POLITICAL DEBATE and discourse under decaying capitalism, especially under the current material conditions, is replete with contradiction and obfuscation. Capitalism itself has relied on mysticism and confusion for its survival since it emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notably in the arena of economics, where talk of mysterious “market forces” and the “invisible hand” are still as common as buy and sell orders on the stock market. Moreover, capitalist culture makes regular — even gratuitous — use of religious, superstitious and abstract language to justify its barbaric and callous disregard for human life in the name of maximizing profits.

In this epoch of decay and terminal decline, the process has only accelerated and intensified, as the exploiting classes strain to keep society under their control. The overwhelming presence of “spin,” “marketing” and “narrative” in social discourse, the attempted concretizing of economic mysticism in the forms of trading debt for credit, “crypto-currencies” and other forms of fictitious capital, the resurgence of theocratic and tribal-sectarian politics, and anti-scientific misconceptions meant to blur and even erase the class basis of society, has resulted in a collective post-modernist nightmare meant to remove human beings’ perception and understanding of the world from the very material conditions that define and guide its overall existence.

More to the point, the shape of this debate itself is defined by seemingly opposing forces at the extremes of thought and action, which in turn mystifies not only the link between those two, but also the very principles and values that are underpinning them. Indeed, even the meaning and definition of the terms used within the discussion are mystified to the point where the abstract concept within a principle or value itself becomes predicated on an abstraction. This kind of “meta-abstraction” allows for the discourse to become jammed with proprietary or “alternative facts.”

This degeneration of thought and understanding — this poverty of philosophy — is a kind of Frankenstein’s monster that has long since broken from the control of the exploiters, to the point where even sections of those classes who unleashed it are finding themselves rising in revolt. Kevin Williamson of the arch-conservative National Review magazine[1], for example, has commented on the state of political debate in the United States today, describing the ideological or philosophical element as consisting of “arguing about the meanings of words” — or, alternatively, “words about words” — while the practical paths, as expressed in the two main parties of American capitalism, “mirror one another to an almost comical extent.” What Williamson doesn’t seem to grasp, however, is that this dynamic is found at all levels of the body politic, within the narrowest circles of doctrinaire ideology found in all classes, as opposed to just among “[m]ost of the young Democrats calling themselves ‘socialists’,” or those involved in the Nativist Tea Party (although Williamson seems to lack the fortitude to use the same kind of dismissive, belittling language against them as he does against the Bernie Sanders supporters he polemicizes against).

As we pointed out above, however, such idealistic wordplay is not actually new to the political conversation. It has a long and storied history, walking hand-in-hand with capitalism’s social development. In fact, virtually all bodies of political thought have allowed themselves to be prisoners in a panopticon of abstracted abstraction for the sake of their own continued presence. But this practice of abstracted abstraction only benefits those whose survival is tied directly to that of the capitalist mode of production: the exploiting classes, the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. For the exploited class — the proletariat; the working class — such “meta-abstraction” only disarms and disorganizes, both in terms of practical organization and theoretical understanding.

In order to begin rearming the working class for its coming battles, it is necessary to make a clean and irreversible break with this ideology of confusion, mysticism and contradiction. And there is no better place to start than with the general political framework through which this ideological muddle is transmitted to our fellow workers: the so-called “left-right” spectrum.

Origins of the Spectrum

Originally, “left” and “right” had nothing to do with the positions taken or ideology by a given political organization[1]. The terms originated in the context of the 1789 French Revolution, where the monarchy was overthrown, and a shaky democratic republic took its place. At that time, the new National Assembly divided itself between monarchists and revolutionaries, with each group choosing to sit on one side of the chamber or the other. “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp,” wrote the Baron de Gauville, a supporter of the king and Catholic Church, who sat on the right of the Assembly.

The terms caught on in the 19th-century French press, mostly as a means of discerning the main division or divisions within the Assembly. It during this time that terms like “extreme left,” “center-left,” and so on, came into use in France; following the 1848 Revolution, “left” and “right” became synonymous with the “red” and “white,” respectively[3] (terms that would gain special significance following the 1917 October Revolution in Russia). By the late 1800s, due in large part to the influence of the various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois socialist groups, the terms began to have meanings placed behind them. The “left” became the “party of movement,” meaning that it was the force for social change and progress, while the “right” became the “party of order,” meaning that it was the force for the status quo and conservatism. The socialist groupings repeatedly emphasized this spectrum of divisions[4], both as a break with the appeals to national unity by the bourgeois liberals and conservatives, and as a means of defining the differences between the various socialist organizations seated in the National Assembly.

