebbs and flows of a mass movement. To understand this distinction, we must investigate the counterposed methodologies by which the typically “Marxist” organization approaches actual mass organizing, and that of a truly revolutionary formation.
The pseudo-Marxist, in fact populist or anarchist approach, found in such organizations as the CPUSA, SWP, various Maoist repositories, etc., conceives of capitalism as a society primarily characterized by hierarchy in which a “small minority” “runs” society in its own interest. Its fundamental critique of this minority of the “bosses”, “the rich”, or “ruling class” (depending upon which specific ideology we are examining) is its monopoly of “power” and wealth. It conceives of socialism essentially as the removal of this minority and its replacement (in the more advanced conceptions) by democratic organs of working-class power. In short, we are in the presence of an essentially moralist critique of capitalism, one whose description (and it is nothing more than a description) of the daily realities of life under capitalism does not surpass the achievements of honest bourgeois muckraking. Capitalism is bad, and for the edification of the sceptical, we are provided with cases x1, x2 and x3 which demonstrate just how bad a system it is By this method of empiricist exposes, the pseudo-socialist organization hopes to arouse the indignation of the worker, and on that basis recruit him to further propagation of such indignation. Carried to its higher forms, it is hoped that this systematic indignation will one day result in a wave of working-class militancy and -who knows?- perhaps even a general strike, into which the pseudo-socialists can intervene to pose the new “next step”, presumably a revolution as contentless as the previous agitation.
We do not denounce the indignation of working people at the deterioration of their lives in this moribund social order. What we denounce, and ruthlessly, are the ostensible “socialist” organizations who attempt to build a revolutionary movement largely on the basis of such a human, but absolutely not revolutionary emotion. For that to which this populist demagogy universally appeals in the worker is precisely the side of him which has been subjugated by capitalism, his sense of himself as a powerless victim. This is the critique of power invariably disseminated by a guilt-ridden and moralistic consciousness which never fails to exude an unconscious contempt for the “oppressed” group it addresses. To organize people as victims is to assure that they will remain victims. One searches in vain through the mass of left publications for an agitation which addresses the worker’s self-conscious sense of himself, and which evokes “that revolutionary boldness which flings at its adversary the defiant words, I am nothing and I should be everything.” (Marx)
The pseudo-Marxist methodology described above approaches the working population with the fundamental question, posed in whatever language, of “Buddy, what’s your beef?”. After conducting this opinion poll of the “grievances” of the social group in question, the ostensibly socialist organization proceeds to voice this grievance in a suitably “left” manner, hoping to ingratiate itself with the particular milieu by feeding its own indignation back to it with the appropriate “radical” language. To constitute itself as the “left wing” of. prevailing prejudice in various social milieus is the essential “methodology,” in various guises, of virtually every “socialist” organization in the U.S. and Western Europe today. Thus we see the CPUSA doing the Jimmy Higgins work for various “progressive” black Democratic Party politicians and currying favor with the left wing of the trade-union bureaucracy; thus the Socialist Workers’ Party pandered in the sixties to every conceivable “radicalized constituency”, down to and including the miserable “counter-culture” secreted by the advanced decay of the society, and has not been ashamed in recent years to remind its following that the working class as well is just such a “constituency” (!); finally, in late Spring 1974, we witnessed the pathetic spectacle of various “socialist” groupings providing “critical support” to the utterly depraved (and possibly police-fomented) Symbionese Liberation Army in hopes of picking up a stray black nationalist militant or two.
Throughout the history of socialism, beginning with the fight of Marx and. Engels against Proudhon and later Bakunin, revolutionary theory has had to confront this populist or anarchist ideology within the working-class movement. It is fundamentally based upon what Marx called a “negation of the negation” attitude (cf. Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts) a merely oppositional mentality. In the case of the working population as a whole, it is the form which bourgeois ideology assumes in periods of ebb; in the case of the self-styled “socialist” organizations, it is the invariable sign that they will constitute themselves as the left wing of capital in a crisis, for these groups have never fundamentally broken with bourgeois ideology.
