Arrigo Cervetto

Class Struggles and the Revolutionary Party


Written: Lotta Comunista, 1964;
Publisher:Edizioni Lotta Comunista, Milan, 1966;
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2001;
Transcribed: Dario Romeo;
HTML Markup: Dario Romeo;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton, 2006.

Without a revolutionary theory,
there can be no revolutionary movement

Lenin affirmed that without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. His statement seems simple, but, in reality, it is anything but that since the revolutionary theory is more complex than it may seem to a formal reading of Lenin's political texts. Leninist theory is, precisely, the outcome of a profound scientific analysis of social reality. And, at the same time, it is a class instrument for acting in a historically determined society's economic structures and political superstructures. If we study the Leninist concept of the party, we immediately find ourselves faced with revolutionary theory as Marxist science. That is, we are faced with the issue of the scientific foundations of political action. n other words, it is not possible to understand the Leninist concept of the party unless one understands the entire scientific analysis of the economic structure that constitutes - in Marx and Lenin - its base. Removed from its scientific platform, the Leninist concept of the party would appear to be a monument - perhaps even a gigantic one - to political will. It would be a monument to the theory of power, to the theory of organization, but it would be a monument without a pedestal.

This explains why formal acceptance of some Leninist theses still does not represent the assimilation of the revolutionary theory. That is, it does not represent assimilation of the general scientific concept that is Leninism's foundation. Consequently, the Leninist concept of the party is the result of a Marxist economic analysis and without applying this latter, we cannot reach - even on an organizational level - the former. Even Lenin's life story as a Marxist illustrates this dialectical path. Hence, the problem to face the entire issue of how to assimilate the revolutionary theory.

Class Struggles and the Revolutionary Party is the result of an investigation into these problems.



Publisher's Foreword
Author's Preface to the First Edition
Author's Preface to the Fifth Edition

First Chapter
Without a Revolutionary Theory, There Can Be no Revolutionary Movement
Capital’s Scientific Methodology
The Skeleton and Body of Marxist Analysis
From Capital to the Leninist Party
The Party, the Science's Point of Arrival
The Political Description of Social Relations
The Materialist Formation of Political Consciousness
Poetical Consciousness Brought From the Outside
The Science Circulated and Recognized Through Action
The Revolutionary Strategy in the Economic Process
Political Analysis as Social Analysis
The Science of die Revolution

Second Chapter
The Workers' Coalition
The Working Class' Political Struggle
The Party of the Workers' Struggle
Wage Struggles
Strike Struggles
The Two Aspects of Workers' Spontaneity
Consciousness' Embryonic Form
The Influence of Bourgeois Ideology
How the Party Fights Spontaneity
The Strike: A School of War
The Strike: A Natural Economic Phenomenon
The Proletariat's Natural Superiority
The Strike: A Proletarian Tool
The Interconnection of Strikes
Strike Statistics
Radicalizing the Struggles
The Trade-Union Issue
The Third Period of Lenin's Theorization
The Social Violence of Democracy
More Democracy, More Violence
The "School of Communism"
The Struggle for Revolutionary Influence in the Trade Unions
Revolutionary Work in Reactionary
Trade Unions

Third Chapter
Trotsky's Definition
Trotsky's Strategy

Publisher’s Foreword

In 1964, Arrigo Cervetto published a series of articles in the journal Azione Comunista in which he developed his conception of the party. In April, 1966, these articles were gathered into a single volume under the title Lotte di classe e partito rivoluzionario [Class Struggles and the Revolutionary Party]. The book had four editions between 1970 and 1988.

Within Cervetto's vast theoretical work, this text is absolutely essential. It is the product of re-appropriating tools and methods, and it represents the point of arrival of Cervetto's first two decades of political struggle that started with the Resistance. At the same time, it is the starting point for a political and organizational development based on strategy.

The reference to Lenin is not limited to 1902's What Is To Be Done? because Cervetto sets his goal - which he stated in his Preface to the 1966 edition - of making it possible to "reconstruct the Marxist method at the root of the organizational concept's development".

This re-establishment of the method is the subject of the first chapter. The quotation from Lenin that opens the book marked the formation of a generation of militants between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s: "Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement". Those who asked themselves about the party's role were faced with "the issue of the scientific foundations of political action". The party's problem is, and will be, inseparable from that of the assimilation of the whole of the revolutionary theory.

