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THE WORKERS’ GROUP is a voluntary political union of workers that seeks to develop and deepen communist theory in order to aid in the emergence of a genuinely revolutionary working-class political movement, a movement that is a viable alternative to the parties and organizations of the exploiting and oppressing classes: the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. By “viable alternative,” we do not mean a competitor on the battlefield of capitalism’s choosing (e.g., elections), but rather a guide and political leadership in the battle to defeat and overthrow the ruling classes, and to establish a workers’ republic.

The Workers’ Group is not itself a party or even a pre-party formation at this time. Rather, we are a working body — a fraction — within our class and its movement that hopes to become a key element in the formation of a new proletarian communist party.

A central part of our work involves active intervention in the struggles of the working class, even if those struggles are limited in scope and scale. Our task in these struggles is to advocate and fight for the independence and self-activity of our fellow workers, for a clear and irreversible break from the exploiting and oppressing classes, and all of the myriad of organizations, parties and movements led by them — including those of the Left, which place themselves at the flank of the capitalist order with the aim of keeping workers from tearing themselves away from it.

Hand-in-hand with this work is the introduction of the history and lessons of the international working-class movement, past and present, to current and future generations of workers, as well as helping our fellow proletarians in developing communist theory, and the principles of how to organize and administer the future classless, communist society.

Historical Political Foundations

The Workers’ Group finds its political foundations in the diverse movement of proletarian communists who emerged in the wake of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. The October Revolution, which represents the historical high-water mark of the international working-class movement, was, at the same time, rife with contradictions that both united and divided the worldwide revolutionary workers’ movement throughout the 20th century.

The proletarian communist movement first appeared in three countries where the class struggle had reached its highest intensity — Russia, Germany and Italy — and was therefore capable of looking more soberly and critically at the contradictions that not only arose out of the new Soviet Republic, but also at the contradictions of the new epoch of capitalism that had just gripped the world in four years of barbaric war. In doing so, they lived up to the finest traditions set down by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; in doing so, they were attacked and persecuted by their “comrades.”

Marx once wrote: “[P]roletarian revolutions … constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts.” The proletarian communists (slurred as “Left Communists” by their petty-bourgeois opportunist opponents, known today as “Marxist-Leninists,” “anti-revisionists,” Maoists or Trotskyists) fought to uphold this principled act, expressing their criticisms of the policies of the Soviet Republic, the Russian Communist Party and the Communist International, all while doing their duty to protect and defend the international revolutionary (communist) workers’ movement, and its gains in Russia and other countries where workers briefly held state power. In return for their service to the international revolution, they were thrown out of the “official” Communist movement, slandered as both “ultra-left” and counterrevolutionary” by their opponents, surveilled by the state, imprisoned, exiled and assassinated.

Nevertheless, the proletarian communist movement survived and continues to exist today. The Workers’ Group looks to elements of the Russian, German, Italian and French proletarian communists — centrally the Russian proletarian communists around the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), beginning in 1922 — as its inspiration and political bedrock. At the same time, we recognize that capitalist society has not frozen in place, and that we must move forward. That is why the development and deepening of communist theory, based on the lessons of the class struggle, is at the core of our organization.

Fundamental Political Positions

Because the Workers’ Group is new, and has set itself the task of developing and deepening communist theory, we do not feel it would be right or proper to approach our class and movement with a set of finished, final political principles — to say nothing about a full program. However, we do recognize the need for fundamental positions that can serve both as a basis for political unity of the Group and as a starting point for its theoretical work.

The following positions represent the beginning, based on the lessons of history and theoretical work that has been already accomplished. Over time, these positions are likely to develop, evolve and possibly even change, based on our work and discussion among others in the proletarian communist camp. In due course, they may develop into a series of finished principles and program that can fully stand up to the tests of history and the class struggle (until such a time as a new period opens that demands new development). Until then, the Workers’ Group stands on these political positions:

