The «Invariance» of Marxism (1)
(General Meeting of the Party, Milan September 1952)
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 9; Winter 2012-2013)
I- The Historical «Invariance» of Marxism
1. The expression “Marxism” is used not to designate a doctrine discovered by the individual Karl Marx, but to refer to the theory that emerged alongside the modern industrial proletariat and “accompanies” it throughout the social revolution. We retain the expression “Marxism” in spite of the speculation and abusive exploitation to which it has been subjected by a whole series of counterrevolutionary movements.
2. Marxism, in its only valid definition, has three major groups of opponents today. First group: the bourgeoisie, which claims that the capitalist, mercantile form of economy is definitive and denies that it can be superseded by the socialist mode of production. This group therefore - quite consistently - rejects the entire doctrine of economic determinism and the class struggle. Second group: Stalinist (and post-Stalinist) ostensible communists who claim to accept the Marxist doctrine of history and economics, but advance and defend, even in developed capitalist countries, demands that are not revolutionary, but which are identical to or even worse than traditional reformism in the fields of politics (democracy) and economics (populist progressivism). Third group: avowed disciples of the revolutionary doctrine and method who attribute the fact that the majority of the proletariat has now abandoned them to original omissions or defects in the theory, which consequently has to be corrected and modernized. Deniers, falsifiers and modernizers: we combat all three, and we believe the third group is the most pernicious today.
3. The history of the Marxist Left, radical Marxism - more precisely, Marxism - is a series of struggles against all the waves of revisionism that have attacked various aspects of the theory and method since their first organic, monolithic expression in the Manifesto of 1848. In other texts we have recalled the history of these struggles in the three Internationals: against utopians, workerists, libertarians, social-democrats, reformists and gradualists, left or right syndicalists, social-patriots and, today, national-communists or people’s communists. This struggle extends over four generations and, in each phase, it is associated not with series of names, but with a well-defined, compact school and, in the historical sense, with a definite party.
4. This long and difficult struggle would lose its link to the future resurgence if, instead of drawing the lesson of the “invariance” of Marxism, we were to accept the banal idea that Marxism undergoes a “continual historical development”, changing with the course of events and their outcome. This is the invariable justification for all the betrayals we have experienced in history, and for all the defeats the revolution has suffered.
5. When materialists deny that a theoretical “system” born at a given moment (or worse, emerging from the mind and expounded in the work of a single human being, a thinker or historical leader, or both at the same time) could embrace the entire course of future human history and establish its rules and principles once and for all, this does not mean that systems of principles that are stable and valid for a very long period of history cannot exist.
In fact, the stability of such principles and their resistance to attempts to demolish or “improve” them is a primary source of strength for the “social class” to which they belong and whose historical task and interests they express. Rather than to the appearance of brilliant individuals, this sequence of systems and corpora of doctrine and praxis must be related to the succession of “modes of production”, i.e. types of material organization of the life of human collectivities.
6. Although it recognizes the formal content of the doctrines of all the major periods of history as being obviously partial and erroneous, dialectical materialism by no means denies that they were necessary in their time. Nor does it imagine that their errors could have been avoided by better reasoning on the part of thinkers and legislators, and that they could have been detected sooner and corrected. Each system possesses an explanation and justification in its own cycle, and the most significant systems are the ones that have remained unchanged throughout a long period of struggle and retained their organic integrity.
7. According to Marxism, there is no continuous, gradual progress in history, especially as regards the organization of productive resources. History is instead a series of periodic leaps forward that completely and profoundly overthrow the entire economic and social apparatus. There are veritable cataclysms, catastrophes, sudden crises in which everything is transformed within a short time after remaining static for a very long period; cataclysms such as occur in the world of physics, in the stars and galaxies, in geology and even in the phylogenetics of living organisms.
8. Since class ideologies are superstructures of modes of production, they are not formed from a daily accretion of atoms of knowledge. Instead, they appear in the breaches opened by violent shocks and guide the classes from which they emanate in a monolithic and overall stable form through a long series of struggles and movements until the next critical phase, the next historical revolution.
