The Counter-revolutionary Role of Opportunism
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 1; February 2002)
on the economic level:
•-to accept and defend the capitalist mode of production and its laws, not only as the basis but also as the ultimate human society;
•-to represent the economic interests of the small and medium bourgeoisie, of small and medium property (artisanal, industrial, commercial, productive and distributive) that even the ultra-developed capitalist society does not eliminate but rather augments constantly;
•-to base itself on the social and political factors which defend the economic area that the unequal development of capitalism leaves at the disposal of the intermediate classes, by considering it vital for their survival;
•-to resist technological and productive progress insofar as this undermines their situation and threatens to proletarianize them by precipitating them into the situation of being without-reserves (pauperization).
on the political level:
•-to reconcile opposite and/or antagonistic interests, by subordinating them to the most powerful interest;
•-to rationalize (justify) the interests of the most powerful, simply asking for a minimum of participation in the political administration in return.
•-to fight the excessive and violent impulses of partisan interests in favour of a gradual and progressive improvement by peaceful and legal means;
•-to take part, at the side of the dominant class, the big bourgeoisie, in all the struggles for social conservation – ideological and practical – and in all wars for the defense of the national (and colonial) «economic territory» on which its own parasitic existence depends.
on the social level:
•-to physically occupy the intermediate places between the large bourgeoisie and the proletarians (in the cities and rural areas, the institutions, the bureaucracy, the enterprise), by considering small personal property (including intellectual), small enterprise, the small firm, the family, the village or the district, as the ideal dimension of social life;
•-to confound itself in general with the «mass», «the people», by fear of having to pay somebody too much (the State, a supplier, etc), by fear of assuming responsibilities for others, and at the same time,
•-to distinguish itself from the «mass» (mass of the impoverished possessing little or nothing) by its privileges and its advantages.
The petit-bourgeois layers
Opportunism is thus the manifestation on all levels, including philosophical, religious and behavioral, of the social layers which have demonstrated their impotence historically, both compared to the dominating class and to the proletariat. These social layers, which are permanently terrorized by the threat of losing their privileges and of tumbling into the proletariat, even into the lumpen-proletariat, are also frightened by the prospect, which is however their great ambition, of joining the ranks of the big bourgeoisie; social layers which aspire to stop history, i.e. to render eternal the situation which allows their survival without problems, risks, without violent jolts, wars and social confrontations the consequences of which they can only fear; and to make the locomotive of history reverse as soon as the proletarian revolutionary movement appears, and in which they see, with reason, the threat of the total and final disappearance of their particular advantages.
These social layers of the small and middle bourgeoisie, to which it is necessary to add the aristocracy of labor which, comprised on the basis of a privileged situation compared to the proletarian mass, share the same mentality and the same reactionary attitude as the petit-bourgeoisie, bound to oscillate perpetually between the big bourgeoisie and the proletariat, insofar as their interests appear at such-and-such a moment to be more threatened by one or the other. Historically they are the most enthusiastic partisans of democracy – this political and social framework which, according to bourgeois ideology, would allow each individual, each company, to act freely, entrusting its fate to the laws of the market and to the State – supposedly above all classes – the defense of personal freedoms and private property. These social layers are numerous; indeed they form a considerable mass – the peasantry in the less developed capitalist countries, urban in the others – and dream of constituting the majority, while worshipping the idea of an individual conscience which, according to them, determines good or evil, peace or war, well-being or misery. They have absorbed all the bourgeois illusions of freedom, equality, fraternity, adding to them a good amount of superstition and fatalism: they believe readily in the existence, after the physical life, of the ‘great beyond’ where all terrestrial injustices are repaired and all sacrifices rewarded. It is not by chance if the petit-bourgeoisie class, historically vacillating between the opposing classes and whose members concretely live in the competition of all against all, represents a fertile ground for all prejudices and all superstitions: all that occurs or can occur is the result of the will of a higher being – an inflexible destiny, a god, a brilliant leader, a democratic Madonna.