  1. Capitalism, as a social system, cannot be reformed in any meaningful way to benefit the exploited and oppressed, and no part of the system itself can be “captured” and wielded by the proletariat for its own ends. Capitalism came into existence through both the forcible exclusion of the working masses from ownership of the means of production and distribution, and the accumulation and concentration of those means into the hands of a small class of owners, the bourgeoisie. The maintenance of this system is accomplished through both the exploitation of the proletariat and the development of state institutions designed to protect and defend the exploiting classes — the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie — and their respective class interests. Like all previous social systems, capitalism has its own epochs of growth (ascendancy), maturity and decay (decline). While in its growth and maturity, reforms could be accomplished that benefited workers, as capitalism could afford such bribes; in capitalism’s decline, the ability to provide such payouts to sections of the working class as a means to stave off revolution have become far too expensive. The result is a greater reliance on the state and its mercenary bands to keep the proletariat repressed and at bey.
  2. The proletariat is the only really revolutionary class, in all countries throughout the world, and cannot rely on or entrust any other class, section of or even individual from another class to accomplish its historic tasks. The development of capitalism simplified the system of social (class) relations, consolidating the majority of population into two main classes: the bourgeoisie, who own almost all of the means of production and directly profit from the commodities they produce and sell, and the proletariat, who own nothing but their ability to work (their labor-power) and are forced to sell that as a commodity in exchange for the means of survival and creation of the next generation of proletarians. Positioned between the two is the petty bourgeoisie, originally a pre-capitalist formation of artisans, peasants and craftsmen, but transformed by capitalism’s growth into a class of managers, bureaucrats, cops, small business owners, independent professionals, judicial parasites, and so on. Even individuals from these classes cannot break from their social consciousness without a definitive and irreversible break from their social being, which is a years-long process.
  3. Capitalism can only be defeated and overthrown by the working class, organized into its own independent party and organs of rule, and guided by a program that has as its central task the seizure of power and formation of a workers’ republic, based on the rule of workers’ councils, committees and assemblies. Since the beginning of the 20th century, we have been in the epoch of decay and decline, known as imperialism. Imperialism is not a mere set of policies or category of nation-states within capitalism; it is an epoch where the countries and peoples of the entire world are interconnected and interdependent through world production and the world market, where the accumulation and expansion of capital are only really possible through war, and where exit from this world order is only possible through workers’ revolution and the overthrow of the exploiting classes. Unlike previous social systems, where all classes were drawn together against the old order and, in their actions, unconsciously reflected the program of the new ruling classes, the overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat is a conscious act that requires a high level of organization and awareness of the tasks that lie ahead.
  4. All wars launched by capitalism are imperialist adventures — wars between different factions or cartels of the exploiting classes to retain or to advance their positions within world capitalism. Our chief task under such conditions is to aid in the organizing of the defeat of “our own” bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. Because imperialism is not a policy, but capitalism itself in decline, all wars of conquest, “national dignity” or other such ideologies of the exploiting classes are imperialist wars. This is true even after one or another Great Power intervenes in the conflict. At all times, communists carry on their internationalist responsibility by organizing for mass working-class action to stop “our own” exploiting classes’ ability to make war, thus precipitating its defeat (even if that results in a victory for the other side). This is different from advocating military victory or defense, in that doing so also constitutes a de facto responsibility for their chosen side’s actions, whether such advocates like it or not.
  5. In the epoch of imperialist decline and decay, when the petty bourgeoisie has been allowed to carry the construction of the capitalist state and system to its logical conclusions, all classes outside the proletariat stand as a single reactionary mass. Capitalism’s entry into the epoch of decay and decline, the epoch of imperialism, began a series of qualitative transformations in all areas of society. The most sweeping of these transformations was in the relationship among classes, especially the role of the petty bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie transformed them from an unstable, politically heterogeneous semi-class into a relatively stable and ideologically consistent class, based on their growing need for a layer of administrators, organizers and protectors as production grew in scope and scale. In exchange for agreeing to be a partner of the bourgeoisie at the head of production (an arrangement that allowed the bourgeoisie to retreat further from direct interaction with the proletariat and society), the petty bourgeoisie was allowed to carry the construction of the capitalist state and society to its logical conclusions, most notably through the introduction of both state-capitalist and welfare-state measures. It took time for the transformation to take place in all countries of the world, but by the latter part of the 20th century, this process had been completed.
  6. Alliances, coalitions and “united fronts” with the trade (business) union officials, the leaders of so-called “workers’ parties” and the “Left” — i.e., the left wing of capitalism — are unacceptable, as it would mean the subordination of the practical communist program to that of petty-bourgeois populism. The new social partnership between the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie is not an amicable one, but rather a marriage of convenience. Indeed, a result of the stabilization of the petty bourgeoisie was an intensification of its fear and hatred of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat — the difference being that, as a stabilized class, it was no longer intellectually subordinate, and could bring its views and experiences together to coalesce into relatively independent ideological underpinnings within broader bourgeois ideology, as it could in the 19th century, but on a higher level. The ongoing antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie operate according to the rules of the class struggle — sometimes open, sometimes hidden, but always present. In their conflicts, the exploiting classes will often use the working class as a cudgel, battering ram or even a Trojan horse to defeat their opponent. This is accomplished through the ideology of populism. Bourgeois populism rallies the working class against technocracy, bureaucracy and the “burden” of taxation, while petty-bourgeois populism takes aim at aristocratic tendencies, “unfair” economic policies and social inequality. The latter will even use vague socialist phraseology as a mask to deceive workers into supporting their struggle. It is all designed to serve the needs of one or another of the exploiting classes, and to keep the proletariat from developing independently and using their social power to fulfill their own class interests.
  7. The old organizations of the proletariat, such as trade unions, “labor parties” and the like, which are led and controlled by the petty bourgeoisie, are a part of the capitalist order and represent a fifth column in the broader working-class movement. Communists are not and must not allow themselves to be seen as a part of the “Left” by the proletariat, lest it be discredited in their eyes. The transformation of social relations in the epoch of decay and the elevation of the petty bourgeoisie to a partner in reactionary capitalist rule has had severe consequences on the material conditions upon which much of the old socialist and communist programs rested. One of the key roles the petty bourgeoisie fills is that of ideological gatekeeper and policeman for the bourgeoisie. This is seen clearly through their actions in both the trade (business) unions and the ostensible political organizations of the class. Unions, which were once the first line of defense for the proletariat in its economic struggle, became integrated into the capitalist order and reorganized into a de facto police force among workers, crushing those tendencies of independent working-class activity it cannot contain, co-opt or divert. The mass social-democratic and labor parties that once represented (albeit in a distorted way) the interests of the working class on the political battlefield are now sheepdogs meant to corral the proletariat within the capitalist electoral system. The same can be said about the self-described socialist, communist and Marxist organizations of the “Left” that allow bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements as members and leaders; they, too, have been integrated into the capitalist order and exist to manage and tamp down the independent and revolutionary aspirations of the proletariat. Indeed, virtually every movement initiated by these organizations that compose the left wing of capital acts as a shackle on the ankle of workers.
  8. The petty bourgeoisie, through its control of the institutions of the old organizations of the proletariat, is the primary and immediate transmission belt of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology into the working class. It is through the petty bourgeoisie, by virtue of the position that sections of that class hold in ostensible “workers’ organizations” and “community advocacy groups,” as well as through the media, organized religion, the political system, etc., that much of the ideology of the exploiting classes is transmitted into the proletariat. Through ideological tools like patriotism and “American exceptionalism,” for example, the petty bourgeoisie swindles the working class (or, at least, sections of it) into supporting the exploiting classes’ “democracy” and participating in their elections on their terms and at the expense of any other form of political activity. Moreover, the petty bourgeoisie uses the ugliness of capitalist political intrigue to reinforce the view that only “professional” — i.e., petty-bourgeois — politicians and businessmen should run for and hold political office. Similar arguments are made in every facet of society, from politics, law and health to business, science, academia and culture. This means workers subordinating their own class interests to those of the “professionals” and abdicating their own independence and education by promoting illusions that such subordination places the exploited on an equal footing with their exploiters.
