International correspondence: Consciousness and strategy of the bourgeoisie

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In IR 34 we published a text by a comrade in Hong Kong, LLM, on the question of the left in opposition, seeing it as one of the few serious attempts outside of our current to understand the basis for the present political maneuvers of the ruling class since, unlike all the ‘empiro-critics' who have done no more than scoff at our analysis, LLM's text; sought to penetrate to the underlying issue: the organization and con­sciousness of the bourgeoisie. The text argued that our method of analysis was valid, even if it did not share all the conclusions we draw from it. Various reactions within the revolut­ionary milieu have prompted LLM to write an ‘elaboration' of the original text. In the article below, we are replying to the arguments developed in this second text, which we are not publishing and which, far from being an elabor­ation or development of the previous one, simply expresses LLM's panic flight back to the camp of the empiricists - showing that, on this issue as on all others, there is no room for an impartial umpire who hands out points and penalties to the various elements within the revolutionary move­ment. The regression in LLM's thought is evident both in the text's form and content: in form, because of its condescending attitude, its con­voluted argumentation and frequent recourse to hearsay; but above all, in content, since it is no more or less than an abandonment of any of the insights the comrade may previously have had about the machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie. At the same time, the text adopts the erroneous theory of a parallel course towards war or rev­olution, virtually indistinguishable from the ideas currently being propagated by Battaglia Comunista and the Communist Workers' Organization.


In IR 34, arguing against the empiricists who deny the bourgeoisie's capacities to unify against the proletariat, LLM could write: "I am sure no one will deny that different states are capable of conspiring to achieve some common goals. For all who have eyes to see, the conspiracy between the US and the UK in the Falklands/Malvinas War, that between the US and Israel in the latter's invasion of Lebanon, etc are clear as daylight. Or if we go back into history a bit, are not the lessons of the Paris Commune and The Russian Revolution enough to drive home the lesson that, threatened by the proletariat, the bourgeoisie is capable of setting aside even its most powerful antagonisms to unite against it, as the ICC has correctly point­ed out? Why, then is it that when it comes to a conspiracy between the right and the left of the bourgeoisie within national frontiers, it be­comes so unimaginable? Did Noske murder the Ger­man proletariat consciously or unconsciously?" Now, following a trip to Europe - empirical evidence if ever there was - LLM has decided that the ICC does after all have an idealist conspiracy theory of history. Now it is his turn to find it "unimaginable" 'that the peace movement is organized by the bourgeoisie, that the conflict in El Salvador has been exacerbat­ed to fuel anti-proletarian mystifications else­where, even that the Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua with the approval of US imperi[1]. In this new text, LLM's bourgeoisie is identical to that of the empiricists.

For example, when the ICC says that the peace campaigns are part of a strategy by the bourge­oisie to derail class struggle, LLM sings the old refrain of all those who simply cannot comp­rehend what it means to say, that the bourgeoisie acts as a class: "Who is this ‘it'? The bourge­oisie as a whole? In that case the whole bour­geoisie are Marxists", etc etc. To be sure this ‘it' is indeed incomprehensible from the stand­point of bourgeois empiricism which bewildered by the apparent disunity of the world, has al­ways castigated marxism for its conspiratorial view of social life, merely because it talks about classes and their conscious activity.

It's true that LLM claims to recognize that "there can be no doubt that the bourgeoisie is conscious of its own needs"; but when it comes to the test of applying this general observation to concrete realities such as the present propaganda campaigns, LLM reduces this conscious­ness to the completely determined, "instinctive" reaction of a class incapable of formulating any real strategies at all:

"As to the so-called ‘campaigns' the bourgeoisie is supposed to be consciously waging against the proletariat, it need only be added... that nation­alism (a major plank in these ‘campaigns') is ‘natural' to the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie ‘instinctively' knows that nationalism is in its interests and whips it up at any time (an international football match, launching of a space­ship...). Even disregarding the bourgeoisie's ‘consciousness' question, there is no need for it to know that whipping up nationalism helps it defeat the proletariat, it knows the other side of the same thing ‘instinctively'."