In the course of the long period which saw the emergence and the victory of the bourgeois class vis-à-vis the aristocracy and the clergy, the degenerated aristocratic layers – in the economic and social sense – represented a particularly tenacious reaction to the new society and the new anti-feudal mode of production. Similarly, for the whole historical period where the proletariat tends to continue as the class bearing the emancipation and progress of all humanity, the petit-bourgeois layers represent a specific reaction (and a mobilizable reactionary mass) against the proletarian movement. In addition, the petit-bourgeoisie has its historical identity within capitalist society, which arises from its specific counter-revolutionary role. Marxism explains that the petit-bourgeoisie cannot have a historical class potentiality, independent of the other classes – whereas the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the classes at the two poles of contemporary society, have this potentiality because they each are the bearers of a particular mode of production: communism and capitalism. The social layers which comprise what is called the petit-bourgeoisie, are actually semi-classes, bereft of a specific mode of production, bereft of a revolution and a specific society. They are irreducibly attached and dependent on bourgeois society based on profit, on the extortion of surplus value.
But in the development of the social confrontations and the struggle between the two fundamental classes this does not preclude that, so as not to be crushed between the hammer of the proletariat and the anvil of the bourgeoisie, the petit-bourgeoisie tends to play a particular role, its own role, which can, in certain circumstances, appear as (in its eyes and in those of others) even a decisive independent role.
In certain phases of the bourgeois revolution, these layers could give a powerful contribution to this revolution, that is undeniable; but they did it under the pressure of the impersonal needs of a capitalism grappling with the old feudal society and for the benefit of the big bourgeoisie. Once this phase of bourgeois revolutions is terminated, the petit-bourgeoisie expresses its counter-revolutionary role more and more clearly.
Opportunism, which is thus the political expression of the various layers which make up the petit-bourgeoisie, describes a historical trajectory while oscillating between an anti-proletarian counter-revolutionary role and an anti-bourgeois counter-revolutionary role. In this sense the conservative and reactionary tendency of the petit-bourgeoisie assumes different characteristics according to particular historical phases and different geographical areas: in order to fight the revolutionary proletariat it bases itself on the big bourgeoisie and the reactionary forces related to the old pre-capitalist society, and on the imperialist forces concerned with opposing the movement of the revolutionary proletariat; in order to fight the revolutionary bourgeoisie it bases itself on the reactionary forces related to the Ancien Régime and on the imperialist forces concerned with opposing the bourgeois revolutionary movement, not hesitating even to seek the support of the proletariat on the condition of course that this proletariat loses its class independence.
Given this political and social behavior, in the historical phase where the bourgeoisie no longer has any revolutionary role, it goes without saying that the petit-bourgeoisie can no longer express and defend anything but the reactionary positions of social conservation. The big bourgeoisie uses it and sustains it accordingly; precisely because of its characteristic as a semi-class and its historical impotence, it turns to anything that gives it the illusion of becoming a true social class, with a particular historical program, distinct and superior to that of any other social class. But the only thing which it has the possibility of attaining is bourgeois ideology, which even in a «radical» form, is moderated or openly reactionary.
The invariance of opportunism consists in this conservative, counter-revolutionary social and political role. To play this part, to try «to have weight» in society, the petit-bourgeoisie can only base itself on its own material conditions, related to small production, small property of which it defends the interests and the limits and from which arise the immediatist, separatist, reactionary and racist political positions which characterize it.
The proximity of many of the petit-bourgeois layers to the proletariat enables them to transmit to the working class their positions, their illusions, their superstitions, their fears and their ambitions. This work of intoxication of the proletariat appeared very invaluable and even sometimes crucial, for the social conservation and the defense of bourgeois interests. It would be impossible for the big bourgeoisie to directly carry out this intoxication, to diffuse it with as much force within the proletarian masses: the chasm between classes is too obvious. It is not the same with the petit-bourgeoisie, which in a period of prosperity certain proletarians can hope to join: the class antagonism is much less clear and it is often taken as an individual and non-social difference.
History has demonstrated that during the time of grave economic and social crisis the bourgeoisie did not have any scruple in cutting out this game and founding itself on overt class dictatorship, while the petit-bourgeoisie on the contrary needs democracy like it needs air to breathe. It is in the democratic environment that the petit-bourgeoisie can best exert all its capacities as mediator and intermediary, to the point of filling all the economic, political and social areas permitted by capitalist development. It is not by chance that it is only in the most developed capitalist countries that the petit-bourgeoisie proliferates in the sectors of commerce, the so-called «service industry», administration, bureaucracy, culture, information, religion or sport, rather than in the traditional sectors of the craft industry, small production and agriculture. One more often encounters in these last sectors elements coming from the proletariat with the hope of escaping from their condition in «setting oneself up on one’s own account»
The democratic lie
But the bourgeois democracy of today is no longer that of the first, revolutionary phase of the bourgeoisie, nor even that of the liberal phase. Marx and Engels had already revealed not only the limits, but especially the fundamental illusion of bourgeois democracy, the unsurpassable form of the political organization of society.