It was not until the 20th century that the “left-right spectrum” began to be used around the world as an overall linguistic shorthand for describing different political ideologies — as a means of further abstracting (calling them “left,” “right,” “center,” etc.) existing abstractions (socialism, liberalism, conservatism, etc.). Although the exact path of its travel is not clear, it is known that it began to emerge in political discourse internationally after the First World War and Paris Peace Conference, where both academics and politicians were fully exposed to French politics and its contemporary press. By the 1920s and 1930s, the spectrum had appeared in political circles throughout Europe and North America, including in the language of the self-described socialist and communist organizations — the predecessors of today’s “Left.” In fact, it was through the official Socialist (or Social-Democratic) and Communist parties that terms like “left” and “right,” and the entire ideology of the spectrum were introduced into the thought of the working class[5].

After the Second World War, the “left-right spectrum” was integrated into modern academic and intellectual thought, adopted by bourgeois (and petty-bourgeois) ideology as a framework for political philosophy and discourse throughout society, and designed to dominate the body politic.

The Spectrum in Capitalist Decline

Throughout much of the epoch of capitalism’s decay and decline, “left” and “right” were seen in bourgeois and petty-bourgeois political and intellectual circles as reflections of various struggles, including class struggles, and social development that had taken place over a period of centuries. In 1960, the American sociologist and then-social democrat Seymour Lipset, in his book, Political Man, explained this view through the words of fellow petty-bourgeois academic Robert MacIver, then a professor of Political Science and Sociology at Columbia University:

Must we then accept the relativity of “leftness” and “rightness”? Before doing so we might entertain the thesis that the right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes. The struggle is not the sheer class struggle, and it is fought with other weapons. There is no solidarity of class on either side, nor any assumption that the interests of different classes are wholly contradictory. To some extent men choose sides apart from their class affiliations and frequently their preference between policies is made on grounds other than those of class. Considerable numbers change sides from time to time, according as one policy or the other is in the forefront. There is no clear-cut separation of classes. The different dispositions, philosophies, and fortunes of men determine their responsiveness to one or another appeal. The response of the young differs from the response of the old, of the successful from that of the unsuccessful.

Thus the party-system is the democratic translation of the class struggle. It postulates national unity beneath the divisions of class. It postulates the rationalization of class interests so that these can make appeal on the grounds of their service to or compatibility with the national interest. The logic of the party-system, and more broadly of democracy, repudiates the Marxian doctrine of class and the class struggle, with its sheer dichotomy of social classes and its goal in the total annihilation or suppression of one of the two contending sides.[6]

In citing MacIver, Lipset sought to square the circle of bourgeois ideology, the rejection of class and class struggle as the basis for history and social development, with petty-bourgeois ideology, a belief in classless “pure” democracy that can reflect class interests, but only in the context of the “national interest.” For both MacIver and Lipset, however, this view of the “left-right spectrum” led them to break with their social-democratic origins and embrace conservative capitalism, the state and existing class divisions. Why is this?

The answer lies in MacIver’s translation of “left” and “right,” which itself became the basis for its contemporary usage. In describing the “left-right spectrum” as the “democratic translation of the class struggle,” which alludes to the old French description of “left” and “right” as the “party of movement” and “party of order,” MacIver (and Lipset) builds on the writings of Karl Kautsky and social democracy.

The proletarian-democratic method of conducting the struggle may seem to be a slower affair than the revolutionary period of the bourgeoisie; it is certainly less dramatic and striking, but it also exacts a smaller measure of sacrifice. This may be quite indifferent to the finely endowed literary people who find in Socialism an interesting pastime, but not to those who really carry on the fight.

This so-called peaceful method of the class struggle, which is confined to non-militant methods, Parliamentarism, strikes, demonstrations, the Press, and similar means of pressure, will retain its importance in every country according to the effectiveness of the democratic institutions which prevail there, the degree of political and economic enlightenment, and the self-mastery of the people.

On these grounds, I anticipate that the social revolution of the proletariat will assume quite other forms than that of the bourgeoisie, and that it will be possible to carry it out by peaceful economic, legal and moral means, instead of by physical force, in all places where democracy has been established.[7]

The seeds of the “party-system” (the “left-right spectrum”) as a “democratic translation of the class struggle,” with class interests “rationalized” (read: subordinated) to the “national interest,” can be found in the idea of “democracy” as something that can be abstracted from class society and placed above it[8]. This fits in well with the view of bourgeois democracy as seeing everyone as (formally) “equal.” Critical political and social events aided its development, most notably the Second World War, which saw both the “left” (including Social Democrats and official Communists) and “right” (including many ultra-nationalist radical reactionaries who, only a short time before, were aiding the Axis powers) in the “democratic” capitalist countries come together under the banner of “national unity” and the practice of “national interest:” the defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan, and their plans to re-divide the resources of the world in their favor[9].

The “left” and “right” designations, made within the framework of the “party-system” (that is, capitalism’s democratic form), also suited the exploiting classes by defining the frontiers of that democracy. The inclusion of Social-Democracy and official Communism in the broader “national unity” and “national interest” consolidated the general boundaries of the “left-right spectrum” on that side. (A similar process had already taken place a generation earlier among radical reactionaries, Nativists and fascists[10].) In addition, their “unity” in the context of democracy (i.e., bourgeois democracy), welded the spectrum to the capitalist political order. It gave the ruling classes the intellectual rationale for declaring capitalism and its democracy — in reality, its dictatorship over society — as the “natural order.” More importantly, it allowed for this ideology to be accepted, above all, by the working class — the only class for whom exploitation, wage-slavery and private ownership of the means of production are anything but “natural.”