  9. The path forward for the proletariat, and for its communist party, is created through its own self-organization and action, in all areas of society, with the goal of an all-encompassing revolutionary workers’ movement that can carry out a workers’ communist revolution. The running thread through all of the above experiences and lessons is that a core reactionary ideological component the exploiting classes seek to reproduce in the working class is a comprehensive lack of confidence in its ability to be an independent subject and actor in society. We see this in the justifications used for the maintenance of bureaucracy, the codification of class-based divisions of labor, reliance on and deference to “professionals” and “experts,” dependence on the state and government, the promoting of bribes meant to stop independent workers’ action as “reforms,” “social gains” and “progress,” and so on. It also takes on special forms among more radical left-wing elements, such as terrorism, guerrillaism, conspiracy and reliance on coalitions and various types of “fronts” that encompass the petty bourgeoisie and even the bourgeoisie, including “anti-imperialist,” “anti-fascist” and other “united” formations. Communists reject and advocate against any subordination of the interests of the working class in the name of “unity” across class lines — whether it is for leading a single event, sharing membership in a common organization or anything in between. We reject attempts at “labor unity” under the direction of the unions, which are led by petty-bourgeois bureaucrats and officials, and instead advocate for the organization of workers’ assemblies, committees and councils with elected and recallable delegates. This means discarding the organizations of the left wing of capital and seeing them as the fifth column in the working class that they are. It means repudiating the illusion of bourgeois elections, the fig leaf of “democracy,” which is the brutal dictatorship of the exploiting classes. It means fighting against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology, and working for the greatest possible revolutionary unity of the proletariat. It means relying on the historic mission and revolutionary character of the proletariat, its collective social power, and its ability to directly confront and defeat the exploiting classes in the battle for the future of all humanity.
  10. The former USSR and Eastern European “people’s democracies” were not, and China, Cuba, North Korea, etc., are not, “socialist” or “communist,” nor were or are they “workers’ states” of one type or another. Rather, they were or are bureaucratic petty-bourgeois regimes sitting atop state-capitalist economies. The 1917 October Revolution in Russia began as a genuine attempt by the proletariat and poor peasantry to break from the world capitalist order and begin on the path toward communism. Its initial success was accompanied by a revolutionary wave that crisscrossed the globe for the next six years. However, a combination of theoretical errors by the Bolsheviks, unprincipled “compromises” made during the Civil War and the effects of failed revolutions, particularly in Germany, unraveled and overthrew proletarian power in the name of protecting the “proletarian dictatorship.” By the end of 1920, all of the elements essential for the transition from capitalism to communism were abolished and suppressed; by the summer of 1921, the Bolshevik Party itself was turned into an instrument of repression against the working class. What remained was a counterrevolutionary petty-bourgeois bureaucratic state presiding over a state-capitalist economy. When the so-called “people’s democracies” and “people’s republics” were established after the Second World War, it was this final product they duplicated. Since the collapse of the USSR and the “people’s democracies,” the few remaining such states have sought to further re-integrate themselves into the world capitalist order, with one, China, becoming the newest Great Power.
  11. The battle against superoppression and superexploitation is an integral task of the class struggle that must be organized and fought by communists and the revolutionary workers’ political movement as a whole. The bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie use ideological tools like nationalism, national chauvinism, revanchism, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia/heterosexism, transphobia/cisgenderism, ageism, ableism, etc., to divide, manipulate and confuse the proletariat enough to prevent a fighting unity against such ideology — to say nothing of capitalism itself — on any mass scale. It is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology. It is used as much on a global scale as it is against local communities of workers, and it is used by the exploiting classes of both the oppressors and the oppressed to maintain their social positions at the expense of the exploited and oppressed. Communists oppose all tendencies that seek to prevent, shatter or suppress the unity of the proletariat with any part of this reactionary tool, regardless of whether it is used by the exploiters from the oppressor or the oppressed. We consider the fight for unity against the use of this powerful ideological weapon a central part of the workers’ class struggle. Special attention must be given to the use of nationalism and national chauvinism by the exploiters from the oppressed communities, especially through calls for “community control” or “self-determination,” which, in addition to being counterposed to the demands of superoppressed workers (and supported by their class brethren of the Left), are little more than cynical maneuvers meant to renegotiate their share of the superexploitation pie to their benefit.
  12. Immigration brings the proletarians of all countries closer together, allowing for a greater fighting unity against all attempts to superexploit foreign-born workers and pit them against their fellow, “native” workers. The epoch of imperialism, capitalism in its decline and decay, with its system of world production and the world market, has only reaffirmed the view that the proletariat has no “homeland” or country it can truly call its own. Immigration is a natural byproduct of the concentration and mobility of capital and world production, the inequality of conditions of life within and between countries, and the horrors of war that fuel capitalist society’s growth. As a result, working-class immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, through their interactions with “native” workers, enrich the experience of all of the proletariat, add to its collective knowledge of the class struggle and raise its consciousness about what is happening in the world around them — all three things the exploiting classes want to prevent. So, they take a dual approach: on the one hand, isolating and marginalizing immigrant workers in their jobs and communities as much as possible; on the other hand, using a strict immigration control regime to make sure there are just enough foreign-born workers to continue production at needed levels. Communists oppose capitalism’s restrictions on immigration, just as we oppose the exploiting classes’ arbitrary restrictions on and sabotage of production in the name of “profitability” and “staying competitive.” Further, we believe that only through united working-class action, involving both foreign-born and “native” workers, and crossing international borders, can our class stop the efforts of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie to superexploit immigrant workers and drive down the conditions of life of all proletarians.
  13. The emancipation of the proletariat must and can only be conquered by the workers themselves, through their own conscious, international and internationalist movement, not through a self-seeking party hungry for power and “leading” workers like cattle to the slaughter. It is our overarching task as communists to establish the subjective conditions where a worldwide proletarian revolution can take place. This starts with the revival of the global proletarian communist movement. Such work requires: first, ongoing theoretical and programmatic clarification of historic and current material conditions, as well as the development of the international working-class movement, past and present, and of its methods and goals; second, organized political intervention at all levels, especially the international level, to help build independent workers’ action and grow the movement, based on clear principles and a program derived from the work of the first point; third, unity of genuine proletarian communists to found an international proletarian communist party with well-organized sections composed of proletarians in every country. This party would be a part of the most forward-looking and organized elements of the working class, i.e., its vanguard. The proletarian communist party does not have for itself the goals of “organizing” (read: managing) the proletariat or taking power as the party, but rather it has the goal of providing a political leadership that the working class can take and make their own, and march forward. Any self-described “socialist,” “Marxist” or “communist” who would seek to lead like a Moses into a “revolutionary future” can just as easily (and deceptively) lead those same workers out of it.
  14. Communist theory and philosophy — the methodology of Marxism — is not a finished “science,” but a means of analyzing and understanding the many changes that take place in this world, including those not seen in the days of Marx or Engels, and it is our responsibility to take up this work and move forward. Communist theory is not holy writ to be held up by learned academics and reified “theoreticians” as the next Word of God, but rather it is the means by which all proletarians can understand the world around them and develop answers to the questions that vex us as a class. It is meant to be honestly debated, rooted in real-world experience and carried out with an eye toward moving forward toward our own self-liberation. For the communists of the Workers’ Group, part of our central activity will be engaging in discussion and exploration of those parts of the methodology of Marxism that have to be approached anew or were inadequately approached in the past. This includes greater in-depth discussion about the changes in class relations in the epoch of imperialism, but also other historical questions, such as the role of bureaucracy and institutions in the period of the transition from capitalism to communism, and the broader economic question of the crisis of accumulation in the decline and decay of capitalism on a global-historic scale.
Basic Organizational Guidelines