The actual Marxist approach to working-class organizing proceeds along completely different lines from the populist eclecticism described above. For Marxism, the existence of a hierarchy of exploitation, and the “monopoly power” of the “ruling class”, who are presumably also the “rich” (as if the “ruling class” exercised some kind of conscious control over this fundamentally anarchic mode of production) are mere predicates of the capitalist system, pale shadows of its fundamental crisis and historical limitations. The Marxist approach to society understands capitalism above all as an historically-deterinined mode of production in which a capitalist valorization process co-exists with and is inseparable from the actual reproduction of society. What makes capitalism decadent as a social system at a certain point in history are not the many “injustices” which enrage its victims, but its fundamental inability to continue to expand the productive forces on a world scale simultaneously with the expansion of this valorization process. The Marxist further understands that what makes capitalism susceptible to socialist revolution is its tendency to periodic breakdown crises (depressions, but also wars and other cataclysms) in which the incompatibility of the valorization process and actual expanded social reproduction become overt and in which the supersession of the entire system is posed as an immediate, practical necessity for the working class as at no other time. The Marxist, in short, understands the social processes of capitalism (that which presents itself to the radicalized empiricist as an enormous mass of injustices at best nominally interrelated) as a totality unfolding within a textured continuum of time, a continuum whose contours are determined by qualitative breaks. He knows that the current prejudices of the working population count for nothing where the ultimate direction of the system is concerned, and above all that no amount of “radicalization” around eclectic manifestations of capitalist collapse, or revolts against specific aspects of that collapse, will ever produce a socialist revolution. The Marxist, finally, living in a differentiated time continuum in which the qualitative moments of change are decisive (in contrast to the more or less ahistorical and moralistic time of the populist-anarchist) understands that a thousand-fold intensification of a bourgeois (“negation of the negation”) rage remains, for all that, a bourgeois rage.
Thus while the mass of ostensible socialists are busy polling the “oppressed” strata of society for the latest update of the cahiers de doleances, hoping eventually to come up with the “issue” that will “radicalize” the atomized mass of workers (all the more atomized, moreover, to the extent that these rag-tag “socialist” groupings appear as the only alternative), the Marxist is preparing to intersect the growing social crisis with a comprehensive program for expanded social reproduction. Such a program is precisely what gives a positive content to the abstract conception of “seizing the means of production”, and it is from the vantage point of such a positive conception that the working class and its allies move out of the utterly provincial and parochial sense of themselves and their powers toward a truly social conception of their tasks. It is precisely from the vantage point of a program to re-industrialize the advanced sector and to industrialize the Third World that the individual worker or group of workers learns to judge with the proper contempt the various “leftists” who pander to his ostensible desire to “control his own life”, a life defined, moreover (as it is defined by the rest of bourgeois society) in the worker’s relationship to “his” plant, “his” union, “his” “community” and “his” neighborhood. The basic function of such a notion of “leftism” is to tie the individual worker to the very predicates of his alienation.
With social formations as with individuals, reality is revealed only at moments of qualitative rupture . The “reality” we address in the working class is not located in the “sense certainty” empiricism of its daily experience, but in the reality of what it must become as a class. We will say it bluntly, to the pathetic titterings of workerist “Marxists” who have never troubled themselves to read Hegel, and who a fortiori cannot have the slightest comprehension of the phenomenology entitledCapital the day-to-day existence of the working class in its atomization, its passivity and even in its atomized revolt against that condition is not real, or more precisely, judged from the vantage point of the revolutionary class-for-itself, the programmatically self-conscious working class in confrontation with the bourgeois state, appears as “the lower concrete form of existence… (which has)… surik into an obscure moment… (where)… what was formerly an objective fact is now only a single trace…” (G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, New York, 1967, p. 89). The reality of the working class is its potential to exist as such a class-foritself, and it becomes such a class when it becomes conscious of its real conditions and tasks. We know that it is to this potential that we address ourselves, to the enormous energies, unleashed by every mass-strike upsurge in history, that lie beneath the atomized, passive and ideology-ridden persona of the individual worker or group of workers. To do any less, to pander in any fashion to ideological props (in others as in ourselves), to the chains that tie individuals to capitalist institutions, constitutes a complete abrogation of our responsibility as revolutionaries.
