The bankruptcy of modern councilism

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"... We owe this whole salad above all to Liebknecht and his mania for giving favor to scribblers of cultivated rubbish and people occupying bourgeois positions, thanks to whom one can play at being important in front of the philistines. He is incapable of resisting the litterateurs and shop-keepers who make gooey eyes at socialism. But in Germany it's these people, who are precisely the most dangerous, and Marx and I have never stopped fighting them. ...their petty bourgeois viewpoint always enters into conflict with the radicalism of the prolet­arian masses and they always try to falsify class positions." (Engels to Bebel, 22 June 1885).

The products of Spartacus Editions in France aren't in the habit of giving up their idee fixe: distorting the main acquisitions of the workers' movement. The eclectic varieties of works published have the same basic meeting point: the assimilation of Bolshevism with Stalinism and Jacobinism with the aim of negat­ing any role for the party within the proletar­iat. This is the essential point of reference, the nec plus ultra of the two books Au-dela du Parti by the Collectif Junius (1982) and De 1'usage de Marx en Temps de Crise by ‘les Amis de Spartacus' (1984). These books have been put together by former militants of the PIC[1] and by a whole series of anarchist-councilist elem­ents. The Editions Spartacus have a somewhat confidential distribution, but it's still enough to influence elements of the class looking for some coherence on an international level, and to confuse or even destroy efforts to seriously reappropriate the past history of the workers' movement and its theoretical legacy. This is why our intention here is to denounce something that should not be taken as valid currency, despite the citations prised out of texts by Marx.

I. Rejecting the necessity for the Party

a) What has the party form of organization to do with the proletarian class struggle?

The subtitle of Au-dela du Parti claims that it is going to deal with "the evolution of the con­cept of the party since Marx." Straightaway the introduction says:

"The critique of the concept of the party, inc­luding that of the councilists and the diverse varieties of modernism (situationists, associat­ionists, autonomists of all kinds...), has fail­ed to clearly situate the origins of the erron­eous concept of the party in the theses of Marx himself. Worse, it has tried to oppose his theory of the proletarian party to all those who, beginning with social democracy and Lenin­ism, have assimilated the party with the repres­entation of the proletariat, with the incarnat­ion of its class consciousness."

From the beginning the enterprise of the former PIC militants betrays its intellectual approach. They don't situate themselves on the standpoint of the interests of the prolet­arian movement as a whole, but on the abstract standpoint of a "concept". The marxist approach is very different:

"You cannot study or understand the history of the organism, the party, unless you situate it in the general context of the different stages the movement of the class has gone through, of the problems posed to the class, of its efforts at any given moment to become aware of these problems, to respond to them adequately, to draw the lessons from experience and use these lessons as a springboard towards future strug­gles." (‘The Party and its Relationship to the Class', IR 35).

But let's see if the Collectif Junius does any better than the modernists. Going back to the time of Marx, the Collectif develops its critiques of the conceptions defended by the successive Internationals, then by the fractions who resisted the degeneration of October 1917 and by the ICC. By this going back into history they discover that it's a simple matter to re­write it according to their taste:

"...Thus, for Marx, going beyond the purely economic struggle (formation of unions) onto the level of political struggle was expressed above all by the constitution of a party of the proletariat, distinct and independent from other parties formed by the possessing classes. The political tasks of this party were to alter the capitalist system in a direction favorable to workers' interests, then to ‘conquer power'. This party thus corresponded to the political game of the 19th century which was favorable to a certain extension of the democratic process, characteristic of capital in its ascendant phase... Thus what was false in Marx's concept­ion was his assimilation of the political move­ment of the working class to the formation and action of a proletarian party...His concept of a ‘proletarian party' is the product of his separation between the political phase and the social goal." (p.10)[2]

Here we have the old refrain about the prolet­arian party being an anachronism of the 19th century. But let's still try to understand why the Collectif Junius considers that Marx separates the class struggle into two:

"For Marx, there was no rupture between bourg­eois democracy and the realization of communism but a certain continuity: the political phase in some way represented the watershed between the two because once power had been conquered, the guarantee of the following social trans­formation was the existence of a communist fraction tin the proletarian party" (p.11).

