Elements of Marxist Orientation
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 8; Spring 2012)
The “Elements of Marxist Orientation” from which we publish this extract, first appeared in 1946 as Tracciato d’impostazione in the first issue of Prometeo, the Italian theoretical journal of the Partito Comunista Internationalista. This text is part of the body of work of Amadeo Bordiga and his comrades to restore the fundamental Marxist positions forgotten or distorted by the victory of the counter-revolution in Russia and throughout the world. Such a work had nothing scholastic or academic about it, its task was to fix the cardinal points in a period where the historical compass no longer pointed north, in the utter confusion which existed in the overwhelming welter of anti-stalinist currents, including even those who claimed to represent the tradition of the Communist Left of Italy: a little later this will result in the scission of the organization and constitution of the party which we claim and sustain on a clear basis .
MARXISM IS NOT A CHOICE BETWEEN DIFFERENT OPINIONS
For obvious reasons, this text does not demonstrate what it affirms. It only aims to establish as clearly as possible the orientation of this publication. It simply states and sets down fundamental points to avoid ambiguity or confusion whether inadvertent or otherwise.
Before convincing our interlocutor, it is necessary for him to understand the position to which he is exposed. Persuasion, propaganda proselytism come only after.
In our conception, opinions are not the product of the work of prophets, apostles or thinkers whose brains create new truths capable of garnering numerous adherents
The reality is quite different. It is the impersonal work of a social vanguard which concentrates and makes obvious theoretical positions which their common conditions of life leads individuals to, well before they are conscious.
Our method is anti-Scholastic anti-cultural, anti-illuministic. In the present theoretical vacuum, reflecting the disorganization of practice, do not be surprised or complain if the clarification of positions leads at first to isolation and not to the rapproachment of adherents.
THE SENSE IN WHICH MARXISTS ARE JOINED TO A HISTORICAL TRADITION
Any political movement that puts forward its thesis claims historical precedents and traditions near or far, national or international. The movement of which this review is the theoretical organ also asserts a well-defined origin . But, unlike other movements, it does not start with a revealed “Word” of superhuman origin, or recognize the authority of immutable texts nor a fortiori admits by claiming as points of reference for the study of each issue legal rules in any manner whatsoever, whether innate or immanent in the thoughts or sensibilities of all men.
We can describe this orientation by the terms Marxism, socialism, communism, political movement of the working class. Unfortunately there has been an abuse of these terms. In 1917 Lenin found that changing the name of the party and returning to the term “Communist” of the Manifesto of 1848 was a fundamental issue. Today, the overwhelming abuse of the word “communist” by parties that are outside of any revolutionary class line creates even greater confusion; movements which are overt defenders of bourgeois institutions still dare to call themselves parties of the proletariat, the term Marxist is used to designate the most absurd conglomeration of parties, including those of anti-Franco Spain.
The historical line that we claim is: the Communist Manifesto of 1848 (precisely entitled the: Manifesto of the Communist Party, without reference to nationality); the basic texts of Marx and Engels; the classic restoration of revolutionary Marxism against all the opportunist revisionists who accompanied the revolutionary victory in Russia and the fundamental Leninist texts; the constitutive declarations pertaining to the first and second congresses of the Moscow International; positions supported by the Left in the Congresses following 1922.
Limiting ourselves to Italy, the historical line is connected to the left current of the Socialist Party during the 1914-1918 war, the establishment of the Communist Party of Italy in Livorno in January 1921, to its Congress in Rome in 1922 , all manifestations of this current which prevailed until the Congress of Lyon in 1926 and remain alive outside the party and the Comintern, abroad.
This line does not coincide with the movement of the Trotskyist Fourth International. Trotsky responded later, and Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and other Russian groups of the Bolshevik tradition later still, against the wrong tactic sustained until 1924, eventually recognizing that the deviation worsened to overturn the fundamental political principles of the movement. The Trotskyists today are demanding the restoration of those principles, but they have not clearly rejected the liquidational elements of tactical maneuvering, falsely described as Bolshevik and Leninist.
ORIENTATION OF THE MARXIST DIALECTICAL METHOD
As a basis for any research, we must consider the whole historical process that has developed so far and objectively examine current social phenomena.
This method has often been claimed, but has also often been misapplied. The research is based on the examination of the material means by which human groups meet their needs, that is, productive technique and, in conjunction with its development, of economic relations. In different epochs these factors determine the superstructure constituted by the legal, political or military institutions and the dominant ideologies.
This method is defined by the expressions historical materialism, dialectical materialism, economic determinism, scientific socialism, critical communism.
The important thing is to always use positive results supported by facts and not to postulate the intervention of myths or divinities, or principles of “right” or natural “ethics”, such as justice, equality, fraternity and other meaningless abstractions, in seeking to expose and explain human phenomena. For stronger reasons still, it is important not to succumb to pressure from the dominant ideology in using these illusory assumptions or others similar unconsciously or without acknowledgment, or involving them again just at the most fiery and instantly decisive conclusions.
The dialectical method is the only one that overcomes the current contradiction between rigorous continuity and theoretical consistency and the ability to deal critically with old conclusions drawn in terms of formal rules.
Its acceptance does not have the character of a faith nor of an impassioned position of a school or party.
THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES AND SOCIAL FORMS
The productive forces, are those consisting mainly of men suitable for production, their groupings and the tools and mechanical means that they use operating within the framework of the forms of production.
We understand by forms the organization and the relations of dependence in which the productive and social activity develops. Included in these forms are all the constituted hierarchies (family, military, theocratic, political), the State and all its agencies, laws and courts that apply the rules and provisions of an economic and legal nature, resistant to any transgression.
