Murdering the Dead: The Thread of Time

Capitalism and Other Disasters

Amadeo Bordiga

 

– Antagonism Press

 


This volume was produced, and the introduction was written, by an anonymous collective in the period August 2000 to September 2001. The translations here are based on those originally made by David Brown. The introduction is also at the Practical History website.

Contents

Introduction by Jaques Cammatte:
Introduction by Antagonism - Capitalism and other disasters
The Filling and Bursting of Bourgeois Civilisation
Murder of the Dead
The Legend of the Piave
Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence
Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil
The Spirit of Horsepower
The Democratic Principle

Community and Communism in Russia

by Jacques Camatte
This text was originally intended to be the introduction to a french language edition of two of Amadeo Bordiga's texts on Russia : Russia and Revolution in Marxist Theory and Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today. However this proposed edition was the subject of legal action by the International Communist Party who claimed they held the copyright and was never published. Camatte's introduction was finally published in Invariance Series II, n. 4, 1974. This translation by David Brown was published in London in 1978.

Subsequently part of Bordiga's Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today was published (first by Editions de l'oubli in 1975, later by Spartacus) with a different introduction by Camatte. Russia and Revolution in Marxist Theory itself was finally published by Spartacus in 1978.

Publishing Bordiga's texts on Russia and writing an introduction to them was rather repugnant to us. The Russian revolution and its involution are indeed some of the greatest events of our century. Thanks to them, a horde of thinkers, writers, and politicians are not unemployed. Among them is the first gang of speculators which asserts that the USSR is communist, the social relations there having been transformed. However, over there men live like us, alienation persists. Transforming the social relations is therefore insufficient. One must change man. Starting from this discovery, each has 'functioned' enclosed in his specialism and set to work to produce his sociological, ecological, biological, psychological etc. solution. Another gang turns the revolution to its account by proving that capitalism can be humanised and adapted to men by reducing growth and proposing an ethic of abstinence to them, contenting them with intellectual and aesthetic productions, restraining their material and affective needs. It sets computers to work to announce the apocalypse if we do not follow the advice of the enlightened capitalist. Finally there is a superseding gang which declares that there is neither capitalism nor socialism in the USSR, but a kind of mixture of the two, a Russian cocktail ! Here again the different sciences are set in motion to place some new goods on the over-saturated market.

That is why throwing Bordiga into this activist whirlpool (and we also put ourselves there) provoked fear and repulsion. Nevertheless, running the risk of being carried along by this infamous mercantilism seems necessary because, on one hand, in every case, as Marx remarked "Can one escape dirt in ordinary bourgeois intercourse or trade ? Precisely there is its natural abode." (Marx to Freiligrath, 29.2.1860.), and, on the other hand, the myth of Russian communism began to be washed fundamentally from the minds of those who searched and struggled and corrupted them less and less after the movement of May 1968. Bordiga's texts could be useful because of this, for passing from myth to reality and helping in the understanding of the coming communist revolution.

The Russian revolution has long been a thing of the past. It is interesting to study it nonetheless in the historical vibrations and in the questions it could not resolve. Bordiga, who closely followed all the vicissitudes of this revolution and its many faceted prolongation over the world, died in 1970. But his confrontation with the Russian phenomenon maintains an instructive and all-embracing character.

One has, then, to envisage the human being who produced the work presented here, because one must state from which historical global point of view it is that the Russian revolution is envisaged. Bordiga is especially known through Lenin's judgements; he was reproached for his abstentionism and taxed with anarchism. Also, for many people, Bordiga would only be the leftist who disappeared from the revolutionary scene around 1928. Superficially this is true, Convinced that it was the counter-revolution which generated great men, i.e. the clowns that he called battilocchi [1] , he withdrew and disappeared into an anonymity  [2] that was justified, but which is not to say that he abandoned the communist movement. From 1944 to 1970 he participated in the Internationalist Communist Party, which became the International Communist Party in 1964. His works appeared in the papers Battaglia comunista and il programma comunista and the reviews Prometeo and Sul filo del tempo.

Bordiga summed up his position on the Russian revolution at the end of the first part of Russia and Revolution in Marxist Theory [3] , which simultaneously unveiled his fundamental theoretical  [4] attitude, his absolute resistance to doubt, not to heuristic doubt, which is by definition only a kind of cunning of reason according to Hegel, placing certainty in brackets, but the doubt which is the penetration of the adversaries' power, invasion by the surrounding ideology, impregnation with death because of the abandonment of all enthusiasm, and all revolutionary perspective, which is concretised in the alliance with the existing currents and the acceptance of dominant formulae.

Bordiga wrote a lot on the Russian revolution. His activity was greatly conditioned by the need to defend it and, on the other hand, in 1951 he declared :

"The analysis of the counter-revolution in Russia and its reduction to formulae is not a central problem for the strategy of the proletarian movement during the recovery that we await, because it is not the first counter-revolution and marxism has known a whole series of them."  [5]
All his activity tended to go beyond the Russian revolution to pose the future revolution, while one can definitely state that he did not succeed in cutting his umbilical cord, the link with this revolution.

He immediately supported the Bolsheviks in 1917, without at times knowing the totality of the events and, in certain cases, he foresaw the measures they would take. The revolution was no surprise for him, it did not make him question marxism, but was an enlightening confirmation. What fundamentally preoccupied him was the preparation of the party in Italy as well as in the rest of the West for the accomplishment of the same task as the Bolsheviks' : the seizure of power. It was from this viewpoint that he carried on the polemic on the creation of soviets. For him, they were born at the very moment of the revolution. But in Italy, especially in 1917, one had to aid it, to lead it, and one needed the class organ, the party, for that. Moreover, he stated that the soviets were most often conceived of through an anarcho-syndicalist vision : the proletariat creates the organs which are substituted (the capitalist mode of production (CMP) still being in force) for the capitalist organs : cf. his articles in il Soviet in 1919-20. From 1919 on Bordiga thought that a great revolutionary opportunity had been lost and that the revolutionary phase had passed. Therefore one had to strengthen the party and to resist the foreseen offensive from the right which wanted to destroy the socialist forces. His interventions in the Communist International were in favour of strengthening the parties, claiming that the adoption of measures was so that all the parties of the International would have purely marxist positions, hence his role in the adoption of the 21 conditions, two of which were written under his inspiration. To confront the struggle on a world scale, one would have to have the correct class positions, flawlessly, without equivocation.

Later, when the phase of recession was really underway, the Communist International tried to restart revolutionary activity by going to the masses (united front), then by bolshevizing the national communist parties. Bordiga stood up against all these formulations, considering them to be camouflage measures of withdrawal, while being patent manifestations of a new wave of opportunism. However, he never questioned the proletarian, socialist, character of the Russian revolution. He thought that it had some peculiarities, but he neither spoke like the KAPD (Communist Workers' Party of Germany), which called it a "bourgeois revolution made by communists" (The Principle of the Antagonism between the Soviet Government and the Proletariat) from 1922 on, nor of the duality of the revolution :

"The Third International is a Russian creation, a creation of the Russian Communist Party. It was created to support the Russian revolution, that is, a partly proletarian, partly bourgeois, revolution."  [6]
Also, in replying to Korsch, who sent him the Platform of the Left [7]
"One cannot say that the 'Russian revolution was a bourgeois revolution'. The 1917 revolution was a proletarian revolution, while it would be wrong to generalise its 'tactical' lessons. Today the question posed is knowing what happens to a proletarian dictatorship in a country when a revolution does not follow in the others.... It seems that you exclude the possibility of a Communist Party policy which would not end in the restoration of capitalism. That would be to revert to justifying Stalin or to supporting the inadmissible policy of 'his dismissal from power'." (Naples, 28.10.26.)  [8]
Put another way, throughout this period he did not take a position on the social nature of the USSR. What was essential for him (and what few of his critics understood) was the nature of the Russian state and which class was in power. This was shown by the programme, by the actions of the party running the state. For Bordiga, the Russian party alone should not have run the state. That should have been done by the Communist International. That is why the 1926 debate, ending in the victory of the theory of socialism in one country, was crucial for him because it indicated a capital change of the state which no longer could be defined as proletarian because it was no longer at the service of the world revolution. But :
"One cannot simply state that Russia is a country tending towards capitalism."  [9]
That is why it was only after the transfer of the USSR to the side of the western democracies that Bordiga stated that, henceforth, the counter-revolution had really triumphed and that capitalism would be built in the USSR.

If capitalism tended to triumph, how would one characterise the USSR and, on the other hand, what was the origin of capitalism's development ? Was there a retreat, that is, would there have been socialism and, from that, the CMP would have been reinstalled in Russia ? Bordiga maintained his political thesis in this debate which developed very vigorously after 1945. He still talked of the socialist characteristics of the economy in Soviet Russia from the Revolution to Today  [10]. Here he replied to the question : which class is in power in Russia ?

"In fact the class exploiting the Russian proletariat (and which will appear, perhaps, in broad day light in not too long) is today constituted by two evident historical forms : international capitalism and the same oligarchy which dominates in the interior and on which the peasants, traders, enriched speculators and the intellectuals, who swiftly obtain the greatest favours, all depend."
The whole of the article shows Bordiga's international perspective and the importance he gave to the political factor, i.e. to the capacity that a proletarian state could have to apply measures in the direction of the development of the bases of socialism. To return to the ruling class, he characterised it in other articles as a host of hidden entrepreneurs. This did not stop him from speaking of bureaucracy too, but he did not make it a determining strata or, as did Chaulieu, a ruling class. Yet, the difficulties with which he tried to unmask the existence of this class were always stated. He had to intervene in the debate on the social nature of the USSR in which some envisaged state capitalism where the state would be all powerful and could run capital, and others saw bureaucratic capitalism (Chaulieu in Socialisme ou barbarie no. 2), and on the role of the USSR in the play of international forces. Most 'left' revolutionaries tended to see the USSR as the centre of the counter-revolution because state capitalism or bureaucratic capitalism was, according to them, a much more powerful form of domination, a higher stage of capitalism than the one possible in West Europe or in the USA.

Bordiga began to draft Property and Capital [11] in reply, with really fundamental elements of explanation, producing a contribution to the clarification of the future of Russian society and that in the West, bordering on simple leninist repetitions. In the chapter Modern Tendency of the Enterprise without property, allocations and concessions, he confronted a question that he took up again later in Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today [12] , he stated :

"The modern state has never really had a direct economic activity, but it has always been delegated by the intermediary of allocations and concessions to capitalist groups."  [13]
Here we see the assertion of the positive critique of state capitalism and the bureaucracy-class. This is explained in the chapter Economic Interventionism and Direction as capital handling the State :
"It is not a case of the partial subordination of capital to the state, but an ulterior subordination of the state to capital."  [14]
Finally he analysed The Phases of the Transformation of Russia after 1917 where he dealt with the question of the ruling class in Russia :
"The difficulty in finding a physical group of men who constitute this bourgeoisie which was not formed spontaneously and which, to the extent that it was formed under Tsarism, was destroyed after 1917, presents a great difficulty due only to the fact of the democratic and petit-bourgeois mode of thought which the pretended masters of the working class have infected it with for decades."  [15]
Thus it was a matter of knowing who represented the capitalist economic interests. It is clear that Bordiga would have to contradict such a bourgeois mode of thought in its archaic (i.e. democratic) form : everything that exists, which manifests itself, must be represented, there must be an intermediary between the thing and those who see it, the intermediary is a delegation of the existence regarding those who must state and study this existence. For Bordiga, a fundamentally anti-democratic man, the intermediary had no importance. On the other hand, the bureaucracy was chosen to fill the hiatus by all those who preoccupied themselves with Russia, Bordiga showed that, on the contrary, the bureaucracy depended on the businessmen :
"...the bourgeoisie, which has never been a caste, but which emerges by defending the right of 'virtual' and total equality, becomes a 'network of spheres of interest which constitute themselves in the cell of each enterprise', at the rate and to the extent that the bourgeois enterprises become personnel collectives, anonymity's, and finally 'public'. The personnel of such a cell is extremely varied. They are no longer owners, bankers or shareholders, but more and more speculators, economic experts and businessmen. One of the characteristics of the development of the economy is that the privileged class has an increasingly changing and fluctuating human material (the oil sheikhs who were bailiffs and will be so again). As in all epochs, such a network of interests and persons, who are more or less visible, has relations with the state bureaucracy, but it itself is not the bureaucracy, it has relations with 'circles of politicians', but it is not a political category. During capitalism above all such a network is 'international' and today there are no longer national bourgeois classes. There are national states of the world capitalist class.

Today the Russian state is one of them, but with a certain historically unique origin. In fact it is the only one originating in the unity of two revolutions by the political and insurrectionary victory. It was the only one that was turned back from the second revolutionary task, but it has still not exhausted the first : making Russia a region of mercantile economy (with profound consequences for Asia)."  [16]

Concerning the role of Russia on a world scale, Bordiga stated that the centre of the counter-revolution was the USA and not the USSR. The USA could intervene alone or through the UN, and in his polemic with Damen  [17] , he offered this witticism to make himself better understood :
"..let us remove Baffone (i.e. Stalin) from Moscow and, so as not to ridicule anyone, let us replace him with Alpha (i.e., Bordiga). Truman, who has already thought over these questions, would arrive five minutes later."  [18]
Bordiga saw the basic victory of the counter-revolution in the fact that the stalinists had sided with the USA during the 1939-45 war. The USSR had been bought with the US Dollar, He stated that the same would happen to China at the time of the Korean war.

All this was given in thesis form at the Internationalist Communist Party Naples meeting, Lessons of counter-revolutions, double revolutions, capitalist revolutionary nature of the Russian economy (1951). These were partly scandalous for some people; how could one continue to use the adjective revolutionary for the USSR in 1951 ? Now Bordiga restated it in Russia and Revolution in Marxist Theory; for him there had been other revolutions and there are others (when Bordiga wrote) than the one we have to realise : the communist revolution. Given its non-appearance and especially the lack of any important precursory sign of its approach, it was evident (for Bordiga) that the generalisation of the CMP in Russia and Asia was a revolutionary phenomenon, as Marx had stated in 1848 for the development of capital in Europe.

However, if one considers now that the Russian revolution has, by definition, only been able to give rise to the CMP, the characteristics of present Russian society must be described again as well as those of the ruling class. If the questions unfailingly re-emerge, it is because the analysis had not basically regained the essential point of capital's development and it had not described the most recent tendencies. That is why Bordiga had to return to Marx so as to describe the Russian phenomenon.

"True to a vision which has forgotten materialism is the one al lowing itself to go astray when it does not see the 'person' of the individual capitalist in the front rank. Capital was an impersonal force from the youngest Marx, Determinism without men is meaningless, that is true, but men constitute the instrument and not the motor."  [19]
The debate, in fact, centred again on a definition of capital. In Murder of the Dead he recalled that Marx characterised the CMP by the production of surplus-value and the greed for surplus-labour ("The voracious appetite for surplus labour" in Capital Vol., I  [20] ). He confronted the "novelty of state capitalism" on this basis :
"Once constant capital is posed as zero, gigantic development of profit occurs. That is the same as saying that the enterprise profit remains if the disadvantage of maintaining constant capital is removed from the capitalist.
This hypothesis is only state capitalism's present reality. Transferring capital to the state means that constant capital equals zero. Nothing of the relationship between entrepreneurs and workers is changed, since this depends solely on the magnitude of variable capital and surplus-value.
Are analyses of state capitalism something new ? Without any haughtiness we use what we knew from 1867 at the latest. It is very short : Cc = O.
Let us not leave Marx without this ardent passage after the cold formula :
"Capital is dead labour which, vampire like, lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks." "  [21]
Bordiga developed this theme which he often readopted on the relationship between state capitalism, business activity and speculative exploitation of natural disasters (defining the Italian economy as a specialist in the economy of disaster). Here he showed that capitalism is, at its greatest development, generalised gangsterism universal delinquency and, let us add, madness.
"To exploit living labour, capital must give birth to dead labour. Liking to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses."  [22]
For it is only through the destruction of constant capital, above all the fixed part, that it can free the new production process where capital can again satisfy its greed for surplus labour.

On the other hand, he replied in Doctrine of possessed by the Devil  [23] to the question, what is the ruling class ? Here again he relied on Marx's analysis in Capital :

"The person of the capitalist no longer matters here, capital exists without him a hundred fold the same process. The human subject has become useless. A class not comprising of individuals ? The state not at the service of a social group, but an impalpable power, a work of the Holy Ghost and the Devil ? Let us refer to the irony of our old Mr. Marx. Here is the promised quote :
"By turning his money into commodities which serve as the building materials for a new product, and as factors in the labour process, by incorporating living labour into their lifeless objectivity, the capitalist simultaneously transforms value, i.e. past labour in its objectified and lifeless form, into capital, value which can perform its own valorisation process, an animated monster which begins to 'work', 'as if possessed by the devil'." "  [24]
In 1952 Bordiga replied to Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR with Dialogue with Stalin [25]where he restated what he had said in previous articles (cf. In the Whirlpool of mercantile anarchy); the Russian revolution was over. He also refuted the stalinist thesis of the law of value persisting under socialism, a refutation repeated several times after. Each time Bordiga was obliged to return to Marx's work to resume the integral study of the critique of political economy.

The statement that the Russian revolution was over left a question undecided. How was it that the proletariat could perform a bourgeois revolution ? (Bordiga accused Lenin of being the great bourgeois, Stalin, the romantic revolutionary). October 1917, was it not at all proletarian ? It was then that Bordiga drafted a series of articles studying the earliest origins of the Russian revolution. He insisted on the conclusion already drawn by the KAPD in 1922 : the revolution was a double, proletarian and bourgeois, revolution. Since the former had been reabsorbed (that had already been partly affirmed in 1946) and the second had largely flourished. The proletariat has thus realised the bourgeois revolution :

"With this state of suspense passed by with the very wars lost on the frontiers and the national humiliation of seeing the Muslim and yellow peoples more advanced in the capitalist methods of warfare, they had found all the tendencies for the 'romantic' task of the proletariat; i.e. how to resolve the historical puzzle of not taking power itself, but of giving it to its social exploiters. A whole literature worked for this and by a series of giants from, perhaps, Gogol on, while the greats, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gorky, had in various ways and to different extents, absorbed the social postulates of the West : characteristic of romantic and non-marxist thought."  [26]
"As there was no bourgeoisie conscious of its own class power, the marxists thus set to work as 'enlighteners', i.e. to repeat the bourgeoisie's thought in its romantic part."  [27]
Finally there are eight theses on Russia in The Bear and its Great Novel[28] They define the result of the revolutionary process. Thesis five dealt with the ruling class :
"The statement of the present lack of a statistically definable bourgeois class does not contradict the previous thesis, since this fact was stated and foreseen by marxism well before the revolution, given that the power of modern capitalism is defined by the forms of production and not by national groups of individuals."
Then Bordiga thought that he had sufficiently clarified the 'Russian question' and that one could approach other important ones :
"The comrade (Bordiga) foresaw that this meeting would include a section dedicated to the problem of America and western capitalist countries in particular, given that a considerable previous work had sufficiently crystallised in outlines a general definition of our mode of considering Russia and its social economy. It showed the marxist concept of the double revolution, one grafted on the other, or impure revolution (giving the term an historical and not a moral meaning). The Dialogue (with Stalin) and other texts had sufficiently systematised this part, now we have to study a pure, solely anticapitalist, proletarian, revolution."  [29]
But the umbilical cord linking the PCI militants to the Russian revolution was difficult for them to break and, for them, all these explanations had not clarified enough the 'enigma'. They called for the subject to be exhausted somehow. After dealing with Factors of Race and Nation in Marxist Theory and The Agrarian Question [30], which was in fact an introduction to a study of Russia (Bordiga insisted on the thesis capitalism = agrarian revolution, and on the fact that the agrarian problem was the central problem which the Russian revolution had to resolve and the communist revolution also will have to resolve), he had to return to Russia to begin Russia and Revolution in Marxist Theory.

Thus the reader can gain an idea of the way in which the work presented was born. One should note that the majority of the themes were treated in a fragmentary fashion in articles and, besides, there was a continual exchange between the explanations of Russian society and the clarification of the critique of political economy. There is the constant theme of the dictatorship of the proletariat which could have directed the development of the productive forces in immense Russia. That is why what interested Bordiga was the nature of the state, not only because he did not delude himself on the fact that the state could avoid being determined by the economic and social structure. He knew very well that, in Russia, from a certain moment, the social forces would inevitably have to eliminate the proletarian state unsupported by a revolution in the West. But he did not go into the economic domain, but into the political field in order to find the involution of the revolution. It was only when the state had become definitely capitalist that he really preoccupied himself with the economic and social structure, for now one had to understand how the forces which will have to struggle for the future communist revolution will be born and orientate themselves. It is revealing that it was at the time of the Twentieth Congress, the time that he stated that Russia had confessed to its integration into the capitalist camp, that he gave his prediction of the communist revolution for 1975. Bordiga's writings on the USSR after 1957 are not very interesting. They are only an illustration of what he had stated and explained in earlier texts. Besides, what was virulently repeated was the axiom : one did not construct communism, one only destroyed the obstacles to its development. He would have had to have made an exhaustive analysis of the development of the CMP to make a fundamental contribution. Now this was (in spite of several essential remarks, possibly points of departure for fruitful research) too 'physiocratic' because it considered the mass of production and its growth rhythms. In 1964, after the failure of Khruschev's economic measures, his sacking and the satisfaction of the kolkhozians' demands, Bordiga remarked :

"Nevertheless, obviously the road to the full forms of capitalism in Russia will be hard and difficult and will have again to bring large capital into conflict with small property, which large capital has not been able to avoid supporting and reinforcing. Thus is buried the heroic and huge effort of the Bolshevik avant-garde which foresaw the sole possibility for resistance in the wake of the proletarian world revolution, like a besieged fortress, as refuge in state capitalism controlled by the proletarian dictatorship, committing the leap to economic socialism to the arms of the future and inevitable revolutionary wave in the industrialised countries in the West."  [31]
Unfortunately this diagnosis was used in an immediate and polemical fashion to show that, unlike what Khruschev had trumpeted, the USSR could not catch up with the USA. One should have asked the question : are there not geo-social areas where the CMP cannot develop and, if it did, would that not be at the cost of immense difficulties so that even the positive side that there had been in the West would be obliterated in these areas ? But this implied the adoption of a critical attitude to the Bolsheviks' actions. Now Bordiga was not up to asking such a question. He always maintained the leninist presuppositions and followed them through to their conclusions. One can say that, somehow, the Russian revolution ended as a political phenomenon with him, a phenomenon having to master the economic forces in the direction of developing to socialism.

It is useful to know Bordiga's other works so as really to understand his position on Russia. We shall summarise them briefly. Bordiga was fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-innovating, i.e. he fought those who thought that it was necessary and possible to create a new theory or that one must publish marxism, defined as :

"One uses the expression 'marxism' not to mean a doctrine discovered and introduced by the individual Karl Marx, but to refer to the doctrine arising with the modern industrial proletariat and 'accompanying' it during the whole course of a social revolution -- and we conserve the name 'marxism' despite all the speculation and exploitation of it by a series of counter-revolutionary movements."  [32]
What is essential is the reference to a class defining itself by the mode of production it aims to create. The method by which it has to realise this creation is its programme. The fundamental lines of the programme for the proletarian class were established from 1848. They are : the proletariat must constitute itself as a class, thus as a party. Then it must make itself the state to destroy all classes, thus itself, and allow the development of communism (cf. The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism, 1957). The party is thus seen on the one hand as part of the class, as the prefiguration of communist society, "the projection into the present of the social man of tomorrow" (cf., The Theory of the Primary Function of the Party, 1959), on the other as an organ of resistance at the moment when the proletarian class has been beaten and finds itself under the influence of the ruling ideology, and so the party has to maintain the 'class line'. Marxism, seen not only as the theory of the revolution, but as the theory of the counter-revolution, can resist, and this consists in maintaining the entire programme of the class. Thus the formal party to which Bordiga belonged could see itself as the intermediary between the preceding phase, when the proletariat was constituted as a class, and the coming phase, when the revolution would rise anonymously, setting the whole class in motion. Bordiga admitted that the formal party could disappear, that is, that it could come about that there would no longer be any revolutionaries defending the class programme after a certain time, but the party must be reborn after a "distant but enlightening future" by following the dynamic present in capitalist society and the fact of the absolute necessity of communism for the species.

What therefore is basic in the phase of recession (i.e. of strong counter-revolution which forces the class to retreat to earlier positions), is the description of communism, the very behaviour of Marx and Engels, which Bordiga said they took all their lives to describe. So one can maintain the line of the future in the despicable present, so resisting the counter-revolution by the rejection of all democratic formulae and all stray impulses to innovate. This implies a structural anti-activism because one can only intervene in 'periods ripe with history' of humanity. Then one must throw oneself headlong into the battle and not to give in at the first shock, not abandon the party as soon as the enemy has gained a certain advantage. This was the meaning of the reflections on the debate of 1926. One should have resisted, the world proletariat organised by the Communist International should have faced capitalism while awaiting the opening of the fresh revolutionary cycle. But once this was abandoned, one had to some extent to pass through purgatory and then await the counter-revolution to complete its tasks. Bordiga thought that this was realised in 1956. Hence the proclamation of a new revolutionary cycle culminating in 1975.

One had to restore marxism, negated by the stalinists, one more time during the period of waiting, without ever losing sight of the immediate movements of the class, in order to see how far they shake the implacable dictatorship of capital. But this has to be done without illusions. Thus he stated that there would not be a revolution after the Second World War (the fascist nations had lost the war, but fascism had won), that the Third World War was not imminent, the cold war only being a form of peace. Therefore there could not be a revolution after a short maturation as those who believed in an imminent third conflict inevitably giving rise to a revolution afterwards held. The Berlin movement (1953) was not the start of a new revolutionary cycle. Nor too was the 1956 Hungarian uprising, because both were the work of multi-class movements while the proletariat could only win by organising autonomously, in struggling for its own ends.

Nevertheless, it is evident that all this belongs to the past and many ask what importance does it have ? What importance in not flattering Yugoslavia as a new socialist country ? Of not having repeated the same operation for Cuba, China, or having not stated that the centre of the revolution was, nonetheless, in the countries of the so-called third world ? In fact, what use is it when all the world is now convinced of the opposite?

It is because, in fact, he had a foresight of a certain future of society that Bordiga was able to have a well determined behaviour allowing him to escape the revolutionary masquerade of the post-war period led by trotskyist and similar groups. His coherence lay there, a theory is not useful if it does not afford a foresight. Now one cannot foresee without any certainty.