Cervetto picks up Lenin's summary of Marxism's fundamental idea, the knowledge that "the development of the socio-economic formations is a natural historical process". This concept is the key to Marxist science and to the strategy. Within the "socio-economic formation" and its evolutionary development, production relations are fundamental, primordial, determining. They form the skeleton. But this factor can be isolated and singled out from the others only at certain stages of theoretical abstraction. In practice, the production relations establish a whole with superstructures, that are the flesh and blood of the socio-economic formation and turn this latter into a "living thing".

Strategic elaboration raises the issue of reconstructing "the whole capitalist social formation", not only its economic skeleton. "As far as Marxism, the science, is concerned - Cervetto wrote - economy and politics can't be separated either as a subject of analysis or as a reconstruction - as scientific knowledge and therefore action - of the actual social reality." To refine a strategy, it is necessary to analyze "the lifecycle of the capitalist social formation in its class struggles, in the political and ideological aspects that these struggles take on as a reflection of the historically determined production relations and the distribution relations inherent in them", because "all these relations [are comprised] in a single, complex process of movement that combines "economy" and "politics" in a contradictory reality. Scientific knowledge of this reality is the objective premise for the Marxist-Leninist concept of the party."

For Cervetto, the party is the laboratory where the cognitive process is accomplished that provides the foundation for theory and practice, analytical abstraction and verification within the concrete social body. "Consciousness is awareness of action, of the reality in which one acts, of the way of acting itself. The whole of this consciousness-action is the party and its strategy." The party is defined above all as a science-party, a strategy-party. For the organization-party, the plan-party - a concept that Cervetto discussed at length in other writings from the 1970s - is the product of strategic analysis. From this point of view, the immediate reference is to Lenin's theory on "class political consciousness [...] brought from the outside of the economic struggle, outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers", because the "awareness of action" must be attained in the sphere of the entire socio-economic formation.

In his Preface to the fifth edition (1988), Cervetto summarized the first chapter by affirming that "the party-science-strategy is the outcome of the dialectical solution to the structure-superstructure relationship." He affirmed that he was led to refer to Lenin's method founded on the concept of "socio-economic formation" by "an evaluation of the Marxist revolutionary movement's historical delay". This movement, to live and act "in a counter-revolutionary period", "being faced with various distortions", must try to more thoroughly assimilate the scientific foundations of political action.

Cervetto recalls that "the course of the class struggle shifted focus, for around a decade, primary onto the second chapter", that is onto the relationship between the class and the party, between the workers' struggle and the materialist circulation of consciousness starting with "the workers' coalition" and the "natural economic phenomenon" - that is, the struggle for wages through strikes - to end with the political struggle for revolutionary influence in the trade unions. Intervention in the political cycle characterized by the workers' struggles at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s actually placed emphasis on the issues addressed in the second chapter. On the other hand, "the present and the future demand that the general theory be considered".

Now, it is rightly in the first chapter that the Cervetto quotes Lenin's What Is to Be Done? starting with the concept of "socio-economic formation".

While more than thirty years have passed since the first edition of Class Struggles and the Revolutionary Party and eleven since Cervetto's 1988 evaluation, our analysis of the nature of the current counter-revolutionary period remains unchanged. Asia's development and America's restructuring have forced the "cradle of imperialism" to engage more fully in the course. The European political cycle of the 1990s provided new superstructural solutions for the European bourgeoisie. With the States' transfer of sovereignty, a political process is under way that pivots around monetary union but appears to be a substantial modification of the power balance. Great political restructuring is under way - and its effects on economic restructuring are not negligible - within a general context of social passivity and in the absence of significant workers' struggles. A more general evaluation is needed, in such a stage, to make it possible to find the theoretical-practical link that can lead to the struggle for the party.

From Lenin's thesis - expressed during the European political crisis that followed First World War - on the necessary revolutionary work within the trade unions, Cervetto draws a lesson concerning the timeframe for building the class organization: "Building the party demands decades of preparation, of testing, selection, verification of analyses and actions [...]. The Marxist revolutionary party cannot be the result of improvisation, of enthusiasm, of the wave of maximalist radicalization induced by the crisis. The party of the revolution prepares over the course of long, counter-revolutionary decades [...]."