All this is subtle enough, but it shows a rather embryonic state of the art when you judge Marx's whole trajectory by fixating on one part­icular stage of the process. What reveals that this is all grandiloquent nonsense is its prof­ound incomprehension of the conditions of the ascendant period of capitalism, which enabled the proletariat - while still posing the long term question of revolution - to obtain real reforms. Right up until the beginning of the 20th century - the terminal phase of the ascend­ant period of capitalism - there had to be a complementarity between the fight for political liberties and the trade union struggle for the massive reduction of the working day. These we were part of the same dynamic towards the con­stitution of the proletariat into a class con­scious of itself, into an autonomous political force. This fight for reforms was not opposed to the final social goal because, as cited by the authors despite themselves, Marx and Engels always made it clear that "it's not a question of masking class antagonisms, but of suppressing classes; not a question of ameliorating the existing society, but of founding a new one" (1850). Paradoxically the Collectif Junius indulges in mocking Marx and Engels because at certain moments they thought that the European revolution was imminent, but it omits any refer­ence to the re-evaluation Engels made in 1895, in an introduction to The Class Struggles in France, where he admitted that history had shown their predictions to be wrong: "...It clearly showed that the state of development on the continent was very far from being ripe for the suppression of capitalist production".[3]

While avoiding the real question of proletar­ian parties in the 19th century, the Collectif Junius spends much time arguing that Marx simply modeled the form of the proletarian party on that of bourgeois parties. This isn't a new idea. It's taken from Karl Korsch[4]. It's true that Marx often evoked the revolution of 1789 which he considered to be the most exemplary of bourgeois revolutions. In each period, revolutionaries are influenced by the model of previous revolutions, and they have to study them in detail if they are to go beyond their old conceptions. And it wasn't just Marx who was impassioned by the French revolution, but practically all the revolutionaries of his day, the anarchists as much as the Blanquists. Marx however was the first, after Babeuf, to emphasize the limitations of this bourgeois revolution: look at the way he fired red bullets against all the hypocrisies of the ‘Rights of Man' (in The Jewish Question). Above all, he was the first to show the necessity of the proletarian revolution for the real emancipation of human­ity (cf. the ‘universal character of the proletariat' in The German Ideology).

The ascendant phase of capitalism did not permit Marx and his comrades to understand all the functions of the proletarian party, in part­icular those which differentiate it from the classical bourgeois parties: its function is not to take political power in place of the proletariat, it is not to organize the class or exercise terror or extend the revolution through a ‘revolutionary war' (all lessons which would be drawn out of the experiences of the Paris Commune and of October 1917). However, the movement of the class itself at that time - above all the revolutions of 1848 and 1871 - not only enabled Marx and Engels to go beyond the model of 1789, but also to draw lessons for the whole proletariat that weren't drawn by the ‘Quaranthuithards' or the ‘Communards' themselv­es. These lessons were par excellence the res­ult of the activity of militants of a revolution­ary organization, not of historians. These les­sons are so deeply ingrained in the workers' movement that when one talks about 1848 or 1871, one refers essentially to the political conclus­ions Marx and Engels drew from them, rather than to the events themselves! But rather than pointing to these political lessons and Marx's capacity to put his previous analyses into ques­tion when the living class struggle brought new enrichments[5], the Collectif Junius prefers to claim that the Commune proved Marx wrong, making sure that it doesn't mention the fact that there weren't many who supported the Paris insurrection or who stuck up for it after the bloody repression. Marx however supported it fully even if it hadn't been envisaged in his predictions. We might add that if posterity has been so interested in the Commune, it's to a large extent because of Marx. The Collectif blithely assures us that "the workers' insurr­ection...disproved Marx and Engels' previous analyses about the absolute priority of the democratic process" (p.14), and they say this to once again denigrate any activity of the proletarian party. It nevertheless remains the case that the weaknesses of the measures taken by the Commune, the lack of coordination, the low number of representatives of the Internat­ional Workingmen's Association, revealed for the future the necessity for a revolutionary minority to have a presence within the class, to be equipped with a coherent program and able to have a firm influence on the struggle.

