Communism Vol. 3, Part 2 - Communism is not just a nice idea, but a material necessity (Summary of Vol. 1)

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In International Review n° 123 we announced the beginning of a third volume of the communism series. The article in that issue went back to the work of the young Marx in 1843 in order to examine the origins of his method for elaborating the communist programme, although it is the intention of the third volume to take up the chronological thread at the point where the second volume finished: the opening of the counter-revolutionary period that followed the defeat of the international revolutionary wave between 1917 and 1927.   But given that it is now some 15 years since the series began, we think it is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the contents of the first two volumes, and this will be the aim of the next two articles. We hope that this summary will encourage readers to go back to the original articles, which we will be reissuing presently in the form of a book, as well as putting them online.  There has as yet been little written response to these articles from within the proletarian political camp, but we nevertheless offer them as a source of study and reflection to all those who are seeking to clarify the real meaning and content of the communist revolution.   

The first volume – with the exception of the first article which looks at communist ideas prior to the emergence of capitalism, and concludes with the earliest forms of proletarian communism – focuses essentially on the evolution of the communist programme in the ascendant period of capitalism, when the communist revolution was not yet on the agenda of history. The volume’s title is a polemical answer to the very common argument which, while perhaps acknowledging that the so-called communism of the Stalinist regimes isn’t exactly what Marx and others had in mind, still dismisses arguments for communism with the retort that it may be a very nice idea in theory, but it could never work in the real world. The marxist view, by contrast, is that communism is not a nice idea in the sense of something invented by well-meaning souls or individual geniuses. Communism is certainly a theory, or rather it is a movement which encompasses the theoretical dimension; but communist theory derives from the real practice of a revolutionary social force. And central to this theory is that communism as a form of social life becomes a necessity at the point where capitalism itself no longer works, when it becomes increasingly antithetical to human needs. But well before this point has been reached, the proletariat and its political minorities were obliged not only to sketch out the overall, historical goals of their movement, but also to develop and elaborate the communist programme in the light of experience gained through the practical struggles of the working class.

1. “From primitive communism to utopian socialism”. (International Review n°68)

A glance at the contents list on the front cover of this International Review, which came out in the first quarter of 1992, reminds us of the historical context in which this series began. The editorial focused on the explosion of the USSR and the massacres in Yugoslavia; another text was entitled “Notes on imperialism and decomposition: towards the greatest chaos in history”. In short, the ICC had recognised that the collapse of the Eastern bloc had definitively opened up a new phase in the life (or death) of decadent capitalism, the phase of decomposition, bringing with it new dangers and trials for the working class, and thus for its revolutionary minorities. At the same time, the spectacular downfall of the Stalinist regimes had allowed the ruling class to unleash a massive propaganda campaign aimed at dulling and demoralising the working class, whose struggles had plagued it for the previous two decades. Departing from the utterly false premise that Stalinism=communism, we were told with arrogant certainty that we were witnessing the end of communism, the definitive bankruptcy of marxism, the disappearance of the working class, even the end of history…The communism series was thus initially conceived as a response to this pernicious campaign and was to focus on demonstrating the fundamental difference between Stalinism and the authentic vision of communism defended throughout the history of the workers’ movement. It was envisaged as a short series of five or six articles. In fact, the first article already showed that a more profound approach was required, for two reasons. First, the task of clarifying the goals of communism has been a constant feature of the revolutionary marxist movement from its inception; the task remains just as valid today, and is not dependent on the demands of an immediate historical event, even one as epoch-making as the collapse of the Eastern bloc. Second, the history of communism is by its very nature a history not only of marxism, and indeed not only of the workers’ movement, but a history of mankind.

In the article in International Review n°123, we paid particular attention to a phrase that appears in Marx’s 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge: “the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality”. The first article thus attempts to summarise the communist dreams of mankind. These dreams were first elaborated in theoretical form in ancient society; but we also had to go further back in time, because these early speculations were to some extent based on an actual memory of the real, if restricted, communism of primitive tribal society.

The discovery that human beings had lived for hundreds of thousands of years in a society without classes and a state was to become a powerful weapon in the hands of the workers’ movement, providing a counter-weight to all the claims that the love of private property and the need for hierarchical domination are an intrinsic part of human nature. At the same time, the approach of the first communist thinkers had a strongly backward-looking, mythical element, appearing as a lament for a lost community which could never return. This was the case, for example, with the “communism of possessions” of the early Christians, or the slave revolts led by Spartacus, inspired by the search for a lost golden age. It was also true to a large extent of the communist sermons preached by John Ball during the English peasant’s revolt, although here it was already clear that the only cure for social injustice was the common ownership of land and the instruments of production.

The communist ideas that appeared under nascent capitalism were more able to develop a forward-looking standpoint that progressively emancipated itself from this fixation on a mythical past. From the Anabaptist movement led by Munzer in 16th century Germany, to Winstanley and the Diggers in the English civil war, to Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals in the French revolution, there was a move away from a religious/apocalyptic view of communism and a growing emphasis on humanity’s capacity to liberate itself from an exploitative social order. This in turn reflected the historical advance made possible by capitalism, in particular the development of a scientific world outlook, and the slow emergence of the proletariat as a specific class in the new social order. This arc of development reached its high point with the appearance of the utopian socialists such as Owen, St Simon and Fourier, who made many penetrating critiques of the horrors of industrialised capitalism, and saw the possibilities already opening up beyond it, without however succeeding in recognising the real social force capable of bringing about a more human society: the modern proletariat.               

2. “How the proletariat won Marx to communism” (International Review n°69)

Thus, contrary to the vulgar interpretation, communism was not a movement “invented” by Marx. As the first article showed, communism predates the proletariat, and proletarian communism predates Marx. But just as the communism of the proletariat represented a qualitative leap beyond all previous forms of communism, so the “scientific” communism elaborated by Marx and those who subsequently took up his method represented a qualitative step beyond the hopes and speculations of the utopians.

This article traces the steps that Marx took towards communism from an initial starting point in critical Hegelian philosophy and radical democracy. As we re-emphasised in the article in International Review n°123, this was a very rapid evolution, but by no means a superficial one: Marx insisted on a thorough investigation of all the existing communist currents that were beginning to flourish in Germany and France, and particularly in Paris, where Marx settled in 1844 and where he came into contact with groups of communist workers. These groups necessarily bore with them a host of confusions, ideologies inherited from the revolutions of the past. But, alongside the first embryonic signs of the more general class struggle of the workers, these first manifestations of a deeper historical movement were enough to convince Marx that the proletariat was the real social force that was not only uniquely capable of inaugurating a communist order of society, but that would be obliged by its very nature to do so. Thus Marx was won over to communism by the proletariat, bringing with him the theoretical weapons he had acquired from the bourgeoisie.

