Revolutionary milieu: Theses of the Alptraum Communist Collective (Mexico)
The political positions of a revolutionary group are a crucial element in understanding its reality. But they are not enough. The practice of a group and the overall dynamic of its evolution - where it comes from, where it's going - must also be taken into account. The same political error, for example, has a very different meaning if it is the product of a new group trying to find its way towards a proletarian political coherence or if it is made by an ‘old' organization on the slide towards degeneration or irreversible sclerosis.
The Theses of the Alptraum Collective that we are publishing here are interesting in themselves, from a class point of view. But their real value can only be measured in terms of the context and dynamic they are part of.
In a country like Mexico a clear and explicit rejection of all nationalist demands, the denunciation of Cuban or Nicaraguan state capitalism and all national liberation struggles from a proletarian point of view are all the more important and significant because the proletariat in Mexico is hammered from morning till night by all sorts of political organizations with a pernicious and all-pervasive nationalist propaganda based on ‘anti-Yankee' ideology. In these conditions, a voice raised to affirm the international character of the proletarian struggle and its totally irreconcilable opposition to all nationalist ideology is a breath of fresh air, a powerful beacon for the future.
The Theses are the result of a process, which over the past two years has led the elements of the Alptraum Collective to break with their original organization, the Mexican Party of the Proletariat - where genuine class positions floated in a general political incoherence and inconsistency - and move more resolutely towards a real political coherence.
These Theses can indeed represent an important step towards the development of a consistent and active communist expression in Mexico and should be greeted as such.
This should not, however, prevent us from pointing out what seems to us to express weaknesses, which must be overcome if the comrades of Alptraum wish to follow up this positive dynamic. That is what we shall try to do in the comments following this text.
"The life of industry becomes a succession of periods of normal activity, prosperity and stagnation." Karl Marx, Capital
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The present capitalist crisis has an international dimension and must be seen as a classic crisis of over-accumulation confirming the nature of the industrial cycle with its moments of prosperity, crisis and stagnation.
The contradictory nature and movement of capitalism is clear from the unfolding of the periodic cycle of industry and its final result: generalized crisis.
The crisis of over-accumulation first appears in speculative investments and then reaches production, trade and the financial market. Speculation only offers a momentary relief from the over-accumulation of capital. The disorganization of production resulting from speculation is an inevitable by-product of the expansion of the preceding period of prosperity.
The scenario of the crisis is universal, because of the world-wide extension of capitalism, and the intensification of its control over all branches of production in the world economy.
The crisis has a world dimension because it has constantly widened out in a spiral starting from the developed capitalist countries (with a greater organic composition of capital) and now including all the rest of the countries in the world capitalist system. The effects of the crisis are intensely felt in the whole capitalist economy.
The crisis we are now living through is the result of the clash between the enormous development of the productive forces (existing wealth) and the capitalist relations of production imposed by private appropriation of production. The development of the productive forces has become an obstacle for capital. Capitalist production relations have become a block on the development of work as productive labor.
The growing crisis reflects the contradictory nature of capitalist reality and the historically limited character of its production relations, which can only hold back the progressive development of social productive forces. Moments of crisis occur when capitalism is obliged to destroy a growing mass of productive forces revealing the decadence of the system.
In this logic, capitalism is periodically led to destroy a growing mass of the social productive forces including the proletariat. From this internal tendency emerges the need for wars to prolong its existence as a whole. Historically, we have seen that after each war there is a period of reconstruction.
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With the exacerbation of the crisis, the capitalist system sets up the conditions for its own subversion.
The deepening crisis offers the conditions for the development of proletarian consciousness and its self-organization. But, capital attempts to destroy the germ of this consciousness by tying the proletariat of each country to its ideological constructs; in this way, by strengthening nationalist ideology and marginal ideologies such as feminism, ecology, the struggle for peace, the homosexual movement, etc capital tries to atomize and block proletarian consciousness which is international and total.
Capital knows that the only solution to the crisis of overproduction is war and that to get to this point, it must first destroy all traces of proletarian consciousness.
In the past, fascism and anti-fascism were effective in integrating the proletariat into bourgeois ideology. Today the myth of the ‘socialist bloc' against the ‘democratic western world' is used. The defense of state capitalism in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in relation to movements of national liberation in Guatemala, in El Salvador, etc. have a clear meaning: to mobilize the world proletariat for the cause of one of the two capitalist blocs and lead it to a third world war.
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From the ‘60s on there has been a resurgence of the revolutionary activity of the proletariat on a world scale.
