14 May Communists without revolution ? : a position on the classical and the modern revolutionary subject
Writer-legal and political theorist, PHD in Constitutional Law , ex member of the Central Committee of Syriza until 2015. Lives in Athens, Greece.
February-April of 2018,
Table of contents
- The Marxian theory on labour class as a revolutionary subject
- Political Emancipation of the Labour Class and its Double Dialectic : Reality and Illusion of Electoral Power and the Long Term Political Relation of Forces.
- Three revolutionary cycles during the “long” 20th century
- The first revolutionary cycle ( 1905-1937)
- The second revolutionary cycle ( 1945 -1956)
- The third revolutionary cycle ( 1965-1980)
- A class without a unified class consciousness ? Considerations on the “blurry” class consciousness of the modern working class ( after 1980) and the “party” form.
- The second decade of the 21st century : the defeat of “new reformism” in Greece/ Southern Europe as an objective defeat of European labour classes
- Considering the exit from the “Left” paradigm
- Communists/Marxists after the end of Enlightenment ? A provisional conclusion
- The Marxian theory on labour class as a revolutionary subject
In the frame of classical Marxism, the theory of labour class as an exploited and a revolutionary class is based on the peculiarity/specifity of the Capitalist Mode of Production in relation to the precapitalist modes of production. That special form of socio-economic existence relies on the contractual-economic/ not violent or , more exactly, not extraeconomic coercion of the laboring class as the basic exploited class, as far as it concerns the sale of its labour force and the extraction of plus-value out of it by the capitalist. Inside the capitalist relations of production, surplus-value is extracted through the valorization of the commodity labour force and the offer of abstract labour, for reasons related to the economic reproduction and the pure survival of the workers. On the contrary, in the precapitalist modes of production-social formations, the exploited class (slaves, serfs, peasants in the Asiatic Mode of Production) still has the hold ( in ancient Greek : nomi –from the verb “nemo”- to divide ) or the physical possession on the means of labour. As a result of this, the ruling class is obliged to impose extraeconomic coercion (especially military and police force-violence, to some extent ideological manipulation) on the exploited class, in order to make the working persons produce economic surplus for the dominants. The bourgeois organization of exploitation, the achievement of legal and political equality as a product of bourgeois revolutions , the abolition of “institutionalized classes” ( the German “Staende”) rises the waged labourer to the position of a formally free and equal member of society. Not only does the new situation allow social mobility (even as a usually not realizable promise), but it also leads to a (ficticious ) contractual equality with the capitalist. The relation of exploitation is a free- contractual relation, which leads to the sale of labour force mostly at the level of its real value (despite the floating of the price of the labour force).
-In spite of the fact that the worker in the Capitalist Mode of Production is exploited through a process of his “isolation” in the labour process, an “isolation” expressed specifically in the economic class struggle and in the alienation of the labourers;
– In spite of the fact that the means of labour ( the raw materials, the tools and machines) are not subjected to his control or hold anymore, especially in the stage of real submission of labour to capital, so that he seems to be economically weaker than his predecessor in the Slaveholding or in the Feudal Mode of Production;
The waged labourer as a legally free person is socially more powerful than the labourer of the precapitalist formations. This formal freedom does not respond to a pure construction or fiction, since it causes important social and political implications. We know that the pure legal equality of all human beings has been successfully discredited and loathed by the theorists of socialism or the socialists artists. It is the equality of all human beings to sleep under the bridges or to have lunch in expensive restaurants ( Anatol France , in the “Red Lilly” 1894) and at the same time the equality to rest or to work 15 hours a day during the Industrial Revolution. Nevertheless, legal equality is the necessary starting point, according to Marx, for the sociopolitical attempt to achieve social and material justice, social equality. How can we forget the arguments of Marx in the “Jewish Question”, concerning the relation of legal equality, political equality and social equality? Legal equality is a knife with two cutting edges : it offers some power and some essential rights to the waged labourer; at the same time, it incorporates him imaginally and symbolically into the “free world of capital”, into the “working or enterprise community”, it deceives him.
The theory of waged labour as a revolutionary subject in capitalism does not rest only on legal or contractual equality. It is also founded on more essential factors, related to the important socialization of the production process in capitalism, especially at the stage of late-monopolist or even postmonopolist capitalism . The submission of waged labour to the large factory and the development of a wide labour division , the formation of a “collective labourer”, who participates in the possession or in the loss of labour skills or abilities ( loss, for example, of working initiative at the imposition of Taylorism) , the combination of labour/production with the advance of science and technology reproduces three important tendencies :
- The rise of a skilled labourer , who apprehends better and more totally the gross socialized production process, who has the knowledge and the skills to overtake the control and the function of production through his own social institutions, the workers’ control and the factory councils or committees . The working class appropriates by the means of coercion or persuasion its “stolen” labour experience from the labour experts or the managers and directors of production, forms its own instruments of directing and controlling the production, builds its own “ collective labourer” and “collective intellectuals”. As we know, this regenerative perspective has not been emphasized efficiently in the classical Marxian work ( with the possible exception of the “Grundrisse”) , although the critique of capitalist labour process “returned” with a vehemence in the “discourse” of the new labour movements of the 60s and the 70s and in the critique of Taylorism . It also returned inside the western/May 1968 “reading”/adoption of the Chinese Cultural Revolution , which stressed the role of scientific knowledge and technology in the support or the overthrow of capitalist domination inside the labour process.
- The perception by Marx of the antinomy/ contradiction between an intensely socialized capitalist production, of the socialized “large factory”, and the existence of private property, the private appropriation of the surplus by capital and its bearers. The socialized labour process in the factory is perceived by the Marxists as the “teacher” or the forerunner of the future socialization of industry and of the economy at the national and international level, the predecessor and educator of the proletariat into the direction of socialism and At the same time, the socialization of the labour process in capitalism cannot but reproduce the resistance of labour to the domination of capital, the repeating birth of labour as an antipower to the directing apparatus of capital and of capitalist management  . The rise of that antipower is clear enough as a tendency in the descriptions of the “Grundrisse” but not very present in the core of the “Capital”. The emphasis on the continuation between the capitalist socialization and the socialist socialization , the reduced rupture between the succeeding “modes”, rises the problem of “state capitalism”, as it appears f.e. in the important “anti workers’ control” work of Lenin “Left-Wing Childishness and Petty Bourgeois Mentality” ( MIA , Lenin, Archive, spring 1918) : in this work, Lenin verbally admires the major socialization/nationalization of production by the German imperialist War Economy in the First World War and the centralist/dirigist control on the whole capitalist production by the German imperialist war state in the period 1916-1918 (too many productive forces controlled by very few persons) .He concludes that such a form of centralist direction of production , a technical “state capitalism” is nothing else than a forerunner of socialism in Russia, if combined with the soviets’ power, “state capitalism” is the natural first stage of socialism. So, we can deduce out of this revolutionary tradition the dialectic of two competing tendencies : capitalist socialization as a tendency uniting labour and capital and causing a useful labour discipline, a political-social submission to capital that prepares socialism. Or capitalist socialization and centralization , leading to labour alienation , being a serious cause for rebellion and for the birth of a labour antipower in the labour process and in the social totality. But, what is the point to revolt against the “alienating socialization” if you are to re-impose the not so different “progressive socialization”, the one that advances the socialist productive forces ? Socialism is “Soviet plus electrification” (Lenin), soviets without a productive and technological advancement would be actually unsufficient, but the question remains : if someone reproduces the social division of work of imperialist and war “state capitalism”, why would this process culminate in socialism-communism?
- As we see it in the light of the 20th century revolutionary experience and especially the “USSR” experience, the role of the labour class as a revolutionary subject is connected with a certain special admiration of capitalism and of the capitalist development of productive forces by Karl Marx , by the Social Democratic descendants of Marx-Engels and also by the major Bolshevic leaders. Capitalism seems to be the most advanced scentificaly, tecnnologically and institutionally form of a class divided society. If capitalism reaches and represents the “Telos” of the class society, in the sense of the Hegelian Aim or prescribed Ultimate Meaning of the class society, a class domination , cultivated, organized on science and politically legitimated on the “will of the people”, isn’t it clear enough that the dominated class of that society – only that dominated class in History– would bear efficiently the exit from the class society, “from the Valley of Tears”, and the transition to communism and human emancipation? The above theoretical attitude of Marx and Engels should be approached under the light of the intellectual phenomenon of Enlightenment in the 18th and the 19th Capitalism is a repulsive and at the same time admirable product of the Enlightenment-it was borne before the Enghtenment, but its intellectual discipline and imposition ripens through the process of the Enlightenment and the bourgeois revolutions. Admiration and radical critique coexist together as an active contradiction in the thought of Marx. The size of this contradiction is reflected in the writings of Marx on the British rule of India in 1853 (in the “New York Times”). At the same time, Marx recognizes the destructive and the illuminating-civilizing character of British imperialist and colonialist rule on India. Later on, he will depart from that admiration, moving to a radical critique of international capitalism and to the possibility of the Russian precapitalist society to jump over capitalism to a communist social and productive form by using the ancient communist traditions of agrarian communities and of common land property ( the “Mir” institutions).
Deriving from the Marxian introduction to the “Critique of Political Economy” (1859) , the scheme of the necessary adaptability of relations of production to the gross development of the productive forces, is a scheme, that not only priorizes structures to practices ( class struggle, class organization, development of class consciousness through the struggle), without essential subjective intermediations, but also transforms the moment of struggle to a passive tool for the institutional adaptation of the growing productive forces.
As the preparing of the labour class for socialism/communism derives from its position in economic and social production- even as overdetermined in the last instance , as it stands in the Althusserian terminology- , it is followingly strengthened inside the historical political process of class struggle and during the ripening of the political-ideological class conscience of the labour class.
- Political Emancipation of the Labour Class and its Double Dialectic : Reality and Illusion of Electoral Power and the Long Term Political Relation of Forces.
It cannot be seriously disputed that the emerging role of the working class in the 19th and the 20th century is connected with its active presence in the bourgeois-popular revolutions of 1789, 1830 and 1848 in France and in the early beginnings of its autonomous revolutionary proletarian role against capitalism in June 1848 and during the Paris Commune of 1871 (also in France). The working class gains with its political struggles first political and then socio-economic rights and is the main transformer of a bourgeois oligarchic parliamentarism to the state form of mass bourgeois democracy, in the last decades of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century. With a start in 1830 and a final advance in the 50th decade of the 20th century, also due to the military participation of the working class in the 2nd World War against fascism and the presence of “Real Existing Socialism” as a threat to private capitalism, the waged labourers become in the West “equally qualified” members of the capitalist democracies with rising social demands and rights. Equality obtains social characteristics too – in capitalist limits. The social and welfare state of the three “golden decades” ( 1945-1975) is the culmination of electoral and mass struggles of the labour class.
What about revolution ? The rise of the political weight of working class, especially of the electoral political weight, does not require a proportional access to the overthrow of capitalism. So, the gradualist promises of the Kautskyist Social Democracy in the period 1890-1930 (f.e. the strategy of Karl Kautsky, as presented in his famous work “The road to power” 1909) were, against to declarations, false promises . It is the late Friedrich Engels ,in his Introduction to “The Class Struggles in France” ( 1895) , who is clearly flirting with the idea that the growing of the labour electoral power can neutralize the state violence and mean “the end of the barricades’era”. It is his student and moral son, Eduard Bernstein, who sincerely rises the problem of an antinomy between the reformist practice and the revolutionary rhetorics of the German Social Democracy and denounces revolutionary messianism in favour of reformist practice ( “Evolutionary Socialism”, 1899). Abandoned and condemned by the Left of the SPD ( Rosa Luxemburg) and its Centre leading theorist ( Karl Kautsky) as well, Bernstein is only verbally defeated. The socialist scholar Richardo Michels ( “ A Sociological Study of Oligarchical Tendencies in Modern Democracy”, Torin 1910) is an essential contemporary source of the reformist transformation of Social Democratic parties on the eve of the 20th century. Michels describes the centralist-bureaucratic organizational form and the reformist transformation of the Social Democratic Parties of his time and reveals their organic incorportation into the bourgeois democratic and parliamentarian state of Western Europe and its elits (although Lenin, at the same time, would not relate centralism to opportunism; on the contrary, he would relate it to revolutionary Marxism) . While Michels presents this process at the sociological level, the “left” fraction of Social Democracy attempts in vain to reverse this tendency politically ( Rosa Luxemburg on the general strike in Prussia 1910, Anton Pannekoek on the necessity to destroy the apparatus of the capitalist state , 1911-1912 in the review “Neue Zeit” , debating with Karl Kautsky). On the other hand, the philosopher and activist Georges Sorel denounces in his “Reflection on Violence” the political formations of the labour movement as a sort of “internal parliamentary opposition of the bourgeois regime”, supporting the antipolitical and anarchosyndicalist option. The outbreak of the war in August 1914 is an essential prove of the concealed crisis of labour movement. The appearance of the coalitions of “national defense” , including the vast majority of the Social Democratic Parties of the 2nd International, is not just a “betrayal” of workers’ internationalism. The majority of the European labour classes and their leaderships stand for the war national unity ( in German “Burgfriede”-Civil Peace) and the slaugthering of workers by workers. It also stands for a cohesive alliance with the capitalist state and not for the overthrow of the regime that produces war.
Lenin, outraged after 1914, because of the “collapse/betrayal of the 2nd International” and even the collapse of the much admired by him until then Kautskist fraction in the SPD , attempts to explain the “big turn”. His explanation , based on the theoretical scheme of “labour’s aristocracy” , a limited social fraction of the “upper labour class” as a social base of reformism and social patriotism, embedded in the union and the parties’ leaderships, is a very limited theoretical explanation, not fair to his usual great insight. However, it is not wrong to suppose that the “upper strata” of the labour class , especially the organizational leaders of the class, has been sold out to capital , due to the superprofits of imperialism and to the possibilities of symbolic power, offered by the system to those leaders. But why is it a logical consequence out of this that the large majority of the class, in a period of bloody mutual destruction and poverty ,not only follows the “corrupted” leaders of the proletariat at the beginning of the war but also remains on their side until the final stages of the war ? So that the “Holy Alliance” remains undisputed until the French mutinies of 1917, the big German strikes of spring 1917 and finally the German revolution of November 1918 ?
