Amadeo Bordiga 1949
First Published: Battaglia Comunista No. 39. 1949;
Source: Antagonism's Bordiga archive;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden 2003.
Mistakes in the practice of the proletarian struggle and the ruinous deviations from it, a feature of the First World War period as well as the Second and this postwar period, are closely tied to the muddling up of the cardinal points of the Marxist method.
Marx coordinated the forecast of the revolutionary workers' assault with the economic laws of capitalist development.
Those that revised marxism wanted to find in the defects of the system, strengths that have delayed our revolution for a century. On the basis of the new conditions of transport and world communication, Marx had expected a faster development of it than that of the bourgeois revolution. They pretend therefore that the economic laws are false and that the most recent developments in the bourgeois regime have denied the following central thesis: there is always more wealth which accumulates at one pole, and more poverty at the other.
They've cited, for fifty years, figures for the increase of wage rates, for the increase in the level of variety of products consumed by industrial workers, the results of the enormous machinery of welfare reforms that have the tendency to act against the fall into absolute hunger of the labourers thrown out of the cycle of the waged activity, by misfortune, illness, old age or unemployment. On the other side, they pretend that the extension of the functions of the central machine of the state, its pretension to control abuses and excesses of capitalist speculation, the distribution to all of benefits and of social and collective services is equivalent to replacing socialist demands.
In the revisionist vision, everything tends to show the progressive "possibility" of an always better distribution of the fruits of production amongst those that participate in it, bogging down powerful socialist longings in the quagmire of a campaign of slimy philanthropy for the stupid expression of a "social justice" proper to a theoretical and literary baggage existing before Marx broke it into pieces.
From its Arcadian idyll, capitalism was transported into the horrors of the tragedy of the mad race of monopolies and imperialism, that ended, in the first place, in the war of 1914. And it is obvious that as long as it persists, lives and grows, there grows and spreads to the same extent suffering and massacres, which is reflected in a vigorous return of the workers' parties to radical positions and to the battle that aims for the destruction and not the reform of the bourgeois social system.
After the new test, theoretically even more decisive, of World War II, the years that lie ahead pose the serious problem of a lack of revolutionary reaction from the methods of proletarian action in the world.
The general law of capitalist accumulation is exposed by Marx in Volume 1 of Capital, Chapter 25. The first paragraph explains that the progress of accumulation tends to increase the level of wages. The spread of capitalist production on a large scale, as it took place in the English example between the 15th and the first half of the 18th Century, and all over the world during the second half of the 18th Century, made "a rise of wages take place" with a demand for a greater number of wage workers. It's a waste of time trying to refute Marx with the fact that the wages of the slaves of capital didn't fall! Indeed, immediately after these words, Marx writes: "The more or less favourable circumstances in which the wage-working class supports and multiplies itself, in no way alter the fundamental character of capitalist production.". (Volume 1, Chapter 25, Section 1).
And this fundamental character, which the general law is about, is not determined according to Marx only through the worker-boss relation, but through the relation between the two classes. The composition varies continually. In the bourgeois class, the accumulated wealth concentrates while dividing itself between an always smaller number of hands and especially in an ever smaller number of big enterprises. The final point of this perspective is clearly expressed: "In a given society the limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company" (ibid.) Engels adds in a note that in 1890 this prediction for 1974 was verified by "the most recent American and English trusts". Kautsky, the key Marxist from then on, repeats twenty years after that the phenomenon had spread throughout the capitalist world. Lenin develops in this way in 1915 the complete theory of imperialism. The Marxist school has materials to complete the classic text with these words "... or also from the capitalist nationaliser state, that has at its head Hitlers, Attlees or Stalins".
On the other side of the social trench Marx follows, in this central analysis, as in all his work, not the oscillation of commodities, but the composition of the non-propertied population and its variable distribution in the industrial reserve army. And he constructs his general law in the sense that, with the diffusion and the accumulation of capitalism, whatever becomes of the level of pay of the wage workers temporarily employed in the enterprises, the absolute and relative number of all those that remain in reserve increases and these don't even have the products of their own work.
In the fourth part of the same chapter, he manages to enunciate the law, known as the law of increasing misery: "But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour-army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus-population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its torment of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus-layers of the working-class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism". (ibid.). Misery and pauperism are, for the Philistine economist, the fact of not having to eat. According to the Catholic monk mentioned by Marx (ibid.), charity sorts it out, according to the modern conquistadors of America, it is the UNRRA. Misery for Marx is what makes, by the incessant "expansion and contraction" of the bourgeois enterprise, the Lazarus proletarian enter and rise from the tomb of everyday lack of means, and this misery grows because the number of those who find themselves trapped within the alternative: die in labour for capital or die from hunger, increases tremendously.