This was imported into working-class thought via the populist, reformist and sub-reformist theories and policies of those organizations that are dominated by members of the exploiting classes but claim to represent the working class: the Social-Democratic and official Communist parties (later to include all self-described socialist, communist, anarchist, etc., organizations), the trade (business) unions and their bureaucratic officialdoms, self-appointed “community leaders” and their groups, non-governmental organizations, various classless coalitions and “fronts,” and so on. This all had the intended effect of stripping workers of their revolutionary spirit and history, of ideologically and intellectually shackling the working class to its exploiting masters, of convincing our fellow workers that anything that breaks with the existing capitalist order, especially revolutionary action and the overthrow of the ruling classes, is simply not possible.

This also reinforces the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois myth that if you work hard, play by the rules and save your pennies, you can extract yourself from the working class and become a part of the class of idle owners and affluent elite. It does this through convincing workers to “play the game” of capitalist politics, to work against their class interests by subordinating themselves to the exploiters, to even aid their exploiters in their own exploitation by adopting their program — in short, by convincing workers that they are not workers, but “potential future capitalists.” If, after all, capitalism and its democracy are the “natural order,” and “left” and “right” are the “democratic translation” of different classes, then the way to become more accepted among the rulers is to reject the politics of the ruled. Thus, if you’re accepted, then they’ll let you into their circles, their institutions and their public discourse. “Respectability” has its advantages.

The Spectrum as a Weapon

Having defined the boundaries of the spectrum to their satisfaction, the ruling classes now needed to find a way to ensure that people stayed within them. As much as the bourgeoisie (and, later, the petty bourgeoisie) never expected the working class to voluntarily submit to the system of wages and wage-slavery, so they also did not anticipate workers accepting the boundaries and, more importantly, limitations to be placed on political thought by means of the “left-right spectrum” and the associated “party-system.” It was necessary to develop weapons that would be used to protect the rulers’ ideologies from those of the ruled — special instruments to enforce the frontiers of acceptable discourse. Indeed, an entire body of organizations and ideologies — including the spectrum itself — had to be weaponized for the purposes of maintaining and perpetuating the existing system of political and philosophical pathos.

The weapons of the bourgeoisie were rudimentary, but effective: propaganda and political repression. From the preacher’s pulpit and the editor’s pen to the deployment of the police and military, the bourgeoisie’s methods of defending the dominant ideologies of their class were usually as subtle as a jackhammer, but nevertheless sufficient for maintaining a sense of quiet submission. As capitalism developed, however, more sophisticated and effective ways of maintaining the limitations of ideological “respectability” had to be developed. The petty bourgeoisie, which had been brought into a leading position at the head of production and distribution, “perfected” the system of control, transforming it at once into an art and science.

The intellectual weight of the petty bourgeoisie was brought to bear. Propaganda was modernized (“perfected”) through the application of marketing and advertising methods[11]; it was no longer a case of “our system … or else,” but “you need our system, so buy into it.” Police methods of surveillance and espionage were professionalized, with special units established for the singular purpose of carrying out this work[12]. New avenues for the enforcement of the ideological order were found, especially among the organizations of the working class that adapted to the “new normal” of petty-bourgeois professionalism. The growing presence and power of the petty bourgeoisie within the trade unions, social-democratic “workers’ parties,” and other working people’s associations, allowed for the greater transmission of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology into the class — not only in terms of the rapidity of this transmission, but also its breadth and depth[13].

Meanwhile, whole fields of academic thought were created to intellectually justify, rationalize and defend the existence of the spectrum and “party-system,” the tenets of which would then be popularized and passed on to the general public in semi-folksy language as axioms or turns of phrase. The academic discipline of “political science” is the best illustration, having emerged in the last decades of the 19th century to aid in the replacement of a patronage-based civil service bureaucracy by one that was more “professionalized.” “Political science” was extracted from its roots in political philosophy and political economy, and reoriented on a technocratic (i.e., bureaucratic) foundation[14]. In its earlier iterations, “political science” sought to observe the behavior of politicians and public alike toward politics and its institutions, including the “party-system.” Over time, however, this was transformed into ways to manipulate both politicians and the public to adhere more closely to the spectrum and its boundaries.

Maintaining the Center of the Spectrum

We can take as an example the “Median Voter Theorem.” The theorem states[15] that a majority-rule voting system (e.g., a two-party system) will select the outcome most preferred by the median[16] voter. The “pure” form of this theorem works best in a direct democratic vote, such as a referendum, but has also been used by political scientists advising politicians in a representative (capitalist) democracy, such as in the United States. In an ideal form, the theorem is applied in an inter-class manner, weighting both the views of the exploiters and exploited equally. In such a perfectly egalitarian application, the views of the majority of the population, which would often reflect the views of the working class, would always prevail.