The Workers’ Group is organized into committees and specialized bodies, currently administered by a Provisional Organizing Bureau in lieu of a Central Committee. Any worker who accepts the fundamental political positions and expanded organizational guidelines, supports the Group both financially and by participation in one of its committees or bodies, publicly advocates for and defends the organization, abides by the decisions collectively reached and agreed upon by the Group as a whole or by one of its bodies, and keeps all information deemed secret as such, is welcome to apply for membership.

Conventions of the Workers’ Group, our highest decision-making body, are held by request of a majority of local committees. The Convention sets the political and organizational tasks for the Group for the immediate future. Conventions elect the Central Committee, ratify major decisions made by the C.C. and other Group organizations previously, and insure the Group is in the best shape for the coming period. The Central Committee coordinates the work of the Group between Conventions, edits the Group’s main publications, arbitrates disputes between committees, and oversees the organization’s treasury.

All members have the undisputed right to express their views and have them circulated throughout the entirety of the Group, while at the same time it is expected that all members will unite around the decisions made by Group committees and bodies, and work together to carry them out to the best of our collective capability. We understand that, given the small and fractious character of the proletarian communist movement at this time, differing shades of opinion based on different trends of the movement are bound to appear within the Group.

Because of the importance of building a politically and organizationally independent proletarian communist movement, the Workers’ Group does not allow its members to also be a part of other self-described socialist, Marxist or communist organizations that stand outside of this internationalist camp.

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.

On Their Document, ‘On the Future International’ and a Contribution to the Discussion of Its Foundations

Comrades,

It is with great interest that we read your document, “On the Future International.” For a new organization like ours, your document raises many important points that we believe must be considered by proletarian communists in order to develop a correct approach to unfolding events in the class struggle. Like you, we believe that, while the timing might seem, on the surface, to be somewhat premature, there is a growing segment of the working class that is beginning to ask fundamental questions about the capitalist system, who are starting to “recognize the stagnation, if not bankruptcy, of the system.” Though contradictory and hesitant in its first steps, this trend appears to be taking hold in expanding sections of the class, albeit in different forms.

It is at this point where many organizations and currents would simply default to their standard declarations of their desire to “intervene in” or “intersect” such segments. They would unfurl their banners and slogans for all to see, claiming they have all the answers, while quietly imploring the workers to kindly ignore the skeletons of history behind them. Thus, we were relieved and rather pleased to see the emphasis in your document on the need to “re-acquire” (we would say, “acquire and re-acquire”) the “experience of past workers struggles.” In our view, there is much from the experiences of the international proletariat in the 19th and 20th centuries that remains unanswered or unresolved. Some of these are great in size and scope, while others are not. Nevertheless, there is a need to place them on the table for discussion and resolution.

Much of what you have thus far raised in the document we can agree with, given the relatively succinct treatment each point was given. It is an excellent start for a broader discussion on the epoch and the tasks of proletarian communists, since it not only establishes a principled framework but also allows enough room for discussion of specific points of possible contention. Thus, we do not find it necessary to repeat what are shared views, minus this or that quibble. Any potential misunderstandings can be addressed in the course of future political and theoretical discussions. But there are also points that, in our view, require a much fuller discussion in order to be able to confront the period ahead. We feel the need to touch on a couple of these points so that the discussion can move forward in a clear and conscious manner. Bear in mind that we are working on the drafts of more comprehensive documents on these questions, so what we are offering here is a healthy summary of our research and analysis of these points thus far.

From our perspective, the historic program of proletarian communism (also called Left Communism) has been vindicated by the events of the last century. From the end of the Soviet Union and its “people’s democracies” to the role of the trade (business) unions and so-called “labor” parties, to the failures of frontism (“united,” “popular” and everything in between) and “antifascism,” as well as classless “national liberation” and “anti-imperialism,” the program of proletarian communism remains the only really revolutionary guide to action. Our Workers’ Group’s existence is, in one small way, a confirmation of that; the histories of our founding members show a long and hard-fought development away from the ideologies of the left wing of capital, which is thoroughly dominated by the petty bourgeoisie, toward a genuine proletarian communist perspective.

For us, the questions of class and social relations are central, since they give definition to all other relations in society. As we engaged with proletarian communist politics and began to study the historic positions of the Russian, German/Dutch and Italian Lefts, we recognized that there was a common thread in the positions of the movement and the work we have been doing on the development of class relations since the time of Marx. That is, the transformation of the petty bourgeoisie from its pre-capitalist to capitalist character during capitalism’s ascendancy — from a class of artisans, peasants and small traders to a class of “bailiffs, overlookers and shopmen”[1] — played a key role, not only in the management of production, but also in the management of the producers. As capitalism entered the epoch of imperialist decline, the petty bourgeoisie was elevated to a position at the head of production to act as its organizers and administrators.

This was a development that had been initially analyzed by both Marx and Engels as early as the Communist Manifesto, but really took form after the formation of the International Working Men’s Association in 1864. As you said in your document, the International was seen by Marx and Engels as “their greatest achievement,” organizationally speaking, at the time of its formation. Politically, however, the greatest achievement was the impending publication of the three-volume book, Capital. It is here that Marx (and also, in comments throughout volumes 2 and 3, Engels) explains in greater detail how the capitalist mode of production works and develops. It is here that some of his thoughts from the Manifesto are reconsidered and given greater substance.
In writing about the development of cooperative, large-scale production, Marx emphasizes the changes necessary under capitalism for the effective functioning of a large body of laborers:

“As cooperation extends its scale, this despotism takes forms peculiar to itself. Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour so soon as his capital has reached that minimum amount with which capitalist production, as such, begins, so now, he hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workmen, and groups of workmen, to a special kind of wage labourer. An industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist. The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function. When comparing the mode of production of isolated peasants and artisans with production by slave labour, the political economist counts this labour of superintendence among the faux frais [incidentals — Eds.] of production.”[2]

In the mid-19th century, during the ascendancy of capitalism, the “work of supervision” could indeed be handled by “a special kind of wage labourer,” since most of the professional tasks of what we consider management today were taken on by the capitalist and his partners, with the assistance of a corps of clerks and other hired independent professionals to deal with correspondence, purchasing and billing. But with the transition to the joint-stock company (i.e., corporation), management itself was necessarily transformed — Marx summed this up as the “[t]ransformation of the actually functioning capitalist into a mere manager, administrator of other people’s capital, and of the owner of capital into a mere owner, a mere money-capitalist.”[3]

In a note by Engels in this section, he points out that, since the time when Marx wrote the manuscript for this volume (circa 1867), new formations within the capitalist mode of production had arisen, which were, “the second and third degree of stock companies:”[4] trusts and monopolies. With these new capitalist enterprises, the processes at work in the initial joint-stock companies were expanded, with new developments that could only be glimpsed in the most basic forms. Thus, when Marx spoke of the development of these corporations as “the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself, and hence a self-dissolving contradiction,” the key point he made along with that observation was:

“It establishes a monopoly in certain spheres and thereby requires state interference. It reproduces a new financial aristocracy, a new variety of parasites in the shape of promoters, speculators and simply nominal directors; a whole system of swindling and cheating by means of corporation promotion, stock issuance, and stock speculation. It is private production without the control of private property.”[5]

In the new capitalist enterprises, especially those of “the second and third degree,” we can see, through Marx and Engels’ logic, what this meant for the system of social (class) relations. With the separation of the functioning-capitalist-as-manager from the money-capitalist-as-owner, with property replaced by shares of stock that are vulnerable to speculation and manipulation on the market, with single management of an individual enterprise replaced by the single management of either a large proportion or the entirety of a national industry (and, in today’s society, of global industry), and with the material conditions generating not only the need for a “new variety of parasites,” but also a new, expanded and reliable corps of “officers and sergeants” for a national (and, today, international) industrial army, the need was clear: the formation of a stabilized and self-reproducing class of “organizers of exploitation” (Serge), responsible for the entire functioning of capitalist production, nationally and globally, from the lowest floors of the workplace to the highest offices and boardrooms in their world headquarters, as well as to the trading pits of the stock market, where “the conversion to the form of stock still remains ensnared in the trammels of capitalism.”[6]

