Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism (Part 1) - Amadeo Bordiga (1957)



I The Party and the Class State as Essential Forms of the Communist Revolution




We need to begin, first of all, by explaining that the aim of our present exposition is not to systematically examine every economic, historical and political aspect of the communist scheme and its programme, nor to provide an exhaustive treatment of what we might call the 'connective tissue' which binds all these different aspects of communism together, by which we mean our original and completely distinctive way of resolving the questions of the relationship between theory and action, economy and ideology, determining causality and the dynamics of human society; that is, the method which Marxism, and Marxism alone, has used since it first appeared in the first half of the 19th century, and which, for brevity's sake, may be referred to as the philosophical aspect of Marxism, or dialectical materialism.

Moreover, if we tried to systematize these concepts in order to explain our particular view of the function of the individual in society, of the relation of both individual and society to the State, and the significance our doctrine attributes to class, we would be laying ourselves open to the usual accusation of abstractionism; we would thus risk being misunderstood, and appear as though we had forgotten a key element of our doctrine; namely, that the formulas needed to unravel these questions are not fixed for all time, but are variable within a succession of great historical periods, which for us are equivalent to different social forms and modes of production.

Therefore, though asserting the consistency with which Marxism has responded to events in different historical situations, our 're-proposition' will be closely linked to the wretched, world-encompassing, phase which has been affecting the revolutionary movement against capitalism for the last few decades – and will certainly affect it for many decades to come. Our aim will be to set the cornerstones of our science back in their correct position, realign the ones which our enemies are most keen to undermine, and take action to compensate against their deforming tendencies.

In order to do that, we will focus on the one genuinely revolutionary doctrine's three main groups of critics, paying particular attention to the criticism which most stubbornly claims to be drawing on the same principles and movements as ourselves.

The reader might recall that a similar theme was developed during our 1952 meeting in Milan (Invarianza storica del marxismo nel corso rivoluzionario, in Programma Comunista, nos.1-5, 1953, and reproduced in nos. 5-6, 1969). The first part of the report lay claim to the historical invariance of Marxism which, it was maintained, is not a doctrine still in the process of formation but rather one completed in the historical epoch appropriate to it, that is, the period which witnessed the birth of the modern proletariat. It is a touchstone of our historical vision that this class will go through the whole arc of the rise and fall of capitalism using the same unaltered theoretical armoury. The second part of the report – "The False Expedient of Activism" – developed a critique of the perennial illusion of "voluntarism", portraying it as an extremely dangerous and degenerate form of Marxism which continues to be exploited whenever there's an outbreak of the opportunist disease.    


In the first part of that report, we divided our position's enemies into three camps: those who deny the validity of Marxism, those who falsify it, and those who claim to be bringing it up to date.

Today, the first group is represented nowadays by the open defenders and apologists of capitalism, who portray it as the ultimate form of human "civilization". We won't be paying too much attention to them; they have already received a knockout blow from Karl Marx and this frees us to apply the same knockout blows to the other two groups. (We put here in parentheses here, once and for all, that our declared "re-proposition" does not aspire so much to a definitive polemical victory, but aims, within the limits of this summary, to clearly define our positions and our characteristic features, and to show how they haven't changed at all in over a 100 years).

The defeat of Marx's deniers, today only doctrinal (tomorrow social) is confirmed by the fact that as every day goes by more and more of them are compelled to "steal" the truths discovered by Marx; but having found it impossible to destroy these truths when stated clearly (we revolutionaries have no such fears about their classical theses) they join the second group, the falsifiers, or (why not?) the modernizers.

The falsifiers are those who have been historically defined as "opportunists", revisionists or reformists, i.e. those who have eliminated from the integrated whole of Marx's theories – as though it were possible without destroying it in its entirety – the prospect of revolutionary catastrophe and the use of armed violence. However there are also many falsifiers among those who claim to accept violent rebellion: they are just as bad, and just as prone to the superstition of activism. What both of them share is an aversion to the identifying, discriminating feature of Marx's theory: armed force, no longer in the hands of particular oppressed individuals or groups, but in the hands of the liberated and victorious class, the class dictatorship, bugbear of social-democrats and anarchists alike. We might have entertained the false hope in 1917 that this second group, rotten to the core, had been laid out by Lenin's blows; however, although we considered this victory as definitive in the realm of doctrine, we were also among the first to warn that the right conditions existed for the re-emergence of that infamous breed. Nowadays we can see it both in Stalinism, and in the Russian post-Stalinism which has been current since the 20th Congress of the Russian Communist Party.