However, things are neither equal nor perfect, nor can they be. Democracy under capitalism is merely one face the exploiting classes use as a cover for their dictatorship over all of society. As a dictatorship, capitalist rule relies almost exclusively on the opinions, ideology and preferences of the exploiting classes. Because of this, the real “median voter” that figures into the application of this theorem is consistently within the boundaries of the aforementioned views and choices (and, thus, within the boundaries of the “left-right spectrum”). With this understanding, we can better understand why, for example, the two parties of American capitalism at once stand close to each other on fundamental questions of the “national interest” and stand so far from the views of the idealized inter-class “median voter.” Capitalism’s “technical advisors” also use this as a means of ideologically enforcing the spectrum among all classes, especially the working class. This is done through projecting the boundaries (and the spectrum) of the exploiting classes on to all of society, proclaiming the exploiters’ “median voter” as that of the whole and setting the frontiers of “left” and “right” based on the narrow range of views of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, with the views and historic interests of the working class being labeled as “extremist.”

The Left Wing of Capital and Its “Unity”

Returning to the role of the trade unions, the so-called “workers’ parties,” etc., it is also important to note the role that the organized Left — the self-described organizations of the working class, today more properly titled the Left Wing of Capital — plays in enforcing the boundaries of the spectrum[17]. Much like their bourgeois and petty-bourgeois masters, the Left is compelled, for the sake of achieving an inter-class “mass support” (not “mass support” from the working class, the only really revolutionary class, but from all classes, including sections of the exploiting classes), to aid in the policing and regimenting of the workers.

This is done through two methods: First, the Left accepts the premise that, if society is outside of a revolutionary period, revolutionary demands are unacceptable and “extreme” (or, in the preferred jargon, “ultra-left”). This methodology ensures that revolutionary class consciousness does not occur on a mass scale, since the demands (whether they are called “minimum,” “mass-line” or “transitional”) and positions put forward are achievable under capitalism. Any “revolutionary” class consciousness, if it is to be found at all, is to be limited to among the members of this or that organization. Second, for those elements whom the main organizations of the Left cannot control, there is maintained a corps of various sects (and even cults) along the fringes of the spectrum. The sects are the last line of defense for the frontiers of the “left-right spectrum,” catching those who slip past the large organizations, draining them of their revolutionary optimism and militancy, and spinning them back into the interior of the spectrum — at times, all the way past the Left and Center, and into the Right.

By far, the most utilized weapon of the Left in maintaining the frontiers and corralling revolutionary-minded elements has been the incessant howl of “left unity” — also known as “left regroupment/refoundation/rapprochement” — during which unprincipled Leftists negotiate the creation of an unprincipled “unity” that cracks and shatters under even the lightest hammer blows of the class struggle, all for the sake of increasing numbers that equal less than the sum of their parts. Such appeals to “left unity” prey on the doubts and concerns that many workers have when entering the class struggle, attempting to twist them to their advantage instead of setting out clearly the tasks our class must accomplish to move forward.

Whoever has lived among the workers since the class has entered the field of political struggle, knows the doubts which assail every worker: why do the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, the Trudoviks (populists) fight among themselves? All desire the good of the people. So, for what motives are they fighting each other? Every worker has doubts, but what conclusion must we draw from it? The working class must organize itself as an independent class and oppose all the others. Our petty-bourgeois prejudices must be overcome! Such was the truth and such it remains today.[18]

We have seen numerous such projects rise and fall in the last several decades, too numerous to count when looking on an international scale. In the United States, the two main “left unity” projects are around classical American social democracy, in the form of the Democratic Socialists of America, and around the so-called “Marxist Center,” a localist network based on the latest neo-social-democratic fad to become popular among self-described “Marxist-Leninists” (including some Trotskyists and Maoists)[19]. While it is outside of the scope of this document to give these two projects the proper critique they deserve, it suffices to say that both formations are loyal adherents to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology, and its acceptable, “respectable” frontiers. The thought of these organizations, or even a significant section of them, crossing outside of the “left-right spectrum” and stepping firmly onto the field of proletarian revolution is laughable, even to them, since such a move would mean the wholesale abandoning of the very programs (such as they are) that hold them together.

For those who are not so childish as to believe that unprincipled amalgamations, blocs and other such arrangements are the road to “left unity,” but are still churlish enough to demand that the working class keep itself subordinated to the exploiters and their ideologies through intermediate forms, there is the united front in all of its incarnations: “proletarian,” socialist, popular, anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, entryism (regular or sui generis), coalition, so-called “workers’ government,” etc. Originally sold as a means of winning the “broad masses” to the communist cause, the reality has been the chaining of workers to the exploiters’ camp, the removal of the proletariat from the field of revolutionary action through immediatism and activism, and the amnestying of the enemies of the working class and its revolution. “Critical autonomy,” the right to criticize one’s partners in the united front, is, only in the best of circumstances, preserved. But what does it look like?