Engels, writing in Anti-Dühring, expressed the same understanding in more popular language:

“If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies and state property shows how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist are now performed by salaried employees. The capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first the capitalist mode of production forces out the workers. Now it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.”[7]

The pointing out that those who are performing the “social functions of the capitalist” in a joint-stock company (corporation) are “salaried employees,” as opposed to merely “a special kind of wage labourer,” is important. This is not because they receive salaries per se, but because of how those salaries are derived. Unlike the bourgeois owner, the manager possesses no capital and cannot receive his or her share of the surplus value in the form of profit; rather, the manager receives their share in the form of a definite salary. Similarly, unlike the proletarian, the manager is not merely compensated for their labor, with the surplus left in the hands of the bourgeoisie; rather, the manager receives compensation derived from surplus value, with only a portion of it representing the labor actually performed. Moreover, the salary of the manager, whether derived from labor or from surplus value, is itself predicated on the act of organizing and administering the exploitation of the proletariat — the extraction of surplus value in the process of commodity production and valorization. Even in the case of the lowest rung of the system of management, the waged supervisor (overlooker) or lead worker, a “premium,” derived from surplus value as compensation for their labor as an organizer of exploitation, is provided for their services.

In this and other respects, the manager is, by dint of his or her social relations and position in the mode of production, a constituent part of the petty bourgeoisie, alongside the independent professionals, bureaucratic officials and armed bodies of the state on which it relies. Indeed, with the constitution of the management corps among the petty bourgeois, the coalescing and stabilizing of that class progressed to the point where it could (indeed, had to) develop ideology and organizations of its own — ideology and organizations fundamentally hostile to those of the proletariat. In the epoch of imperialism, where corporations, trusts and monopolies, as well as various degrees of state property and intervention into the economy, dominate the social and economic landscape, the role of the petty bourgeois has only expanded, reaching into every aspect of society’s functioning and, in most cases, transforming the old organizations of the proletariat into its own instruments.

The transformation of the trade unions from capitalism’s ascent to its decline is an excellent example of this, since the growth and development of the unions is integrally tied to that of capitalist production itself, and changes in the latter affect the role and activity of the former.

With the rise of the corporation and the development of the professional management corps, the trade unions were compelled to expand and reorganize. The unions of capitalism’s ascent, mostly localized to a city or region, were appropriate to the period of the individual capitalist enterprise, and mostly sought peace between exploiter and exploited. But the new joint-stock company (and its “second and third degree” counterparts), as well as the first wave of legalization of trade unions in the advanced capitalist countries (Britain, France, Germany, the U.S.), meant that the old methods were inadequate. Unions, especially those that claimed a “class struggle” outlook (but never challenged capitalism’s existence), no longer faced the individual capitalist or team of capitalists, but the entire bourgeoisie, its state apparatus and its professional management corps; interactions moved away from the picket line and street protest to the legal chambers and government conference rooms. In addition, workers had to deal with the adjuncts of management: lawyers, management consultants, bureaucratic officials, specialists in “labor relations,” “friend of labor” politicians, and so on. The result was to fight fire with fire, so to speak — the promotion and hiring of its own corps of managers, lawyers, consultants, bureaucrats, etc., to interact with those of capital. This was the precursory step to the political transformation that was to come.

Having established a management corps paralleling that of capitalism and the state, it was now virtually inevitable for the trade unions to make the political transformation from nominally independent to integrated auxiliary. Even before the great betrayal of the unions at the outbreak of the First World War, the die had already been cast, as seen in relations between the railways (or government, however the arrangement existed) and the labor organizations. In the United States, for example, the passage of the Arbitration Act of 1888 and its successor, the Erdman Act of 1898, established arbitration boards composed of representatives chosen by the railroad management, the railroad unions and the government (if the former two could not agree on the third member of the board between themselves), as well as imposed a state-enforced no-strike order on unions engaged in arbitration (which was any time that there was a dispute between management and the unions). The Erdman Act, in particular, was the precedent by which all arbitration and no-strike agreements between capital and labor have been enacted throughout the 20th century, including those adopted by the AFL during WWI and those adopted by the AFL and CIO during WWII. It even inspired similar legislation in other countries, such as the Stinnes-Legien Agreement imposed on German workers days after they overthrew the Hohenzollern monarchy in November 1918.[8]

It is important to note here the other crucial factor that brought the trade unions into the capitalist structure: the social-democratic movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries. But to properly understand their role, it is important to return to the development of the International Working Men’s Association, especially in the period after the rise and fall of the Paris Commune.

The experience of the Paris Commune was a watershed event for Marx and Engels, not only affecting their views on the development of the class struggle, but also of the communist program and organization. A page had been turned, insofar as how the proletariat should interact with other classes in the course of their revolution[9]. When the International was established, it was at a time when it could serve as a nerve center for the various currents within the working class. But the events of 1871 outstripped the character of the organization, resulting in the conflicts that ultimately led to its dissolution and, in the process, generated new, principled lessons for the proletariat moving forward. The world-historic importance of this development was soon to be affirmed in the conflicts that engulfed the International in 1872 and 1873, and later reaffirmed in the conflicts over the formation of the German social-democratic workers’ party based on the Gotha Program in 1875 — as well as the break in relations between Marx and Engels, on one side, and the recently-banned Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, on the other, in late 1879.

The 1870s appears to have served as a time of reflection by Marx. On the one hand, it was during this time that Marx really had an opportunity to fully digest what he had written in the manuscripts for Capital, as well as do so in the context of the Paris Commune and the battles with the various opposition trends within the International Working Men’s Association and the broader proletarian movement. On the other hand, it is in this last period of his life that we see Marx looking more toward the future — taking those lessons and experiences from the recent past and beginning to develop foundational principles for the next generations of communists. It was clear that, with the end of the International, a new direction for the proletarian movement was needed. As early as 1874, as the old International was drawing to a close, Marx and Engels had already learned a key lesson from this period. Writing to Friedrich Sorge in New York after he resigned from the General Council of the International, Engels explained his and Marx’s view on the future organization of the working class: “I think the next International — after Marx’s writings have been at work for some years — will be directly Communist and will openly proclaim our principles.”[10]

However, other forces were at work. By the late 1870s, trends like the Lassalleans had merged with sections of supporters of Marx, forming larger workers’ parties with programs that were far from the guiding principles of either the International or the Communist League of old. Marx and Engels’ battles over these amalgams can be found throughout this period. While they appeared to welcome the broader circles of workers that the Marx wings of these parties were being exposed to, the two maintained their criticism of the programs and orientations of these movements. Moreover, both Marx and Engels at the time rejected the idea of these new parties attempting to act as an international body, in large part because of the programmatic and cross-class compromises that had come to define these parties in their work. The astute criticisms against the Lassalleans (and the opportunism of the Eisenachers) in the Critique of the Gotha Programme in 1875 were only the beginning. Within four years, Marx and Engels had reached a point where they had issued an ultimatum to their German supporters: break with petty-bourgeois socialism (at that time, best represented by the “Zurich Trio” of Bernstein, Höchberg and Schramm) or we will break with you. By December 1879, Engels, in the draft of a letter to August Bebel, wrote:

“We regret very much being unable, at this time of repression, to give you our unqualified support. So long as the party in Germany remained true to its proletarian character, we were prepared to set aside all other considerations. But now that the petty-bourgeois elements you have admitted have come out in their true colours, [and claim the right within the party to advocate as socialism their petty-bourgeois hesitations and limitations,] it’s a different matter. [A party to which they belong is no place for us, nor can we even treat with such people so long as they do not constitute themselves an independent petty-bourgeois-socialist faction of the party, or so long as they insist that they belong to the same party as ourselves, we cannot even treat with them.] The moment they are permitted to insinuate their petty-bourgeois ideas piecemeal into the organ of the German party, that organ, by the same token, is closed to us, no more nor less. [We cannot, and never shall be, able to work hand in hand with petty-bourgeois socialism.]”[11]

Similar problems were present throughout the various post-International parties of Europe and North America. In France, America, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries, petty-bourgeois socialism — Lassalleanism, Proudhonism, possibilism, populism, etc. — washed over the workers’ movement, claiming the name of socialism and redefining it to best suit its class interests (a problem we continue to feel the effects of today). And yet, this motley band of self-described socialists, with half-baked programs and “new” schemes to maneuver and swindle their way into political power, saw themselves as carrying forward the banner and legacy of the International Working Men’s Association. “After the Ghent Congress[12],” wrote Russian historian G.M. Stelkov, “the socialists continued to cherish the idea of calling a new international socialist congress.”

In 1880, the same Belgian “socialist” Proudhonists who helped organize the Ghent fiasco sought to bring together other social-democratic forces for a new “International Socialist Congress” in Zurich (later moved to Chur), Switzerland, in 1881. The German and French social democrats, as well as their Swiss counterparts, signed on soon after. Even the tiny Socialist Labor Party of America, at the time dominated by Lassalleans and labor union officials, expressed their support for the meeting. According to the “official” history, laid out by Stelkov and others, the Congress was beset by objective problems almost from the start, in addition to the fact that, apart from the German and Swiss social democrats, most of the national parties were only just getting their footing. Thus, the ambitious agenda they set for themselves was put aside for the time being and a new Congress proposed for when certain party-building conditions were fulfilled.[13]

The “official” history also tells us that Engels eventually provided his imprimatur to the new International. However, this was not until 1889, and his support only extended to the “Marxist” wing, excluding the trends that gathered around the French possibilists and English Social-Democratic Federation[14]. Moreover, it is implied that both Marx and Engels supported the “Marxist” wing of social democracy and the steps taken to establish the second International Working Men’s Association. But the “official” implication was false to the core. In fact, Marx had serious reservations about not only the 1881 Zurich (Chur) Congress, but about the whole effort to bring together the social-democratic organizations into a new, second International. In reply to a letter from the Dutch socialist (and later anarchist) Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, he very clearly expressed his opposition to the gathering, especially after hearing the proposed agenda point: “If socialists should attain power by one means or another, what new legislation (whether political or economic) should they introduce, and what existing legislation should they repeal, in order to inaugurate socialism?”

“The forthcoming Zurich Congress’s ‘question’ which you mention would seem to me a mistake. What is to be done, and done immediately at any given, particular moment in the future, depends, of course, wholly and entirely on the actual historical circumstances in which action is to be taken. But the said question, being posed out of the blue, in fact poses a fallacious problem to which the only answer can be a critique of the question as such. We cannot solve an equation that does not comprise within its terms the elements of its solution. Come to that, there is nothing specifically ‘socialist’ about the predicaments of a government that has suddenly come into being as a result of a popular victory. On the contrary. Victorious bourgeois politicians immediately feel constrained by their ‘victory,’ whereas a socialist is at least able to intervene without constraint. Of one thing you may be sure — a socialist government will not come to the helm in a country unless things have reached a stage at which it can, before all else, take such measures as will so intimidate the mass of the bourgeoisie as to achieve the first desideratum — time for effective action.

“You may, perhaps, refer me to the Paris Commune but, aside from the fact that this was merely an uprising of one city in exceptional circumstances, the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist, nor could it have been. With a modicum of common sense, it could, however, have obtained the utmost that was then obtainable — a compromise with Versailles beneficial to the people as a whole. The appropriation of the Banque de France alone would have rapidly put an end to the vainglory of Versailles, etc., etc.

“The general demands of the French bourgeoisie before 1789 were, mutatis mutandis, just as well-defined as are today, with a fair degree of uniformity, the primary, immediate demands of the proletariat in all countries where there is capitalist production. But could any 18th century Frenchman, a priori, have the least idea of the manner in which the demands of the French bourgeoisie would be implemented? A doctrinaire and of necessity fantastic anticipation of a future revolution’s programme of action only serves to distract from the present struggle. The dream of the imminent end of the world inspired the struggle of the early Christians against the Roman Empire and gave them confidence in victory. Scientific insight into the inevitable disintegration, now steadily taking place before our eyes, of the prevailing social order; the masses themselves, their fury mounting under the lash of the old governmental bogies; the gigantic and positive advances simultaneously taking place in the development of the means of production — all this is sufficient guarantee that the moment a truly proletarian revolution breaks out, the conditions for its immediate initial (if certainly not idyllic) modus operandi will also be there.

“My own conviction is that the critical conjuncture for a new international working men’s association has not yet arrived; hence I consider all labour congresses and/or socialist congresses, in so far as they do not relate to the immediate, actual conditions obtaining in this or that specific nation, to be not only useless but harmful. They will invariably fizzle out in a host of rehashed generalised banalities.”[15]

This long passage by Marx is important, in our view, for three reasons. First, to the immediate question at hand, this comment belies the “official” history that there was a relatively seamless political or organizational continuity between the two Internationals. While Marx was demonstrably hostile toward the idea of a new International, Engels offered conditional support, provided the social-democratic organizations adopt formal principles and positions that continued the work of the IWMA[16]. This may indeed be why Engels himself did not attend any of the International Socialist Congresses until 1893, when he was chosen to be its honorary president.

While some may see this point as being neither here nor there, it does highlight the issue of form and content, which is also something you allude to in your letter: “It brought together various traditions in the workers movement and was not exclusively Marxist.” Quite right! While the social-democratic International had formally adopted the resolutions of the 1872 Hague Congress of the International Working Men’s Association, and thus also formally adopted its political principles, those who adhered to these positions, Marxists and non-Marxists alike, did not adhere to the content — to the means and method by which these principles came into existence.