Finally in the third category, the modernizers, we put those groups which, despite considering Stalinism to be a new form of the classical opportunism defeated by Lenin, attribute this dreadful reverse in the fortunes of the revolutionary labour movement to defects and inadequacies within Marx's original doctrine; which they claim to be able to rectify on the basis of evidence which historical evolution has provided subsequent to the theory's formation; an evolution, according to them, which contradicts it.

In Italy, France, and elsewhere there are many of these groups which have totally dissipated the first proletarian reactions against the terrible sense of disillusionment arising from the distortions and decompositions of Stalinism; from the opportunist plague which killed off Lenin's Third International. One of these groups is linked to Trotskyism, but in fact fails to appreciate that Trotsky always condemned Stalin for deviating from Marx. Admittedly, Trotsky also indulged rather too much in personal and moral judgements; a barren method as evidenced by the shameless way in which the 20th Congress has used precisely such methods to prostitute the revolutionary tradition much more than even Stalin himself.

Every one of these groups has succumbed to the disease of activism, but their enormous critical distance from Marxism means they have failed to see that they are making the same mistakes as the German Bernsteins; who wished to build socialism within parliamentary democracy by opposing their everyday practice to what they saw as the "coldness" of theory. The activism of these groups is likewise akin to that of Stalin's heirs, who have smashed to pieces Marx, Lenin and Trotsky's positions on the internationality of the socialist economic transformation in an indecent display of armed might, with which, whilst exacerbating their hunger for power, they claim to have built this new economy already.

Stalin is the theoretical father of this method of "enrichment" and "modernization" of Marxism, a method which, whenever and wherever it appears, destroys the vision of world-wide proletarian revolutionary strength.

Thus, whilst we adopt a standpoint which opposes all three groups simultaneously, it is the misleading distortions and arrogant neo-constructions of the third group which most urgently need to be addressed and set to rights. Being contemporary they are better known, but it is still difficult for today's workers, following the ravages of Stalinism, to relate them to the old historical traps; against which we propose one stance and one alone: a return to the fundamental communist positions of the 1848 Manifesto, which contains, in potential, our entire social and historical criticism, and which likewise demonstrates that everything which has happened since, all the bloody struggles and defeats experienced by the proletariat during the course of the last century, only serve to confirm the validity of what some people foolishly wish to abandon.      





In spite of the preventive counter-measures taken by the 20th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, the number of critics of the Moscow degeneration has continued to grow after the events in Hungary, Poland and Eastern Germany, and they are even to be found on the margins of the official Stalinist parties in the West, and include people like Sartre and Picasso who are highly dubious and petty-bourgeois in our opinion. Their not entirely unsuccessful condemnation of Moscow sounds something like this: abuse of dictatorship, abuse of the centrally-disciplined political party, abuse of the State power in its dictatorial form. All of them put forward similar remedies: more liberty, more democracy, socialism to be brought into the ideological and political atmosphere of liberal and electoral legality, and the use of State power in relation to different political proposals and opinions should be renounced. As usual, the main targets of our criticism are not those who hold this point of view because they openly advocate the bourgeois mode of production (sanctified by just such an ideological, juridical and political framework), but those who wish to graft such nonsense onto the trunk of Marxist doctrine.

We hold exactly the opposite point of view, so let's set the record straight immediately. The revolutionary movement, freed from servile admiration of the American "free World", freed from subjection to a corrupt Moscow and immune from the syphilitic putridity of opportunism, can only re-emerge by recovering its original radical Marxist platform, and by declaring that the content of socialism surpasses and negates such concepts as Liberty, Democracy, and Parliamentarism and reveals them to be means of defending and propping up Capitalism. But perhaps the supreme lie and main plank of counter-revolutionary thought is the notion of the State as neutral arbiter of class and party interests, and therefore also of a farcical freedom of opinion. Such a State, and such a freedom, are monstrous inventions that history has never known nor ever shall know.

