Social Movement and Political Struggle (XXXI)
Do not say that the social movement is not a political movement! Marx cries out from the very first writings that expose the method of critical communism now fully formed. And he adds, in ten passages, with the same words, the thesis that turned the whole world upside down and undermined the foundations of the past: every class struggle is a political struggle. The previous theorem that the history of society is the history of class struggles can be accepted by the careful scientific analysts of capitalist society as the Sombarts and comrades; the next thesis of the political struggle in the Marxist sense of struggle for power, struggle with physical strength and weapons, is not acceptable to anyone but revolutionaries.
We are not yet at the battle cry, the terrible sarcasm and inexorable excommunications; it is a warning, so to speak, an invocation: do not say that the social movement is not a political movement! This was a crucial point in the controversies and struggles of that time: and yet it is still relevant today.
In the focus of the recent bourgeois revolutions which, with their undoubtedly powerful propaganda and dragging of vast masses, have highlighted the political demands, the rights of the citizen, legal freedoms, presenting itself as an egalitarian and universal motion, the "social question" has come to the fore in all its importance. It's okay to think, to speak, associate, write, vote, but men have other problems related to their material and economic life relationships.
The position of the many a worthy man, and no less numerous political leaders since that time working to serve the new powerful, consists, briefly, in saying: we make a state of the most noble conquests, of the immortal principles, of the supreme guarantees of the liberal revolution, we recognise that in the moral, legal, philosophical and political order, everything is done, and a definitive civilisation is built; let us move on to a separate field, different from that, of a rather inferior degree, less iridescent from the point of view of ideals and literary exercises, and let's give solutions to the economic needs of the social problems of the productive organisation.
This false and insidious position contained, since then, the premises of the defence of the capitalist order and of bourgeois privilege, which for one hundred years has resisted the assaults of the revolutionary vanguards of the working class; and has been cooked in countless sauces in repeated cycles since then. With it, the bourgeoisie and its propaganda personnel were already showing a decline from the fallen monarchic feudal regimes, which had a long history of economic policy and social measures, so much so that the first humanitarian and utopians of the social question entrusted the solutions devised to remedy the economic and distributive injustices to the good will and initiative of the powerful. A whole host of them considered the same liberal political revolution superfluous to these effects of social justice, another no less vast circle accepted and exalted the democratic conquests and made their sacred intangible atmosphere, the ideal environment for social reformism.
The new original and radically different Marxist conception abolishes and buries the stupid distinction of social philanthropists. It begins by proving that the liberal political movement itself was born on the ground of a social struggle between economic classes and not in the realm of ideas or in the pages of the Encyclopaedias, that its postulates and its political systems correspond to the optimum conditions for the victory and preservation of the dominion of the capitalist class. It follows that any change to the social system that the bourgeoisie has introduced can only arise from a new political struggle, from a subsequent struggle for power, and that this cannot but be preceded by the critical battle of a new revolutionary doctrine against the cornerstones of the modern system, in economy in sociology in politics; also in philosophy in the new sense.
The bourgeoisie was born in a grandiose revolutionary process.
For it and against the ancient regime it was true that there is no class revolution without a revolutionary party, and that there is no revolutionary party without a revolutionary theory.
The same will be true against it.
Just as it found nothing good, true and just in the doctrines of the Middle Ages in its critical phase and was able to overcome it because it attacked them at the root, and before becoming a class of rested and fearful bloodsuckers sang "Immanuel Kant will decapitate God; Maximilian Robespierre, the king", so the new revolutionary class, the proletariat, does not make additions and derivations to the old principles but goes to undermine them from their very foundations.
Carmagnola was sung in '89 with the refrain of "ça ira ça ira ça ça ira les aristocrates à la Lanterne", but it was sung in '71 with the verse mutated "tous les bourgeois à la Lanterne".
The bourgeoisie made politics with la Lanterne and the Widow, but it was propagandised that it would happen in the future, after its bloodstained conquests, only with the ballot.
The study of historical dialectics, in the framework of the economic analysis and the social issue, it also finds la Lanterne as a solution.
The insidious attempt to put the social question "outside of politics" has always hindered the path of the workers' revolution, and Marxism has been against that pitfall from the beginning of the battle.
In Germany the Lassalleans faced with the robust police power of the Bismarckian Empire, instead of understanding that the oppressive framework of the State would have the same function in defence of the bursting industrial capitalism in order to subjugate the working class, they flirted with the thesis of setting aside the thorny political bump and giving themselves to social work in economic unions and production cooperatives, repeating the deviations of Proudhon and "bourgeois" socialism.
This "sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economic relations, could be of any advantage to them. By changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism, however, by no means understands abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be affected only by a revolution, but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour, but, at the best, lessen the cost, and simplify the administrative work, of bourgeois government". ("Manifesto")
At a great distance the French and Spanish sister trade unionism, and also Italian, which seemed to be characterised by its opposition to parliamentary reformism at the time, and by its demand for the use of violence and its anti-state position, repeated the detour of losing, for the purposes of a purely economic programme, the vision of the political struggle for power and the function of the class party.
After the First World War, for example in Italy, analogous errors characterised the movement for " works councils ", social organs that were considered authentically revolutionary, capable of providing a different organisation of production even before and without the class party having led the proletariat to attack and destroy the State.
This movement, though caught up in the suggestion of the Russian Revolution, was affected by its origin: all similar movements historically lead to alliance and blocist practice. The name of the newspaper itself, "Ordine Nuovo", reflected the incomplete idea that the workers in the factory worked to build a new order of production, while the central problem was for Marx and is still that of new strength, new power, the premise of the difficult path to the new society.