But, despite everything, because of its prem­ature character, the Commune could be no more than a gigantic flash of lightning, heralding the social confrontations that would take place less than fifty years later, not on the scale of one city, but internationally, owing to capitalism's entry into its decadent phase. Just as the Paris Commune did not disprove the importance of a proletarian party capable of carrying out the tasks of the day, so it proved Marx right about the necessity for a transitional phase in order to reorganize society. But, in effect, our authors tell us that there can be no question of a period of transition: "this is the theorization of a separation between the political phase and the social goal (again!), thus of the contin­uity of certain functions of class society and of capitalism during the political phase (= the state)" (p.15). This is the same reasoning as that of Proudhon. Twenty years earlier, in the famous letter to Weydemeyer, Marx had ant­icipated the transitional content concretized by the Commune: "...the class struggle nec­essarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat...which itself only represents a transition towards the abolition of all classes and towards a classless society" (1852). The Commune remains an example of the transitional premises of the struggle for communism: it is clear that the political measures it took were much more important than its timid economic measures. In contrast to the bourgeois class, the proletariat can't guarantee its chances of success on any economic base. Certainly it will have to continuously overturn the economy throughout the future period of transition, but only to the extent that it affirms itself pol­itically. From this point of view, Marx rem­ained an intractable opponent of reformism, which for a long time was above all the charact­eristic of those who rejected political action and the function of the political class party, such as the different varieties of trade union­ists or anarchists, who would have approved of the arguments of our modern councilists. Final­ly, and above all, in trying to get us to swal­low the line that the Commune proved Marx wrong about the "democratic process", the Collectif Junius tries to make us lose sight of the main lesson of the Commune: the necessity for the destruction of the bourgeois state, which opp­ortunism in the 2nd International also tried to sweep under the carpet. Now on this point, Marx was correct as early as 1852, and he affirmed it in several places in The 18th Brumaire, for example: "All political upheavals perfected this machine instead of smashing it. The part­ies that strove in turn for mastery regarded possession of this immense state edifice as the main booty for the victor".

The Collectif Junius reproaches Marx above a all with being inspired by the "century of the Enlightenment". Actually, it throws a lot of shadow on the work of Marx, and itself revives a lot of old arguments from the last century, like the idealist Bauer whom Marx sarcastically referred to as "luminous"[6]. Marx was not content simply to copy this or that example from the revolutionary bourgeoisie (though our hist­orical experts seem to forget that the bourgeoisie was once a progressive class). His point of departure was the critical-revolutionary over­throw of Hegelian principles, and thus he elaborated a materialist method which deals with social ideas and alternatives in the context of a given historical epoch and of the form of society specific to that epoch. The Collectif Junius isn't at all concerned with the marxist method, and historical materialism does not exist as far as it is concerned. The narrow point of view it holds today is the peep-hole it uses to understand the different periods of the past!

The parties of the proletariat - we're not talking here about the bourgeois parties who claim to speak and take decisions in the name of the class - are secreted by it, they are as useful to it as oxygen is to air. And it is historical materialism that enables us to affirm:

"The formation of political parties expressing and defending class interests is not specific to the proletariat. We have seen it with all classes in history. The level of development, definition and structure of these forces ref­lects the classes they emanate from... However, if there are indisputable common points between the parties of the proletariat and those of other classes - notably the bourgeoisie - the differences between them are also considerable... the objective of the bourgeoisie, in establish­ing its power over society, was not to abolish exploitation but to perpetuate it in other forms; not to suppress the division of society into classes but to install a new class society; not to destroy the state but to perfect it...on the other hand... (the aim of proletarian parties) is not to take and hold state cower; on the contrary, their ultimate goal is the disappear­ance of the state and all classes" (‘On the Party...', IR 35).

