Machiavellianism, and the consciousness and unity of the bourgeoisie

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The two articles that follow are the product of discussion that has been animating the ICC: their main aim is to investigate the bourgeoisie's level of consciousness and capacity for maneuvering in the period of decadence. This is part of the debate on the Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie, which was one of the issues which gave rise to the ‘tendency' which left the ICC about a year ago[1]. This somewhat informal tendency split into several groups on leaving the ICC: L'Ouvrier Internationaliste (France) and ‘News of War and Revolution' (Britain), which have since disappeared, who together with ‘The Bulletin' (Britain) all made the same critique of the ICC: we have a Machiavellian view of the bourgeoisie and a conspiratorial views of history. Other groups like ‘Volunte Communiste' or ‘Guerre de Classe' in France also accuse the ICC of overestimating the consciousness of the bourgeoisie[2].

But this discussion isn't simply about the concrete question of how the bourgeoisie maneuver in its decadent period: it is also poses the more general question of what the bourgeoisie is, and what this implies for the proletariat.

Why the bourgeoisie is Machiavellian

First let's recall who Machiavelli was: this will help us to understand what we mean when we talk about machiavellianism.

We don't intend here to make an exhaustive analysis of Machiavelli's work and the time he lived in. Our aim is to understand his contribution to the building of bourgeois ideology.

Machiavelli was a statesman in Florence at the time of the Renaissance. He is best known for his book The Prince. Obviously Machiavelli, like every man, was bound to the limits of his own period, and his under­standing was conditioned by the relations of production of that time, the decadent period of feudalism. But his time was also one in which a new class was rising towards power: the bourgeoisie, which was beginning to dominate the economy. The bourgeoisie was the revolutionary class of the period, and was soon aspiring towards political domina­tion over society. Machiavelli's The Prince was not only a faithful portrait of the time in which it was written, a reflection of the perversity and duplicity of governments in the 16th and 17th centuries, Machiavelli first of all understood the ‘effective truth' of the policies of states in his day: the means matter little, the essential thing is the end -- conquering and maintaining power. His concern was above all to teach the princes of that time how to hold on to what they'd acquired how to avoid being dispossessed by somebody. Machiavelli was the first to separate morality from politics, ie, religion from politics. He took up an entirely ‘tech­nical' standpoint. Of course, princes had never governed their subjects for their own good. But under feudalism, princes didn't understand reasons of state very well, and Machiavelli set out to teach them about it. Machiavelli said nothing new when he said that princes must lie if they are to win, or when he pointed out that they rarely kept their word: all this had been known since the days of Socrates. The life of princes -- their cynicism, their lack of faith -- was conditioned by the overwhelming power they already possessed. Having assimilated their cynicism, all that remained for Machiavelli to do was to put faith in question. This is what he did when he questioned morality and its underlying support: religion. In matters of state, means aren't important. Thus, by rejecting all moral prejudices in the exercise of power, Machiavelli justified the use of coercion and opted for the rejection of religion in order for a minority to rule over the majority.

This is why he was the first political ideo­logue of the bourgeoisie: he freed politics from religion. For him, as for the newly rising class, the mode of domination could be atheistic even while making use of religion. While the previous history of the Middle Ages hadn't known any ideological form other than religion, the bourgeoisie was gradually dev­eloping its own ideology which would rid itself of religion while still using it as an accessory. By destroying the link between politics and morality, between politics and religion, Machiavelli destroyed the feudal concept of the divine right to power: he made a bed for the bourgeoisie to lie on.

Actually, the princes Machiavelli was teaching were ‘the princes of the bour­geoisie', the future ruling class, because the feudal princes couldn't listen to his message without at the same time under­mining the bases of feudal power. Machiavelli expressed the revolutionary stand­point of the time: that of the bourgeoisie.