From the very beginning (particularly in The German Ideology, directed at the idealist philosophy that saw consciousness standing outside crude material reality), Marx insisted that communist consciousness emanates from the proletariat, and that the communist vanguard was a product of this process, not its demiurge, even if it was produced precisely to become an active factor upon it. This was already a refutation of a thesis that was to be taken up by Kautsky half a century later, according to which it is the socialist intelligentsia who inject communist consciousness into the working class “from the outside”. 

3. “The alienation of labour is the premise for its emancipation” (International Review n°70)

Having made this fundamental shift to the point of view of the proletariat, Marx began to elaborate a vision of the gigantic project of human emancipation which the existence of  revolutionary proletarian movement was now transforming from a beautiful but unattainable dream to a realisable social goal. The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (EPM) of 1844 contain some of Marx’s most daring insights into the nature of human activity in a really free society. It has been argued that these notebooks are “premarxist” because they are still axed around essentially philosophical concepts like alienation, which had been a key term in Hegel’s philosophical system. And it is true that the concept of alienation, of man being estranged from his real powers, exists to a greater or lesser extent not only in Hegel, but throughout history, even in the earliest forms of myth. Also it is also obviously true that there were yet to be many key developments in Marx’s thinking in the ensuing decades. Yet there remains a fundamental continuity between the writings of the early Marx and those of the later Marx who produced great “scientific” works like Capital. When Marx analyses alienation in the EPM, he has already taken it down from the clouds of mythology and philosophy to the concrete level of man’s real social life and productive activity; by the same token, the inspirational picture he paints of communist humanity is grounded in real human capacities. Later works, like Grundrisse, were to take off from the same starting point.

In the EPM, Marx sets the scene for describing this liberated mankind by analysing in depth the nature of the problem facing the species: his alienation in capitalist society.

Marx identifies four facets of alienation, rooted in the fundamental processes of labour:

  • the alienation of man from his own product, so that the creations of man’s hands become powers that dominate him: the machine built and set in motion by the worker ties the worker to its infernal rhythm; the social wealth created by the worker, as capital, becomes an impersonal power that tyrannises the whole of social life;
  • the alienation from productive activity, so that work loses all semblance of creative pleasure and becomes a torment for the worker;
  • alienation from other men:   alienated labour is founded on the exploitation of one class by another, and this fundamental division engenders many others, especially under the reign of universal commodity production, where society tends to become a war of each against all;
  • the alienation of man from his own species nature, which is to be a social and creative being, and which has been emptied out on an unprecedented scale by bourgeois relations of production.   

But the marxist analysis of alienation is not a lament for prior, less explicit forms of alienation, nor a pretext for despair: for whereas the exploiting class is also alienated, with the proletariat, alienation becomes the subjective basis of a revolutionary attack on capitalist society. 

4. “Communism, the real beginnings of human society” (International Review n°71)

The writings of the early Marx, having analysed the disease, also show what the health of the species would be like. Against any notion of “equalising” in a downward direction, Marx shows that communism represents a huge step forwards for the human species, the resolution of conflicts that have plagued it not only in bourgeois society but throughout history – it is the “riddle of history solved”. Man in communism will not be reduced but elevated; but he will be elevated within the possibilities of his own nature. Marx outlines the various dimensions of man’s social activity once the shackles of capital have been removed:

-         if the division of labour, and above all production under the reign of money and capital, divides mankind into an infinity of competing atoms, communism restores man’s social nature, so that part of the very satisfaction of labour is the understanding that it is undertaken for the needs of others;

-         by the same token, the division of labour is to be overcome in each individual, so that producers are no longer tied cripplingly to a single form of activity, whether mental or manual: the producer becomes an all-round individual whose work combines mental, physical, artistic and intellectual activity;

-         freed from want and the whip of forced labour, the way is opened for a new and luminous experience of the world, an “emancipation of all the senses”; by the same token, man no longer experiences himself as an atomised ego “opposed” to nature, but experiences a new consciousness of his unity with nature.

5. “1848: communism as a political programme” (International Review n°72)

These early writings already contain an understanding of the centrality of relations of production in determining human activity, but this was not yet elaborated into a coherent and dynamic presentation of historical evolution. This was to develop very soon afterwards, in works such as The German Ideology where Marx first outlines the method later known as historical materialism. At the same time, a commitment to communism and the proletarian revolution was not “merely” a theoretical one; it necessarily involved a militant political commitment. This reflects the very nature of the proletariat as a propertyless class which could not build up a position of economic strength inside the old society, but could only affirm itself in opposition to it. Thus a communist transformation could only be preceded by a political revolution, by the seizure of power by the working class. And to prepare for this, the proletariat had to create its own political party.

There are many today who claim adherence to Marx’s ideas but who, traumatised by the experience of Stalinism, see no need to act in a collective, organised manner. This is foreign both to marxism and to the being of the proletariat, which as a collective class has no other means of advancing its cause except through the formation of collective associations; and it is inconceivable that the most advanced layers of the class, the communists, should somehow stand outside this profound necessity.

From the beginning, Marx was a militant of the working class. His aim was to participate in the formation of a communist organisation. Hence the intervention of Marx and Engels in the group that was to become the Communist League and publish the Communist Manifesto in 1847, on the very eve of a wave of revolutionary upheavals that would see the proletariat appear as a distinct political force for the first time.

The Manifesto opens by outlining the new theory of history, rapidly chronicling the rise and fall of different forms of class exploitation which have preceded the emergence of modern capitalism. The text makes no bones about recognising the revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie in serving the global extension of the capitalist mode of production; at the same time, by identifying the contradictions of the system, in particular its inherent tendency towards the crisis of overproduction, it points out that capitalism too, like Rome or feudalism before it, will not last forever, but will be replaced by a higher form of social life.

The Manifesto affirms this possibility by pointing to a second fundamental contradiction in the system – the class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the working class. Historical development is dividing capitalist society into two great warring camps whose struggle will lead either to the foundation of society on a higher level or the “mutual ruin of the contending classes”.  

