The hidden legacy of the left of capital (part one): A false vision of the working class

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One of the banes affecting revolutionary organisations of the Communist Left is the fact that many of their militants previously went through parties or groups of the left and extreme-left of capital (Socialist and Communist parties, Trotskyism, Maoism, official anarchism, the so-called "New Left" of Syriza or Podemos). That's inevitable given the simple reason that no militant is born with a complete and immediate clarity. However this stage bequeaths a handicap that's difficult to overcome: it's possible to break with the political positions of these organisations (trade unionism, national defence and nationalism, participation in elections, etc.) but it's much more difficult to rid oneself of attitudes, of ways of thinking, ways of debating, behaviours, conceptions which these organisations introduce you to with some force and which constitutes their way of life.

This heritage, which we are calling the hidden legacy of the left of capital, helps to stir up tensions in revolutionary organisations between comrades, provoking mistrust, rivalries, destructive behaviours, blockage of debate, aberrant theoretical positions, etc., which, combined with the pressure of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology, can cause these organisation serious damage. The objective of the series we're beginning here is to identify and combat this oppressive weight.

The left of capital: capitalist politics in the name of "socialism".

Since its first congress (1975), the ICC has addressed the problem of organisations that make false claims of "socialism" while practicing capitalist politics. The ICC's Platform, adopted by this congress, put forward in point 13: "All those parties or organisations which today defend, even ‘conditionally’ or ‘critically’, certain states or fractions of the bourgeoisie whether in the name of ‘socialism’, ‘democracy’, ‘anti-fascism’, ‘national independence’, the ‘united front’ or the ‘lesser evil’, which base their politics on the bourgeois electoral game, within the anti-working class activity of trade unionism or in the mystifications of self-management, are agents of capital. In particular, this is true of the Socialist and Communist parties."

Our Platform also concentrates on the problem of groups who put themselves "on the left" of these larger parties, often making "fiery criticisms" of them and adopting more "radical" poses: "All the so-called ‘revolutionary’ currents – such as Maoism which is simply a variant of parties which had definitively gone over to the bourgeoisie, or Trotskyism which, after constituting a proletarian reaction against the betrayal of the Communist Parties was caught up in a similar process of degeneration, or traditional anarchism, which today places itself in the framework of an identical approach by defending a certain number of positions of the SPs and CPs, such as ‘anti-fascist alliances’ – belong to the same camp: the camp of capital. Their lesser influence or their more radical language changes nothing as to the bourgeois basis of their programme, but makes them useful touts or supplements of these parties."

In order to understand the role of the left and extreme left of capital, it's essential to remember that, with the decline of capitalism, the state shows that "the tendency towards state capitalism expresses itself in the increasingly powerful, omnipresent, and systematic control over the whole of social life exerted by the state apparatus, and in particular the executive. On a much greater scale than in the decadence of Rome or feudalism, the state under decadent capitalism has become a monstrous, cold, impersonal machine which has devoured the very substance of civil society"[1]. This nature applies as much to openly dictatorial single party regimes (Stalinism, Nazism, military dictatorships) as to the democratic regimes.

In this framework the political parties are not the representatives of different classes or layers of society but totalitarian instruments of the state whose task is to submit the whole of the population (mainly the working class) to the imperatives of the national capital. They equally become the head of networks of cronyism, pressure groups and spheres of influence which combine political and economic action and become the breeding ground of an inescapable corruption.

In the democratic systems, the political apparatus of the capitalist state is divided into two wings: the right wing linked to the classic factions of the bourgeoisie and responsible for controlling the most backward layers of the population[2], and the left wing (the left with the unions and a series of extreme left organisations) essentially given over to the control and division of the working class and the destruction of its consciousness.

Why did the old workers' parties become the parties of the left of capital?