Even in its limitations, Machiavelli's thought didn't just express the limitations of the time, but of his class. When he presented ‘effective truth' as eternal truth, he wasn't so much expressing the illusion of the epoch but the illusion of the bourgeoisie, which like all previous ruling classes in history, was also an exploiting class. Machiavelli posed explicitly what had been implicit for all ruling, exploiting classes in history. Lies, terror, coercion, double-dealing, corruption, plots and political assassination weren't new methods of government: the whole history of the ancient world, as well as of feudalism, showed that quite clearly. Like the patricians of ancient Rome, like the feudal aristocracy, the bourgeoisie was no exception to the rule. The difference was that patricians and aristocrats ‘practiced machiavellianism without knowing it', whereas the bourgeoisie is machiavellian and knows it. It turns machiavellianism into an ‘eternal truth', because that's how it lives: it takes exploit­ation to be eternal.

Like all exploiting classes, the bourgeoisie is also an alienated class. Because its own historic path leads it towards nothingness, it cannot consciously admit its historic limits.

Contrary to the proletariat, which as an exploited class and a revolutionary class is pushed towards revolutionary objectivity, the bourgeoisie is a prisoner to its subjectivity as an exploiting class. The difference between the revolutionary class consciousness of the proletariat and the exploiters' class ‘consciousness' of the bourgeoisie is thus not a question of degree, of quantity: it is a difference in quality.

The bourgeoisie's view of the world inevit­ably bears with it the stigma of its sit­uation as an exploiting, ruling class, which today is no longer revolutionary in any way -- which, since capitalism entered into its dec­adent phase, has no progressive role to play for humanity. At the level of its ideology, it necessarily expresses the reality of the capitalist mode of production which is based on the frenetic search for profit, on the most vicious competition and the most savage exploitation.

Like every exploiting class, the bourgeoisie cannot, despite all its pretensions, help dis­playing in practice its absolute contempt for human life. The bourgeoisie was first of all a class of merchants for whom ‘business is business' and ‘money has no smell'. In his separation between ‘politics' and ‘morality', Machiavelli was simply translating the bour­geoisie's usual separation between ‘business' and morality. For the bourgeoisie human life has no value except as a commodity.

The bourgeoisie doesn't only express this reality in its general relationships with the exploited class, above all the most important one, the working class: it also expresses it within itself, in the very fibers of its being. As the expression of a mode of production based on competition, its whole vision can only be a competitive one, a vision of perpetual rivalry among all individuals, including within the bour­geoisie itself. Because it's an exploiting class, it can only have a hierarchical vision. In its own divisions, the bour­geoisie simply expresses the reality of a world divided into classes, a world of exploitation.

Since it has been the ruling class, the bourgeoisie has always buttressed its power with the lies of ideology. The watchword of the triumphant French republic in 1789 - ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' -- is the best illustration of this. The first democratic states, arising out of the struggle against feudalism in England, France or America, didn't hesitate to use the most repulsive, ruthless methods to extend their territorial and colonial conquests. And when it came to augmenting their profits they were prepared to impose the most brutal repression and exploitation on the working class.

Up to the 20th century the power of the bour­geoisie was based essentially on the strength of its all-conquering economy, on the tumult­uous expansion of the productive forces, on the fact that the working class could, through its struggle, win real improvements in its living conditions. But since capitalism entered into its decadent phase, into a period marked by the tendency towards econ­omic collapse, the bourgeoisie has seen the material basis of its rule undermined by the crisis of the economy. In these conditions, the ideological and repressive aspects of its class rule have become essential. Lies and terror have become the method of government for the bourgeoisie.

The machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie isn't the expression of an anachronism or a perversion of its ideals about ‘democracy'. It is in conformity with its being, its true nature. This isn't a ‘novelty' of history -- merely one of its more sinister banalities. Although all exploiting classes have expressed this at different levels, the bourgeoisie has taken it onto a qualitatively new stage. By shattering the ideological framework of feudal domination -- religion -- the bourgeoisie emancipated politics from religion, as well as law, science, and art. Now it could use all these things as conscious instruments of its rule. Here we can see both the tremendous advance made by the bourgeoisie, as well as its limits.

