The hidden legacy of the left of capital (II): a method and way of thinking in the service of capitalism

Printer-friendly version

In the first part of this series[1] we saw that the programme of the parties of the left and far left of capital for transforming capitalism into a "new society" leads to nothing more than an idealised reproduction of capitalism itself.[2] Worse still, the view of the working class they present is a total denial of its revolutionary nature.

In this second article, we will look into the thinking of these parties and their method of analysis, especially by those that consider themselves the "most radical".

The unity between programme, theory, functioning and morality.

In the first article, we denounced the programme for the defence of capital put forward by these mystifiers; now we need to deal with another matter: their way of thinking, the relations between the members, their organisational methods, their vision of morality, their conception of debate, their vision of militancy and finally the whole experience of working inside these parties. Freeing oneself from this way of looking at things is much more difficult than exposing the political mystifications they are peddling, because in these organisations thinking has been conditioned and behaviour poisoned, and this influences their organisational functioning.

The revolutionary organisations of the communist left, being quite fragile, with small numbers of militants, have had to confront this crucial problem. The organisations have been able to reject the programmes of the left and far left capitalist organisations, but what we call their hidden face, namely their way of thinking, their functioning and behaviour, their moral vision, etc., all which is as reactionary as their programme, has been underestimated and has not been subject to relentless and radical criticism.

It is therefore not enough to denounce the programme of the left and far-left groups of capital; it is also necessary to denounce and fight the hidden organisational and moral face that they share with the parties of the right and far right.

A revolutionary organisation is much more than a programme; it is the unitary synthesis of programme, theory and mode of thinking, morality and organisational functioning. There is coherence between these elements. "The activity of the revolutionary organisation can only be understood as a unitary whole, whose components are not separate but interdependent: 1) its theoretical work, the elaboration of which requires a constant effort and the result is neither fixed nor completed once and for all. It is as necessary as it is irreplaceable; 2) the intervention in the economic and political struggles of the class. It is the practice par excellence of the organisation where theory is transformed into a weapon of combat through propaganda and agitation; 3) the organisational activity in developing and strengthening its organs and in the preservation of its organisational acquisitions, without which quantitative development (membership) could not be transformed into qualitative development[3]

It is clear that we cannot fight for communism with lies, slanders and manoeuvres. There is a coherence between the aspects mentioned above. They prefigure the whole way of life and social organisation of communism and can never be in contradiction with it.

As we have said in the text "The organisational functioning of ICC":

"The question of organisation concentrates a whole series of essential aspects that are fundamental to the proletariat's revolutionary perspective: 1) the fundamental characteristics of communist society and the relations between the members of the latter; 2) the being of the proletariat as a class which is the bearer of communism; 3) the nature of class consciousness, the characteristics of its development, deepening and extension within the class; 4) the role of the communist organisation in the coming to consciousness of the proletariat."[4]

The left and far left of capital, heirs to the falsification of marxism by Stalinism

It can be said that the left and far left groups of capital are political conjurers. They serve up the political positions of capital with a "proletarian" and "marxist" language. They make Marx, Engels, Lenin and other proletarian militants say the opposite of what they wanted to say. They twist, truncate and manipulate the positions they may have defended at a given moment in the workers' movement, to turn them into their absolute opposite. They take quotations from Marx, Engels or Lenin and make them say that capitalist exploitation is good, that the nation is the most precious thing, that we should allow ourselves be supporters of imperialist war and accept the state as our benefactor and protector, etc.

Marx, Engels and Lenin, who fought for the destruction of the state, have magically, for these groups, become its most enthusiastic defenders. Marx, Engels, Lenin, unconditional fighters for internationalism, have become champions of "national liberation" and defenders of the fatherland. Marx, Engels, Lenin, who spurred on the defensive struggle of the proletariat, have become the champions of productivism and in favour of workers sacrificing themselves in the service of capital.