Organisations of the proletariat are not exempt from degeneration. The pressure of bourgeoisie ideology corrodes from the inside and can lead to an opportunism which, if not fought in time, leads to its betrayal and integration into the capitalist state[3].Opportunism takes this decisive step at the time of crucial historic events in the life of capitalist society: up to now the two key moments have been world imperialist war and proletarian revolution. In the Platform, we try to explain the process which leads to this fatal stage: "This was the case with the Socialist parties when in a period of subjection to the gangrene of opportunism and reformism, most of the main parties were led, at the outbreak of World War I (which marked the death of the 2nd International) to adopt, under the leadership of the social-chauvinist right which from then on was in the camp of the bourgeoisie, the policy of ‘national defence’, and then to oppose openly the post-war revolutionary wave, to the point of playing the role of the proletariat’s executioners, as in Germany 1919. The final integration of each of these parties into their respective bourgeois states took place at different moments in the period which followed the outbreak of World War I, but this process was definitively closed at the beginning of the 1920s, when the last proletarian currents were eliminated from or left their ranks and joined the Communist International.

In the same way, the Communist Parties in their turn passed into the capitalist camp after a similar process of opportunist degeneration. This process, which had already begun during the early 1920s, continued after the death of the Communist International (marked by the adoption in 1928 of the theory of ‘Socialism in one country’), to conclude, despite bitter struggles by the left fractions and after the latter’s exclusion, in these parties’ complete integration into the capitalist state at the beginning of the 1930s with their participation in their respective bourgeoisie’s armament drives and their entry into the ‘popular fronts’. Their active participation in the ‘Resistance’ in World War II, and in the ‘national reconstruction’ that followed it, has confirmed them as faithful agents of national capital and the purest incarnation of the counter-revolution".[4] In the space of 25 years (between 1914 and 1939) the working class first lost the Socialist parties, then, in the 1920's, the Communist parties and finally, from 1939, the groups of the Left Opposition around Trotsky which supported the still more brutal barbarity of the Second World War: "In 1938, the Left Opposition became the Fourth International. It was an opportunist adventure because it wasn't possible to constitute a world party in a situation that was going towards imperialist war and thus a profound defeat of the proletariat. The outcome was disastrous: in 1939-40, the groups of the so-called IV International took a position in favour of world war under the most diverse pretexts: the majority supporting the ‘socialist fatherland’ of Russia, but there was even a minority supporting the France of Petain (itself a satellite of the Nazis).

Against this degeneration of Trotskyist organisations, the last remaining internationalist nuclei reacted: particularly Trotsky's wife and a revolutionary of Spanish origin, Munis. Since then the Trotskyist organisations have become ‘radical’ agents of capital which try to stir up the proletariat with all sorts of ‘revolutionary causes’ which generally correspond to the ‘anti-imperialist’ factions of the bourgeoisie (like the celebrated sergeant Chavez of today). Similarly, they sweep up workers disgusted with the electoral circus by mobilising them to vote in a ‘critical’ fashion for the ‘Socialists’ in order to ’block the way for the right’. Finally they always have great hope of taking over the unions through the means of ‘fighting candidates’".[5]

The working class is capable of generating left fractions within proletarian parties when they begin to be affected by the sickness of opportunism. Thus within the parties of the 2nd International, this role was played by the Bolsheviks, the current of Rosa Luxemburg, Dutch Tribunism, the militants of the Italian abstentionist fraction, etc. The history of the combats undertaken by these fractions is sufficiently well known because their texts and contributions are concretised in the formation of the 3rd International.

And from 1919, the proletarian reaction, faced with difficulties, errors and the subsequent degeneration of the Third International, was expressed by the communist left (Italian, Dutch, German, Russian, etc.) which led (with great difficulties and unfortunately in a very dispersed way) a heroic and determined struggle. Trotsky's Left Opposition appeared later and in a much more incoherent manner. In the 1930's, the gap between the communist left (principally its most coherent group Bilan, representing the Italian Communist Left) and Trotsky's Opposition became more evident. While Bilan saw localised imperialist wars as expressions of a course towards a globalised imperialist war, the Opposition became entangled in ramblings about national liberation and the progressive nature of anti-fascism. While Bilan saw the ideological enrolment for imperialist war and the interests of capital behind the mobilisation of Spanish workers for war between Franco and the Republic, Trotsky saw the 1936 strikes in France and the anti-fascist fight in Spain as the beginning of the revolution... However, what's worse is that even if Bilan wasn't yet clear on the exact nature of the USSR, it was clear to it that it couldn't support it, above all because the USSR was an active agent in preparing for the war. Trotsky on the other hand, with his speculations about the USSR as a "degenerated workers' state", flung the doors wide open for supporting the USSR, which was a means of supporting the second world butchery of 1939-1945.

