Gramsci 1917

The Revolution against ‘Capital’

Source: La Rivoluzione contro il Capitale;
First published: Avanti!, 24 December 1917;
Translated: for by Natalie Campbell.

The Bolshevik revolution has become a definitive part of the more widespread revolution of the Russian people. The Maximalists, up until two months ago, had been the force necessary to stop the cause grinding to a halt, to stop the road to the future coming to a dead end, to give rise to a final settlement – that would have been a bourgeois settlement. They have taken possession of power, they've established their dictatorship, and they are developing forms of socialism that mean the revolution will finally have to ease off in order for things to continue harmoniously, without too many great conflicts; with its basis being everything that has already been achieved.

The Bolshevik revolution is based more on ideology than actual events (therefore, at the end of the day, we really don’t need to know any more than we know already). It’s a revolution against Karl Marx’s Capital. In Russia, Marx’s Capital was the book of the bourgeoisie, more than of the proletariat. It was the crucial proof needed to show that, in Russia, there had to be a bourgeoisie, there had to be a capitalist era, there had to be a Western-style of progression, before the proletariat could even think about making a comeback, about their class demands, about revolution. Events overcame ideology. Events have blown out of the water all critical notions which stated Russia would have to develop according to the laws of historical materialism. The Bolsheviks renounce Karl Marx and they assert, through their clear statement of action, through what they have achieved, that the laws of historical materialism are not as set in stone, as one may think, or one may have thought previously.

Yet, there is still a certain amount of inevitability to these events, and if the Bolsheviks reject some of that which is affirmed in Capital, they do not reject its inherent, invigorating idea. They are not ‘Marxists’, that’s what it comes down to: they have not used the Master’s works to draw up a superficial interpretation, dictatorial statements which cannot be disputed. They live out Marxist thought, the one which will never die; the continuation of idealist Italian and German thought, and that in Marx had been corrupted by the emptiness of positivism and naturalism. In this kind of thinking the main determinant of history is not lifeless economics, but man; societies made up of men, men who have something in common, who get along together, and because of this (civility) they develop a collective social will. They understand economic matters, they evaluate them and adjust them according to their will, until it is this which becomes the driving force of the economy, that which shapes objective reality and lives and moves; it takes on the characteristics of a scolding hot sheet of metal, which can be sculpted in any way they so choose.

Marx predicted the predictable. Though he couldn’t predict the European war, or better put, he couldn’t predict how long it would go on for and the effects it would have. He couldn’t predict that this war, 3 years of unspeakable suffering, of unspeakable misery, would reawaken the Russian people’s collective will like it did. A will, of such a sort normally needs a long period of development in order to permeate society; it normally needs a long line of class experience. Man is lazy, it needs to organise itself, firstly on the exterior, it needs to form bodies and associations, but then on the interior, in terms of thought, of will [...] it needs a never-ending continuity and a host of external motivations. This is why, normally, the rules of Marxist historical criticism take a hold on reality, grasping it with both hands and making everything appear clear. Normally, it’s through an ever-more intense class struggle that the two classes of capitalism are able to make history. The proletariat is fully aware of its current state of misery, its continuing poverty and it pressures the bourgeoisie to create better conditions. It fights, obliging the bourgeoisie to better techniques of production, so that the most urgent needs of the proletariat can finally be satisfied. It’s a long, hard road towards something better, which helps to speed up the pace of production and continually increase the amount of goods which can be of use to all. Many fall along the way, which only makes the wishes of those who remain even more urgent. The masses are in a permanent state of turmoil, and because of such chaos they become even more ordered in their thinking, they become ever more conscious of their power, of their ability to take on social responsibility and to become the judges of their own fate.

That’s what happens normally. When events run in a certain order. When history passes through ever more complex situations; situations full of increasing meaning and importance, yet at the same time that are so similar. However in Russia, war only helped to ignite the people’s will. After the suffering which had built up over three years, they found themselves becoming one very quickly. Famine was impending, hunger, or death by hunger, could strike anyone, crush tens of millions of men in an instant. Different wills were united, firstly, in a superficial way, but then in an active and spiritual sense after the revolution.

Socialist thinking allowed the Russian people to reach the experiences of other proletariats. Socialist thinking instantly gave life to the history of the proletariat, to their fight against capitalism, the long line of pains they have had to go through to free themselves ideally from the clutches of a servility which made them poor; it allowed them to create a new consciousness and be living proof of a time yet to come. Socialist thinking gave rise to the social will of the Russian people. Why should they have to wait so that the history of England is repeated in their own country, so that a bourgeoisie is formed in Russia, that class struggle is ignited, that a class consciousness is born, that the fall of the capitalist world finally comes? The Russian people have already gone through these events in their minds, and in the mind-set too, of a minority group. They've overcome these experiences. They are what they needed in order to establish themselves, just as they will need the capitalist experiences of the West in order to reach, in a short period of time, the heights of Western production. North America is, in capitalist terms, more advanced than England, because in North America the Anglo-Saxons started from a point which England only reached after a long evolution. The Russian proletariat, educated in Socialism, will start its history from a high level of production that England has only got to today; its starting point will be something which has been accomplished elsewhere, and from this accomplishment it will be driven to reach the economic maturity that Marx sees a necessary for collectivism. Revolutionaries will themselves create the conditions needed for a full and complete fulfilment of their ideal and they will do so in less time than capitalism would have. Socialist criticisms of the bourgeois system, which highlight its shortcomings and the unequal distribution of wealth, will enable revolutionaries to do better, to avoid such shortcomings themselves, to not fall into the same traps. In the beginning it will be a collectivism based on misery, on suffering. But it would have been these very conditions of misery and suffering which would have been inherited from a bourgeois regime. Capitalism in Russia, right now, wouldn’t be able to do any more than collectivism can. In fact at the moment it would do much less, as it would find itself facing a discontent and rabid proletariat, incapable of putting up any longer, with the pain and disappointment that economic poverty brings. Even from an absolute, human point of view, pre-empted socialism can be justified in Russia. The suffering that will be left behind after peace will only be tolerated by the proletariat as long as they feel that their will is intact, that through their persistence they will be able to make it end as soon as possible.

One has the impression that the Maximalists, at this time, are the natural, biological expression, needed to stop the Russian population falling into an atrocious state of ruin, to ensure that the Russian population, caught up in the autonomous, colossal effort of ensuring their own regeneration, will be able to feel a little less the pain caused by the ravenous wolf’s bite; so that Russia doesn’t become a huge forest of wild beasts, tearing each other to pieces.