During the time opened by the First and the Second world wars, bourgeois democracy became always and increasingly the simple political and ideological facade of the social domination of the bourgeoisie, which no longer leaves any possibility of obtaining by its intermediation even a tiny modification – let us not speak about moving towards socialism! – of the existing order in favor of the exploited class.
Increasingly it boils down to the simple mask of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, it is always and increasingly a colossal lie. The freedom called upon so much by the democrats and all the bourgeois is reduced in the reality of capitalist society to the freedom of the majority to sell its labour power and in the freedom of some others to buy it: for the greatest part of humanity, this «freedom» is translated into a tragic necessity, with the only alternative being misery and hunger.
This lie is however the vital protective lymph of bourgeois middle-class ideology, and the petit-bourgeoisie does not have any other ideological source in order to quench itself: it nourishes it, it endorses it, it calls upon it, it demands it, it begs the powerful ones not to turn their backs on it, it defends it tooth and nail because it sees there the means of its social prestige and its economic and political defense.
Opportunism can base its positions and its demands only on democracy. Democracy is thus not only «the best method of government of the dominant bourgeois class», because it succeeds in involving the proletariat in the defense of the general interests of capitalism (see Lenin), but it is the specific counter-revolutionary instrument opportunism uses with respect to the proletariat to divert it from class struggle and particularly of the revolutionary fight.
This counter-revolutionary instrument is used in all situations and in all phases of the class struggle. Especially after the Second World War and the experiments of Fascism and Nazism, it is used as a preventive action in relation to the attempts of the proletariat to find its classist terrain of struggle and to reorganize in associations for the defense of its interests.
Liberal democracy was successful in enrolling the proletariat of the various countries in the world imperialist butchery; but it did not succeed in preventing the revolutionary proletarian movements which after 1917 shook the bourgeois domination of the world and threatened to vanquish it in Europe following the Russian victory. One then needed Italian Fascism and German Nazism so that the bourgeois had the means of taking repressive action on a large scale and for a long time: 20 years in Italy, 12 years in Germany. As a result, the combined action of Fascism – i.e. of the open and declared bourgeois dictatorship – and Stalinism – i.e. of the democratic and national degeneration of the world communist revolutionary movement – caused the most serious and major defeat that the proletariat had experienced since the birth of its class movement.
When in the years 1914-1918, one spoke about «opportunism» it was not a moral judgement on the treason of the leaders of the revolutionary movement, who at the decisive time appeared as agents of the bourgeoisie while launching watchwords diametrically opposed to those of their former propaganda. Opportunism is a historical and social fact, one of the aspects of the class defense of the bourgeoisie against the proletarian revolution; we can even say that the opportunism of the leaders and the proletarian executives is the principal weapon of this defense, just like Fascism is the principal weapon of the counter-offensive which supplements it, so that the two means of this struggle are integrated with a common aim. («Guerres et crises opportunistes», Textes du P.C.International, n° 4, p. 42). Opportunism is thus one of the aspects of the defense of the bourgeois class, and the corruption of the proletarian organizations is the historical result of this defense: opportunism always responds as a preventive action of the dominant class, and as a preventive action, it prepares the ground for the bourgeois counter-offensive (Fascism) which will break out against a revolutionary class movement potentially threatening to the central power. These two means of struggle of the bourgeoisie are complementary for the defense of capitalism.
* * *
How does opportunism actually act? Let us look to the text which we have just quoted:
Opportunism is characterized by the fact that at the critical moments in bourgeois society, which are precisely those for which the extreme watchwords of revolutionary action were provided, it «discovers» that it is necessary to fight for other objectives which, far from being those proper to the proletariat, require a coalition between its forces and a part of those of the bourgeoisie.