Leading the promotion of this work of falsification was Stalinism[5]. Stalin systematically led this repugnant transformation. We can refer to Ante Ciliga's book, The Russian Enigma to illustrate this[6]. It describes in detail this process that began in the mid-1920s:

"The very unique social regime that developed in Soviet Russia was able to inculcate its own ideology in all branches of science. In other words, it tried to merge its own worldview with that of established science, as well as with the traditional ideology of marxism and new scientific discoveries" (page 103 of the PDF edition in Spanish).

To explain it, he recalled that "Hegel (..) had demonstrated that a phenomenon can retain its form while its content is completely transformed; (...) hadn't Lenin said that often the destiny of great men is to serve as icons after their death, while their liberating ideas are falsified to justify a new oppression and a new slavery?" (page 109).

During his time at the "Communist Academy" in Moscow, he noted that "every year the curricula were changed, historical facts and their appreciation were more and more impudently falsified. This was done not only with regard to the recent history of the revolutionary movement in Russia, but also with events as far back as the Paris Commune, the 1848 revolution and the first French Revolution. (...) And what about the history of the Comintern? Each new publication provided a new interpretation, in many respects quite different from the previous ones" (p. 100), "As these falsifications were introduced at the same time in all branches of education, I came to the conclusion that they were not isolated accidents, but a system for transforming history, political economy and other sciences according to the interests and worldview of the bureaucracy (...) In fact, a new school, the bureaucratic school of Marxism, was being formed in Russia." (p. 101)

Accordingly, the left and far left parties would use three methods:

- taking advantage of mistakes made by the revolutionaries;

- defending positions that were right when defended by revolutionaries at a previous time, as if they were still valid now, when they had become counter-revolutionary;

- blunting the revolutionary dimension of these positions by reducing them to a harmless abstraction.

The mistakes of the revolutionaries

Marx, Engels, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, were not infallible. They made mistakes.

In contradiction with the mechanistic viewpoint of bourgeois thought, mistakes are often inevitable and can be a necessary step towards the truth which, itself, is not absolute, but has a historical character. For Hegel, mistakes are a necessary and evolving moment of the truth.

This is much clearer when we take into consideration that the proletariat is both an exploited class and a revolutionary class and that, as an exploited class, it suffers under the full weight of the dominant ideology. Therefore, when the proletariat - or at least part of it - dares to think, to formulate hypotheses and to put forward demands and to set itself objectives, it rises against the passivity and stupor imposed by capitalist common sense; but at the same time it can make serious misjudgements and fall back into accepting ideas that social evolution itself or the very dynamics of class struggle have already overcome or cast aside.

Marx and Engels believed that in 1848 capitalism was mature enough to be replaced by communism and advocated an "intermediate" capitalist programme that would serve as a platform for socialism (the theory of "permanent revolution").

However, their critical thinking led them to reject this speculation, which they abandoned in 1852. Similarly, they believed that the capitalist state should be seized and used as a lever for revolution, but the living experience of the Paris Commune helped convince them of this error and into concluding that the capitalist state must be destroyed.

We could refer to many other examples, but what we want to show here is how the leftist groups use these mistakes as a justification for their counter-revolutionary programme. Lenin was a committed internationalist, but he was not sufficiently clear on the question of national liberation and made serious mistakes with it. These errors, taken out of their historical context, get divorced from the internationalist struggle he waged, and then get turned into "laws" that are valid for all time[7]. These errors are transformed, hypocritically, into a defence of capital.

How is this falsification possible? One of the most important ways is by destroying the critical thinking of militants. Coherent marxists share with science what it does best: critical thinking, that is, the ability to question positions that, for various reasons, come into conflict with reality and the needs of the proletarian struggle. Marxism is not a set of dogmas produced by the brains of geniuses that cannot be altered; it is a combative, living, analytical and constantly developing method, and for this reason critical thinking is fundamental to it. Suppressing this critical spirit is the main task of the leftist groups, like their Stalinist masters who, as Ciliga said during his time at the "Communist University" in Leningrad, about students and future party leaders, "if it was not written down in the manual, it did not exist for them. You did not question the Party programme. Spiritual life was totally regulated. When I tried to push them beyond the narrow horizon of the programme, to arouse their curiosity and critical senses, they remained deaf. It seemed as if their social skills were blunted." (p. 98).