Bordiga disagreed with the Bolsheviks several times over the question of democracy. He was an abstentionist, rejecting all participation in parliament, all democratic mechanisms. One had to define tactics rigorously in relation to the conditions of clearly defined struggles in the historical phases when the proletariat intervened, Similarly he rejected the theory of state capitalism and considered the theory of imperialism to be completely insufficient etc,. Despite that, we have already repeated, he never broke with Lenin because he was, for Bordiga, the theoretician of the dictatorship of the proletariat (coherent with Marx) and that he was capable of applying it in a huge country. On the other hand, the whole development of the anti-colonial revolutions reinforced the correctness of the leninist position for him. Hence the birth of the uncritical apologia for the Bolsheviks and, so doing, he defended the Italian left and himself against accusations of anarchism, ultraleftism, passivity etc., which led him to maintaining false judgements on the KAPD, Pannekoek etc., especially where it concerned questions where they were definitely very close to him.

But this is only a particular aspect of Bordiga's work. What is essential, what characterises him, makes him entrancing, living, is what was indicated in Bordiga : la passion du communisme; his certainty of the revolution, communism, displayed prophetically. Humanity advanced by revolutionary leaps up to communism, according to him. This evolution was the work of millions feeling their way and, sometimes, leaping enlightened by huge revolutionary explosions. He compared all human history  [33] to a huge river bounded by two dykes, on the right that of social conservatism on which marched a chanting band of priests and police as the cantors of the official lies of the class, on the left that of reformism on which paraded the men devoted to the people, the businessmen of opportunism, the progressives. The two bands insult each other from opposite banks, while fully agreed that the river should remain in its channel. But the immense flood of human history also has its irresistible and menacing swellings and sometimes, rounding a meander, it floods over the dykes, drowning the miserable bands in the impulsive and irresistible inundation of the revolution which overthrows all old forms and gives society a new face.

 


Notes:

[1] "Why have we called the theory of the great men the theory of the battilocchio ? The battilocchio is a person who draws attention and simultaneously shows his complete vacuity." (il Battilocchio 1953) (Translator's note)

[2] We have discussed this question elsewhere and we have tried to define the historical importance of Bordiga (cf. La gauche communiste d'Italie et le PCI, Invariance Serie I, n. 9, and the introduction to Bordiga : la passion du communisme (Spartacus, Paris, 1974). A number of Bordiga's texts have been translated into French in Programme Communiste, Le Fil du Temps and Invariance. The translations in the first two are often inexact, not purely on the level of translation, which is often a matter of appreciation, but because the translators often thought that they had to remove what did not suit them and to add what they wanted to Bordiga's texts. To avoid many notes, the reader is advised that the themes discussed in this study, often simply alluded to, have been treated more or less exhaustively in Invariance.

[3]Russia et rivoluzione nella teoria marxista in il programma comunista 1954 no. 21 - 1955 no. 8.

[4] We talk of a theoretical attitude because it is not a question of separating theory from practice. One must always tend to have a global activity with all human manifestations integrated. [5]Lezioni della contra-rivoluzione (Naples meeting, September 1951) Edizioni il programma comunista no. 7, p.3.

[6]Leitsatzen der Kommunistischen Arbeiter-Internationale, in Kommunistiche Arbeiter-Zeitung (Essner Richtung) 1922 no.1. English edition in Herman Gorter The Communist Workers' International (London 1977)

[7]The Platform of the Left was adopted at a national conference of the extreme left in Berlin (2.4.1926.) and was published in the pamphlet Der Weg der Komintern (Berlin, 1926). Partial English translation in Helmut Gruber Soviet Russia masters the Comintern (New York, 1974).

[8] First published in Prometeo no. 7, October 1928.

[9] ibid.

[10]La Russia sovietica dalla rivoluzione all'oggi in Prometeo serie II, no. 1.

[11]Proprieta e capitale in Prometeo serie II 1-4.

[12]Struttura Economica e Sociale della Russia d'Oggi in il programma comunista 1955 no. 10 - 1957 no. 12.

[13]Prometeo serie II no. 1 p. 22.

[14] ibid, p. 24.

[15] ibid. no. 4, p. 123.

[16] ibid.

[17] Old member of the Italian left, still living. He was a communist deputy before the Second World War. During that war he actively defended the thesis of the transformation of the imperialist war into a class war and was one of the main founders of the Internationalist Communist Party in 1943 (Bordiga did not participate in it, he was not in agreement over the opportunity of creating such a party). His various disagreements with Bordiga, especially over the Russian question and the perspectives of the development of the workers' movement after the war, were one of the reasons for the split of 1952. One part of the party was to become the International Communist Party (with Bordiga), the other kept the old name (with Damen) and continues to publish the paper Battaglia comunista and the review Prometeo. Damen has written a small book Amadeo Bordiga Validita e limiti d'una esperienza (epi, Milan, 1971).

[18] ibid. p. 46 (letter to Damen from Bordiga, 9.7.51.)

[19]Bussole impazzite (Compasses struck with madness) in Battaglia comunista 1951 no. 20

[20]Capital Vol.I (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976) p. 344

[21]Omicidio dei morti in Battaglia comunista 1951 no. 24. The citation is from Capital Vol. I p. 342.

[22] ibid.

[23]La dottrina del diavolo in corpo in Battaglia comunista 1951 no. 20

[24] Cf. Capital Vol. I p. 302. The final citation is from Goethe's Faust and is correctly translated as "as if its body were by love possessed" (as in Fowkes' edition). We have changed the citation only to maintain coherence with Bordiga's title and the citation translation of the Italian edition of Capital.

[25]Dialogato con Stalin (ed. Prometeo, Milan, 1953)

[26]Fiorite primavere del capitale (Flowering spring of capital) in il programma comunista 1953 no. 4

[27] Malenkov-Stalin: toppa non tappa (Malenkov-Stalin: patchwork not a stage) in il programma comunista 1953 no. 6

[28]L'orso e il suo grande romanzo in il programma comunista 1955 no. 3

[29] Meeting at Genoa in il programma comunista 1953 no. 90

[30]I fattori di razza e nazione nella teoria marxista (Factors of race and nation in marxist theory) in il programma comunista 1953 nos. 16-20. La questione agraria (The Agrarian Question) in ibid. 1953-4.

[31]Involuzione Russe; 'Terra e liberta' (Russian involutions; 'Land and liberty') in il programma comunista 1964 no. 22

[32]L'invarianza storico di marxismo (The historical invariance of marxism) in Sul filo del tempo 1954 p. 19

[33]Piena e rotta della civilita borghese (Filling and Bursting of bourgeois civilization) in Battaglia comunista 1951 no. 23


Capitalism and other disasters

Earthquakes in India and El Salvador; a ferry sinks off the Greek island of Paros; an airliner bursts into flame at Singapore Airport; drought in East Africa; a train and its passengers burn in a tunnel in the Austrian alps; a petrol tanker explodes in Nigeria; workers die in a factory fire in South Africa; floods in England are hailed as the harbingers of global climatic change. This small sample of disasters represents just the ones that came to our attention while we were putting together this text[1].

Capitalism produces disasters almost as quickly as it produces commodities. We could follow a similar trail of the dead anytime, any place, anywhere. That is why the following texts by Amadeo Bordiga are, sadly, still relevant forty years or more after they were first written.

Bordiga for beginners

Bordiga (1889-1970) was a leading figure in what became known as the Italian Communist Left. Active in revolutionary opposition to the First World War, Bordiga went on to become the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) upon its foundation in 1921. Although active in the Bolshevik-led (Third) Communist International, Bordiga was critical of its tactics, denouncing electoral politics and the policy of working with those very socialist parties that had supported the bloodbath of 1914-1918 and the subsequent repression of revolutionary movements in Germany and elsewhere. As a result Bordiga and those who shared his views were manoeuvred out of the leadership of the CP and ultimately out of the party altogether. Bordiga did make one last stand at the 1926 Executive Committee of the Comintern, making him one of the last people to publicly criticise Stalin to his face and survive.

Bordiga was jailed by Mussolini from 1926 to 1930, while many of his comrades went into exile in France and Belgium as the “Italian Fraction of the Communist Left”. After the fall of Mussolini, some militants in Italy established the Internationalist Communist Party (ICP or, in Italian, “PCInt” to distinguish it from the Stalinist PCI), with which Bordiga was associated. The articles gathered here were first published in Battaglia comunista, the ICP’s journal, in 1951, and in Il Programma comunista, the journal of one of two rival ICPs which existed after a split in 1953 (the group responsible for Il Programma later changed its name to the International Communist Party). At this point Bordiga’s influence was minimal, especially outside of Italy, but in the past 30 years there has been an increasing interest in Bordiga’s writings on Marx, capitalism and communism, even amongst those critical of the sectarian party politics of “Bordigism” and Bordiga’s own conception of the party.

A further point we have to acknowledge here is that Bordiga would probably not have approved of publishing a collection of texts under his name. Bordiga and his comrades opposed the personality cults of Fascism, Stalinism and Trotskyism and believed that as a collective process the revolution was essentially anonymous. Bordiga did not therefore sign his articles: “it is the attribute of the bourgeois world that all commodities bear their maker’s name, all ideas are followed by their author’s signature, every party is defined by its leader’s name” (Bordiga, Sul filo del tempo, 1953). We have taken the view that there is little danger of a Bordiga personality cult 30 years after his death, and that his ideas represent a distinctive current that needs to be named in order to act as a point of reference for discussion[2].

Defining disasters

What do we mean by disasters? We could say that capitalism itself is an ongoing disaster for humans and the environment, measured not just in death and destruction but in the lost potential of life subordinated to the rhythms of capital. But to narrow things down a little we could, for the sake of the argument, define disasters as massacres that take place without deliberate planning.

Even here, qualification is necessary. If, for instance, chemical factories are planned and built in India with less stringent safety than similar factories owned by the same company in the US, can we really say it is an accident if thousands end up dead, as happened when chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal in 1984? If cheap buildings are put up in poor areas at risk of earthquakes, is it just bad luck if they fall down and bury their inhabitants when the earth moves, as in Istanbul in 1999? If medical treatments are denied to those most in need of them, as in the case of HIV/AIDS in Africa is it just “one of those things”?

The massacres here are unplanned only in the sense that no date was set in advance, or orders given to shoot. In this sense disasters are different from wars. Yet the possibility of catastrophe is planned for whenever unnecessary risks are knowingly taken in the planning of new buildings, industrial processes or machines, or when environmental or biological processes are left to take their course without intervention that could prevent them or minimise their impact.

Disasters come in different forms. There are slow-motion disasters, an accumulation of deaths in ones and twos that add up to mass carnage. In the US, “more auto workers were killed and injured each year on the job than soldiers were killed and injured during any year of the Vietnam war”[3]. Then there are sudden accidents resulting in mass casualties caused by technical failures of machines or buildings, such as train and plane crashes. Finally there are so called natural disasters featuring environmental factors such as floods and droughts, but often with social causes.

In the following essays, Bordiga considers a number of disasters from the 1950s and early 1960s. “Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence” deals with both the sinking of the liner Andrea Doria in July 1956, with 51 deaths, and the Ribolla mining disaster, which claimed 42 victims. “The Filling and Bursting of Bourgeois Civilisation” and “Murder of the Dead” take as their starting point the 1957 flooding of the Po valley, while “The Legend of the Piave” deals with another flooding disaster in Italy in 1963.

Profit before safety

Bordiga looks in detail at some of the technical factors in each of these disasters, an approach that perhaps reflects his interests and knowledge as an engineer, but he is clear that “In the inhuman system of capital, every technical problem boils down to an economic one, that of the prize to be won by cutting costs and boosting returns”. He contrasts this unfavourably with “The old pre-bourgeois societies [that] had some residual time to think about safety and general interests” (“The Legend of the Piave”).

That capitalism puts profit before safety is perhaps no great revelation, but for Bordiga it is not simply a question of the sloppy, cost cutting operation of complex machinery. The design of technology is in itself seen to be shaped by the society that produces it.

In the case of the Andrea Doria which sank after colliding with another ship, The MV Stockholm, near Nantucket, Massachusetts, Bordiga shows that since “the mania of modern technology is oriented towards economising on the structure”, ship design reduces the dimensions of the hull and dangerously increases that of the superstructure so as to maximise income-generating accommodation: “more or less vulgar luxury or the safety of the human lives on board, this is the anti- thesis... Too many saloons, swimming pools, playing areas, too many decks above the waterline... too much weight and space put into the superstructure, that is that half skyscraper which stands above the waves, full of windows flooding out light where the luxury class has a good time. This all at the expense of the quickwork, the part in contact with the water, whose size and strength provide stability, flotation, course correction after wandering, resistance to attacks by the sea, collisions with mountains of ice, and those with ships” (“Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence”).

A capitalist ship is therefore capitalist not just because it is operated for profit and staffed by wage slaves, but in its very design. This simple fact continues to have disastrous consequences, testified to by the dead on the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge in 1987, or in the Greek ferry at Paros in 2000.

Is anybody at the controls?

The attempt by the ruling class to find a scapegoat for disasters - the train driver who fell asleep or the ship’s drunken captain - is mirrored by the radical leftist search for a scapegoat from amongst the ranks of the bourgeoisie, typically the fat cat capitalist. Bordiga’s prognosis is more realistic but also more frightening, suggesting that the ruling class is incapable of preventing disasters even where it might have the will to do so: “when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers... The ruling class, for its part incapable of struggling against the devil of business activity, superproduction and superconstruction for its own skin, thus demonstrates the end of its control over society, and it is foolish to expect that, in the name of a progress with its trail indicated by bloodstains, it can produce safer ships than those of the past.” (“Weird...”).

Disasters are shown to arise from the innermost logic of capitalist society, not just from the negligence or malice of individuals (or individual corporations). Bordiga uses Marx’s theory of rent to explain why capitalism will squeeze the last drop out of less productive mines whatever the risk to the miners: “The lignite seams of Ribolla are among the least productive, while those of anthracite in Belgium are the most productive, and where there is no differential rent capitalism can never invest in more expensive installations to increase production and safeguard miners’ lives, unlike in the best mines in France, the Netherlands, England, Germany and America”. Fatally, at the same time “the theory of rent prohibits leaving the last, the most dangerous, mine closed” (ibid)[4].

In the case of the Piave floods, where dam building was a major factor in the disaster, Bordiga blames not just “the sacrosanct need for low costs” but “the modern capitalist superstition of the division of labour” and “the most idiotic of modern cults, the cult of specialisation. Not only is it inhuman to hunt down the scapegoat, but also vain, since one has allowed this stupid productive society to arise, made of separate sections. No one is guilty because, if someone takes off the blindfold for a moment, he can say that he gave advice requested by the next section, that he was the expert, the specialist, the competent person” (“The Legend...”).

Communism will abolish the fragmented, specialist view of social and technological problems: “The science and skill of producing and especially of building will, in the future society which will kill the monster of economic return, of surplus-value production, be unitary and indivisible. Not a man’s head, but a social brain above ridiculous separated sections will see without those useful blindfolds the immensity of each problem” (ibid).

Capitalist science is criticised for embodying this division of labour, but also for attempting to apply “perennially valid formulae” to complex local situations when “constructing things fixed to the Earth’s crust”. “The geological problem is not one for the smoking saloon or the test tank. It is one of lengthy human experience based on the proofs of historical building” (ibid).

A positive aspect of these texts is that Bordiga takes disasters as a starting point to advance a critique of capitalist progress quite at odds with marxist orthodoxy in the period in which he was writing. He talks of the “thousands of Italian corpses” carried out to sea by the river Piave having been sacrificed to the bloodlust of “modern bourgeois and patriotic capitalist civilisation and above all to the adorers of its science and technology”. He describes “Progress” as “the lying myth which makes the poor in spirit and the starved wretches bend their backs to it, ready to swear loyalty to this Moloch which every so often and a little bit each day crushes them under the wheels of its obscene carriage” (ibid).

Despite (or maybe because of) technological advances since these texts were written, the world is in many ways a more dangerous place. As Bordiga himself argued: “If it is true that the industrial and economic potential of the capitalist world is increasing and not diminishing, it is equally true that the more virulent it is, the worse the living conditions of the human mass are in regards to natural and historical cataclysms” (“The Filling and Bursting...”).

Bordiga’s suggestion that this is partly due to “a worldwide decline of technology” (Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence) does not though seem accurate. Rather as the situationist Encyclopedia des Nuisances observed after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster: “no doubt one could find other ruling classes in history who, having lost all historical perspective beyond that of their own survival, sank into a suicidal irresponsibility; but never in the past has a ruling class been able to press such vast means into the service of such a total contempt for life” [5].

Bordiga shows how capitalist social relations impact on technological developments and on the wider environment. But to understand disasters it is not enough to advance a critique of capitalist technology, even if there is a technical element to most disasters. When 58 Chinese refugees suffocated in the back of a lorry recently while trying to enter Britain, what mattered was not the technical details such as the lack of ventilation in the vehicle. The real issue is what forces led them into the lorry: poverty, dispossession and immigration and asylum laws. Similarly most of those killed or injured in train crashes are making journeys to and from places of work dictated by the needs of the capitalist economy.

It’s not natural

“Earthquakes are inevitable, but death in an earthquake is not. Ground tremors do not kill: collapsing buildings do the killing... People died in El Salvador on January 13 [2000] and Gujarat on January 26 because modern buildings - even modern hospitals -fell flat, one floor pancaking on to another as reinforced concrete slabs collapsed like a house of cards. They died because walls that should have been tied to floors fell outwards, removing all structural support, and bringing the roof down. They died because tall buildings swayed in resonance and shook themselves to bits as the ground danced beneath them. People died because they lived on or near unstable hillsides; they died because gas pipes burst, and petrol stations caught fire, because water supplies failed and sewage flooded their basements” (Tim Radford, “Lessons from Past Disasters go Unheaded”, Guardian, 29 January 2001).

Today even many believers have stopped believing that disasters like floods and droughts are simply acts of nature, let alone God. In the aftermath of the Orissa cyclone that killed 10,000 people in eastern Indian in 1999, and the drought in the horn of Africa (2000), the charity Christian Aid argues “that is wrong to call these catastrophes natural now that we are aware of the creeping menace of global warming which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels”. [6]

Bordiga is prescient in his understanding of the links between (capitalist) human intervention and so-called natural disasters, stressing the role of “the disastrous deforestation of the mountains” in the flooding of the Po, which forced 100,000 people to flee their homes.

Capitalism cannot save us from disasters because its short term economic interests are what drives it, not the long term conditions of life on the planet: “No capital will be invested for the good of our great-grandchildren”. So since “high growing trees... always require a very long period before yielding a useful product” (100 years or more for oak trees), there is little incentive to plant them. Likewise today, catastrophic global climatic change in the near future is not a sufficient reason to reduce carbon emissions and present day profitability.

It is not just because preventing disasters is expensive that capitalism fails to invest. Bordiga shows that capitalism is driven by “the ravenous hunger for catastrophe and ruin”, that it needs destruction. While disasters can destroy capitalist property, “The wealth that disappeared was that of past, ages-old labour. To eliminate the effect of the catastrophe, a huge mass of present-day, living labour is required” (“Murder of the Dead”).

For Marx, “Capital is dead labour, which, vampire like, lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” Bordiga goes a step further and shows that “To exploit living labour, capital must destroy dead labour which is still useful. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses”. Hence “capitalism, oppressor of the living, is the murderer also of the dead” (ibid).

This somewhat gothic imagery is used to make a fundamental point. Buildings, bridges, roads, like consumer goods, are the products of “past crystallised labour”, dead labour. The big profits are made when they are built, but they are only built once -unless they are destroyed and need to be built again. Thus “Modern capital... has a great interest in letting the products of dead labour fall into disuse as soon as possible so as to impose their renewal with living labour, the only type from which it ‘sucks’ profit. That is why it is in seventh heaven when war breaks out and that is why it is so well trained for the practice of disasters” (ibid). The principle is the same as with the built-in obsolescence of consumer goods, a point Bordiga emphasises in relation to the motor industry: “Car production in America is massive, but all, or nearly all, families have a car, so demand might be exhausted. So then it is better that the cars last only a short time” (ibid).

In the case of the Po valley floods, it might have been the case that “the maintenance of the Po embankments for ten kilometres requires human labour costing, let us say, one million a year” but “it suits capitalism better to rebuild them all spending one billion”. Disasters are good for business: “high incomes thrive where high levels of destruction occur, big business deals being based on them”. It is the working class who lose “everything in the disaster, but unfortunately not their chains” (ibid).

The spectacularisation of disasters

Nothing exposes the reality of class society more than a disaster, yet disasters are frequently the occasion for the political/media orchestration of a national spectacle of mourning, in which all social divisions are supposed to be dissolved in tears. The spectacularisation of disasters has become more sophisticated in the years since Bordiga wrote, with events immediately framed as disaster movies, and each new bout of media saturation tending to erase the memory of its predecessor.

But the basic format remains the same: “Commodity society... fogs the issue with enquiries, funeral masses, the bonds of fraternity in which one can discern only the fraternity of the chain gang, crocodile tears and promises of legislation and administration to attract others ‘without reserves’ to ask to take their places in the funereal lift cages - hats off to technology!” (“Weird...”).

In the aftermath of the Po floods, “It was too late to pull the homeless out of the flooding Po, but good play was made of MPs and ministers paddling about in their wellies after setting up cameras and microphones for a world-wide broadcast of their lamentations” (“Murder of the Dead”). Bordiga’s description here recalls the antics of modern ambulance chasers, possibly most disgusting of all Margaret Thatcher in her unwanted hospital visit to the Hillsborough survivors after the massacre of 95 football fans in Sheffield in 1989, crushed while fenced in by cages and cops[7].

Like the Italian monarchy, today’s rulers are “great in knowing to rush not to the dance (Pordenone), but to where people are dying of cholera (Naples), or to the ruins of Reggio and Messina, raised to the ground by the earthquakes of 1908” (“Murder of the Dead”).

Disasters and class struggle

If capitalism is incapable of preventing disasters - and indeed actually produces them - it is equally unable to clear up the mess afterwards. True, disasters are often the occasion for military mobilisation, but the first priority of such efforts is always to “safeguard public order” and guard private property.

Emma Goldman described the shooting of looters after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906: “A man was instantly shot as he walked out of a saloon with his arms full of champagne bottles, and another was shot for carrying off a sack of coffee”[8]. Similar scenes are replayed whenever the state’s infrastructure of control threatens to break down as a result of disaster.

In Luoyang (China) relatives of hundreds of people killed in a recent disco fire blocked traffic and were promptly charged by police. An official said: “The most important thing at present is to maintain stability and keep social order.” There had been no such prompt action to respond to warnings about conditions in the shopping mall where the party took place, a building declared to be one of the most dangerous in Henan province three years previously (Guardian, 29 December 2000).

One aspect which Bordiga does not consider in these articles is that the working class is not simply the victims of disasters, but is capable of responding to them to advance its own needs. This neglect is undoubtedly related to Bordiga’s underestimation of the role of working class self-activity in general.

Disasters are not just the site of destruction but of class struggle. As Harry Cleaver has shown for the Mexican earthquake in 1985 “the movement of the earth sparked movements of people using the devastation in property and the cracks opened in the structures of political power to break through oppressive social relations and to improve their lives”.

For instance, “When landlords and lawyers arrived on the scene the very day of the quake, the people in the community quickly realized that the greatest threat to them would come from these owners trying to take advantage of the situation by tearing down their homes and rebuilding more expensive, higher rent properties from which the former tenants would be excluded”. Anticipating such actions, thousands of tenants organised themselves against this possibility.[9]

After the earthquake in southern Italy in 1980, it was noted that “The main function of the Army has been conceived and operated as one of social control. Relief came a long way behind, as a social priority.” Radical workers and students linked to the Autonomia movement set up a first aid centre and canteen in one of the worst hit areas near Conza as well as exposing the misappropriation of relief funds by a local colonel, for which some of them were arrested and sent back to Rome accused of “causing dissension among the population”.[10]

In Bhopal (India), where 200,000 are still living with the chronic effects of the 1984 disaster, there has been continuing struggle down to the present day; at the time of writing women were blocking traffic in the city, burning effigies and shouting “Death to Union Carbide”.[11]

There are also plenty of examples of collective action to prevent the risks of disaster, in particular strikes over health and safety issues. A major recent example was the lengthy strike at the Hema Chemical Industries plant in Vadodara, Gujerat (India) where workers were suffering the side effects of working with chromium.[12] Concern over safety has been one of the issues in strikes by London Underground workers in the UK. The struggles to prevent deforestation in various parts of the world also have a disaster prevention aspect.

No logo: Capitalism without corporations?

The past few years have seen the emergence of a significant international “anti-capitalist movement”, focused particularly on international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We have seen mass demonstrations and riots in the City of London, Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Gothenburg, Genoa and elsewhere. Within this movement there is an awareness of the links between disasters and capitalism, particularly in relation to climate change. This was most explicit in the actions against the UN Climate Convention in the Hague, Netherlands (November 2000) which highlighted the floods in Mozambique earlier in the year.[13]

Within this movement too there is a contradictory and fluctuating mix of those desiring a radically different society and those asking our rulers to take better charge of the situation. Even within the former category, there is still confusion about what capitalism actually is. We believe that the other texts by Bordiga collected in this volume - “The Spirit of Horse Power” and “The Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil” - provide some useful pointers.

A good example of some of the misconceptions around capitalism is to be found in Naomi Klein’s influential No Logo.[14] This book includes some very good descriptions of processes at work in the global economy - the relentless expansion of corporations into all areas of social life, the disappearance of unmarketed space, “branding” as spectacular production, the relocation of work from the west to “export processing zones”, casualisation and so on.

Using Bordiga’s (and Marx’s) analysis we can say that these features of modern capitalism are significant but ultimately superficial. We could imagine a world without Nike, Coca Cola or the Gap where daily life still continued much as before - indeed we need only to look at the former USSR to see that this is the case.

In the former Soviet Union there was little “branding” or any of the other trappings of corporate culture that Klein takes as being characteristic of capitalism. The state, far from being marginalised, was at the centre of the economy. Did this make it any less capitalist? Bordiga is clear that the answer is no. He polemicised against those who held that society was radically different in the USSR because of the state’s role in the economy. The critique is aimed both at Stalinists who argued that “the social programme is enacted when individual property becomes state property, when the factory is nationalised” (“Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil”) and at those who criticised the USSR but saw it as a new form of class society or, like Trotskyists, as a “degenerated workers’ state”.

The example of the USSR shows that capitalism can survive not only without advertising but without the individual capitalist or even the corporation. Despite the high-profile Chief Executives of many modern corporations, the role of the individual capitalist, the top-hatted factory owner of old socialist propaganda, has been diminishing since the dawn of capitalism: “The physical person of the individual master is thus not required, and bit by bit he disappears into the pores of share capital, of management boards, of state-run boards, of the political state, which has become (since a long time ago) entrepreneur and manufacturer, and into the very latest vile form of the state which pretends to be ‘the workers themselves’ and thus is able to tie them to the feet of the sinister steel automatons.” (“The Spirit of Horse Power”).