It was logical, however, that even after the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx should still be influenced by his own period and that he should continue to support the idea of the party taking power. History has since settled this question; the Bolshevik experience has shown that this isn't the function of the party. But when we compare Marx to his contemporaries, to the various Bakuninist or Blanquist sects with their secret societies and their ridiculous plans for coups d'état - which of them can be placed alongside the formidable coherence and lucidity of Marx, whose method remains a weapon of combat? Perhaps the Collectif Junius in a time machine?

b) Class consciousness and the formation parties

According to the Collectif Junius,

"...once again the negative weight of the French revolution in Marx-Engels' consciousness...the separation between political phase and social phase (this is becoming an obsession!) gave rise to the conception and practice of a Jacob­in communist party, a party of specialists in politics, of professional revolutionaries, of theoreticians of the proletariat...for social democracy and Bolshevism, the party, built in advance of the revolutionary movement, became the introducer of an ideological consciousness into the proletariat, which was seen as purely trade unionistic".

Or again, because the whole point is to throw the entire history of the proletarian class struggle into the dustbins of the bourg­eoisie - after Marx, the 2nd International, then the 3rd, etc:

"...Lenin was to apply in practice the ultimate consequences of the negative aspects of Marx's organizational conceptions, which German social-democracy had already amplified."

Everything becomes the object of these anarch­ist insults: elitist party, politicians' stand­point, manipulation. It would be pedantic to res­pond to all the stupidities of this school-boyish compilation; the reader looking for a real hist­orical understanding would do better to refer to the texts of Marx and Lenin, or to a few serious historical works and the documents of the Internationals. Here we will simply recall a famous passage from the Communist Manifesto which remains valid: "(the communists) have no interests separate from those of the proletariat as a whole". Let's remember that Marx retor­ted to all the conspirators of his day that the class struggle needs clarity like the day needs light. As for the idea of ‘consciousness intro­duced from the outside into the proletariat' which the Collectif Junius points to, it figures neither in Marx nor in the Congresses of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. It's one thing to show that Kautsky and Lenin bent the stick too far in debates with the apolitical economists and trade unionists, but this idea never figured in any program of a workers' party before 1914; Lenin publically rejected this idea in 1907. In the post-68 milieu it was fashionable to gossip about the ‘renegade Kautsky and his disciple Lenin', an old refrain of the degenerat­ed Dutch Left. It's true that the errors of Kautsky[7] and Lenin were exploited by Stalinism and Trotskyism against the workers' movement, but it was through the battle waged by Kautsky, Luxemburg and Lenin against the revisionists and the economists that the function of the political class party could be affirmed and made more pre­cise.

As for the question of class consciousness, after all their demolition exercises, we can ask our valiant authors where they are going to look for it, since the only thing that counts in their eyes is the spontaneous moment: the moment of strikes, the instant of revolutions. Does the proletariat disappear in the meantime? In fact their vision is a simple one: class conscious­ness is merely the reflection of workers' strug­gles, never a dynamic factor. The whole work of theoretical elaboration, of taking up positions, is seen as elitist, the work of manipulative politicians, and thus of bourgeois parties. They don't see the existence of two dimensions in the same proletarian movement, that of its polit­ical organizations and that of the class as a whole, which react dialectically upon each other. In their vision, when the struggle ceases, the working class disappears[8], to be reborn out of the ashes in six months or ten years later, as though it had been in a total coma, as though the ‘old mole' had not been working at all at the level of class consciousness, and as though there had been no intervening dynamic of theoretical reflection and research. All this reminds one of the obtuse and anti-scientific spirit of the partisans of spontaneous generation who opposed Pasteur. In any case, the approach of the Coll­ectif Junius is highly scholastic: it paints a picture of one party throughout the ages, con­ceived by the sorcerer Marx who at one moment is accused of creating the party before the revol­ution, and then at another moment of contradicting himself by saying: "(the party) is born spontaneously from the soil of modern society" (1860). Clouded by the immediate and ephemeral, our Collectif shows its incapacity to understand marxism. For Marx the party is a natural product of the class struggle, in no way voluntaristic or self-proclaimed. It's not the static, omnipotent body of our authors' imagination, the dem­onic invention of Marx and Lenin to sabotage the revolution through the ages; it is a dynamic and dialectical element:

"Real history rather than fantasy shows us that the existence of the class party goes through a cyclical movement of emergence, development and passing away. This passing away may take the form of its internal degeneration, its passage into the enemy camp, or its disappearance pure and simple, leaving more or less long intervals until once again the conditions for its re‑emergence make their appearance... Obviously there is a continuity here... But there can be no stability or fixity in this organism called the party" (‘On the Party...', IR 35).

We can add that parties are much more indispensable to the proletariat than the bourgeoisie, whose parties didn't emerge in a clear form until quite late in capitalist society. The proletariat has a much greater task: it has to abolish all class divisions and all exploitation. Thus its theoretical elaboration has to be much more universal, and the problem of consciousness is much more central to it than the bourgeoisie in the progressive phase of capitalism, a society which was born out of "muck, blood and tears".

c) Councilist ouvrierism

The whole left of capital is there to tell us that consciousness has to be brought from the outside. But there's also a whole category of revolutionaries for whom the ‘workers' councils are a permanent incantation, even a kind of rev­elation, and the absurd logic of this approach also leads to the negation of the proletariat. Because they start by saying that parties are external to the proletariat, they end up saying that the class struggle is external to the proletariat! It's lucky for the proletariat that the Collectif Junius is there to defend the proletariat from Marx the ‘luminary', the En­lightenment philosopher:

"The conditions, the line of march, the goals... it's all drawn up, this ‘rest of the proletariat', which doesn't have the ‘advantage of a clear understanding' can thus make no theoretical contribution, at least nothing fundamental. It's like a blind man which has to be guided by those, the communists, who possess the program from A to Z" (p.21).

The broad lines of the 1848 Manifesto are "elitist", conclude our scourges of the parties. The battles, the sacrifices, the polemics and the directives of proletarian parties always have the aim of misleading the workers, as our ‘defenders of the proletariat' explain against the hateful Marx:

"(Concerning the non-publication of corrections of the Gotha Program)... Even though they are secondary; these reasons reveal the politician's, and thus bourgeois, vision which Engels had of the workers' movement; the workers are incapable of having a clear consciousness of things, so the party can manipulate them at its ease" (p.41).

Here anarchist invective replaces argumentat ion, shopkeeper's demagogy once again leads to the idealist negation of the reformist stage, of any need for maximum and minimum programs. This wild defense of the average worker sounds a bit like the boss who exclaims: "By talking to the workers about strikes and insurrections, you'll give them the wrong ideas!" Even Rosa Luxemburg is accused of having the conception of a party of leaders whose ‘credo' is the com­munist program. Against which the Collectif Junius (‘Junius' was Rosa Luxemburg's pseudonym during the war) sets up its own credo: "this is the philosophy of the Enlightenment still rav­aging on" (p.103). One thing is certain for the Collectif Junius: the working class is a homogeneous class which doesn't have years and years of experience, and in which the worker who goes on strike for the first day of his life all of a sudden knows as much as one who's been fighting for twenty years, and ten thousand workers on strike for a day count more on the level of historical experience than a revolution­ary minority which has been battling for fifteen years! They claim to be combatting the ‘bourgeois' workers' movement, but in fact they are merely rendering humble service to the most crass form of capitalist trade unionist ideology, the one which par excellence facilitates manipulation: ouvrierism. And, with a flick of the wrist, they deny the existence of an historic program of the proletariat!