These are, in reality, indications of capitalism’s future: of an epoch when capitalism will no longer serve human progress but will have become a fetter on the productive forces. The Manifesto is not consistent on this point: it still recognises the possibility of progress under the bourgeoisie, particularly in the overthrow of the remnants of feudalism; and yet it also suggests in places that the system is already tipping over into decline and that the proletarian revolution is imminent. And yet the Manifesto remains a work of genuine social “prophesy”: only months after its publication the proletariat proved in practice that it was the new revolutionary force in bourgeois society. This was testimony to the solidity of the historical method that the Manifesto embodies.

The Manifesto is the first explicit expression of a new political programme, indicating the steps the proletariat would have to take to inaugurate the new society:

  • the conquest of political power. The class struggle is described as a more or less veiled civil war and envisages the revolution as the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie. At this stage, the idea is that the class violence of the proletariat will be aimed at the conquest of the existing state apparatus; and there is even room for the notion of a peaceful conquest of power through “winning the battle for democracy”. This approach to the bourgeois state would be fundamentally revised in the light of subsequent experience;
  • the conquest of power by the proletariat must take place on an international scale. This is the text where Marx and Engels raise the immortal cry “the workers have no country” and insist that “united action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat”;
  • the long-term goal is the replacement of a class-divided system by an “association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. This society will have no further need for a state, and will have overcome the crippling division of labour and the separation between town and country.

The Manifesto does not imagine that such a society can be inaugurated overnight, but will require a more or less long period of transition. Many of the immediate measures put forward in the Manifesto as representing “despotic inroads on capitalism” – such as the nationalisation of the banks and the imposition of a heavy progressive income tax – can now be seen as perfectly compatible with capitalism, especially with capitalism in its period of decline, which is characterised by the totalitarian domination of the state. Again, the revolutionary experience of the working class has brought a much greater level of clarity about the economic content of the proletarian revolution. But the Manifesto is perfectly correct to affirm the general principle that the proletariat can only advance towards communism by centralising the productive forces under its control

6. “The revolutions of 1848: the communist perspective becomes clearer” (International Review n°73)

The real experience of revolution in 1848 already made many things clearer. Recognising that a vast social upheaval was imminent, the Manifesto had already anticipated its hybrid character, which stood half way between the great bourgeois revolution of 1789 and the future communist revolution, by putting forward a series of tactical measures designed to assist the bourgeoisie and the radical petty bourgeoisie in their struggles against feudalism, while at the same time preparing the ground for a proletarian revolution, which it saw as following rapidly in the wake of the victory of the bourgeoisie.

In fact, this perspective was not borne out by events. The political appearance of the proletariat in the streets of Paris – paralleled, in England, by the rise of the first real workers’ party, the Chartists – struck terror into the hearts of the bourgeoisie. The latter realised that such a rising force could not easily be controlled once they unleashed it against the feudal powers. Thus the bourgeoisie was pushed towards compromise with the old regime, especially in Germany. The proletariat, meanwhile, was not yet politically mature enough to assume the direction of society: the communist aspirations of the Paris proletarians were implicit rather than explicit. And in many other countries the proletariat was still only in the process of formation out of the dissolution of previous forms of exploitation.

The movements of 1848 were a baptism of fire for the newly formed Communist League. Attempting to carry out the tactics advocated in the Manifesto, the League opposed the facile revolutionism of those who considered that the proletarian dictatorship was an immediate possibility, or who lost themselves in military dreams of freeing Germany at the point of a French bayonet. Against this, the League tried to put into practice the tactical alliance with the radical democrats in Germany. In fact, it went too far in this direction, dissolving the League into the Democratic Unions set up by the radical bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties.

In the light of these errors, and through reflection upon the savage repression of the Parisian workers and the German bourgeoisie’s betrayal of its own revolution, the Communist League drew some vital lessons, especially in Marx’s text for the League, “The class struggles in France”:

-         the necessity for proletarian autonomy. The bourgeoisie’s treachery was to be expected and planned for. It would inevitably either compromise with the reaction or, once victorious, would turn on the workers. Thus it was vital for the workers to maintain their own organisations throughout the process of the bourgeois revolution. This meant both the communist political vanguard and the more general organisations of the class (“clubs, committees, etc”);

-         these organs should be armed and even be ready to form a new workers’ government. Furthermore, Marx began to recognise that such a new power would only come into existence by “smashing” the already existing state apparatus, a lesson that would be fully confirmed by the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871. 

The perspective remained that of a “permanent revolution”: an immediate transition from bourgeois to proletarian revolution. In fact these lessons have more relevance to the epoch of proletarian revolution, as the events in Russia in 1917 were to show. And within the Communist League itself, there were in fact sharp debates about the prospects facing the working class in the wake of the defeats of 1848. An immediatist tendency led by Willich and Schapper thought that the defeat was of little consequence and that the League should be preparing for new revolutionary adventures. But the tendency around Marx thought deeply about the events; not only did they understand that the revolution could not arise straight away out of the ashes of defeat, but also that capitalism itself was not ripe for the proletarian revolution, which could only come out of new capitalist crisis. Hence the task facing revolutionaries was to preserve the lessons of the past and to conduct a serious study of the capitalist system in order to understand its real historic destiny. These differences were to result in the dissolution of the League and, for Marx, a period of profound theoretical work which was to give rise to his masterpiece, Capital. 

7. “The Study of Capital and the Foundations of Communism”

a. “The backdrop of history” (International Review n°75)

The key to unlocking the future of capitalism lay in the sphere of political economy. In its most revolutionary period, the bourgeoisie’s political economists, in particular Adam Smith, had made an important contribution to understanding the nature of capitalist society, in particular by developing the labour theory of value, which today, in capitalism’s epoch of decline, has been almost completely abandoned by the bourgeois “experts” in economics. But even the best bourgeois economists were unable to take these first insights to their ultimate conclusion because their class prejudices stood in the way. The real inner workings of capital could only be grasped from the standpoint of the proletariat, which could lucidly draw conclusions that were completely unpalatable to the bourgeoisie and its apologists: not only that capitalism is a society founded upon class exploitation, but also that it is the last form of class exploitation in human history, and has created both the possibility and the necessity for its supersession by a classless communist society.