What characterises capital is its life cycle which “consists only in its movement as value perpetually set in motion so as to multiply itself” (“Doctrine...”). Whether the profit generated in production is reinvested by shareholders, or is used by the state to expand production, the process is essentially the same. The same too is the result for the majority of the population - forced to sell their labour in order to survive and to buy back the products of their and others’ labour through the market (even if that market is controlled by the state).

The State

In one of her most revealingly reformist passages Klein argues: “Political solutions - accountable to people and enforceable by their elected representatives - deserve another shot before we throw in the towel and settle for corporate codes, independent monitors and the privatisation of our collective rights”.

The call for the state to save us from the ravages of capitalism has parallels with those who called in Bordiga’s day for the state to organise public works to prevent disasters. Of course the state could mobilise more resources in disaster management, but we can be sure it would not do so at the expense of capital. We can more easily imagine with Encyclopedia des Nuisances a future global crisis state, legitimising repression and austerity on the basis of saving the planet, “a regime of militarised survival” able to “justify its existence by invoking the need for protection from catastrophes of its own making”.[15]

The bottom line is that the state is not independent of capital, but the guarantor of it. Capitalism is premised on private property - where “fixed capital” in the form of buildings, factories, land, can belong exclusively to individuals, companies or states rather than being at the disposal of society as a whole for the interests of all. If this were not the case, the situations described so well by Klein would be unthinkable. If it weren’t for private property, workers in garment factories could take the clothes they made home with them and give them to their friends rather than them being exported to western high streets. Or the community could decide to do something else entirely with the factory. Or close it down.

But, as Bordiga points out, a fundamental principle of capitalism “is that the right of the productive enterprise to dispose of the products and the sales proceeds... is unimpaired and unimpairable. What guards this central right in contemporary society is from the outset a class monopoly, it is a structure of power, and the state, the judiciary and police punish whoever breaks this norm” (“Doctrine...”).

Without the state to enforce property relations there can be no capitalism: “Property is a term which does not indicate a purely economic relationship, but also a legal one and brings into discussion not just the productive forces, but also the relations of production. Private property means private right sanctified by bourgeois legal codes: it brings us to the state and to power, a matter of force and violence in the hands of a class... in order to overcome the capitalist economy, the juridicial and state structure corresponding to it must also be overcome” (ibid).

Capitalism is not confined to the workings of corporations to which the rest of society, including the state, stands in some kind of exterior relation. Bordiga anticipates autonomist notions of the “social factory” when he argues that “The economy is the entire social field in which production and distribution occur” with the state merely “a specific organisation acting in the social field” with “the function of policeman and protector of the interests of a class and a type of production corresponding historically with this class” (ibid).

Like many liberal critics of “globalisation”, Klein wants to tame capital rather than abolish it. In relation to sponsorship for instance, she derides talk of some “utopian commercial-free future” and pines for a more “balanced relationship” in which capital knows its place. One hundred and fifty years ago, Marx and Engels demonstrated in The Communist Manifesto that capital knows no place, that ceaseless expansion is its very essence: “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind”.

The unwillingness of many in the “anti-capitalist” movement to face the implications of this leaves them unable to go beyond a negative critique and pose a different society. Like Marx, Bordiga understood that ultimately only communism can abolish capitalism - the abolition of classes, private property and the state in the formation of a world human community. No one should underestimate the task of creating such a society, but if this seems unrealistic, it is less so than believing that capitalism can be restrained from its disastrous course by protests, guilt or government action.[16]


[1] The disasters in question occurred in late 2000 and early 2001.

[2] For more on Bordiga, see: Communism is the material human community by Loren Goldner in Critique no.23, 1991; The Italian Communist Left 1926-45 (International Communist Current, 1992); Earlene Craver, The Third Generation: the Young Socialists in Italy, 1907-1915, Canadian Journal of History, no. 31, August 1996, pp. 199-226; and “Note on Pannekoek and Bordiga” in Gilles Dauve and Francois Martin, Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement (Antagonism Press, 1997). Bordiga’s conception of the party is discussed in Bordiga versus Pannekoek  from Antagonism Press. For a critical discussion of Bordiga and anonymity see Jacques Camatte, “Statements and Citations” 1973, reprinted in This world we must leave and other essays (Autonomedia, 1995).

[3] Detroit: I do mind dying, Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin (New York, 1975).

[4] Marx sets out his theory of rent in Volume 3 of Capital, demonstrating that the market price of the produce of the land (whether foodstuffs or coal) is established on the basis of the least productive land (absolute rent) allowing the owners of more productive land to make more profit (differential rent).

[5] Encyclopedia of Nuisances, volume one No. 8, Paris, 1989 - Abyss (the Chernobyl issue).

[6] Christian Aid, Unnatural disasters, May 2000. For a critique of the “naturalness” of 19th century droughts see Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts (London, 2000).

[7] See: “Hillsborough - Police Massacre”, Wildcat no.13, Summer/Autumn 1989.

[8] Emma Goldman, in Mother Earth no. 1 (May 1906). Thanks to the Shaping San Francisco project for finding this.

[9] Harry Cleaver, “The Uses of an Earthquake”, Midnight Notes, No.9, May 1988.

[10] “Interview with Two Autonomists”, in Red Notes, Italy 1980-81: After Marx, Jail! - the attempted destruction of a communist movement (London, 1981). Similar practical solidarity

was undertaken in relation to an earthquake in Ancona and floods in Calabria, 1970-71 (Laura F. personal communication).

[11] Schnews, 10 November 2000. For reflections on the disaster see George Bradford, “We all live in Bhopal”, Fifth Estate, Winter 1985. Also reprinted in Questioning Technology: a

critical anthology (London, Freedom Press, 1988).

[12] “Workers in India Strike Over Health and Safety”, Socialist Action, August 1999.

[13] See: Green Pepper (Amsterdam), Climate Change Issue, Autumn 2000. The best ongoing source of reports and discussion on Prague, Seattle and the rest is the journal Do or Die (www.eco-action.org/dod/ ).

[14] Naomi Klein, No Logo, London, New York, Harper Collins, 2000.

[15] Encyclopaedia of Nuisances, volume one No. 8, Paris, 1989 - Abyss.

[16] Many of the texts referred to in this introduction and footnotes are available on the internet. Good starting points for tracking some of them down are the Antagonism website (www.geocities.com/antagonism1) and the “For Communism” site (www.geocities.com/~johngray/)


The Filling and Bursting of Bourgeois Civilisation

The floods in the Po valley and the confused debate over their causes and over the responsibility of organisations and public bodies that did not know how to carry out protection work, with all the disgusting mutual accusations of “speculating” on misfortune, puts into question one of the most widespread false opinions shared by all the contenders. This is that contemporary capitalist society, with the corresponding development of science, technology and production, places the human species in the best possible position to struggle against the difficulties of the natural environment. Hence the contingent fault of the government or of Party A and B, which lies in not knowing how to exploit this magnificent potential at hand, and in the erroneous and culpable administrative and political measures. Hence the no less classic: “Move over, I want to take over now!”

If it is true that the industrial and economic potential of the capitalist world is increasing and not diminishing, it is equally true that the more virulent it is, the worse the living conditions of the human mass are in regards to natural and historical cataclysms. Unlike the periodic spates of rivers, the spate of frenetic capital accumulation knows no perspective of a “decrease”, of a falling curve from the hydrometer readings, but only the catastrophe of the river banks bursting.

Yesterday

The relationship between the thousands of years long development of man’s production technique and relations with the natural environment is very close. Primitive man, like an animal, gathered and ate wild fruit using a simple grasping action and, like an animal, fled headlong from the disruption of natural phenomena that threatened his life. As the artificial production of products for consumption and the accumulation of reserves of these products and of tools forced him to settle, so too they forced him to defend himself from such threats as the weather[1] and natural devastation. Such a defence, not unlike that against other groups competing for the best site, or predators on the accumulated reserve, could only be collective. From these collective needs arose, as we have seen many times, class division and exploitation by rulers.

In Marx “the capitalist mode of production ... is based on the dominion of man over nature.”[2] It also presupposes the war of nature on man. A too generous and lavish nature would not be the favourable environment which capitalism could spring from.

“It is not the mere fertility of the soil, but the differentiation of the soil, the variety of its natural products, the changes of the seasons, which form the physical basis for the social division of labour... It is the necessity of bringing a natural force under the control of society, of economising, of appropriating or subduing it on a large scale by the work of man’s hand, that first plays the decisive part in the history of industry. Examples are, the irrigation works in Egypt, Lombardy, Holland, or in India and Persia where irrigation by means of artificial canals, not only supplies the soil with the water indispensable to it, but also carries down to it, in the shape of sediment from the hills, mineral fertilisers. The secret of the flourishing state of industry in Spain and Sicily under the dominion of the Arabs lay in their irrigation works… One of the material bases of the power of the state over the small disconnected producing organisms in India, was the regulation of the water supply. The Mahometan rulers of India understood this better than their English successors. It is enough to recall to mind the famine of 1866, which cost the lives of more than a million Hindus in the district of Orissa, in the Bengal presidency.”

It is well known that similar famines have raged recently, despite the tremendous potential of world capitalism... The struggle against nature generates industry; man lives on two sacred Dantesque elements, nature and art (the third is God). Capitalism generates the exploitation of man from industry. The bourgeoisie will not be revolted by violence against God, nature and art.

Very modern high capitalism shows serious cases of retreat in the struggle to defend against attacks by the forces of nature on the human species, and the reasons are strictly social and class ones, so much so as to invert the advantage derived from the progress of theoretical and applied science. Let us wait then to blame it for having increased the rainfall intensity with atomic explosions or, tomorrow, with having “messed about” with nature so much as to risk making the earth and its atmosphere uninhabitable and even to make the skeleton explode by priming “chain reactions” of all the elements in nuclear complexes. For now let us establish a social and economic law for the parallel between its greater efficiency in exploiting labour and the life of men and the ever decreasing efficiency in the rational defence against the natural environment, in the widest sense.

The earth’s crust is modified by geological processes which man increasingly learns to distinguish and decreasingly attributes to mysterious wishes of angry forces and which, within certain limits, he learns to correct and control. When, in pre-history, the Po valley was a huge lagoon through which the Adriatic Sea lapped the foothills of the Alps, the first inhabitants, who evidently were not lucky enough to beg “amphibious craft” from self-interested American charity, occupied pile-dwellings rising above the water. It was a “terramara” civilisation of which Venice is a distant development; it was too simple for a “reconstruction business” to be based on it with contracts to supply timber! The pile-dwellings did not collapse during floods: modern brick houses do. However, what means exist today to build raised houses, roads and railways! They would suffice to protect the population. Utopia! The sums do not tally, while the account of 200 billion lire for repair works and reconstruction is quite in order.

In the past, the building of the first embankments dates back to the Etruscans. The natural process of mountainside degradation and the transport of material suspended in river waters from the mountains at flood time has formed a huge, fertile lowland region over the centuries. This convenience assured the settlement of agricultural peoples. The subsequent populations and regimes continued to raise high embankments along the banks of the large rivers, which were insufficient to stop huge cataclysms when the river shifted its course. The shift of the Po near Guastalla onto a new course, which was until then the lowest reach of the Oglio, dates from the fifth century.

In the thirteenth century, the great river abandoned the southern distributory of the huge delta, the present-day secondary “Po di Volano”, in the reach near its mouth and adopted the present course from Pontelagoscuro to the sea. The frightening “shifts” have always been from south to north. A general law assumes a tendency for all the world’s rivers to migrate northwards for geophysical reasons. However, in the case of the Po, this law is evident due to the great difference between its north and south bank tributaries. The former rise in the Alps and have clear water either because they pass through large lakes, or because they do not have a maximum regime during periods of heavy rainfall, but instead during the springtime melting of glaciers. Therefore these rivers do not carry mud and sand deposits into the course of the main river when in flood. However, from the south, from the Apennines, the short and torrential right bank tributaries with their huge variations between maximum and minimum flow pour down the debris of mountain erosion, filling in the right bank section of the Po’s channel, which every so often escapes this damming by turning North.

Chauvinism is not required to know that the science of river hydraulics arose from this problem: for centuries the problem has been posed of the utility and functioning of embankments, or the connection with the problem of the distribution of irrigation water via canals, and finally of river navigation. After the Roman works, information is available about the first canals in the Po valley in 1037. After the victory of Legnano,[3] the Milanese built the Naviglio Grande to Abbiategrasso, which was made navigable in 1271. With this arose capitalist agriculture, the first in Europe, and the great hydraulic works were undertaken by state bodies: from the canals and basins of Leonardo, who also provided norms for the river regimes, to the Cavour Canal, begun in 1860.

The construction of embankments to contain rivers raised a major problem: that of raised rivers. While the Alpine rivers, such as the Ticino and Adda, run largely between natural banks, the right bank tributaries and the Po below Cremona are raised: this means that not only the water level, but also the bed of the water course is higher than the surrounding countryside. The embankments save it from being flooded and a collector canal runs parallel to the river to collect local water which it carries to the river downstream: these are the great reclamation works, and as they approach the sea, the transfer of water to the river is performed mechanically so that the districts which are below not only the river, but also the sea, are kept dry. The entire Polesine is a huge low-lying area. Adria is 4 meters above sea level. Rovigo is 5 meters: there the Po’s bed is higher and the Adige’s even more so. Clearly a breach in the embankments would turn the whole of Rovigo province into a huge lake.

There is a major debate among hydrologists as to whether the rise in the beds of such rivers is progressive. French hydrologists said yes a century ago while the leaders of Italian hydrology opposed them, and the matter is still discussed in congresses today. Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the river load and its deposition extends the mouth out to sea, even if this does not collect in the final reaches of the river’s bed. Because of this incessant process, the gradient of the bed and the water surface can only decrease and, according to hydrological law, the speed of the current equally falls: hence the need to raise embankments seemed historically endless and unavoidable. The disastrous nature of the breaches occurring is also progressive.

The availability of modern mechanical means has contributed in this field to extending the method of exploiting large areas of the most fertile land, keeping them dry by continuous pumping. The risk to the tenants and workers worries a profit economy, but the damage caused when the works fall can be balanced against the fertilisation by the invading mud on the one hand and the economic factor on the other: carrying out works is always good capitalist business.

The classic reclamations by alluviation were widespread in the modern period along the entire Italian lowland coast: river water was alternately allowed to flood into and deposit in the great basins, the level of which rose slowly with the double advantage of not letting useful and fertile soil wash out to sea and of providing ever greater security from flooding and future danger. This rational system was found to be too slow for the requirements of capital investment. Another tendentious argument was and is drawn from the continuously rising population density which cannot permit a loss of fertile land. So almost all the old polders, carefully surveyed with precision by the hydrologists of the Austrian, Tuscan and Bourbon regimes, have been destroyed.

Clearly, if today one had to choose from the various radical solutions to these problems, not only would one clash with the incapacity of capitalism to look to the distant future as regards the handing down of installations from generation to generation, but one would also clash with the strong local interests of farmers and industrialists who have an interest in not having various zones eroded and who play on the attachment of poor people to their inhospitable homes. Since a while back, new solutions have been proposed to create “lateral channels” for the Po.

This type of study is always unpopular because the results forecast are uncertain, something which creates great annoyance in business circles. One solution, on the right, consists in a cut from Pontelagoscuro to the valleys or lagoons of Comacchio: the artificial canal would cut about one third off the length of the present river course to the sea. Such a solution clashes with the big investments in Ferrarese reclamation works and with fish farming, so it would be resisted. But the solutions with more foresight and which perhaps are more in conformity with natural processes call for the reuniting of the Po and Adige courses between which lies the lower Polesana, creating in its Thalweg,[4] presently criss-crossed by small water courses, a huge collector and, perhaps, in the final count, a side canal for one if not both rivers would encounter no less resistance.

In the bourgeois period, such a study does not lead to positive research, but to two “policies”, right and left, as regards the Po, with the related conflict between speculating groups.

Today

There is discussion as to whether the present catastrophe, in which some have already seen the natural formation of a large stable swamp and a shifting of the Po’s course with the total destruction of the north bank, is due to exceptional rainfall and the complicity of natural causes, or to the inexperience and the error of men and directors. Indisputably the succession of wars and crises have caused decades of neglect in the difficult service of technical inspection and embankment maintenance, dredging of river beds where necessary and the systematisation of high mountain basins, the deforestation of which caused greater and more rapid rain water run-off during high water and greater flows of suspended material to the river courses on the plain.

With the bad trend that now prevails in science and official technical organisation, it is even difficult to collect and to compare udometric data (amount of rainfall on various dates in the basin which feeds the river) and hydrometric data (water levels at the hydrometers, maximum flow) with those of the past. Offices and scientists with self-respect now offer replies in line with political requirements and reasons of state, that is, according to the effect that they will have, the figures having been massaged in every possible way. One can also well believe the current of criticism which states that not even the observation stations destroyed during the war have been replaced, and it is also credible that our present technical bureaucracy works with old maps, passed along copy by copy, dragging along slowly over the drawing tables of the lazy technical personnel, and that it does not update the surveys with new altitude surveys, which are difficult, and with operations of geodetic precision, which allow one to collate the various data of the phenomenon. It lives in masses of maps which are in line with approvals given in circulars in terms of format and colour, but do not give a tinker’s cuss for physical reality. The figures handed out here and there for the popular press don’t add up, but it is too easy to blame the journalists who know all about nothing.

It therefore remains to be seen – and those movements with wide support and plentiful means could well try to do this – if the intensity of rainfall really was the highest in a century of observation: it is correct to doubt it. The same goes for the hydrometer readings for the maximum levels and flows: it is easy to say that the historical maximum was recorded at Pontelagoscuro at 11,000 cubic meters per second but now has presently risen to 13,000. In 1917 and 1926 there were very large maxima of much lesser consequence, always in spring, up to 13,800 cubic meters per second passing through Piacenza.

Let us say without dwelling further on the matter that the rainfall was certainly not of unheard of proportions and the chief responsibility for the disaster lies in the long lack of necessary services and in the omission of maintenance and improvement works, which is related to the smaller public budget for such works and the way money was spent compared to the past.

It is a matter of providing a cause for these facts, which must be a social and historical cause, and it is puerile to bring up again the “bad management” of those who were or are at the helm of the Italian ship of state. Besides, this is not a uniquely Italian phenomenon, but occurs in all countries. Administrative chaos, thieving, the penetration of speculation into public decision making are now denounced by the conservatives themselves, and in America they have been related to public disasters: even there ultra-modern cities in Kansas and Missouri have fallen victim to badly regulated rivers.[5]

Two mistaken ideas underlie a critique like the one we have just mentioned. One is that the struggle to return from the fascist dictatorship within the bourgeoisie (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has existed since it won freedom) to the external multiparty democracy had as its aim a better administration, whereas it is clear that it had to lead, and has led, to a worse administration. This is the fault common to ALL shades in the great block of the CLN.[6]

The other incorrect idea is the belief that the totalitarian form of the capitalist regime (of which Italian fascism was the first great example) gave overwhelming power to the state bureaucracy against the autonomous initiatives of enterprises and private speculation. On the contrary, this form is vital for capitalism’s survival and that of the bourgeois class at a certain stage. It concentrates counter-revolutionary powers in the state machine, but renders the administrative machine weaker and more open to manipulation by speculative interests.

Here we need a historical sketch of the Italian administrative machine from the epoch of the achievement of national unity. Initially it worked well and had strong powers. All the favourable conditions contributed to this. The young bourgeoisie had to pass through the heroic phase and to make sacrifices in order to seize power and to affirm its interests. Therefore the individual elements were still prepared to offer their all and were less attracted by immediate hidden gain. Further resolute enthusiasm was needed to liquidate the resistance of the old powers and of the rusted state machines of the various parts into which the country was originally divided politically.

There was no notable division into parties as the sole party of the liberal revolution governed (virgin in 1860, old slag in 1943) with the clear acquiescence of the few republicans and with the workers’ movement yet to appear. The swindles began with the bi- party transformismo of 1876.[7] The skeleton of the bureaucracy coming from Piedmont following close on the heels of the military forces of occupation enjoyed a real dictatorship over the local elements and the aristocratic, and clerical, opponents were repressed by emergency powers... as they were guilty of anti- liberalism. Under such conditions, a young, conscientious and honest administrative machine was constructed.

The bureaucracy suffered a twin attack on its uncorrupt dominance with the capitalist system’s development in depth and extension. The great entrepreneurs of public works and of productive sectors aided by the state emerged in the economic field, while in the political field, the spread of corruption to parliamentary business became such that every day “the people’s representatives” intervened to impinge on the decisions of the executive system and general administration, which previously had functioned with scrupulous impersonality and impartiality.

Public works, which previously had been put in place by the most competent, who were naively pleased to have a regular salary as government functionaries, and who were wholly independent in their judgements and advice, began to be imposed by the executioners: we mean the classical Carrozoni[8] began to do the rounds. The machine of state expenditure became decreasingly useful for the community, but all the more financially burdensome.

This process accelerated during the Giolittian period[9], but nevertheless increasing economic prosperity made the damage less obvious. This system, as its political masterpiece, slowly entangled the emerging workers’ party. Precisely because Italy has an abundance of labour power and a lack of capital, all sides call on the state to provide work, and the MP who seeks votes in an industrial or agricultural constituency does the rounds of the ministries hunting for the panacea: public works.

After the First World War, the Italian bourgeoisie, even though they came out “winners”, saw the favourable wind of the heroic period change too drastically and so there was fascism. The concentration of the policing strength of the state along with the concentration of the control of almost all the economic sectors simultaneously allowed it to avoid the explosion of radical revolts among the masses and to assure free speculative manoeuvring for the well-off class, on condition that the latter formed itself into a single class centre within the framework of government policy. Every medium or small employer was compelled to make reformist concessions, called for during the long struggle of the workers’ organisations which (as usual) they destroyed, stealing their programme, so that while a high degree of capitalist concentration was favoured, the internal situation was pacified. The totalitarian form allows capital to set in motion the reformist trick of the previous decades, latching on to the class collaboration proposed by the traitors of the revolutionary party.

The leadership of the state machine and abundant special laws were clearly placed in the service of business initiatives. The technical legislation – to return to our starting point, dealing with rivers – which around 1865 had produced several masterpieces, was now reduced to a total hotchpotch open to all possible manoeuvres, the functionary being reduced to a puppet of the large firms. The hydrological services were precisely those clashing with the famous idea of private initiative. They require a single institution and full powers – they had a very long tradition. Jacini wrote in 1854. The civil problem of the waters found in Giandomenico Romagnosi an immortal writer of treatises.[10] All in all, bourgeois administration and technology had even then class goals, but they were serious, while today they are mere bagatelle.

This led to the bad trend which has caused the degradation and not the improvement of the hydraulic defences in the Paduan plain, starting from a process not concerning just one party or nation, but the centuries long ups and downs of a class regime.

In short, if once the bureaucracy, independent but not omnipotent, laid out its project on the drawing board and then called in bids from public works “enterprises”, compelling them, refusing even the offer of a cup of coffee, to complete them rigorously, thus at most the selection of the funded works was made according to general principles, today the relationship is inverted. The weak and servile technical bureaucracy lets the enterprises themselves draw up the plans and approves them almost unseen, and the enterprises obviously select the profitable works and drop the delicate operations which require more diligence and offer less chance of repetition in the future.

This does not happen because of morality, nor even because in general the functionary gives way to competition and large bribes. It is that if a functionary resists, not only does his workload increase ten-fold, but also the interests against whom he clashes mobilise against him with decisive party influence in the higher echelons of the ministry that employs him. Once the most capable technician gained promotion, now it is the one most able to move in such a system.

When single party fascism gave way to the multi-party system unknown even in Giolittian Italy, even in the constitutional model of perfect England, and so on (where we have never had ten parties declaredly ready to govern according to the constitution, but at most two or three), things went from bad to worse. They were supposed to restore the experts and the honest men with the Allied armies. What a silly hope so many had: the new changing of the guard has produced the worst of all guards, as on the Po embankments.

It is symptomatic enough in diagnosing the present phase of the capitalist regime that a senior official in the Ministry of Works let slip that the flood surveillance services worked well right up to the fatal moment: the only moment for which they are paid a regular salary. This is the style of modern bureaucracy (for some the new ruling class! Ruling classes arrive with gaping mouths, but not with a failing heart).

No less interesting is what Alberto de Stefani wrote, entitled “The Management of the Po”.[11] After outlining the history of measures taken, he cited the judgement of authors in technical journals: “One can never insist too much on the need to react against the system of concentrating the activity of the offices exclusively, or nearly so, on the projection and execution of major works.”

De Stefani did not see the radical implication of such a critique. He deplored the neglect of conservation and maintenance of existing works, while new works were being planned. He cited other passages: “One spends tens of billions (and tomorrow hundreds) for extensions after systematically grudging and withholding those small amounts required for maintenance and even to close breaches.”

That seems to have happened on the Reno. An economist of De Stefani’s calibre scrapes by with saying: “We have too little conservative spirit due to too much uncontrolled fantasy.”

Is it thus perhaps a factor of national psychology? Never: of capitalist production. Capital has become incapable of the social function of transmitting the labour of the present generation to the future ones, utilising the labour of past generations in this. It does not want maintenance contracts, but huge building deals. To enable this, huge natural cataclysms are insufficient – capital creates human ones with ineluctable necessity, and makes post-war reconstruction “the business deal of the century”.

These concepts have to be applied to the critique of the base, demagogic position of the Italian so-called workers’ parties. When speculation and capitalist enterprise are given the capital to invest in hydraulic works which is now committed to armaments, capitalist enterprise (except to cause a crisis among the pseudo- reds of the metallurgical centres, if the business were really to be undertaken) will use that capital in the same way: cheating and speculating at one thousand percent, raising their glasses high to the coming if not of the next war, then of the next flood.

The huge river of human history also has its irresistible and threatening swellings. When the wave rises, it washes against the two retaining embankments: on the right the conformist one, of Conservation of existing and traditional forces; along it priests chant in procession, policemen and gendarmes patrol, the teachers and cantors of official lies and state-schooling prate.

The left bank is that of the reformists, hedged with “people’s” representatives, the dealers in opportunism, the parliamentarians and progressive organisers. Exchanging insults across the stream, both processions claim to have the recipe to maintain the fast- flowing river in its restrained and enforced channel.

But at great turning points, the current breaks free and leaves its course, “shifting” like the Po at Guastalla and Volano onto an unexpected course, sweeping the two sordid bands into the irresistible flood of the revolution which subverts all old forms of restraint, moulding a new face on society like on the land.