As a result, the “Marxism” of the International was reduced from a living movement to a catechism of slogans and watered-down “theories” that owed more to the latest fads among petty-bourgeois intellectuals and trade-union officials than it did to the struggles and experiences of the working class itself. In the end, Marx’s warning that such an International would “invariably fizzle out in a host of rehashed generalised banalities” was prophetic, since all the statements of the 1912 Basle Congress about declaring “war on war” and that “the greatest danger to the peace of Europe is the artificially cultivated hostility between Great Britain and the German Empire” were just that: generalized banalities — formalism masking the fundamental character of the International as a collection of petty-bourgeois politicians, careerists, bureaucrats and intellectuals going through the motions — that did not even slow down their march toward World War and Burgfrieden[17].

Second, Marx offers an insightful and refreshingly critical view on the Paris Commune — one clearly shaped by a decade of reflection and experience. Far from Engels’ more well-known insistence a decade later — “[D]o you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”[18] — that the Commune was socialist or, at least, led by the “socialist” Blanquists and Proudhonists, Marx not only took the opposite view but also insisted that it could not have had a socialist character. This was not because of any particular criticism of their politics, but rather because a “socialist government” will not take hold anywhere “unless things have reached a stage at which it can, before all else, take such measures as will so intimidate the mass of the bourgeoisie” that the first requirements of such a new state — e.g., the time and freedom to take effective action. Otherwise, even the most revolutionary socialists and communists would be forced to constrain themselves to fighting for what was achievable under the watchful eyes of the exploiters and oppressors.

Put another way, “socialism” in one city, one region, and one country, is impossible, since the working class cannot effectively intimidate and sufficiently hold at bey the ruling classes and their agents. Until then — that is, until the working class on a national and even international scale is effectively self-organized, conscious and armed; until a revolutionary proletarian presence is able to counter the actions and activity of the class enemies at virtually all times and in all places; until the world proletariat is capable of adequately sabotaging the efforts of “its own” ruling classes to undermine and overthrow a revolutionary workers’ republic — such regimes will be forced to compromise fundamentally with the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie for the sake of its own survival, limiting itself to changes that are acceptable within the capitalist system.

Third, and most relevant to the overall subject of this letter, is Marx’s view on the tasks of an international gathering that is not yet the new, future International. While he phrased it in the context of the forces seeking to establish the social-democratic International, Marx’s methodology in explaining its tasks remains valid, in our view — albeit with some crucial caveats.

We are, of course, 138 years past when Marx made his observations, and the material situation is fundamentally different from his time. Internationalism is taken much more seriously, and thus we are in a time when multiple international currents, tendencies and parties exist. We cannot ignore this fact; our standpoint must begin from the understanding that any future International is going to involve several organizations of this type, whether they developed ad hoc or were long established. As such, we cannot escape the need for a clearly elaborated set of principles and platform that unites the various strands who seek to unite for this project. However, we must also simultaneously avoid sinking into the habit of enumerating and re-enumerating a “doctrinaire and of necessity fantastic anticipation of a future revolution’s programme of action,” like we see happen so much among the organizations of the Left of Capital. Yes, let us have a program, but let it be something that we, as supporters of the future International, can use to build our class, our organizations and the world movement we need, not a handbook to recreate a revolution that failed.

Alongside this program, though, there is an urgent need to be able to take hold of events as they are today, to analyze them and draw practical conclusions from them about the activity of proletarian communists in our time. We must always be able to “relate to the immediate, actual conditions” in front of us, even when they are seemingly unfavorable, in order to look for inroads for intervention and intersection of the working class. Of course, all such work must be done on our own terms, with our own literature, slogans and signs, or else it is pointless. In discussions about this work, collaboration with comrades on an international level is a necessity, since similar situations often develop in other parts of the world. The more we gain “insight into the inevitable disintegration … of the prevailing social order; [into] the masses themselves, their fury mounting under the lash of the old governmental bogies; [into] the gigantic and positive advances simultaneously taking place in the development of the means of production,” the more prepared we will be for the struggles ahead, and the more prepared the world proletarian communist movement will be to launch the future International on a sold, principled basis.

We believe this perspective dovetails well with that contained in your letter. Although there is understandably not a lot of detail on this in your letter, it does come through in specific statements and observations made by the authors. For example:

“Homogeneity here does not mean a total identity of agreement on every issue but does mean agreement on a common platform and ultimately a common program. This can only be thrashed out by the widest discussion within the International. The International Party (or whatever it comes to be called) has to have a centralized unity in action to defeat the class enemy but a meaningful unity is not arrived at without constant dialogue between its members.”[19]

and

“At the same time, the tenuous links between revolutionaries and the mass of the class have to be deepened and strengthened. Each local political organization has to adopt means to maintain its contact with wider layers of workers who may not yet consider themselves revolutionary, but do know that they want to fight the misery that capitalism brings.”[20]

and

“The International (or at least a large nucleus of it) has to be in existence in advance of the outbreak of the revolutionary crisis. It is ‘narrow’ in the sense that its Platform and program are based only on the revolutionary lessons of the class struggle so far.”[21]

While these are not explicitly expressing the same views as ours above, they do hold to a common spirit and sense about how a future International is to develop and grow. They offer common points of reference — common landmarks — for building an International that can withstand even the harshest blows of the class struggle, which is what will be needed in this period, as the exploiting and oppressing classes march toward systemic collapse and world war.

Uniting together various trends of the proletarian communist movement, allowing for dynamic development through serious and well-rooted political discussion, creating a broad exchange of ideas and experiences on the immediate, actual events taking place today (e.g., the wildcat strikes of Matamoros, Mexico, and Oshawa, Ontario; workers’ struggles in Iran, Iraq, China, etc.; the teacher strikes in the U.S.; and so on), and doing so within the framework of an international organization that has principles and a platform based on experience and current material conditions, and not on the wishful thinking or theater of an idealized, idyllic “revolution” — this is how the future International emerges today and takes its place in the world-historical process.

*          *          *

It has been 100 years since the last International Working Men’s Association, the Communist International, declared its existence to the workers of the world with great enthusiasm, zeal and the momentum of the revolutionary wave. But its break with social democracy and the putrefying corpse of the “Second” International was partial, incomplete and stunted. Even with works like The State and Revolution as political guideposts, the legacy of social-democratic “state socialism” — or, more appropriately, state-capitalism-as-socialism — remained present in the ranks of the Bolshevik Party and the International. As the wave ebbed and enthusiasm gave way to reflection, the vacuum created by it was filled with more of the conservative and reactionary politics of their old organizations: coalitionism (now called “frontism”), parliamentarism (including Millerandism, later on), trade unionism, national liberationism (merely a stepping stone to outright nationalism), and so on. In the end, there was a wholesale abandonment of any pretense to a working-class perspective and an ignominious disintegration that rivaled the “generalized banalities” of its predecessor.