d) Ignorance of the phenomenon of opportunism

The most striking thing about this disjointed and indigestibel anti-party pamphlet is not only its deafness to any understanding of the role of the party (1848 - 1871 - 1905 - 1917 - 1921) but - and this fundamentally derives from all the rest - a blindness about the notion of opportunism. Without showing any ounce of understanding, the term is used in several places. It evokes the critiques of opportunism by Pannekoek, Gorter, Luxemburg, Lenin. It even has a nice quote from Luxemburg: "It is...a thoroughly unhistorical illusion to think that...the labor movement can be preserved once and for all from opportunistic side-leaps" (p.94). But since it places itself outside the problematic of the workers' move­ment, it is impossible for the Collectif Junius to see what is valid in what it quotes. On the other hand, it identifies itself very well with degenerated German-Dutch Left, with the Pannekoek who inaugurated that very modernist term, "the new workers' movement" towards the end of the 1930s, and who is quoted with pleasure: "a party, of whatever kind, is small at the beginning (what wisdom!) - but in our days a party can only be an organization aiming at directing and dominating the proletariat" (p.124). In these conditions it becomes impossible to grasp the phenomenon of the degeneration of proletarian parties and their passage into the enemy camp, because everything is explained by: the bourgeoisie, the separation between political phase and social goal, the century of the Enlightenment. The acquisitions of the workers' movement are dealt with in the same way that university students approach the thoughts of the philosophers: through scholastic interpretation. But our Collectif grants no grace to the German-Left at the beginning either:

"...Gorter's conception of the party as a regroupment of the ‘pure' in the face of opport­unism is still strongly influenced by a vision inspired by the process of bourgeois revolution (philosophy of Enlightenment). This may explain his attitude of ‘searching for discussion' with Lenin and the Bolsheviks".

In fact it's the Collectif Junius which wants to be ‘pure', ideally pure, or at least searching for purity. It is thus not able to grasp the complex process of disengagement from bourgeois ideology by the proletariat and its organizations. It's so obsessed with purity that it confuses the bourgeoisie with its victims, because it can't see that there's a struggle going on here. It's like a judge sitting high above the social melee.

In general, opportunism is a manifestation of the penetration of bourgeois ideology into proletarian organizations and the working class; it leads to the rejection of revolutionary principles and of the general framework of marxist analysis. It is thus a permanent threat to the class and to the organizations or parties which are part of it. At best it can be corrected by sincere elements, at worst it leads to unpardonable weaknesses and errors. From this point of view, Marx, Lenin and many others more than once committed opportunist errors, but this did not mean that they were bourgeois! Partial or secondary concessions depending on the time and the general level of experience did not put into question the common method and function of the parties for which they fought so hard. The rev­olutionary movement cannot simply repeat itself - it has had to successively refine "the evolution of the concept of the party" (if we use the university terminology of the Collectif Junius).

When it devotes itself to systematically rejecting the successive contributions of the different parties of the proletariat, when it denies any distinctions within the working class, when it ferociously resists the form and function of the party, the Collectif Junius is typically councilist. But the incantation about ‘the class itself' or the ‘workers' councils' as a panacea is a modern and particularly pernicious form of opportunism that is much more widespread than just the readers of Spartacus publications. It's an ideology which, as can be seen in the form theorized by the Collectif Junius, makes all sorts of concessions to the dominant ideas of this epoch of capitalist decadence. We say this clearly: the rejection of organizing into a political party is dangerous. The thesis ‘all parties are bourgeois' and its corollary ‘only the workers' councils are revolutionary', leads to despising the working class, to demoralization, to leaving the field to the bourgeoisie. But more fundamentally, from the correct rejection of any distinction between maximum and minimum program in our epoch, it leads to denying the ­maximum program, the only one valid for today, because it is precisely the role of the revolutionary party to defend this program.

In the preface to this pamphlet it says that this work is the first part of an "incomplete" project. But this is something which by definition must remain incomplete and intangible, because it was produced by a groupuscule which has dissolved itself into petty bourgeois incoherence: the defunct PIC. What followed was the great void. Because if you try to make a clean           slate of the past (as in the song by Pottier so favored by the left fractions of the bourgeoisie), you end up wiping away the future of the class struggle.