We must therefore create an organization in which the creative powers of every individual are consciously socialized to the fullest extent possible within the confines of capitalist society. Every revolutionary organization begins with the material provided by the present social development, and in the best of cases, this means individuals stunted by social relations in which, at every turn, they have learned to relegate their creative powers to a “private” sphere of existence. This is the fundamental inversion of reality achieved by bourgeois social relations, in which the individual comes to identify precisely that which in himself is universal, social and species-determined (in Marx’s sense) with something private and asocial, and simultaneously to identify “sociability” with the impoverished persona usually derived from his role in the capitalist division of labor. And this inversion is the greatest enemy of a revolutionary organization, greater even than the bogeyman of the CIA. The individual who has come to identify his self-consciousness as that which “gets him into trouble” in daily social relations can only enter into relations where his external activity is oriented to what he believes others expect of him. It is moreover the greatest naivete to assume that self-proclaimed “revolutionary” organizations are immune from this alienation. On the contrary, to the extent that precisely such organizations tend to attract –particularly in periods of extreme crisis and particularly from the devastated petty-bourgeois “middle strata” of capitalism –individuals in flight from disintegrated earlier identities, these groups can and often have become condensed arenas of the worst and most vicious social relations, not unlike the relations encountered in the corporate, academic and artistic milieus of the larger society (7). From the grey functionaries of the old German SPD who despised everything Rosa Luxemburg stood for, by way of the mass of slimy careerists and parvenus with whom Stalin populated the apparat of the Bolshevik Party after 1924, to the more exotic flora and fauna encountered in the groups of the U.S. left today, we recognize the familiar figure of the hack, the Trojan Horse of the bourgeois social type within the socialist movement (8).
Thus it is not from any merely pedagogical impulse or grandiose conception of ourselves that we pose as an absolute necessity for our tendency the mastery and further development of the most advanced theoretical concepts thus far produced by the human species. This means not merely- as is sometimes formally the case in certain left organizations- a mastery of Marxian theory and of the history of the working-class movement, but similar endeavours in philosophy, psychoanalysis, mathematics, physics and military science. We place at the disposal of the working-class movement the work of a Hegel, a Freud, a Riemann, an Einstein or a Clausewitz, as we do with that of Marx, Lenin or Luxemburg, not as missionaries but as strategists , in the recognition that only through the proliferation of the conceptual framework of these dialecticians of past culture can we reproduce the Promethean individual who will never tolerate relegation to the status of a Jimmy Higgins shitworker in some depraved leadership cult, let alone tolerate generalized bourgeois social relations. We posit as the fundamental prerequisite for the existence of a revolutionary organization the placing of precisely this development of real social powers at the center of the organization’s existence, the generalized formulation of actual policy by ever-expanding circles of individuals being its most concrete manifestation in daily practice.
For certain “leftists”, “socialist education” means essentially the extended exegesis of certain documents of the early Congresses of the Comintern (when not of documents from gatherings of far less august bodies) to establish at each turn and twist of the path descending into the Stalinist nightmare who was “correct” (and this for the ignominious purpose of certifying the pedigree of the leadership of the cult in question). Against such reductionism we assert, as stated above, that no assemblage of mere “positions” will ever certify one’s ability to think strategically in the present, and to the extent that one equates such “positions” (while not for a moment slighting the importance of a mastery of socialist and working-class history) with strategic thought, one is feeding the worst illusions. Socialist revolution requires for its realization millions of skilled workers, scientists and technicians armed with concepts enabling them to democratically plan and restart world production. It requires a working class sufficiently familiar with the concepts of modern science to acquire the skills necessary for a subsequent re-tooling of the world economy with technology fueled by new energy sources such as nuclear fusion power. In the shorter term, it requires an advanced stratum of workers schooled in the tactical and technical aspects of modern military practice who will be the core of the military arm of the working-class movement. Above all, it requires the broadest possible strata of individuals capable of thinking strategically, through the ebbs and flows of the era of depression, mass strikes and eventual civil war we are entering. Without all this, the most moving passage on the bureaucratic usurpation of the Russian Revolution is not worth a damn–to a revolutionary, that is. (We do not deny that such edification can be used for other purposes.)