An international movement develops in the form of successive waves of advance and retreat when the different parts of the proletariat confront the power of the world bourgeoisie.
The historic course of the present class struggle is fundamentally determined by the balance of forces between capital and the proletariat in Western Europe. This correlation of forces will determine the outcome of the confrontation between the two classes in the rest of the countries in the world unity of capitalism.
With the defeat of the proletarian movement in Poland in 1981, basically due to the mediating actions of the union Solidarnosc, a period of reflux began. But it rapidly came to an end with the development of strikes in Holland and Belgium in 1983 and the recent mobilizations in France, Britain and Germany.
Today we are living in a period characterized by the reawakening of the proletariat, in its unity and its historical continuity as subject. In this sense, the resurgence of communist groups constitutes a moment in the development of proletarian self-consciousness.
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Organizations which do not recognize the revolutionary role of the proletariat cannot carry out the tasks which the historic movement of the class imposes on them. Communist organizations should be able to become theoretical-political bridges assimilating and transmitting the experience and revolutionary heritage of the proletarian movement.
The program of these organizations will develop and synthesize the experience and historical heritage of the proletariat as a united whole. In this way, the class principles of the proletariat will express the historical dimension of the proletarian movement and will synthesize its theoretical-political experience.
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We recognize the existence of an international revolutionary marxist milieu made up of revolutionary organizations (ICC, CWO, PCI, Battaglia Comunista) which, despite their many weaknesses, support and defend the essential political principles of the proletarian struggle.
Communists are not outside the proletariat; they constitute its most lucid elements. Their role is not merely to encourage the organization of the proletariat as a necessary moment of their own organization but to develop the self-consciousness of the proletariat. Communists embody the continuity of the historical struggle of the class in its highest moments such as the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution, etc.
In our view, the central points that will differentiate communists from the bourgeois camp are:
- the recognition of the decadence of the capitalist system;
- the recognition of the working class as the subject of the revolution;
- the rejection of unions (by keeping outside them);
- the rejection of parliamentarism and of any electoral politics,
- the rejection of any type of alliance with any sector of the bourgeoisie;
- the rejection of popular fronts and movements of national liberation;
- the recognition that in the so-called ‘socialist' countries the capitalist mode of production prevails in its specific form of state capitalism;
- the recognition that the communist revolution will have an eminently international character
- the recognition that socialism will succeed only through the abolition of capitalist relations of production and specifically with the abolition of wage labor;
- the recognition of the need to forge the party of the proletariat which will have an international dimension.
From our point of view, with the acceleration of the class struggle, discussion among revolutionaries and their organized intervention on the international level are necessary and inevitable.
- 6 -
We consider that capitalism is in decadence. Decadence implies the decline of the specifically capitalist mode of production, wherein industrial capital dominates as a social relation of production.
The decadence of the system implies the accentuation of competition and the anarchy of specifically capitalist production and, in general, the exacerbation and deepening of all contradictions because capitalism has attained its historical limits, the limits determined by its own development and its inherently contradictory nature. This is expressed in the periodic and increasingly violent clash between the productive forces and production relations.
The law that explains the development of the capitalist system of production is also an adequate basis for understanding its decadent natures From our point of view, both the development and decline of the system reside in two essential factors: one expressing the form, in the general law of the tendency of the profit rate to decline; the other, expressing its content, in the formal and real domination of capital over the process of labor.
The tendency of the profit rate to decline expresses the decadent nature of the capitalist system. The aim of the system is to ensure an uninterrupted and growing accumulation of capital. This implies a growing expansion of capital and a concomitant increase in the social productivity of labor which means an accelerated development of the productive forces.
As this growth in capital occurs, its organic composition changes. There is an increase in the volume of the means of production and in production itself even in relation to the composition of capital value. This leads to the gradual fall in the rate of profit since variable capital, the part producing surplus value, diminishes.
At this point, capitalist crisis occurs when the accumulated capital is more than the profit rate which it can sustain or when the growing organic composition of capital does not correspond to an equivalent increase in value.
In this way, the over-accumulation of capital in relation to its ability to exploit labor leads the capitalist system to a crisis. This crisis can be counter-balanced by capital accumulation itself through the different measures inherent in its process of accumulation. One of these means is the increase in the mass of surplus value obtained by an increase in the total mass of capital using a greater number of workers. Or else it can be counter-balanced by a greater productivity of labor implying an increase in the rate of exploitation gained through the extraction of relative and absolute surplus value. But these ways of counter-balancing the decline cannot be used indefinitely because there comes a time when the number of workers can no longer be increased, when the working day can be extended no further and when socially necessary labor can be no further reduced because of natural and/or social limits.