Here is how we show our critical autonomy: The chairman of the Comintern, comrade Zinoviev, meets up with the C.C. of the Social Democratic Party [of Germany], and on seeing Ebert, Noske, Scheidemann, he raises his fists, shouting: “Turncoats, traitors of the working class!” They smile kindly and bow down before him. “You’ve murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the German proletariat, we’ll hang you from the gibbet!” They smile at him even more kindly and bow down even lower.

Comrade Zinoviev offers them the united front and proposes to form a workers’ government with communist participation. Thus, he exchanges the gallows for the ministerial armchair. Noske, Ebert, Scheidemann and Co. will go to the workers’ assemblies and say that the CI has given them an amnesty and offered them ministerial posts in place of the gibbet. The condition is, however, that the communists authorize a minister. […] They will say to the whole working class that the communists have recognized the possibility of realizing socialism only by uniting with them and not against them. And they will add: Take a look at these people! They would have hung and buried us before; now they have come to us. So good, we forgive them because they have of course forgiven us. A mutual amnesty.

The Communist International has given the Second International a proof of its political sincerity and it has received a proof of political poverty.[20]

Such is the reality of the united front in any of its forms. And herein lies its dirty secret: the united front of any type is only as “radical” or “revolutionary” as its most reactionary element. Attempting to go beyond that threatens the very existence of the united front itself. Thus, those proselytizing the hardest for this “unity” commit themselves, with great sincerity of purpose, to the acceptable, “respectable” boundaries set by the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie (the “left-right spectrum”), and accepted by their partners: social democracy, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, anarchism, etc., with the proviso that they may “autonomously” scream and cry in the corner. The united front, then, is not a means of breaking workers from the spectrum, but rather a weapon of the Left Wing of Capital to maintain the spectrum and the control of the exploiters.

From a proof of great sincerity, we receive a proof of great bankruptcy.

“Left,” “Right” and Working Class

For certain, the working class as a whole today cannot be defined as occupying either a “left” or “right” position on the spectrum. Bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies predominate within the class, aided on by all manner of political, economic, cultural and social institutions, and thus have created a kind of ideological diaspora among workers. Even the more active and ostensibly “class conscious” elements that gravitate to the Left find themselves faced with the indissoluble contradictions that come with taking up residence within the exploiters’ frontiers. Moreover, when you begin to question those workers standing on the “left” or “right,” you find that there is greater nuance and, in many cases, a substantial amount of thought that lies beneath the one-line answers and slogans used by both sides.

For example, in discussing the trade union question with workers who identify with the “right,” one can often find their reasoning being that the repeated betrayals of the workers’ general interests makes union membership a waste of time and money — a position that parallels views found among many self-described pro-union “left” elements, as well, who curse such betrayals with equal vigor. The question of bureaucracy — state, private, party, union, etc. — is another important example, with studies showing how workers view bureaucracy as not only detrimental to workplace solidarity, as well as workers’ creativity and initiative, but also how it also organizes and institutionalizes the alienation of workers from the product of their collective labor and from their fellow proletarians[21]. Other economic and political views, including so-called “culture war” issues, can also be found to cross “left-right” lines when one moves beyond mere catchphrases.

These facts, taken together, point to two inescapable conclusions: first, that the working class is more than able to grasp and think about these questions at a level above that which both the “left” and “right” think is appropriate for their social position, and, second, that workers are inherently capable of viewing these questions from outside of the frontiers of the “left-right spectrum” itself. In our view, this is due to the collective historic interests of the class existing outside of and being fundamentally incompatible with the exploiters’ spectrum. We can see this when we subject these historic class interests to an attempt to classify them within the confines of that narrow continuum.

Communists understand that the historic class interests of the proletariat neither descended from the heavens, nor were they spawned by any person like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. Those historic interests, which are themselves a product of the collective experience of the class through its interactions and confrontations with other classes (and which are the foundation of communist principles), as well as its place in the capitalist mode of production, developed through centuries of struggle and are the lessons the proletariat has taken away from those clashes. The concrete expressions of these interests, when viewed in a vacuum, are often presented as a “grab-bag” of positions from this or that side of the spectrum — abstracting them from their historic and class context as a conscious attempt to shoehorn working-class politics into the capitalist order.

It is in the historic class interests of the proletariat to have access to, possess and become proficient in the use of firearms and other weapons as a means of collective self-defense. This is not because the working class harbors some fetish for such things, but because we recognize as a class that the exploiting classes and their armed agents, even when they are politically defeated and broken, will not retire peacefully, but would scorch the earth with nuclear weapons rather than cede their power. Similarly, it is in the historic interests of our class to expand the understanding of what constitutes a basic human need in modern society. This is not because workers desire an expansion of bureaucracies and state intervention — far from it! — but because we recognize that humanity as a whole has basic needs that go beyond what capitalist society is willing to meet, such as clean air and water, healthy food, quality housing and education, and so on.