The permanent Russian revolution of 1917 ( February 1917 and then the “Great October”, being a genuine stage of the revolution and not a Bolshevic coup ) shows another possible road, the road of revolution. As we will further present, this “road”, the Russian road, is a rather unique historical combination of a positive for the revolution Long Term and Short term political relation of forces. A country, combining the fate of a “weak” military-feudal absolutism and a very particular economic state between imperialist capitalist development and internal colonial domination ( Russia is in 1914 the fifth industrial state of the world) and feudal-peasant backwardness. A country with a strong revolutionary labour tradition, that has not been broken after 1905 and during the war, a weak civil society ( as Gramsci has presented in his welknown work “ Notes on Machiavelli”) , an unsolved peasant and national problem and an unfinished bourgeois revolution, a relatively “unsufficient” repression apparatus. A combination in a certain conjuncture of the Short term and the Long term advantages for the success of the revolution, a condensation of all possible contradictions in a unique conjuncture ( L. Althusser “ Contradiction and Overdetermination” in “For Marx”, 1961). Last but not least , a strong revolutionary intelligentsia, that contributes heavily to the success of the Bolshevic party, possible allies to the Bolshevics ( Social Revolutionaries, Anarchists) and a Menshevic reformism with a weak social base and intense internal divisions.
We will not be occupied here with the problem of the “Stalinist” degeneration of the Russian revolution after 1921 and 1928. Our basic focus will be the failure of the German revolution of 1918-1923 and more generally of the European revolution after the First World War. It is mainly the failure of the German revolution, that leads to the isolation of Soviet Russia and the break of the organic link between “socialist East” and “capitalist West”. The stalinist-bucharinist theory of “ building socialism in one country” originates from that break of the link, from that major failure of communism in the 20s and the 30s .
Why did the German revolution fail in 1919 ( Berlin uprising in January and in March 1919, Munich uprising), 1920-1921( Ruhr crisis after the failed Kapp coup , March action in 1921), and finally in the expected, precisely prepared by Moscow and the KPD but “not attempted at all” revolution of October 1923? . Why is it that oncemore a large part of the German labour class, after a destructive war and in conditions of absolute poverty, does not revolutionize itself but remains a support of Social Democracy or an indifferent viewer, when the revolutionary part is violently crushed or abandoned ? The understanding of that strategic failure is essential for a credible explanation of the international and European history of communism (revolutionary Marxism). The explanations of the basic contemporary leading actors of German communism ( Heinrich Brandler, August Thalheimer, Paul Levi, Karl Radek, Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslov, Ernst Meyer, Paul Froehlich, Richard Mueller etc) vary; all of them have two possible cores : either the objective/subjective conditions were not “ripe”, that is there was not a “revolutionary situation” , as it is described in Lenin’s work “The collapse of the Second International”; the situation when the “above classes” cannot rule and the “below classes” do not want to be ruled anymore, organs of dual power are formed etc . The absence of revolutionary situation is the later explanation of the Marxist theorist and politician August Thalheimer for the revolutionary failure of the 1923 crisis. This explanation tries to doubt the “serious responsibilities” of the communist leadership in 1923 (Thalheimer himself, H. Brandler) on the fact that the situation was not really revolutionary (Pierre Broue, the major Marxist historian of the German Revolution, indicates that the situation was indeed revolutionary until the August of 1923 and then the tide started to withdraw). The second, more usual explanation, shared by Trotski in the “Lessons of October” and by most classical Leninist writers, is the absence of a real revolutionary communist party, according to the Bolshevic standards, the absence, failure or crisis of revolutionary leadership in Germany. This explanation is a repeat in terms of the Leninist explanation of the “Burgfriede” of 1914. The “leaders” either are sold out to capital and betray the revolution ( the Social Democracy in Germany) or are floating (the USPD between 1919 and 1922) or are not capable to manage the revolutionary crisis (the KPD); so, they tend to miss repeatedly the given “opportunities”. In the years 1917-1920, Lenin insists on the idea that European communists have to be educated after the Russian standards.
The explanation of absence or of crisis of revolutionary leadership as the defining cause for a revolutionary failure presupposes that – not relevant to the short or long term relation of forces- a homogenous socially and politically labour class with apparently and clearly unified class interests and apparent social needs and interests at the “moment of revolution” , even more ,a united and “ready” bloc of the popular classes around the labour class as a hegemon, are exclusively “turned down” or betrayed or blocked by the vanguard party, the supposedly vanguard party ( f.e. SPD n 1914 or in 1918) or the absent or incapable vanguard party. So, the institution itself that labour class has produced for its liberation always tricks and confuses class totality and always manipulates and blocks the Gate to Paradise.
To our “humble” opinion, the explanation of the “absence of revolutionary leadership” ( willing and capable at the same time) is, when offered as an unique and exclusive explanation, wrong and unsufficient. It is wrong for the Germany of the Middle War and for all the given and missed “opportunities” in the West during the 20th century. The first strategic defeat of the German labour class in the years 1918-1923 and the second-final strategic defeat against fascism in the years 1929-1933 are not to derive exclusively from the absence of revolutionary leadership . This explanation is the logical effect of a “theory”, that relies on the exclusively and gradually determined revolutionary role of labour class in capitalism. This is the first major theoretical error : labour class is not an exclusively and permanently revolutionary class. It is a potentially revolutionary and anticapitalist class, a class with a contradictory social-political “class position”, with a probable, potential and eventual/contingent revolutionary position. Potentiality or eventuality or “contingency” of the revolutionary rising has to be stressed. This position is not antimarxist, it is a position of critical and creative Marxism. Lenin realizes the problem very clearly in his major work “ Was Tun” ( “What is to be done”) in 1902 , when he differentiates between the “spontaneous” and the “ conscious” position and practice of the labour class. According to Lenin’s scheme, the “spontaneous” position usually tends to be a reformist or an anarchosyndicalist position, when the “conscious” position can be constructed only through the moment and the intervention of the Marxist revolutionary party ( this Leninist scheme is “loaned” by the contemporary work of Karl Kautsky on the problem of class consciousness). He hopes to find the solution in the development of the political organization and its practices. History did not always prove this approach.
To our opinion, the solution is not to find-exclusively- in the historical adventures of genuine revolutionary or simply “revolutionary” parties. The solution is a complex one, is multi-dimensional and multifactorial and is basically related to the contradictory and antinomical presence of the labour class inside the capitalist relations of production and power. The labour is submitted to the discipline of capital and the socialized process of production . Socialization of the capitalist production does not lead necessarily to a radical position. Inside this process, alive labour either comes to a socio-political antagonism with the power of capital or is disciplined and reconciled with that power, so that it follows the rules of capital and “accepts” its alienation from the means of production and the labour process itself . In the case of antagonism, revolution is not the only possible outcome : antagonism may reach the level of a reformist – collectively contractual agreement ( post war social compromise or contract) or it may reach the level of the “rupture” and the “moment” of the attempt to overthrow capital politically and socially. These possible-eventual outcomes do appear (all of them) in the continuity and in the historicity of class struggle. They are connected with the positions of “relative force” of the basic antagonistic classes ( waged labour and capital) and also-in the real existing class and social formations- with the positions of “relative force” of class coalitions and blocks ( coalitions of the basic classes with the “middle” classes, the “peasant” classes, the technical, political and philosophical intelligentsia, the lumpen proletariat etc). Classes have an autonomous material basis. Nevertheless, they are not to be understood historically out of their relative position to antagonist classes (and also to not antagonist classes).
The class struggles, especially the political class struggles , develop on two different time scales or time periods. The Long Term time scale and the Short Term time scale. We use here the terms of the historical “ School of Annales” and especially of Fernand Braudel, concerning the different development of historical time in the short term and the long term of historical periods. The history of Long Term or of Long Time ( what Braudel defines as “longue duree” ) is the history of long processes, processes of maintaining or changing permanent social structures . Social history and economic history evolves in “long cycles”, as the structural patterns of societies take a long time to be formed or to change definitively. The time of structural formations or radical structural changes is always the Long Time. On the other hand, the Short Time is the time of events, the time of “daily history”, as Braudel calls it. The time of social revolution belongs to both time dimensions or scales, happens on both of them. Social revolution is basically a long term movement (Claudin 1975) ; it responds to a large period of struggles and to a large period of socio-economic political and ideological transition. It is also a short time movement. The problem of seizing and keeping the political power by a revolutionary class , which is crucial for political Marxism , is solved not exactly at a “temporal moment”, on a specific date, but –usually- in a definite period , inside a political “conjuncture”, in a period, that unifies, concentrates and condensates -in terms of struggle- the living contradictions of a social formation and of its relation to the world system. So, the revolutionary “rupture” is existing in both temporal continua. In the terms of Althusserian glossary and philosophical discourse, (“Contradiction and Overdetermination” , 1961), the short term or the “conjuncture period” class struggle includes the various overdetermining contradictions (including the radical party/ies’ temporal political strategy) , while the long term positive or negative relation of forces and the international relation of forces are determining contradictions in the last instance .
The revolutionary party is only one of many important factors in the long time, a usually- but not always- very important factor in the short time, in the “revolutionary conjuncture”. The long term from the view of the “revolutionary tendency” : the long time rising of the “force” of labour class in a series of economic and political struggles ( Russia : revolution of 1905, “stabilization” period, intervals of “weakness”, war, revolutions of 1917, China : participation in Kuomintang phase, defeat and repression in the cities, reforming of revolution in the peasant periphery, World War II, victory on the Kuomintang, etc ), the long time forming of its social and political organizations , the long time building of social coalitions, the long time resisting the “revisionist-reformist” ideologies, the long time developing its culture, its moral values, its forms of solidarity and social existence. The long time development of social and class consciousness, which happens not only in the “party level of producing consciousness” but also in the spontaneous political level-see the example of the mass strike phenomenon as described by Rosa Luxemburg ( 1906). The long term from the view of “class reconciliation” “class cooperation” and political submission to capital : the “tangible” possibility of social reforms without the sharpening of social conflict, without the perspective of violence and death, as they indeed happen in a civil war, the retreat of antagonistic class consciousness, the merging of the labour class socially and culturally with the middle classes, the retreat from radical options of its culture due to the threat of violence or due to the acceptance of defeat. Example : The German workers , who followed the Social democracy in Germany after the First World War and not the KPD, were already aware of the long and bloody civil war in Russia ; the fear of physical death , even in a society, in which death was more acceptable and usual than it is in the narcissist present, was an important factor against revolutionary engagement , neglected by many writers of the Left on the German revolution. Also, the great danger of an Entente occupation of Germany, if the revolution succeeded, was a central theme in mass psychology. The “reconciliation” tendency in the long term , its victory, is what really happened in Europe of the Middle War finally , is what happened more systematically after the Second World War in the countries of advanced capitalism ( welfare state), with a counterrevolutionary neoliberal escalation in the last four decades. On the contrary, in the countries of capitalist periphery , revolutionary Marxism had many victories , provisional victories but-not less- victories. The “defeat of revolution” in the West, founded at most in the more advanced structure of the ideological apparatuses, seems to be a lasting experience, connected with the retreat of the West from the more radical and demanding versions of Enligtenment. So the long term “reconciliation tendency” looks like the “normal” situation of the capitalist formations , under the regime of bourgeois democracy or under exceptional regimes of “ state emergency”.
The relation of long time class struggle to short time class struggle presupposes the study of social classes, as they are formed and obtain their identity through the means of class struggle, as they do not exist before class struggle. It also presupposes a “break” with gradualist determinism, productivism and economism, a superiority of the notion of class struggle over the notion of the “development of productive forces”. The priority of productive forces and their significance, the priority of a one sided option of “ material structure”, the productive forces ( the most important one in reality : the relations of production) in relation to class struggle ( that is, the active and flowing dimension of a class society) has been an important “symptom” of Marxist economism and evolutionism , a ruling tendency in the Labour Internationals, as L. Althusser, Ch. Bettelheim, R. Dunayevskaya and many others have efficiently described.
Class struggle and its limits : long time radicalization or long time systemic assimilation are contradictory “moments” of the whole labour class as an autonomous or potentially autonomous social subject ; the labour class , inside its social and political limitations and determinations, can “choose” to retreat from antagonism or to follow a more moderate version of antagonism. Not only is it manipulated but it can also “choose” to remain manipulated, especially in the modern social environment, rich in information and of knowledge. The labour class has a symbolic and ideological communication with the capital and its cultural frame, with the other classes and their cultures, with the bourgeois society as a whole. Today, less than in any other period, the labour class is not a gear or an instrument in the hands of a wise “revolutionary party” ,Leninist or not, or an instrument of a reformist or a unionist bureaucracy. The opposite may happen and has already happened many times : the “choice” of the majority of labour class to revolt , its autonomous action and organization is the basic motive for the “use” of the revolutionary organization by the class for the overthrow of capitalism or just for its survival. The class determines the strategy, the party determines the tactics. This is more apparent in the “blocked bourgeois democracy” of the 21st century, in a period when the labour class is more and more excluded from parliamentary political representation and and its own parties experience a very clear process of decline.
Does it mean that the political organization has been useless or just negative in the long time class struggle ? No, it has been a valuable support in the long time organization of class interests. It has been helpful for the development of political class consciousness and practical mobilization, it has been helpful in the defense against capitalist reconstruction, it has been helpful in the advancement of an antagonistic social and political culture. On the contrary, the reformist or the “Stalinist” stabilization of the “party form” in the 20th century has in many cases contributed to class defeat and to the political confusion inside the class-in times critical for revolution. The rule is that, in the case of a positive or a negative contribution by the “party form”, the contribution is never an exclusive contribution. The class as a total subject, not only its political parties, defines its history and its fate.
In the short time class struggle, the revolutionary party ( or parties) , as long as it remains revolutionary, can make the positive difference. Let us take the case of a “revolutionary period”, when a positive long time relation of forces is partially counterbalanced by a negative one. The case of the Spanish revolution of 1936-1937 is an interesting one. A mass radical organization of the working class , a large and long experience of disobedience and class struggle, even of violent – armed forms of class struggle ( Barcelona 1918-1921) , a vast experience of street fighting and of rebellion , a limited influence of traditional Social Democracy and an extremely limited influence of Stalinist “popular front” communism-at the beginning. On the other hand, a non proportional influence of class radicalism in the other Spanish districts, apart from Catalonia, a deep influence of Catholicism, authoritarian tradition and reaction on some peasant and poor city populations, especially in Navarra, the Spanish Vandee, a long time cooperation of Spanish reaction with international fascism, the resort of the capitalist class to colonial armed forces, the Morrocan units, the danger of international isolation. The subjective and organizational weakness of the revolutionary tendency –in a frame of balancing the opposite long time relations of force- has been definitive for the defeat. That does not mean necessarily that the demanded form of organization should have been a traditional Leninist but not Stalinist party of the vanguard, as the traditional Trotskyist or doctrinary Leninist writers imagine the “necessities” of the time ( Trotsky also in his articles on “The Lessons of Spain” and the Spanish revolution ). The case of the Liberation Movement in Greece ( EAM) against the Axis occupation in the period 1943-1945 is also a good example for the case that a totally wrong strategy of the “vanguard party”, combined with problems of the “popular” social coalition, can cause a disaster in spite of the positive start of the revolutionary movement .