And because the ICC rejects this vision of the bourgeoisie and all the conclusions that flow from it, we are told that "the ICC sees the bourgeoisie as conscious of its own needs on the level of attaining a marxist materialistic understanding of history..."

The bourgeoisie's understanding of history

Of course the bourgeoisie does not have a "marxist materialistic understanding of histoty". But it does have a bourgeois materialist view of history, and there is quite a large histor­ical gap between this view and the truly in­stinctive level of consciousness that human beings transcended when they departed from the rest of the animal kingdom. As Marx explained in his little parable about the architect and the bee, the capacity for seeing ahead, for planning in advance (and, consequently, aware­ness of a temporal, historical movement from past to future) is the key distinction between animal and human activity.

But while this ‘historical' consciousness is characteristic of all human activity, prior to capitalist society man remained within the horizons of natural economy, which gave rise to static or circular views of historical movement. These cyclical views were also, by definition, centered round various mythico-religious pro­jections. By shattering the limits of the nat­ural economies, the bourgeoisie also undermined these traditional conceptions, and constituted itself as the most historically and scientific­ally minded of all previous ruling classes.

Certainly all these advances took place within the confines of alienation, and thus of ideology. In fact, the bourgeoisie's ‘rational', ‘scienti­fic' worldview coincides with the very pinnacle of alienation - a point never grasped by those ‘marxists' who see marxism and communist con­sciousness as a simple continuation or refine­ment of bourgeois rationalism and scientism. Under the reign of alienation, man's conscious activity is relentlessly subordinated to forces that are barely comprehended or con­trolled; consciousness, despite being in essence a collective and social product, is scattered into countless fragments by the division of labor, above all in the conditions of extreme atomization that characterizes a society domin­ated by commodity relations.

But, just as Rosa Luxemburg demonstrated that global capital is a reality which exists despite and even as a result of mutually antagonistic individual capitals, marxism affirms that there is, despite all its internal divisions, a ‘global' bourgeoisie with a ‘global' consciousness, a real class which engages in conscious life-activity. The fact that this remains a fragmented, estranged, hierarchical activity, dominated by unconscious motives, does not pre­vent it from functioning as an active factor in social life - as a determining and not merely determined force.

This means that the bourgeoisie is capable of formulating overall strategies for the defense of its most essential interests, even if the whole bourgeoisie can never be in on these plans, and even if not one bourgeois grasps the strat­egy as a whole. ‘Strategy' means forward planning, a serious capacity to weigh up contending forces and to foresee possible futures. To a large extent, and especially in the epoch of decadence, the bourgeoisie has understood (again, in its own mystified way - though we should take it as a rule of thumb that the bourgeoisie always tells less than it knows) that the defense of its most basic requirements cannot be entrusted to any one ‘faction' of capital, which is why it has developed huge state and bloc structures to ensure that this job gets done whatever the vagaries of this or that faction or party.

If we look at the example of the Falklands war, which LLM previously saw as a good example of the bourgeoisie's capacity to conspire, we can get some idea of how this division of labor works. There is no doubt that the protagonists entered into this conflict with varying immed­iate aims. Galtieri, for example, was certain­ly ‘suckered' by the gesticulations of the US and of Britain. At the same time there is ob­viously a grain of truth in the leftist argu­ment that the Falklands War was the ‘war of Maggie's face', reflecting the ‘sectoral' political ambitions of Thatcher and the Tory party. But is precisely the function of left­ism to fixate on these secondary aspects of the bourgeoisie's activity and thus to draw attention away from the real power in this social system - the capitalist state, and beyond that, the imperialist bloc. In the final analysis, the likes of Thatcher, Reagan or Galtieri are just figureheads, actors called upon to play a particular role at a particular time. The bourgeoisie's real strat­egies are the product of the state and bloc organisms that represent the true ‘community' of capital, and they are formulated according to an assessment on the needs of the system as a whole. Thus, the Falklands war, for all the more opportunistic and particularistic motiv­ations that helped bring it about, can only really be understood when it is put in the context of the war plans of the entire western imperialist bloc. Whatever some revolutionaries may think, in formulating these plans the ruling class certainly mobilizes its most sophisticated techniques and intelligences; and it is truly "unimaginable" that the ruling class would draw up these plans without taking into account the most burning tissue of this epoch - the social question, the necessity to prepare the population, all the working class, to fall in with the march to war. The Falklands conflict wasn't just another football match, but part of a long-term strategy aimed at wiping out all real resistance to capital's drive towards a generalized imperialist bloodbath.