To take this further, it is in the historic class interests of the proletariat to put a permanent end to bureaucracy. This is not the same as the conservative or reactionary “libertarian” perspective of ending “big government,” which really means nothing more than “privatizing” bureaucracy and shifting those powers from state to private capital. Rather, it is because, as noted above, bureaucracy places a brake and stranglehold on the ability of the working class to innovate, engage in self-initiative and be creative in developing solutions to the problems of society. Moreover, bureaucracy is an efficient structure by which the petty bourgeoisie constitutes, or can reconstitute, itself, develop and reproduce as a class, allowing it to continue in its social position at the head of production and distribution even after the bourgeoisie itself has been overthrown by a victorious workers’ revolution (e.g., the USSR).

Finally, it is in the historic class interests of the proletariat to abolish all forms of private ownership of capital, from the largest multinational corporation to the smallest local business and private commercial farm. This is, of course, not a backdoor means of engorging or intensifying the power of a petty-bourgeois bureaucracy, which is the inevitable result of efforts aimed at the “nationalization,” or “state-ization,” of the means of production and distribution. Rather, it is the understanding that private ownership of capital, whether in the hands of an individual, group consortium, shareholders or a state ministry, remains a restraint on the development of human society and human beings themselves.

Beyond and Outside of the “Left-Right Spectrum”

Taking all the elements above into consideration and having surveyed the material reality hitherto shrouded in the mysticism of abstracted abstraction, we are now able to draw appropriate conclusions and lessons. We have seen that the “left-right spectrum” is a product of the rise of capitalism itself, not an eternal system spanning all class societies. We also see how the exploiting classes use the spectrum as a primary framework for the definition and maintenance of its ideologies, defining the boundaries of what they consider acceptable, “respectable” politics. Finally, and most importantly, we have seen how these classes and their agents, including the Left Wing of Capital, weaponize their ideologies via the “left-right spectrum” to prevent ideas and movements, especially proletarian ones, from attaining a mass character and initiating the conscious acts of radical rupture from capitalism, its ideologies, its mode of production and its social relations, and thus from class society itself — i.e., social revolution.

Clearly, the “left-right spectrum” represents the alpha and omega of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology — the manifestation of the understanding that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.”

The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one [or, as in our society today, the two classes the ruling ones — Ed.], therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal law.”[22]

Progressive and conservative, liberal and reactionary, radical left and radical right, “Marxist” sect and fascist gang, and everything in between — they are all expressions of the dominant material (social) relationships grasped as ideas, as each one contains within them the sectional interest of one or another fraction of the exploiting classes.
The proletariat, however, stands apart from this amalgam of exploitative ideology. Having been rendered “propertyless” in the drive to concentrate and develop production, the working class developed in parallel to production itself, both obtaining an increasingly world-historic and universal character. As such, it ceased to be a localized phenomenon. Thus, as the capitalist mode of production grew into the world market and world system of production, so too did the proletariat outgrow its local and sectoral interests, and become a world-historic, universal class with its own consciousness toward its own ends: communism — the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. Thus, being outside of the ruling classes, due to being deprived of property and becoming a universal class, the ideas of the working class are outside of and beyond those of the ruling classes — that is, outside of and beyond the “left-right spectrum” of exploitation.

As communists, we have no interests separate and apart from our class. Rather, what distinguishes us from our fellow workers is our ability to bring forward and express the interests of our entire class, regardless of the divisions and obstacles placed in our path by the exploiting classes. This ability and understanding provides us with the means to see the constrictions placed on our class by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology, and its abstracted abstractions, the highest being the “left-right spectrum.” More to the point, it allows communists to look beyond the spectrum, and to aid the proletariat in charting its revolutionary path beyond the exploiters’ ideology and social system.

To decisively and irreversibly break from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology — to step firmly on to the field of proletarian revolution and not look back — means to discard not only the labels but also the methods and organizations of the “left-right spectrum.” It means to recognize those of the “left” and “right” as the class enemies they are, regardless of how much vague socialist phraseology they throw up as a smokescreen. Most importantly, it means a commitment to set out on a new journey of exploration and discovery that surmounts the walls and barriers of capitalism and opens into the free air of the emancipation of all humanity.


Notes:

[1] Kevin D. Williamson, “‘Socialist’ Is the New ‘Libertarian’,” NationalReview.com, August 7, 2018; https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/08/socialism-fad-a-fixation-on-exciting-words/.

[2] Gauchet, Marcel, “Right and Left,” in Nora, Pierre, and Lawrence D. Kritzman (Eds.), Realms of Memory: Conflicts and Divisions [Columbia University Press, 1997], p. 242-245.

[3] ibid., p. 253.

[4] ibid., p. 260.