The moments of long time radicalism or long time “class reconciliation” do not always concern the totality of a socially homogenous labour class. Labour class, more generally the laboring popular classes, have always been divided. Although we do not agree with the Leninist scheme of “labour aristocracy” as a central explanation of reformism, it is not to doubt that the labour class has had a deep vertical stratification in most cases and in most countries. The Italian and German “operaists” in the 1960s and 1970s have supported and founded the argument that class struggle does happen not only between capital and labour but also between different strata of the labour class- a tendency more immanent in the revolutionary periods. We do not agree with an one sided division of class exclusively attributed to its “technical” and economic composition inside production (determined only by its technical contribution to the organization of production, its place in the technical or social division of work). Nevertheless, the important work of Karl -Heinz Roth and Angelika Ebbinghausen on the “Other Labour Movement in Germany” ( 1973-1974) has a great analytical value, as it has proved that “specialized” labourers and “not specialized” mass labourers in Germany have often followed very different paths in their relation to capital and in the advance of class struggle. Still , they have not proved the ability of capitalist regulation politics to influence and to manipulate the total population of specialized labourers in Germany , many of whom supported the revolutionary movement of the 20s and formed the left-anticapitalist wing of the councils’ movement ( for example the labour crisis in the Ruhr region ( 1920-1921), a district populated basically by “specialized workers” of the large metal industry). Another important writer of the operaist stream, Sergio Bologna, has put under consideration many extreme positions of Roth and Ebbinghausen.
What are the main apparatuses organizing the tendency of social peace and class reconciliation in modern democracies ? In his work “ The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci” , Perry Anderson has highlighted in the middle of the 70s the central position of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy in the West. Since then , bourgeois democracy and political representation of opposing class interests have obviously declined. There is no passion anymore in party politics and no wide interest for the process of governance. More influencial centres of influence are the mass media, the social nets of communication, the ever lasting structures of consumerism and of the commodities’ religion ; austerity policies reduce the ability to consume without altering the socio-psychological attitude to consuming. Consumerism remains an attitude of high importance in our postmodern world ; cultural liberalism is an ideology attached to consumerism : it is the ideology of consuming your money and your body without obstacles and discriminations. The “exceptional” tendency of revolutionary practice has been deeply undermined since the end of World War Two by the “consuming society” and the forms of individualization of social consciousness. The critique of Herbert Marcuse to labour class as a revolutionary subject in the “One Dimensional Man” (1961) may have been premature and extreme but it was not wholly unjust. If he had written it twenty years later, he would have been closer to social reality.
A central thought , based on the arguments above, is the relative autonomy of labour class and of all the popular and working classes from the existing binding socio-political determinations- in the limits always of those determinations. The will to rebellion and revolution for a part of the labour class – or, on the contrary, the repulsion of class conflict and revolution for another part, is not just a reflection of violent class repression, of ideological manipulation or of biopolitical regulation. Taking all these objective restrictions to account, we have to accept that there is, there must be a moral choice of the labour class to define its destiny and future, a “moment” of moral political liberty and free decision. Revolution is a positive and necessary option, but it does not “have to happen” or is not, under any circumstances, destined to happen The failure of socialism in the 20th century is also related to an approach, that rejected free choice of the labour class and subjected labour class activity entirely either to the “negative” apparatus of the bourgeois state or to the “positive apparatus” of the proletarian party/state , governmental in the “Real Existing Socialism” or oppositional in capitalism. Theories negating the “subject” or the “subjectivity” of the labour class and the “people” contributed to that approach.
Next, we will examine the main characteristics of the revolutionary tendency in the 20th century, as they evolved in three following “revolutionary cycles” or three specific periods of revolutionary action. “Three long waves of revolution”, breaking the normality of the capitalist societies and their “normal”reproduction. With many important defeats and some important victories.
- Three revolutionary cycles during the “long” 20th century
- The first revolutionary cycle ( 1905-1937)
Our basic reference to the revolutionary 20th century as the temporal epicenter of social revolution takes into account the wider temporal frame of the last two centuries ( 19th and 20th century as a whole) , when the notion of labour social revolution emerged. The attempts of the 19th century prepared mentally- and also from the aspect of organization- the more successful attempts of the 20th century. It would be correct to describe, in the sense of Eric Hobsbowm, the period 19th + 20th century as an “age of revolutions”.
The first revolutionary cycle of the 20th century begins with the Russian successive revolutions ( 1905, 1917) and ends with the defeat of the Spanish revolution of 1936-1937 and the road to international war. Russia, as we have noted, is a huge country-continent, moving between advanced capitalism/imperialism and backward feudal militarism/absolutism, with a limited hegemonic and parliamentary sphere , a country where all the national and international contradictions are radically articulated due to the development of war and state collapse. As Trotsky correctly claims in his book “Permanent Revolution”, it is the fight for a socialist state power , that takes under its flag the unfulfilled duties of the bourgeois democratic revolution. The radical labour movement, under the Bolshevic hegemony, seizes state power in October 1917, transforms the state and maintains its power with the “terror” means of a very violent civil war , at the cost of millions of dead, and not quite peacefully, as some writers suppose, putting the emphasis only on the “Day of the Revolution”. Besides, the blood flows in Russia not only between revolution and counterrevolution but also between different wings of the revolution (see the case of the Socialrevolutionaries and their conflict with the Bolshevics or the famous Kronstadt uprise and repression). The revolution expands in all Europe ; it is defeated and repulsed by the capitalist and landowner reaction in Finland ( 1918) , in Hungary ( 1919) , repeatedly in Germany ( 1918-1923), in Austria ( 1919) and in Italy ( 1919-1921). It is also stopped, in the form of Soviet military advance, at the doors of Warsaw ( summer 1920)-the Polish workers’ class does not support a territorial soviet expansion. The formation of the Third International in 1919 does not manage to prepare successful leaderships for the social revolutions in Europe. It does not even have the appropriate time to do that. When the Third International stabilizes its existence (1921-1922), the revolutionary wave has in most countries withdrawn.
In most countries, labour class is divided into a revolutionary large minority, that acts under the condition of post war social and economic collapse, and a reformist or probourgeois majority, that supports the counterrevolutionary Social Democracy in order to secure its moderate gains or even participates in the counterrevolutionary military corpses (Freikorps) and embraces reactionary nationalism. This second move is the first step towards “passive revolution” , a counterrevolutionary mass action, the term chosen by Gramsci to define the profascist or proreactionary mass consensus, a process that transforms revolutionary subjectivity to counterrevolutionary subjectivity. In most countries, two blocs are formed gradually, a revolutionary bloc and a counterrevolutionary bloc. Opposed to the Russian experience is the fact that peasants, middle strata of the city and many unemployed people or members of the intelligentsia do not ally with labour class but with the reaction. The Communist International realizes the turn of situation against revolution, the start of “capitalist stabilization” in its 3rd and 4th Congresses ( June-July 1921, December 1922) ; the United Front line is adopted in order to serve the needs of the new situation. The hopes for the United Front strategy are not fulfilled. The new line is either not practised at all or fails to bring socialist workers closer to the overthrow of capitalism (Germany , October 1923, Chemnitz Congress in Saxony –Thuringia). As far as we know, a general account of the United Front strategy, referring to the revolutionary period 1917-1923, has never been presented.
Many writers have stressed the importance of the war experience and the after the war collapse crisis in connection to a weaker political relation of the owning classes with the middle strata and the ruled classes as factors that favoured the revolutionary uprisings (see P. Broue for Germany, many others) . At the end , bourgeois class coalitions could stand the strike and counterattack successfully. The revolutionary part of the working class in Germany not only does not ally with the poor and dependent peasants of Elbe-Prussia or Southern Germany and the middle strata but verbally rejects this potential alliance (see also the critique of Lenin in the “Left Wing Communism”) ; the revolutionary doctrine of the KPD addresses only the workers –wage labourers , a fact that runs back to the old opinion of Marxist Social Democracy that peasants as a whole are a unified reactionary maze, tending out of its nature against labour (Kautsky). So, the self-fulfilled prophecy is finally verified : whenever the labour class fights against capital heroically but without social coalitions, without breaking the coalitions/blocs of capital, without forming its own historical bloc, as the “class against class”, it is always defeated. Concerning the middle and poor peasants, the political repulsion against the peasants will have its ideological repetition in the Soviet collectivization of land in the period 1928-1935, when the political problems with the poor-middle peasants will be solved exclusively with political coercion and not with a socio-political cooperation.
Finally, it is worthy to note that the Anglosaxon world does not live in the first cycle anything that goes beyond an ephemeral labour radicalization (clearly apparent in Britain in 1918-1919 as a movement against intervention in Russia) and moves toward revolution . It would be an interesting social and political study to research the origins of the not revolutionary orientation of the British and American working class in the 20th century and its insistance to the ideals of a reformist and union liberalism. Britain, the country , that was described by Marx as a model capitalist country , remained through the era of modernity outside the field of revolution- with the possible exception of the militant Chartists’ movement in the decades of 1830 and 1840. This reality puts under trial the traditional “progressive” belief that advanced capitalist countries are “riper” than backward countries for an anticapitalist revolution (advanced productive forces) . Also, the belief that labourers, more adapted to the discipline of large factory and its socialization of production are “riper” for revolution. The Russian and the Spanish example- the most genuine and powerful revolutionary examples in Europe – were products of new labourers either not yet submitted to large factory discipline-sons and daughters of peasants and artisans- or not willing to submit without resistance to capitalist discipline.
Oncemore on the crucial defeat in Germany ; historical lack of ability or of will for revolution covered a large part of German labour and the German popular classes ( especially the socially marginalized middle strata of the cities) , not only failure or non existence of the vanguard Marxists party. The theory of the lack of “revolutionary leadership” led politically to the problematic route of “Bolshevization” of the KPD ( “Bolschevisierung” Weber H. , 1969) under the Zinovievist Maslov-Fischer leadership and then under the Stalinist Thaelmann leadership. Even, if this process had been led by the Trotskyists-Zinovievists and not the Stalinists, it is doubtful that it would produce something different than a leadership, loyal to the USSR of one or the other form- relative independence of the CPs was not an option for all the Bolshevic fractions . Nevertheless, the KPD was not a useless or impotent tool in the period 1918-1923. It collected most persons, incorporating the revolutionary minority of the old SPD, it had a substantial influence in Prussia-Brandenburg, Saxony-Thuringia and the Ruhr district (large factories, metal miners , coal miners, large metal and chemical industry producing means of production etc) , it took part-at a not neglectable measure- in the councils ‘ movement and in the factory and shop-stewards’ committees, it had a national net of armed militsias and a mass potential ready for the violent overthrow of regime. Also, leading intellectuals, famous orators and labour unionists. It also had the clear moral and material Soviet support until the October 1923 ( it is not true that Stalin undermined the attempts and preparations in Germany of the autumn 1923). It had absorbed the larger part of members the “centrist” USPD (Independent SPD, it was divided between SPD and KPD, after the Congress of Halle 1920), while at the difficult moments it could also count on the alliance of its own ultra-left split of 1919, the KAPD and the anarchosyndicalists of the AAU.
It is also important that the war and post war crisis radicalized a big part of the specialized metal workers ( “masters”, “Meister” ) and divided the specialized metal workers into a reformist and a revolutionary part ( Bologna 1973) . The KPD took advantage out of this process among the radicalized metal workers.
So, the crucial factors of German failure did not lie only in the failure of the KPD , they lay in the Long Time and the Short Time relations of forces in Germany , combined together. Also in the “wrong” combination/condensation of contradictions at the specific conjuncture. The matter of “non determination” and randomness was also significant. We cannot know what might have been if Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had survived the January 1919 rising. Or if the KPD had some more years of preparation, like the Bolshevics had in Russia. All these considerations do not cancell the problem that under the extreme conditions of national defeat, postwar, collapse and poverty, the radicalization of the German labour did not exceed, for the majority, the limits of a democratic-bourgeois revolution, something that was probably clear to Rosa Luxemburg at the founding Congress of the KPD-Spartacus in Berlin ( 30-12-1918/ 1-1-1919 ) and fortified her explicit hesitations, concerning the prematureness of socialist revolution in Germany. The majority seemed to choose its miserable survival than the violent death or the hunger death in a prolonged civil war or during an Entente intervention. The Russian Civil War offered a negative than a positive example for revolting. The toll of deaths was not an inspiring spectacle. The repression of the “not Bolshevic” radical parties in Russia (Left SR, anarchists, Left Menshevics ) also contributed to the political isolation of the KPD. Together in the United Front but separately in the postrevolutionary structure of power? The poles of the contradiction inside the capital relation and, more specifically , inside the labour class’s social and political positions have moved finally not to the direction of the negation of capital power but to the majority direction of an “assimilation” and a conciliation of the antagonists. As an experiment of permanent social state was impossible under the Weimar republic, the whole labour class was to pay bitterly under the Nazi regime for its double failure ( 1918-1923, 1929-1933).
So, the failure of German revolution is to be attributed to aspects of a very difficult long and short term relation of forces, of a strong division inside the labour class interests and cultures and of a failure in revolutionary strategy : aspects of an important reformist influence of the long term period since 1880, aspects of a need for personal security and for “peaceful evolution ” , for the not generalization of a civil-revolutionary war experience , aspects of diverting class interests ( masters and unspecialized workers, employed und unemployed etc), negative aspects of the Russian revolutionary experience, aspects of economic improvement after the summer 1923 default crisis due to Gustav Stresemann stabilizing politics, finally aspects of the KPD , USPD and SPD policies, especially of the inefficience of KPD policies to unite different labour class strata, to achieve the United Front from below, to unite labourers , peasants, unemployed and failed middle strata people, and –last but not least-to combine class and national liberation demands against the Versailles’treaty , as it condemned all possible implementations of the so called “Schlageter line” by Karl Radek in the summer of 1923 (this line was not 100% correct, it really played, to some extent, with the devil, but it included the valuable thought that Communists in Germany had to refer to national liberation as well, against Versailles, the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan etc) .