These are the decades that we have lived and that we continue to live.

Author's Preface to the First Edition

A few lines of introduction. This work, that joins a series of articles published in 1964, aims to clarify the essential points in the Leninist concept of the party.

Consequently, we did not limit ourselves to reading the text that is generally taken as the basis for this view: 1902's What Is to Be Done? We searched in Lenin's earlier and later writings for all of the theoretical and political points that could, on the one hand, reconstruct the Marxist method at the root of the organizational concept's development, and that showed, on the other, the growth of the Bolshevik organizational practice.

In the concept of "socio-economic formation", the idea that Lenin logically used to restore Marxism to the turn-of-the-century struggle, we can see the scientific criteria that would make the move from scientific analysis to political struggle possible.

Thus, the Leninist concept of the party arises as a historical need for Marxist analysis in the course of class struggles. It is further developed in the analysis of the strikes and embryonic forms of the workers' struggle.

From the concept of "socio-economic formation" to the workers' struggle, to the proletariat's strategy during the, world class struggle, the parts that form Lenin's concept of the revolutionary party take shape.

It is only within this complete range of issues that this concept can be reconstructed and studied. This is the only way to overcome mystifying generalizations and superficial simplifications.

As with every scientific concept, the Leninist theory of the working class' revolutionary party calls for thorough study. This must embrace all components and not limit itself to the apologetic or disparaging practice of citing individual passages.

Today, the need to face the issue of the revolutionary party by seriously studying Lenin is more current than ever. This is a necessary step for building the Leninist party in Italy.

April, 1966

Author's Preface to the Fifth Edition

Every partial evaluation is both confirmation of arrival and a starting point. The real movement is always a starting point, and so it becomes again after assessment.

It is the course of the class struggles and the issues that they have raised for theoretical consideration over the decades that has established the basis for a new starting point.

In the end, an evaluation is useful if it clarifies the conditions and reasons that led to the theses on the issue of the strategy and the Leninist party.

The point is to give a scientific foundation to the revolutionary movement's political practice.

The point is to solve the problems left unsolved by Bordiga's objectivistic and Trotsky's subjectivistic inclinations.

Lenin must be taken up again, but Marxism's historical delay in Italy weighs heavy. Therefore, we must study how this delay has been manifested over recent decades.

Without analyzing the structure one cannot reach the Leninist concept of the party. Only awareness of the objective conditions that make party's action possible - and on which the party takes action - leads to awareness of the subjective acting instrument.

In this regard, beyond affirming a generic relationship between the economic structure and the political superstructure, we claim that it is impossible to fully assimilate the Leninist party theory without analyzing the economic structure.

The real relationship between the economic structure and political action is a group of connections between the myriad aspects of structure and political action. The whole of these connections changes constantly with society's movement. From this point of view, society's dynamics become manifest in the dynamics of the reciprocal connections created between reality's myriad facets.

Objectivism and subjectivism can be overcome through awareness of the dialectical nature of these reciprocal connections and through consciousness of their changing roles, effects, and results.

The Leninist concept of political action, or the Leninist theory of the party, goes beyond objectivism and subjectivism because it is based on a scientific analysis of the economic relations. This analysis is conducted with established and verifiable criteria. The economic relations must be analyzed in order to analyze social relations, and, consequently, political and State relations.

A scientific analysis is the analysis of the determinate phenomena and facts; it is the discovery of dialectical connections and not the invention of imaginary ones.

Engels has already explained how the party must "gradually" lead the working class movement "to the theoretical level" by showing how every mistake and every defeat is a necessary consequence of theoretical errors.

It is this consideration of defeat that raises the "theoretical level", and one of the Marxist party's tasks is that of "bringing consciousness from the outside", precisely when theory becomes a condition of life.

The revolutionary party that does not act fully in this direction gives up opportunities to develop and strengthen. It does not prepare its militants to see how, behind every mistake there is always a theoretical shortcoming. It does not test its cadres as vanguard members. Instead of being intent on spurring, it relaxes to console.

Class Struggles and the Revolutionary Party is the result of an investigation into problems that are faced and studied in particular in its first chapter.