Battaglia Comunista No.23, 1951


[1] Publisher’s note – it actually says “meteore” (meteorites) in the original Italian. We cannot believe that Bordiga and his comrades could have been stupid enough to write this – even humans today cannot defend themselves against meteorites, and it is not just because of the irrationalities of the capitalist system! We therefore have assumed that a mistake was made and the original intent was to make some reference to “meteorologico” (meteorological) phenomena.

[2] Capital, Vol I, Chapter 16 (The English edition of 1887). The following quotation is from the same section

[3] In 1176 the Lombard Communes defeated the Emperor Barbarossa at Legnano.

[4] Line where opposite slopes meet at the bottom of a valley.

[5]  Floods in June and July in Kansas and Missouri caused dozens of deaths and left many homeless.

[6] Comitato di Liberazione Nazionalea the antifascist front towards the end of the second world war, going from the Communist Party to the monarchists.

[7] On 18 March 1876, the last “destra” government fell and the “sinistra”, based on regional interests, took over. There was, however, little political difference as the two parties transformed into two almost identical schools of thought.

[8] Platonic and wasteful body or enterprise, especially public.

[9] Roughly 1901 to 1914.

[10] La proprieta fondaria e la poulazione agricola in Lombardia (Milan, 1854 - not 1857 as in the original). Stefano Jacini (1872-91) agronomist, head of the Inchiesta Agraria e sulle condizioni della classe agricola (1884). Minister of public works under Cavour (1860) and again in 1864 and 1867. Gian Domenico Rornagnosi (1761-1835) jurist and philosopher. Considered to be the main inspiration behind the juridical and administrative system adopted by the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).

[11] Alberto De Stefani was the Minister of Finance and the Treasury from 1922 to 1925 when he was removed after pressure from financial and industrial groups. He remained a fascist and was tried after the war for this, being acquitted. The article quoted was published in Il Tempo (Rome) on 21 November 1951. It reiterates what he had previously written when still a minister: “As one reads on, one will see the path taken since the Kingdom’s foundation to the present of the various legislative attempts, of citizens’ sacrifices and their real value, of the excellence of provision and execution, of the defectiveness and deviations which the interest of the state and nation sometimes had to suffer because of the upper hand gained by political or particular or special interests.” (L’azione dello Stato per le Opere Pubbliche 1862-1924, Rome 1925 p. vii)


Murder of the Dead

In Italy, we have long experience of “catastrophes that strike the country” and we also have a certain specialisation in “staging” them. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, rainstorms, epidemics... The effects are indisputably felt especially by poorer people and those living at high densities, and if cataclysms that are frequently much more terrifying strike all corners of the world, not always do such unfavourable social conditions coincide with geographical and geological ones. But every people and every country holds its own delights: typhoons, drought, tidal waves, famine, heatwaves and frosts, all unknown to us in the “garden of Europe”; and when one opens the newspaper, one inevitably finds more than one item, from the Philippines to the Andes, from the Polar Ice Cap to the African Desert.

Our capitalism, as has been said a hundred times over, is quantitatively small fry, but today it is in the vanguard, in a “qualitative” sense, of bourgeois civilisation, of which it offers the greatest precursors from amidst Renaissance splendour[1], in the masterful development of an economy based on disasters.

We wouldn’t dream of shedding a single tear if a monsoon washed away entire cities on the coast of the Indian Ocean, or if they were submerged by the tidal waves caused by submarine earthquakes, but we have found out how to collect alms from all over the world for the Polesine.

Our monarchy was great in knowing to rush not to the dance (Pordenone), but to where people are dying of cholera (Naples), or to the ruins of Reggio and Messina, raised to the ground by the earthquakes of 1908. Now our puffed-up President[2] has been taken off to Sardinia and, if the stalinists haven’t been fibbing, they have shown him teams of “Potemkin workers” in action, that then run to the other side of the stage like the warriors in Aida.[3] It was too late to pull the homeless out of the flooding Po, but good play was made of MPs and ministers paddling about in their wellies after setting up cameras and microphones for a world-wide broadcast of their lamentations.

Here we have the bright idea: the state should intervene! And we have been applying it for a good ninety years. The professedly homeless Italian has set state aid in the place of the grace of God and the hand of providence. He is convinced that the national budget has much wider bounds than the compassion of our Lord. A good Italian happily forks out ten thousand lire squeezed out of him so that months and months later he can “squander one thousand lire of the government’s money”. And during one of these periodic contingencies, now fashionably called emergencies but which fall in all seasons, when the central government has scarcely initiated the unfailing provisions and fundings, a band of no less specialised “homeless” will roll up its sleeves and plunge into the business of procuring concessions and the orgy of contracts.

The Minister of Finance of the day, Vanoni, suspends by his authority all other state functions and declares that he will not provide a single brass farthing from the exchequer for all the other “Special Acts” so that all means can be addressed to dealing with the present disaster.

There could be no better proof than this that the state serves for nothing and that if the hand of God really did exist, he would make a splendid present to the homeless of all kinds by causing earthquakes and bankrupting this charlatan and dilettante state.

The foolishness of the small and middle bourgeoisie shines forth at its brightest when it seeks a remedy for the terror that freezes it in the warm hope of a subsidy and an indemnity liberally bestowed upon it by the government. But the reaction of the overseers of the working masses who, they scream, lost everything in the disaster, but unfortunately not their chains, appears no less senseless.

These leaders, who pretend to be “marxists”, have for these supreme situations, which interrupt the well-being of the proletariat derived from normal capitalist exploitation, an economic formula even more foolish than that of state intervention. The formula is well-known: “make the rich pay!”

Vanoni is thus reviled because he was unable to identify and tax high incomes.[4]

But a mere crumb of marxism suffices to establish that high incomes thrive where high levels of destruction occur, big business deals being based on them. “The bourgeoisie must pay for the war!” stated those false shepherds in 1919 instead of inviting the proletariat to overthrow it. The Italian bourgeoisie is still here, and enthusiastically invests its income in paying for wars and other disasters for which it is then repaid four fold.

Yesterday

When the catastrophe destroys houses, fields and factories, throwing the active population out of work, it undoubtedly destroys wealth. But this cannot be remedied by a transfusion of wealth from elsewhere, as with the miserable operation of rummaging around for old jumble, where the advertising, collection and transport cost far more than the value of the worn out clothes.

The wealth that disappeared was that of past, ages-old labour. To eliminate the effect of the catastrophe, a huge mass of present- day, living labour is required. So, if we use the concrete social, not abstract, definition of wealth, we can see it as the right of certain individuals, who form the ruling class, to draw on living contemporary labour. New incomes and new privileged wealth are formed in the mobilisation of new labour, and the capitalist economy offers no means of “shifting” wealth accumulated elsewhere to plug the gap in Sardinian or Venetian wealth, just as one could not take from the banks of the Tiber to rebuild the ones swallowed up by the Po.

This is why it is a stupid idea to tax the ownership of the fields, houses and factories left intact to rebuild those affected.

The centre of capitalism is not the ownership of such investments, but a type of economy which allows the drawing from and profiting from what man’s labour creates in endless cycles, subordinating the employment of this labour to that withdrawal.

Thus the idea of resolving the war-time housing crisis with an income freeze on landlords of undamaged houses led to the provision of homes in a worse condition than that caused by the bombing. But the demagogues shout easy arguments so as not to confuse the working masses.

The basis of marxist economic analysis is the distinction between dead and living labour. We do not define capitalism as the ownership of heaps of past, crystallised labour, but as the right to extract from living and active labour. That is why the present economy cannot lead to a good solution, realising with the minimum expenditure of present labour the rational conservation of what past labour has transmitted to us, nor to better bases for the performance of future labour. What is of interest to the bourgeois economy is the frenzy of the contemporary work rhythm, and it favours the destruction of still useful masses of past labour, not giving a tupenny-ha’penny damn for its descendants.

Marx explains that the ancient economies, which were based more on use than exchange value, did not need to extort surplus labour as much as the present one, recalling the only exception: that of the extraction of gold and silver (it is not without reason that capitalism arose from money) where the worker was forced to work himself to death, as in Diodorus Siculus.

The appetite for surplus labour (Capital Vol. I, Ch. 10, Section 2: “The Greed for Surplus Labour”) not only leads to extortion from the living of so much labour power as to shorten their lives, but does good business in the destruction of dead labour so as to replace still useful products with other living labour. Like Maramaldo,[5] capitalism, oppressor of the living, is the murderer also of the dead: “But as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labour, corvée-labour, etc., are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the capitalist mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilised horrors of over-work are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom, etc.” [6]

The original title of the paragraph quoted is “Der Heisshunger nach Mehrarbeit”, literally; “The voracious appetite for surplus labour”.

Small scale capitalism’s hunger for surplus labour, as set out in our doctrine, already contains the entire analysis of the modern phase of capitalism that has grown enormously: the ravenous hunger for catastrophe and ruin.

Far from being our discovery (to hell with the “discoverers”,[7] especially when they sing even the scale out of tune, then believe themselves to be creators), the distinction between dead and living labour lies in the fundamental distinction between constant and variable capital. All objects produced by labour which are not for immediate consumption, but are employed in a further work process (now one calls them producer goods), form constant capital. “Therefore, whenever products enter as means of production into new labour processes, they lose their character of being products and function only as objective factors contributing to living labour.” [8]

This is true for main and subsidiary raw materials, machines and all other types of plant which progressively wear out. The loss due to wear which has to be compensated for requires the capitalist to invest another quota, always of constant capital, which current economics calls amortisation. Depreciate rapidly, that is the supreme ideal of this grave-digging economy.

We recalled a propos “the body possessed by the devil” [9] how, in Marx, capital has the demoniacal function of incorporating living labour into dead labour which has become a thing. What joy that the Po’s embankments are not immortal, and today one can happily “incorporate living labour into them”! Projects and specifications are ready in a few days. Good boys, you are possessed by the devil!

“Sir, the drawing office of our firm has done its duty in predisposing technical and economic studies: here they are all nice and ready.” And price analysis values the stone of Monselice higher than Carrara marble.[10]

“The property therefore which labour-power in action, living labour, possesses of preserving value, at the same time that it adds it, is a gift of Nature which costs the labourer nothing, but which is very advantageous to the capitalist inasmuch as it preserves the existing value of his capital.” [11]

This value, which is simply “preserved”, thanks always to the operation of living labour, is called the constant part of capital or constant capital by Marx. But: “... that part of capital, represented by [invested in] labour-power [wages], does, [instead] in the process of production, undergo an alteration of value. (...) and also produces an excess, a surplus-value...” [12]

We therefore call it the variable part, or simply variable capital.

The key lies here. Bourgeois economics calculates profit in relation to the constant capital which lies still and doesn’t move: in fact it would go to the devil if the labour of the worker did not “preserve” it. Marxist economics, on the contrary, places profit in relation only to variable capital and demonstrates how the active labour of the proletarian a) preserves constant capital (dead labour), and b) increases variable capital (living labour). This increase, surplus value, is gained by the entrepreneur. This process, as Marx explains, of establishing the rate without taking into account constant capital is like making it equal to zero: an operation current in mathematical analysis where variable quantities are concerned.

Once constant capital is set at zero, gigantic development of profit occurs. This is the same as saying that the enterprise’s profit remains if the disadvantage of maintaining constant capital is removed from the capitalist’s shoulders.

This hypothesis is none other than state capitalism’s present reality.

Transferring capital to the state means that constant capital equals zero. Nothing of the relationship between entrepreneurs and workers is changed, since this depends solely on the magnitude of variable capital and surplus-value.

Are analyses of state capitalism something new? Without any haughtiness we use what we have known since 1867 at the latest. It is very short: Cc = 0.

Let us not leave Marx without this ardent passage after the cold formula: “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” [13]

Modern capital, which needs consumers as it needs to produce ever more, has a great interest in letting the products of dead labour fall into disuse as soon as possible so as to impose their renewal with living labour, the only type from which it “sucks” profit. That is why it is in seventh heaven when war breaks out and that is why it is so well trained for the practice of disasters. Car production in America is massive, but all, or nearly all, families have a car, so demand might be exhausted. So then it is better that the cars last only a short time. So that this is indeed the case, firstly they are badly built with a series of botched parts. If the users break their necks more often, no matter: a client is lost, but there is another car to substitute. Then they call on fashion with a large cretinising subsidy of advertising propaganda, through which everyone wants the latest model, like the women who are ashamed to put on a dress, even if perfectly good, “from last year”. The fools are taken in and it does not matter that a Ford built in 1920 lasts longer than a brand new 1951 model. And finally the dumped cars are not used even for scrap, and are thrown into car cemeteries. Who dares to take one saying: you have thrown it away as if it were worthless, what harm is there in me fixing and reusing it? He would get a kick up the backside and a gaol sentence.

To exploit living labour, capital must destroy dead labour which is still useful. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses.

So while the maintenance of the Po embankments for ten kilometres requires human labour costing, let us say, one million a year, it suits capitalism better to rebuild them all spending one billion. Otherwise it would have to wait one thousand years. This perhaps means that the nasty fascist government sabotaged the Po embankments? Certainly not. It means that no one has pressed for an annual budget of a miserable million. This is not spent as it is swallowed up in the financing of other “large scale works” of “new construction” which have budget estimates of billions. Now the devil has swept away the embankments, one finds someone with the best motives of sacrosanct national interest who activates the project office and has them rebuilt.

Who is to blame for preferring the large scale projects? The fascists and the official communists. Both of them prattle that they want a productivist, full employment policy. Productivism, Mussolini’s favourite creature, consists in establishing “present day” cycles of living labour out of which big business and big speculation make billions. Let us modernise the aged machines of the great industrialists and also let us modernise the river banks after letting them collapse, all at the people’s expense. The history of the recent years of administrative management of state works and of the protection of industry is full of these masterpieces, ranging from the provision of raw materials sold below cost, to works “undertaken by a state monopoly” in the “struggle against unemployment” on the basis of “constant capital equals zero”. In a few words, let us spend it all in wages, and since the enterprise has only shovels for equipment, the Lord is convinced that it is useful to shift earth first from here to there then immediately back to here again.

If the Lord hesitates, the enterprise has the trade union organiser to hand: a demonstration of labourers shouldering shovels under the ministry’s windows and all’s well. The “discoverer” arrives and supersedes Marx: shovels, the only constant capital, have given birth to surplus value.

Today

Undoubtedly, the size of the disaster along the Po has been massive, and the estimated cost of the damage is still rising. Let us admit that the cultivated area of Italy lost one hundred thousand hectares or one thousand square kilometres, about one three hundredth or three per thousand of the total. One hundred thousand inhabitants have had to leave the area, which is not the most densely settled in Italy, or, in round figures, one five hundredth or two per thousand.

If the bourgeois economy were not mad, one could do a simple little sum. The national stock has suffered a serious blow. However, the zone was only partially destroyed. When the floodwaters recede, the agricultural soil will largely be left behind and the decomposition of vegetation along with the deposition of alluvium will partially compensate for the lost fertility. If the damage is one third of total capital, it costs one thousandth of the national capital. But this has an average income of five per cent or fifty per thousand. If for a year every Italian saved scarcely one fiftieth of his consumption, the damage would be made good.

But bourgeois society is anything but a co-operative, even if the great freebooters of native capital escape Vanoni by demonstrating that “part-ownership” of their enterprises has been distributed among the employees.

All the productivistic operations of Italian and international economy are more or less as destructive as the Paduan disaster: the water entered through one hole and left through another.

Such a problem is insuperable on capitalist grounds. If it were a question of making the arms to provide Eisenhower with his hundred divisions within a year, the solution would be found[14]. These are all short-cycle operations and capitalism is as pleased as Punch if the order for the 10,000 guns is with a delivery date in 100 and not 1,000 days. The steel pool does not exist without reasons.

But a pool of hydrological and seismological organisations cannot be formed, at least not until the great science of the bourgeois period is really able to provoke series of floods and earthquakes, like aerial bombardments.

Here it is a matter of a slow, non accelerable centuries long transmission from generation to generation of the results of “dead” labour, but under the guardianship of the living, of their lives and of their lesser sacrifice.

Let us admit, for example, that the water in the Polesine will recede in a few months and that the breach at Occhiobello is closed before the spring, only one annual harvest cycle would now be lost: no productive “investment” can replace it, but the loss is reduced.

If, instead, one believes that all the Po embankments and those of the other rivers will frequently come apart, due as much to the consequences of overlooked maintenance during thirty years of crisis as to the disastrous deforestation of the mountains, then the remedy will be even slower in coming. No capital will be invested for the good of our great-grandchildren.

Our father wrote in vain that only a few examples of virgin forest remain, growing without the intervention of human labour. The forestry system thus becomes almost man’s work despite the minimum of capital in the operation. Nevertheless, high growing trees, the most important in the public economy, always require a very long period before yielding a useful product. However, forestry science has shown that the best year to fell timber is not that at the end of the maximum life span, but that in which current growth equals average growth, one must always calculate 80, 100 and even 150 years for an oak wood. Di Vittorio and Pastore[15] would fling the book, if they had ever opened it, out of the window.

As in the operetta: steal, steal capital (love) cannot wait...

There is still worse to relate. Relatively little is said of the disaster in Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. Here the geographical facts differ drastically.

The very slack gradient of the Po valley caused a build-up of water which then swamped over the clay and impermeable soils below. The same reasons in the South and the Islands, of high rainfall and deforestation of the mountains, along with the steep fall down to the sea caused the destruction. The mountain streams washed sand and gravel from the bedrock and destroyed fields and houses, all in a few hours, without, however, causing many victims.

Not only is the sacking of the magnificent forests of Aspromonte and the Sila by the allied liberators irreparable, but here also the renewal of the land swamped by the flood waters is practically impossible, not merely uneconomic for the “investors” and for the “helpers” (more self-interested than the former, if that is possible).

Not only the narrow horizons of cultivable soil, but also the thin non-rocky strata that gave it weak support have been washed away, soil which was carried up many times over decades by the grindingly poor farmers. Every plantation, every tree, the basis of a rather profitable agriculture, and industry in some villages, came down with the soil and the orange and lemon trees floated out to sea.

Replanting a destroyed vineyard takes about two years, but citrus plantations only provide a full harvest after seven to ten years and a great amount of capital is needed to establish and run them. Naturally, the good books do not give the cost of the unthinkable operation of carrying up again, for hundreds of meters, the soil brought down and, in any case, the water would carry it away again before the plant roots could fix it to the subsoil.

Not even the houses can be rebuilt where they were before for technical, not economic reasons. Five or six unfortunate villages on the Ionian coast in the Province of Reggio Calabria will not be rebuilt on their own hill sites, but down by the sea.

In the Middle Ages, after devastation had caused the disappearance of every last trace of the magnificent coastal cities of Magna Graecia, the apex of agriculture and art in the ancient world, the poor agricultural population saved itself from Saracen pirate raids by living in villages built on the mountain tops, which were less accessible and thus more defensible.

Roads and railways were built along the coast with the arrival of the “Piedmontese” government and, where malaria did not prohibit it, where the mountains ran down close to the sea, every village had its “on-sea” near the station. It became so convenient to carry timber away.

Tomorrow only the “on-seas” will remain and there they are laboriously rebuilding some houses. So what then if the peasant reclimbs the slope where nothing can ever take root and the very bare and friable rock strata itself does not permit the rebuilding of houses? And the workers by the sea, what will they do? Today they can no longer emigrate like the Calabrians of the unhealthy lowlands and the Lucanians of the “damned claylands” made sterile by the greedy felling of the woodlands which once covered the mountains and the trees that spread over the upland grazing.

Certainly, in such conditions, no capital and no government will intervene, a total disgrace of the obscene hypocrisy with which national and international solidarity was praised.

It is not a moral or sentimental fact that underlies this, but the contradiction between the convulsive dynamic of contemporary super- capitalism and all the sound requirements for the organisation of the life of human groups on the Earth, allowing them to transmit good living conditions through time.

Bertrand Russell, the Nobel Prize winner, who quietly pontificates in the world press, accuses man of overly sacking natural resources, so much so that their exhaustion can already be calculated. Recognising the fact that the great powers conduct absurd and mad policies, he denounces the aberrations of the individualist economy and tells the Irish joke: why should I care about my descendants, what have they ever done for me?

Russell counts among the aberrations, along with that of mystical fatalism, that of communism which states: if we have done with capitalism, the problem is solved. After such a display of physical, biological and social science, he is unable to see that it is an equally physical fact that the huge level of loss of both natural and social resources is essentially linked to a given type of production, and thinks that all would be resolved by a moral sermon, or a Fabian appeal to the human wisdom of all classes.

The corollary is pitiful: science becomes impotent when it has to solve problems of the spirit?

Those who really achieve human progress, taking decisive steps forward in the organisation of human life, are not really the conquerors and dominators who still dare to ostentate greed for power, but the swarms of insipid benefactors and proponents of the ERP[16] and brotherhood among peoples, like so many pacifist dovecots.

Passing from cosmology to economics, Russell criticises the liberal illusions in the panacea of free competition and has to admit: “Marx predicted that free competition among capitalists would lead to monopoly, and was proved correct when Rockefeller established a virtually monopolistic system for oil.”

Starting from the solar explosion, which one day will instantaneously transform us into gas (which could prove the Irishman right), Russell finishes with maudlin sentiments: “Nations desiring prosperity must seek collaboration more than competition.”

Is it not the case, Mr. Nobel Prize winner, who has written treatises on logic and scientific method, that Marx calculated the development of monopoly fifty years earlier?

If that were good dialectics, the opposite of competition is monopoly, not collaboration.

Take good note that Marx also predicted the destruction of the capitalist economy, class monopoly, not with collaboration, with which you are devoted to flattering all the Trumans and Stalins of good will, but with class war.

Just as Rockefeller came, “big moustache[17] must come!” But not from the Kremlin. That one, despite Marx, is about to shave like an American.

Battaglia Comunista No. 24 1951


[1] “The first capitalist nation was Italy.” (Engels, “Preface to the Italian Edition of The Communist Manifesto”)

[2] Luigi Einaudi, President of Italy 1948-55.

[3] Potemkin had constructed prefabricated villages to show Catherine II on her tour of the Russian countryside. They gave the impression of rural prosperity, but after each visit they were hastily dismantled then re-assembled elsewhere on the tour.

[4] In early 1951 Vanoni introduced personal income tax to Italy. This tax entered the Guiness Book of Records as the ‘least paid tax in the world’. Still today tax evasion is widespread. (Cf. 11th. ed., 1963, p. 10)

[5] Maramaldo killed the dying General Ferrucci in 1530, the last act of Florentine independence. The British equivalent is Ivo of Ponthieu who hacked at the dying King Harold at Hastings. But he was “branded with ignominy by William and expelled from the army” (Gesta Regun Anglorum). The chivalry of nascent feudalism contrasts favourably with the squalid unscrupulousness of early capitalism.

[6] Capital Vol. I, Chap. 10

[7] Publisher’s Note – The word used in the Italian original is “troviero”. This literally means “finder” and, in the context, actually means something like “someone who thinks they’ve found something important, but they haven’t”, e.g. some bourgeois apologist who thinks they have refuted Marx. There is no obvious English equivalent so “discoverer”, with the inverted commas, will have to do.

[8] Capital Vol. I, Chap. 10

[9] In this collection.

[10] Monselice: the nearest stone quarries to the Po, Carrara: the main centre of marble production in Italy.

[11] Capital Vol. I, Chap. 8

[12] ibid.

[13] Capital Vol. I, Chap. 10, Section 1

[14] The article refers to the start of the Korean War.              

[15] The “communist” and “catholic” union leaders of the period respectively.

[16] The European Recovery Programme, the “Marshall Plan”.

[17] i.e. Stalin, “Uncle Joe”.


The Legend of the Piave

The patriotic saga of Italy raised the Piave to the status of the national river, and designated it as such, in 1917. In the war which was to have been the Fourth War of Independence, leading the country in a leap beyond the Venetian frontiers (won by no means by armed might) already gained from the Third. After two years of an immobile front on the Isonzo, streaming blood from a dozen battles, the direction then changed with the famous defeat at, and flight from, Caporetto, with the Austrians flooding onto the plain through this breach. After a few days of fearing for the worst when it was believed that they would only have been stopped on the Adige or Mincio, on the 1859-66 frontiers, the tide was stemmed on the Piave, something that was foreseen by the not altogether stupid titch of a Ring who organised the defence.[1] We all then learnt that the Piave was to be declined as a masculine, not as a feminine substantive, laying to rest our schoolboy doubts.[2]

The river’s name entered popular poetry and legend. The old Neapolitan versifier E.A. Mario, recently passed on, wrote verses and music which lost only by a short head to Mameli’s hymn in the competition for the national anthem. Can you recall the ingenuous phraseology? “Together with the infantry, battled the waves”. Once again a river was personified in literature, like in classical literature, as defending the motherland, carrying to the sea piles of enemy corpses. “The Piave whispered: the foreigner shall not pass”.

But now the Piave has carried out to sea thousands of Italian corpses struck down by the apocalyptic flood from the Vajont during the dark night of October 9-10th, and has lost its title to nobility. Its legend was and is one of death, and there is no more glory in carrying away the bodies of soldiers than of peaceful citizens caught in their sleep. Then they were immolated to the never satiated with blood numina of war, now to those of modern bourgeois and patriotic capitalist civilisation and above all to the adorers of its science and technology.

It is not just today that we suddenly desire to dishonour, along with those of wars between peoples, the no less infamous killer deities of a civilisation which rusts and rots year by year.

In Prometeo, 2nd series no. 4, July-September 1952 we dedicated the article Politics and Construction to this theme which, among the various examples of deadly disasters which constitute real bankruptcies of scientific technique, recalled several cases of floods and cited historical cases of mountain reservoir dams, recalling the history of this skill from the Moors in Spain and Leonardo to the organisational inadequacies of the modern hydraulic services in the period of great capital and monstrous construction enterprises.

In France in 1959 there was the terrible Frejus catastrophe which, nevertheless, despite the collapse of the dam which did not happen in the case of the Vajont basin, caused fewer victims than the recent Italian catastrophe.

Then we found the person responsible, the accused to be stood in the dock, but not in the manner of the reckless pettifogging political prick of demagogic opportunism: it was Progress, the lying myth which makes the poor in spirit and the starved wretches bend their backs to it, ready to swear loyalty to this Moloch which every so often and a little bit each day crushes them under the wheels of its obscene carriage.