Not only is it indisputable that Marxism established and declared all this right from its inception, but it must also be emphasised that the concept of the use of physical force against an enemy minority – or majority – presupposes the intervention of two essential forms contained within the Marxist historical scheme: Party and State.

A "Marxist historical scheme" exists, in other words, insofar as the Marxist doctrine is based upon the possibility of mapping out a pattern within history. If that pattern cannot be found, or is wrong, then Marxism will fall apart and its deniers will be right. As for the falsifiers and "modernisers" of Marxism, they would be highly unlikely to capitulate even if provided with evidence that their views were mistaken!

Those who oppose our thesis that Party and State are main, rather than merely accessory, elements within the Marxist scheme, and who prefer to insist that Class is the principal element, with party and State as accessory features of class history and class struggles (and as easy to change as the tyres on a car) are directly contradicted by Marx himself. In a letter to Weydemeyer (March 5, 1852) quoted by Lenin in State and Revolution, Marx wrote that the existence of classes wasn't discovered by him but by bourgeois economists and historians. It was other people who discovered Class struggles as well, which doesn't mean they were communist or revolutionary. The content of his doctrine, he said, resides in the historical concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessary stage in the transition from capitalism to socialism. Thus speaks Marx, and it is one of the rare times when he speaks about himself.

We are, therefore, not particularly interested in a working class which is statistically defined, and neither are we particularly interested in attempts to work out where the interests of the working class diverge from other classes (there are always more than two). What interests us is the class which has set up its dictatorship, i.e. which has taken power, destroyed the bourgeois State, and set up its own State: that is how Lenin put it, shaming those in the 2nd International who had "forgotten" Marxism. How is it that Class can form the basis of a dictatorial and totalitarian State power, of a new State machine opposed to the old like a victorious army occupying the positions of the defeated enemy? Through what organ? The philistine's immediate answer is: a man, and in Russia Lenin was that man (whom they have the nerve to lump together with the wretched Stalin, denied today and maybe murdered yesterday by his worshippers). Our answer is quite different.

The organ of the dictatorship and operator of the State-weapon is the political class party; the party which, through its doctrine and its continuous historical action, has been potentially granted the task, proper to the proletarian class, of transforming society. We not only say that the struggle and the historical task of the class cannot be achieved without the two forms: dictatorial State, (i.e. the exclusion, as long as they exist, of the other classes which are henceforth defeated and subdued) and political party, we also say – in our customary dialectical and revolutionary language – that one can only begin to speak of class – of establishing a dynamic link between a repressed class in today's society and a future revolutionised social form, and taking into consideration the struggle between the class which holds the State and the class which is to overthrow it – only when the class is no longer a cold statistical term at the miserable level of bourgeois thought, but a reality, made manifest in its organ, the Party, without which it has neither life nor the strength to fight.

One cannot therefore detach party from class as though class were the main element and the party merely accessory to it. By putting forward the idea of a proletariat without a party, a party which is sterilized and impotent party, or by looking for substitutes for it, the latest corrupters of Marxism have actually annihilated the class by depriving it of any possibility of fighting for socialism, or even, come to that, fighting for a miserable crust of bread.  


As a result of their confused critique, today's "enrichers" of Marxism have made similar blunders, and have inadvertently ended up adopting the same bourgeois and petty-bourgeois insinuations which were made when the Russian Revolution was still following the classic Marxist line – admired even by the "enrichers" – in which Class, State, Party and Party members stood together on the same revolutionary plane, precisely because on these essential points there were no hesitations of any kind.