The essential argument of Marx's revisionists was that he had begun in this matter, to revise the Marx of 1848 while writing "Capital". The proof that they have never understood anything, is that in "Capital", Marx cites in this passage his previous work to the "Manifesto" itself, "The Misery of Philosophy" written against the "The Philosophy of Misery" of Proudhon of 1847. He notes just before the phrase "This antagonistic character of capitalistic accumulation", "These relations only produce bourgeois wealth, that is to say the wealth of the bourgeois class, while continually annihilating the wealth of the members making up this class and while constantly producing a ceaselessly growing proletariat". (ibid., Footnote 25 - in French).
It is a central point of marxism, and even the most central, and it is more that ever up and running in the historic course of 1847-1874-1949.
The proletarian is the destitute, that is to say the propertyless, the without-reserves and not the badly paid. The sentence is formulated in a text of Marx's in 1854 which says that the more a country has proletarians the more it is rich. Marx defines the proletarian as follows: the waged employee who produces the capital and valorises it, and that capital throws on to the pavement as soon as he becomes superfluous to the requirements of "Mr. Capital". With his sharp wit, Marx laughs at an author who speaks of the "proletarian of the primitive forest". In fact, the inhabitant of this place is not a landlord, nor a proletarian, "because if he was, it would mean that the forest exploits him instead of him exploiting it".
The place of the worst barbarism is that modern forest that makes use of us, this forest of chimneys and bayonets, machines and weapons, of strange inanimate beasts that feed on human flesh.
The situation of all the without-reserves, reduced to such a state because, dialectically, they are themselves a reserve, has been aggravated terribly by the experience of the war. The hereditary character of membership of economic classes implies that to be without-reserves is even more serious than to be without life. After the passage of flames of the war, after carpet bombing, members of the working class, no less than at the time of all other disasters, lose not only, most likely, their present job, but see even that minimum reserve of mobile property that constitutes the parts of a rudimentary household destroyed. Titles of possession partly survive all material destruction, because they are the social rights sanctioned by the exploitation of other people. And to write again in letters of fire the Marxist law of antagonism, there is the other observation accessible to all, that the industry of the war and destruction is the one that brings the biggest profits and the biggest concentrations of wealth in the least numerous hands. For the others who lose nothing, there is the industry of reconstruction and the forest of business and the Marshall plan and ERP whose big Jackals are the worthy supreme Administrators.
The wars have therefore thrown, unambiguously, millions and millions of men into the ranks of those who no longer have anything to lose. They have given revisionism the knock-out blow. The word of radical marxism must resound in a terrifying manner: proletarians, in the communist revolution, have nothing to lose but their chains.
The revolutionary class is the one that has nothing to defend and that cannot believe anymore in victories with which it is deceived in the inter-war periods.
The war should have given a place to the initiative and to the offensive of those that have nothing, against the class that has and that dominates everything. On the contrary, it was fraudulently presented as a springboard for actions of the dominant class aiming to take from the proletariat non-existent benefits and out of date gains.
The praxis of the revolutionary party was exchanged for a praxis of defense, of protection and of demands for economic and political "guarantees" that supposedly have been gained for the proletarian class which were in fact precisely guarantees and gains of the bourgeoisie.
The Manifesto had engraved this central point, not only in its final sentence, the result of an analysis of the whole social complex that years of struggles and experiences had developed, but also in an another of those that Lenin defined as forgotten passages of marxism.
"The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property." (Communist Manifesto, Part I).
For Italy, it was the end for the revolutionary movement when - on the order of still-living Zinoviev, who paid very dearly for this irremediable blunder - they threw all their forces into the defense of "guarantees" such as parliamentary freedom and respect for the Constitution.
The character of the action of communists is initiative, and not the reply to so-called provocations. The class offensive, not the defensive. The destruction of guarantees, not their preservation. In the great historic sense, it is the revolutionary class that threatens, it is it that provokes: and it is it that must prepare the Communist Party, and not the plugging, here and there, of supposed leaks in the old tub of bourgeois order, that should, on the contrary, go straight to the bottom.
The problem of the return of the workers of all countries to the line of class struggle depends on recovering the link between the critique of the capitalism and the methods of revolutionary struggle.
As long as the experience of the disastrous mistakes of the past has not been applied, the working class won't escape the hateful protection of those that claim to save it from the supposed threats and provocations that could emerge tomorrow and that they present as intolerable. For at least a century the proletariat has had in front of it and above it that which it cannot tolerate and which, as time passes, will become, according to Marx's law, more and more intolerable.