The development of the productive forces thus leads to an open contradiction with capitalist means of production. Brought to its absolute limits this means a lack of surplus value in relation to the mass of capital accumulated and its need for expansion. Capitalism has arrived at these limits brought about by its own inherently contractory nature and which hinder the further development of the productive forces within this system.
- 7 -
We recognize the proletariat as the only revolutionary subject. At this moment of the irreversible decadence of the capitalist system (see Thesis 6) the proletariat must break any ideological or political entente with capital (whether it be private or state capital) .
We consider that any perspective starting from the national framework is condemned from the outset to be alienated to capital which bases its whole existence on the nation-state. The proletarian struggle must set itself to break with all national barriers.
All bourgeois tendencies and parties (of the right or left) defend inter-classist positions (feminism, popular fronts, etc) in their battle against the proletariat.
The proletariat struggles against capital as a whole and even if its struggle is formally carried on in a national framework, its content is international.
- 8 ‑
We consider that parliaments and the unions are not arenas or means of struggle for the proletariat in this country or in any other because these forms are used by the bourgeoisie to mediate proletarian struggle and integrate them. Parliaments and unions are another mystification of capital, which strengthens its domination over the working class, alienating its revolutionary activity.
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We consider that there are no progressive bourgeois factions and that the strategy of the proletariat can include no alliance with any sector of the bourgeoisie, however ‘progressive' it may appear. The struggle of the working class must be the result of the working class itself.
- 10 -
We feel that the notion of monopoly state capital does not explain the development of capitalism in terms of its essential determinants. It is simply another ideological subterfuge on the interpretation of capitalist reality, which serves as the basis for the left of capital to justify its alliances with private sectors of the bourgeoisie. The growing intervention of the state in the economy only obeys the anarchy of capitalist production itself: it expresses the exacerbation of the contradictions of the capitalist system.
We think that nationalization or statification of the means of production, far from preparing the way to communism only strengthens the domination of social capital over wage labor.
In the case of statification through the banks and specifically the kind that occurred two years ago in Mexico, finance capital as a specific relation of production is not eliminated because its role in the reproduction process of capital still continues in force.
Social capital has not been eliminated either because, with statification, only the juridical property of a mechanism organizing the circulation of capital is affected but remains within the overall framework of capitalist relations of production.
In this way, the state becomes the juridical owner of capital in one of its reproductive expressions: the capital that pays interest.
The result of this movement is only the depersonalization of the function performed by finance capital within capitalist relations of production and its reproduction logic; the same function is maintained at a higher level of development.
In this way, we see that capitalist relations of production have a more abstract and impersonal character revealing even more clearly their inherent fetishism. The state, as a real capitalist collective integrates banking and salaried personnel in general into a more abstract and alienated schema of domination. Statification is a means of guaranteeing the logic of the national and international capitalist reproduction process independently and above any particular bourgeois faction.
In this sense, we can affirm that the measures taken by the Mexican state have one main aim: to maintain and preserve the capitalist social configuration.
Our comments and criticisms
The ACC, Alptraum Communist Collective, has evolved from the time when its members were still part of the PMP and this evolution is to a large extent the result of contacts with the ICC. This has led them to break with the vagueness and inconsistency of the PMP and to define themselves politically within the proletarian camp. Their ‘Theses' represent a political orientation which places them within the framework defined by the theoretical-political experience of the proletarian revolutionary movement throughout history.
The Theses take a position on all the major questions of the workers' movement since the last great international wave of struggle (1917-1923) and the Third International which was its primary political expression.
They reaffirm the decadence of capitalism in its present historical phase and draw out all the consequences of this reality in terms of the forms and content of the workers' struggle in this epoch: the impossibility of achieving durable reforms within the system now, the rejection of unionism, of parliamentarism, of national liberation struggles, the recognition of the capitalist nature of the so-called ‘communist' countries and the universality of the tendency towards state capitalism, the reaffirmation of the international nature of the proletarian struggle and the need for political organization and intervention. Through its ‘Theses' the ACC has been able to define itself politically in terms of the historic reality of the class struggle.
The Theses also develop an analysis of the course of history and recognize the importance and the scope of today's working class struggles and the crucial significance of the situation of the proletariat in Western Europe.
This all expresses a real class lucidity crystallizing the lessons of the past to better understand the present.
We have stated the many important qualities of this text but we'll have to look now at what seems to us to express omissions and weaknesses. Two main weaknesses: one on the role of revolutionary organizations, the other on the economic analysis which takes up a lot of space in the Theses.