 But in examining the nature and destiny of capital, Marx did not stop at the boundaries of the capitalist epoch. On the contrary, capitalism could only be properly understood against the backdrop of human history as a whole. Thus Capital and its “draft”, the Grundrisse, return, with the benefit of a more advanced historical method, to the anthropological and philosophical concerns that had animated the EPM:

  • the affirmation of the existence of a human nature: man is not a blank slate born anew in each economic formation; rather, man develops his nature through his own activity in history;
  • the affirmation of the concept of alienation, which is also seen in its historical development: capitalist wage labour incarnates the most advanced form of the alienation of labour, and at the same time is the premise for its emancipation. Hence, the rejection of a purely linear view of history as unmitigated progress in favour of the dialectical method, which sees historical advance moving through a contradictory process which includes phases of regression and decline.

Within this framework, the dynamic of history reveals an increasing dissolution of man’s original social bonds through the generalisation of commodity relations: primitive communism and capitalism stand at antithetical ends of the historical process, paving the way for the communist synthesis. Within this broad framework, the movement of history is synonymous with the rise and fall of different antagonistic social formations. The concept of the ascendancy and decadence of the successive modes of production is inseparable from historical materialism; and, contrary to some crude misconceptions, the decadence of a social system does not at all imply a complete cessation of growth.

b. “The overthrow of commodity fetishism” (International Review n°76)

For all its depth and complexity, Capital is essentially a work of polemic. It is a tirade against the “scientific” apologists of capitalism and thus “a missile hurled against the heads of the bourgeoisie”, to use Marx’s phrase.

The starting point of Capital is the unravelling of the mystification of the commodity. Capitalism is a system of universal commodity production: everything is for sale.  The reign of the commodity draws a veil over the system’s real mode of operation. It was thus necessary to reveal the true secret of surplus value in order to demonstrate that all capitalist production is without exception based on the exploitation of human labour power, and is thus the real source of all the injustice and barbarity of life under capitalism. 

At the same time, to grasp the secret of surplus value is to demonstrate that capitalism is saddled with profound contradictions which will inevitably lead to its decline and eventual demise. These contradictions are built into the very nature of wage labour:

-         the crisis of overproduction, since the majority of the population under capitalism are, by the very nature of surplus value, overproducers and underconsumers. Capitalism is unable to realise all the value it produces within the closed circuit of its relations of production;

-         the tendency towards the fall in the rate of profit, because only human labour power can create new value, and yet unrelenting competition constantly forces capitalism to reduce the amount of living labour in relation to the dead labour of machines.

In the ascendant period in which Marx was living, capitalism could offset its inner contradictions by constantly expanding into the vast pre-capitalist areas which surrounded it. Capital already grasped the reality of this process, and its limitations, but it had to remain an unfinished work, not just because of the personal limitations facing Marx, but because only the real evolution of capitalism could clarify the actual process through which the capitalist system would enter into its epoch of decline. The understanding of the phase of imperialism, of capitalist decadence, had to be taken up by Marx’s successors, and by Rosa Luxemburg in particular.

The contradictions of capitalism also point to their real solution: communism. A society driven towards chaos by the rule of market relations can only be superseded by a society which has abolished wage labour and production for exchange, a society of the “freely associated producers” in which relations between human beings are no longer obscure but simple and clear. Hence Capital is also a description of communism; largely in the negative sense, but also in the more direct and positive sense of outlining how a society of freely associated producers would operate. And beyond this, Capital and the Grundrisse return to the inspired vision of the EPM by attempting to describe the realm of freedom – to provide us with an insight into the free, creative activity which is the essence of communist production.       

8. “1871: the first proletarian revolution” (International Review n°77)

By 1864, the period of retreat in the working class struggle had come to an end. The workers of Europe and America were organising themselves into trade unions to defend their economic interests; there was a growing use of the strike weapon; and workers were also mobilising themselves on the political terrain to support progressive causes such as the war against slavery in the USA. This ferment in the class gave birth to the International Workingmen’s Association, and the fraction around Marx played an active part in its formation. Marx and Engels recognised the International as a genuine expression of the working class, even though it was made up of many diverse and often confused currents.  The marxist fraction in the International thus found itself engaged in many critical debates with these currents, in particular around:

  • the principle of the self-emancipation of the working class, against well-meaning bourgeois reformers who would liberate the class from on high, and the principle of class autonomy against bourgeois nationalists like Mazzini;
  • the defence of proletarian politics and centralised organisation against the anti-political stance and the federalist prejudices of the anarchists.

The debate about the need for the proletariat to recognise the political dimension of its struggle was to an extent a debate about whether or not to campaign within the sphere of bourgeois politics, of parliament and elections, and thus about the historic perspective of the revolution: for the marxists the struggle for reforms was still on the agenda because the capitalist system had not yet entered into its “epoch of social revolution”. But in 1871 the real movement of the class took a historic step forward: the first seizure of political power by the working class, the Paris Commune. Even though Marx understood the “premature” nature of this insurrection, it was a crucial harbinger of the future, bringing new clarity to the problem of the relationship between the proletariat and the bourgeois state. Whereas in the Communist Manifesto the perspective had been the taking over of the existing state, the Paris Commune proved that this part of the programme was now obsolete and that the proletariat could only come to power through the violent destruction of the capitalist state. Far from invalidating the marxist method, this was a striking confirmation of it. 

This clarification did not come from nowhere: the marxist critique of the state goes back to Marx’s writings of 1843; the Manifesto looks forward to communism as a stateless society; and in the lessons the Communist League drew from the experience of 1848, there is already an emphasis on the necessity for autonomous proletarian organisation and even the notion of smashing the bureaucratic apparatus. But after the Commune, all this could be incorporated into a higher synthesis.

The heroic combat of the Communards made it clear that the workers’ revolution meant:

  • the dissolution of the standing army and its replacement by the arming of the proletariat;
  • the replacement of a privileged bureaucracy by public officials paid an average workers’ wage; the replacement of parliamentary-type bodies by working class bodies which fused the legislative and executive functions; and most important of all, the principle of the election and revocability of all positions of responsibility in the new power. 

This new power provided the organised framework:

  • for drawing the other non-exploiting classes behind the proletariat;
  • for beginning the economic and social transformation which indicated the road towards communism, even though this could not be realised in this epoch and in such a limited geographical context.