Thus, faced with the blind adherence advocated by leftist groups (from the Stalinists to the Trotskyists and many anarchists), proletarian militants and revolutionary groups must struggle to keep alive their critical thinking, their ability to be self critical; they should be constantly willing to scrutinise the facts and, based on a historical analysis, know how to re-appraise positions that are no longer valid.

Positions that had once been correct can become blatant lies.

Another characteristic of the leftist method is to defend previously correct revolutionary positions that have been invalidated or become counter-productive by historical events. Take, for example, Marx and Engels' support for trade unions. Leftism concludes that, if trade unions were organs of the proletariat in the days of Marx and Engels, they must be so at all times. They use an abstract and timeless method. They hide the fact that with the decadence of capitalism, trade unions have become organs of the bourgeois state against the proletariat.[8]

There are revolutionary militants who break with leftist positions, but fail to break with their scholastic method. Thus, for example, they simply restrict themselves to reversing the leftist position towards trade unions: if the leftist position was that trade unions have always been in the service of the working class, these revolutionary militants conclude that trade unions have always been against it. They make the position on trade unions a changeless, timeless position, so that, if they seem to have broken with leftism, they still remain prisoners of it.

The same applies to social democracy. It is difficult to imagine that the 'socialist parties' existing today were parties of the working class during the period from 1870 to 1914, that they contributed to its unity, its consciousness and the force of its struggles. Faced with this, the leftists, especially Trotskyism, conclude: social democratic parties have always been and will never cease to be workers’ parties, despite all their counter-revolutionary actions.

However, there are some revolutionaries who say the same thing, but the other way round: if the Trotskyists speak of social democracy as a party that is and will always be a workers’ party, they then conclude that social democracy is and always has been capitalist. They ignore the fact that opportunism is a disease that can affect the workers' movement and can lead its parties into betrayal and integration into the capitalist state.

Trapped by their leftist heritage, they replace the historical and dialectical method with the scholastic method, not understanding that one of the principles of dialectics is the transformation of opposites: a thing that exists can be transformed to act in an opposing manner. The proletarian parties, because of the degeneration due to the weight of bourgeois ideology and of the petty bourgeoisie, can transform themselves into their diametrical opposite: becoming unconditional servants of capitalism[9].

We see this as another consequence of the leftist method: they reject the historical dimension of class positions and the process by which they are formulated. This eliminates another of the essential components of the proletarian method. Each generation of workers stands on the shoulders of the previous generation: the lessons that were produced by the class struggle and by the theoretical effort it made give rise to conclusions that serve as a starting point, but which are not the end point. The evolution of capitalism and the very experiences of class struggle make it necessary for new developments or critical corrections to previous positions to be made. Leftism denies a critical historical continuity by propagating a dogmatic and ahistorical vision.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the thinkers who heralded the bourgeois revolution elaborated a materialism that was revolutionary in its time because it subjected feudal idealism to relentless criticism. However, once power was seized in the main countries, bourgeois thought became conservative, dogmatic and ahistorical. The proletariat, on the other hand, has in its own genes a critical and historical thinking, an ability not to remain trapped by the events of a specific period, however important they may be, and to be guided not by the past or the present but by the perspective of the revolutionary future of which it is the bearer. "The history of philosophy and the history of social science clearly show that marxism has nothing in common with sectarianism in the sense of a doctrine that is inward looking and ossified, emerging from the long road in the development of world-wide civilisation. On the contrary, Marx, the man, was ingenious in that he answered the questions that advanced humanity had already posed. "[10]

The trap of abstraction

Like bourgeois thought, leftist ideology is dogmatic and idealistic on the one hand, and relativistic and pragmatic on the other. The leftist raises his left hand and proclaims some "principles" elevated to the rank of universal dogmas, valid for all possible worlds and for all time. But, with his right hand, invoking "tactical considerations", he keeps these sacred principles in his pocket because "the conditions are not right", "the workers will not understand", "the timing is wrong", etc.