The Alptraum Theses clearly assert that communist organizations belong to the proletariat and that they represent a clarity and historical continuity in the struggle of their class. But they say little, too little, about the active role of these organizations in the class struggle and about the crucial nature of their intervention in the present period.
Alptraum correctly quotes the famous passage from the Communist Manifesto of 1848: "theoretically, (communists) have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement."
Thus, the ‘Theses' say:
"Communists are not outside the proletariat; they are the most lucid elements of it .... communists embody the continuity of the historical struggle of the class in its highest moments such as the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution, etc." (Thesis 5)
All of this is true and very important. But the greatest "lucidity", the greatest "synthesis of historical experience" would be nothing if it were simply "a way of interpreting the world". Communist organizations are an instrument of the proletariat in its own self-transformation, to transform the world.
Turning their backs on academicism, communists do not analyze reality for the sake of analysis alone but to better participate in and orient the real battles of their class - to intervene.
On this aspect of the activity of communists, the Theses merely say in passing:
"From our point of view, with the acceleration of class struggle, discussion among revolutionaries and their organized intervention on an international level are necessary and inevitable."
At least in terms of where the emphasis falls, the Theses lack an insistence on the practical place of the organizations in their class, the fact that they are the most resolute avant‑garde in class battles. The other part of the quote from the Communist Manifesto is missing: "practically (the communists) are the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others."
It's not in some far-off future that the intervention of revolutionary organizations will be "necessary" and "inevitable". Right now, in today's battles, this intervention is indispensable.
In its Theses, Alptraum deals with the seriousness of the present historical situation: "we are living in a period characterized by the reawakening of the proletariat, in its unity and its historical continuity as subject."
And even more explicitly:
"With the defeat of the proletarian movement in Poland in 1981, basically due to the mediating actions of the union Solidarnosc, a period of reflux began. But it rapidly came to an end with the development of strikes in Holland and Belgium in 1983 and the recent mobilizations in France, Britain and Germany." (Thesis 3)
It is thus surprising that no emphasis is given to the importance of the intervention of communist organizations now, in these strikes.
Of course, Alptraum is still a ‘collective', a sort of ‘circle'. But, first of all, that changes nothing about the importance of intervention to define, in general terms, the role of revolutionary organizations. Second, Alptraum already has a political framework to enable it, in fact to oblige it, to deal with organized, systematic, continuous intervention in the class as an urgent task.
History is accelerating and revolutionaries must be able to adapt their existence to this fact.
There is perhaps a connection between this political ‘slowness' or ‘attentism' and certain aspects of the economic analysis developed in the Theses.
Thesis 1 says:
"The present capitalist crisis ... must be seen as a classic crisis of over-accumulation." A ‘classic' crisis of over-accumulation?
Alptraum seems to identify today's crisis with the periodic growth crises of the 19th century.
It's true that there are similar mechanisms and contradictions in all capitalist crises. But crises were like the heart-beats of a body in full development while, in the crises of decadent capitalism, the world wars and universal militarism are the death rattles of a dying body. In the 19th century, capital had the entire world to conquer; it overcame its crises by opening new markets all over the world. But in the 20th century, its crises have led to world war, total war ... and today crisis has brought us to the brink of the annihilation of mankind.
Alptraum recognizes that capitalism has entered its period of decline and it implicitly deals with the ‘crisis-war-reconstruction' cycle which has characterized the life of capitalism since World War I. But when it comes to analyzing the basic principles, the ‘essential determinants', that lead capitalism to crisis and decline, the Theses make reference to what can only be considered as inadequate factors.
Unaware of or rejecting the analysis of Rosa Luxemburg - of Marx, in fact - according to which the fundamental contradiction of capitalism lies in its inability to keep on creating the markets required by its expansion indefinitely, Alptraum writes:
"From our point of view, both the development and decline of the system reside in two essential factors: one expressing its form, in the general law of the tendency of the profit rate to decline; the other, expressing its content, in the formal and real domination of capital over the process of labor." (Thesis 6)
But neither the distinction between "formal" or "real domination" of capital nor the law of the tendency towards a decline in the profit rate are enough to explain why capitalism has experienced more than a half century of irreversible historical decline or why the present economic crisis has nothing to do with the growth crises of the last century.
Marx used the distinction between ‘formal and real domination' of labor by capital to express the difference between, on the one hand, the period when the proletariat was mainly composed of ‘salaried' artisans (the Canuts of Lyons, for example) who were commercially subservient to capital but continued to produce with virtually the same methods and gestures that their ancestors had used in feudalism and, on the other hand, the period of the industrial revolution when the organization and methods of artisan labor had given way to large-scale industry with its proletarians molded to the needs of large factories.