9. The doctrines of capitalism, while justifying the social revolutions of the past, assert that, beginning with the bourgeois revolution, history would advance by gradual stages and without new social catastrophes, and that ideological systems would progressively absorb the successive conquests of pure and applied science. Marxism demonstrates the falseness of this vision of the future.
10. Marxism itself is not a doctrine that can be shaped and reshaped each day with new contributions in a veritable patching and mending process: it is still one (although the last) of those doctrines that are the weapons of ruled and exploited classes called upon to overthrow existing social relations and which, in the course of their struggles, are subjected to the conservative influence of traditional forms and ideologies characteristic of enemy classes.
11. Even if it is possible as of today - or at least since the proletariat appeared on the stage of history - to envision the history of a future classless society, a society without revolutions, it must be stated that during the very long period leading up to it, the revolutionary class will not be able to accomplish its task unless it acts throughout its monumental struggle in accordance with a doctrine and method that remain stable and are codified in a monolithic program, though naturally the number of militants and the outcome of social conflicts in different phases will vary considerably.
12. The theoretical heritage of the revolutionary working class is no revelation, myth or idealist ideology, as was the case for previous classes. It is a positive science, and requires a stable formulation of its principles and rules of action, which play the same role and have the same decisive effect as past dogmas, catechisms, tables, constitutions and guidebooks, such as the Vedas, the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran or the Declaration of the Rights of Man. But the serious mistakes of substance or form contained within these documents have not detracted from their immense organizational and social force - first revolutionary, then counterrevolutionary, in a dialectical sequence - and often precisely these “defects” have made the greatest contribution.
13. Because Marxism denies that a quest for “absolute truth” could have any meaning, and sees doctrine not as a gift of the eternal spirit or abstract reason, but as an “instrument” of work and a “weapon” of combat, it postulates that this instrument or weapon should not be abandoned “for repairs” in the midst of an operation or at the height of the battle. Victory is secured by having good tools and weapons from the very start, in peace as well as in war.
14. A new doctrine does not appear at any moment in history. There are certain characteristic - but very rare - epochs of history when a doctrine may appear like a dazzling beam of light, and if the crucial moment has not been recognized and the light fantastic contained, there is no use resorting to the candle ends with which the university pedant or the faithless fighter attempt to illuminate their way.
15. For the modern proletarian class, formed in the first countries that underwent large-scale capitalist industrial development, the darkness was dispersed just before the end of the last century. At that time, the integral doctrine in which we believe - in which we must believe - was provided with all the conditions it required to take shape and describe a phase of history which would verify and confirm it after a series of momentous struggles. Either the position will remain valid or the doctrine will be acknowledged as false, and consequently the Marxist assertion that the proletariat emerges as a new class with its own revolutionary character, program and function in history will be proclaimed nul and void. Anyone who undertakes to replace essential parts, theses or clauses of the Marxist corpus, which has been our heritage for over a century, compromises its strength more than those who deny it openly and pronounce it to be bankrupt.
16. After the “explosive” period in which the immediacy of the new demands had clarified and delimited them better, there followed a period in which class “consciousness”, instead of being improved and heightened, regressed and degenerated as a result of the stabilization of the world situation. As the history of Marxism has shown, the theory returns during periods when the struggle becomes intensified, with remarkable references to its origins and its initial monumental expression: witness the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Revolution and the class movements after the first world war in Western Europe.
17. The principle of the historical invariance of doctrines that reflect the tasks of different historical classes, and of momentous returns to original formulations, applies to all major periods in history and stands opposed to the futile hypothesis that each generation, each season in intellectual “fashion” is superior to the previous one, just as it opposes the stupid cliché` that human progress is an uninterrupted stream, and other bourgeois fads from which few people who call themselves Marxists today are able to distance themselves.
18. All the myths express this principle of invariance, especially those involving demigods or prophets who have had an audience with the supreme being. It would be quite foolish to laugh at such representations; but only Marxism has been able to uncover their real material foundations. Rama, Moses, Christ, Mohammed and all the prophets and heroes who inaugurate the epic histories of different peoples are so many expressions of this reality, which corresponds to an enormous leap in the mode of production. In the pagan myth, wisdom (Minerva) emerges from the head of Jupiter not in response to immense volumes dictated to energyless scribes, but as a result of a hammer-blow from the worker-god, Vulcan, who was summoned to calm a persistent migraine for the father of the gods.