Dogmatism and tacticism are not opposed but complementary. The dogma that encourages people to participate in elections is complemented by the "tactics" of "using them" in order to "get ourselves known" or to "block the advance of the right wing", etc. So dogmatism appears to be something theoretical, but in reality is an abstract vision, placed outside historical evolution. The "tactics", nonetheless, seem "practical" and "concrete" but are in fact a crude and cretinising vision, typical of bourgeois thinking, that does not come from coherent positions but from a purely adaptive and opportunistic daily activity.

This leads us to an understanding of the third characteristic of the leftist method of thinking: it needs to turn the correct positions of revolutionaries into abstractions, taken out of context, in order to blunt their revolutionary edge; as Lenin had said, to render them harmless to capital by presenting them as abstract and inoperative "principles". Thus, communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers’ councils, internationalism... become a rhetorical flurry and a cynical verbiage in which the leaders have no belief, but which they use shamelessly to manipulate the faithful supporters. Ciliga, in the aforementioned book, underlined "the ability of the communist bureaucracy to do the opposite of what it was claiming, to disguise the worst crimes under the mask of the most progressive slogans and the most eloquent sentences" (page 52).

In leftist organisations there are no principles. Their vision is purely pragmatic and changes according to the circumstances, that is, according to the political, economic and ideological needs of the national capital they serve. The principles are adaptable to circumstances and specific moments, like during party conferences and major anniversaries; and are used as a pretext for accusing militants of "violating the principles"; they are also used as weapons in disputes between factions.

This vision of "principles" is radically opposed to that of a revolutionary organisation, which is based on "the existence of a programme valid for the whole organisation. This programme, because it is a synthesis of the experience of the proletariat of which the organisation is a part and because it is produced by a class which doesn't just have an immediate existence but also a historic future, expresses this future by formulating the goals of the class and the way to attain them; gathers together the essential positions which the organisation must defend in the class; serves as a basis for joining the organisation"[11]

The revolutionary programme is the source of the organisation's activity, its theoretical works a source of inspiration and a spur to action. It must therefore be taken very seriously. The militant who comes from leftism and has not found how to detach himself from it, often believes unconsciously, that the programme is just for show, a collection of simple phrases that are invoked on solemn occasions, and so he would like the "rhetorical" stuff dropped. At other times, when he is angry with a comrade or thinks he is being marginalised by the central organs, he tries to "blame them" by using the programme to make his point.

Against these two false visions, we claim the essential function of the programme in a proletarian organisation to be that of a weapon of analysis shared by all the militants and to which all are committed in order to further its development; it is a means of intervention in the proletarian struggle, an orientation and active contribution to its revolutionary future.

The pragmatic and "ingenious" sophisms of leftism do much harm because they make it difficult for a global approach to move from the general to the concrete, from the abstract to the immediate, from the theoretical to the practical. The leftist method breaks the bond that unites these two facets of proletarian thought, by preventing the actual realisation of the unity between the concrete and the general, the immediate and the historical, the local and the global. The tendency and pressure is towards unilateral thinking. The leftist is a localist every day, but displays an "internationalist" approach on public holidays. The leftist sees only the immediate and the pragmatic, but embellishes it with some "historical" references and salutes "the principles". The leftist is pathetically "concrete" when it comes to developing an abstract analysis and he goes into an abstract haze when a concrete analysis is required.

The destructive effects of the theoretical method of leftism

We have seen, in a very synthetic way, some of the features of leftist thought and its effects on the position of communist militants.

We can look at some of these. The Third International used a formula that only makes sense under certain historical conditions: "behind each strike is the hydra of revolution".