The role of the extreme left of capital against the resurgence of workers' struggle in 1968

Since 1968, the proletarian struggle took off again across the entire world. May 68 in France, the "Hot Autumn" in Italy, the cordobazo" in Argentina, the Polish October, etc., were among its most significant expressions. This struggle brought up a new generation of revolutionaries. Numerous working class minorities appeared everywhere and all that constituted a fundamental strength for the proletariat.

However, it is important to note the role of groups of the extreme left in the weakening and destruction of these minorities: the Trotskyists whom we have already mentioned, official anarchism[6], and Maoism. Regarding the latter it's important to stress that it's never been a proletarian current. The Maoist groups were born from imperialist conflicts and wars of influence like those between Peking and Moscow which led to the rupture between the two states and the alignment of Peking to American imperialism in 1972.

It's been estimated that towards 1970 there were more than a hundred thousand militants around the world who, although with enormous confusion, pronounced themselves in favour of revolution, against the traditional parties of the left (Socialist and Communist parties), against imperialist war, and looked to advance the proletarian struggle that was breaking out. A striking majority of this important contingent were recuperated by this constellation of groups of the extreme left. The present series of articles will try to demonstrate in some detail all the mechanisms through which they undertake this recuperation. We will talk not only about the capitalist programme printed on their radical and “working class” standards but also their methods of organisation and debate, their mode of functioning and their approach to morality.

What's certain is that their actions have been very important in the destruction of the potential for the working class to build up a wide-scale avant-garde for its struggle. Potential militants have been turned towards activism and immediatism, channelled into sterile combats within the unions, municipalities, electoral campaigns, etc.

The results have been clear:

- The majority have quit the struggle, profoundly frustrated and prone to scepticism towards working class struggle and the possibility of communism; a significant part of this sector fell into drugs, alcohol and the most absolute despair;

- A minority has remained as the core troops of the unions and parties of the left, propagating a sceptical and demoralising vision of the working class;

- Another, more cynical minority, has made careers in the unions and parties of the left and some of these "winners" have become members of parties of the right[7].

Communist militants are a vital asset and it's a central task of the groups of the present communist left, who are the inheritors of Bilan, Internationalisme, etc., to draw all the lessons from this the enormous bloodletting of militant forces that the proletariat has suffered since its historic awakening in 1968.

A false vision of the working class

In order to carry out their dirty work of confinement, division and confusion, the unions, the left and extreme left parties propagate a false vision of the working class. They impregnate communist militants and deform their thoughts, their behaviour and their approach. It is thus vital to indentify and combat this.

1. A sum of individual citizens

For the left and extreme left, the workers do not make up an antagonistic social class within capitalism but are instead a sum of individuals. They are the "lower" part of the "citizenship". As such, all the individual workers can only hope for is a "stable situation", a "fair reward" for their work, "respect for their rights", etc.

This allows the left to hide something that is fundamental: the working class is a class that is indispensable to capitalist society because without its associated labour capitalism couldn't function. But, at the same time, it is a class excluded from society, foreign to all its rules and vital norms; it is thus a class which can only realise itself as such when it abolishes capitalist society from head to toe. Instead of this reality, the left pushes the idea of an "integrated class" which, through reforms and participation in capitalist organisations, can satisfy its interests.

With this overall view the working class is dissolved into an amorphous and inter-classist mass of "citizens" aka "the people". In such a disorder, the worker is assimilated to the petty-bourgeoisie which cons it, to the police which represses it, to the judge who condemns it, to the politicians who lie to it and even to the "progressive bourgeoisie". The idea of social classes and class antagonisms disappears, giving way to notions about the citizens of the nation, to the false "national community".

 Once the idea of class is erased from the mind of the working class, the fundamental notion of a historic class also disappears. The proletariat is a historic class which, beyond the situation of different generations or geographical place, has a revolutionary future within its hands, the establishment of a new society which goes beyond and resolves the contradictions which lead capitalism towards the destruction of humanity.

In sweeping away the vital and scientific ideas of social classes, class antagonisms and historic class, the left and extreme left of capital reduce revolution to a pious wish that should be left in the hands of political "experts" and parties. They introduce the idea of the delegation of power, a concept that is perfectly valid for the bourgeoisie but absolutely destructive for the proletariat. In fact the bourgeoisie, an exploiting class which holds economic power, can entrust the management of its business to a specialised political personnel which makes up a bureaucratic layer that has its own interests within the complex needs of the national capital.