What are the lessons we can learn from the experiences of the Communist International? Two present themselves immediately: first, that the theoretical, programmatic and methodological break from the ideologies of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois socialism — not only those of the “official” Left Wing of Capital but also those of the vulgar Left that attempt to present themselves as genuine communists — must be fundamental, not merely formal, and conscious; second, that it is incumbent on the forces seeking to build the future International to make the study of the current material situation, beginning with the state of social relations and the mode of production, both something that occurs before and during the process of political and organizational reconstruction.

The proletarian communist movement has never been afraid of being critical of, and even openly rejecting, the old and long-accepted positions that have been shown to be historically obsolete. Quite the contrary, we have recognized that it is our responsibility as communists to subject our program to the same constant criticism, the same derision of half-measures, weakness and paltriness, and the same ruthlessness in dealing with outdated and obsolete approaches that we apply to our work (including that of the proletarian revolution), our successes and our failures. It is this kind of principled criticism that must be at the heart of a future International. The Communist International never made a serious analysis of the imperialist epoch and that left it unprepared for what was to come once the revolutionary wave receded. The untimely death of Luxemburg, the growing opportunism of Lenin and the capitulation of Bukharin insured that such a study never occurred under its auspices. Even today, analyses of this epoch are fragmented, focused primarily on the immediate twists and turns of the business cycle. One could excuse the early Communist International for not engaging in such a study, given the shared belief that the imperialist epoch would be short-lived and ended by victorious proletarian revolutions. However, we cannot share that same perspective; we cannot afford to let a sense of inevitability become the host for theoretical and programmatic complacency. History is a heartless judge.

This last point we have learned through bitter experience, failure and reconstruction. For 25 years, the comrades who formed the Workers’ Group have been fighting to break with the Left Wing of Capital, to not only discard the formal positions but also the methodology that leads to such alien class ideology gripping sections of the working class, to reorganize and rebuild on new fundamentals and with a new sense of ourselves as proletarian communists. Today, we look to the history and struggles of the Russian Communist Left, particularly that of the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) and Communist Workers’ Party, and those of the Italian Communist Left, from the early Communist Party to the Internationalist Communist Party, as guides, even if there are areas where we disagree. And it is in that spirit that we issue this letter and respond in the affirmative to the urgent need to begin the process of building our forces, developing the necessary theory and program needed to confront the challenges of the 21st century, bringing together diverse experience and perspectives in a principled manner, and moving forward to the time when the future International can rightly stand and be recognized as the new International Working Men’s Association in the eyes of the world working class.
So, let’s begin, together.

With proletarian communist greetings,
Workers’ Group


Notes:

[1] A phrase inserted by Engels in the 1888 English edition of the Communist Manifesto, replacing the original “overlookers and shopmen [Domestiken, normally translated as “servant,” also being a pejorative term in German for small shopkeepers, or shopmen]” that appeared in most non-English editions. In modern terms, it would be written as “police, managers and small business owners.” We would add bureaucratic officials, politicians, judicial and prison officers, independent professionals (doctors, lawyers, consultants, technicians and other “experts”), and the military-officer corps to this list.

[2] Chapter XIII: Co-operation, Capital, Vol. 1, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 35 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 337. Boldface ours.

[3] Chapter XXVII: The Role of Credit in Capitalist Production, Capital, Vol. III, in MECW, Vol. 37 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 434.

[4] ibid., p. 435.

[5] ibid., p. 436. Boldface ours.

[6] ibid., p. 437.

[7] Chapter 2: Theoretical, Part III: Socialism, Anti-Dühring, in MECW, Vol. 25 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 265. Boldface ours.

[8] There is certainly more that can be said about the transformation of unions in the period from capitalism’s ascent to its decline, including analysis of the role of the labor contract and its negotiations process as it relates to the integration of the union and management bureaucracies, as well as how unions play as much of a political role in society as they do an economic role in the production and valorization processes. These points, and others, are best addressed in a separate document.

[9] “The struggle of the working class against the capitalist class and its state has entered upon a new phase with the struggle in Paris. Whatever the immediate results may be, a new point of departure of world-historic importance has been gained.” Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann, 17 April 1871, MECW, Vol. 44 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 137.

[10] Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, 12-17 September 1874, MECW, Vol. 45 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 42.

[11] Engels to August Bebel, 16 December 1879, MECW, Vol. 45 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 430. Passages in brackets were not included in the final letter but are included as footnotes in the MECW. Boldface ours.

[12] The “Universal Socialist Congress” was held 9-16 September 1877 in Ghent, Belgium, at the behest of the “Belgian Socialists,” a collection of social democrats, anarchists and Marx supporters. It was the first time since the 1872 Hague Congress that all the trends that were once in the International were gathered in a common assembly. The intent of the “Universal Congress” was to attempt to reconcile the split; in this effort, it failed spectacularly.

[13] Stelkov, G.M., Part II, Chapter 13: International Socialist Congress at Chur (Coire), History of the First International [Martin Lawrence Ltd., 1928] — www.marxists.org/archive/steklov/history-first-international/ch33.htm.

[14] “At all events the intrigues resorted to by the Possibilists and the Social Democratic Federation in order that they might worm their way into the leading position in France and England respectively have proved a total failure and their pretensions to the international leadership still more so. If the two congresses, one alongside the other, merely fulfill the purpose of deploying their forces — Possibilists and London intriguers here, European socialists (who, thanks to the former, figure as Marxists), there — so that the world may see where the genuine movement is concentrated and where the bogus, that will be enough.” Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, 17 July 1889, MECW, Vol. 48 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 354.

[15] Marx to Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, 22 February 1881, MECW, Vol. 46 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 66-67.

[16] Up to and even during the 1891 International Socialist Congress in Brussels, Engels opposed the creation of a new International, out of concern that the Possibilists would become a leading component. As late as 17 August, Engels wrote to Laura Lafargue: “That question once disposed of, there will remain but little real work for the Congress; unless the various velleities [idle wishes] of a restoration of the ‘International’ venture to come out. I hope they will not, for that would cause new splits and throw us back, here in England at least, for years to come.” (MECW, Vol. 49 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 229)

It was not until after the closing of the Congress, when all the information about what took place reached him, that Engels embraced the new collaborative effort among the “Marxist” parties of Europe and North America as the new International, writing to Friedrich Adolph Sorge on 14 September: “The Congress has proved a brilliant success for us after all — the Broussists stayed right away while Hyndman’s chaps withdrew their opposition. And, best of all, the anarchists have been shown the door, just as they were at the Hague Congress [of 1872]. The new, incomparably larger and avowedly Marxist International is beginning again at the precise spot where its predecessor left off.” (MECW, Vol. 49 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 238)

[17] Class peace. In France, the common term is the “Union Sacrée.” There is no comparable term in English.

[18] “Introduction to Karl Marx’s The Civil War in France,” 18 March 1891, MECW, Vol. 27 [Lawrence & Wishart, 2010], p. 191.

[19] Internationalist Communist Tendency, “On the Future International,” Revolutionary Perspectives, No. 11 — www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2018-06-22/on-the-future-international

[20] ibid.

[21] ibid.

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