The first revolutionary cycle ends with the failure of the Popular Front in France ( 1934-1938) and then the tragical defeat and reactionary repression of the great Spanish revolution, in the spring-summer of 1937 ( Barcelona Days). We do not classify the French Popular Front to the “clear” revolutionary experiences, although its social dynamics in the summer of 1936 superceded potentially a case of radical reformism ( Daniel Guerin and Marceau Pivert, on the Left of the SFIO, claimed that the PF experience was indeed a cancelled revolution). The imposition of important prolabour reforms and not only the lack of revolutionary strategy of the PCF stopped the revolutionary dynamics. At the same time, the road of Democratic Spain to defeat and the “non intervention” of Leon Blum government crushed the morale of the French labour movement and prepared the reactionary transition to the state of Vichy .
The great Spanish revolution, crushed by the parallel and converging beatings of fascist counterevolution ( Francoism – reactionary aristocracy and capitalist class- international fascism) and Left-Democratic ( inside the democratic bloc) counterrevolution (democratic capitalist state, democratic bourgeoisie, Stalinism and Right of the Social democracy , intervention of the USSR and the CI against the revolutionary wing etc), is –next to the Russian and perhaps more than the Russian – the leading social revolution of the 20th century in Western Europe. Like the Russian case , it happened not exactly in the periphery of capitalism but in the “periphery/back seats of the metropolis itself” ( Spain and Russia were at the same time backward –feudal countries and countries participating economically and culturally in the advanced world). Like in Russia, there was a social coalition of labourers, small peasants, labourers-peasants, popular classes in the cities and intellectuals. We have explained the long term dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in Spain . Reformism was not a clear option for the Spanish society before and after the First World War , as a result of very sharp class division and conflicts and of an extreme traditionalist-reactionary position of the majority of owning classes. The outbreak of the Francoist coup on the 18th of July 1936 unleashed a quite successful general armed rebellion of the workers in the cities; it also led to the military control of Barcelona and a great part of democratic Spain by the militsias- revolutionary councils of the revolutionary wing ( composed mostly by the anarchosyndicalists of the major confederation CNT and the anarchists of FAI). An advanced form of workers’ control and self-direction dominated in the industrial and land production units of Catalonia, Aragon and an important part of southeastern and northeastern Spain.
As far as we know, the extent of self-direction of production by the producers themselves ( “autogestion”) and their organs of power in Spain , either as non commercial atomized units or as cooperatives or as nuclei of a combined and unified units of production, even without an efficient planification system, was substantial ; it was not superseded by other revolutionary experiments in the 20th century. Workers’ control stopped existing in Russia on May 1918. It was not practiced in China, with some possible exceptions in the period of the Cultural Revolution. It was practiced in Yugoslavia after 1948 , adopting an orientation of semi- popular capitalism. It was practiced in the anti-imperialist Algeria for a short period and with a larger state back up. It was not practised in other countries of the “Real Existing Socialism” , after real revolutions or after the Soviet military occupation of Eastern Europe after 1945. The insistence and the passion of a large part of the Catalan and Spanish working class for a social cooperation, self-direction and a form of class power , based on committees and councils in the place of production, was the highest moment of social revolution in the Europe of the 20th century, on the basis of the pre- World War II labour movement. The reason of defeat is not so easy to locate, due to the very favourite Long Time relation of forces in the labour camp and the imaginary and cultural richness of the working classes of Spain . One aspect is the very negative international relation of forces in the 1930s: victory of fascism in Italy and Germany, retreat of the international revolution, Stalinism in Russia and in the leadership of the CI , limited successes in France. The Spanish revolution had to confront and neutralize or defeat a vast international heterogenous “coalition” of different forces , which stood persistently for its failure. The counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism has been a central obstacle, as the Spanish Republic was totally dependent on the military/financial support of the USSR, in the field of weapons and volunteers. The revolutionary wing was not materially supported in the Civil War military fields and then it was crushed. On the other hand, the “vanguard” of the revolution was extremely weak and did not possess a political decisiveness. It was also isolated at the international level, as the majority of democratic or leftist volunteers were loyal to the centres of Paris or of Moscow. A short time formation of a wide counterrevolutionary camp, internal and external, in connection with the advance of traditional reaction and fascism and the mobilization of the backward part of the popular classes against the Republic, balances the positive historical relation of force. The subjective role of the CNT-FAI has been a role of confusion, statist illusions and manipulation of the anarchists by the central PF government, as many anarchist writers a posteriori sincerely accept. The fundamental antipolitical position of the CNT-FAI, leading to the rejection of an “anarchist political dictatorship” had catastrophic effects for the camp of revolution. Even in Barcelona, in the May Days of 1937, the leadership of CNT-FAI sacrificed the uprising in the name of “preserving the democratic/antifascist unity” and persuaded the fighters of the revolutionary wing to stop fighting and reconcile with the Stalinist coup. The anarchist concept that “corrupting” state power or was not to be taken , as it would lead to an not acceptable anarchist dictatorship, left free room for action to the counterrevolutionary wing of the Republic, especially the Stalinist PCE and the Soviet NKVD-GPU mechanisms- the practice of the PCE is for the first time after 1919 a clearly CP counterrevolutionary practice. As far as it concerns the POUM, its leadership was more conscious of the developments to come, but it didn’t have the political strength and influence to impose a better strategy. Trotsky criticizes the weaknesses of the POUM, especially its wrong participation in the Catalonian government ; his critique , justified in some points, remains doctrinary and external ( “Lessons from Spain-the last warning”, 1937) . Is is not coincidental that the pure Spanish Trotskyists (Bolshevic -Leninists) never became more than some hundreds of people in the heart of a social revolution ( Alba –Schwartz 1988).
The errors of the revolutionary camp in Spain do not lead to the result that an alternative outcome, combining antifascist war and social revolution, against the whole world would have been a simple or an obvious matter. The only plausible possibility would have been a more early outbreak of World War II, that would have offered time and moving room to the revolutionary wing of antifascism.
The defeat of the first Chinese revolution in 1927-1928 ( slaughters of workers in Shangai and Kanton) by the Kuomintang forces is one more important point of the pre World War II labour movement . It stresses the importance of the rising of colonial and semicolonial peoples against imperialism. Not only does this defeat verify the problematic dependence of the CPs by the Moscow-Stalinist international strategy ( disastrous submission of the CCP to the bourgeois Koumintang) .It also proves that the revolution in the “pure” periphery countries does not copy the model of armed labour insurrection in the cities, the metropolitan model of class struggle. The rising of the peasants (poor and middle) as a giant revolutionary class in the East and the South is a lesson for the Marxists , that cannot be ignored. The labour class will not “return” in China to the strategy of big cities’ insurrection , as the traditional Stalinism and Trotskyism assume in China even at the end of the 20s. It will join the peasants in the armed surrounding of the cities and the prolonged popular war against colonialism- fascism – imperialist capitalism under the new creative synthesis of the Maoist leadership. Surpassing the “stages”’ strategy in practise but in a very peculiar manner, emphasizing the agrarian populations and their action .
The defeat of the Spanish revolution finishes the first revolutionary cycle, the cycle with the three powerful European revolutions ( Russian, German, Spanish). It is not just a coincidence that the purge of the POUMists in the summer of 1937 (murder of Andres Nin and many anarchist volunteers, trials of the POUM leadership in 10.1938) is the western shorter version of the counterrevolutionary Soviet purges of 1936-1939. The historical distance between Moscow and Barcelona, Paris and Berlin has been shortened in the decade of the 30s. Counterrevolution was the joining option.
- The second revolutionary cycle ( 1945 -1956)
“ The permanent revolution is not a “leap” by the proletariat , but the reconstruction of the nation by the leadership of the proletariat” , Trotski , the Permanent Revolution, 1931.
It would not be wrong to take into account a more general typology , that unites the first and the second revolutionary cycle as two stages of the “European Civil War” (1918-1945) , that is a wider historical context during which the forces of revolution and counterrevolution repeatedly clash in an armed struggle for power and armed revolution stands ante portas for European and world capitalism.
The peculiarity of the second cycle lies in the historical connection of the social question ( class division) with the antifascist struggle and the national liberation question in countries occupied by the fascism-nazism ( by the Axis countries) until 1945 or in colonial –semicolonial countries after 1945. The revolutions of the second cycle are mostly socialist-antifascist-anticolonial –antiimperialist revolutions. They are not at all “pure” labour revolutions, even if we accept that the revolutions of the first cycle were primarily ( but not exclusively) workers’ revolutions. . Even in the first cycle, the revolutionary movement faces aspects of the national question : nations of Soviet Russia and the recognition of their right to self-determination, defense of the socialist fatherland after the revolution, Versailles and Ruhr crisis in post World War I Germany, question of Catalan autonomy in 1936-1937. In the periphery, the national and the class question are weaved together from the beginning ( the subject rises in the first Congresses of the Communist International with the wellknown debate V.I. Lenin-M. Roy ( Indian communist leader) on the problem) .
The second cycle is characterized by the return of “nation-fatherland ” in the discourse and the practice of the revolutionary labour movement –this time not as a condemned “social patriotism”, but as a positive “ anti-imperialist/antifascist patriotism”. Class struggle reproduces, here, and not only negates the national question. The positive meaning of “nation’s liberation” is well explained by the conjuncture; it can also lead to ambivalent results and positions. The double character of World War II as imperialist war and antifascist war ( Claudin 1975) defines the “return of nation”. On the other hand, the socialist revolutions of the second cycle are the forerunners of the anticolonial –antiimperialist movement of the 50s-60s-70s. Either in classical metropolitan countries conquered by the Axis in the period 1941-1945 ( Italy, Belgium, France, Netherlands) , or in middle advanced capitalist countries, conquered by the Axis in the same period ( Greece, Yugoslavia ) or in colonial –semicolonial countries of the periphery rising against imperialism (China, Vietnam-Indochina , Korea, Malaya , Philippines ). Despite the argument of some Trotskyist organizations in the 40s that the “return of nation” constitutes a “betrayal”, a revisionist turn, abandoning the 1914-1918 internationalism, no revolution will succeed in the 40s and later on the basis of a pure internationalist labour character, if denying the importance of the national question and of national-antiimperialist independence. This is one of the main reasons that all-with no exception- the communist leaderships of the revolutions after 1944 are not influenced essentially by Trotskyism or by Anarchism; they are “orthodox” communists ( Stalinists) , that decisively follow an autonomous ( national) revolutionary route and not the central Soviet line; they practically break with the central line, either with shouts ( Yugoslavia) or without shouts ( China) . We will call these leaderships “radical Stalinists” or “left Stalinists”.
Revolutionary victories of the communist movements in the second cycle : Yugoslavia and Albania in Europe , China, North Vietnam ( after the victory in Dien Bien Fu, 1954, by the general Giap) and North Korea in Asia. No victories in the metropolitan capitalist countries. The CPs in periphery and semi-periphery lead huge armies of peasants and workers, of the popular classes in general, to the seizure of political power. Mobilization in the form of strikes and street fighting in the cities does happen, but is secondary to the form of popular war. Organs of dual power do appear ( peasant soviets in China after 1930, Yugoslav local and federal committees in 1943-1945, also factory committees after 1945 ), but they do not act really independently from the leading party-army strategy – a major difference from the first cycle. The dualisation of power happens mainly between the popular army and the apparatus of the old regime. There is a strong dimension of bureaucratization and direction “from above” in the revolutions of the second cycle, as a result either of Stalinist tradition or of the different political form of the social conflict. The state form, established by the revolution, seems to be an already bureaucratized dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasans, which sets obstacles to the transition to communism, if not blocks it; this does not preclude a later radical movement into the direction of socialism-communism, as it happened in People’s China in the 60s. As a whole taken, the revolutions of the second cycle are poorer in class spontaneity and in the self-organization of the popular classes, but not just “constructs” of the communist leadership (like Castoriadis once claimed). The “import” of Soviet Leninism-Stalinism has both virtues and vices. The defeats of the European revolutions, based on the initiave of labour class are also a dimension to consider.
Our approach to the nature of countries of Eastern Europe, where “socialism” ( in reality, bureaucratic state capitalism) did not procede on the basis of a revolution but on the weapons of the Red Army under 1945, does not permit us to include them clearly to the revolutionary phenomenon of the 20th century. However, revolutionary practices and moods were apparent in the abolition of private property and traditional capitalist forms of government on the side of the labour and popular clasies, especially in Chechoslovakia at the turn of 1948. The new regime had a popular social base not only because of its antifascist character but also because of the propopular reforms it introduced by seizing the property of the old ruling classes ( landowners, industrialists, bankers etc) and introducing measures of social rights. There is an “anomalous” exception to the route of the “Real Existing Socialism” countries : the Hungarian revolution of October-November 1956. What was it ? A fascist counterrevolution, as the Stalinists defined it ? A coup against socialism? An intervention of the NATO backed Western imperialism into the socialist camp? All these explanations resemble classical conspiracy theories and are not credible. The organization of the rised Hungarian workers in the form of workers’ councils ( under the centrality and leadership of the Greater Budapest council) in all the large production units , their participation in the classical form of violent city insurrection, their military fight against the Stalinist regime secret police and the intervening Red Army forces, their declarations supporting socially owned property but not the property of the Stalinist party-state , classify the uprising to the classical revolutionary tradition of the radical wing of labour class against capital and for the seizure of state power. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Hungarian revolution is the last classical labour and socialist revolution of the 20th century. Two large differences with the other experiences : a) this a revolution against state capitalism and not private capitalism. The capital is unified and “planned” by the party-state as a collective bearer of capital ( Belltelheim “Class Struggles in the USSR”, 2nd and 3rd -4th Volumes). So , it is not social ownership against private ownership but social ownership against the state management of capitalist appropriation of the means of productionb) the ruling class is a class , using Marxism as its ideological tool. A labour class exploited under the “banner of Marxism” logically rejects “Marxism” as an ideology of oppression, although it implementates in practice the deeper meaning of the Marxist work. The Duplicity of Reason, in Hegelian terms. One more interesting point : this is a politically and socially spontaneous revolution. No party , no special political organization leads it. This is a specific form of revolution, with many common points with the Spanish of 1936-1937. The lack of a special political organization has two opposing effects : a lack of efficiency in the political moves and, at the same time, an independent dynamics, that cause a serious disorder in some countries of the “Real Existing Socialism” ( especially Poland 1956-1957, interfeeding with the East German rebellion of 1953 etc).