It's not the ICC which has a machiavellian view of the bourgeoisie, it's the bourgeoisie which, by definition, is machiavellian. It's not the ICC which has a conspiratorial, policeman's view of history, it's the bour­geoisie. This view is ceaselessly propounded in the pages of its history books, which spend their time exalting individuals, concentrating on plots, on rivalries between cliques and other superficial aspects without ever seeing the real moving forces, compared to which these epiphenomena are merely froth on a wave.

In the end, for revolutionaries to point out that the bourgeoisie is machiavellian is relatively secondary and banal. The most important thing is to draw out the implica­tions of this for the proletariat.

The whole history of the bourgeoisie demon­strates its intelligence, its capacity for maneuvering -- particularly in the period of decadence which has seen two world wars and in which the bourgeoisie has shown that no lies, no acts of barbarism are too great for it[3].

To believe that the bourgeoisie today is no longer capable of the same maneuverability the same lack of scruple which it shows in its internal rivalries, faced as it is by its historic class enemy, would lead to a pro­found under-estimation of the enemy that the proletariat is going to have to deal with.

The historic examples of the Paris Commune and the Russian revolution have already shown that, in the face of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie can set aside its most powerful antagonisms -‑ those which lead it towards war -- and unite against the class which threatens to destroy it.

The working class, the first exploited revol­utionary class in history, cannot rely on any economic strength to carry out its political revolution. Its real strength is its consciousness, and this the bourgeoisie has well understood. "Governing means putting your subjects in a state where they can't bother you or even think of bothering you", as Machiavelli put it. This is truer than ever today.

Because terror alone isn't enough, all the bourgeoisie's propaganda is used to keep the proletariat tied to the chains of exploita­tion, to mobilize it for interests which aren't its own, to hold back the develop­ment of a consciousness of the necessity and possibility of the communist revolution.

If the bourgeoisie spends so much money on maintaining a political apparatus for con­taining and mystifying the proletariat (parliament, parties, unions,) and keeps an absolute control over all the media (press, radio, TV) it's because propaganda -- the lie -- is an essential weapon of the bourgeoisie. And the bourgeoisie is quite capable of provoking events to feed this propaganda, if need be.

Not to see all this means joining the camp of the ideologues that Marx attacked when he wrote:

"Although in daily life every shopkeeper knows how to distinguish between what an individual claims to be and what he really is, our historiography hasn't yet attained this banal knowledge. It believes word for word what each epoch affirms and imagines about itself."

It actually means failing to see the bour­geoisie, being blind to all its maneuvers because you don't believe the bourgeoisie is capable of them.

Just to take two particularly illustrative examples:

  • the international anti-terrorist campaigns to create a climate of insecurity in order to polarize the proletariat's attention and subject it to an ever-increasing police control. The bourgeoisie hasn't only used the desperate acts of the petty bourgeoisie to this end: it hasn't hesitated to foment and organize terrorist attacks in order to feed its propaganda campaigns.
  • for a long time, the bourgeoisie has under­stood the essential role of the left for controlling the workers. One of the essential tasks of bourgeois propaganda is to uphold the idea that the Socialist Parties, the Communist Parties, the leftists and the unions really do defend the interests of the working class. It's this lie which weighs most heavily on the consciousness of the proletariat.

This is the machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie in the face of the proletariat. It's simply the bourgeoisie's way of being and acting: nothing new in that. To denounce the bourg­eoisie means above all to denounce its maneuvers, its lies; this is one of the most essential tasks for revolutionaries.

The question of effectiveness of the bourg­eoisie's maneuvers and propaganda towards the proletariat is another problem. In the secrecy of its inner cabinets, the bourgeoisie can prepare the most subtle plots and maneuvers, but their success depends on other factors, above all the consciousness of the proletariat. The best way to strengthen this consciousness is for the working class to break with any illusions it might have about its class enemy and its maneuvers.

The proletariat is faced with a class of gangsters without scruples which will stop at nothing of sustain its system of exploit­ation. This is something the proletariat has to understand.


Notes on the consciousness of the decadent bourgeoisie

1. The proletariat is the first revolutionary class in history with no economic power in the old society. Unlike all previous revolution­ary classes, the proletariat is not an expl­oiting class. Its consciousness, its self- awareness is therefore crucially important to the success of its revolution, whereas for previous revolutionary classes class consc­iousness was secondary or even inconsequential compared to their build-up of economic power prior to the wielding of political power.