In the inhuman system of capital, every technical problem boils down to an economic one, that of the prize to be won by cutting costs and boosting returns. The old pre-bourgeois societies had some residual time to think about safety and general interests. As we recalled in the case of the Frejus dam, that too was a masterpiece of brand new technology, it was light, slim and agile and so with a very modest concrete and steel tonnage held back an enormous volume of water. But already past-builders had realized that dams work by gravity, that is, they resisted the incredible thrust of the liquid in that they were extremely heavy and so did not collapse. We recalled that after several disasters in Spain and at Gleno in Italy (1923) the theory was modified to take account of the hydraulic thrust below, at the base of the dam and these were broadened and made more stable. But the recent dams have obeyed (a mercenary science has obeyed) the sacrosanct need for low costs, so they are built, as with the Frejus and Vajont, in an arch, that is, with a curve that points out into the water pressure and spreads the load onto the shoulders wedged into the valley sides. The dam thus becomes less voluminous, less heavy and less costly and is made of highly resistant materials. But then the pressure of the thrust on the two shoulders of the construction grows massively because this depends on the water pressure borne on its back, which is all the more massive the higher the dam is. Allowing for superlative materials permitting the slimming of the dam and therefore of its shoulders, the pressure on the natural rock is immense and the problem ceases to be the, controllable, one of adjusting the arch of reinforced concrete to take the thrust (this cannot be reduced), but of seeing if the rocky sides will crumble, ruining the arch shaped dam. This was the error made at Frejus. Then too it was not the mechanical and hydraulic engineers who were wrong, but – it is said – the geologists called on to evaluate the strength of the rock.

The first problem can best be tackled by mathematical calculations, performed either by a good theoretician or by a computer, while the great theoretician sitting at it goes through a few packets of cigarettes. It can be tested on a suitable scale model in the laboratory.

The geological problem is not one for the smoking saloon or the test tank. It is one of lengthy human experience based on the proofs of historical building. Human and social experience. For all modern engineering, in so far as it makes things which are not pocket sized or cars, constructing things fixed to the Earth’s crust, the key problem is the land/building relationship (for a simple house, the foundations). There are no perennially valid formulae but instead many skilful applications to choose from after gaining hard-learnt experience. Taking a big salary and smoking in front of the computer is not sufficient.

This experience ripens over the centuries: whoever believes in progress and in the jest that last season’s latest discovery contains the wisdom of all time, may get a big salary, but causes disasters, statistics for which, and they alone, show progress.

The very folk traditions among the uneducated masses, the place names themselves can help the geological expert (if it really was his fault) or, rather, the good engineer. Why ever was the Frejus narrows called Mal Passet: a bad step indeed.[3] The mountain overlooking the reservoir and which slid into it causing the terrible overflowing, why was it called Monte Toc? Toc, in Venetian, means piece: it was a rock that split off in pieces and all the inhabitants of the valley expected the landslide. Vajont, the name of the reservoir, but previously of the pass, the gorge in which the dam was wedged, all 263 meters (world-beating historical record!), in Ladino Friulian dialect equals the Venetian va zo, goes down, which collapses into the valley. In fact past landslides have been mentioned, by the poor inhabitants living on them.

Uortami, the geologist, in denying indignantly that he would ever have consented to the selection made for the dam site, stated that the choice fell to the engineers. Quite so. The philosophy of the two tragedies of Malpasset and Vajont (among the many others) is identical. At the bottom of these reckless projects, dictated and imposed by the hunger for profit, by an economic law to which all the navvies, the surveyor and chief engineer must all bow, for which reason it is a foolish remedy to uncover the guilty party at an inquest, lies the most idiotic of modern cults, the cult of specialisation. Not only is it inhuman to hunt down the scapegoat, but also vain, since one has allowed this stupid productive society to arise, made of separate sections. No one is guilty because, if someone takes off the blindfold for a moment, he can say that he gave advice requested by the next section, that he was the expert, the specialist, the competent person.

The science and skill of producing, and especially of building, will, in the future society which will kill the monster of economic return, of surplus-value production, be unitary and indivisible. Not a man’s head, but a social brain above ridiculous separated sections will see without those useful blindfolds the immensity of each problem.

We read the report of the engineer who for thirty years had dreamt of building the Vajont dam. The good man is dead and does not need our defence. He was interested by the purely morphological fact that with a little dam one could hold back a lot of water and nowhere else would the return be so great at so little cost. A victim of inexorable determinism.

Engineer Semenza, in his comment, is surprised by the fact that one could have foreseen taking thirty years to develop his basic idea now that the dam is complete. He did not think that the long time required could be due to doubts over the correctness of the choice made. He thought that the work had been well divided into sections protected by the right of not knowing nor wanting to check one another’s conclusions. In this illusion, which is not blameworthy nor even a crime of “commission” or of “omission”, lies the omnipotence, stronger than all and even the best engineer, of the modern capitalist superstition of the division of labour, which Marx first condemned and only the revolution will kill. The innocence of the designer is found in these words: “Hundreds, thousands of people, scientists, engineers, workers of all trades, worked to complete this dam which should have closed the deep and narrow ravine of the Vajont stream. Vajont gorge[4] as some guides call it, since by nature it is so inaccessible and inhospitable”. No one today would think that the tour guide was right because he made money taking people up to see the narrow gorge and not by working on the dam. “Among the first were the hydrologists” who take rainfall and stream regime measurements, allowing one “to find the volume of water that would be held in the dam’s reservoir”. “Higher up the geologist examines the rock characteristics in detail, helped by the most modern (oh come on now!) geophysical research.” “Meanwhile, the topographer measures with microscopic precision (fashionable jargon!) the valley’s configuration so as to draw in the contour lines perfectly.”

Let us leave out the details of the design work or works, the ninety hours of computer time that saved years of work by a team of mathematicians, the tales of the experiments on wood and then concrete models... Only one passage interests us, the reference to the ineluctable economic determinism. “The design selected from among many others, dating from 1956, fully exploits the valley’s characteristics which seem to have been made for the purpose of building an exceptionally large dam”.

The valley was made to be exploited, and if that had not been the case ... one would have had to have invented it.

With science, technology and labour, does man exploit nature? No, not at all, and the intelligent relationship between man and nature will arise when one stops making cost and design calculations in money, but in physical and human quantities.

One can say exploiting when a human group exploits another. The exploited collaborated with the exploiting enterprise in the grandiose constructions of the mercantile period. Many people were employed at Longarone and money was thrown around. The engineer has to answer: did it rain gold? It is true that a skilled worker struck over the evident danger of landslides, but it is also a bitter lesson that the worker who was kicked out by the cursed surveyor because he was lame and would not have been been able to escape in case of danger reacted in a violent manner. When the pay is good, risks to human life are normal fare for the society of money and wages.

The whole valley ran the risk, and now it is dead. The solution to this problem will never be found by the “democratic” method used by the currently available communists.

They are silly solutions to these tragedies – which only show that bourgeois, money, private initiative, market society has lived out its historical span and has by now become an even more putrescent corpse than the ones it flung into the Piave – the ones bandied about by newspapers fed on a gutless petty-bourgeois ideology, which perhaps a hundred years ago could get by, and which claims justice, honesty and sentences for those who get it wrong or cheat.

Socially and politically we stand apart from those who ask, in the name of the dead who risked their lives so that this iniquitous society could give them the only civilisation it could, for three laughable enquiries:

The Ministerial Enquiry, called for by the ministers who have their fingers in the pie and delegated to university professors loyal to the system of sectorial responsibility with which one has the right not to know “others’ subjects” in this bureaucratic, scholastic and career-ridden system which is drowning us.

The Parliamentary Enquiry in which a group of people with no knowledge and of contrasting ideologies (save that of the greed for political success and ambition, which is the same from the extreme right to the extreme left) study what they do not understand and then have a vote on it in the assembly of “politicians”, that is, those who should be the first to be tipped into the dustbin so as to liberate human society.

The judiciary, which knows that its job is to apply a code rooted in tradition and the latest constitution, useful for the petty thief and for the civil servant who in this case was the only one to be banged up for making public a “stolen” document which showed that the technical doubt over the dam was founded and long standing.

Three degrees of tricking, not the dead, but the living that look to the horrible parties and newspapers of all persuasions and drown in the unconsciousness of their destinies.

What is to be done with the dam? Another problem that the bureaucratic, democratic administrative mechanism will be unable to solve.

The dam was not flattened so Engineer Semenza, if he were still alive, would be innocent, looking at it from his sector’s point of view.

But the problem was the stability of the valley sides after they suddenly received a hydraulic pressure of 26 atmospheres.

There was no alluvium at the bottom? What kind of excuse is that? The liquid flowed fast through the gap and thus did not deposit but eroded, creating over the centuries the conditions the topographers described to poor Semenza. Thus the side was friable[5], certainly permeable, and, underneath, the massive pressure on the strata that could yield caused Toc to slide.

The reservoirs created upstream from the dam, which could have provided an empirical test result, were put in place without being tested and without the order of the omnipotent state.

The dam was too high. The law on this matter must be amended to state a legal maximum, let us say under 100 metres. But then the return on the operation would fall below the costs. Horror! The monopoly would not lose out, but only the consumption pattern of those who depend on it, the same being the case if the state were to act directly.

Reformism, not only in Italy, flies this flag: the law passed, find the loophole.

An old engineer who could understand geology, topography and building mechanics since he had an old-fashioned degree said that the dam could collapse now. Behind it there is no longer water, but a mixed deposit of water and earth (mud and slime) which, with its higher specific weight, could exercise a greater thrust. Here there are no models that hold good! The case is too indeterminate and even the computers come up with nothing.

The Vajont basin was cut in two by the huge landslide with a volume higher than that of the water that it contained, a hill standing 100 metres above the water level.

But the smaller lake remaining next to the dam can generate the pressure indicated by the aforementioned engineer. It all depends on the height, that is the total, and the density of the mud which will be decanted.

The basin must be emptied, but not by blasting the dam with cannon-fire, but instead by installing syphons over it to replace the devices destroyed by the disaster and abandoning the potential energy which the turbine, if working, could have exploited.

We cannot believe that the Ministry of Public Works could have thought that the wall would remain in place to support something the size of an Alpine lake.

That sewer of death is no Alpine lake. The lakes formed during the glaciation between very deep indestructible rock walls and with a modest dam of natural morainic[6] hills. They have been tested by Mother Nature over millions of years, not by a Technical Commission!

Man certainly will win against nature. And will do so thanks to a science, a technology, an administration that will not be rented out to anyone.

Before bending nature to our ends, we will have had to have bent the sinister social forces which enslave us more than millions of cubic meters of grave stones and which condemn the replies of today’s experts to great rewards and grasping profits. We must dam the floods not of water and earth, but of filthy lucre.

Il programma comunista no, 20 1963


[1] In 1917, the Italian army was forced back to the Piave river after the front broke at Caporetto (now Kobarid) on the Isonzo (now Soca). In the Third War of Independence, the Italians, having previously made an alliance with Prussia against Austria (8.4.1866), lost both on land (Custoza) and by sea (Lissa). Prussia, however, prevailed, and the good offices of Napoleon III assured Italy of Venetia all the same. The Adige and Mincio are two rivers on the Po plain.

[2] In fact “The names of rivers, lakes and mountains are generally masculine. (...) Exceptions are, however, frequent due to old reasons, thus la (fem.) Piave (and in modern and local use) il (masc.) Piave.” Alfredo Fansini Gramnatica Italiana (Palermo, 1982 (1933)) pp. 34-5.

[3] Literally: “bad step”.

[4] In Italian: “orrido”, which means both gorge and horrible, fearful etc..

[5] friable – apt to crumble

[6] moraine – continuous line of debris left by a glacier


Weird and Wonderful Tales of Modern Social Decadence

(Lax and uncaring technology – Parasitic and pillaging management)

Andrea Doria

The safety of sea travellers seemed, with good reason, to have been assured for the future, both historically and scientifically, by the first application of mechanical motors to ships, and all the more so with the construction of metal hulls. After a century and a half of technical “improvement”, the safety of the passenger is now relatively greater when compared with the old wooden sailing boats which were prey to both wind and sea. Naturally the “achievement”, the most idiotic one, is speed, even if special clippers in about 1850 won the “blue ribands” from steam ships, while there was – then too – not insignificant playing the cotton exchange between Boston and London. The faster the thief, the more a thief; but a quicker fool is no less a fool.

Nevertheless the period of the greyhounds of the sea lies behind us – it corresponded to the period after the First World War. Even before this war huge tonnages had been reached. The Titanic, which went down by the bows in 1912[1], was over 50,000 tons although it’s true that the speed during its maiden voyage, during which it struck an iceberg, did not exceed 18 knots. After a half-century there have been only two cases of liners on the North Atlantic (be they French, English, German or Italian) much over 50,000 tons. Since the last war the largest launched was the United States (53,000 tons). The two exceptions are the English “Queen Mary” (81,000 tons) and “Queen Elizabeth” (84,000 tons), keels laid before the war and still in use[2]. The brand new American ship took the blue riband from the English one which in turn had won it from the French “Normandie” in 1938, the latter being destroyed in the war. Sailing speeds in the last period have risen above 30 knots. The Andrea Doria, the largest post-war Italian ship along with its sister ship Colombo (the pre-war Rex was 51,000 tons) was only 29,000 tons but with a good top speed.

Thus the race to have the biggest ship, which was the prelude to the great disaster, has ceased, but so too that for the fastest speed which so enthralled Italy during the fascist period. The reason is that the person in a hurry can take a plane which, with its small crew, does not kill off more than fifty a go. The sea crossing (with sun and fine weather on the southern route preferred after the Titanic disaster) is more a pleasure trip or cruise – the hugely powerful engines required to thrust these massive giants at enormous cost (one knot is gained and a few hours are knocked off the crossing, wasting thousands of extra horse-power and increasing fuel consumption in proportion) at a rate of knots, are no longer requested by passengers and do not suit the company. Thus the logic of the situation now shows that it is best to build middle size middling speed ships for the passengers who are not at the summit of (economic and political) business dealings and so are not forced to fly. The newspapers told us that the unfortunate passengers saved from the Andrea Doria did not want to return by air: once bitten, twice shy, by the great civilisation of technology....

Besides, if visibility is bad, it is still a good idea to go slowly, even if there is radar aboard.

This is not the central question, that instead is the extreme fragility of the Doria’s hull as was shown by the collision with the not so heavy or fast Stockholm, whatever one may say about the ice breaking prow which could mechanically make a deep hole, but less lacerating and much shorter. Evidently the Doria broke, probably because it was too weak throughout its structure, its ribs and backbone. Only by supposing that a long longitudinal section of the hull came away can we explain why so many air-tight flotation compartments (closed for the fog) collapsed along with so many vital parts – machines, oil tanks and so forth.

It is not only with ships that the mania of modern technology is oriented towards economising on the structure, using light metal sections with the pretext of ever more modern materials with miraculous strength, guaranteed more by insolent advertising and sleight of hand than the checks run by the bureaucratised laboratories and standards institutions. Just as with the construction of land vehicles, the ship produced by developed modern technology is not as solid as that of 50 years ago. The wonderful ship thus broke up and sank in record time, contrary to the experts’ predictions. With a rough sea and less passing ships, it could have become a massacre.

There is another reason apart from the builders’ false economies. It is known that for nationalistic and demagogic reasons the Italian state (who does not know that after Holy Russia, the largest dose of “socialist” industry is to be found in Vatican Italy, even though Palmiro[3] is not altogether happy?) was both the buyer and the producer of the ship (both the Compagnia Navigazione Italia and the Ansaldo shipbuilders belong to the state). It is well known that steel costs more in Italy and labour too (the worker eats less here, but national assistance grabs the lot). Ordering the ship from a Dutch or German yard would have cost a quarter less, but Palmiro would have had fewer votes. The Italian engineers had an interest in, and orders to be, stingy with the steel.

They were not stingy enough though with the decorative and luxurious architecture. One of the symptoms of the worldwide decline of technology is that architecture kills engineering. All civilisations go through this stage, from Nineveh to Versailles.

Old sea dogs moaning on the Genova quayside told reporters this. Too many saloons, swimming pools, playing areas, too many decks above the waterline – ah, the inimitable line, the slender outline of Italian ships – too much weight and space put into the superstructure, that is the half skyscraper which stands above the waves, full of windows flooding out light where the luxury class has a good time. This all at the expense of the quickwork, the part in contact with the water, whose size and strength provide stability, flotation, course correction after wandering, resistance to attacks by the sea, collisions with mountains of ice, and those with ships from countries where steel costs less and, perhaps, where technology hasn’t sold out so much to  wheeler-dealing politics... yet.

All this, grumble the old sailors, is at the expense of safety. More or less vulgar luxury or the safety of the human lives on board, this is the anti-thesis. But could such an antithesis hold back Civilisation and Progress!?

However, when steerage class is unsafe and the crew are too, then even first class, with the most expensive tickets, is unsafe as well. The rhetoric goes on about modern discoveries, high technology, the extolled unsinkability, the resistance to collision with ice, rocks, Stockholms.

It was the same story with the rehabilitation of the great cities, from which, as Marx and Engels stated from the time of the gutter of Paris, Haussmann, the poor had and will have everything to lose and nothing to gain. The upper bourgeoisie was told by clever technicians and speculators that epidemics do not know class divisions, even in a rich man’s house one can die of cholera. So get on with it, Demolition Joe! So now when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers, half clad like the poor devils, hardly togged up in their dinner jackets. Safety is therefore vital to all: one cannot simply say “stuff it!” like in a mine where only the scapegoats of labour and a handful of engineers go, but without the benefits of decoration – after all it’s dark down there.

The ruling class, for its part incapable of struggling against the devil of business activity, superproduction and superconstruction for its own skin, thus demonstrates the end of its control over society, and it is foolish to expect that, in the name of a progress with its trail indicated by bloodstains, it can produce safer ships than those of the past.

And in fact the eddies around the sad hull of the Andrea Doria had scarcely stilled when the nationalised economy, the perfect hothouse of modern private business dealing and parasitism, announced that it would be ready to produce another one, changing only, for reasons of superstition, the name! They boast that since the cost will rise to about one third more than that of the old ship, they will economise on design, calculations and trials! The decorators will, most certainly, do as good a business as before, and the machine to thieve money from the man in the street has already been set in motion. Just as after the Second World War, during the reconstruction, strengthened by all the resources of modern advanced technology, “the business deal of the century” came about, thus too the shipbuilding and shipping “crisis” is resolved (for which a new law was being prepared) with the order for a new ship. After the ramming by the Stockholm, and perhaps a few more litres of alcohol consumed by its representatives, the wise and well-meaning vote of our Democratic Parliament was verified.

No one will think, no one will legislate, no one will vote for tearing up the old calculations and for redesigning the hull and its structure, the only part of the ship that is quickwork, forking out five million more for steel and five million less for pandering artifices. This will not be the case while “socialist” and enterprise production, even if by the state, is the slave of mercantile and competitive considerations, between the “flags”, that is, between the bands of business criminals, which is the same thing. And whoever were to do so would be “deprecating” the unsunk Colombo.

Marcinelle

While the series on the agrarian question and the theory of ground rent according to Marx was being published in these columns[4], there was the disaster at Ribolla which caused 42 victims against the now certain 250 at Charleroi. Exactly the same economic theory of absolute and differential rent can be applied to the extraction of minerals from the subsoil and to the development of hydroelectric power as to agricultural land. One “works” a mine just as one works a farm. We called the paragraph of the exposition “Ribolla, or differential death”.

In the capitalist world’s economy, all consumers of the produce of nature pay a higher price for it than for the product of labour. For the latter, they pay for the labour and for a margin of surplus-labour that competition, as long as it lasts, tends to reduce. And bourgeois society offers this product to its members at a lower price than that existing in previous societies which were little involved in manufacturing.

The produce of land, in the same way, is paid for by the consumer according to the labour and the surplus-labour, established on the basis of the “worst land”. But, in this case, one also pays a third part: rent, that is the award for the monopoly over land, to the landowner, the third force in the “model” bourgeois society. The least fertile land dictates the market price to all consumers of foodstuffs. It thus follows that the monopoly landowner of richer land adds on to the absolute rent (the minimum) the differential rent, rent due to lower labour costs, so that the market pays the same price.

As population and consumption grow, society has to put new land under the plough and to use all available areas, be they fertile or sterile. The limits of physical extent determine the monopoly and the two forms of ground rent.

Hard as this theory may seem to some, it is the crux of marxism and only those who have not digested it believe that the theory of imperialism was simply tacked on to marxism, a study made solely of competitive capitalism. The theory of ground rent contains all that is in the theory of modern imperialism, monopoly capitalism, the creator of “rents”. Even in largely manufacturing fields, one can thus say, like Lenin, that the capitalism of profit plus rents is parasitic.

Clearly the theory shows that nothing changes if this rent, whether it is based on traditional or very new sources, is handed over  to the state, that is, the capitalist society organised as a  power machine. This occurs so as to maintain its commodity,  monetary and business basis. Before Marx, Ricardo proposed this,  then Marx criticised it from the very beginning in a thorough  and overall manner.

The lignite seams of Ribolla are among the least productive, while those of anthracite in Belgium are the most productive, and where  there is no differential rent capitalism can never invest in more expensive installations to increase production and safeguard miners’ lives, unlike in the best mines in France, the Netherlands, England, Germany and America.

With today’s economy nor is it permitted to close those mines, which remain in the condition of the white horse that never sees  the light of day and which communicates with a strange language of  darkness with the two miners condemned with him by “bourgeois  society” which Zola described in “Germinal”. Can Progress be held back by a lack of coal?

Now there is a super-national Coal Community[5], like the iron and steel one, among the states which have nationalised the underground wealth in parallel with Italy. So, according to the fascist school, we have reached the outer bounds of ultramonopoly to fix on a scale of differential rent, low at Ribolla and Marcinelle, an absolute rent base. But this will certainly remain insufficient to buy new plant.

When the burnt out electrical wiring in the pits caused fire to break out, not only did the machinery and the bodies of the men burn, but also the coal of the precious, albeit poor, geological deposit. It burnt because the tunnels the men dug bring in oxygen from the air, which is why old tunnels are sealed off with concrete walls. Thus there was the technical alternative: send down oxygen for those who were dying and their foolhardy rescuers, or close it because every ton of oxygen consumes about half a ton of coal. The miners shouted at the specialised technicians brought from Germany: you haven’t come to save our workmates, but the mine! The solution, if the maddened shouts of the survivors had not been raised too high would have been simple: close all the entrances!

Without oxygen everything falls silent: the oxidisation of coal and the analogous process in man, which we call life.

Besides, and it's not the revolutionary press which says so!, according to a very old tradition which is certainly even older that the capitalist social system, until the miner emerges, living or dead, from the terrible mouth of the mine, the system continues to pay his full wages, even triple time. The miner has to stay down only eight hours, so if he does not come up then, it is supposed that he is working another shift. When the corpse is pulled out and identified, the shift ends and the family will only receive a pension, less than the sum for single-time shift working.  It is therefore important that the company (private, state or community) brings out the bodies all the same. It seems that this is the reason why the women shouted that the closed coffins on which were placed a few recognisable objects for identification did not allow them to see if they contained the remains of men or of the deposits.

Get all the survivors out, then close the entrance forever! Commodity society will never be able to say this, so it fogs the issue with enquiries, funeral masses, the bonds of fraternity in which one can discern only the fraternity of the chain gang, crocodile tears and promises of legislation and administration to attract others “without reserves” to ask to take their places in the funereal lift cages – hats off to technology! It is difficult to change the type of cultivation after a long period, and the theory of rent prohibits leaving the last, the most dangerous, mine closed. It is this theory which dictates to a slave and usurer society the maximum rhythm in the mad worldwide dance of the coal business, it being precisely the geological limits to its future horizon which, as they narrow, thrust it into the monopoly economy, into the massacre of the producer, into thieving from the consumer.

The detective story of Marcinelle touched the world’s soul. For how many more eight hour shifts would the “missing” in the heart of the earth, like those yesterday at the bottom of the Atlantic, consume wealth from the civil bourgeois economy, which from every pulpit shouts its glorious thrust towards a greater well-being? When will one at last be able to take them off the wage ledger and, having prayed to God one last time, forget them?

The Suez Canal

Blood did not flow, and it was clear from the very first that it would not flow for the third act of the bourgeois trilogy of the August Bank Holiday, which shaded with dark deeds the rosiest of bourgeois festivities, the holiday, the vacation, the emptiness in the emptiness of this world of builders from operettas, of those who sweat over stealing from their neighbour.

We could never credit it that there is a single marxist who for one second saw in Nasser a new historical protagonist, and the world in consternation and turned upside down by a simple gesture, by a bold discovery of the latest little caesar, or pharaoh, as the case may be? What a man! He cracked the whip over France, England and America with the skill of a genius: the nationalisation of the canal! All this done by changing the guard from King Farouk, who could only ship million dollar odalisques, to a simple colonel who could get into the knickers of Marianne and Albion.

The problem of Suez too can be understood if we take the colonel as, leaving off now with pseudo-sexual remarks, the arsehole he is, by applying the theory of rent.

Suez was a still honourable, even glorious, operation of the young bourgeoisie, alongside those considered as epochal by the Communist Manifesto. Perhaps it was one of the last. When the encore was attempted at Panama, it swiftly collapsed into the filth of hyperscandal, and Old Europe laid down Lesseps’s arms and those of his technicians after the first attempt.

Lesseps could have been a follower of Saint-Simon and the idea of the Suez Canal was accepted a century ago as a socialist one. He cheered the utopianists, but undoubtedly, as in the marxist conception, the enterprise of capitalism aimed at linking the world and its far-flung corners are to be considered as premises for its socialist transformation. The idea of a canal goes back to  Napoleon I who had technical studies made, backed, according to some,  by the philosopher and great mathematician Liebnitz. It is no chance event that Napoleon attempted his destruction of English maritime and imperial domination right there in Egypt. But even older civilisations had thought of the work: Senwosret, pharaoh of Egypt, even got round to performing it, and if Herodotus is correct, 120,000 workers died in the attempt made by another pharaoh. The Caliphs abandoned the idea, put off by the fear that they would open the way to the Byzantine fleet. After the discovery of the sea route to India in the fifteenth century, it was the Venetians’ turn, those precursors of modern capitalism, but the Turks were opposed.

The work lasted from 1859 to 1868, employing mainly French and Ottoman capital, facing English hostility. The graveyards of the white and Arab workers were notorious – the English denounced the enlisting of thousands of impoverished fellahs as slavery and the case was decided by Napoleon III. The French engineers of the time, who were fighters and not just businessmen, freed of the army of navvies, then employed huge machines and undertook the task. The concession offered by the Egyptian government should have been for 99 years from the day the canal was opened. During this period, it should have received fifteen percent of the company’s profits. It is not the place to repeat here the story of the business manoeuvres and international stock-jobbing by which the Viceroys of Egypt, subjects of the Sultan in Constantinople, were defrauded of their rights to a portion of the shares which passed by various means to British capital and government and, in fact, to the Royal Family.