The negative alternative of the second cycle responds to the cases of defeated or cancelled revolutions in the West and the periphery. Two cancelled revolutions ( in Italy 1944-1948, France 1944-1947) one major defeated revolution in the zone “periphery or backward part of the Western metropolies itself” , the Greek revolution ( 1943-1949) , some more in the classical periphery ( Philippines, Malaya, in the second part of the 40s). The most interesting case , to our opinion, is the Greek revolution (1943-1949), a process where the struggle for national liberation against the Axis leads to a large mobilization of the popular classes and the emerging dualization of power (the labour class in the cities with many forms of self-organization , the peasant and petty bourgeois classes in the country , instituting organs of popular self-government and popular justice), to a clear but not confessed social revolution . A social and political coalition for socialism is practically formed inside the EAM movement (Front for National Liberation) and under the leadership of the KKE ( CP of Greece). Then, the “victorious revolution” is lost : The influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois intellectuals and politicians in the EAM institutions ( for example the Socialists of Al. Svolos) and inside KKE/PGC ( for example the moderate wing of I. Ioannidis) , the politics of “peaceful coexistence” between the Allies in 1944, adopted by Stalin and the CPs , the wrong insistence of KKE to the stages’ strategy and the goal of a real bourgeois democratic revolution after 1934, all of these causes taken together, lead to the deliverance of forcibly seized power in Greece by EAM/KKE to the capitalist camp and to British imperialism ( pact of Lebanon in 5. 1944 ) , to a heroic but delayed resistance of EAM-KKE to the British-capitalist bloc in December 1944 and to a delayed and politically undermined general civil war in the period 1946-1949, that was entirely lost due to the very disproportional relation of political and military forces. Here like in all revolutions of the 2nd cycle, the crisis of bourgeois hegemony on the nation, its loss by the capitalist class for reasons of occupation by the Axis forces , of popular organization, of reaction’s betrayal to the Axis, leads to a popular hegemony on the nation under liberation, so that the social defeat leads to a national dependence by the forces of imperialism ( British, American) as well. The nation’s class direction is reconstructed from below. The substitution of a class coloured fight for national and social liberation by the line of “national unity” with the proAllies part of the bourgeoisie and with British imperialism (government of Cairo) is a catastrophic decision, that signifies the beginning of the end. That should not bring back the argument that the adoption of “liberated nation” was false and wrong from the beginning. National liberation can and should be articulated with social liberation, under a fascist military occupation. National liberation does not necessarily coincide with “national unity”. Even the late stage of Greek revolution in the 40s, the Civil War of 1946-1949 , fought by the KKE and the DSE army ( Democratic Army of Greece), still refers not only to a democratic-socialist power structure but also to the liberation of Greece by the Anglo-American political rule and the “monarchofascist” neocolonial regime. It is equally wrong to diminish or erase the national-democratic dimension of the second cycle revolutions as if they were “not pure class revolutions” or even “nationalist-bureaucratic revolutions” ( as Agis Stinas or Castoriadis have presented them in Greece ) or not to realize that a certain version of totally submitting class antagonism to national –antifascist antagonism was an important aspect of revolutionary defeat in Greece, France and Italy.
The cases of Italy and France , described in details by F. Claudin in the 2nd Vol. of his major work “Crisis of the Communist movement” ( “From the Komintern to the Kominform”), have much in common with the Greek experience –with the definitive exception that a general armed confrontation , a general civil war was avoided. For one more time, the leadership of the national CPs not only retreats from the perspective of class general confrontation and revolution but imposes its influence on all the parts of the party and its armed fighters , that are inclined to sharpen the conflict ( Pons 2001 on the case of P. Secchia and other radical wings of the PCI). To our opinion, the main strategical attitude of the European CPs , not without strong resistances, is stabilized after the WW II towards a reformist/counterrevolutionary direction, a specific reformism, connected with the strategical interests of the Stalinist Soviet Union. But is it enough to understand the cancell of revolutions just in the light of the CPs’ strategy ? No, the reformist direction of the Communist leadership is interfeeding with reformist and postwar peace attitudes inside the antifascist fighters , inside the popular classes of Italy, in reference to the non continuation of war, the enjoyment of foreign relief after the Marshall Plan etc. It is under question whether the popular classes in Italy and France could have supported the prolongation of war and destruction for some more years. The CP might have seized by arms the North of Italy , which was not liberated against the German forces until the April 1945. They might have been confronted with an American armed intervention and a bourgeois coalition with strong peasant and petty bourgeois influence in the South and in the “mezzogiorno”. They might have to solve politically the problem of breaking with “antifascist unity” and “national unity”. They might have to cooperate with Yugoslavia, a case impossible after the rupture in the Yugoslavia-Soviet Russia relations in 1948 . They might have caused , as Claudin insists, a break in the will of the Allies’ army to intervene military against an antifascist enemy. The odds were not impossible , they were nevertheless extremely difficult. It is welknown that after the Greek civil war ( 1946-1949), many communists in Europe blessed the “happy” peaceful outcome in Italy and cursed the “Greek anomaly”. The outcome was supposed to be a “full success” of Palmiro Togliatti’s strategy. This debate ( was the civil war exrerience positive or negative for Greek communism? ) took place – in an altered form – in the interior of Greek Communist Left as well for years, and prepared the division of the CP of Greece (KKE) into two parts , a proSoviet and a proto-Eurocommunist wing, in February 1968.
- The third revolutionary cycle ( 1965-1980)
The third cycle, the last cycle of the century, is the cycle of the long “1968 movements” in the metropolies and the victories of combined national-social liberation movements in the periphery of capitalism. The red-blue flag of the Vietkongs with the yellow star in the metropolies of imperialism ( USA, France, Italy, Germany) and in their own country. The new coalition in the metropolies is composed of radical labour class, labour and student youth, radicalized middle and intellectual strata, radical intellectuals, diverging cultural and sexual groups. In the metropolies, the cycle culminates in the difficult convergence of striking workers and rising students in France in May-June 1968 ( “French May 1968” , an important crisis of bourgeois hegemony with an aftermath until the first half of the 70s ), in the workers’ , students’ and city youth’s uprising in Italy between 1967 and 1980 ( “Hot Autumn”, “long “Italian May”) and in the Portugal revolution of 1974-1975. Many minor youth uprisings in the metropolies, a large antiimperialist , antiracist and radical anticapitalist youth movement in the USA, democratic and anti-dictatorship/antifascist movements in Greece, Spain, Portugal ( including the November 1973 mass uprising of the people of Athens against the military dictatorship). A surrounding of victorious anti-imperialist wars and revolutions in the periphery , a major anticolonial and anti-imperialist revolutionary fight (Vietnam-Indochina’ s anti-imperialist-socialist victory of 1975, Algeria 1954-1962, Cuba 1959-1962, revolt of Arab nationalism, Panafrican revolutionary movements, the violently repressed Chilean experiment of peaceful transition to socialism by S. Allende and the Popular Unity ). The infuencial -all over the world- proceding of the controversial Cultural Revolution in China ( 1966-1976) and the intervention of millions of people into an internal revolutionary class struggle , weaved with heavy interbureaucratic conflicts but not restricted to them. Serious conflicts in the Eastern “socialist” bloc, culminating in the crash of the Prague spring Communist reform experiment in August 1968 and the establishment of the rule of “limited sovereignship for the states of the Warsaw pact” by secretary of the Soviet Union CP L. Breznev and the USSR. A split in the biggest Western European CP : the birth of the Manifesto-PDOUP group in Italy , intensely influenced by the evolution of radical Maoism and cultivating a version of Gramscian Leninism.
War, international or just global, determines all the three cycles and their emergence ; There is a certain dialectic of war and revolution. The end of World War One for the first cycle , the suffering and the end of World War Two for the second wave , the anticolonial wars, especially the Vietnam War, for the third wave. The Vietnam war intervenes symbolically , even in a not direct form, into western societies, destructs the cohesion of their populations and divides the public opinion. It strenghens the gap between classes, racial and cultural groups and generations. It provokes forms of national hegemonic crisis, even not responding to classical revolutionary situations . Is is also interfeeding with a major crisis of the social organizational form and function of capitalist production in the metropolies , with a general attack of the mass worker on Taylorism and the alienating fragmentation of labour activity in the factory. Crisis of Fordism-Taylorism signifies an attack of labour class on technological and technical-scientific power, as it was then perceived and realized. One major difference of the third cycle : it does not produce even one partial or total victory in the advanced or semi-advanced capitalist countries. An outcome that shows that a very important change in social attitudes has already occured since 1945, in the form of an emerging attitude of individualism-narcissism (effects of consumering ? effects of an effective social control by the Ideological Apparatuses of the State ? effects of transformation in labour class culture, relating to mass culture ?) . At the same time, the people who rise against capital are not coordinated by a revolutionary party or parties. In the first cycle, Marxist parties in the West lead successful ( Russia) or unsuccessful social revolutions, in the second cycle , the revolutionary party form moves from the West to the periphery of capitalist metropolis ( Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria etc) or the periphery of capitalism, where they succeed to make a revolution without significant or lasting popular organs/instruments of power, in the third cycle the traditional Left parties and unions of the metropolis ( CPs, SPs, Confederations of Labour) are classical enemies of the revolution dynamics and demand its imminent stop-others with a violent and repressive confrontation (CPF in France), others with methods of persuasion or confusion (PCI in Italy) . The councils and committees’ forms, apparent especially in the Italian factories of the North between 1967 and 1972, have only weak and limited political organizations of the extreme Left behind them : these organizations achieve their maximum , which is extremely lower than the needs of revolution in a complicated and very flexible capitalist state at the end of the 20th century. The biazed transformation of factory uprising to minority backed armed struggle in the middle of the 70s ( the so called “Left Terrorism”) shows the deep radicalization of the revolutionary wing in a situation that had common points with a revolutionary or prerevolutionary situation; it also shows the grade of class and cultural despair and a sense of “being betrayed” by the PCI and its Historical Compromise project, that fed a heroic armed struggle of some thousands of people without a real perspective of political victory. Even a militarized popular war has to possess large population and territory bases , so that it can retreat to them, whenever this development is needed ( “the fish inside the water” like president Mao’s famous quotation ) and a state much more disorganized than the Italian imperialist-metropolitan state of the 1970s. The cohesion and efficiency of modern capitalist states and “civil societies” in the metropolis makes it extremely difficult and not plausible to sustain a situation of long popular war and a long division of the territory- you have to win quite early at the socio-political level , to crash politically early the cohesion and function of the military- security apparatuses and not be led to a pure “ long military confrontation”. The Brigatti Rossi lost the effects of unity and discrepancy between the political and military level very soon, copying and applying the periphery experience in a very mechanist manner. All this is valid and necessary, if -or as far of- we accept that the social revolution is still a plausible option ( more analytically at the end of this study).
The Italian case of “1968” is the case with the strongest aura of social-class revolution, at least revolution under preparation. Not only that : only in this country major social overthrow might have proceded under different circumstances and implemented strategies . An uprising of the mass worker in the factories of the North, a mass worker mostly migrated from the South of Italy, leads to important tactical victories in 1969-1970 , improving working relations at standards very high for advanced capitalism ( the “Statuto dei Lavoratori” in 1970) . The labour and student youth develops multiple forms of revolt-resistance and of doubting ruling moral values and traditional forms of representation. Gender, feminist and moral critique is spreaded and exceeds the limits of political organizations or even “breaks” them (the case of the organization Lotta Continua in 1976, “broken” by its feminist wing). Political expectations are divided between the large electoral rise of the CP and a more radical formation of political life through not institutionalized class struggle. The disillusionment from the experiment of Historical Compromise, the non representation in that project, the rejection of official communist disciplines, the memories of the 1945-1948 cancelled revolution are the sources of the armed struggle experience. It is leading in 1978 to a no way out and to the rise of the exceptional state repression (antiterrorist laws in the so called Italy ‘s “lead years”). However, the size of actors and supporters of armed struggle , measuring some tenths of thousands, the longetivity of armed struggle ( from 1970 to the middle of the 1980s) , the large number of political prisoners in 1980 ( around 15.000) , the development of semi-legal not armed revolutionary organizations with a measurable influence ( operaist organizations, PDUP-Il Manifesto, organizations of Autonomia, dispersed individual arm struggle etc) prove that Italy has reached in its long “1968”the closest analogy with what was once known as a revolutionary situation in the advanced capitalist world : the measure of state repression and Far Right terrorism responded to the described situation. A second uprising happened in the years 1977-1978 , based on marginalized radical youth and the Autonomia political and organizational forms : the so called “social worker”. The end of Italian radicalism and of the vehemence of Italian workers’ movement took the form of the great defeat of the FIAT strike/reconstruction in 1980 and the beginning of a wide reconstruction of industry and economy to a neoliberal and postmodern direction. The final failure of the labour movement after the “Hot Autumn”can also not be attributed exclusively to the non existence of a revolutionary party. Here, as always in the West of the 20th century,, the first radical mass moves of the labour class were soon followed by a division between those who expected an institutional exit and success ( blocked and manipulated by the strategy of Historical Compromise) and the minority which tried the revolutionary road, leading to isolation. However , organizations like the BR were illegal mass parties or mass nets with a strong social influence, not just criminal bands, as the authorities described them. There was a lack of political ability to unify and coordinate the revolutionary wing. Soon, political radicalization was frustrated in favour of military (and also militarist ) radicalization. The ambiguity of the labour attitudes and choices , the impact of the reforms, the illusions of electoral change, interfed with the absence of an organized political centre, something like a”vanguard party” or “parties”. Why did the operaist and other extraparliamentry Marxist organizations not develop to such a form ?
The “French May” is a considerably different phenomenon. Its two dimensions were soon to depart one from the other. An anticapitalist dimension in the short term , unifying the revolted mass worker, the radical youth, the radical intellectuals and the new social movements against capitalism , as it was and performed after the war , consisting a conservative and patriarchal ideological formation as a condition for class rule. An anticapitalist dimension, that really transformed the reformist and anticapitalist Left, so that its form after May 1968 underwent a serious alteration. An anti-imperialist youth movement as well since the Algeria war and the beginnings of the 60s. . The organizations of the Far Left are also transformed ; after a first period of “expecting the real revolution” ( until 1973) they adapt to a long class struggle in the frame of Fifth Republic institutions. Also, the reformist Left ( Communist and Socialist) organizes its road to government , taking advantage of the cultural products of May : liberation of morals, originality and creativity in expression, new social movements, grassroot democracy, “autogestion” etc). The Mitterand experiment is a very specific fruit of the May experience.