For the bourgeoisie, the last exploiting class in history, the tendency towards the development of a class consciousness was taken far further than for its predecessors since it required a theoretical and ideo­logical victory to cement its triumph over the old social orders.

The consciousness of the bourgeoisie has been molded significantly by two key factors:

* by constantly revolutionizing the forces of production the capitalist system constantly extended itself and, by creat­ing the world market, brought the world to an unprecedented state of interconnection;

* from the early days of the capitalist system the bourgeoisie has had to deal with the threat posed by the class destined to be its gravedigger -- the proletariat.

The first factor propelled the bourgeoisie and its theoreticians to develop a general world view while its socio-economic system was in its phase of ascendance, ie, while it was still based on a progressive mode of production. The second factor provided a constant reminder to the bourgeoisie that, whatever the conflict of interest among its members, as a class it had to unite in the defense of its social order against the struggle of the proletariat.

Whatever advance in consciousness was made by the bourgeoisie over that of previous ruling classes, its world view was irrep­arably crippled by the very fact that its exploitative position in society masks from it the historical transiency of its system.

2. The basic unit of social organization within capitalism was the nation-state.

And within the confines of the nation-state the bourgeoisie organized its political life in a manner consistent with its economic life. Classically, political life was organized through parties which confronted each other in a parliamentary forum.

These political parties, in the first insta­nce, reflected the conflict of interests between different branches of capital within the nation-state. From the confrontation of the parties within this forum a means of government was created to control and steer the state apparatus which then orientated society towards the goals decided by the bourgeoisie. In this mode of functioning can be seen the capacity of the bourgeoisie to delegate political power to a minority of its number.

(It should be noted that this ‘classical' organization of bourgeois political life into a parliamentary framework was not a universal blueprint, but a tendency within capitalism's ascendant epoch. The actual forms varied in different countries depend­ing on such factors as: the speed of capital's development; the working-out of conflicts with the old ruling order; the adaptability of the new bourgeoisie; the actual organization of the state apparatus; the pressures imposed by the struggle of the proletariat, etc,)

3. The transition of the capitalist system into its epoch of decadence was swift, as the accelerating development of capitalist pro­duction came hard against the ability of the world market to absorb it. In other words, the relations of production abruptly imposed their fetters on the forces of production. The consequences were seen very quickly in the world events of the second decade of this century: in 1914 when the bourgeoisie demon­strated what its epoch of imperialism meant; in 1917 when the proletariat showed that it could pose its historic solution for humanity.

The lesson of 1917 has not been lost by the bourgeoisie. On a world scale the ruling class has come to appreciate that its first priority in this epoch is to defend its social system against the onslaught of the proletariat. It therefore tends to unite in the face of this threat.

4. Decadence is the epoch of historic crisis of the capitalist system. In a permanent way the bourgeoisie has to face up to the main characteristics of the epoch; to the cycle of crisis, war and reconstruction, and to the threat to the social order posed by the proletariat. In response to these, three developments have taken place inside the organization of the capitalist system:

* state capitalism

* totalitarianism

* the constitution of imperialist blocs

5. The development of state capitalism is the mechanism by which the bourgeoisie has organized its economy within each national framework to meet an ever-deepening crisis in decadence.

Whether by fusion with individual capitals, or by a more straightforward expropriation, the state has developed an overwhelming authority compared to any one unit of capit­al. This provides a coherence in economic organization through the subordination of the interests of each element to those of the national unit. And in the conditions imposed in the epoch of imperialism the basis of the economy has become a permanent war economy, a solid base on which state capit­alism develops.

But if state capitalism was a response in the first instance to crisis at the level of production, the process of statification did not stop there. More and more, institutions have been absorbed by a voracious state machine only to become its instruments, and where instruments were lacking they were created. Thus the apparatus of the state has reached into all aspects of social life. In this context, the integration of the trade unions into the state has been of the greatest necessity and significance. Not only do they exist in this period to keep the wheels of production running but, as the policemen for the proletariat, they become important agents for the militarization of society.