As interesting as this may be, the distinction says nothing about why at a given stage the capitalist production relations cease to stimulate the development of the productive forces and become instead a chronic and steadily growing fetter on them.
It's the same for the tendency towards the decline in the rate of profit. Although this law is perfectly correct and important as a manifestation of a contradiction in the capitalist process of production, it is only a ‘tendential' law, a tendency which is constantly being counter-balanced. To find out at what moment, in what historical circumstances this tendency would lead to a real collapse of profits, we must look to the factors which counteract this general tendency. From Marx we know that capital slows down and compensates for the tendential decline in the profit rate through an increase in the mass of surplus value and through the intensification of exploitation (increase in productivity). Both these methods are dependent on capital's ability to expand its production which in turn depends on the existence of solvent markets - outside of its sphere of production.
If, like Alptraum, we ignore the contradiction at the heart of the capitalist system between, on the one hand, the need to produce more and more in order to exist and, on the other hand, the inability to create enough solvent markets, then one can only conclude that far from coming to the end of its existence, asphyxiated by fits own contradictions, capitalism still has a shining future ahead of it. As long as capitalism has no limits to the expansion of its trade outlets, it can overcome and compensate for all the other contradictions. The market gives life to capitalism and it is its last limit.
If we had to wait - as Thesis 6 seems to say for capitalism to enter its phase of decline until "there comes a time when the number of workers can no longer be increased, when the working day can be extended no further and when socially necessary labor can be no further reduced because of natural (sic) and/or social limits", we'd have to resign ourselves to waiting for centuries - for all eternity in fact. Capitalism will never reach ‘natural limits' that will prevent it from increasing; the number of workers, integrating all the unemployed and marginal elements of this world. Since the time when capitalism went into decadence, the number of non-integrated workers left by the wayside (especially in the Third World) has not been reduced (approaching these so-called natural limits) at all. On the contrary, the number has increased at a phenomenal rate.
This brief article is not the place to develop a detailed polemic on the analysis of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism. We just want to point out that:
1) the analysis presented in the Thesis is insufficient - if not wrong;
2) it could be used to theorize a more or less ‘attentist' attitude which (in contradiction to everything affirmed elsewhere in the Theses) would not understand the importance and the urgency of the practical intervention of communists today using the pretext that capitalism is still far from having reached its ‘natural limits'.
"Without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement", so Lenin correctly said. The ACC Theses express an undoubted theoretical effort and an understanding of the importance of this effort for the proletariat. But they also show that this effort has to be continued. To do this, the ACC must place itself more directly, more actively, on the terrain of political intervention within the present movement of the proletariat.
The intervention of revolutionaries is nourished and sustained by revolutionary theory. But revolutionary theory can only live and develop in terms of this intervention and never more so than in our present period.
When they were still members of the PMP the elements who today constitute the ACC were among the most active in relation to intervention in Mexico City. With them, in Mexico City in the summer of 1982, the ICC held a public meeting on the workers' struggle in Poland.
This period of thought, of breaking away, and of political clarification they are going through should not - as the Theses sometimes leads one to believe - make them forget the primary aim of all this effort.
 With the publication in French of the Unpublished Chapter of Capital at the beginning of the ‘70s - a chapter where Marx particularly developed this distinction - certain currents like the group that published Invariance and other later ‘modernists', thought they'd found in this analysis a fundamental ‘new' element that could be used to understand 20th century capitalism. The taste for innovation for its own sake! But in fact the elements of this distinction (the concrete transformation of the labor process and especially the predominance of relative surplus value over absolute surplus value) basically describes stages in the ascendant period of capitalism and not the key passage to the decadent phase. Thus, for example, capitalism developed in Russia at the end of the 19th century by taking, from the outset, the most modern forms of ‘real domination'.
 Cf ‘Theory of Crises' (critique of Bukharin) in IR 29 and 30 (1982); ‘Crisis Theories from Marx to the Communist International' in IR 22 (1980); ‘Crisis Theories in the Dutch Left' in IR 16, 17, 21; ‘On Imperialism' in IR 19 (1979); ‘Economic Theories and the Struggle for Socialism' in IR 16 (1979) ; the pamphlet, ‘The Decadence of Capitalism'.
 The obscure, often needlessly abstract language of the Theses expresses not only a lack of clarity in thought but also a lack of concern to be understandable outside a restricted intellectual milieu.