But it's not the same for the proletariat which is both an exploited and revolutionary class which has no economic power but whose sole strength is consciousness, unity and solidarity and its confidence in itself. These are all factors that are rapidly destroyed if it relies on a specialised layer of intellectuals and politicians.

Armed with the idea of delegation, the parties of the left and extreme left defend participation in elections as a way of "blocking the road to the right", that's to say that in the ranks of the workers they undermine the autonomous action of a class to turn it into a mass of voting citizens: an individualist mass, each one locked into their "own interests". In this vision, the unity and self-organisation of the proletariat no longer exists.

Lastly, the parties of the left and extreme left also call for the proletariat to place itself in the hands of the state in order to "reach another society". They thus use the trick of presenting the capitalist hangman, the state, as "the friend of the workers" or "its ally".

2. A vulgar materialism that sees only a mass of losers

The left and the unions propagate a vulgar materialist conception of the working class. According to them, workers are individuals who only think of their families, their comforts, a better car or home. Drowned in consumerism, they have no "ideal" of struggle, preferring to stay at home watching football or in the bar with their pals. In order to complete the loop, they affirm that because workers are up to their necks in debt to pay for their consumerism, they are incapable of undertaking the least struggle[8].

With these lessons in moral hypocrisy they transform the workers' struggle, which is a material necessity, into a matter of ideal will, whereas communism - the ultimate aim of the working class - is a material necessity in response to the insoluble contradictions of capitalism[9]. They separate and oppose the immediate struggle from the revolutionary struggle whereas in reality there's a unity between the two since the struggle of the working class is, as Engels said, at once economic, political and a battle of ideas.

To deprive our class of this unity leads to the idealist vision of an "egotist" and "materialist" struggle for economic needs and a "glorious" and "moral" struggle for the "revolution". Such ideas profoundly demoralise the workers who feel shame and guilt at being concerned for their own needs and that of their nearest and dearest, and are made to feel like servile individuals who only think of themselves. With these false approaches, which follow the cynical and hypocritical line of the Catholic Church, the left and extreme left of capital sap the confidence of the workers in themselves as a class and try to present them as the "lowest" part of society.

This attitude converges with the dominant ideology which presents the working class as losers. The famous "common sense" says that workers are individuals who remain workers because they are not good enough for anything else or they haven't worked hard enough to progress up the social scale. The workers are lazy, have no aspirations, don't want to succeed...

It really is the world turned upside-down! The social class which through its associated labour produces the majority of social riches of society is supposed to be made up of its worst elements. Since the proletariat makes up the majority of society, it seems that it is fundamentally composed of cowards, losers, uncultured individuals without any motivation. The bourgeoisie not only exploits the proletariat, it mocks it as well. The minority which lives off the efforts of millions of human beings has the audacity to consider the workers as lazy, useless, unsuccessful and without hope.

Social reality is radically different: in the associated world-wide labour of the proletariat, it develops cultural, scientific and, at the same time, profoundly human links: solidarity, confidence and a critical spirit. They are the force which silently moves society, the source of the development of the productive forces.

The appearance of the working class is that of an insignificant, passive and anonymous mass. This appearance is the result of the contradiction suffered by the working class as an exploited and revolutionary class. On the one hand it's the class of global associated labour and, as such, it is what makes the wheels of capitalist production function and has in its hands the forces and capacities to radically change society. But on the other hand, competition, the market place, the normal life of a society where division and each against all prevails, crush it into a sum of individuals, each one impotent with feelings of failure and guilt, separated from the others, atomised and forced to fight alone for oneself.

The left and extreme left of capital, in complete continuity with the rest of the bourgeoisie, only want us to see an amorphous mass of atomised individuals. In this way they serve capital and the state in their task of demoralising and excluding the class from any social perspective.