From Faust to Mephistopheles

LLM also accuses us of making more and more use of our ‘machiavellian' analysis, of taking it as the starting-point for examining each and every action of the ruling class. Here we make no apology because we are merely recognizing a historic reality - that since we are moving to­wards the most momentous class confrontations in history, we are witnessing the bourgeoisie becoming more unified, more ‘intelligent', than at any time in the past.

Certainly, this intelligence of the bourgeoisie is a total degeneration from the grand historic­al visions, the optimistic philosophies it elaborated in the heroic days of its youth. If, in the age of Goethe, Beethoven and Hegel, the bourgeoisie could be personified by Faust, high point in the restless upward strivings of hum­anity, in decadence the bourgeoisie's dark side has come into its own - and the dark side of Faust is Mephistopheles, whose vast intelli­gence and knowledge is a thin covering over a pit of despair, The Mephistophelean character of bourgeois consciousness in this epoch is determined by the underlying necessities of the age: this is the epoch in which the possib­ility and necessity for emancipating humanity from the historic division of society into antagonistic classes, from the exploitation of man by man, have at last come together; and yet all the bourgeoisie's science, all its technol­ogy, all the remnants of its own wisdom are directed towards the preservation of the same system of exploitation and oppression at the price of the most monstrous increase in human misery. Hence the fundamental cynicism and nihilism of the bourgeoisie in this epoch. But precisely because this is the period of history that demands "man's positive self-consciousness", the conscious mastery of productive activity and the productive forces, the bourgeoisie has only been able to survive within it by running its anarchic system as though it was under conscious human control. Thus capitalism in decadence, with its centralized planning, its international organization, and of course its ubiquitous ‘socialist' ideology, tends to pre­sent itself as a grotesque caricature of com­monism. No longer can the bourgeoisie allow the free play of ‘market forces' (ie the law of value), either within or between nation states: it has been forced to organize and centralize itself, first at the level of the nation state, then at the level of the imperial­ist blocs, merely to stave off capital's accel­erating tendency towards economic collapse. But this national and international organization of the bourgeoisie reaches its highest point when the bourgeoisie is threatened with the proletarian menace - a fact that, as LLM himself notes, has been demonstrated in response to all the major proletarian upheavals in history (eg 1871, 1918). Compared to these movements, the mass strikes in Poland 1980 were no more than a harbinger of things to come - yet the unified response of the bourgeoisie, being       based on structures that have been in place for decades, in some ways operated on a far wider scale than any previous collaboration between the imperialist powers. This implies that, in the revolutionary struggles to come, we will encounter an enemy that will display an unprece­dented degree of unity. In sum, we are moving towards the final concretization of the scenario envisaged by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto:

"Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into too great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat".

In more immediate terms, this means that today, when these immense confrontations are already brewing, we can discern a tendency for the bourgeoisie to act in a more and more concerted manner, to try to restrict as much as possible the unfortunate effects of the more unpredict­able aspects of the system. Thus, for example, if one compares the way the recent elections in Britain and Germany were stage-managed by the bourgeoisie[2], one can see that far less was left to chance than in election campaigns of a decade or two ago. Or we can compare the way that pacifist campaigns are now coordinated across the whole western bloc (and imitated in the eastern bloc) with the piecemeal manner in which they operated in the 1950s and ‘60s. Even if these strategies are often full of holes and contradictions, even if they don't represent the high point of bourgeois conscious­ness and unity, they do express a definite tend­ency towards the creation of a single ‘party of order' to confront the proletarian danger.

We repeat, for the benefit of the hard of hear­ing, none of this means that the bourgeoisie can have a ‘marxist' understanding of history; above all it cannot grasp the marxist postulate that its system can be superseded through the revolutionary action of the working class.