Nevertheless it was a concession and the property of the whole works, several times enlarged and improved, should be passed to the Cairo government in 1968, without any payment.

One should be extremely wary of dealing with “right” in this struggle between buccaneers and sharks of the largest tonnage.

What is important are the economic concepts. The initial capital was 200 million French Gold Francs. This would now be worth 60 billion French Francs, or 100 billion Lira.

The present value of the shares, leaving aside their thirty per cent fall after Nasser’s decree, which nevertheless assured their prominence on the stock market, (one should then say on the day of the decree) the capital of the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez is quoted at £70 million, or 90 billion French Francs. The valuations are not at the exchange rate: in US Dollars they are 200 million, for the former, and 250 million for the latter, and in Italian Lira 120 billion and 150 billion respectively, all in round figures.

Last year’s company takings were 35 billion French Francs with a profit of a good 16 billion: 45 per cent! In Lira about 55 and 25. But Nasser valued them at 100 million Dollars! 60 billion Lira net.

Such great fruitfulness cannot all be the profit of industrial capital, apart from its already declared amortisation, which seems to be covered by huge reserves formed by the company heads. It is not a productive concern. The ships of passage pay a toll of 300 to 600 Lira per ton dead-weight, but they do not take away anything saleable on the open market – payment for a service, not for goods. Obviously the maintenance, caretaking, management and administrative costs of the canal represent a very small part of the takings. The rest is rent. It is absolute in that it is derived from a monopoly which could close Suez or Port Said. It is, moreover, differential in that it represents the navigation costs via the worse route, the endless rounding of the Cape of Good Hope.

Who collects this rent? The “landlord” of the land through which the canal was cut, without the permission of whom one would not have been able to open the first excavations in 1859. This question of property becomes a question of sovereignty for Nasser. For us, this terminology is without meaning. For us marxists, rent goes to whoever makes a monopoly work. This is not even anti-juridical – in classical Roman law theory “the basis of ownership is occupation”. The same that, since the world began, is the source of political sovereignty.

By this standard, the English are silly and equally foolish is Nasser. The former kept garrison troops in the canal zone to  defend it until a few years back. In fact, during the two world wars, German ships and those of her allies were not allowed to pass. London was about to close the door during the Italian-Ethiopian War and Mussolini had his finest moment – he blackmailed the English by demonstrating his willingness to attack the Mediterranean fleet. But one cannot be led to believe that those who play the fool can also make history – the candidate for the lunatic asylum, Nasser, stands many cubits shorter.

Could the English dream of withdrawing the garrison and keeping the rent? Could the French dream of as much?

Greater silliness lies on the Egyptian side who thought that sovereignty was their ace of spades, taking this in its metaphysical sense in which the sovereignty of a tiny country weighs the same as that of a giant.

Nasser had wagered on Russia, one of the giants. It is for this that we consider him a fool. The newspapers published on the eve of the London Conference that the Russians at their Twentieth Congress, in front of Shepilov, marvellous to behold in his coat  and tails, had abandoned another of Stalin’s mistaken theories, that of the international political predominance of large states over smaller ones[6], and declared for the liberation of the latter from the function of subject, satellite or vassal states. Oh poor little states! This is not a theory created by Stalin, which Stalin can have the passing whim of abandoning, or that his will-readers can put out of the way! Nor can the little Cairo Colonel put a new theory in its place: the holy sovereignty of the statelets, even the pocket handkerchief ones. For (this is the biggest laugh) America is bound to accept a similar theory, and even puts forward itself, or Russia, as champion of the opposing principal: that of the big fish which eats the little one.

The fact and the historical law is that the big states carve up the world at their pleasure, with general war or with (God forbid it) peaceful coexistence between them (the big fish) and that the small states are like soft plasticine for world relief maps in their hands. They have dominated history for millennia, for two centuries of European history above all, and in a striking manner in the last two great wars, only the seating of some of the big fish changes: Japan and Germany, and new ones are put there, like China.

Nasser did not go to the conference. So be it. But London must have frightened him just because Russia sat there. Russia defends the same principal as the others: who gives a damn about sovereignty over the two banks of these world routes which are nodes in the international trade network? Since there ceased to be a single imperial dominator, as when Albion made its way (for us it is life as well as a way, the undeformed Mussolini replied) along the Mediterranean and all the Mediterraneans, the dominators have been the three or four big guns in turn, for whom Nasser counts less than a corporal. They, or whoever wins the next  (twenty years off) third world war, will give Suez to him, without counting a red cent if little Egypt had fought with the winners or the losers.

Hitler, an expression of rather more serious forces, was urged by them to make a huge thrust as far as Crete. The aim and place were Suez – he came to understand (or someone did for him) that the goal was more Suez than Dunkirk, from which they held back. Big does not eat big. Happy little Nasser. Do not leave the rank of foodstuffs.

To You, Old Mole!

These twenty years will pass and shall we little animal-men, we tricked and intoxicated consumers, we makers of increasingly unpleasant and useless efforts, let them pass seated in front of the radio or the screen to hear humbug and tittle-tattle from technicians, experts, specialists, managers, diplomats, politicians, scoundrels and adventurers, without having learnt anything, or forgetting more and more what the working class already well knew at the time the century of Suez began?

Good, very good, then that the isthmuses have been crossed with huge cuts (Suez remains the longest, if not the most complex, at 160 kilometres – twice Panama) and that the network of international links circles and circles again the mercantile world of convenient capitalism, like that of the retarius which immobilised the barbarian gladiator for the coup de grace. A missing proletariat now tears up the Internationals, but capital is condemned to rebuild them across oceans and continents. Well, very well, then that the great powers are very few and leave in blind impotence the small and numerous, wrapping them in the other inextricable, unslackening net of falsity, lies, fraud and philistine and bigoted obscurantism, under the false glitter which has become unsupportable for its stench, of technology, science, philanthropy and the drive towards well-being. Good, then that the centres of this school of superstition and corruption are ever decreasing in number and more easily seen from every corner of the world.

While they propagate their false beliefs of all their countries and religions; rereading to us with false puritanism and obscene blasphemy their bibles of Christ, Mammon and Demos, we too can repeat our classical verses and demonstrate that we have known since before the canal was cut that the result would have been a dizzying concentration of wealth and power, imperial totalitarianism, monopolistic oppression, the Party state, the holy alliance of the capitalist monsters, all the more reinforced by the world wars. Good, the dictatorship of Capital, of Militarism, of Business, of Fascism, is blessed endlessly by priests of every denomination. Let us open our bible:

“But the revolution is thorough. It is still journeying through purgatory. It does its work methodically. (...) it had completed one half of its preparatory work; it is now completing the other half. First it perfected the parliamentary power, in order to be able to overthrow it. Now it has attained this, it perfects the executive power, reduces it to its purest expression, isolates it, sets it up against itself as the sole target, in order to concentrate all its forces of destruction against it. And when it has done this second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exultantly exclaim: Well burrowed, old mole.”[7]

With the historical radar of Marx’s theories, on whose screen  observers who have not swallowed the alcohol of the intoxicating  bourgeois ideology cannot read lies, in the fog of the depths off Nantacket, in the dark of the walled tomb of the living in Marcinelle, in the bitterness of the slime of the stagnant ponds of the Arabian Desert, while the forces of the Revolution seem to be hiding and Great Capital carouses in the bright sunlight, we have again found, at his inexhaustible work, the Old Mole who undermines the curse of the infamous social forms, who prepares for the not near, but most certain, destructive explosion.

Il programma comunista no. 17, 1956


[1] Erroneously given as 1906 in the text.

[2] Both have since been retired. The former is now a University, the latter was destroyed by fire.

[3]  i.e. Togliatti

[4] Cf. il programma comunista nos. 21-3, 1953 and 1-12, 1954. The series is republished as “Mai la merce sfamera' l'uomo” (Milan, 1979). In this volume see pp. 259-61 as regards Ribolla.

[5] i.e. The European Coal and Steel Community.

[6] Reference to the Russian Foreign Minister at the conference to settle the Suez affair, The Twentieth Party Congress was in February 1956. The Suez affair was finally settled in Rome in 1958 with payment of compensation.

[7]  “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” in Marx Engels Collected Works Vol. XI, Moscow, 1979, p. 185.


Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil

It is vital to be quite clear about the question of state capitalism in order to reset the compasses that have lost their bearings.[1]

We have managed to gather many contributions to this question from the range of traditional concepts of the marxist school that show that state capitalism is not only the latest aspect of the bourgeois world, but that its forms, even complete ones, are very old and correspond with the very emergence of the capitalist type of production. They served as the main factors in primitive accumulation and long preceded the fictitious and conventional environment of private enterprise, of free initiative and other fine things which are found far more in the field of apology than in the real world.

As we have already said, there are many groups in the camp of the left communist anti-stalinists who do not see things in this way. We say to them, on the basis of earlier texts, for example: “Wherever it may be, wherever there is the economic form of the market, capitalism is a social force. It is a class force. And it has the political state at its disposal.”[2]

And let us add the formula which, for us, expresses very well the most recent aspects of the world economy: “State capitalism is not a subjugation of capitalism to the state, but a firmer subjugation of the state to capital.”

These groups, however, find the terms of the first thesis were: “correct until 1900, the epoch of the opening of imperialist expansion and, as such, remain up to date, but are incomplete when the evolution of capitalism gave to the state the function of taking over the final moments of such an evolution from private initiative.”

And they continue by saying that we will be late-comers in the world of economic “culture” if we fail to understand that where this thesis fails to fit in with history, it ceases to be marxist, and if we do not request the addition of the study of the state economy to Marx’s analysis, taking this from texts written by the powerful personality of the economist Kaiser.[3] A bad habit! A text which seeks to establish given relations between things and facts is checked against things and facts and not against the signature on the book, which is based on the more or less powerful or powerless personality of the author.

Personalities? Stick them up your Kaiser as far as we are concerned! And if in 1950 the idol of private enterprise is corroded, we well know that Sir Karl reduced this to minute fragments a good century ago: you see we know this because we are stubborn late-comers, lazy in reading the latest books...

In Marxism, the concept of private initiative does not exist: look down at the compass dial, not up to heaven like the person who hears paradoxes (paradox – something which common sense says is incorrect when it is very much correct).

We have said in thousands of speeches of propaganda that the socialist programme is for the abolition of private property of the means of production, which is borne out by Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and Lenin on Marx. We said property and not private economy. The precapitalist economy was private, or individual. Property is a term which does not indicate a purely economic relationship, but also a legal one and brings into discussion not just the productive forces, but also the relations of production. Private property means private right sanctified by bourgeois legal codes: it brings us to the state and to power, a matter of force and violence in the hands of a class. Our old and valid formula means nothing if it does not already contain the concept that in order to overcome the capitalist economy, the juridical and state structure corresponding to it must also be overcome.

These basic concepts should suffice to reject the insidious content of the following thesis: the social programme is enacted when individual property becomes state property, when the factory is nationalised.

Let us be quite clear, the groups with which we are in dispute do not state that state capitalism is already socialism, but fall into saying that it is a third and new form between private capitalism and socialism. They say in fact that there are two distinct periods: that in which “the state has more of the older policing function than that of involvement in the economy”, and that in which “it gives the maximum power to the exercise of force specifically to protect the economy centralised in it”. We say that in these two formulae, which are more or less faithfully reproduced, and even more so the two historical periods, that capitalism is the same, the ruling class is the same, and the historical state is the same. The economy is the entire social field in which production and distribution occur and includes the men participating in this: the state is a specific organisation acting in the social field, and the state in the capitalist period has always had the function of policeman and protector of the interests of a class and a type of production corresponding historically with this class. The state concentrating the economy within itself is an incongruous formula. For marxism, the state is always present in the economy – its power and legal violence are economic factors from first to last. One can best explain it this way: in certain cases, the state, with its administration, assumes the management of industrial concerns; and if it assumes the management of all of them, then it will have centralised the management of the concerns, but not of the economy. Especially so long as distribution takes place with money prices (that these are fixed officially does not matter) the state is a firm among firms, a contractor among contractors; all the worse in that it considers as firms each of its national enterprises, as with the Labourites, Churchillians and Stalinists. Getting away from this situation is not a question of administrative measures, but a problem of revolutionary force, of class war.

The problem is posed better in an interesting bulletin published by the comrades of the “Groupe français de la gauche communiste internationale[4] of which – with great pleasure - we do not know the names and personalities. Sensible questions are asked on the problem which deserve further development, and the problem is posed in contrast to the vision of the noted Chaulieu group, which is influenced by the theory of “decadence” and of the transition from capitalism to barbarism which inspires in them, however, the same horror as that of the “bureaucratic” regimes. A theory in which one does not know what on earth the compasses are indicating until they prattle about marxism. There are elements in the internal bulletin of our movement[5] on the decadence of capitalism where we deal with the false theory of the descending curve. Without any haughtiness scientifically speaking, it is only foolishness to tell a story which reads: Oh capitalism, grab us, swindle us, reduce us to a worn out old dog not worth a kick in the ribs, we will quickly recover – all this just means that you are decaying. Just imagine that it is decaying...

As for barbarism, it is the opposite of civilisation and so of bureaucracy. Our barbarian ancestors, lucky them, did not have organisational apparatuses based (old Engels!) on two elements – a defined ruling class and a defined territory. There was the clan, the tribe, but still not the civitas. Civitas means city and also state. Civilisation is the opposite of barbarism and means state organisation, therefore necessarily bureaucracy. More state means more civilisation means more bureaucracy, while class civilisations follow one upon the other. This is what marxism says. It is not the return to barbarism, but the start of supercivilisation, which is duping us everywhere, that the monsters of contemporary state super-organisations dominate. But let us leave the members of Socialisme ou barbarie to their existential crisis. The bulletin we quoted refutes them in an article with the correct title: Deux ans de bavardage: Two years of chattering – No chattering here, please note!

Let us come to the balanced formula with which the French comrades formulated the question – the definition of the ruling class of the state capitalist countries, the exactitude or insufficiency of the definition: capitalism heir to the liberal revolutions.

The conclusion presented by this group is correct: stop presenting the bureaucracy as an autonomous class, perfidiously warmed-up within the proletariat, and instead consider it as a huge apparatus linked to a given historical situation in the world-wide evolution of capitalism. Here we are on the right track. The bureaucracy, which all class societies have known, is not a class, it is not a productive force, it is one of the “forms” of production appropriate to a given cycle of class rule. In certain historical phases it appears to be the protagonist on the stage – we too were about to say in the phase of decadence – they are in fact pre-revolutionary phases and those of maximum expansion. Why call the society ready for the midwife of the revolution, the obstetrician who will give birth to the new society, decadent? The pregnant woman is not decadent, but the sterile one is. Chaulieu sees the inflated belly of capitalist society and mistakes the inadequate skill of the obstetrician confronted with the swollen uterus with the imaginary infertility of the pregnant woman. They accuse the Kremlin bureaucracy of giving us a still-born socialism due to their abuse of power, while the fault lies in not having taken up the forceps of the revolution to open up the belly of Europe-America, driven by flourishing capital accumulation, and having made a useless effort on an infertile womb. And perhaps only on an infertile womb, inverting the battle for grain with the battle for seed.[6]

Let us go on to the purely marxist-economic point after this brief clarification. The statement “capitalism heir to the liberal revolutions”, which correctly made the central point, contains the precise historical thesis: capitalism has a cycle, a single class course, from the bourgeois to the proletarian revolution, and it cannot be split into several cycles without renouncing revolutionary marxism. But, it must be said, as it is said a little further on, capitalism appeared from the bourgeois (not liberal) revolutions or, better still, “anti-feudal” revolutions. In fact liberalism became the goal and motive of these revolutions, their general idea, only through bourgeois apologetics. Marx rejected this and for him the historical goal of these revolutions is the destruction of the obstacles to the domination of the capitalist class.

Only in that sense is the abbreviated formulation correct. It is quite clear: capital can easily get rid of liberalism without changing its nature. And this is also clear: the direction of the degeneration, the degeneration of the revolution in Russia does not pass from the revolution for communism to the revolution for a developed kind of capitalism, but to a pure capitalist revolution. It runs in parallel with world-wide capitalist domination which, by successive steps, eliminates old feudal and Asiatic forms in various zones. While the historical situation in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries caused the capitalist revolution to take liberal forms, in the twentieth century it must have totalitarian and bureaucratic ones.

The difference is not due to basic qualitative variations of capitalism, but to the huge diversity in quantitative development, as with the intensity in each metropole, and the diffusion over the planet’s surface.

The fact that capitalism decreasingly adopts for its conservation, just as for its development and enlargement, liberal chit-chat and ever increasingly uses police methods and bureaucratic suffocation, when the historical line is clearly seen, does not cause the slightest hesitation over the certainty that the same means must serve in the proletarian revolution. It will make use of this violence, power, state and bureaucracy, despotism as the Manifesto called it with a yet more dreadful term 103 years ago. Then it will know how to get rid of all of them.

The surgeon does not put down the blood stained lancet before the new life has emerged and has drawn its first breath, the hymn to life.

Yesterday

Does not the basic form of capitalism disappear with the disappearance of the private individuals who, as owners of factories, organise production? This is the objection in the economic field which attracts many people’s attention.

“The capitalist” is named a hundred times by Marx. Besides, the word “capital” comes from the word caput, meaning head, and so traditionally capital is any wealth linked, intestate, to any singular titular person. However, the thesis to which we have dedicated expositions for a long time doesn’t contain anything new, but only explains, remaining true, that the marxist analysis of capitalism does not consider as vital the element of the person of the factory owner.

Quotations from Marx would be innumerable: let us then conclude with just one.

Let us take the so called “classic” capitalism of the “free” factory. Marx always put these in quotation marks, they in fact characterise the bourgeois school he fought and destroyed with his economic concepts – this is the point that is always forgotten.

One naturally supposes that Mr. X, the first capitalist to appear, had a sum of money to hand. Good. Entire sections of Marx’s work reply with the question: how come? The replies vary: theft, robbery, usury, black marketeering or, as we have seen more than a few times, royal charter or law of the land.

So X, instead of stashing his gold coins in a sack, so as to run his fingers through them every night, acts as a citizen imbued with liberal and humanitarian social ideals. He nobly faces the risks and circulates his capital.

So, first element accumulated money.

Second element, acquisition of raw materials, the classic raw cotton bales, of so many little chapters and paragraphs.

Third element, acquisition of the works where he sets up plant and looms to spin and weave.

Fourth element, technical organisation and management. The classic capitalist looks after this himself. He has studied, gone on trips and journeys and has thought out new systems to work the bales and, by producing thread in quantity, cuts costs. He will dress cheaply yesterday’s urchins and even the blacks of Central Africa who were used to going about naked.

Fifth element, the workers at the looms. They do not have to bring an ounce of raw cotton or a single spare spool – that happened in the semi-barbaric times of individual production. But at the same time there will be trouble if they remove a single thread of cotton to patch their trousers. They are rewarded with a just equivalent for their labour time.[7]

Through the combination of these elements, one achieves the one that is the motive and the reason for the whole process: the mass of yarn or textiles. The essential fact is that only the capitalist can take this to market and the financial return is his and his alone.

Always the same old story. Yes, you know the little sum – the cost of the raw cotton, something for the wear and tear on plant and machinery, the workers wages. Receipts: the price of the product sold. This is greater than the sum of the costs and the difference constitutes the profit margin of the factory.

It matters little that the capitalist does what he likes with the money he gets back – he could do that with his original cash already without manufacturing anything. The important fact is that after restocking in everything to the level of his original investment, he still has a mass of money on hand. He could consume it himself, certainly. But socially he cannot, and something forces him to in large part invest it, to translate it into capital again.

Marx says that the life cycle of capital consists only in its movement as value perpetually set in motion so as to multiply itself. The desire of the person of the capitalist is not required in this, nor would he be able to impede it. Economic determinism not only obliges the worker to sell his labour time, but similarly the capitalist to invest and accumulate. Our criticism of liberalism does not consist in saying there is a free class and a slave class. There is an exploited one and a profiteering one, but they are both tied to the laws of the historical capitalist mode of production.

The process is therefore not within the factory, but is social and can only be understood as such. Already in Marx there is the hypothesis of the separation of the various elements from the person of the capitalist entrepreneur, which is substituted with a share participation in the profit margin of the productive enterprise. Firstly, the money can be got from a lender, a bank, who receives periodic interest. Secondly, in such a case the materials acquired with that money are not really the property of the entrepreneur, but of the financier. Thirdly, in England the owner of a building, house or factory may not be the owner of the land on which it stands: thus houses and factories can be rented. Nothing prohibits the same for looms and other machinery and tools. Fourth element, the entrepreneur may lack technical and administrative managerial capacities, he hires engineers and accountants. Fifth element, workers’ wages – evidently their payment too is made from loans from the financier.

The strict function of the entrepreneur is reduced to that of having seen that there is a market demand for a certain mass of products which have a sale price above the total cost of the preceding elements. Here the capitalist class is restricted to the entrepreneurial class, which is a social and political force, and the principal basis of the bourgeois state. But the strata of entrepreneurs does not coincide with that of money, land, housing and factory owners and commodity suppliers.

There are two basic forms and points required to recognise capitalism. One is that the right of the productive enterprise to dispose of the products and the sales proceeds (controlled prices or requisitions of commodities do not impair the right to such proceeds) is unimpaired and unimpairable. What guards this central right in contemporary society is from the outset a class monopoly, it is a structure of power, and the state, the judiciary and police punish whoever breaks this norm. Such is the condition for enterprise production. The other point is that the social classes are not isolated one from another. There are no longer, historically speaking, castes or orders. Belonging to the landed aristocracy was something that lasted more than one lifespan, as the title was handed down through the generations. Ownership of buildings or large finances lasts on average at least a lifespan. The “average period of personal membership of a given individual to the ruling class” tends to become even shorter. For this reason we are concerned about the extremely developed form of capital, not the capitalist. This director does not need fixed people. It finds and recruits them wherever it wants and changes them in ever more mind bending shifts.

Today

Here we cannot demonstrate that Lenin’s “parasitic capitalism” does not mean that power lies more in the hands of the financial capitalists than in those of the industrial capitalists. Capitalism could not spread and expand without growing more complicated and progressively separating into the various elements which enter into the competition for speculative gain: finance, technology, equipment, administration. The tendency is for the largest margin and social control to slip from the grasp of positive and active elements to become concentrated in the hands of speculators and business banditry.

We shall therefore fly from Marx to... Don Sturzo.

This latter, with his habitual prudence, took in hand the INA scandal[8]. What he said is interesting: “I cannot say what happened during fascism because I was in America, but where these things are the order of the day, many others may come to light!” We can be sure of it. The capitalist parasitism of contemporary Italy beats that of Mussolini, and both remain child’s play in comparison with wheeler-dealer US business.

INA had huge finances because it collected all the workers’ social security contributions, like other similar state institutions with their well known initials. It pays slowly so its safes are stuffed with ready cash. It therefore has the right (since it has no head, no body and no soul – it is for good reason that we are in the civilisation of habeus corpus) not to let such wealth lie idle, so it employs and invests it. What good luck for the modern entrepreneur! He is the capitalist without capital, just as dialectically modern capital is capital without the boss, acephalous.

The bad business, the clever Sicilian priest says (those in the gallery yearn soon to make an exaggerated oration at his funeral) was the formation of too many front companies under the INA.

What the hell are front companies? Some types, versed in business who have luxurious offices and have crept into the economic and political outer offices, who do not have a penny or registered stock or buildings to their names, (they do not even rent houses, but live in big hotels, they know Vanoni[9] backwards, but Vanoni does not know them[10])”plan” a given deal and register a company with the plan as its sole asset. INA, or some similar body, will give it the money and if some “special law” is required, let us say for raising cocks in old army bases, a problem is hastily brought to the attention of national leaders, especially by a forceful speech on government ineptitude by one of the opposition MPs, which solves all.

In fact, once the common impresario went to the bank to borrow money to use in the business planned. The bank replied: good, here it is, where are your securities? Out with your property and other titles... But a state-run organisation does not have these trifling needs: the national good is enough for it to pull out the cash. The rest of the tale tells itself. If the old impresario with his plan and production project created not cocks but cock-ups, he was finished – he did not get his money back and he exited from the boss class humiliated.

Our front company with its brilliant general staff does not live in this fear: if it produces cocks, they are sold to poultry farmers for a good price, money is earned. If, supposing it does not produce cocks or no one wants cocks, no matter – hand-outs, indemnities and profit shares have all been cashed in and INA pays for the mistaken cock farm plan.

We have explained what state capitalism (or the economy centralised in the state) means by this small and banal example. It should be said that INA’s loss is shared by all the poor unfortunates who pay into its coffers another cut of their daily wages.

State capitalism is finance concentrated in the state at the disposal of passing wheeler-dealers of enterprise initiative. Never has free enterprise been so free as when the profit remained but the loss risk has been removed and transferred to the community.

The state alone can print as much money as it wants and can deal with the forger. The progressive expropriation of small owners and capitalist concentration in successive historical forms is based on this initial principal of force. We have with reason repeatedly stated that no economy in which firms present accounts and exchange is carried out in money, can avoid such laws.

The power of the state is therefore based on the convergent interests of these profiteers benefiting from speculative plans of firms and from their web of deep-seated international relations.

How can these states not lend capital to those gangs which never settle their debts with the state except by forcing the exploited classes to pay up? There is the proof that these “capitalising” states are in chronic debt to the bourgeois class, or if you want fresh proof, it lies in the fact that they are obliged to borrow, taking back their money and paying interest on it.

The socialist administration of a “centralised economy” would not provide outside takings to any “plan” just as it would not pay interest. Besides, it would not deal in money.

Capital is only concentrated in the state for the convenience of surplus-value and profit manoeuvring. It remains “available to all” or available to the components of the entrepreneurial class – no longer simply production entrepreneurs, but openly business entrepreneurs – they no longer produce commodities, but, Marx has already said, they produce surplus value.

The capitalist as person no longer serves in this – capital lives without him but with its same function multiplied 100 fold. The human subject has become useless. A class without members to compose it? The state not at the service of a social group, but an impalpable force, the work of the Holy Ghost or of the Devil? Here is Sir Charles’s irony. We offer the promised quotation: “By turning his money into commodities which serve as the building materials for a new product, and as factors in the labour process, by incorporating living labour into their lifeless objectivity, the capitalist simultaneously transforms value, i.e. past labour in its objectified and lifeless form, into capital, value which can perform its own valorisation process, an animated monster which begins to ‘work’, ‘as if possessed by the devil’.”[11]

Capital must be seized by the horns.

Battaglia Comunista no. 21, 1951


[1] Cf. Bussole impazzite (compasses struck with madness).