The second dimension, finally the dominant dimension , is a deep cultural reformation of the elits and of the standards of economic and social hierarchy, a reorganization of every day life, , a “construction” of a more tolerant, global and liberal capitalism opposed to the conservative, patriarchical, nationalist and rascist capitalism until the end of the sixties . It is the partial inclusion of a cancelled revolution inside the reconstruction of capital. It is about the adoptation of new productive forms by capital, the partial substitution of large factory Taylorism by small groups with special skills , working horizontally , and the formation of a new type of industrial management, based in networks, networks ‘ relations and informal power relations. Antiauthoritarian capitalism , capitalism longing for individual autonomy and a kingdom of informal and flexible relations is the essence of these high influential transformations.
It is about the rise of collective identities concerning body, sex politics and sex orientation experience , gender and “social construction” of sexuality, multicultural and post-ethnic forms of social existence , the products of the new social movements. In the decades after May 1968, this tendency does not anymore respond – mainly – to a richer and diversed quality of revolution ( a more catholic and universal revolution, opposing to various forms of oppression) but, on the contrary, to the cultural tranformation of the elits and the middle strata to the direction of a postnational cultural liberalism and moral relativism. So the moment of the fight against exploitation is separated from the moment of fighting for personal liberty and for cultural autonomy and social renewal. The philosophical discourse on postmodernism ( Lyotard, Baudrilliard etc) is also a central mental byproduct of the May developments- it is not accidental that its basic supporters are not Old Time conservative liberals of the Raymond Aron type but Left or ex Left liberals ( Classical Postmodernists, New Philosophs, The Rocard Second Left in the PSF after 1978, Third Way socialdemocrats, ex UltraLeft personalities like Henry Weber, Daniel Cohn-Bendit or Alain Geismar, etc) . Where May 1968 failed as a social revolution, it succeeded as a spiritual movement for the renewal of capitalism. All the basic cultural fragmentations inside the social movements, all the forms of an eloquent breaking of class unity are products of both processes : material capitalist reconstruction of capitalist production and cultural support of the division of original class unity into an asterism of collective and individual identities, diverse and diffuse , competing and at the same moment cooperating with the reconstructed rule of capital. If the French May had not existed, the capital should have invented it. This is not to say that initial positive socio-economic gains of May 1968 for labour class were not important; this is not to say that gained liberal and cultural advancements and liberties are themselves negative or useless ( for example women’s liberation and social emergence or the respect for homosexuals and the gradual abolition of discriminations against them) ; it is to say that a certain articulation of these advancements with a restructuring of classes after 1980 led to a more flexible , so a more powerful hegemonically, form of cultural and ideological capitalist domination on the modern, more fragmented, divided and confused, labour class.
There is also a third dimension of the French May 1968, especially stressed by R. Debray : “revolution” as a spectacle in the Guy Deborian sense , as a dramatization of conflict , without proportionally serious social consequences, a reference to the tradition of insurrection by a generation and a society, that cannot complete insurrection and transform it to revolution, that cannot even implement a violent insurrection. The new dynamics with the clothes of the old (“The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”) , liberalism with the phrases and the slogans of labour revolution . This is the opinion of Regis Debray , 10 years after May 1968, expressed in an article of his in New Left Review (New Left Review I/115. May –June 1979 “A modest contribution to the rites and ceremonies of the tenth anniversary”).
The last events that can be described as classical revolutionary in the course of the past century are two forgotten revolutions in the year 1979 : the Santinistas antiimperialist revolution of 1979 in Nicaragua , a successful revolution soon contained by the interventions of American imperialism under the Reagan USA neoconservative administration- and the very peculiar and distinct Iranian revolution in 1979. The Iranian democratic revolution was not from the beginning a theocratic and reactionary social movement. It included many different tendencies, social and ideological, democratic, Islamic religious of various forms, nationalist, patriotic and antiimperialist , socialist-communist tendencies. It was developed in forms of independent organs of the masses , mass street fighting and insurrection, civil war and violent overthrow of the Shach regime. It stood closer to a traditional revolution of the popular classes by the use of civil insurrection in the big cities. Nevertheless, the victory of the revolution was soon appropriated by a coalition of the “reformed” and antiimperialist wing of the capitalist class and the different formations of Siite Islamic theocracy. It is forgotten that it started as a genuine – not socialist- democratic popular revolution.
The presentation of the three revolutionary cycles allow us to take some results , concerning the fate of revolution in the 20th century and its potential return in the 21st century :
- All the revolutions of the 20th century happened under the weight and the effects of big wars, mostly world wars, leading to a national crisis and the loss of national hegemonic ability by the ruling classes. Peace and social normality are not favourite conditions for a revolutionary crisis. Even the Spanish revolution was a product of the after WWI conjuncture and of the conditions heading to the next world war. The May 1968 uprisings were deeply connected with the antiimperialist wars in the periphery, mostly with the Vietnam war and the effects of the French- Algerian war of 1954-1962). Portugal revolution was the effect of a lost colonial war in Africa.
-The long time adoption of the factory or more generally production discipline in capitalism is not really favourable for the perspective of revolution : In Spain and in Russia, even in some parts of the German revolution ( Launa in Saxony-Thuringia, see K.H. Roth- Angelika Ebbinghausen 1973 ) the revolutionary workers had not been submitted to factory discipline for many generations. They discended directly from peasants, artisans and unemployed popular classes and were hostile to large scale production and discipline. In the case of the third cycle, the resistance to Taylorism and the put of factory discipline and socialization of work under trial were defining options of the rebellion. Resistance to factory discipline and alienation, even in the modern postfactory forms of labour organization , forms of a “negation of work” are essential for the rise of a revolutionary mood, even if we do not agree with the “negation of work” of the Autonomist theory . This dimension is also related to the need of a critical stand to social technology and science and not to an admiration of the so called “productive forces” ( opposition to gradualism-economism—exelictisism in Marxist theory).
-Revolutionary events are events of exceptional form in the long time class struggle. They appear more clearly in the short time struggle, deeply influenced by the long term economic, social, political and cultural tendencies, national and international, and the short term strategies and combinations/articulations of contradictions, as they do happen in a certain conjuncture.
– The existence of a distinct, relatively autonomous- not absolutely “ deformed by mass culture” – labour culture is essential for the cause of revolution or social transformation. The modern (after 1945) advance of mass society does not exclude the potentiality of revolution; however is a disabling and not a favourite factor. So, it would not be wrong to conclude that the reduction of a distinct labour identity signifies the end of the classical epoch of revolutions ( 19th and 20th century), which is a negative condition for revolution and not a positive one , like some theorists of Autonomism propose. The “age of revolutions” was not only a period, when the social antagonists clashed repeatedly and violently on the subject of state power but also a specific historical period of capitalism, when the revolutionary phenomenon culminated and became universally dominant and definitive in social and political life, became a defining international-universal movement, a socialist internationalization confronting the imperialist internationalization of capitalism from 1880 to 1980 (see also Nolte 1987, Traverso 2016, Sotiropoulos 2017 etc). A distinct labour class culture is both national and international. It can never develop without keeping and maintaining specific national characteristics. (Communist Manifesto : workers have no country but they have to obtain political power and organize themselves as a nation).
-Revolutions and more generally victories of the labour movement always have relied on social and political alliances. The abstract “scheme” class-against class ( as in the period 1929-1933 in Germany) led to disasters. Social coalitions cannot always appear or be realized as political coalitions of parties. On the other hand, the insistence on coalitions only “from below” (like the ficticious or at least imaginary German Rotfront around the KPD in 1929-1933) is sometimes the base for no coalitions at all and for a dogmatic sectarianism. In most modern societies, the large part of society is composed of waged labour. However, waged labour in the broad sense includes not only the working class : it includes petty bourgeois salaried strata, new middle class, intellectuals and a minority of salaried capitalists (managers, financiers etc) . The role of unemployed people , marginalized middle class and peasants (especially in the periphery and semi-periphery societies) is also very important. Workerist Stalinism, Trotskyism and Operaism-Autonomia usually tend to be exclusively for a labour alternative ( although Autonomism understands labour in an extremely wide and specific sense) , even if their supporters express it in the traditional United Front discourse . For the Autonomists, labour is the negative of capital and the first material for rioting, the self-abolition of its identity a presupposition for a successful revolution. Modern Trotskyism, on the other hand, usually substitutes the class-social coalition with a coalition of mythological labour class with the diverse and diffuse identities’ groups and the pro-migrant movements.
-As we have already noted, labour class has a vertical social stratification and also, in the postmodern world, many cultural fragmentations. It is not an absolutely homogenous class and it develops very different, one from the other part of it , social and political practices. Its social cohesion is not given but always constructed or deconstructed with the means of political and cultural struggle.
–the revolutionary Marxist political organization remains helpful and necessary, as long as the perspective of revolution remains an open perspective. Does it mean that the party of today is or should be a true copy of the hierarchical Leninist party of 1902 or of 1917 ? Not at all. Social and cultural differentiation of labour leads more propably to a constellation of organizations and forms of political action , cooperating one with the other, than to the singularity of one “wise” party of the vanguard , that knows all that is to know. Nevertheless , the party-organization moment is one only of the vehicles-instruments of class consciousness, of class hegemonic struggle . Sometimes, the political struggle experience itself, as Luxemburg already puts it at the beginning of the 20th century, referring to the political general strike, is many times more valuable than the correct political party line, often submitted to Byzantine and undemocratic processes of forming. Not always is it the party that leads to victory or its absence that leads to the defeat. The factors of victory and defeat vary and are not always the product of the “wise generals” of revolution. The strategy of the class belongs to the class as a whole, its tactics only depend on its specific social and political organization.
4. A class without a unified/unifying class consciousness ? Considerations on the “blurry” class consciousness of the modern working class ( after 1980) and the “party” form.
Let us speak plainly. The errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee, Rosa Luxemburg : “Organizational Questions of the Russia Social Democracy” (aka – “Marxism or Leninism”) , 1904.
Antagonistic and revolutionary class consciousness of the labour class has dropped and been reduced dramatically in the West ( advanced capitalism) in the four decades since 1980. Even the word “revolution” is used In a “cheap” manner, foreign to the tradition of social and political revolution (revolution in technology, communication, commerce, health services, personal relations etc). Revolution is in every day speech a “novelty” of some kind. The notion of social revolution has retreated in the conscience of workers and other popular classes-but not vanished totally. Whatever we choose to call or define the present phase of capitalism (monopolist-imperialist, late monopolist, postkeynesian, postmodern, totalitarian or neoliberal capitalism, globalization etc) , the quantitative and qualitative perception of working class differs in a significant manner from its perception and existence in the period until the 68 movements. Waged labour and the working class as its most important part has as a percent of the total population increased in advanced capitalism ( 70 to 90 %). Modern labour class is statistically much wider and more potent than the traditional industrial labour class : it includes workers in the production and circulation of commodities, workers of services and of production of the not material commodities, workers in transport, public service workers and civil servants, who haven’t got the privilege of directing other persons, land workers, scientific workers in technological sectors like microelectronics or biotechnology etc. Even if some categories are not linked with the production of commercial values but with social and common goods and use-values, they are exploited not via surplus-value : they produce surplus- labour in the not commercial sector of the national economy, in the sector of social reproduction of capital and labour force . Transformations of labour class are not just technical; they happened in an environment of large labour defeats in the West ( Italy, Britain, Germany at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s) , in a international environment sealed by the fall of the USSR in 1991 and the US-Western Unipolar moment ( Charles Krauthammer 1991 ) .
A wider working class is not necessarily more proletarian than the traditional narrower class- or even equally proletarian . Most sociologists of the last decades, varying in their political beliefs, tend to accept that the consciousness and the sense of belonging to a unified class with common class interests has weakened and not become stronger. Technological and intensely specialized workers or bank assistants do not identify themselves with migrant workers, who handle “dirty” and manual jobs and stay at the bottom of labour hierarchy. Strawberry field labourers , janitors and bank assistants belong to the same class, but their perception of labour class is not common at all. Transferring a big portion of industry installations to the periphery and to China is a tendency that contains culturally, to some extent, the traditional proletarization of the advanced world.
Some socialdemocratic sociologists, historians and political scientists have claimed in the 90s that the labour subject has obtained a positively diverse form in the last decades : labour class is not anymore only masculine , it includes both sexes and a increasing proportion of women. It is divided between Third Sector, services’ sector and traditional industry, it has native members and migrant workers , it includes people of elementary education and academics , it has two speed workers in the public and the private sector, in the secure and the precarious sector. Some waged strata, that once had a consciousness of middle class (for example lower public servants or lower office workers) have moved closer in their structural determination to working class ; their consciousness has not always followed their (new) objective class interests . The so called waged new middle class ( teachers in state schools, parts of bureaucracy , stand in the middle between traditional middle class and traditional working class and their form of class consciousness varies as well ( Callinicos- Harman 1987) .
How can all these strata work together and mutually recognize each other as members or parts of the same class? Is it really possible ? Also, the presence of multicultural environments in advanced countries for the last decades and the fragmentation of internal cultural or sexual groups makes the socio-political unification of class consciousness extremely complicated. The problem of a unified and distinct class consciousness is not a theoretical one ; In is not related to the fact of struggle ( even not unified subjectively workers fight against capital). It is related to the subjective identity of the class in past and present , a common passion for social change and a common feeling that the members of the class constitute a distinct social and political force with common interests and desires. The loss of important instruments , representations and intermediations of the social class is also an indication of the weakening of its subjective identity.
-Our first basic assumption lies in the objective unification and the potential subjective unification of all these diverse strata to one and a singular working class of the 21st century, diverse and not clearly homogenous but with common long term class interests. If socialism can still be achieved, this new working class will potentially be the epicentre and the hegemon of the revolutionary process. We do not share the hypothesis that the non stabile situation of class consciousness in class struggle transforms labour class in toto to a wide petty bourgeois class, as the “white and blue colars” ’ sociological theory has insisted for decades.
-Our second assumption is connected to our thesis above that political position of labour class can potentially or eventually only lead to social revolution; not as the fatal product of certainty and of iron mechanist History Laws of Dialectical Materialism in the tradition of 2nd and 3rs International. The modern working class has many obstacles to override and is neither the “Messiah” nor the necessary Instrument of History, as G. Lucacs had once put it with an extremely beautiful revolutionary vigor in “History and Class Consciousness”. The alternative of social barbarism under a capitalism that is not likely to be overthrown or to be surpassed is not only present , but is grows more and more, as far as no positive social solution is practically introduced and implemented . Time is not unlimited: the material, social and moral resources of humanity are running out.