We return here what we said at the beginning: the conception of the working class as a sum of individuals. However, the proletariat is a class and acts as such each time it succeeds in freeing itself from the chains which oppress and atomise it with a consistent and autonomous struggle. Thus we not only see a class in action but we also see each one of its components transform itself into active beings, fighting, taking the initiative and developing creativity. We've see it in the great moments of class struggle, as the revolution in Russia of 1905 and 1917. As Rosa Luxemburg underlined so well in The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions: “But in the storm of the revolutionary period even the proletarian is transformed from a provident pater familas demanding support, into a ‘revolutionary romanticist’, for whom even the highest good, life itself, to say nothing of material well-being, possesses but little in comparison with the ideals of the struggle."[10]

As a class, the individual strength of each worker is set free, gets rid of it shackles and develops its human potential. As a sum of individuals, the capacities of each are annihilated, diluted, wasted for humanity. The function of the left and extreme left of capital is to keep the workers in their chains, that's to say, as a mere sum of individuals.

A class with the clock stopped on the tactics of the nineteenth century

Generally in the ascendant period of capitalism and more particularly during its greatest heights (1870-1914), the working class could fight for improvements and reforms within the framework of capitalism without immediately envisaging its revolutionary destruction. On the one hand that implied the formation of large mass organisations (socialist and labour parties, trade unions, cooperatives, workers' universities, women and youth associations, etc.) and on the other hand tactics that included participation in elections, petitions, strikes planned by the unions, etc.

These methods became more and more inadequate at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the ranks of revolutionaries there was a widespread debate which opposed Kautsky, a partisan of these methods on one side and on the other, Rosa Luxemburg[11] who, drawing the lessons of the 1905 revolution, clearly showed that the working class had to move towards new methods of struggle which corresponded to the opening of a new situation of generalised war and economic crisis – in sum, capitalism's descent into its decadence. The new methods of struggle were based upon the direct action of the masses, on the self-organisation of workers into assemblies and councils, on the abolition of the old division between the Minimum and Maximum programme. These methods come face to face with trade unionism, reforms, electoral participation, and the parliamentary road.

The left and extreme left of capital concentrate their policies on keeping the working class locked into the old methods which today are radically incompatible with the defence of the latter's immediate and historical interests. Interestingly, they have stopped the clock at capitalism's "golden years" of 1890 to 1910 with all their routines aimed at disarming and dispersing the working class with voting in elections, union actions, demonstrations programmed in advance, etc., mechanisms which reduce the workers to "good, worker citizens", passive and atomised, submitting with discipline to all the needs of capital: work hard, vote every four years, march behind the unions, don't call into question the self-proclaimed leaders.

This policy is shamelessly defended by the Socialist and Communist parties while their annexes on the "extreme left" reproduce it with their "critical" touches and "radical" excesses while defending a vision of a working class as a class for capital; a class which has to submit to all its imperatives while waiting for some hypothetical crumbs which, from time to time, fall from the golden table of its banquets.

C. Mir. 18.12.17

 

[1]  Point 4 of the Platform of the ICC.

[2]  The classical parties of the right (conservative, liberal, etc ) complement their part of the control of society through the parties of the extreme right (fascist, neo-Nazi, right populists, etc.). The nature of the latter is more complex; see in this regard "Contribution on the problem of populism", International Review no. 157

[3]  For a close look at how opportunism penetrates and destroys the proletarian life of an organisation, see "The road towards the betrayal of German Social-Democracy", International Review no. 152.

[4]  Point 13 of our Platform.

[5]  See our Spanish article: "Cuales son las diferencias entre la Izquierda Comunista y la IV Internacional?"

[6]  We are not talking here about the small internationalist anarchist groups, who, despite their confusions, lay claim to many working class positions, showing themselves clearly against imperialist war and for the proletarian revolution.

[7]  There are a number of examples: Durao Barroso, ex-President of the European Union, was a Maoist in his youth; Cohn-Bendit, European Parliament Deputy and councillor to Macron; Lionel Jospin, ex-Prime Minister of France was a youthful Trotskyist; Jack Straw, ex-British Home Secretary and the state's renditioner-in-chief was a left-wing, "firebrand" student leader.

[8]  We should recognise that consumerism (promoted during the 1920's in the United States and after the Second World War) has helped to undermine the spirit of protest within the working class, since the vital needs of each worker are deformed by the part played by consumerism, transforming its needs into individual affairs where "everything can be had through credit".

[9]  See our series "Communism isn't just a nice idea but a material necessity": http://en.internationalism.org/go_deeper

[11]  See the book in Spanish: "Debate sobre la huelgade masas" (texts of Parvus, Mehring, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Vandervelde, Anton Pannekoek).

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