II. The chrysanthemums of the petty bourgeoisie

"These gentlemen all talk about marxism, but of the kind you knew in France ten years ago and about which Marx said: ‘All I know is that I am not a marxist'. And probably he would say about these gentlemen what Heine said about his imitators: ‘I have sown dragons and reaped fleas'" (Engels to Lafargue, 27 August 1890).

We will not spend so much time on the second Spartacus booklet, which on the whole is no worse than the previous one, but which shows a bit more clearly that, among the various collaborators of the ‘Friends of Spartacus', the shortest route to the negation of the working class is to start by negating the militant Marx.

This booklet had been the object of a public appeal for contributions to it, and we replied to this appeal as follows:

"This approach...and this project are part of a whole campaign conducted by the wise monkeys of the universities of the bourgeoisie and launched on the occasion of the centenary of Marx's death with the aim of systematically denigrating and disfiguring marxism by identifying it with the Stalinist regime in the eastern bloc countries. Thank you for your invitation, ‘Friends of Spartacus', but count us out... You can set yourselves up as judges of the movement, we are revolutionary militants of the movement" (Revolution Intenationale, no.112, 1983).

We weren't wrong to reply like this to this nth funeral ceremony for marxism. The introduction to this so-called homage to Marx by the ‘Friends of Spartacus' is clear, and sums up the eclecticism of the texts included.

"The different contributions included in this booklet converge on this point. Whatever the angle of attack (sic) chosen by their authors, all are convinced that the limits of Marx are both the limits of his time and the limits of his relationship with his time" (p.9).

This bouquet of faded flowers summarizes 120 pages dedicated to rejecting the contributions of Marx (which are more than ever relevant) and reducing him to the role of an ‘interesting' writer. Naturally it includes denigrations of the same ilk as, and even directly taken from, the previous work: equals a sign between Jacobinism and marxism (Korsch's "contribution" is openly defended), equals signs between October 1917 and Stalinism, the same obsession about Marx ‘copying 1789' and the ‘century of the Enlightenment'. Marx is also seen as having an "ontological" vision and as being inspired by "Hegel's hypertrophy of politics".

All these people file past Marx's tomb with such a contrite air that they are in no way distinguishable from a procession of bigots from the old world. Let's choose for example one called Janover who, having also talked about the deleterious influence of 1789, demonstrates too his incomprehension of any notion of opportunism:

"Political marxism is thus both the product of this diversion (?) and the result of an accommodation... Its structure was in the image of the social democratic organisation, partly proletarian, partly bourgeois, but the dominant bourgeois structure soon came to the fore even before Marxism-Leninism had put forward its recipes for ‘socialist' accumulation to the elites of countries still at the pre-capitalist stage".

More typically, one called St James abstains from putting forward any hypothesis and aims at being more wooly than the others:

"Of course, neither can we eliminate the hypothesis that the present situation will evolve towards a frank and open crisis... But neither can we say there won't be a new return to prosperity... Of course certain people might object that we don't draw any definite conclusions from this analysis... It's clear that a theory that can be bent to take opposing phenomena into account can't ever be considered as scientific"

And these people dare to refer to Marx's teachings! Actually, they do have a Pope: the notorious intellectual councilist Rubel who, much more than Marx, is the inspiration for all their stupidities. Like Rubel, nearly all of them reject Marx the militant: they turn him into an intellectual flea like themselves. Like Rubel they believe that Marx was too content with uncertainties in his scientific work (though they abhor the scientific method); but, alas, he never reneged on "the almost daily political combat within the framework of an organization or as an isolated militant" (Rubel). Alas and alack: this is why Rubel, who like all petty bourgeois is incapable of understanding the revolutionary passion of the struggle, has specialized in doing research into Marx's intimate writings and his waste-paper bins with the aim of corroborating his own doubts ... "...even if he refused to leave to posterity any introspective confessions. Better than any such confidences, the mass of unedited and incomplete writings and notebooks are testimony of the hes­itations and doubts he had to face up to after being disarmed by the repeated triumphs of the counter-revolution".