This definition gives us the fundamental characteristics of opportunism; however it would be false to conclude from this that opportunism appears only at those rare decisive moments; being a social and historical fact, it has material bases for a permanent role in the bourgeois society. Let us see the consequences of opportunist action:
The political consciousness of the workers is based above all on the strength and the continuity of the action of their class party. If thus at the opening of the decisive situations, the leaders, the propagandists and the press of the party suddenly begin to speak a new language –which means that the bourgeoisie has succeeded in mobilizing the opportunists in its favor, this causes a great confusion among the masses, and the almost unquestionable failure of any attempt at independent action.
The goal of opportunism is to disorientate the proletarian movement, to make it deviate, to cause its failure. If there is a real class movement, it means that its action is independent of the organizations of class collaboration and with even stronger reason of the openly bourgeois parties. To ruin this movement, the bourgeoisie must seek to disorientate it from the inside, i.e. base itself on the opportunist forces which may exist there, so that they sabotage the classist actions and drag this movement back into the orbit of collaboration, reformism and respect of the established order. This is what it succeeded in doing through Social-democratic opportunism, then finally through Stalinist and post-Stalinist opportunism.
In its initial revolutionary phase, the bourgeoisie fought not only against political feudalism and its superstructures, but also against the first independent workers’ associations (see the famous Le Chapelier law prohibiting trade unions during the French revolution); in the following phase of consolidation and capitalist expansion in the world which was the golden age of reformism, the bourgeoisie tolerated the workers’ associations and allowed their growth, while endeavouring to politically capture them by increasing amounts of social «democracy». In the third historical phase, the phase of imperialism, its attitude changes again. Let us quote our text once again:
At the imperialist stage, capitalism seeks to overcome its economic contradictions and to control all social and political developments by inflating its State apparatus inordinately; in the same way it modifies its action with regard to organized labor (...) at the third stage the bourgeoisie understands that it can neither remove them, nor to let them develop on an autonomous platform, and it proposes to incorporate them by any means into its State apparatus. Exclusively political at the beginning of the century, it becomes both political and economic in the imperialist era: the State of the capitalists and the owners is transformed into the State-capitalist and the State-employer. Within this vast bureaucratic apparatus, it provides gilded prisons for the chiefs of the labor movement. A thousand forms of arbitration, a thousand institutions of social assistance apparently behaving to maintain balance between classes, distance the leaders of the labor movement from the autonomous forces, and gradually integrate them into the bureaucracy of State. Demagogically these leaders continue to speak the language of class action and proletarian demands, but of course they have become unable of the least action against the bourgeois power.
Stalinism, the worse wave of opportunism
The opportunist wave corresponding to the third period of the bourgeois cycle (imperialism) is thus characterized by a movement towards integration into the official state institutions by organized labor, initially the political organizations, then the organizations of immediate and trade union defense.
Compared to the preceding opportunist waves, Stalinism, which represented the forces of Russian national capitalism, found itself in a particular historical situation: that of having to destroy the most powerful revolutionary party, the one which constituted truly the superstructure of the world communist movement, the Bolshevik party, the party acting on its own terrain. This Russian national bourgeois objective was also a vital objective of the international bourgeois counter-revolution; Stalinism represented the Russian version of the international bourgeois counter-revolutionary offensive which was called Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany. Their class nature is identical, their objectives are the same, their methods are comparable – with the difference that Fascism and Nazism were the counter-revolution in mature capitalist countries (though unequally developed) where the proletariat had not yet succeeded in releasing itself from reformist praxis, while Stalinism was the counter-revolution in a country where a young capitalism still had in front of it bourgeois revolutionary tasks and where the proletariat had seized power; the support of world imperialism was thus necessary for it.
The improvist assertion of a new objective – the construction of socialism in a single country – which meant giving up the international revolutionary struggle, or rather of endeavouring to make this struggle serve Russian national interests, was the demonstration that opportunism had installed itself at the head of the Bolshevik party. Stalinist opportunism logically associated this objective of the search for alliances between proletarian forces and bourgeois forces, under the pretext of their being opposed to the more «reactionary» bourgeois elements or even to allegedly feudal reaction. The search for open alliances with the bourgeois States was merely the consequence of this same orientation.
The class party, whose strength and continuity of action constitute the only possibility for the proletariat of forming its political consciousness and finding its correct line of action, was for the world bourgeoisie the obstacle to be destroyed. Social-democracy did not completely succeed in achieving this enormous crime; but Stalinism which claimed to combine the defense of democracy (this particular form of bourgeois domination) with the fight for «socialism» and «peace», succeeded in completely destroying the class party which had reorganized internationally in reaction to Social-democratic opportunism.