[2] Proprieta’ e capitale (Iskra, Milan, 1980) p. 130

[3] Henry Kaiser proposed “social” capitalism with workers sharing the profits.

[4] A bulletin issued in September 1951 by the group that later became the French section of the International Communist Party. Chaulieu = Castoriadis, a founder of the group Socialisme ou barbarie.

[5] “Il rovesciamento della prassi” now in Partito e classe (Milan, 1972) pp. 120-1, 130. “This theory (of the descending curve) comes from gradualist reformism: there are no drops, shaking or leaps.” (Point 4)

[6] Reference to the Stalin-Khruschev attempt to increase corn yields.

[7] Publishers Note – Bordiga’s use of the term “labour time” is perhaps a slip of the pen. Basic for Marx is that despite the appearance that workers are paid for their labour or labour time, they actually sell and receive payment for their labour power – their capacity to labour. The value of this labour power is its cost of reproduction: “the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of its owner.” (Capital Vol. I, p 274) While the wage form gives the appearance that all a worker’s labour is paid for, for Marx part of workers’ labour time reproduces the value of their labour power and is thus “paid” – and the rest of it is surplus to this and thus is “unpaid”. (See Capital Vol. I, chapters 6 & 7)

[8] Don Sturzo: former priest, leader of the catholic right in the Christian Democrats, opposed to corruption in the party and the state. INA (Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni) launched in 1912 to become the state monopoly, liberal opposition led to it being made into a state body but maintaining “greater autonomy and a more strikingly private type of internal structure than state bodies” (Candeloro Storia dell’ Italia moderna, Milan, 1974, Vol. VII, p. 307). It could therefore operate in the way described in the text.

[9] Publisher’s Note – Vanoni was the Italian Minister of Finance of the day.

[10] Cf. footnote 8 above.

[11] Capital Vol. I, p. 302. The final quotation from Goethe’s Faust, is more correctly translated as “as if its body were by love possessed”.


The Spirit of Horsepower

The main aim of our considerations of various subjects – which makes it indispensable to continually repeat the facts remembered from basic “theorems”, even better if it’s with the same words and phrases – is the criticism of the frenzy around the “unforeseen” and deformed forms of very modern capitalism which supposedly compel a reconsideration of the bases of the "perspective" and thus of the marxist method itself.

This false position can easily be related to the refusal to recognise, or even with a total ignorance of, the essential outlines of our doctrine and its basic points.

The whole discussion now underway on revolutionary forms in Russia and China boils down to the judgement to be made of the historical phenomenon of the “appearance” of industrialism and mechanisation in huge areas of the world previously dominated by landed and precapitalist forms of production.

Constructing industrialism and mechanising things is supposedly the same as building socialism whenever central and “national” plans are made. This is the mistaken thesis.

Classically, marxism historically identifies mechanisation with capitalism. The difference between the employment of mechanical forces in a capitalist society and in a socialist one is not quantitative, it does not lie in the fact that technical and economic management passes from restricted circles to a complete circle. It is qualitative and consists in the total overthrow of the capitalist characteristics of the use of machines by human society, something much more thoroughgoing and which consists in a “relationship between men” in opposition to the cursed “factory system” and the social division of labour.

Three historical forms: industrialism in autonomous enterprises, industrialism in increasingly concentrated enterprises and then commonly managed enterprsies, socialism; all three were foreseen and described by Marx “from the very start”. Nothing has occurred which was unforeseen and which lies beyond the bounds of the analysis which outlined this once and for all. Damn those who talk about dogmas. There has yet to be a renegade who did not use this word. Mao Tse Tung compared it with “cow shit”. Well, bon apetit!

Yesterday

Man and the machine

John Stuart Mill, one of the prophets of capital, stated in his classic ‘Principles of Political Economy’ (London, 1821) that it remained to be seen if mechanical inventions had lightened the labour of any human being. Marx sets out from this quotation in his study of mechanisation. For the first time in the field of the social sciences the discussion began with a radical shifting of the way the arguments were formulated. The question as to whether the machine was a blessing or a curse would at best remain a nice theme for literature. Marx concentrates on and immediately orientates the question to the capitalist use of machines. Such a use is in no way aimed at the reduction of the labour of the human species. “Like every other instrument for increasing the productivity of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities and, by shortening the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself, to lengthen the other part, the part he gives to the capitalist for nothing.” This rigorous definition (at the beginning of Capital, Volume I, Chapter 15) as ever contains within it, and one can easily see this, the communist programme. Will we do without machines and so punish them for performing such swindles? The opposite is the case: in the first period we will use them as and when we can so as to raise production costs and to reduce the amount of time in which the worker works for the capitalist, and then later “to increase the productive capacity of labour”, but not in order to have lunatic quantities of products, but so as to use less labour.

Always testing the anti-metaphysical method, the footnote on this page is delightful on the subject of lightening the labour of which particular human being.

“Mill should have said, ‘of any human being not fed by other people’s labour’, for there is no doubt that machinery has greatly increased the number of distinguished idlers.”[1]

So if the thesis that “machines were indispensable for arriving at the communist revolution” is marxist, the commonplace of the marxist apology for modern mechanisation is the effect of a banal and impotent reading.

Marx stated that the starting points of “the industrial revolution” in the mode of production are labour power in manufacturing and instruments of labour in large factories. Labour power is the workers, which even in manufacturing take up tools and thus have instruments of labour. Let us patiently follow the text in the “analysis” of the characteristics of the new instrument of labour which we can call the machine. We come to understand that the capitalist social and political revolutions occurring before the eighteenth century, that is, when the instrument of labour was prevalently a hand tool and not a machine, determined social relations of labour power (of workers) and political relations which were necessarily and predictably different to those of the capitalist industrial revolutions (Russia, China) of the twentieth century in which the instrument of labour is mechanical on a gigantic scale. They nevertheless remain historically capitalist and bourgeois revolutions. An orgy of mechanisation is one thing, “the building of socialism” another. Even in these cases – let us jump ahead a little – the arrival of the machine-god inevitably brought the bourgeois system of “factory autocracy” and the worship of commodity production. This is historically going in the opposite direction to that to be taken by the socialist revolution which we await, as did Marx, with the same forms which we find described in our Bible – Capital. Blind rage of every bourgeois “free spirit”!

That progress made in instruments of labour is available to all above and beyond frontiers and a series of generations is not our precious discovery. Science belongs to all, but today only to all the capitalist powers. Only tomorrow will it belong to all the human species, of the anti-Mill kind.

A footnote:

“Science, generally speaking, costs the capitalist ‘nothing’, a fact that by no means prevents him from exploiting it. ‘Alien’ science is incorporated by capital just as ‘alien’ labour is. But ‘capitalist’ [in quotation marks in the original] appropriation and ‘personal’ appropriation, whether of science or of material wealth, are totally different things.”[2]

Little men, think it over for forty minutes. Marx proved the thesis with the fact that the individual capitalist, the expropriator and exploiter, is, in many cases, a complete and utter idiot when it comes down to technical questions. We would like to invite you no longer to be surprised by the fact that even if in Russia there is no longer any (?) personal appropriation of others’ labour (wealth), that does not mean that there is not the full capitalist appropriation of it, the Russian capitalist state having obviously been able to appropriate for nothing western science. It therefore had at its disposal all the mechanical and technical inventions and thus could leap over the long development leading from the artisan’s workshop through independent small-scale industry; but it did not simultaneously make the fanciful leap over the capitalist historical and social form of production. But had Marx imagined this leap to have been possible? Yes, given the condition that the united “anational” revolutionary forces had available comparable territories, one of fully developed industrialism (e.g. Germany), the other of as yet undeveloped industrialism (e.g. Russia). Lacking this particular relation, there must intervene a period of capitalism’s growth, presenting itself more as an advance in geographical space than in the succession of time, as a conquest more in quantity than in quality or in the chain of evolutive stages.

Work and Energy

Let us return to the little doctrine. In an organism like the Roman church that has reached two thousand years (by now we do not think we will get rid of it earlier), the infallible pope teaches nothing, the parish priest teaches everything. Laugh if you like, idiot, there is nothing to laugh about.

Marx started to define the machine with concepts from physics and went on to historical ones, which are useful in unravelling the huge enigma of the man-machine relationship.

The mechanical theory of the simple machine deals with those instruments or devices that modify into a more convenient form the energy applied to them by an agent, which may also be the hand of man: they do not produce new energy but merely return what is put into them. They are the lever, wedge, pulley etc. A man cannot shift a rock weighing a ton with his own strength, but he can if he takes a long lever to it. He cannot split it into smaller parts that can be lifted, but if he can use a wedge driven in with hammer blows he can.

Socially one can say that a simple machine is one on which one cannot base business. Classical political economy knows that labour is value. Labour (the quantity of labour) is the same thing as mechanical energy. The physicist says: force times distance (movement of the rock) gives us energy. The economist says: the number of workers multiplied by their labour time gives us value. So as long as we use only the muscle power of workers in production, the simple machines – to which can correctly be added both socially and mechanically the tools which the independent artisan handles – nothing changes. With the lever, that man moves the rock ten metres in eight hours: eight workers without a lever would have rolled it the same distance in an hour.

Mechanically one could say that the compound machine, meaning a greater or lesser complex of simple machines (wheels, levers, cogs etc.), does not provide new energy, while motor machines, which transform the heat of fuel and other forms of energy into mechanical energy do so. Now it would be to make a present of value to permit the elimination of so much labour that has to be performed physically by men. But it would be so only with communist mechanisation: in capitalist mechanisation, the energy relation, which is physically true, is socially incorrect.

As long as mechanical energy is introduced so as to produce more commodities and not to employ less human time in labour, we have to say that the transition, whatever the ideological and juridical presentation, is a capitalist process.

So Marx defined the difference between the tool of the craftsman’s social period and the machine of the capitalist period not on the basis of the use of muscle power substituted by other energy, but by naming as machines in a social sense not only the motor machines of the various contemporary industries and factories, but also the transmitters of energy (a series of simple machines that add no energy) and the working machines applied to the raw material to be transformed and which vulgar technology calls machine tools (lathe, press, punch etc.). Moreover, we have already reached the phase of mechanisation even when the new working machines are not yet set in motion by mechanical energy, but by human muscle power: crank and pedal driven machines.

If it were not so, Marx said, we should have to say that the machine driven by non-human energy existed long before the capitalist factory.

Man, in fact learnt very soon how to adopt other natural energy. A simple two-ox plough is no longer a tool, but a proper machine which allows a man to plough a greater area than that he can dig over with a spade.

But then, Marx said, Claussen’s circular loom, with which a single worker weaves ninety-six picks a minute, though used by a modern, not a primitive, man, would be a tool as it is set in motion by hand, just as is Wyatt’s spinning machine. They became machines only from the moment that the former was set in motion by a motor and the latter, as from 1735, by ... a donkey.

The animal was one of the first natural energy sources used by man to help in production, and from earliest times. But there were others too: the wind and running water.

One cannot therefore call these sporadic and scattered cases of the use of mechanical energy, instead of human muscle power, capitalist mechanisation, but instead the introduction of the machine tool which long preceded that of the mechanical motor (the steam engine).

“It is this last part of the machinery, the tool or working machine, with which the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century began. And to this day it constantly serves as the starting-point whenever a handicraft or a manufacture is turned into an industry carried on by machinery.”[3]

Let us take a step back. With the trade, that is, with the independent, isolated artisan worker, we are in precapitalism, in the guild-feudal regime. With manufacture, we have already arrived at full capitalism. The conditions noted have in fact been realised: concentration of a mass of workers, capital in the hands of a master who can rent buildings, acquire materials and pay wages. Even before mechanisation, simple manufacture has changed to organised manufacture with the technical division of labour among various operations which, even with simple hand tools, are carried out by different craftsmen on the uncontestable order of the ‘master’. This name from the time of slavery is reborn, ignobly substituting the less hateful “Sir”. The Sir was a living and fighting knight, a human being, the master in the end becomes a monstrous automaton.

The factory autocrat

We read in Marx not an apology, but an implacable indictment of the capitalist factory system. The instruments of labour, as long as they could be handled by a single craftsman’s hand, were also, oh modern idealist sins, of his mind and a bit of his heart.

Today the craftsman’s tool has been substituted by the machine tool. Marx said:

“As we have seen, the machine does not drive out the tool. Rather does the tool expand and multiply, changing from a dwarf implement of the human organism to the implement of a mechanism created by man. Capital now sets the worker to work, not with a manual tool, but with a machine which itself handles the tools”[4]

The huge growth in the power of human labour is accompanied by the degradation, not the uplifting, of the working man. The Jenny Mule was the name given to a spinning machine with innumerable spindles. With technological progress in 1863, thanks to a motor of barely one horse-power, two and a half workers were enough for 450 rotating spindles and produced 3666 pounds of spun cotton a week. With a hand spinning-wheel, the same amount of cotton would have required 27,000 hours instead of 150: productivity rose 180 fold! We cannot follow and develop these comparisons Marx made here, applying them, for example, to calculating how many navvies are replaced by digging and rolling machines imported here by the Americans after the war to construct roads.

Dr. Ure gives us two definitions of the factory. On the one hand he describes it as:

“‘combined co-operation of many orders of work people, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill a system of productive machines continuously impelled by a central power’ (prime mover)”

and on the other hand as:

“‘a vast automaton composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force’.” [5]

Marx shows that:

“the second is characteristic of its use by capital and therefore of the modern factory system.” [6]

The first could, however, correspond to our programme: “the combined collective worker, or the social labour body, appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automaton as the object.”

But today instead

“the automaton itself is the subject, and the workers are merely conscious organs, co-ordinated with the unconscious organs of the automaton”

Have you heard, you liberal liberators of bodies, spirits and consciences, who accuse us of automatising life!?

“Ure therefore prefers to present the central machine from which the motion comes as not only an automaton but an autocrat. ‘In these spacious halls the benignant power of steam summons around him his myriads of willing menials’.”

Doesn't the centrality of the concept show for the hundredth time that it is not a question of describing capitalism, as even Stalin pretends, but of discovering the social characteristics that the revolution will have to do away with? Here are other passages.

“In handicrafts and manufacture, the worker makes use of a tool; in the factory the machine makes use of him. ... In manufacture the workers are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism which is independent of the workers, who are incorporated into it as its living appendages.” [7]

A further comparison of Fourier’s of the factory with a mitigated gaol, which the chapter closes with, recalls that in the galley,[8] the rowers were incorporated into the ship, chained for life to their benches: they had to row or sink with it.

“Every kind of capitalist production[or even manufacture], in so far as it is not only a labour-process, but also a process of creating surplus-value, has this in common, that it is not the worker that employs the instruments of labour, but the instruments of labour that employ the worker [programme: the collective socialist-worker will himself dominate the instruments of his work!]. But it is only in the factory system that this inversion for the first time acquires technical and palpable reality. By means of its conversion into an automaton, the instrument of labour confronts the labourer, during the labour-process, in the shape of capital, of dead labour, that dominates, and pumps dry, living labour-power.” [9]

A cold description, is it not, you band of vulgar falsifiers?

The physical person of the individual master is thus not required, and bit by bit he disappears into the pores of share capital, of management boards, of state-run boards, of the political state, which has become (since a long time ago) entrepreneur and manufacturer, and into the very latest vile form of the state which pretends to be “the workers themselves” and thus is able to tie them to the feet of the sinister steel automatons.

Factory despotism: only the communist revolution will tear it up by the roots when there is no longer intoxicating involvement in “struggles for political freedom” and similar popular mirages, denounced in bourgeois industrialism from its very beginning, accompanied by real class revolutions, but made up with stinking democratic rouge. Not a syllable is to be touched of the sentence that we have had ready formulated for ninety years, and which unfortunately is still not ready to be carried out.

“... unaccompanied by either that division of responsibility otherwise so much approved of by the bourgeoisie, or the still more approved representative system. This code is merely the capitalist caricature of the social regulation of the labour process which becomes necessary in co-operation on a large scale and in the employment in common of instruments of labour, and especially of machinery. The overseer’s book of penalties replaces the slave-driver’s lash.” [10]

The latest liberal phantasms; autocracy and dictatorship, “in life” and not in the pallid legal lie, did not begin again with Mussolini, Hitler, Franco... not even with Stalin and his proconsuls, not even with Truman, Eisenhower and the stupid slaves of United Europe: they are a technical fact linked to the beat of huge central generators turning on the banks of the Hudson, Thames, Moscow and the Pearl River.

Machine and revolution

But “the machine is innocent of the misery it brings with it”. Here a marvellous page shows the stupidity of the official economists who, being unable to explain the huge antagonisms springing from the use of machines, pretend to ignore them and close their eyes to the fact that:

“... machinery in itself shortens the hours of labour, but when employed by capital it lengthens them ... in itself it lightens labour, but when employed by capital it heightens its intensity ... in itself it is a victory of man over the forces of nature, but in the hands of capital it makes man a slave of those forces ... in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital it makes them into paupers ... Therefore whoever reveals the real situation with the capitalist employment of machinery does not want machinery to be employed at all, and is an enemy of social progress!” [11]

The machine, which in the hands of the working collectivity will be a source of wellbeing and rest, becomes a killer in the hands of capital. We do not condemn the machine for this.

Here Marx quotes a character from Charles Dickens’s famous novel Oliver Twist. It is the self-defence of the great rogue Bill Sykes:

“Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveller has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife. Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! Where would agriculture and trade be without the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is skilled in anatomy? And a willing assistant at the festive table? If you abolish the knife – you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism.” [12]

No. We will not fall back into total barbarism and such a risk does not worry us. We will merely take from your hands the handle of the knife-machine.

The machine will be precious tomorrow in a non-mercantile mode of production and its appearance has been equally precious in fact for the revolutionary antagonisms which it created between capital and the proletariat.

“There is also no doubt that those revolutionary ferments whose goal [the programme, you deaf ones] is the abolition of the old division of labour stand in diametrical contradiction with the capitalist form of production, and the economic situation of the workers which corresponds to that form. However, the development of the contradictions of a given historical form of production is the only historical way in which it can be dissolved and then reconstructed on a new basis.” [13]

Still another invective against “the division of labour” which communism will bury. Dialectically it was wise at the time of the guilds: nec sutor ultra crepidam, cobbler stick to your last! But:

“‘Nec sutor ultra crepidam’, a phrase which was the absolute summit of handicraft wisdom, became sheer nonsense from the moment when the watchmaker Watt invented the steam-engine, the barber Arkwright the throstle” [14]

And it is also with a battle cry that we close this part of Marx’s work after the detailed examination of the social legislation on work and the shortening of the working day:

“is to increase the anarchy and the proneness to catastrophe of capitalist production as a whole, the intensity of labour [Stakhanov! Stakhanov!], and the competition of machinery with the worker. By the destruction of small-scale and domestic industries it destroys the last resorts of the ‘redundant population’, thereby removing what was previously a safety-valve for the whole social mechanism. By maturing the material conditions and the social combination of the process of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of that process, and thereby ripens both the elements for forming a new society and the forces tending towards the overthrow of the old one.” [15]

Today

From horsepower to the kilowatt

Marx fully established, on the basis of the technological elements of his time, that the introduction of mechanical motive power (better, energy) accelerates the concentration of productive activities into huge factories and that the factory labour legislation itself acted in this way:

“... thus artificially ripen the material elements necessary for the conversion of the manufacturing system into the factory system, yet at the same time, because they make it necessary to lay out a greater amount of capital, they hasten the decline of the small masters, and the concentration of capital.” [16]

We have cited many times the famous passage from the chapters on accumulation, which is illustrated, for example, by the technical modifications occurring in steel making:

“In any given branch of industry centralisation would reach its extreme limit if all the individual capitals invested there were fused into a single capital. In a given society this limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company.” [17]

Engels transposed this perspective to the trusts, the monopolies and the state managers in a no less notorious manner.

If the commodity laws themselves, confluent in the production of surplus value, provided Marx with the basis of the demonstration, fully confirmed by history, of gigantic capitalist accumulation in colossal amounts, the new technical forms of producing motor power have an equally important influence.

As long as we are referring to the steam engine, the first case of large scale employment of mechanical power in production, we see that the best solution is autonomy for each factory to produce the amount of energy required. The power station changed everything, especially after the massive extraction of fossil fuel, made imposing in turn both by machines and by the capitalist form of mine management (once it was largely state owned). Before then the cost per horsepower clearly became decreasingly small as the boiler became increasingly large, and thus there is another reason for the small factory to be subjected to the large one. Nevertheless, no organisational link was imposed between factories as all could get coal on the “open market”.

All this changed enormously with the progress of electro-mechanisation. The advantage of making energy into a commodity became decisive with the creation of a transmitted electrical supply. Every factory now tends not to produce, but to buy its energy.

Ure’s central motor could control the working machines along with the men made slaves to them, but within a small radius: that allowed by transmission by means of “simple mechanisms” – pulleys, belts, conical gears... No one had even thought it useful to distribute steam under pressure to other machines through long ducts, the huge heat loss making such a system uneconomical.

Let us offer an example: supposing natural methane gas had been found before the discovery of dynamic electricity and electrical current. This, too is a fossil fuel of organic origin, like the solid and liquid ones. But, unlike them (the liquid one can be piped as a commodity, but not as a fuel, for technical and economic reasons), it can be distributed through a mains system. From this fact would have emerged the need for a close organisational link between all the factories fed by a single distribution system.

In fact, the energy consumed by each individual factory can no longer be varied at the will of the local management as it could cause the single power station to run out of energy or to have to “throw it away”. Instead, the capitalist with the factory based on autonomous motive power could cut out burners and boilers at his pleasure, or install others to increase production.

As the whole plan of employing workers, the slaves of the machine tools, depends on that of the energy provided, the entire social industrial mechanism falls into line with these new norms, it links up, centralises and subordinates itself to an infinity of rules.

Planning is not socialist!

Such an adaptation to, and the discipline of, general networks is not a change in the historical type of production: the factory is still the factory, the worker is still the wage-labourer, the compulsion of the factory automatons increases rather than diminishes. The general norms from which thousands and thousands of special laws emerged is not a social revolution. It is useless for the reader immersed in modern life to extend the comparison of motive power for factories and plants that produce manufactured goods to the thousand other communication, transport, and all types of service networks.

Even antiquity administered motors that were not autonomous. The domesticated animal was undoubtedly autonomous and the farm or small-holding was all the stronger for the number of horses or oxen it possessed. The windmill was autonomous, but, however, depended on nature’s whim.

Not autonomous, at least not over a long tract of the same water course – river or “industrial canal” – was the water mill. And here laws of very old states provided a clear discipline so that no one could modify the lay out of weirs to consume more hydraulic energy than the grindstone, for example, up or down stream. A sentence or a commission abolishing privileges in Calabria in 1810 stated inter alia: “All can install hydraulic machinery as long as they do not cause any damage and loss to previously existing hydraulic machines.”

Giacchino Murat’s[18] regime was extremely liberal. Imagine a modern regime as liberal as this that says: anyone is free to install electrical machinery and to plug it into the first electrical cable that comes to hand!

In all periods, then, public authority has had to regulate and co-ordinate productive activities and energy sources, all the more so when their dependence on a single network, on the same material flow of energy provision, became technically inevitable; and there is a full parallel between the flow from a certain head of water and that of electrons from a conductor at a given voltage.

And now then, forgetting for a moment the unfolding of particular historical episodes and the names of the mercenaries, let us ask ourselves what a social organisation in power which had to industrialise a still backward country would do. Naturally it would not await the repetition of a slow development from guilds lacking work co-operation to manufacture without machine tools to the factory with machine tools but without steam engines to large scale industry with its own boiler. It would pass directly to the building of electrical power stations, and, as far as possible, hydroelectric ones, using the modern methods of applied science to control water, creating heads of water later to be distributed in given amounts, clearly fixed in a plan of the project, to individual factories that were to produce manufactured goods for consumption.

The same mercantile motive as that of competition on the world market in the acquisition of what is indispensable for such plant thus operates for the supposed authority because every other way would be more costly and would imply greater funding and use of savings “on imports”.

The pretended differences between Russian capitalism and the one which developed, let us say, in England, France, Germany and America, thus do not consist in and do not mean a step towards a different social form which escapes from the despotic factory system and the social division of labour and the frantic work intensity, but instead consist in the most rapid and direct way of arriving at this very system.

History is there to tell us that on 22-29 December 1921 at the Eighth Congress of the Soviets, the foundations were laid for planned industrialisation, adopting the electrification programme of which, it is noted, Lenin was a chief proponent.

Thought and history

Despite the availability to man of new powerful means provided by the domination of electrical energy, the social law of transition from one type of production to another has not been broken. Autonomous or centrally planned, steam or electrified, the productive mechanism under construction in the USSR is capitalist.

Can the discoveries of pure and applied science emerging from the human brain change and form the course of history? We can ask ourselves if the form of atomic power, given that in a handful of material which is now inert there lie millions more horse power and kilowatts than in the entire course of a huge river, permits the return to local autonomous factories and to the “liberal” economy, with an analogous human ideology. That cannot happen and, besides, the means to unleash such an eruption of energy, breaking open the first nuclei, consists in energy from an electro-mechanical source at such a voltage, a thousand times higher than those of the industrial motor which enslaves human arms and brains, that no group of capitalists, but only the political state can put it in place.[19]

An immense path leads from the modest horse, first a beast of burden, then through horse power, which turned the spinning machine, to the millions of volts in the huge “cyclotron”. But Marx had already recalled in the section we’ve studied that Descartes and Bacon, for whom work animals were “machines” and who were ideological precursors of capitalism, maintained that “altered methods of thought would result in an alteration in the shape of production, and practical subjugation of nature by man”. Descartes in his ‘Discours sur la methode’ makes the prophecy that:

“in place of the speculative philosophy taught in the schools, one can find a practical philosophy by which, given that we know the powers and the effectiveness of fire water, air, the stars ... as well and as accurately as we know the various trades of our craftsmen, we shall be able to employ them in the same manner as the latter to all those uses to which they are adapted ...” thereby contributing “to the perfection of human life.” [20]

From Marx onwards, we have placed such a realisation at the end of the difficult historical course, but we do not maintain that the creative forces of thought generate new productive forces, rather that the development and conflict of social processes are reflected in the conquests of thought.

It is therefore useless to use the will, dream or illusion or the hundred ways of deforming thought and opinion to change the name of the fact and of the inexorable process, and to pretend that merely by exploiting the “mechanical intelligence” of modern capitalism, as an obedient Cartesian pupil who goes further than his master, one can succeed in identifying a system of capitalist compression of man and labour with the perfection of life. For this – at the present moment in history – the work of the mind is inadequate, and instead one needs another social war, conducted by men against men, classes against classes.