In fact, because he can't stomach Marx the militant, he ascribes to him all his own petty bourgeois doubts. With a stroke of the pen he dismisses Marx's involvement in the collective movement of the proletariat, and all that's left is... "poetry" (Rubel). But Rubel, who vainly projects his own doubts on Marx, still has his certainties: "We are obliged to recognize that if capital is everywhere, it's because the prol­etariat is nothing and nowhere" (p.43). Here this philistine confirms that councilism is not only an opportunist danger for the proletariat but also that it leads to the negation of the working class, to modernism. In his conclusion, having abandoned the proletariat, Rubel joins the great impotents of history, the philosophers: "We, the living, we can and must act right now to launch a project for modifying the alienating forces that are the product of man's inventive genius and of his creative inventions".

The other philistines have only to follow in the footsteps of this great master of councilist­cum-modernist thought. The representative of the modernist circle ‘Guerre Sociale' can lament like the Collectif Junius:

"Marx's work expresses the historical circum­stances in which it was created, prolonging the bourgeois tendencies it came out of and tried to go beyond" (p.90).

A burial is always a painful "circumstance" when you're thinking about the living, so the anarchist Pengam whispers with head bowed: "...the working class aims, through the intermediary of ‘workers' parties', to get itself recognized in the state on account of the place it occupies in the relations of production" (p.103)

Finally, even an old hand of the revolutionary milieu like Sabatier puts on his black habits and sprinkles holy water on the anti-Bolshevism that is so de rigeur in the ceremonies of the ‘'Friends of Spartacus':

"The counter-revolution and its mystifying ideo­logies triumphed by drawing support from the med­iations introduced by Marx and by drowning any critical method in a flood of empty rhetoric" (p.83).

Petty bourgeois intellectuals, in abandoning the terrain of the defense of class principles, always end up agreeing with the bourgeoisie which has spent the last fifty years consciously deforming the real reasons of the degeneration of October 1917 and the failure of the revolutionary wave of the ‘20s. The proletariat must combat the arguments of these philistines right now if it is not to compromise its struggle for the destruction of the established capitalist order.


[1] The group Pour Une Intervention Communiste (Jeune Taupe) was formed in 1974 around elements who had left Revolution Internationale because they considered that it didn't intervene enough; after a few years the group foundered on the rocks of activism, councilism and modernism. Its heir Revolution Sociale has drawn almost no lessons from this disastrous trajectory (cf. its pamphlet pompously titled Bilan et Perspectives).

[2] An inconsistent argument because, just on the page before, the authors repeat the famous phrase from the pamphlet against Proudhon: "Do not say that the social movement excludes the political movement. There is never a political movement which is not at the same time a social movement". We can add that as early as 1844 Marx could write: "All revolution dissolves the old society; in this sense it is social. All revolution overturns the old power; in this sense it is political".

[3]A remark that can be found in many other texts since the Manifesto. But Lenin emphasizes the extent to which this is a question of method: "We can see just how much Marx kept strictly to the results of historical experience by the fact that in 1852 he did not yet concretely pose the question of what could replace the state machine once it was destroyed. At that time experience had not yet furnished the historical material needed to reply to this question, which history would put on the agenda later, in 1871" (State and Revolution).

[4] Karl Korsch, a former member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD from which he was expelled in 1926. Abandoning the marxist method he theorized the idea that Jacobinism was the fundamental source of Marx. Certain of his ideas were taken up by Mattick in the USA. His main translator in France is the councilist Bricianer.

[5] See our article for the centenary of Marx's death, IR 33, ‘Marx our Contemporary'.

[6] Marx, Bataille Critique Contre la Revolution Francais, La Pleiade, p.557.

[7] Here we're obviously talking about Kautsky before 1910, the Kautsky who, before becoming a centrist and then a renegade, was an authentic revolutionary militant, who alongside Rosa Luxem­burg was a leader of the left wing of social democracy in its struggle against opportunism.

[8] Certain Bordigists have a symmetrical, but finally identical vision: when the Party disappears the working class no longer exists!

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