Differences and antagonisms among the bourgeoisie in any one national capital do not disappear in decadence, but undergo a considerable mutation because of the power of the state. In the main, the antagonisms inside the bourgeoisie on a national level are attenuated only to appear in a more intensified competition between nation states at the international level.

6. One of the consequences of state capit­alism is that power in bourgeois society tends to shift from the hands of the legis­lature to the executive apparatus of the state. This has a profound effect on the political life of the bourgeoisie since it takes place within the framework of the state. Consequently, within decadence the dominant tendency in bourgeois political life is towards totalitarianism, as in economic life it is towards statification.

Political parties of the bourgeoisie no longer remain as emanations of different interest groups as they were in the 19th century. They become expressions of state capital towards specific sections of society.

In a sense, one can say that the political parties of the bourgeoisie in any one country are merely factions of a state totalitarian party. In some countries the existence of the one-party state is always clear to see -- as in Russia. However, the effective existence of the one-party state in the ‘democracies' is shown starkly only at certain times. For example:

* the power of Roosevelt and the Democratic Party in the US in the late 1930s and during the Second World War;

* the ‘suspension of democracy' in Britain during the Second World War and the creation of the War Cabinet.

7. In the context of state capitalism, the differences between the bourgeois parties are nothing compared to what they have in common. All start from an over-riding premise that the interests of the national capital as a whole are paramount. This premise enables different factions to work together in a very close way -- especially behind the closed doors of parliamentary committees and in the higher echelons of the state apparatus. Indeed, only a very small fraction of the bourgeois­ie's debate takes place in the parliamentary arena. Members of bourgeois parliaments have in fact become state functionaries.

8. Nonetheless, the bourgeoisie in any nation-state always has disagreements. However, it is important to distinguish among them:

  • Real differences of orientation. Different factions can see the national interest at a given moment lying in quite different directions as, for example, in the dispute between the Labor and Con­servative Parties in the 1940s and 1950s over what was to be done with the British Empire. (It is also possible, as can be seen time and again in the third world for differences between parties, especially over the issue of which bloc to join, to lead to war. In such instances, pronoun­ced schisms can develop in the state and even major breakdowns in its functioning).
  • Differences which arise because of the pressures which are imposed on various factions of the bourgeoisie because of their functions in the bourgeois state. Consequently, there can be agreement about general orientations, yet disagreements over the manner of their implementation - as was seen, for example, in Britain over the efforts to strengthen the grip of the trade unions over the working class in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
  • Differences which are false and diversionary charades for the mystific­ation of the population. For example, the whole ‘debate' over the SALT 2 rat­ification in the US Congress in the summer of 1979 was an ideological operation which covered over the fact that the bourgeoisie had taken several important decisions concerning preparations for the Third World War and the strategy by which they wanted that war pursued.

Often, however, there are strands of several of these present in the bourgeoisie's disagreements, especially during elections.

9. As the antagonisms between nation-states have intensified through the epoch, so world capital has attempted to take the development of state capitalism onto the international level through the formation of imperialist blocs. If the organization of the blocs has permitted a certain attenuation of the anta­gonisms among the member states of each bloc this has only led to a heightening of the rivalry between the blocs -- the final cleavage of the world capitalist system where all its economic contradictions find a focus.

In the formation of the blocs, previous allia­nces among groups of (more or less) equal capitalist states have been replaced by two groupings in each of which the lesser capitals are subordinate to one dominant capital. And just as in the development of state capital the apparatus of the state reaches into all aspects of economic and social life, so the organization of the bloc reaches into every nation-state in its member­ship. Two examples of this are;

  • the creation of means to regulate the entire world economy since the Second World War (the Bretton Woods agreement, the World Bank, the IMF, etc.) and a theory to go with it (Keynesianism);
  • the creation of a unified military command structure in each bloc (NATO, Warsaw Pact) .