They fail to realize that in diluting the party and its function as the main revolutionary organ they declass the proletariat; which having been deprived of the ability to overthrow the ruling class, or even to mitigate its effects in restricted fields of activity, ends up helplessly shackled to it. They really think they have improved Marxism by having learnt from history a banal commonplace of the "don't push things too far"! variety, worthy of the pettiest shop-keeper. What they don't see is that it isn't a correction we're dealing with here but a liquidation; or rather, an inferiority complex born out of an impotent lack of understanding.

The Party form and the State form are key elements in the earliest Marxist texts; and are two fundamental stages in the epic development which the Communist Manifesto describes.

There are two revolutionary stages referred to in the chapter 'Proletarians and Communists'. The first stage (already touched on before in the first chapter 'Bourgeois and Proletarians') is the organisation of the proletariat into a political party. This follows on from another very famous statement: every class struggle is a political struggle, but it is much clearer, and tallies with our thesis which states: the proletariat is a class in a historical sense when it has started to struggle politically as a party. In fact, the Manifesto states: 'This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party'.

The second revolutionary stage is the organisation of the proletariat into a ruling class. Here the question of power and the State arises. 'As we have seen above, the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class'.

A little further on we find Marx's blunt definition of the Class State: 'The proletariat organised as the ruling class'.

Perhaps we needn't point out here that another of the essential theses reinstated by Lenin, the eventual disappearance of the State, is also included in this famous early text. The general definition: 'Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another' underscores the classic assertions: the public power will lose its political character, classes and all class domination will disappear, even that of the proletariat.

Therefore Party and State are at the heart of the Marxist viewpoint. You either accept or reject it. Searching for the class outside of its Party and its State is a waste of energy, and depriving the class of them means turning your back on communism and the revolution.

But this foolish attempt, which the "modernizers" consider an original discovery of the post 2nd World War, had already been made before the Manifest, when it had been routed by Marx in his formidable polemical pamphlet against Proudhon: The Poverty of Philosophy. This pivotal work destroyed the notion (which in fact was very ahead of its time) that the social transformation and abolition of private property might be achieved without the need to engage in a struggle for political power. Finally there is the famous sentence: «Do not say that the social movement excludes the political movement», which leads on to our unequivocal thesis: by Politics we don't mean a peaceful ideological contest, or worse still, a constitutional debate; we mean "hand to hand conflict", "total revolution", and finally, as the poetess George Sand put it: "Le Combat où la mort".

Proudhon rejects the idea of political conflict because his view of the way societies change is fundamentally flawed: it doesn't involve the complete overthrow of capitalist relations of production; it is competition orientated, localised and co-operativist, and is trapped within a bourgeois vision of business enterprise and market. He might have proclaimed that property was theft, but his system, remaining a mercantile system, remains one which is property orientated and bourgeois. Proudhon's myopia about economic revolution is the same as today's "factory socialists", who duplicate in less vigorous form the old Utopia of Robert Owen; who wanted to liberate the workers by handing over to them the management of the factories, right in the middle of bourgeois society. Whether these people label themselves Ordinovists in Italy, or Barbarists in France, they are in the end, all of them, chips off the same Proudhonian block and deserve the same invective as Stalin: Oh Poverty of the Enrichers!  


In Proudhon's system we find individual exchange, the market, and the free will of the buyer and seller exalted above all else. It is asserted that in order to eliminate social injustice, all that is required is to relate every commodity's exchange value to the value of the labour contained within it. Marx shows – and will show later, pitting himself against Bakunin, against Lassalle, against Duhring, against Sorel and against all the latter-day pygmies mentioned above – that what lies beneath all this is nothing other than the apologia, and the preservation, of bourgeois economy; incidentally, there is nothing different in the Stalinist claim that in a Socialist society, which Russia claims to be, the law of exchange of equivalent values will continue to exist.

In The Poverty of Philosophy, in a few succinct lines, Marx points out the abyss which lies between these by-products of the capitalist system and the tremendous vision of the communist society of the future. It is his reply to the society "built" by Proudhon, where unlimited competition and a balance of supply and demand achieve the miracle of ensuring that everyone gets the most useful and essential goods at "minimum cost", eternal petty-bourgeois dream of the idiotic servants of capital. Marx easily disposes of such sophistry and ridicules it by comparing it to the claim, given that when the weather is fine everybody goes for a walk, Proudhonian people go out for a walk to ensure fine weather.