Society assumes a given type as long as the productive forces are maintained within the framework of its forms of production. At a given point in history, this equilibrium tends to break. There are various causes, including advances in technology, population growth, expansion of communication, increase in productive forces. They come into conflict with traditional forms and tend to break through and when they succeed, we are dealing with a revolution: the community organizes itself according to the new economic, social and legal relations, the new forms take the place of the old.
The Marxist dialectical method finds, applies and validates its solutions to large-scale collective phenomena using scientific and experimental methods (the same method that thinkers of the bourgeois epoch applied to the natural world in a struggle that was the reflection of the revolutionary social struggle against the absolutist and theocratic regimes, but were not able to press into social applications). It deduced from the results achieved on this terrain solutions to the problem of the behaviour of the single individual, whereas all the opposing religious, legal, philosophical, and economic schools, proceed in the reverse order. That is, they constructed the rules of collective behaviour on the basis of this inconsistent myth of the Individual, presented as an immortal personal soul, or asserted as the subject of law and citizenship, studied as an immutable monad of economic practice, and so on. But today science has continued beyond its fecund hypotheses about individual material indivisible atoms; now they are described as rich and complex, far from being reduced to incorruptible monads , they are considered as points of intersection of lines of force radiating from exterior energetic fields, so we could say that the cosmos is not a function of units, but any units are a function of the entire cosmos.
Whoever believes in the individual and speaks about personality, dignity, freedom, responsibility of man or citizen has nothing to do with Marxist thought. Men are not put into motion by opinions, beliefs or any phenomenon of so-called thought from which their will and action is inspired. They are driven to act out of their needs which take the character of interests when the same material needs motivate entire groups at the same time. They are faced with the limitations which the social structure and ambiance place between them and the satisfaction of these exigencies. And they respond individually and collectively in a way that, for the proponderant median, is necessarily determined before the interplay of stimuli and reactions has created in their minds these reflections which are called feelings, thoughts, judgements.
This is naturally of very great complexity and some cases go against the grain of the general law, which is nevertheless justified.
At any rate, whomever involves the individual conscience, moral principles, opinions and decisions of the individual or the citizen as active causes in the interplay of social and historical facts does not have the right to call himself a Marxist.
CLASS, CLASS STRUGGLE, PARTY
The conflict between productive forces and social forms is manifested as a struggle between classes that have competing economic interests, in its culminating phase, this fight becomes armed struggle for the conquest of political power.
From a Marxist perspective, class is not a fixed statistic but an organic active force and is manifested when the simple correlation of economic conditions and interests expand themselves into action and in a common struggle.
In these situations, the movement is guided by avant-garde groupings and organisms, whose form is the modern and evolved political class party. The collectivity, whose actions culminate in the action of a party, acts in history with an efficiency and a real dynamic that cannot be achieved at the small scale of individual action.
It is the party that succeeds in having a theoretical awareness of the development of events and thus an influence on their outcome in the sense determined by the productive forces and relations.
CONFORMISM, REFORMISM, ANTIFORMISM
Despite the difficulty and complexity of issues, we cannot explain the principles and directives without recourse to schemas for simplification. To this end, we distinguish three types of political movements that will characterize them all.
Conformist movements fight to keep existing forms and institutions intact by banning any transformation, and claim to refer to immutable principles, whether presented as religious, philosophical or legal.
Reformist movements, while not wishing the sudden and violent disruption of traditional institutions, are aware of the excessive pressure that the productive forces have on them and call for gradual and partial changes to the existing order.
Revolutionary movements (here we adopt the provisional term: Antiformist) proclaim and implement the assault on the old forms, and even before knowing how to theorize the characteristics of the new order, tend to attack the old forms, causing the irresistible rise of new forms.
All schematization presents the danger of errors. It can be questioned if the Marxist dialectic could not also lead to the construction of a general and artificial model of historical events, while reducing their whole development into a succession of dominant classes which are born revolutionary, grow to become reformist and eventually end up conservative. The advent of the classless society by the revolutionary victory of the proletarian class poses a term suggestive of this development (what Marx called “the end of human prehistory”).
But this term could also seem to be only a metaphysical construction, like those of the fallacious ideologies of the past. Hegel (as Marx had demonstrated in his time) reduced his dialectical system to an absolute construction, thus falling , in an unconscious way, into this metaphysics which he had transcended in the destructive part of its criticism (philosophical reflection of the bourgeois revolutionary struggle).
This is why Hegel, crowning the classical philosophy of German idealism and bourgeois thought, affirmed the absurd thesis that the history of action and thought was finally crystallized in a perfect system, in the conquest of the Absolute. The Marxist dialectic eliminates such a static conclusion.
However Engels in his classic exposition of scientific socialism (as opposed to Utopian theory, which entrusted the social renewal to propagands for the adoption of a plan for a better society proposed by an author or a sect) may seem to admit a rule or general law of historical movement when he uses phrases such as: moving forward, the world progresses.
Such vigorous propagandistic formulas do not have to make believe they have discovered a recipe in which you can enclose the infinite universe of possible developments of human society, a recipe that takes the place of the usual bourgeois abstractions of the evolution of civilization, progress, etc.. The wonderful advantage of the weapon of dialectical research is that it is essentially revolutionary: it manifests itself in the relentless destruction of countless theoretical systems which, in turn, cloak the dominance of the privileged classes.
At the cemetery of broken idols, we must not substitute a new myth, a new word, a new credo, but the realistic expression of factual circumstances and the optimum developments that bring them about. For example, the correct Marxist formulation is not “one day the proletariat will take political power, will destroy the capitalist social system and build the communist economy,” but, conversely, “it is only by its organization as a class and thus in a political party, and the armed establishment of its dictatorship, that the proletariat will destroy the capitalist power and economy and make possible a non-capitalist and non-mercantile economy”.
International Communist Party