The Commune was thus already a “semi-state” which was historically destined to give way to a stateless society. But even at this point Marx and Engels were able to glimpse the “negative” side of the Commune-state: Marx stressed that the Commune could only provide an organised framework for, but was not itself, the movement for the social emancipation of the proletariat; Engels insisted that this state remained a “necessary evil”. Later experience – the Russian revolution of 1917-27 – would demonstrate the profundity of this insight, and would reveal how vital it was for the proletariat to forge its own autonomous class organs to control the state – organs like the workers’ councils, which were not conceivable among the semi-artisanal Paris proletarians of 1871.  

Finally, the Commune indicated that the period of national wars in Europe was over: faced with the spectre of proletarian revolution, the bourgeoisies of France and Prussia united their forces to crush their principal enemy. For the proletariat of Europe, national defence had become a mask for class interests entirely hostile to their own. 

9. “Communism against ‘state socialism’” (International Review n°78)

With the brutal crushing of the Commune, the workers’ movement faced a new period of retreat, and the International would not long survive it. For the Marxist current, this would again be a period of intense political combat against forces which, while acting within the movement, more or less expressed the influence and outlook of other classes. It was a combat, on the one hand, against the more explicitly bourgeois influences of reformism and “state socialism”, and on the other hand, against the petty bourgeois and déclassé ideologies of anarchism.

The identification between state capitalism and socialism has been at the root of the great lie of the 20th century: that Stalinism equals communism, as well as of the milder “social democratic” versions of the same fraud. One of the reasons that the lie has so much weight is that it stems from what were once genuine confusions within the workers’ movement. In the ascendant period, when capitalism largely manifested itself in the shape of private capitalists, it was not difficult to assume that the centralisation of capital by the state represented a blow against capital (as we saw in the Communist Manifesto, for example). Nevertheless, marxist theory already supplied the basis for criticising this assumption, by demonstrating that capital is not a legal relationship but a social one, so that it makes little difference whether surplus value is extracted by an individual or a collective capitalist. Moreover, towards the end of the 19th century, as the state began to intervene more and more vigorously in the economy, Engels had already made this implicit critique explicit.

In the period that followed the dissolution of the International, the focus for the development of the workers’ movement passed to Germany. The backward political conditions that still reigned there were also reflected in the backwardness of the current around Lassalle, which was characterised by a superstitious worship of the state, and of the semi-feudal Bismarkian state at that. And even the marxist fraction led by Bebel and Liebknecht was not entirely free of such prejudices. The compromise between these two groups gave birth to the German Social Democratic Workers Party. The new party’s 1875 programme was subjected to a withering critique by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, which summarises the marxist approach to the problem of revolution and communism as it existed at that point. Thus:

  • against the Gotha programme’s tendency to mix up immediate reforms with the long term goal of communism, Marx warned against the German party’s reliance on the exploiter’s state, not only to protect the exploited but even to take society towards socialism;
  • against the tendency to make social democracy an all-class party of democratic reform, the marxists – for whom “social democracy” was a totally inadequate term – insisted on the class character of the party as an element irreducibly hostile to bourgeois society;
  • against substitutionist ideas of the party as an educated bourgeois elite which brought salvation to the benighted workers, the marxists insisted that elements from other classes could only join the proletarian movement by casting away their bourgeois prejudices;
  • against illusions in the notion of a “People’s State” that could bring in piecemeal reforms eventually leading to socialism, the marxists insisted that communism meant a radical social transformation, and that it could only be inaugurated after a period of proletarian dictatorship that aimed at the ultimate disappearance of any state form. The principle of proletarian dictatorship had been totally confirmed in practice by the Paris Commune;
  • against the Gotha programme’s call for “fair distribution” of the social product, Marx insisted that the key to any movement towards communism was the abolition of exchange and of the law of value;
  • while the Gotha programme confuses socialism with state ownership, Marx talks about a movement from the lower to the higher stages of communism. In the first stage, society is still marked by scarcity and by the imprint of the old society. Capitalist social relations must be attacked through measures which prevent the return of the drive to accumulate value. Such an interim measure was the system of labour-time vouchers which Marx saw as a first step towards the abolition of the wages system, though still constrained by “bourgeois right”.             

10. “Anarchism or communism” (International Review n°79)

The struggle against the overtly bourgeois influences of “state socialism” went hand in hand with the fight to overcome the vestiges of petty bourgeois ideology embodied in anarchism. This was not a new combat: in works such as The Poverty of Philosophy, marxism had already defined itself against the Proudhonist nostalgia for a society of independent producers mediated by “fair exchange”. By the 1860s, anarchism appeared to have moved on, since Bakunin’s current at least described itself as collectivist and even communist. But in reality, the essence of Bakuninism was no less alien to the proletariat than the Proudhonist ideology, with the added disadvantage that it could no longer be seen as an expression of immaturity in the workers’ movement, but was from the start ranged directly against the fundamental advance represented by the marxist outlook.

The conflict between marxism and Bakuninism, between the proletarian and petty bourgeois standpoint, was fought out on several levels:

  • the question of organisation: Bakunin’s contribution to the life of the International was to pose as a defender of freedom and local autonomy against the excessively centralist tendencies expressed in the International’s General Council. But centralisation is an organic expression of the proletariat’s need for unity, whereas the Bakuninists wanted to reduce the General Council to a mere letterbox, to liquidate the capacity of the International to speak with one voice against the enemy class, and this project could only bring disorganisation to the ranks of the proletarian movement. At the same time, the Bakuninists’ speeches about freedom and autonomy were pure hypocrisy, since their whole aim was to infiltrate the International via an extremely “authoritarian” secret order based on the Masonic model, with “Citizen B” – Bakunin – at its head. The struggle for proletarian organisational principles, based on transparency and clear lines of responsibility, against the petty bourgeois intrigues of the Bakunin clan, was the key issue of the 1872 Congress of the International;
  • historical method:  whereas the marxist current stood for the method of historical materialism, the understanding that the activity of the workers’ movement had to be defined in relation to the objective historical conditions confronting it, Bakunin rejected this approach in favour of proclaiming the eternal ideas of justice and freedom, and argued that the revolution was possible at any time;
  • the subject of revolution: whereas marxism recognised that the class uniquely destined to lead the communist revolution, the modern proletariat, was still in the process of formation, this was a matter of indifference for the Bakunists, for whom the revolution was seen as a grand conflagration that could equally be led by peasants, semi-proletarians and bandit-rebels as by the working class;
  • the political nature of the class struggle: since, for the marxists, the communist revolution was not yet on the agenda of history, it was necessary for the working class to consolidate itself as a political force within the confines of bourgeois society, which meant organising itself through trade unions and similar organs of economic defence, and intervening in the bourgeois political arena of parliament to enforce its interests at the legal level. The Bakunists, however, rejected all parliamentary activity in principle and – on the face of it at least – rejected any struggle that was not for the abolition of capitalism; moreover, the overthrow of capitalism did not require the conquest of political power by the working class, but the immediate “dissolution” of any form of state. Against this, the marxists drew the real lessons of the Commune: that the working class revolution indeed meant the seizure of political power, but that this new power was of a new type, in which the proletariat as a whole, rather than a privileged elite, could take direct charge of the management of political and economic life. And in practice the ultra-revolutionary phrases of the anarchists were a thin veneer over an opportunist practice of tail-ending the bourgeoisie, as they did in Spain through participation in local authorities which were by no means separate from the capitalist state;
  • the question of the future society: the true nature of anarchism as a reflection of the conservative outlook of petty bourgeois strata ruined by the concentration of capital was nowhere more evident than in their view of the future society. This was no less true of the “collectivist” Bakuninsts than it had been of Proudhon: in particular, Guillaume’s text “On building the new social order” emphasises that the various producers’ associations and communes that will come into being after the revolution are to be connected through the good offices of a “Bank of Exchange” which will organise the business of buying and selling on society’s behalf. The marxists, by contrast, insisted that in a truly “collectivist” society the producers do not exchange their products, because they are already the product and “property” of the whole of society. The perpetuation of commodity relations can only be the reflection of the existence of private property, and will serve as the soil from which a new form of capitalism will grow.      

11. “The mature Marx: past and future communism” (International Review n°81)

During the last years of his life, Marx devoted a good deal of his intellectual energy to the study of archaic societies. The publication of Morgan’s Ancient Society, and questions posed to him by the Russian workers’ movement about the perspectives for revolution in Russia, drew him into an intensive study that has left us with the very incomplete, but still extremely important, Ethnographic Notebooks. These studies also fuelled Engels’ great anthropological work Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.

Morgan’s work on the American Indians was, for Marx and Engels, a striking confirmation of their thesis of primitive communism: against the conventional bourgeois notion that private property, social hierarchy and sexual inequality are inherent in human nature, Morgan’s study revealed that the earlier the social formation, the more property was communal; the more collective was the decision-making process; the more relations between men and women were based on relations of mutual respect. This provided a tremendous support to the communist argument against the mythologies of the bourgeoisie. At the same time, the main subject of Morgan’s investigations – the Iroquois – were already a society in transition between the earlier form of “savagery” and the stage of civilisation or class society; and the forms of inheritance structured in the clan or gens system revealed the germs of private property which provides the soil for the emergence of classes, the state, and the “historic defeat of the female sex”.

Marx’s approach to primitive society was based on his materialist method, which saw the historical evolution of societies as being determined in the last instance by changes in their economic infrastructure. These changes brought about the demise of the primitive community and paved the way for the appearance of more developed social formations. But his view of historical advance was radically opposed to the crude bourgeois evolutionism which saw a purely linear ascent from darkness to light, culminating in the dazzling splendour of bourgeois civilisation. His view was profoundly dialectical: far from dismissing primitive communist society as semi-human, the Notebooks express a profound respect for the human qualities of the tribal commune: its capacity for self-government, the imaginative power of its artistic creations, its sexual egalitarianism. The concomitant limitations of primitive society – in particular, the restrictions on the individual and the separation of mankind into separate tribal units – were necessarily overcome by historical advance. But the positive side of these societies was lost in the process and will have to be restored at a higher level in the communist future.

This dialectical view of history – contrary to those who try to drive a wedge between Marx and Engels by accusing the latter of being a vulgar “evolutionist”– was shared by Engels and is clearly demonstrated in Origins of the Family.

The problem of primitive and pre-capitalist societies was not simply a question about the past. The 1870s and 80s was the period in which, having completed the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in old Europe, capitalism passed over to the imperialist phase of dividing up the remaining non-capitalist areas of the globe. The proletarian movement thus had to adopt a clear position on the colonial question, not least because there were within its ranks currents which defended a notion of “socialist colonialism”, an early form of chauvinism whose full danger was to be exposed in 1914.

There was no question of revolutionaries supporting the progressive mission of imperialism. But since large parts of the planet were still dominated by pre-capitalist forms of production, it was necessary to elaborate a communist perspective for these regions. This was concretised in the Russian question: the founders of the communist movement in Russia wrote to Marx asking him for his attitude towards the archaic community, the agrarian Mir, which still survived in Tsarist Russia. Could this formation serve as the basis for a communist development in Russia? And – contrary to the expectations of some of his “marxist” followers in Russia, who kept rather quiet about the contents of Marx’s response – Marx concluded that there was no inevitable stage of “bourgeois revolution” in Russia  and that the agrarian commune could serve as the basis for a communist transformation. But there was a major proviso: this would only happen if the Russian revolution against Tsarism served as the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West.

This whole episode shows that Marx’s method was by no means closed or dogmatic; on the contrary, he rejected the crude schemas of historical development that some marxists derived from his premises, and was always revising and reviewing his conclusions. But it also shows its prophetic power: even if capitalist development in Russia did essentially undermine the Mir, Marx’s rejection of a stageist theory of revolution in Russia was to have its continuity in Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and Lenin’s April Theses, which followed Marx in their recognition that the only hope for any revolutionary upheaval in Russia was to link itself immediately to the proletarian revolution in western Europe.  

12. “1883-1895: social democracy advances the cause of communism” (International Review n°84)

The appearance of the “social democratic” parties in Europe was an important expression of the revival of the proletariat after the crushing defeat of the Commune. Despite their irritation with the term “social democracy”, Marx and Engels enthusiastically supported the formation of these parties, which marked an advance on the International on two counts: first, they embodied a clearer distinction between the general, unitary organs of the class (in that period, the trade unions in particular), and the political organisation, regrouping the most advanced elements of the class. And second, they were constituted on the basis of marxism.