10. Marx said that it was really only in times of crisis that the bourgeoisie became intelligent. This is true but, like many of Marx's insights, has to be considered in the light of the change in historical period. The overall vision of the bourgeoisie has narrowed considerably with its transformation from a revolutionary to a reactionary class in society. Today the bourgeoisie no longer has the world view it had last century and in this sense is far less intelligent. But, at the level of organizing to survive, to defend itself -- here, the bourgeoisie has shown an immense capacity to develop techniques for economic and social control way beyond the dreams of the rulers of the nineteenth century. In this sense, the bourgeoisie has become ‘intelligent' confronted with the historic crisis of its socio-economic system.

Despite the points just made about the three significant developments in decadence, it is possible to reaffirm the basic constraints on the consciousness of the bourgeoisie -- its incapacity to have a united consciousness or to fully understand the nature of its system.

But if the development of state capitalism and bloc-wide organizations has not given them the impossible it has provided them with highly-developed mechanisms for acting in concert. The bourgeoisie's ability to organize the functioning of the whole world economy since the Second World War in a way in which extended the period of reconstruction for decades and phased-in the reappearance of open crisis so that 1929-type crashes did not recur is testimony to this. And these actions were all based on the development of a theory about the mechanisms and ‘shortcomings' (as the bourgeoisie might call them) of the mode of production. In other words, these actions were performed consciously.

The capacity of the bourgeoisie to act in concert on diplomatic/military levels also has been shown time and again -- not least in the actions of both blocs in the Middle East over the past three decades.

However, the bourgeoisie has a relatively free hand in its activity on the purely economic or military levels -- that is to say, it is only dealing with itself. The functioning of the state is more complex where it has to deal with social questions -- for these involve the movements of other classes, particularly the proletariat.

11. In confronting the proletariat the state can employ many branches of its apparatus in a coherent division of labor; even in a single strike the workers may have to face an array of trade unions, press and television propaganda campaigns of different hues, campaigns by several political parties, the police, the ‘welfare' services and, at times, the army. But to see a concerted use made of all of these parts of the state does not imply that they each see the total framework in which they are each carrying out their function.

In the first place, it is unnecessary for the whole bourgeoisie to understand what is going on. The bourgeoisie is able to delegate this responsibility to a minority of its number. Hence the state is not hampered to any signif­icant degree by the fact that the entire ruling class does not see the whole picture. It is therefore possible to talk, say, about the ‘plans of the bourgeoisie' while in fact it is only a small proportion of the class actually making them.

This only works because of the way in which the different arms of the state interlock. Different arms of the state have different functions and as well as dealing with the section of society to which this function corresponds, they also communicate to the higher echelons of the state the pressures they are under, and therefore help determine what is possible and what is not.

At the heights of the state machine it is possible for those in command to have some kind of general picture of the situation and what options are realistically open to them to confront it. In saying this, however, it is important to note:

  • that this picture is not a clear, unmystified view (of the kind that the proletariat can have) but a pragmatic one;
  • that it is not a unified picture, but a divided one, ie. that it may be ‘shared' among several factions of the bourgeoisie;
  • that the inevitable contradictions faced by the bourgeoisie make for considerable disharmonies.
  • In appreciating how this whole apparatus works it is important to recognize that:
  • a distinction must be made between a consciousness which permits an understanding of the capitalist social system (that of the proletariat) and a consciousness which is required only to permit a defense of that system (that of the bourgeoisie). Thus the army of social analysts used by the state can help it defend its system but never to understand it;
  • the activity of the bourgeoisie is ini­tiated not by the subjective whims of ind­ividuals and factions among it, but in response to the dominant forces active in its system at the time.

12. Consequently, maneuvers of the bourgeoisie have a structure to them, whether they are aware of it or not, and are confined within and determined by a framework set by:

  • the historic period (decadence);
  • the conjunctural crisis (whether it has opened or not);
  • the historic course (towards war or revolution);
  • the momentary weight of class struggle (in upsurge or reflux).

According to the evolution of the actual period, the hand of particular key factions of the bourgeoisie is strengthened inside the state apparatus, as the importance of their role and orientation becomes clearer for the bourgeoisie. In most countries in the world this process automatically leads to the gover­ning team chosen -- as a result of the mech­anism of the one-party state.