This formula is not valid if the balance of power between the classes is favourable to the bourgeoisie. Thus, for example, Trotsky used it schematically, considering that the 1936 strikes in France and the courageous response of the Barcelona proletariat in July 1936 against the fascist coup d'état to be "opening the doors to revolution". It did not take into account the unstoppable course towards imperialist war, the crushing of the Russian and German proletariat, the enrolment of workers under the banner of antifascism. He left out this historical and global analysis and applied only the empty recipe of "behind each strike there is the hydra of revolution".[12]

Another consequence is a vulgar materialism imbued to the core with economism. Everything is determined by the economy, which reflects the greatest mental short-sightedness. Phenomena such as war are separated from their imperialist, strategic and military roots, in an attempt to find the most fanciful economic explanations. Thus, the Islamic state, a mafia gang, a barbaric by-product of imperialism, could be equivalent to an oil company.

Finally, another consequence of the manipulation made by leftism of marxist theory is that it is conceived of as a matter for specialists, experts, brilliant leaders. Everything that these enlightened leaders cough up should be followed to the letter by the "rank and file activists" who will have no role in theoretical development because their mission is be distributing leaflets, selling the press, carrying chairs for meetings, sticking up posters... i.e. serving as the manpower or cannon fodder for the "beloved leaders".

This conception is essential for leftism since its task is to distort the thinking of Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc. and for this they need militants who will unquestioningly believe their stories. However, it is harmful and destructive when such a conception infiltrates revolutionary organisations. Today's revolutionary organisation "is more impersonal than in the 19th century, and ceases to appear as an organisation of leaders guiding the mass of militants. The period of illustrious leaders and great theoreticians is over. Theoretical development has becomes a truly collective task. Like the millions of anonymous proletarian combatants, the consciousness of the organisation develops through the integration and transcending of individual consciousness into one common collective consciousness.[13]

C Mir, 27.12.17


[2]        The left and far left of capital could be seen to correspond to this passage that the Communist Manifesto devotes to bourgeois socialism: "They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightaway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires, in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but to cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.  (...) It is summed up in the phrase:  the bourgeois is a bourgeois - for the benefit of the working class."

[3] “Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation”, (International Review 29),

[4]       “The question of organisational functioning in the ICC”(International Review 107)

[5]       In turn, Stalinism was inspired by the dirty work of social democracy, which betrayed the proletariat in 1914. Rosa Luxemburg, in 'Our Program and the political situation; Address to the Founding Congress of the German Communist Party (Spartacus League)', 31 December 1918, 1 January 1919, denounced it: "You see from its representatives where this Marxism stands today: it is enslaved and domesticated by the Ebert, David and others. It is here that we see the official representatives of the doctrine that, for decades, has been passed off as pure, true marxism. No, this is not where true marxism leads us, into the company of the Scheidemanns and counter-revolutionary politics. True Marxism fights against those who seek to falsify it.”

[6]       Ante (or Anton) Ciliga (1898-1992) was of Croatian origin. He joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and lived in Russia from 1925 onwards, where he became aware of the counter-revolutionary degeneration of the USSR. He joined Trotsky's left-wing opposition. He was arrested for the first time in 1930 and sent to Siberia and was finally freed in 1935. After this he settled in France where he wrote a very lucid account of everything that had happened in the USSR, in the Third International and in the CPSU, in the book cited above. The PDF version in Spanish, whose quotations have been translated, can be found at: Subsequently Ciliga moved further and further away from proletarian positions, sliding towards the defence of democracy, especially following the Second World War.

[7]       On this subject see: "Communists and the national question (1900-1920) Part 1" (International Review 37, 1983)

[8]       See our pamphlet, Unions against the Working Class

[10]    Lenin, The Three Sources and the Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913)

[11]    "Report on the structure and functioning of revolutionary organisations", International Review No. 33 (1983), point 1

[12]    This error byTrotsky was even used by Trotskyism to describe any situation of revolt and even a guerrilla-based coup d'état like the one in Cuba in 1959 as a "revolution".

[13]    “Report on the function  of  the revolutionary organisation”