There is no doubt that there were, from the beginning, significant weaknesses in the programmatic bases of these parties. Even the marxist leaderships within them were often weighed down with all kinds of ideological baggage; and as they grew in influence, they began to become a pole of attraction for all kinds of bourgeois reformists who were positively hostile to marxism. The period of capitalist expansion at the end of the 19th century created the conditions for the growth of an increasingly open opportunism within theses parties, a process of inner degeneration culminating in the great treason of 1914.

This has led many would-be radical political currents, usually claiming to be communist but deeply influenced by anarchism, to reject the whole experience of social democracy en bloc, to dismiss it as reflecting nothing more than an adaptation to bourgeois society. But this ignores completely the real continuity of the proletarian movement and the manner in which it develops an understanding of its historic goals. All the best elements of the communist movement in the 20th century – from Lenin to Luxemburg and from Bordiga to Pannekoek – came through the school of social democracy and would not have existed without it. It is not accidental that the ahistorical method that leads to a blanket condemnation of social democracy frequently ends up throwing Engels, and even marxism itself, into the trash-can of history, thus revealing the anarchist roots of its thinking.

Against the attempt to separate Engels from Marx and present him as a vulgar reformist, it is evident that Engels’ polemic against the real bourgeois influences acting upon social democracy – in particular his Anti-Dühring – is a fundamental defence of communist principles:

  • the affirmation of the insoluble contradictions of capitalism, which lie in the very nature of the production and realisation of surplus value;
  • the critique of state intervention and ownership, which was not a solution to these contradictions, but capitalism’s last line of defence against them;
  • the consequent rejection of “state socialism” and the insistence that socialism/communism demands the withering away of any form of state;
  • the definition of communism as an association of the producers which has done away with  wage labour and commodity production;
  • the re-assertion of the highest goals of communism as being the overcoming of alienation and the real beginning of human history.

Neither was Engels a lone figure in the social democratic parties. A brief study of the work of August Bebel and William Morris confirms this: the defence of the idea that capitalism would have to be overthrown because its contradictions would result in growing catastrophes for humanity; the rejection of the identification between state ownership and socialism; the necessity for the revolutionary working class to set up a new form of power modelled on the Paris Commune; the recognition that socialism involves the abolition of trade and money; the understanding that socialism cannot be built in one country but requires the unified action of the world proletariat; the internationalist critique of capitalist colonialism and the rejection of national chauvinism, above all in the context of mounting rivalries between the great imperialist powers – these positions were not extraneous to the social democratic parties, but expressed their fundamentally proletarian core.  

13. “The transformation of social relations: how revolutionaries saw the question at the end of the 19th century” (International Review n°85)

Only by disposing of the mystification of the capitalist nature of social democracy before 1914 can a serious study be made of the strengths and limitations of the way in which the revolutionaries of the late 19th century envisaged the transformation of social life and the elimination of some of mankind’s most pressing problems.

A major issue posed to communist thought in the 19th century was the “woman question”. As early as the 1844 Manuscripts Marx had argued that the relation of man to woman in any given society was a key to understanding how close to, or how distant from, that society was to realising humanity’s real nature. The work of Engels in Origins of the Family and of Bebel in Woman and Socialism chronicle the historical development of the oppression of woman, which took a fundamental step with the abolition of the primitive community and the emergence of private property, and which has remained unsolved under the most advanced forms of capitalist civilisation. This historical approach is by definition a critique of the feminist ideology which tends to turn the oppression of women into an innate, biological element of the human male, and thus an eternal attribute of the human condition. Even when feminism hides behind a supposedly radical critique of socialism as a “purely economic” transformation, it reveals its fundamentally conservative approach. Communism is by no means a “purely economic” transformation. But just as it begins with the political overthrow of the bourgeois state, so its ultimate goal of a profound transformation of social relations requires the elimination of the economic forces which lie behind the conflict between men and women and the transformation of sexuality into a commodity.

Just as feminism falsely accuses marxism of “not going far enough”, so the ecologists, by repeating the lie that marxism is Stalinism, claim that marxism is just another “productivist” ideology which bears responsibility for the ravaging of the natural environment in the 20th century. This charge is also made at the more philosophical level, particularly against 19th century social democracy, whose methodology is often identified with a purely mechanical kind of materialism, with an uncritical “scientism” which tends to abstract mankind from nature and treat the natural world as capital itself treats it: as a dead thing to be bought, sold, and exploited. Again, even Engels is often among the accused. But while it is true that these mechanistic tendencies did exist within the social democratic parties, and even became predominant as the process of degeneration accelerated, their best elements always defended a very different approach. And once again there is complete continuity between Marx and Engels in recognising that mankind is a part of nature and that communism will bring about a genuine reconciliation between man and nature after millennia of estrangement.

This vision was not restricted to the inconceivably distant future; in the work of Marx, Engels, Bebel, Morris and others it was founded on a concrete programme which the proletariat would have to put into effect when it came to power. This programme was summarised in the phrase “abolition of the separation between town and country”. Stalinism in power interpreted this phrase in its own way – by justifying the poisoning of the countryside and the construction of vast barracks for the workers to inhabit. But for the real marxists of the 19th century, this phrase meant not the frenzied urbanisation of the globe but the elimination of the swollen cities and the harmonious distribution of mankind across the whole planet. This project is more than ever relevant in today’s world of vast mega-cities and the rampant poisoning of the environment.           

14 “The transformation of work according to the revolutionaries of the late 19th century” (International Review n°86)

As an artist who wholeheartedly joined the socialist movement, William Morris was well placed to write about the transformation of work in a communist society, since he understood very well both the soul-destroying nature of work under capitalism, and the radical possibilities of replacing alienated labour with truly creative activity. In his visionary novel, News from Nowhere, it is stated plainly that “happiness without happy daily work is impossible”. This accords perfectly with the marxist conception of the centrality of labour in human life: man has made himself through labour, but he has made himself in conditions which generate his self-alienation. By the same token, the overcoming of alienation cannot be achieved without a fundamental transformation of labour.