However, in the ‘democracies' -- generally among the stronger countries -- the pro­cesses of strengthening certain factions in the state apparatus and of choosing the governing team are separated. For example, we have seen in Britain over several years a strengthening of the left in the unions, in the local apparatus of the state, etc while the Labor Party fell from political power. The totalitarian dictatorship of the bourgeoisie remains and by a dexterous legerdemain the population chooses, ‘freely', what the conjurer has already chosen for them. More often than not the trick works -- the ‘democracies' only retain these electoral mechanisms because they have learned how to manipulate them effectively.

The ‘free choice' of the governing team by the electorate is affected by:

  • the programs on which the parties choose to stand;
  • the propaganda of the TV and the press;
  • the endorsements (or otherwise) of major institutions such as unions and employers' organizations for one or other party;
  • the existence of third parties to act as ‘spoilers' or as coalition material;
  • the re-emphasizing of different parts of the electoral programs according to their effects on the electorate, as indic­ated by poll samples;
  • after the results of the election, maneuverings by different factions of the bourgeoisie to get what is required overall.

Without going into details, the following examples illustrate recent uses made of some of these mechanisms:

  • Close to the 1976 US presidential election it became clear that a Carter victory was in the balance. Only then did the AFL-CIO apparatus decide to endorse Carter and mobilize the workers to register and vote. Carter's success was ensured only in the last fortnight of the campaign.
  • In the 1980 US presidential election Reagan's victory was ensured by two devices: Kennedy made sure that Carter's nomination by the Democratic Party would not have a clear backing; Anderson was run as a ‘serious' third candidate to ‘spoil' the Carter vote, and to enable him to do this, state funding for his campaign was made available.
  • ‘Fine tuning' of electoral platforms in response to opinion-poll results is openly acknowledged in the US by the media.
  • Through the Lib-Lab pact it was possible for the minority Labor government to remain in power despite several parliament­ary crises.
  • Through the minority parties coming to­gether with the Conservatives in a vote of no-confidence in the Labor government it was possible to put Labor in opposition in the face of the 1979 upsurge of class struggle.
  • In February 1974, Heath called an election to try to get support to break the miners' strike. The result permitted him to form a government -- which he attempted to do with the Liberals. However, in rec­ognition of the need for Labor to come to power to get the workers' struggle under control the Liberals refused and opened the way to Wilson and the period of the ‘social contract'.

These instances demonstrate the mechanisms the bourgeoisie has at its disposal and which it knows how to use. However, the bourgeoisies of different countries have various degrees of flexibility in their apparatus. In this respect, Britain and the US probably have the most effective machinery in the ‘democracies'. An example of relatively inflexible machinery, and of the fallibility of the bourgeoisie, is to be seen in the results of the 1981 French presidential elections.

13. The question of the framework imposed by the period on the bourgeoisie's maneuvers has already been mentioned. In periods when the class struggle is relatively quiet the bourg­eoisie chooses its governing team according to criteria primarily concerning economic and foreign policies. In such instances, the objectives of the bourgeoisie can be seen relatively clearly in the actions of the government. Thus, through the 1950s the government in Britain -- the Eden faction of the Conservative Party -- corresponded to a decision by the bourgeoisie to hold onto the Empire against the onslaught of the US. The effort was wrecked on the reef of the Suez adventure in 1956. Yet, the British economy could function under the Conservatives (who, under the Macmillan faction, took on more of the Labor Party's orientations in this area) until 1964. In other words, in such periods there is not necessarily an absolute criterion against which to judge whether a given government is the best one for the bourgeoisie or not.

This is not the case at all in a period of class upsurge, as over the period since 1968. As the open crisis shows itself and the struggle intensifies, then so the framework imposed on the bourgeoisie becomes more defined and more binding, and the consequen­ces of their falling outside the framework more dangerous.