-Our third assumption is related to the problem whether social classes can exist without a clear class consciousness for the long term-relying on the situation of the class in the last decades. . We think as a possibility that for a certain historical period the antagonistic class consciousness of ruled classes can retreat and not essentially signify their social role and presence. The reason may be, is mostly, a negative strategic outcome of class struggle. The famous historian GEM de St. Croix has supported the claim that slaves in the ancient Greek world were not characterized for centuries by a very constantly antagonistic or revolutionary class consciousness. They were usually passive, if we do not count the everyday molecular resistance as a major antagonistic symptom. This position contradicts the romantic position of Lucacs in “History and Class Consciousness” that the absence of class consciousness is a synonym for the negation or non existence of the proletariat. Of course, a long duration of the absence of radical class consciousness will not avoid the problem of a deeper and permanent change in the social nature of working class. Even the potentiality of radical thinking and acting can disappear ( or as H. P. Lovecraft once put it in his romantic horror novels, “for the long term even the dead can really die”).
The topics of ( a problematic) class consciousness and ( a problematic) political representation of labour class are strongly connected with the rise or the fall of the “labour class centrality” in the anticapitalist struggle. Postmodern Left is inclined to abandon workers’ centrality, even if its rhetorics express their doctrinary fidelity to it ( too strong revolutionary rhetorics, too few revolutionary actions). We do not underestimate the important role of “new social movements of 1968” ( already old in 2018) as significant of a multiple road to liberation. On the other hand, “new social movements” without a common ground with the centrality of labour exploitation, without the notion of a binding social and national community, tend to move to a multiple universe of narcissist/individualist nomadic subjects , floating and communicating inside the cosmopolis, like the Negri-Hardt “Empire” describes, and are submitted to a transformation into the direction of cultural and “human rights” universal liberalism. Labour centrality is not a matter of rhetorics, of persuading that one or the other leftist group represents labour interests more trully. It is a matter of political research and unifying political political practice. It is a matter of searching for new forms of organization and solidarity. It is not one more “ collective or individual identity” culture : Marxist or anarchist organizations usually reject or deny the problem of collapsing middle classes or small property, of social alliances . This version of modern workerism leads to a repeated isolation of workers’ practices.
Traditional organization forms are not only surpassed but also inadequate. The labour unions are to be defended against capitalist aggression. Nevertheless , the social composition of second and third grade leaderships ( federations and confederations of unions) , as experience has proven, cannot stand for a lasting and successful struggle. They are symbols of impotence or of class retreat in front of neoliberal aggressive policies.
As far as it concerns the political party. Many Marxist organizations in Greece and in Europe try to prove that they express the continuation of old Leninism or Marxism. PCG (KKE) in Greece and smaller organizations of the Far Left move inside this paradigm. The truth is that they are just more or less convincing “matrixes” “false/virtual realities” of the traditional Party of a New Type. They have nothing to do with the needs and the realities that formed the Party of a New Type, in tsarist Russia 120 years before. But , even if the conditions were different, the Party of New Type is not a positive and appropriate option for our world :
- It refers to a more homogenous- in technical and social composition and in class consciousness- labour class.
- It does not recognize, as we have already noted, the social, political and moral autonomy of labour class, its own right to choose, to decide and to take the consequences of its decisions. Leadership is understood as a strict hierchical control and as a “caste” , separated by the large majority of workers. The Party of a new Type , even in its prestalinist form, attacks the principles and rules of a democratic and humanist Marxism. The Russian experience has proven that the Party of a New Type usually attempts to adapt labour class needs to its own needs and tends to identify the social-political power of proletariat with the power of the party of proletariat. The Bolshevic consensus in March 1921 ( 10th Congress) on establishing a party dictatorship ( including all the central leaders of Bolshevism : Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Bucharin , Radek etc ) is not to be attributed mainly or only to the needs of civil war and of maintenance of labour power. Seeds of this decision have been there from the beginning ( as Rosa Luxemburg criticized the Bolshevics already in 1904 in her brochure “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy”, MIA, Luxemburg Archive ).
- The Party of a New Type has undergone to a long period of moral attrition : due to the “Existing Socialism” forms of government and the centralist and antidemocratic form of proSoviet communism as state parties in the East and as oppositional parties in the West.
5.The second decade of the 21st century : the defeat of “new reformism” in Greece/ Southern Europe as an objective defeat of European labour classes
We will start with our “national” recent political experience : the big turn or “betrayal” or strategic withdraw of the Syriza party in Greece in the summer of 2015. In a few weeks in July and August 2015, the Left party that was elected some months before in order to cancel the neoliberal-Memoranda policies, determined by the EU leadership and the Greek capital, organized a referrendum against EU austerity, succeeded with a 62 % of the voting body against the creditors, and, after that, abandoned/betrayed the popular classes’ interests and led to a third and worse pact of neoliberal policies ( third Memorandum) with the EU-IMF front. The radical minority of Syriza ( about 40 %) was coerced to leave the party; nonetheless, Syriza was successfully reelected in September 2015 . The “moderate Syriza” has evolved in a long process between 2010-2012 , a process at the same moment relevant with the anti-Memoranda social unrest ( strikes of 2010, squares’ movement of 2011, uprise of February 2012) and with the defeat of the movements and their dynamics in 2012-2013, leading finally to a pure electoral “Left” representation. The new “moderate” Syriza is at the moment the “beloved child” of the EU-IMF-USA front and the Greek capitalists. In the three years before the first victory of Syriza ( January 2015), a moderate or “ripening” course was followed , destroying month after moth the perspectives of a popular-social rupture with the EU-eurozone and of a popular mobilization against capitalism- western imperialism. The logical result was the famous TINA : there is no other applicable form of policies except the correctly chosen by the capital in order to manage its financial collapse and its social crisis. There is no special red line anymore between Left and Right , or between Left and Centre. Some comrades from the “ Far Left” or the KKE claim that all had been said before the turn of Syriza, that the Real Class Parties had prophesied the disaster, that the Syriza systemic degeneration was “obvious” from the beginning, that the only existing political problem responds to the illusions produced by the rise of a then left reformist party and not the embracement of the more radical parties by the people ( KKE, Far Left etc). For one more time : why is it that the large popular masses embracing Syriza and its propopular programme against the EU and capital reconstruction remained in their largest part true to Syriza and did not choose to move further to the Left, either before the turn – listening to the external “left critique to Syriza” – or just after the turn- although having realized in fact that Syriza was already their class enemy ? The only credible answer is the reality that popular classes were in 2015 –for reasons of the long time and the short time politics- not subjectively and objectively prepared to confront the strategy of ruling classes. They were not prepared politically by the Left Wing organizations (internal in Syriza or external) , they were not convinced that they had to make important every day sacrifices, they were not convinced that the road of “rupture” would lead to a lesser evil and to a long term positive situation (finally, a despair situation).. Of course , the ( majority) leadership of Syriza deliberately avoided to prepare the people, as it had no rupture in mind, even since 2012. The moral and cultural preparation, in the form of a fight culture and a great risk , has been proven as more than necessary : it was one “strong” point by the Syriza leadership a) to propagate that the change would emerge without serious ruptures and without serious sacrifices before the “turn”, to promote a passive and “easy”” laicism b) to propagate-after the “turn”- that the sacrifices in a case of “breaking with the EU” would be futile and in vain, whereas people would starve or turn to uncontrollable riots (the “promise of chaos” effect) . Obviously, this form of propaganda relies on the estimation that in our times people usually avoid to take important risks, threatening their narcissist passivity, even if their choice leads to the continuation of their social and economic misery.
So there are two “no way outs” : one by the “official Left” government – neoliberalism has no real alternative. One by the Left to the left of Syriza, the radical Left : we tried to persuade the people to follow our route and not the dubious Syriza’s route. They were supported by the system, so we failed. So, the next time, you, the people, will have to choose the correct horse. The answer is : how did you really intervene with your programme and your practice to support a long time resistance and a united front tactics , absolutely necessary in case of the radical choice ? The -not simple- answer is : unfortunately, neither the Left Wing of Syriza nor the Left parties beside Syriza responded to the political needs of the critical period 2010-2015 . So they both, “extra-Syriza” and “intra-Syriza” Lefts, inherited the disaster.
- Considering the exit from the “Left” paradigm
The defeat of labour class in Greece and in Southern Europe ( for example, the expanse of the Greek defeat to the non electability of the Spanish Podemos, the prosystemic policies of the Portugal “Bloco” of the Left or the “Die Linke” in Germany etc) has deepened the ideological and moral defeat of “1989” . So, it is a not a final defeat, but , neverheles, a strategic defeat. It is even something to doubt whether the continuation of emancipatory politics has to remain connected with the general notion of the “Left”. The ‘Left” in Greece – at least the majority of the “Left”- is a political coalition based on neoliberal capitalism, aggression against the labour class, the other popular classes and the immigrants, characterized by moral and ideological corruption and nepotism, strict dependence and control of public finance, economy and society by the imperialist German, European and USA policies, following the NATO coalition in its international adventurism. It is obvious that the lack of efficient resistance to this “Left” by the social opposition will transfer the dissatisfied members of the popular classes to the Ultra Right nationalist or even semi -fascist formations, as all the last elections in Europe tend to prove ( France, Germany, Austria, Flanders, Italy, Hungary etc). So, what would be the loss , if we really abandoned the deeply wounded and misunderstood notion of the “Left” ? Not much, to our opinion. Left is a notion that unites Syriza with the Far Left, liberal-non conformist entrepreneurs with corrupted trade unionists, that unites police chiefs and demonstrators, Hilary Clinton’s followers with Bernie Sanders , Jeremy Corbyn with the tradition of Marxism, that unites oppressed and oppressors, amici et hostes, that unites Rosa Luxemburg with Friedrich Ebert, Philip Scheidemann and Gustav Noske, that is, with her assassins. The so called (mostly Trotskyist) “organizations of Anticapitalist Left” in Europe have not proved that they are more part of the solution than they are part of the problem; in some fields, they are hardly something more radical or revolutionary than the Extreme Left of cosmopolitanism and universal liberalism, of the “no border” project or the NGOs. Especially, Trotskyist or postTrotskyist organizations ( fortunately, not all of them) seem to have no problem at all at cooperating with the NGOs and their cosmopolitan agenda. So, “after the Left”, the central notion is, remains, Communism. A movement older than capitalism and potentially apparent after its future fall, change or overthrow.
- 7. Communists/Marxists after the End of Enlightenment ? A provisional conclusion
So “what is to be done” in the first half of the 21st century, after so many and important defeats ? In a period, when the collapse of human civilization seems more plausible than the triumph of socialism ( Fr. Jameson) ? We have no clear recipes “for the kitchens of the future” , only some clear thoughts on the present communist and emancipatory movement. The ISIS movement in Near East, the breaking of functioning and in some cases powerful national states by Western imperialism ( see Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya or Ukraine ) the defeats of Socialism in the last decades, the rising danger of a World War IV, the marginalization of broader social strata, the decline of bourgeois democracy, the rise of new dictatorships and of Bonapartist/ populist leaders in “democracies” like Trump or Putin, the increasing size of the refugees and immigrants all over the world, the serious climate crisis, they are all possible symptoms of a coming Final End for the positive and emancipator versions and values of the Enlightenment, of a transition to a period of neobarbarism, to a period of “New Dark Ages”, perhaps darker than the historic medieval period due to the destructive possibilities of modern technology. In this historical perspective, either capitalism would destroy human civilization ( so it would prove to be the material/factual and not the historicist End of History) or it would be succeeded by a new , barbarian, class Mode of Production ( see the opinions of Immanuel Wallerstein on the matter, studying the possible exits from contemporary world crisis) . So, man, the human species, would secure his unlimited control on nature and on the other men by destroying technical and moral civilization ( already foreseen in the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” by Adorno and Horkheimer, 70 years before). If that development were verified, the old promise of socialism and communism, as renewed under capitalism and by the view of classical Marxism, would lose every significant historical importance. It would be over with scientific socialism-communism , at least it would be over with a realizable communism by an existent social subject. The game would be over for a strategic victory, we would have to confess with the beautiful German phrase : “ Das Spiel ist aus”.
Some previews of that situation are existent in the process of breaking and fragmentizing traditional collective identities; retreat from a subjectively unified labour class with a unifying class consciousness, retreat from national collective identities and systematic defamation of the nation -state in favour of Empires “without borders”, retreat from forms of a collective existence like family or love partnership,, not only from their oppressive implementation, more and more obscure and hybrid forms of gender or of sexual contact , intermixing live and dead capital in order to construct a Frankestein type human-machine, a new anthropological creature and form, artificial intelligence, possibly without limits. These phenomena resemble more dystopias or sf EOW ( End of the World) stories than utopias with a “happy end”. The destructive forces of civilization, the famous Freudian Instinct of Death, seem to rise and to destroy gains of centuries. The transformation of labour class to a divided internally form of Roman plebs could also be the outcome of present reconstructions. As we know the demand for Justice and , more specifically, the demand for a society without class domination and exploitation existed in all the precapitalist formations, usually expressed through religious or philosophical messianic-utopic ideas and theories. Even in the capitalist society the demand for communism has always had not only a scientific but also a messianic- passionated theological meaning, as the case of Walter Beanjamin, Ernst Bloch and of many other theorists shows. Even, an abstract eventuality of communism was not excluded in the precapitalist societies, as many “communist” revolutions happened before the stabilization of capitalism in the 16th and 17th century ( see, for example, the “apocalyptic”revolutions in Germany and in Moravia). Revolutions and especially communist revolutions are not phenomena restricted to capitalism or more generally to modernity, although modernity has producted a special form of revolutionary practice or of will/need/desire for revolution. The specific problem , which has to be examined, is the question whether the end of the “classical age of revolutions” in capitalism responds to the total vanishing of revolution and of the radical Enlightenment ideas’ in late capitalism or not. Whether the case of a rebirth of revolution in late capitalism is plausible or not. We do not have the material to give a final answer to the question, although we stand in favour for the “rebirth” version.
To close this chapter of futurologic possibilities and potential catastrophs or misfortunes with an option of optimism, reducing pessimistic sorrow : even in a space- time frame of “New Dark Ages”, it would be valuable to be a communist and to participate in a plausible postmarxist communist movement . A communism without, possibly, a happy communist end. A communist movement dedicated to the “lost” values of Democratic and Social Enlightenment and of social equality, to defend the poor, ruled and oppressed against class domination and barbarism, to confront injustice and violence of the dominants with the violence and wisdom of the dominated. A communist organization and collective identity would be, even at the factual “End of History”, really irreplaceable.
Selected Bibliography ( English and German)
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- V. Richards “Lessons from Spain” , 1957 , Eleftheros Typos 1995, (in Greek).