These are the problems in the debate on the structure-superstructure relationship; the relationship between the economy's objective laws and political action; the relationship between theory and practice.

Our work proceeded during a counter-revolutionary period in which it was necessary, being faced with various distortions, to recall the specific terms of Lenin's solution to the debate.

We were trained in that debate and on that issue. Lenin's solution guided us.

This invited us to an evaluation of the Marxist revolutionary movement's historical delay.

Some time afterwards, the issue is to calculate the duration of this delay.

Once again, reference should be made to the topics in the first chapter since the course of the class struggles shifted focus, for around a decade, primarily onto the second chapter. This reference is also necessary since the present and the future demand that the general theory be considered.

By defining the concept of "socio-economic formation", Lenin defines the "general concept of science".

Simplifying this, we may say that the "concept of science" is defined through the concept of "socio-economic formation".

Using this starting point, the issue of the Marxist party can be solved. The party-science-strategy is the outcome of the dialectical solution to the structure-superstructure relationship.

An analysis of capitalism’s structure cannot be limited to production relations. An analysis of the structure requires analysis of all social relations; it calls for the concept of "socio-economic formation".

Social manifestations of the classes' antagonism cannot be studied in the economic structure alone. The Marxist school developed precisely by investigating the superstructures that correspond to historically determined economic structures and by attempting to reconstruct their origins and development, particularities and constants.

Objectivism may be called a sign of the real movement's historical delay. It can be called a sign of the difficulty to reconstruct the entire dialectic of the "socio-economic formation"; of the hardness to act as a conscious factor of objective reality.

On the other hand, the Leninist party's development is the demonstration that an antagonist part of the social process becomes aware of what it objectively and subjectively represents.

The delay in the party's development - the party that organizes the science - reflects the fact that the social process occurs although the forces that constitute it are not fully aware of what occurs and becomes.

The needed evaluation cannot be either an Enlightenment-like or moralistic one, where the first takes circulation of ideas and the second awareness into consideration. Rather, it must be the sum of the steps taken and those yet to be.

The full assimilation of Marxist theory is measured in relation to all of the obstacles that the real movement's development has encountered.

On the one hand, maximalism represents one sign of this historical delay. On the other, it is one of the obstacles on the road to Marxism's spread.

When facing the issue of "Capital’s scientific methodology", we noticed that Italian Marxism showed a lack of theoretical research such as that performed by Lenin in 1894 to prove that materialism was "the only scientific method to explain history".

Even then, Antonio Labriola, in his 1896 essay on Historical materialism, observed that:

"Only the love of paradox inseparable from the zeal of a new doctrine's passionate popularizers can have brought some to believe, that to write history, it was sufficient to put on record merely the economic moment (often still unknown and often unknowable), and thereupon to cast to the earth all the rest as a useless burden with which men had capriciously loaded themselves, as a superfluity, a mere trifle, or even, as it were, something not existent."

To avoid a paradoxical objectless objectivism, when considering historical delay, one mustn't forget Labriola's reminder. This is essential if - as is truly the case - the "economic moment" frequently has not yet been "known" and is often "unknowable".

If one were to sustain the materialist conception of history (and the materialist conception of politics for the part we are studying) using the "economic moment" only, of which one part has not been "known" or is "unknowable", it would be impossible to speak of science.

One passage in Labriola's essay is explicit:

"Our doctrine does not pretend to be the intellectual vision of a great plan or design, but it is merely a method of research and of conception. It is not by accident that Marx spoke of his discovery as a guiding thread."

On another occasion we took up Labriola's distinction, made in a letter dated April 15, 1899, between "psychological time" and the "time of things."

In evaluation, there is no more pertinent comment than the author's following consideration:

"Historical time is not a uniform course for all men. The mere succession of generations was never the index for the process' constancy and intensity. Time, as an abstract measure of chronology, and the succession of generations in approximate terms of years, do not provide a criterion nor do they indicate the law or the process."

On this point, Labriola can reject a chronological conception of historical time. On the contrary, historical time must be regarded as uneven development:

"Until now, development has been varied because various works were carried out during the same unit of time." The concepts of "acceleration" and "delay" belong to the Marxist vision of "historical time".

A transitory, necessary partial evaluation is the natural continuation.

January, 1988