Through the 1970s the bourgeoisie sought to resolve its economic crises, palliate the class struggle and yet prepare for war -- all at the same time. In the 1980s it makes no attempt to resolve its economic crisis since it is generally appreciated that it cannot do so. The framework for the bourgeoisie is now determined by the class struggle and by pre­parations for war, the latter now being recognized as being dependant on its ability to deal with the former. In such a situation, the way in which the bourgeoisie presents its policies to the working class is crucial for in the absence of solutions its mystifications become enormously important.

The bourgeoisie has to confront the working class today:

  • when its economic palliatives have been used up;
  • when the working class has been through a whole period of ‘social contracts' and can no longer be mobilized on that terrain;
  • when the bourgeoisie has to foist even further levels of austerity on an unde­feated working class.

Furthermore, the bourgeoisie is confronted with the immediate necessity of crushing the working class.

This is what makes the framework of the left in opposition a crucial factor in today's situation for the bourgeoisie. It becomes a criterion for evaluating the preparedness of the bourgeoisie to face the working class.

14. It has already been argued that in the face of the proletarian threat, the bourge­oisie tends to unite and its consciousness tends to become ‘more intelligent'. Expre­ssions of this process have been clear over the past decade and more:

* In the events of 1968 and its immediate aftermath each national capital tended to deal with its ‘own' proletariat, In this one could see the bourgeoisie organized as a state capital confronting a rising working class for the first time.

* As the wave of struggle developed yet further, the bourgeoisie was forced to confront the proletariat, organized as a bloc. This was seen first in Portugal, then in Spain and Italy, where only through the support of other nations in the bloc were the resources and mystifications found to palliate the workers' struggle.

* Over Poland in 1980-81, for the first time, the bourgeoisie has had to organize across the blocs to deal with the proleta­riat. In this we can identify the beginn­ings of the process where the bourgeoisie will have to set aside its imperialist rivalries in order to deal with the proletariat, a phenomenon not seen since 1918.

Thus we are in a period where the bourgeoisie is beginning to organize on a world scale to confront the proletariat, using mechanisms created for the most part in response to other necessities.

15. As the proletariat enters a period of decisive class confrontation, it becomes imperative to measure the strength and resources of the class enemy. To under­estimate these would be to disarm the proletariat which requires clarity of consciousness and not illusions if it is to meet its historic challenge.

As this text has attempted to show, the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie is strengthening all over the world to confront the proletariat. We can expect this process to continue -- for the state to become more sophisticated, and for the consciousness of the bourgeoisie to become more alert and to become an even more active factor in the situation. However, this does not mean that the proletariat's enemy is becoming ever-stronger. On the contrary, the strengthening of the state is taking place on foundations which are crumbling. The contradictions of the bourgeois order are causing society to come apart at the seams. However much the state is strengthened it will not be able to redress the decay of the system which has been brought about by historic factors. The state may be strong, but it is a brittle strength.

Because the social system is falling apart the proletariat will be able to confront the state at the social level, attacking its foundations by widening the breach caused by the social contradictions. The success of the proletariat's drive to further open the breach will hinge on its confrontation with the bourgeois state's first line of defense -- the trade unions.


[1] See ‘Crisis in the Revolutionary Milieu', IR 28.

[2] The Bulletin, Ingram, 580 George St, Aberdeen, UK.

Revolution Sociale, BP 30316, 74767 Paris, Cedex 16, France.

Guerre de Classe, c/o Paralleles, 47 Rue de St. Honore, 75001, Paris, France.

[3] The episodic scandals which come to the surface, like noxious marsh gas, are a good illustration of the repulsive state of decomposition reached by this machiavellain class, the bourgeoisie. The Lockheed affair which showed the real corruption of international commerce; the case of the Loge P2 in Italy which revealed the occult operation of the bourgeoisie within the state, miles away from its ‘democratic' principles, the De Broglie affair where a former influential minister appeared at the center of a whole network of counterfeit money, arms dealing and international financial fraud; the Matesa affair in Spain..... the list is endless, showing the complete lack of scruples of this class gangster. The international political scene of the bourgeoisie is rich in political assassinations (Sadat and Gemayel being recent examples) in plots, in coup d'états fomented with the aid of the secret services of one or the other of the dominant factions of the world bourgeoisie.  

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