At the other end of the scale of history, in the Age of Enlightenment, in opposition to the new goddess, Reason, Gracchus Babeuf, though perhaps crude in his theoretical presentation, stands up like a giant to state that physical and material strength are of greater value than reason and knowledge.
19. There are many examples of disciples who fought to restore a doctrine against a revisionist degeneration: the Gracci against J. Brutus, Francis of Assisi against Christ when Christianity, born for the social redemption of the humble, lounged in the courts of Medieval lords, as would later occur in the case of the precursors of something that has yet to come about against revolutionaries who had denied the heroic phase of previous classes: the battles of 1831 in France, and 1848, 1849 and innumerable other phases throughout Europe.
20. We state that all the recent events in history are so many uncontestable and total confirmations of Marxist theory and its predictions. In particular, we refer to points which have (once again) caused major defections from class positions and plagued even those who consider Stalinism utterly opportunist. These points are, on the one hand, the advent of centralized, totalitarian forms of capitalism, in terms of both economy and politics (regulated economy, state capitalism, unconcealed bourgeois dictatorships), and on the other, the social and political development of Russia and Asia. For us, these confirm both our theory and the monolithic form in which it was born at a specific crucial epoch.
21. Anyone who was able to find a conflict between the great events of our time and Marxist theory would thereby succeed in proving the theory incorrect and completely discredited, and conclude that any attempt to deduce the general course of history from economic relations is in vain. At the same time, he would succeed in proving that events in any phase necessitate new deductions, explanations and theories, and consequently lead to new and different methods of action.
22. In the face of momentary difficulties, it would be illusory to seek a solution by admitting the possibility that the fundamental theory could be changed continuously and stating that now is the time to work out new chapters in order, through this act of thought, to reverse this unfavorable situation. Moreover, it is an aberration that this task should be undertaken by groups with only a few members and, worse yet, accomplished by means of a free discussion that, on a Lilliputian scale merely apes bourgeois parliamentarism and the infamous confrontation of individual opinions - which would be an old stupidity rather than a new recipe.
23. We are currently in the depths of a supreme depression in the curve of revolutionary potential: a time like this is anything but propitious for the birth of original theories of history. In such a period, when the prospects of an imminent large-scale social movement are nil, the political disintegration of the world proletarian class is a logical result of the situation. But it is also logical that small groups should maintain the historical continuity of the revolutionary movement suspended like a great arc between two social revolutions. Yet it is essential that these groups not seek to alter the original content, and that they remain firmly attached to the traditional formulations of Marxism.
24. Criticism and doubt of all the old, established positions were decisive elements in the modern bourgeois revolution which, in gigantic waves, mounted its assault on the natural sciences, the social order and political and military power, and later, with much less iconoclastic verve, focussed on the sciences of human society and history. This was the essential result of an epoch of profound upheaval lying between the feudal, landowning Middle Ages and the industrial, capitalist modern era. Criticism was the effect, and not the motor, of this immense, complex struggle.
25. Doubt and control of individual consciousness are the expression of bourgeois reform against the compact tradition and authority of the Christian church. They were expressed in the most hypocritical puritanism which sanctioned and protected the new class rule and the new form in which the masses were enslaved under the banner of bourgeois conformity to religious morality or individual rights. The proletarian revolution takes an utterly different path: individual consciousness is nothing, and a homogeneous leadership of collective action is everything.
26. When Marx, in his famous Theses on Feuerbach, stated that philosophers had only interpreted the world, but the point was to change it, he did not mean that the will to change conditioned the fact of change. He meant that change came first, determined by the clash of mass forces, followed by a critical consciousness of the transformation in individuals. The latter therefore do not act as a result of their individual decisions, but under the influence of factors that precede science and consciousness.
The transition from the weapon of criticism to the criticism of weapons displaces this process from the thinking subject to the militant mass: its weapons are not only its guns and cannons, but especially the very real weapon constituted by the uniform, monolithic, constant, collective party doctrine, to which we are all subject and bound, leaving behind once and for all the debates of gossip-mongers and pedants.
(to be continued)
International Communist Party