Communism, contrary to some who speak in its name, is not “anti-work”. Even under capitalism the ideology of “refusal of work” expresses the purely individual revolt of marginal classes or strata. And one of the first measures of the proletarian power will be to install the universal obligation to work. In the early phases of the revolutionary process, this inevitably contains an element of restraint, since it is impossible to abolish scarcity without a more or less long transition period which will certainly involve considerable material sacrifices, especially in the initial phase of civil war against the old ruling class. But progress towards communism will be measured by the degree to which work has ceased to be a form of sacrifice and has become a positive pleasure. In his essay on “Useful work versus useless toil” Morris identifies the three principal aspects of the former:

  • that work is informed by “hope of rest”: the reduction of the working day will have to be an immediate measure of the victorious revolution, otherwise it will be impossible for the majority of the working class to play an active part in the revolutionary process. Capitalism has already created the conditions for this measure by developing the technology which could – once freed from the drive for profit – be used to greatly reduce the quantity of repetitive and unpleasant tasks involved in the labour process. At the same time, the vast amounts of human labour power that go to waste under capitalist production – in the form of massive unemployment or work that serves no useful purpose (bureaucracy, military production, etc) – could be re-directed towards useful production and services, and this would also help to reduce the working day for all. These observations were already made by the likes of Engels, Bebel and Morris, and they are even more applicable in the decadent period of capitalism;
  • that there should be “hope of product”: in other words, the worker should have an interest in what is being produced, either because it is essential for the satisfaction of human needs, or because it is intrinsically beautiful. Even in Morris’s day capitalism had an enormous capacity to turn out shabby and useless products, but the mass production of junk and ugliness in decadent capitalism would probably have exceeded his worst nightmares;
  • that there is “hope of pleasure in the work itself”. Morris and Bebel insist that work should be carried out in agreeable surroundings. Under capitalism the factory is a model for hell on earth; communist production will retain the associated character of factory work but in a very different physical environment. At the same time the capitalist division of labour – which condemns so many proletarians to carry out mind-numbingly repetitive chores day after day – must be overcome so that every producer enjoys a balance between intellectual and physical labour, is able to devote himself to a variety of tasks, and develops a variety of skills in carrying them out. Moreover, the work of the future will be freed from the frenzied pace demanded by the hunt for profit, and will be adapted to human need and human desire;
  • Fourier, with his characteristic imaginative power, had talked about work in his “Phalansteries” being based on “passionate attraction” and looked forward to daily work becoming more like play. Marx, who greatly admired Fourier, argued that really creative work was also a “damned serious affair”, or as he puts it in The Grundrisse, “A man cannot become a child again, or he becomes childish”. However, he continues: “But does he not find joy in the child’s naivete, and must he himself not strive to reproduce its truth at a higher stage?”. Communist activity will have overcome the old antimony between work and play.

These sketches of the communist future were not utopian, since marxism had already demonstrated that capitalism had created the material conditions for daily work to be utterly transformed in this way, and had identified the social force which would be compelled to undertake the transformation precisely because it was the last victim of the alienation of labour.    

15. 1895-1905: parliamentary illusions hide the perspective of revolution (International Review n°88)

The dictatorship of the proletariat has been a fundamental concept of marxism since its inception. Previous articles showed that this was never a static idea, but evolved and became more concrete in the light of the proletarian struggle. Similarly, the defence of the proletarian dictatorship against various forms of opportunism has also been a constant element in the development of Marxism. Thus, in 1875, Marx, basing his arguments on the experience of the Paris Commune, was able to make a withering critique of the Lassallean notion of the “People’s State” put forward in the Gotha Programme of the new Social Democratic Workers Party in Germany.

At the same time, since the perspective of proletarian power is born out of relentless struggle against the prevailing ideology, this also implies a struggle against the impact that this ideology can have even in the most lucid fractions of the workers’ movement. Even after the experience of the Paris Commune, for example, Marx himself made a speech to the 1872 Hague Congress of the International where he suggested that in some countries at least the proletariat could come to power peacefully, through the democratic apparatus of the existing state.

In the 1880s, the German party – now the leading party in the international movement – had been outlawed by the Bismarck regime and this helped it to preserve its revolutionary integrity. Even where concessions to bourgeois democracy persisted, the prevailing view was that the proletarian revolution necessarily required the forceful overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and the fundamental lesson of the Commune – that the existing state could not be conquered but must be destroyed from top to bottom – had by no means been forgotten.

In the ensuing decade, however, the legalisation of the party, an influx of petty bourgeois intellectuals, and above all the spectacular expansion of capitalism and the consequent winning of real reforms by the working class, provided the soil for the growth of a more clear-cut expression of reformism within the party. The rise of a “state socialist” tendency around Vollmar, and in particular the revisionist theories of Eduard Bernstein, sought to persuade the socialist movement to give up its claims to be in favour of violent revolution and to declare itself openly as a party of democratic reform.

In a proletarian party, the overt penetration of bourgeois influences such as these is inevitably met with fierce resistance from those who represent the proletarian heart of the organisation. In the German party, the opportunist tendencies were most famously opposed by Rosa Luxemburg in her pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution, but the rise of left fractions was an international phenomenon.

Furthermore, the battles led by Luxemburg, Lenin, and others appeared to be successful. The revisionists were condemned not only by Red Rosa, but also by the “Pope” of Marxism, Karl Kautsky.

Nevertheless, the victories of the left proved to be more fragile than they may have appeared. The ideology of democratism had seeped into the whole movement and even Engels was not spared. In his 1895 introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, Engels rightly pointed out that a simple resort to barricades and street fighting was no longer enough to topple the old regime, and that the proletariat had to build a massive balance of forces in its favour before launching the struggle for power. This text was distorted by the leadership of the German party to make it appear that Engels was opposed to all proletarian violence. But the opportunists, as Luxemburg later pointed out, had only been able to do this because there were indeed weaknesses in Engels’ argument: building up the proletariat’s political strength was more or less identified with the gradual growth of the social democratic parties and their influence within the parliamentary arena.

This focus on parliamentary gradualism was theorised in particular by Kautsky, who had certainly opposed the open revisionists but increasingly came to stand for a conservative “centre” which valued a semblance of party unity more than programmatic clarity. In seminal works like The Social Revolution, Kautsky identified the proletarian seizure of power with the winning of a parliamentary majority, even though he also made it clear that in such a situation the working class would have to be prepared to repress the resistance of the counter-revolution. This political strategy also went had in hand with an economic “realism” which lost sight of the real content of the socialist programme – the abolition of wage labour and commodity production – in favour of seeing socialism as the state regulation of economic life.

The article in the next issue of the International Review will summarise the second series, which covers the period from 1905 till the end of the first great international revolutionary wave. It will begin by showing how this issue of the form and content of the revolution was clarified through a sharp debate on the new forms of class struggle that began to emerge as capitalism approached the tipping point between its ascendant and its decadent epochs.  



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