[5] It is understandable that the use of the “left-right” division spread through the Socialist and Social-Democratic parties, and thus through the early Communist parties, as it did. The French Socialists were a flagship of the Second International, formally the “Workers’ International,” before the First World War, second in influence only to the German Social-Democrats. Many of the social-democrats and early Communists of the early 20th century were exposed to this abstracted abstraction through articles and meetings, and they carried the embryo of the spectrum with them throughout. There are numerous references to the “left” and “right,” both in absolute (e.g., socialism vs. capitalism) and relative (e.g., Communists vs. Social-Democrats) terms, in the literature of both political trends. Perhaps the most well-known of these is V.I. Lenin’s “Left-Wing” Communism, which was a polemical attack on (and character assassination of) the critical-proletarian communist opposition inside the Third, Communist, International in 1920.

[6] MacIver, Robert, “Organization of Opinion,” Part Three, Chapter VIII, The Web of Government [Macmillan, 1947], p. 216-17; cited in part by Lipset, Seymour M., Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics [Doubleday, 1960], p. 222.

[7]. Kautsky, Karl, Chapter IV: The Effects of Democracy, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat [National Labour Press, 1919]; https://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1918/dictprole/ch04.htm. According to Kautsky, these statements come from earlier articles he wrote on the subject of democracy in the period between 1893 and 1900.

[8] While the “left-right spectrum” had its origins in and can always be considered a product of the development of bourgeois democracy, the spectrum has been effectively adapted throughout the 20th century for use in periods when democracy has been abandoned by the exploiting classes. The most extreme examples are those states where fascism had come to power, and the bogeyman of “Communism” (i.e., workers’ revolution — the most conscious act of radical rupture with bourgeois ideology and its spectrum) was used as a means to regiment and discipline society — not just workers, but also liberal and democratic-minded elements of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie — through coercion and fear. Whereas in bourgeois democracy, such enforcement of the confines of “acceptable” ideological frontiers is handled through social pressure, institutions and co-option (see sections below), during periods of more open and naked bourgeois dictatorship, enforcement is carried out at the point of a bayonet or tip of a gun.

[9] The Social Democrats had, since the First World War, pledged its loyalty to “democracy” and “national interest,” as we saw above. For the official Communists, it was the logical conclusion of its belief in the viability of “socialism in a single country,” first expressed by Stalin in 1924. Twenty years later, the official Communists consummated its pledge in the wake of the 1943 Tehran Conference. Appeals to “national unity” and “national interest” were to be found among all trends within the Stalinist camp. The most humorous example can be found in the writings related to the 1944 dissolution of the Communist Party of America and formation of the Communist Political Association, where both the liquidators, led by Earl Browder, and the anti-liquidators, led by William Z. Foster (with help from Stalin and French CP leader Jacques Duclos), tripped over each other to demonstrate their loyalty to the slogans of “national unity” and “national interest” (as well as “patriotism!”).

[10] The rise to power of the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party and the associated growth of the Ku Klux Klan, the connections between reactionary capitalists throughout the capitalist Great Powers and Mussolini’s Fascists, and the organizational genesis of fascist groups inside conservative political parties are but three examples of how the boundaries of the “right” were defined in the period after the First World War.

[11] The relationship between marketing and propaganda has been explained numerous times in both academic and political outlets, journals, books and seminars. Thus, it is somewhat difficult to pick a specific piece as the “best reference” on the subject. For a very short overview of the relationship between the two, see “A Brief History of Political Propaganda and Marketing,” a two-part essay by Caio Franco Mitidiero of the Rome Business School. An excellent in-depth study of political marketing in electoral campaigns during the 1980s can be found in Nicholas Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s book, The Phenomenon of Political Marketing [Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1990].

[12] The first formal police departments did not appear in the United States until the mid-19th century, with Boston being the first in 1838. A decade later, Boston also established the first detective bureau directly affiliated to the police. It would not be until the 1880s and 1890s, especially in the wake of the Chicago Haymarket Police Riot of 1886 and growing labor militancy, that police departments (and, in turn, detective bureaus) would replace or supplement the older law enforcement systems that existed since colonial times. The first specialized police surveillance arm would emerge in New York City in 1904 as the “Italian Squad,” which was designed to keep track of various “undesirable” elements in the Italian immigrant community. This body, and others like it set up in larger U.S. cities, became the basis for the infamous “red squads” following the First World War. Initially charged with surveillance and espionage of labor unions and radical leftists (socialists, communists, anarchists, etc.), their work on behalf of the state was expanded in the 1940s and 1950s to include civil rights workers, and in the 1960s to the antiwar, women’s rights and environmentalist groups. This work was coordinated on a national level through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, itself established in 1908 as a result of the assassination of President William McKinley by an anarchist in 1901, and its Counter-Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. But while COINTELPRO met a formally ignominious end in the mid-1970s, the local “red squads” continued to function and do so to this day, having received a boost from post-9/11 “anti-terrorism” laws and funding.

[13] For more about the effects of the petty bourgeoisie on the social-democratic movement of the late 19th century, both the parties and the trade unions, see, “Letter to the Internationalist Communist Tendency,” this issue.