But - as we explained some years ago, in answer­ing some typical leftist arguments against our view of the complimentarity of fascism and anti-fascism, the bourgeoisie is capable of seeing that the proletariat is the main threat to the mere preservation of its system:

"If it is true that they cannot believe in the possibility of a new society built by the workers, they still understand that, in order to ensure the functioning of society, there must be order, the workers must go regularly to work, accepting their misery without sulking, humbly respecting their employers and the state. The most cretinous exploiter, knows this quite well, even if he doesn't know how to read or write.

When all these historical illiterates begin to feel that something is amiss in the kingdom, when they are forced to close the factories, raise prices and lower wages, and when the seeds of revolt are beginning to grow in the factories ...history has shown a thousand times that after a more or less long period of dementia, the bourgeoisie always ends up by putting its confidence in a political solution that offers the re-establishment of order.

Under the pressure of their class interests, of events in general, empirically, pragmatic­ally - this is how the bourgeoisie finally comes to accept solutions which it had hitherto regarded as ‘subversive' or ‘communist'." (‘Anti-fascism: an arm of capital', in WR 5 and RI 14)

No, the bourgeoisie won't ever become marxist. But in this century, and above all since 1917, the bourgeoisie has learned how to permanently usurp the mantle of marxism in order to distort and derail the real goals of the class struggle. In the particular phase we are mov­ing through, the ‘socialist' posturing of the bourgeoisie in the advanced western countries is compelled to take the form of the left in opposition; tomorrow, faced with the revolut­ion itself, it could well mean a new and more extreme version of the left in power. In neither case will the bourgeoisie have become marxist - but they can and will concoct an ideological witches' brew of sufficient pot­ency to paralyze the movement towards the proletarian revolution, and that is the main issue for us. Nothing could be a more fatal weakness for the revolution than a lack of lucidity on the part of the proletariat and its political minorities concerning the full range of the weaponry available to our class enemy.

On the historic course

From the above, we obviously agree with LLM when he points out the connection between our view of the strategies of the bourgeoisie and the question of the historic course. The argument that the bourgeoisie is tending to unify its forces is predicated upon the idea that it is compelled to do so by an inexorable movement towards major class confrontations.

But for LLM, the regression in his understanding of the bourgeoisie is accompanied by another regression - towards the ‘parallel course' theory of Battaglia and the CWO (now also adopt­ed by the Communist Bulletin Group, who even pretend that this was their view all along; the CBG' s influence on LLM's thought is apparent on a number of key issues, especially the organization question - see his text in no 5 of the Communist Bulletin) . In a previous issue of this Review (IR 36) we dedicated an article to Battaglia's views on this question, and we do not intend to go over the same ground here. We will instead restrict ourselves to answering just one of LLM's assertions - that the ICC is ‘suspending history' when it argues that the proletariat represents an obstacle to the bour­geoisie's war-drive.

On this point, it is none other than LLM who is ‘suspending history'. Thus, he points to the militant strikes in Russia before the 1914 war and says: ‘see, these strikes didn't stop the war, so how can you argue that today's combat­ivity is a barrier to war?'. This method freezes history in 1914 and assumes that the bourgeoisie - after all it is restricted by ideology, is it not? - has drawn no lessons whatever from its experience of entering a world war with a proletariat whose combativity had not been complete­ly crushed. In fact, the horrible example of 1917 taught the bourgeoisie a lesson it will never forget. This is why it spent the whole period of the 1930s ensuring that the last drops of proletarian resistance had been effectively drained, and that is precisely what it is trying to do again today.

It must also be said that the example of the Russian strikes taken out of context doesn't prove anything about 1914 either. Here we need only repeat the citation from Internationalisme 1945 that we used in our article on Battaglia:

"Thus, the partial resurgence of struggles and the 1913 strike wave in Russia in no way detracts from our affirmation. If we look more closely, we can see that the international proletariat's power on the eve of 1914, the electoral victories, the great social demo­cratic parties and the mass union organizations (the pride and glory of the Second Internation­al) were only an appearance, a facade hiding a profound ideological decay. The workers' movement undermined and rotten with rampant opport­unism was to collapse like a house of cards before the first blast of war." (Report to the July 1945 Conference of the Gauche Communiste de France)

And if the example of Russia 1913 ignores the real global balance of class forces of the day, LLM's ‘proof'' that the world's workers are ready to go to war because workers in Britain tended to display their "indifference" to the Falklands spectacle only demonstrates that LLM is depriv­ing himself of any serious method for approach­ing these questions.