«In a future society, in which class antagonism would have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production; but the social time of production devoted to different articles will be determined by the degree of their social utility».

This extract, one of the many gems that can be found in the classic writings of our great school, shows how shallow it is to maintain that Marx loved to describe capitalism and its laws, but never described socialist society for fear of lapsing into. .. utopianism. A view shared by Stalin and second-rate anti-Stalinists alike.

In fact, in their wish to emancipate the proletariat whilst preserving mercantile exchange, it is the Proudhons and Stalins who are the utopians; and the latest version of such attempts is Kruschev's reform of Russian industry.

The free, individual exchange, on which Proudhon's metaphysic is based leads to exchange between factories, workshops, and firms managed by workers, and results in the rancid banality which locates the content of socialism in the conquest of the factory by the local workers.

In his crusade to defend competition, old Proudhon was the precursor of that modern superstition – productive 'emulation'. Back in his day, the orthodox thinkers (unaware of being less reactionary that today's Krushchevs) used to say that progress arises from healthy 'emulation'. But Proudhon identifies productive 'industrial' emulation with competition itself. Rivals for the same object, such as 'the woman for the lover', tend to emulate one another. With a note of sarcasm, Marx observes: if the lover's immediate object is the woman, then the immediate object of industrial rivalry should be the product, not the profit. But since in the bourgeois world profit is the name of the game (and this is true a hundred years on) the alleged productive emulation ends up as commercial competition. And beneath the seductive smiles the Americans and Muscovites are currently casting in each other's direction, profit is still what they are both after.

Along with his defective view of the revolutionary society, Proudhon is the precursor of the worst aspects of today's fashionable "factory socialists": the rejection of Party and State because they create leaders, chiefs and power-brokers, who, due to the weakness of human nature, will inevitably be transformed into a privileged group; into a new dominant class (or caste?) to live off the backs of the proletariat.

These superstitions about "human nature" were ridiculed by Marx a long time ago when he wrote in a short, pithy sentence: Monsieur Proudhon ignores that all history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature. Under this massive tombstone can be laid to rest countless throngs of past, present and future anti-Marxist idiots.

In support of our declaration that not even the most minor restrictions can be placed on the full and unqualified use of the weapons of Party and State weapons in the workers' revolution, and in order to get rid of these hypocritical scruples, we should add that in order to deal with the inevitable individual manifestations of the psychological pathology which proletarians and communists have inherited, not from human nature, but from capitalist society, with its horrible ideology and its individualistic mythology of the "dignity of the human person", there is only one organisation capable of providing an effective and radical remedy. That organisation is specifically the communist political party, both during the revolutionary struggle, and after it, when it assumes its most definitive function – that of the wielding of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Other types of organisations which think they can replace it must be rejected not only because of their revolutionary impotence, but because they are a hundred times more susceptible to the degenerating influence of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie. And yet the criticism of these organisations, which they have been subjected to from all sides since time immemorial, should adopt a historical rather than a "philosophical" approach. And yet, it is still of prime importance to make a Marxist analysis of the justifications put forward by the proponents of these schemes, and clearly demonstrate that are influenced by an ideology which is essentially bourgeois in outlook, or even less than bourgeois, such as the views proposed by the pseudo-intellectuals who so dangerously infest the margins of the working-class movement.

The Party, which at an organisational level sets the non-proletarian at the same level as the proletarian, is the only form of organisation which can allow non-proletarians to arrive at the theoretical and historical position which is based on the revolutionary interests of the labouring class; finally, though only after much anguish and torment, these renegades from other classes will serve as revolutionary mines rather than as bourgeois booby-traps in our own ranks.

The party's superiority lies precisely in its overcoming of the disease of labourism and workerism. You join the party as a consequence of your own position in the hand to hand struggle between historical forces for a revolutionary social form; and your position as party member and militant is not merely a servile copy of your position "in respect to the productive mechanism", i.e. that mechanism which is created by bourgeois society and related "physiologically" to that society and to its ruling class.