Finally, (and we bring this up only now, not to slight, but rather to underline its importance), we consider the appropriation of the artistic culture of the past to be an essential aspect of our activity. Here again, we say this not from any merely civilizing impulse, but from the recognition that the ability to appropriate for oneself the emotional and psychological grandeur of great art is nothing other than a refined aspect of the general faculty of appropriation indispensable to a revolutionary. It is too often forgotten that revolutionaries of the stature of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg were without exception imbued with a personal culture of world historical dimensions, and each devoted serious attention to questions of art and culture. Far more important, however, than any specific writings which these figures produced on “cultural questions”, it is indisputable that the entirety of their work is infused with a sensuous imagination which, in writings such as Marx’s 18th Brumaire or certain chapters of Capital, Engels’ Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, Trotsky’s Russian Revolution or Luxemburg’s The Mass Strike, attains the levels of a sensuous poetry. This poetry of the exposition of the social process, moreover, is nothing but the distilled literary representation of the tremendous social energies which blossom in the midst of revolution itself. Only from such a vantage point can one pull the “great works” of the past from the mothballs in which generations of aesthetes, critical critics and uninspired schoolmasters, to say nothing of the vast, decadent majority of contemporary “artists”, have buried them. In the hands of these curators of a culture totally cut off from its historical reality, the works of the past have been encased in the ruling ideology; in the hands of those who are revolutionizing the present, they regain their stature as celebrations of an advanced human creativity.
And what is this creativity? Nothing but the sensuous appetite to appropriate all of reality to oneself, to break the barriers of bourgeois social identity in which most creative energy, far from being communized in the self-expansion of the species, is dedicated to the negative task of defending the prerogatives of an impoverished caricature of human existence identified by most individuals as the “self”. In the struggle to reach beneath the pale shadows of actual sensuous existence populating the psyches and social encounters of most individuals in this decadent bellum omnium contra omnes to arrive at a deeper, embracing emotional substratum which seeks to establish a positive relationship to the species, the condensed creativity one finds in the artistic culture of the past is one weapon; the accumulated conceptual weaponry of the dialectical and above all Marxian tradition will do the rest. When this creativity, armed with the conceptual arsenal of Marxian theory and the other currents alluded to above, collides with a working-class movement breaking away from bourgeois ideology and the social institutions which support it, workerist epigones themselves might, from the ensuing explosion, understand the concrete meaning of Marx’s retort to vulgar materialism: “And theory itself becomes a material force when it seizes the masses.”
1-Similarly, in Spain, the major question confronting the PCE is whether it will be seriously outflanked in the working class even before the monarchy legalizes its efforts at containing rank-and-file militancy. The PCE has before it the unhappy experience in such efforts of the PCP in the Portuguese crisis, with the additional dual burden that Carrillo is not even Cunhal, and the Spanish working class is far more politically conscious and combative than were the Portuguese workers in 1974.
2- In connection with the question of socialist program, special mention must be made here of the National Caucus of Labor Committees, which in the 1968-73 period elaborated a perspective which in its political and programmatic thrust was essentially identical with our own. The self-cannibalization of the NCLC is a small but not insignificant chapter in the history of the revolutionary left in the U.S. during the past decade, and it is a chapter we intend to bring to the attention of the U.S. left generally and of any viable individuals still left within in the NCLC. The NCLC, for its part, has given its detractors an easy time of it with its successive support for Nixon and Ford, its recent “discovery” of a “true” American conservatism that is still progressive, and above all its propagation of the reactionary notion that the capitalist system, sixty years into its decadent phase, is still capable of expanding the global productive forces. But whatever we might say about the NCLC in subsequent pages and issues, we have nothing but contempt for its mass of detractors, who have never grasped its vast contribution to the revolutionary movement in an earlier period.