It is also rather ironic that the ICC should be accused of suspending history by someone who removes from consideration the actual motor-force of historical evolution - the class strug­gle. For LLM, the link between crisis and war (as between the crisis and the bourgeoisie's awareness of it) is entirely mechanical and automatic: "If capital's underlying dynamic (its accumulation) requires war, war will break out... whatever the state of the class struggle". Thus, the inner contradictions of capital are reduced to their most reified aspect - the objective economic laws of accumulation - while the con­tradiction between capital and labor, the ess­ential social contradiction, is conjured out of existence. Instead of a dynamic combat between two social forces, we are presented with an entirely static picture: either the proletariat is making the revolution, or it "remains under the ruling ideology" and is "already ideologic­ally defeated" (Battaglia expresses the same idea when they tell us that we're living under the heel of the counter-revolution until the revolution breaks out.) It's as though the two classes were standing opposite each other like statues in their combat postures, instead of engaging in a real fight which ebbs and flows, which moves back and forth, and in which increased aggression from one side demands cor­responding reaction from the other. A true suspension of the movement of history.

One thing that LLM should recognize is that the Battaglia/CWO view of the historic course is (conditioned by their inability to see the prol­etariat as a social force even when it has not yet given rise to the world party. Such a blindness can easily lead yesterday's libertar­ians and councilists (see LLM's essentially anti-centralist article in the Communist Bull­etin) to start toying with the idea that it's all a question of ‘leadership' and that the ad­vent of the party is the sole moving factor in the situation. But for us, the real possibility for the reconstitution of the party is predic­ated upon the fact that we are moving towards massive class confrontations in the heartlands of the system. These confrontations will not only settle the problem of the course of hist­ory; they will also take us a giant step for­ward in our understanding of the question of consciousness - not only the consciousness of the bourgeoisie, but more profoundly, the con­sciousness of the proletariat and of the soc­ial humanity that will emerge out of the rev­olution. A qualitative leap in the class struggle will demand a corresponding leap on the theoretical level; but by seeking refuge in the tents of the empiricists and the skeptics in the revolutionary movement, comrade LLM is throwing away the possibility of making any real contribution to this fundamental question.

C D Ward

[1] LLM resorts to a subtle distortion of words here, implying that, for the ICC, the pacifist campaigns, and even the conflict in El Salvador, have been created ex nihilo, as it were, by an omnipotent bourgeoisie. He even implies in a footnote, omitted for lack of space, that this view was explicitly included in our resolution on the international situation at our 5th Con­gress, despite internal opposition. What does the resolution actually say? The text talks about the "huge pacifist campaigns which, with some success, have been organized in most western countries" and which are "based on a real disquiet about the preparations for war". In other words, the pacifist campaigns exist be­cause the bourgeoisie needs to recuperate this anxiety and use it for anti-working class ends - not an ex nihilo creation but a subtle work of transforming energy. But does LLM claim that these campaigns are not organized by the bour­geoisie? Perhaps he has temporarily forgotten, in his anti-machiavellian zeal, that the left, CND, etc, are part of the bourgeoisie? We could make a similar point about E1 Salvador: obviously such conflicts in the underdeveloped regions have their objective basis. The quest­ion for us is what use does the world bourge­oisie make of these conflicts - which may certainly include exacerbating them for reasons of propaganda and mystification. Finally, con­cerning the USA's approval of the Sandinista take-over, see WR 27 ‘Sandinistas, agents of US imperialism'.


[2] The fixing of the recent elections in West Germany to get the classic right in power/left in opposition line-up was so obvious that the CWO, who are usually in the front line of the empiro-critics, could write an article in Workers Voice 11 which clearly takes as its starting point the idea that the new govern­ment was chosen, not by the free decision of the ‘German people', but by the western imp­erialist bloc as a whole.


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