In Russia, one deviation that the Bolsheviks fought violently against was that of the economists, who precisely wanted to steer the demands of the workers away from the problem of power. Which was then that of the overthrow of Tsarism, that the bourgeois parties wanted, and the subsequent course of the struggle that could also overwhelm the bourgeoisie. At the end of the development all the false revolutionaries derived from the economist trunk and all the traitors of Marxism found themselves in a bloc against the party of revolution and the proletarian dictatorship.
A pillar of the Marxist construction is therefore that of the economic and social basis of the political struggles and of the necessarily political character of the struggle against the social conditions of the capitalist order.
In 1848 there was not much danger that, by saying political struggle to mean revolutionary struggle, someone would understand or pretend to understand electoral, peaceful, legalitarian struggle instead. Precisely because the bourgeois revolutions were either very young or still on the agenda, it was clear that political demands are defended by civil war.
The thesis of sub-Marxism and opportunism was not yet written, as in the period of "peaceful" capitalism in terms of: class struggle, struggle for the interests of workers, but with the means of democracy, universal suffrage, legalitarian and parliamentary parties.
It was written precisely in these other terms: action for the social improvement of the conditions of workers outside the questions of political power.
But the conclusion that derived from these two historical times was the same: renunciation of the struggle to demolish the established power of the State and smash its machine.
Only recently has there been talk of "worker parties" that use legal means and who discard the idea of revolution by violent means. At the time, there was talk only of action to raise the conditions of workers through social measures, but not by means of party actions, let alone parties formed by the workers themselves.
It is with the vision of this diversity that the evolution of the task of the class party should be considered and its tactics on agreements and alliances.
At the time of the "Manifesto" it was very important to demonstrate that the discontent of the workers was "deterministically" opposed by the workers themselves, and not by ideologists and philanthropists, in forms progressively less and less unconscious. It was important to prove that from itself "the social movement became a political movement". The mere fact that for the interests of the industrial worker a movement of a political nature was formed was revolutionary, and found against it all the apparatus of legality and all the layers of the bourgeois class. To speak of a working class party was worthy at that time of a nascent and incendiary bourgeoisie, to have already blasphemed and torn up all the liberal legal and political theses.
These first movements that define themselves as political do not have a Marxist orientation and a clear theory, but are themselves a historical proof of the exactness of the Marxist conclusions, elevated for the first time in the "Manifesto" of 1848 on the basis of a political organisation. Marx therefore treasures them, does not condemn them, says that the communists are not different from the other workers' parties, since at the time a legalitarian and pro-Bourgeois workers' party was not conceivable.
With their very existence, these first proletarian parties broke the opportunistic limit of the social question treated as a purely economic affair, and threatened the bourgeoisie that threw itself against them with all its strength. For example, the Chartist movement in England was born as a party of radical democracy and reforms, but soon became a workers' movement of armed rebellion: the English bourgeoisie from secular liberalism immediately places it out of the law and crushes it in a fierce repression.
Such a party could not yet possess a clear communist theory, but it fought practically in the direction envisaged by the theory. The proletariat is not in Europe but embryonically developed, and only makes its first constitutive declaration of a party with a solid theoretical basis.
Affirmed that once the workers set out to form a political movement, they will see themselves on the road leading to their class dictatorship, Marx establishes from the very first moment that against them will rise all the coalition forces of the bourgeoisie at the decisive moment.
"the fiasco of the Chartist party whose leaders were imprisoned, and whose organisation was dismembered [Did Sir Mosley take lessons in fascism from here in Italy, or in the glorious cradle of liberalism?], had shaken the confidence of the English working-class in its own strength. Soon after this the June insurrection in Paris and its bloody suppression united, in England as on the Continent, all fractions of the ruling classes, landlords and capitalists, stock-exchange wolves and shop-keepers, Protectionists and Freetraders, government and opposition, priests and freethinkers, young whores and old nuns, under the common cry for the salvation of Property, Religion, the Family and Society. " ("Capital", I, X, 6).
The very first manner of opportunism was to keep the workers away from politics.
That of the second method, the era of social democracy and the 1914-18 war, claimed that the working class had a political function and organisation, that they should not break up the bourgeois state system, but rather act as a reserve for the political needs of the bourgeoisie itself: opposition to alleged feudal returns, national wars, the spread of capitalism in the "backward" countries, all functions to be performed in the official and legal frameworks of the bourgeois system, in order to make it easier for it to "evolve".
The third way of opportunism, that of the recent world war, took the workers' political strength and put it once again at the service of defending the democratic and liberal bourgeois principles against the alleged threat of the new fascist absolutism, which was instead the very old class dictatorship of capital. It was also acknowledged that the proletariat fought in the political arena and demanded more than legal and official means, to conscription in the regular armies, to which was added the partisan action in irregular formations for the struggle within the territory of the enemy country of the "allies", evolutionary and "progressive".
In all these phases, the working class was never allied on its own: the inertia, the legal struggle or the illegal struggle were imposed on it as a means for the ends of its enemies. Everything always ended in disappointment and in repeated servitude.
Perhaps in the fourth phase, of a third war, it will still be a long way off, and not on just one side, a descent into struggle of the workers, always for the salvation of civil and even revolutionary principles.
And perhaps the fourth time the world working class, returning to the right track, will see in time the class solidarity of the two opponents against it, and will respond with Marx, that the proletariat has a political function, and this is revolutionary function, adding with the words of Lenin that, even if there were still in circulation revolutions of others, "the revolution must serve the proletariat, and not the proletariat to the revolution". And for allies of the East or the West, in uniform or without, finally it will not march.
Battaglia Comunista, No. 43, 16-23 November 1949
Translation by Libri Incogniti