3-Liquid in relation to short-term debt, that is.
4-This moralistic, populist and fundamentally anti-Marxist approach was presented at new levels of bathos in the December, 1976 issues of one leftist newspaper, in a series entitled “What the Rich Are Buying For Christmas”. The reader was treated herein to exposes of the latest extravagances of the bourgeoisie in decay, as if the iniquities of “rich” and “pcor” as such in some way reflected the fundamental nature of the historical unviability of capitalism, and as if the generalization of wealth, albeit of a qualitatively different kind, were not a major goal of socialism.
5-1-As everyone will readily admit, this procedure was raised almost to an art form by the Socialist Workers’ Party in the late 1960s. However, variations of the same methodology are followed by the gaggle of groups we are discussing, such as the CPUSA, NAM, the disintegrating Maoist and “Marxist-Leninist” groups, etc. A similar mentality in looser groupings is manifest in the pages of publications like Socialist Revolution (about to change its name to something more American”), In These Times or Seven Days The common assumption is always that Marxism must be restated in a language that the “American people” can “relate to”, an argument vitiated from the outset by the small problem that the protagonists in question are not Marxists.
6-A word must be said at this point about that variety of leftist who does not commit the gross travesties of Marxism described above, but who, out of a certain commitment to revolutionary “principle”, is able to negotiate his way over the terrain in which eclectic opportunists have already lost themselves. The reader who hears in this brief characterization the shrill voice of, for example, the Spartacist League, has understood our meaning. For this variety of leftist, reality in its phenomenal form possesses the same status it has for us: that of mere appearance. Sadly, however, this variety of leftist lives outside of history, and hence the phenomena which we attempt to locate in the sensuous contours of qualitative time are for our friend nothing but discrete “events” upon which its suffices to pass judgement . Stated bluntly, this leftist lacks all notion of conjunctural perspectives , and hence approaches reality armed only with a set of “principles” and “positions” which, while perhaps possessing a certain moral cohesiveness, are utterly useless for the conceptualization of a revolutionary strategy. History is for this mentality nothing but a catalogue of morality plays, to which passing time adds an occasional new example. Not accidentaly, these people unconsciously reproduce the mentality of pre-Hegelian Aufklärunq or Enlightenment, and hence in contrast to the vulgar empiricists described earlier, can roughly be described as the Kantians of the working-class movement.
7- Dwight Macdonald somewhere commented, after his experiences in the American Trotskyist milieu of the 1940’s, that for honesty and decency in everyday personals relations, he prefered the company of insurance executives.
8-A certain anarcho-syndicalist analysis of the repeated degeneration of past socialist organizations has focused on the phenomenon of bureaucracy and a related “elitism” or “vanguardism” as the cause. This consciousness, for which the question of capitalism and socialism presents itself essentially as a question of organizational forms, in its assumptions relegates to the “bureaucrats” in question the power over events which it then reproaches them for exercising, because it does not recognize that bureaucracy is in fact the result of a situation in which a mass of “rank-and-filers” have renounced their social powers, thereby making bureaucracy the necessary form of social cohesion for the group or society in question. This “anti-elitism” of anarcho-syndicalism, by its tolerance of vast inadequacies in individuals in the name of a purely abstract equality, thereby effectively reproduces precisely the situation in which bureaucracy thrives; it is the other side of bureaucratism, as Lenin understood so well 70 years ago.
9-It is moreover an excellent antidote to the waves of barbarism and kitsch, and moreover to the depraved, petty and reactionary emotions underlying them, secreted by contemporary capitalism in the guise of “culture”. The sick rock-drug “counter-culture” of the 1960s is perhaps the most extreme form we have in mind here, but it is hardly the only one. Any equivocation in judging the revolutionary pretensions of such a phenomenon is an immediate declaration of bankruptcy by any organization calling itself Marxist.