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- A. Thalheimer “A Missed Opportunity ? The Myth of German October and the Real History of October 1923”, MIA, Thalheimer Archive, 1931. August Thalheimer shared with Heinrich Brandler the leadership of KPD during the deep political and social crisis of 1923 in Germany. They both were expelled from the leadership of KPD in autumn 1923 after the failure of the planned uprising and from the party totally some years later. The cancellation oft he uprising in October 1923 was attributed tot hem, although all the whole apparatus of Komintern was occupied with the preparation of the revolution between August and October 1923.
- R. Tosstorf “ Die POUM in der spanischen Revolution, ISP Verlag 2006.
- L. Trotski “Lessons of October” (1924) , Haymarket Books 2017.
- L. Trotski “Die permanente Revolution”, ( 1930) Fischer Verlag , 1980,
74.L. Trotski “Whither France?” , MIA, Trotski Archive 1936.
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– a first form of this study in Greek was published in the website www. rednotebook.gr on the 25. of December 2015. For the Greek text, see also the link :
 Here we use the term “20th century” literally. A more general and permanent notion of the “Long Twentieth Century” in G. Arrighi “The Long Twentieth Century- Money, Power and the Origins of our Times” , Verso 2010. As it is known, E. Hobsbowm in his book “Age of Extremes” defines 19th century as a long century ( from 1789 to 1914) and 20th century as a short century (1917-1991).
 K. Marx “Precapitalist Social Formations”, Lawrence and Wishart, 1969.
 N. Poulantzas “Political Power and Social Classes”,NLB 1976, Vol. I.
 “How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both the rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing their bread”.
 See, among many, V.I. Lenin “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”, in Marxists Interner Archive, Lenin Archive, ( 1915-1916), R. Hilferding “Finance Capital”, IN MIA, Hilferding Archive, 1910.
 Cf. Benzamin Coriat “L’ atelier e le chronometre”, ( Greek edition) , 1986, especially the works of the “Italian operaism” ( for example, A. Negri “ Mass Worker and Social Worker” in ‘”Revolution retrieved”, London 1998, Red Notes etc).
 See also the sincere comparison by Lenin (1903) of the revolutionary party’s internal discipline with the very positive large factory discipline in his work “One Step Forward-Two Steps Backward-The crisis of our party ”, in MIA, Lenin’s Archive, chapter Q. “The New Iskra- Opporunism in Questions of Organization”. Those who reject the positive and enforcing example of factory discipline look like the German supporters of “Edelanarchismus”.
 Charles Bettelheim “Klassenkaempfe in der UdSSR 1930-1941”, 3.-4. Band, Berlin 2016, Die Buchmacherei. The 3.-4. Volumes of Bettelheim’s “Class Struggles in the USSR” were recently published also in Greek (2017, editions Koukida).
 See C. Castoriadis “Marxism and Revolutionary Theory” , First Chapter of the “Imaginary Institution of Society” (1964). This text is the “turning point” for the departure of Castoriadis from Marxism.
 Carl Schorske “ German Social Democracy 1905-1917-the Development of the Great Schism”, Harvard University Press, 1955.
 P.Anderson “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci”, NLB 1976.
 See , among many others, H. Gruber “International Communism in the Era of Lenin” , Fawcett Publications 1967, P. Broue “The German Revolution 1917-1923” (1971, Historical Materalism 2005). pp 227 et seq, 261 et seq 555 et seq, Chr. Harman “The lost revolution : Germany 1918-1923”, Bookmarks 1982, L. Trotski “ Lessons of October” (1924), 2017, Haymarket Books, H. Weber “ Die Wandlung des deutschen Kommunismus- zur Stalinisierung der KPD in der Weimarer Republik” , Europaeische Verlagsanstalt 1969, R. Fischer “Stalin and the German Communism” , NY 1949, P. Levi “ Our way against “putschism ” , MIA , P. Levi Archive , 1924 etc
 A. Thalheimer (1931) “A Missed Opportunity ? The Legend of German October and the Real History of October 1923” in MIA, Thalheimer Archive. ( In German : Eine vermisste Gelegenheit? Die Legende vom deutschen Oktober und die wirkliche Geschichte vom Oktober 1923”).
 See here the useful thoughts of G.Sotiropoulos ( 2017) “ Thirst for Justice – on the theory and history of revolution”, Futura, in Greek, pp. 79-83. .
 On the basic difference between “ structural class determination” and “political class position”, as a position, taken in class struggle, see in N. Poulantzas “Social Classes in Contemporary Capitalism” , Verso 1978, Introduction, with the title “What are the social classes, according to Marxist theory” ? .
 See ,among many, E. Laclau, Ch.Mouffe “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy-towards a radical democratic politics ”, Verso 2014. Into a different (revolutionary) direction, also the position of G. Sotiropoulos (2017) op.cit. pp. 27-30. Sotiropoulos correctly differentiates between the historical and the theoretical conditions of revolution, its abstract and historically concrete foundations.
 Fernand Braudel “On History”, University of Chicago Press , 1980, pp. 24-38. Braudel
 See also the economic theory of the “long waves” of capitalist development in E. Mandel “Late capitalism”, Verso 1985, also his text “The Long Waves of Capitalist Development” . On the term “revolutionary cycle” and ‘revolutionary wave”, apart from the work of Mandel, see the political works of T. Negri , especially of the workerist period” ( “Mass worker and social worker” etc) , also S. Tarrow “Cycles of Protest: Between Moments of Madness and the Pepertoire of Contention” , Social Science History 17: 2 1993 , pp. 28-307.
 R.Luxemburg “ The mass strike : the political party and the trade unions”, Harper 1971.
 See, also, on the subject, R. Jacoby “Dialectic of Defeat-Contours of Western Marxism”, Cambridge University Press, 2002.
 Sergio Bologna “Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origin of the Workers Councils Movement ( Telos 13, February 1972) . A very sophisticated critique to the early scheme of Roth-Ebbinghausen, improving its extreme points – always inside the operaist theoretical frame. .
 See C. Crouch “Postdemocracy”, Polity Press, 2004.
 Here we use the term literally. A more general and permanent notion of the “Long Twentieth Century” in G. Arrighi “The Long Twentieth Century- Money, Power and the Origins of our Times” , Verso 2010.
 See also the referred work of G. Sotiropoulos (2017) , pp. 27, 145 et seq.
 Die permanente Revolution” , Fischer 1980 (1931) .
 V. I .Lenin “The proletarian revolution and renegade Kautsky” , MIA, Lenin Archive , 1918, also L. Trotski “ Terrorism and Communism” , MIA, Trotski Archive 1918, 1921. These works answer to the works of K. Kautsky :Terrorism and Communism” and “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat” , 1918.
 Ch. Bettelheim “ Class Struggles in the USSR” Vol. 2 1923-1930, Monthly Review Press 1976, Part 4, Chapters 1 and 2. Bettelheim opposes clearly the Stalinist coercion of all Soviet peasants by the Soviet state in 1928-1935 to the Maoist policies of supporting the workers- poorpeasants alliance and not using administrative measures against the peasants .
 See about that unjust critique to Stalin, C.L.R. James ‘World Revolution 1917-1936” , Chapter 7, “Stalin kills the German Revolution of October 1923” ( MIA, CLR James Archive, end of the 30s ). Stalin , as Broue shows, was not much interested in the German project of 1923 or optimistic about it. In spite of this, he participated in all the attempts to prepare and support it from the Soviet side. The Stalinist undermining of German revolution and resistance to the Nazis happened much later.
 See H.M. Bock “Syndikalismus und Linkskommunismus in Deutschland 1918-1923”, Hans Adolf Hain Verlag 1969. It is the most detailed history of the left wing KAPD party and the AAU anarchosyndicalist union.
 Dick Geary “The European Labor Protest”, Palgrave Macmillam 1981. Chapter 3 : Maturing and Organization 1890-1914.
 There is an interesting political sf novel by the German author Christian von Ditfurth with the title “Das Luxemburg Komplott”, focusing to the counterfactual that they do survive the armed attack of the Freikorps. Their political conflict with Lenin and the Soviet Union seems to be the next major incident.
 On the Popular Front in France, see L. Trotsky “Whither France ?, 1934-1935, MIA, Trotsky Archive , ” F. Claudin “ La crisis de la moviemento communista , Vol 1 and 2 , Ruedo Iberico, 1970, F. Claudin ( English edition) “The crisis of the Communist Movement” , Vol 1 “The crisis of the Communist International”, Monthly Review 1975, J. Jackson “The Popular Front in France” , 1990 etc..
 Nevertheless, its libertarian, self-organizing and direct democratic character and the consequent conflict of Spanish revolutionaries with Komintern and the USSR has pushed many important Marxist theorists of the 20th century( like G. Lukacs , L. Althusser, N. Poulantzas, A. Badiou etc) to totally ignore it or to set it aside from the modern revolutionary experience.
 See, among many, in P.Broue-E.Temime (1971) “Revolution and Civil War in Spain”, Haymarket Books 2008, Chapters 5 to 9. , Fr. Borkenau “The Spanish Cockpit- An Eye Witness to the Spanish Revolution”, G. Brennan “The Spanish Labyrinth- An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War” (1943) , Cambridge University Press , 1988, pp. 316 et seq, 321-322, and others. Brennan belongs to the moderate Left, he is not sympathetic to the collectivizations. However, he notes their surprising economic and technical success ( pp. 321-322). For the last decades’ bibliography , see the colossal work of Burnett Bolloten ( 1991) “The Spanish Civil War : Revolution and Counterrevolution”, University of Northern Carolina Press, that also rises the political responsibilities and crimes of Stalinism .
 It has been pointed out by some authors of Autonomism that Spanish “self-direction” of 1936-1937was a mode of self-discipline and self-submission of labour to capital. We disagree with the extremity of this position, as it leads to the result that “self-direction”, if acceptable, should lead under any circumstances, to a direct and immediate communist negation of labour and of production.
 V. Richards “Lessons of the Spanish Revolution”, 1957 .
 Broue-Temime ( 2008) op cit, G. Orwell “Homage to Catalonia”, F. Morrow “Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain” etc.
 Victor Alba- Stephen Schwartz “Spanish Marxism vs Soviet Communism- A History of the POUM” , 1988, Transaction Publishers.
 See for the term especially E.Nolte “Der europaeische Buergerkrieg 1918-1945- Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewismus”, Herbig 1987, 2000. The notion has been wider known in cycles of the Left through the recent book of Enzo Traverso “Fire and Blood-the European Civil War (1914-1945)” , Verso 2016. Traverso’s analysis, although “progressive” , is not as deep and historically detailed and founded as Nolte’s one.
 See here some interesting thoughts on the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary dynamics of armed antifascism during the World War II in G. Sotiropoulos( 2017) op.cit. pp 223-237 ( “homage to partisan struggle”).
 E. Mandel “Critique of Eurocommunism” , 1977.
 See Cornelius Castoriadis “Political and Social Writings Vol. 2 ,1955-1960”, University of Minessota, 1988, pp 57 et seq, “The Political Revolution against Bureaucracy” .
 From the title of the book of the formal secretary of EAM and cadre of KKE Th. Chatzis “ The victorious revolution that was lost”, Athens 1978, 4 Vol. ( in Greek).
 See also the recent interesting article of S. Pons (2001) “Stalin, Togliatti and the Cold War in Europe”. The link : http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~hpcws/3.2pons.pdf .
 See R. Lumley “States of Emergency-Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978”, Verso 1990.
 See for example the positions of the Ultra Left of the Cultural Revolution movement, as presented by the Sengwulien movement in autumn 1967 in the text “Whither China?” – J. Unger “Whither China? Yang Xiguang, Red Capitalists, and the Social Turmoil of the Cultural Revolution”-pdf text, in the net.
 See in G. Sotiropoulos (2017) pp. 190-195, who puts the interesting claim that the “desire for war” is , to a grade, a sociopsychological replacement of the desire to make the revolution, areplacement useful and productive for the owning classes. .
 The importance of “1945” for the evolution of labour class consciousness in the West has been stressed by the French Council Communist J. Camatte in his text “ About the revolution” ( February 1972, Invariance review ) , see Camatte Archive in MIA.
 D. Bensaid “An impatient life- a memoir”, Verso 2014. See, also, D. Bensaid “Revolutionary strategy”, 1987.
 L. Boltanski , Eve Chapellot “The new spirit of capitalism”, Verso 2007. See also in Kr.Ross “May 1968 and its afterlives” , University of Chicago Press 2002.
 F. Terzakis “Human Rights’ Ideology (Dikaiomatismos) as the senile disease of social movements” , newspaper Dromos of the Left , 17-10- 2017 (in Greek).
 See for example the theorists of Theorie Communiste ( TC) , expressed in Greece by the “Blaumachen” review (2006-2013). To their opinion, the destruction of traditional labour collective identity and traditional labour organization is very positive, as it moves the labourers from an ideological scheme of “socialist-labour state power” , that is, from the reconstruction of capital by a workers’ initiative or institutionalization. The abolition of specific class demands signifies the emergence of labour class as a “non subject”, as a class negating directly its own position in the capitalist society.
 N. Poulantzas “State, Power, Socialism” (1978), Verso 2014.
 See Al. Callinicos and Chris Harman “The changing working class” , 1987, 1989, Bookmarks Publishing. Also the recent important sociological study of Sp. Sakellaropoulos “Crisis and social stratification in Greece of the 21st century”, Athens 2017, Topos ( in Greek) , proving the substantial rise of waged labour in the population in the years 1991-2011.
 Donald Sassoon “One Hundred Years of Socialism- the West European Left in the 20th century” , IB Tauris , 2014, 2nd part. Ch. Mouffe and Er. Laclau “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy” , Verso 2001.
 Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World : From the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests”, London 1981, Introduction. Also in E. Hobsbowm “Class consciousness in History” in Aspects in History and Class Consciousness, 1971.
 See J.V. Stalin “Questions of Leninism”, Chapter “On the questions of Leninism” , 1926, Greek edition pp. 151-175. Stalin sincerely claims that, in all the basical points, the dictatorship of the party is identical with the dictatorship of the working class. Stalin is not just a “corrupted usurper” and tyrant who degenerates Marxism, he codifies and sharpens elements , already apparent in Leninism ( also apparent in the Trotskyist version of Marxism -Leninism).
 Some important problems, concerning the notion of the “Left” and its historical and political “uses” have been pointed out by J. Cl. Michea in his book ‘Les Mysteres de la Gauche. De l’ ideal des Lumieres au triomphe du capitalism absolu” (2013) ( Greek edition, 2014, Enallaktikes Ekdoseis).