[14] Credit for this transformation of political science from the theoretical study of political history to the basis of “scientific management” of capitalism belongs primarily to Charles E. Merriam, founder of the “Chicago School” and lifelong intellectual in the service of the exploiting classes. His establishment of the “behavioralist” school of political science, which soon became the dominant method, drained virtually all theoretical and historical content from the field, replacing it with a sterile gathering and manipulation of “statistics” (an area of study in which Merriam had no experience) in order to quantify why people believe in and act in certain ways in relation to politics — divorced from questions of history, political theory, material conditions and class. In this sense, Merriam was also responsible for establishing how political science serves as a shaper and guardian of the “left-right spectrum,” insofar as he saw the role of the political scientist as that of a “technical advisor” to capitalist rule. Merriam was also responsible for introducing elements of psychology into the lexicon of political science.

We would be remiss if we did not also talk about Merriam’s role in American and world politics. During the First World War, Merriam served as a member of the U.S. government’s Committee on Public Information, a pro-war propaganda arm responsible for rallying the population in favor of the war and the repression of antiwar sentiment. In the summer of 1918, Merriam became U.S. High Commissioner for Public Information in Italy, where he used a large portion of the funds at his disposal to generate propaganda against the Socialist and Communist parties of Italy. It is also believed that he used money from the Rockefeller Foundation earmarked for the USCPI to fund and support Benito Mussolini’s Fascists. In 1934, Merriam once again rendered service to reaction by writing an essay, The Making of Citizens, which praised the way that Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia utilized experts in the fields of civic education, public policy and shaping public opinion (i.e., propaganda) to strengthen “the sense of national purpose and achieve policy goals.”

[15] Holcombe, Randall G., Public Sector Economics [Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006], p. 155.

[16] The median is the number in the middle of a set; it is not the same as the mean, or average. For example, if 10 people were asked to choose how what percentage the government should raise the minimum wage, between 10 and 50 percent, and the result of the poll was that six people said 50 percent, two said 30 percent and two said 10 percent, the median would be 50 percent. (The number set would be written out as “10,10,30,30,50,50,50,50,50,50.” Since the two middle numbers in this series would both be 50, the math used — (50 + 50) / 2 — would yield a median of 50. Thus, the median voter in this case will have chosen a 50-percent increase.)

[17] There are comparable organizations on the organized Right that play the same role as the Left for their end of the spectrum. But as the boundaries of the “left-right spectrum” shift, so also does the composition and “acceptable” views of those organizations.

[18] Myasnikov, Gavriil, “Regarding the Theses of the Executive of the Communist International,” Manifesto of the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), February 1923 [International Review, 2010-2011]; https://www.marxists.org/archive/miasnikov/1923/manifesto-workers-group/ch06.htm.

[19] The “fad” referred to here is Neo-Kautskyism, which is a so-called “rediscovery” of the similarities between the political views of Kautsky (discussed above) and V.I. Lenin. While ostensibly designed to highlight both the radicalism of Kautsky and the democratism of Lenin, this neo-Kautskyist “resurrection” of Lenin only brings into sharp focus the opportunism Lenin held on many key questions, most notably the state, transforming him into a more acceptable radical-democratic figure who only supported such things as workers’ control and workers’ councils because of the specific conditions of Russia in 1917, and not because they were vital to the victory of the workers’ revolution. In other words, neo-Kautskyism is designed to turn Lenin’s opportunist contradictions into a program that legitimizes social-pacifist and “moderate” social democracy by linking it directly to the legacy of Bolshevism.

[20] Myasnikov, op. cit.

[21] Formal literature on the views of the working class as regards the bureaucracy are very few, with the bulk of the vacuum thus created filled with essays, papers and pamphlets that are long on theory and, sometimes, rhetoric, but short on actual data. Those that do exist are generally oriented toward giving advice to managers and owners in their respective industries. Nevertheless, they do provide some interesting and relatively consistent results about how workers view bureaucracy. See Mao Hsiao-Yen, Chen Chien-Yu, and Hsieh Ting-Hua, “The relationship between bureaucracy and workplace friendship,” Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, Vol. 37, No. 2 (2009), p. 255–266; Raub, Steffen, “Does bureaucracy kill individual initiative? The impact of structure on organizational citizenship behavior in the hospitality industry,” International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2008), p. 179–186; and, Stamper, Christina and Van Dyne, Linda, “Work status and organizational citizenship behavior: a field study of restaurant employees,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 5 (2001), p. 517-536.

[22] Marx, Karl, “The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas: How the Hegelian Conception of the Domination of the Spirit in History Arose,” The German Ideology, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 5 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 59.

Leave a Reply

Current Issue

Class Line No. 1 — Summer-Autumn 2019

 

Previous Issues

Menu coming soon.

 

Purchase a Copy

 

 

Order yourself a copy of the latest issue of Class Line today. Only US$4.95 online (plus shipping) and on newsstands. You can order by clicking this link.

 

 

Subscribe for Posts and Updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.