With Stalinism, the defeatism in regard to the proletarian class struggle reached a degree unknown at the time of the preceding opportunist waves, which explains the depth of the so-called Stalinist counter-revolution, also unknown up to that point. The destruction of the class party, the destruction of the class trade unions, the complete falsification of communist theory and program are the three great defeats of the world proletariat which politically thrust it back several decades
For example, the opportunism of the Second International had «discovered» at the time of the First World War that socialist objectives were to be put aside and that it was necessary to fight for the bourgeois objectives of defense of the fatherland and democracy. But it did not dare to go further. It said that it was only a truce, and that at the end of the war, the socialist struggle would begin again. It was of course an entirely demagogic promise: the Russian experience, the German experience showed that Social-democratic opportunism fought the revolution with all its forces and did not hesitate to achieve the vilest repressive body of work for the bourgeoisie against the proletarians in struggle.
But Social-democracy continued to use a Marxist language; even if it denatured it, even if it castrated its revolutionary edge, it did not however dare to falsify Marxism completely or to baptize bourgeois objectives as socialist.
Stalinism went much further; it seized all, it maintained all the names (party, soviet, workers’ State, International, Marxism), but it falsified their contents from top to bottom. Much more than Fascism, which also attempted an effort similar to this, and much more than Social-democratic reformism, Stalinism ripped away from the revolutionary proletariat its banners, its watchwords, its prospects; and it reorganized them according to Russian national interests, but also as we have seen, to the needs of the international counter-revolution
Social-democracy had thought up a truce in the class struggle; Stalinism imposed «peaceful coexistence» with imperialism and the «fight for peace» as the objective of the class struggle, class collaboration on all levels, right up to international institutions of the UNO type, supposedly so that the «Nazi monster» never raised its head again.
Actually the objective was different: it was the proletariat which was never to raise its head again. This is why Stalinism didn’t limit itself to falsifying everything, didn’t limit itself to closing its borders in order to develop its national capitalism, didn’t limit itself to giving up the international revolution. It also had to eliminate physically the revolutionists, the Bolshevik old guard, all its opponents known and unknown, active or potential. This bloody and pitiless repression makes the repressions of the South American dictatorships with their thousands of «disappeared» fade; it does not have anything to envy in the Nazi repressions and even the sorrowfully infamous «holocaust». The most balanced estimates fix the number of deaths at the time of the purges and «collectivization» at more than one million. Imperialism, and in particular «the great Western democracies», hid the Stalinist slaughters: the world war matured in the economic basement of capitalism and it was discreetly prepared in the secrecy of the chancelleries. The important thing was that the proletariat, and the Russian proletariat in particular, did not raise its head; the important thing was that the living example from the proletarian revolutionary victory disappeared: the Bolshevik October, the party of Lenin, the Red Army of Trotsky, the Communist International; the important thing was that in resounding show trials (which could not have been held without active complicity of the press organs of the international bourgeoisie) the former chief leaders of the revolution acknowledge being spies and corrupted assassins. Only Stalinism could carry out this counter-revolutionary «historical mission» for the benefit of the world bourgeoisie, which gave it the right to lobby for a leading role in the imperialist combines.
It did this with such success that not only could Russia exit from the quarantine to which it had been relegated by the dominant imperialisms after the failure of their armed interventions against the Soviet power, but that, following the collaboration activated during the Second imperialist world war, it provided the foundations of the Russo-American condominium within the framework of the division of the world market into immense zones of influence (the «socialist camp» and the «Western camp»).
No openly bourgeois force could have achieved this terrible counter-revolutionary action carried out by Stalinism, including its external subsidiary companies, the parties of Thorez, Togliatti and Co., whose current descendants still continue to carry it out today, in different circumstances, but with the same anti-working class zeal.
Such was the decisive historical importance of Stalinist opportunism for the maintenance of world capitalism.
And such was, on the contrary, the importance of the defence and the restoration of the historical line of Communism represented by the struggle without compromise against Stalinist opportunism and all its manifestations carried out between the wars by the revolutionists and in the post-war period by our current reorganized in party form. This struggle without truce must continue today; not only against the degenerated inheritors of Stalinism but also against those who pretend to envision in these completely counter-revolutionary forces who knows what «progressive» potentialities on which the proletariat might rely.
International Communist Party