Il programma comunista no. 5, 1953


[1] Capital Vol. I p. 492

[2] ibid. p. 508

[3] ibid. p. 494

[4] ibid. p. 509

[5] ibid. p. 544

[6] ibid. p. 545

[7] ibid. p. 548

[8] Galera means both galley and prison.

[9] ibid. p. 548

[10] ibid. p. 550

[11] ibid. p. 569

[12] ibid. p. 569 (quoting Dickens)

[13] ibid. p. 619

[14] ibid. p. 619

[15] ibid. p. 635

[16] ibid. p. 607

[17] ibid. p. 779

[18] Murat introduced Napoleonic legislation to Southern Italy.

[19]  Publisher’s note -This passage seems to confuse nuclear fission in a reactor - brought about by bringing together a large quantity of naturally fissile material (Uranium-235 or Plutonium) in a small space so as to create a "chain reaction" - with the shattering of atomic nuclei which can be carried out by accelerating particles in a cyclotron using very high voltages, but the comments about the huge investment required to establish it are correct.

[20] ibid. p. 513


The Democratic Principle

The use of certain terms in the exposition of the problems of communism very often engenders ambiguities because of the different meanings these terms may be given. Such is the case with the words democracy and democratic. In its statements of principle, Marxist communism presents itself as a critique and a negation of democracy; yet communists often defend the democratic character of proletarian organizations (the state system of workers' councils, trade unions and the party) and the application of democracy within them. There is certainly no contradiction in this, and no objection can be made to the use of the dilemma, "either bourgeois democracy or proletarian democracy" as a perfect equivalent to the formula "bourgeois democracy or proletarian dictatorship".

The Marxist critique of the postulates of bourgeois democracy is in fact based on the definition of the class character of modern society. It demonstrates the theoretical inconsistency and the practical deception of a system which pretends to reconcile political equality with the division of society into social classes determined by the nature of the mode of production.

Political freedom and equality, which, according to the theory of liberalism, are expressed in the right to vote, have no meaning except on a basis that excludes inequality of fundamental economic conditions. For this reason we communists accept their application within the class organizations of the proletariat and contend that they should function democratically.

In order to avoid creating ambiguities, and dignifying the concept of democracy, so entrenched in the prevailing ideology which we strive relentlessly to demolish, it would be desirable to use a different term in each of the two cases. Even if we do not do this, it is nonetheless useful to look a little further into the very content of the democratic principle, both in general and in its application to homogeneous class organs. This is necessary to eliminate the danger of again raising the democratic principle to an absolute principle of truth and justice. Such a relapse into apriorism would introduce an element foreign to our entire theoretical framework at the very moment when we are trying, by means of our critique, to sweep away the deceptive and arbitrary content of "liberal" theories.

I

A theoretical error is always at the root of an error of political tactics. In other words, it is the translation of the tactical error into the language of our collective critical consciousness. Thus the pernicious politics and tactics of social-democracy are reflected in the error of principle that presents socialism as the inheritor of a substantial part of the doctrine that liberalism opposed to the old spiritualist doctrines. In reality, far from ever accepting and completing the critique that democratic liberalism had raised against the aristocratic and absolute monarchies of the ancien regime, Marxist socialism in its earliest formulations demolished it utterly. It did so not to defend the spiritualist or idealist doctrine against the Voltairean materialism of the bourgeois revolutionaries, but to demonstrate how the theoreticians of bourgeois materialism had in reality only deluded themselves when they imagined that the political philosophy of the Encyclopedists had led them out of the mists of metaphysics and idealist nonsense. In fact, like all their predecessors, they had to surrender to the genuinely objective critique of social and historical phenomena provided by Marx's historical materialism.

It is also important from a theoretical point of view to demonstrate that no idealist or neo-idealist revision of our principles is needed to deepen the abyss between socialism and bourgeois democracy, to restore to the theory of proletarian revolution its powerfully revolutionary content which had been adulterated by the falsifications of those who fornicate with bourgeois democracy. It is enough merely to refer to the positions taken by the founders of Marxism in the face of the lies of liberal doctrines and of bourgeois materialism.

To return to our argument, we will show that the socialist critique of democracy was in essence a critique of the democratic critique of the old political philosophies. Marxism denies their alleged universal opposition and demonstrates that in reality they are theoretically similar, just as in practise the proletariat did not have much reason to celebrate when the direction of society passed from the hands of the feudal, monarchical and religious nobility into the hands of the young commercial and industrial bourgeoisie. And the theoretical demonstration that the new bourgeois philosophy had not overcome the old errors of the despotic regimes, but was itself only an edifice of new sophisms, corresponded concretely to the appearance of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat which contained the negation of the bourgeois claim of having forever established the administration of society on a peaceful and infinitely perfectible basis, thanks to the introduction of suffrage and of parliamentary democracy.

The old political doctrines based on spiritualist concepts or even on religious revelation claimed that the supernatural forces which govern the consciousness and the will of men had assigned to certain individuals, families or castes, the task of ruling and managing the collective existence, making them the repositories of "authority" by divine right. To this, the democratic philosophy which asserted itself at the time of the bourgeois revolution counterposed the proclamation of the moral, political and juridical equality of all citizens, whether they were nobles, clerics or plebeians. It sought to transfer "sovereignty" from the narrow sphere of caste or dynasty to the universal sphere of popular consultation based on suffrage which allowed a majority of the citizens to designate the leaders of the state, according to its will.

The thunderbolts hurled against this conception by the priests of all religions and by spiritualist philosophers do not suffice to give it recognition as the definitive victory of truth over obscurantist error, even if the "rationalism" of this political philosophy seemed for a long time to be the last word in social science and the art of politics, and even if many would-be socialists proclaimed their solidarity with it. This claim that the time of "privilege" was over, once a system with its social hierarchy based on the consent of the majority of electors had been set up, does not withstand the Marxist critique, which throws a completely different light on the nature of social phenomena. This claim may look like an attractive logical construction only if it is admitted from the outset that the vote, that is, the judgement, the opinion, the consciousness of each elector has the same weight in delegating power for the administration of the collective business. It is already evident that this conception is unrealistic and unmaterialist because it considers each individual to be a perfect "unit" within a system made up of many potentially equivalent units, and instead of appraising the value of the individual's opinion in the light of his manifold conditions of existence, that is, his relations with others, it postulates this value a priori with the hypothesis of the "sovereignty" of the individual. Again this amounts to denying that the consciousness of men is a concrete reflection of the facts and material conditions of their existence, to viewing it as a spark ignited with the same providential fairness in each organism, healthy or impaired, tormented or harmoniously satisfied in all its needs, by some undefinable supreme bestower of life. In the democratic theory, this supreme being no longer designates a monarch, but confers on everyone the equal capacity to do so! In spite of its rationalist front, the democratic theory rests on a no less childish metaphysical premise than does "free will", which, according to the catholic doctrine of the afterlife, wins men either damnation or salvation. Because it places itself outside of time and historical contingencies, the democratic theory is no less tainted with spiritualism than are the equally erroneous philosophies of revelation and monarchy by divine right.

To further extend this comparison, it is sufficient to remember that many centuries before the French Revolution and the declaration of the rights of man and citizen, the democratic political doctrine had been advanced by thinkers who took their stand resolutely on the terrain of idealism and metaphysical philosophy. Moreover, if the French Revolution toppled the altars of the Christian god in the name of Reason, it was, wittingly or not, only to make Reason into a new divinity.

This metaphysical presupposition, incompatible with the Marxist critique, is characteristic not only of the doctrine constructed by bourgeois liberalism, but also of all the constitutional doctrines and plans for a new society based on the "intrinsic value" of certain schemes of social and state relations. In building its own doctrine of history, Marxism in fact demolished medieval idealism, bourgeois liberalism and utopian socialism with a single blow.

II

To these arbitrary constructions of social constitutions, whether aristocratic or democratic, authoritarian or liberal, as well as to the anarchist conception of a society without hierarchy or delegation of power, which is rooted in analogous errors, the communist critique opposed a much more thorough study of the nature and causes of social relations in their complex evolution throughout human history and a careful analysis of their characteristics in the present capitalist epoch from which it drew a series of reasoned hypotheses about their further evolution. To this can now be added the enormous theoretical and practical contribution of the proletarian revolution in Russia.

It would be superfluous here to develop the well-known concepts of economic determinism and the arguments which justify its use in interpreting historical events and the social dynamic. The apriorism common to conservatives and utopians is eliminated by the analysis of factors rooted in production, the economy, and the class relations they determine. This makes possible a scientific explanation of the juridical, political, military, religious and cultural facts which make up the diverse manifestations of social life.

We will merely retrace the historical evolution of the mode of social organization and grouping of men, not only in the state, an abstract representation of a collectivity fusing together all individuals, but also in other organizations which arise from the relations between men.

The basis of the interpretation of every social hierarchy, whether extended or limited, is the relations between different individuals, and the basis of these relations is the division of tasks and functions among these individuals.

We can imagine without serious error that at the beginning the human species existed in a completely unorganized form. Still few in number, these individuals could live from the products of nature without the application of technology or labour and in such conditions could do without their fellow beings. The only existing relations, common to all species, were those of reproduction. But for the human species - and not only for it - these were already sufficient to form a system of relations with its own hierarchy - the family. This could be based on polygamy, polyandry or monogamy. We will not enter into a detailed analysis here; let us say only that the family represents an embryo of organized collective life, based on a division of functions directly determined by physiological factors, since the mother nourished and raised the children, and the father devoted himself to the hunt, to the acquisition of plunder and to the protection of the family from external enemies, etc.

In this initial phase, where production and economy are almost totally absent, as well as in later stages when they are developing, it is useless to dwell on the abstract question of whether we are dealing with the individual-unit or the society-unit. Without any doubt, the individual is a unit from a biological point of view, but one cannot make this individual the basis of social organization without falling into metaphysical nonsense. From a social perspective, all the individual units do not have the same value. The collectivity is born from relations and groupings in which the status and activity of each individual do not derive from an individual function but from a collective one determined by the multiple influences of the social milieu. Even in the elementary case of an unorganized society or non-society, the simple physiological basis which produces family organization is already sufficient to refute the arbitrary doctrine of the individual as an indivisible unit free to combine with other fellow units, without ceasing to be distinct from, yet somehow, equivalent to them. In this case, obviously the society-unit does not exist either, since relations between men, even reduced to the simple notion that others exist, are extremely limited and restricted to the sphere of the family or the clan. The self-evident conclusion can be drawn in advance: the society-unit has never existed and probably never will except as a "limit" which can be brought progressively nearer by the disappearance of the boundaries of classes and states.

Setting out from the individual-unit in order to draw social conclusions and to construct social blueprints or even in order to deny society, is setting out from an unreal supposition which, even in its most modern formulations, only amounts to refurbishing the concepts of religious revelation and creation and of a spiritual life which is not dependent upon natural and organic life. The divine creator - or a single power governing the destiny of the universe has given each individual this elementary property of being an autonomous well-defined molecule endowed with consciousness, will and responsibility within the social aggregate, independent of contingent factors deriving from the physical influence of the environment. Only the appearance of this religious and idealist conception is modified in the doctrine of democratic liberalism or libertarian individualism. The soul as a spark from the supreme Being, the subjective sovereignty of each elector, or the unlimited autonomy of the citizen of a society without laws - these are so many sophisms which, in the eyes of the Marxist critique, are tainted with the same infantile idealism, no matter how resolutely "materialist" the first bourgeois liberals and anarchists may have been.

This conception finds its match in the equally idealist hypothesis of the perfect social unit - of social monism - based on the divine will which is supposed to govern and administer the life of our species. Returning to the primitive stage of social life which we were considering and to the family organization discovered there, we conclude that we do not need such metaphysical hypotheses of the individual-unit and the society-unit in order to interpret the life of the species and the process of its evolution. On the other hand, we can positively state that we are dealing with a type of collectivity organized on a unitary basis, i.e. the family. We take care not to make this a fixed or permanent type or to idealize it as the model form of the social collectivity, as anarchism or absolute monarchy do with the individual. Rather we simply record the existence of the family as the primary unit of human organization, which will be succeeded by others, which itself will be modified in many aspects, and which will become a constituent element of other collective organizations, or, one may suppose, will disappear in very advanced social forms. We do not feel at all obliged to be for or against the family in principle, any more than, for example, for or against the state. What does concern us is to grasp the evolutionary direction of these types of human organization. When we ask ourselves whether they will disappear one day, we do so objectively, because it could not occur to us to think of them as sacred and eternal, or as pernicious and to be destroyed. Conservatism and its opposite (i.e. the negation of every form of organization and social hierarchy) are equally weak from a critical view-point, and equally sterile.

Thus leaving aside the traditional opposition between the categories individual and society, we follow the formation and the evolution of other units in our study of human history: organized human collectivities, broad or restricted groupings of men with a hierarchy based on a division of functions, which appear as the real factors and agents of social life. Such units can in a certain sense be compared to organic units, to living organisms whose cells, with their different functions and values, can be represented by men or by rudimentary groups of men. However the analogy is not complete, since while a living organism has well-defined limits and obeys the inflexible biological laws of its growth and death, organized social units do not have fixed boundaries and are continually being renewed, mingling with one another, simultaneously splitting and recombining. If we dwelt on the first conspicuous example of the family unit, it was to demonstrate the following: if these units which we are considering are clearly composed of individuals and if their very composition is variable, they nonetheless behave like organic and integral "wholes", such that to split them into individual units has no real meaning and is tantamount to a myth. The family element constitutes a whole whose life does not depend on the number of individuals that comprise it, but on the network of their relationships. To take a crude example, a family composed of the head, the wives and a few feeble old men is not equal to another made up of its head and many strong young men.

Setting out from the family, the first organized social form, where one finds the first example of division of functions, the first hierarchies, the first forms of authority and the direction of individuals' activities and the administration of things, human evolution passes through an infinite series of other organizational forms, increasingly broad and complex. The reason for this increasing complexity lies in the growing complexity of social relations and hierarchies born from the ever-increasing differentiation between functions. The latter is directly determined by the systems of production that technology and science place at the disposal of human activity in order to provide an increasing number of products suited to satisfying the needs of larger societies evolving towards higher forms of life. An analysis which seeks to understand the process of formation and change of different human organizations, as well as the interplay of relations within the whole of society, must be based on the notion of the development of productive technology and the economic relations which arise from the distribution of individuals among the different tasks required by the productive mechanism. The formation and evolution of dynasties, castes, armies, states, empires, corporations and parties can and must be studied on the basis of these elements. One can imagine that at the highest point of this complex development a kind of organized unit will appear which will encompass all of mankind and which will establish a rational division of functions between all men. What significance and limits the hierarchical system of collective administration will have in this higher form of human social life is a matter for further study.

III

To examine those unitary bodies whose internal relations are regulated by what is generally called the "democratic principle", for reasons of simplicity we will distinguish between organized collectivities whose hierarchies are imposed from outside and those that choose their own hierarchy from within. According to the religious conception and the pure doctrine of authority, in every epoch human society is a collective unit which receives its hierarchy from supernatural powers. We will not repeat the critique of such a metaphysical over-simplification which is contradicted by our whole experience. It is the necessity of the division of functions which gives rise naturally to hierarchies; and this is what has happened in the case of the family. As it develops into a tribe or horde, it must organize itself in order to struggle against rival tribes. Leadership must be entrusted to those most able to use the communal energies, and military hierarchies emerge in response to this need. This criterion of choice in the common interest appeared thousands of years before modern democratic electoralism; in the beginning kings, military chiefs and priests were elected. In the course of time, other criteria for the formation of hierarchies prevailed, giving rise to caste privileges transmitted by inheritance or even by initiation into closed schools, sects and cults. Nevertheless, in normal practice, accession to a given rank and inheritance of that rank were motivated by the possession of special aptitudes. We do not intend to follow here the whole process of the formation of castes and then of classes within society. We will only say that their appearance no longer corresponds to the logical necessity of a division of functions alone, but also to the fact that certain strata occupying a privileged position in the economic mechanism end up monopolizing power and social influence. In one way or another, every ruling caste provides itself with its own organization, its own hierarchy, and likewise, economically privileged classes. To limit ourselves to one example - the landed aristocracy of the Middle Ages, by uniting itself for the defence of its common privileges against the assaults of the other classes, constructed an organizational form culminating in the monarchy, which concentrated public powers in its own hands to the complete exclusion of the other layers of the population. The state of the feudal epoch was the organization of the feudal nobility supported by the clergy. The principal element of coercion of the military monarchy was the army. Here we have a type of organized collectivity whose hierarchy was instituted from without since it was the king who bestowed the ranks, and in the army, passive obedience was the rule. Every form of state concentrates under one authority the organizing and officering of a whole series of executive hierarchies: the army, police, magistracy, bureaucracy. Thus the state makes material use of the activity of individuals from all classes, but it is organized on the basis of a single or a few privileged classes which appropriate the power to constitute its different hierarchies. The other classes, and in general all groups of individuals for whom it was only too evident that the state, in spite of its claims, by no means guaranteed the interests of everyone, seek to provide themselves with their own organizations in order to make their own interests prevail. Their point of departure is that their members occupy an identical position in production and economic life.

As for organizations which provide themselves with their own hierarchy, if we ask what is the best way to ensure the defence of the collective interests and to avoid the formation of privileged strata, some will propose the democratic method whose principle lies in using the majority opinion to select those to fill the various offices.

Our critique of such a method must be much more severe when it is applied to the whole of society as it is today, or to given nations, than when it is introduced into much more restricted organizations, such as trade unions and parties.

In the first case it must be rejected without hesitation as without foundation, since it takes no account of the situation of individuals in the economy and since it presupposes the intrinsic perfection of the system without taking into consideration the historical evolution of the collectivity to which it is applied.

The division of society into classes distinguished by economic privilege clearly removes all value from majority decision-making. Our critique refutes the deceitful theory that the democratic and parliamentary state machine which arose from modern liberal constitutions is an organization of all citizens in the interests of all citizens. From the moment that opposing interests and class conflicts exist, there can be no unity of organization, and in spite of the outward appearance of popular sovereignty, the state remains the organ of the economically dominant class and the instrument of defence of its interests. In spite of the application of the democratic system to political representation, bourgeois society appears as a complex network of unitary bodies. Many of these, which spring from the privileged layers and tend to preserve the present social apparatus, gather around the powerful centralized organism of the political state. Others may be neutral or may have a changing attitude towards the state. Finally, others arise within the economically oppressed and exploited layers and are directed against the class state. Communism demonstrates that the formal juridical and political application of the democratic and majority principle to all citizens while society is divided into opposed classes in relation to the economy, is incapable of making the state an organizational unit of the whole society or the whole nation. Officially that is what political democracy claims to be, whereas in reality it is the form suited to the power of the capitalist class, to the dictatorship of this particular class, for the purpose of preserving its privileges.

Therefore it is not necessary to devote much time to refuting the error of attributing the same degree of independence and maturity to the vote of each elector, whether he is a worker exhausted by excessive physical labour or a rich dissolute, a shrewd captain of industry or an unfortunate proletarian ignorant of the causes of his misery and the means of remedying them. From time to time, after long intervals, the opinion of these and others is solicited, and it is claimed that the accomplishment of this "sovereign" duty is sufficient to ensure calm and the obedience of whoever feels victimized and ill-treated by the state policies and administration.

IV

It is clear that the principle of democracy has no intrinsic virtue. It is not a "principle", but rather a simple mechanism of organization, responding to the simple and crude arithmetical presumption that the majority is right and the minority is wrong. Now we shall see if and to what extent this mechanism is useful and sufficient for the functioning of organizations comprising more restricted collectivities which are not divided by economic antagonisms. To do this, these organizations must be considered in their process of historical development.

Is this democratic mechanism applicable in the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. in the state form born from the revolutionary victory of rebel classes against the power of the bourgeois states? Can this form of state, on account of its internal mechanism of the delegation of powers and of the formation of hierarchies, thus be defined as a "proletarian democracy"? The question should be broached without prejudice, because if although we might reach the conclusion that the democratic mechanism is useful under certain conditions, as long as history has not produced a better mechanism, we must be convinced that there is not the slightest reason to establish a priori the concept of the sovereignty of the "majority" of the proletariat. In fact the day after the revolution, the proletariat will not yet be a totally homogeneous collectivity nor will it be the only class. In Russia for example, power is in the hands of the working class and the peasantry, but if we consider the entire development of the revolutionary movement, it is easy to demonstrate that the industrial proletarian class, although much less numerous than the peasantry, nevertheless plays a far more important role. Then it is logical that the Soviet mechanism accords much more value to the vote of a worker than that of a peasant.

We do not intend to examine thoroughly here the characteristics of the proletarian state constitution. We will not consider it metaphysically as something absolute, as reactionaries do the divine right of the monarchy, liberals, parliamentarism based on universal suffrage, and anarchists, the non-state. As it is an organization of one class destined to strip the opposing classes of their economic privileges, the proletarian state is a real historical force which adapts itself to the goal it pursues, that is, to the necessities which gave birth to it. At certain moments its impulse may come from either broad mass consultations or from the action of very restricted executive organs endowed with full powers. What is essential is to give this organization of proletarian power the means and weapons to destroy bourgeois economic privilege and the political and military resistance of the bourgeoisie, in a way that prepares for the subsequent disappearance of classes themselves, and for the more and more profound modifications of the tasks and structure of the proletarian state.

One thing is sure - while bourgeois democracy's real goal is to deprive the large proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses of all influence in the control of the state, reserved for the big industrial, banking and agricultural oligarchies, the proletarian dictatorship must be able to involve the broadest layers of the proletarian and even semi-proletarian masses in the struggle that it embodies. But only those who are the victims of democratic prejudice could imagine that attaining this end merely requires the setting up of a vast mechanism of electoral consultation. This may be excessive or - more often - insufficient, because this form of participation by many proletarians may result in their not taking part in other more active manifestations of the class struggle. On the other hand, the intensity of the struggle in particular phases demands speed of decision and movement and a centralized organization of efforts in a common direction, which, as the Russian experience is demonstrating with a whole series of examples, imposes on the proletarian state constitutional characteristics which are in open contradiction to the canons of bourgeois democracy. Supporters of bourgeois democracy howl about the violation of liberties, whereas it is only a matter of unmasking the philistine prejudices which have always allowed demagogues to ensure power to the privileged. In the dictatorship of the proletariat, the constitutional mechanism of the state organization is not only consultative, but at the same time executive. Participation in the functions of political life, if not of the whole mass of electors, then at least of a wide layer of their delegates, is not intermittent but continuous. It is interesting to note that this is accomplished without at all harming the unitary character of the action of the whole state apparatus - rather to the contrary. And this is thanks precisely to the criteria opposed to those of bourgeois hyperliberalism, that is, virtual suppression of direct elections and proportional representation, once, as we have seen, the other sacred dogma of the equal vote, has been overthrown.

We do not claim that these new criteria introduced into the representative mechanism, or codified in a constitution, stem from reasons of principle. Under new circumstances, the criteria could be different. In any case we are attempting to make it clear that we do not attribute any intrinsic value to these forms of organization and representation. This is translated into a fundamental Marxist thesis: the revolution is not a problem of forms of organization. On the contrary, the revolution is a problem of content, a problem of the movement and action of revolutionary forces in an unending process, which cannot be theorized and crystallized in any scheme for an immutable " constitutional doctrine".

In any case, in the mechanisms of the workers' councils we find no trace of the rule of bourgeois democracy, which states that each citizen directly chooses his delegate to the supreme representative body, the parliament. On the contrary, there are different levels of workers' and peasants' councils, each one with a broader territorial base culminating in the congress of Soviets. Each local or district council elects its delegates to a higher council, and in the same way elects its own administration, i.e. its executive organ. At the base, in the city or rural council, the entire mass is consulted. In the election of delegates to higher councils and local administrative offices, each group of electors votes not according to a proportional system, but according to a majority system, choosing its delegates from lists put forward by the parties. Furthermore, since a single delegate is sufficient to establish a link between a lower and higher council, it is clear that the two dogmas of formal liberalism -voting for several members from a list and proportional representation - fall by the wayside. At each level, the councils must give rise to organs that are both consultative and administrative and directly linked to the central administration. Thus it is natural that as one progresses towards higher representative organs, one does not encounter parliamentary assemblies of chatterboxes who discuss interminably without ever acting; rather, one sees compact and homogeneous bodies capable of directing the action and political struggle, and of giving revolutionary guidance to the whole mass thus organized in a unitary fashion.

These capacities, which are definitely not automatically inherent in any constitutional schema, are reached in this mechanism because of the presence of an extremely important factor, the political party, whose content goes far beyond pure organizational form, and whose collective and active consciousness and will allow the work to be oriented according to the requirements of a long and always advancing process. Of all the organs of the proletarian dictatorship, the political party is the one whose characteristics most nearly approach those of a homogeneous unitary collectivity, unified in action. In reality, it only encompasses a minority of the mass, but the properties which distinguish it from all other broad-based forms of representative organization demonstrate precisely that the party represents the collective interests and movement better than any other organ. All party members participate directly in accomplishing the common task and prepare themselves to resolve the problems of the revolutionary struggle and the reconstruction of society, which the majority of the mass only become aware of when they are actually faced with them. For all these reasons, in a system of representation and delegation based not on the democratic lie but on a layer of the population whose common fundamental interests propel them on the course of revolution, it is natural that the choices fall spontaneously on elements put forward by the revolutionary party, which is equipped to respond to the demands of the struggle and to resolve the problems for which it has been able to prepare itself. We do not attribute these capacities of the party to its particular constitution, anymore than we do in the case of any other organization. The party may or may not be suited to its task of leading the revolutionary action of a class; it is not any political party but a precise one, namely the communist party, that can assume this task, and not even the communist party is immune to the numerous dangers of degeneration and dissolution. What makes the party equal to its task is not its statutes or mere internal organizational measures. It is the positive characteristics which develop within the party because it participates in the struggle as an organization possessing a single orientation which derives from its conception of the historical process, form a fundamental programme which has been translated into a collective consciousness and at the same time from a secure organizational discipline.

To return to the nature of the constitutional mechanism of the proletarian dictatorship - of which we have already said that it was executive as well as legislative at all levels - we must add something to specify what tasks of the collective life this mechanism's executive functions and initiatives respond to. These functions and initiatives are the very reason for its formation, and they determine the relationships existing within its continually evolving elastic mechanism. We refer here to the initial period of proletarian power whose image we have in the four and a half years that the proletarian dictatorship has existed in Russia, because we do not wish to speculate as to what the definitive basis of the representative organs will be in a classless communist society. We cannot predict how exactly society will evolve as it approaches this stage; we can only envisage that it will move in the direction of a fusion of various political, administrative and economic organs, and at the same time, a progressive elimination of every element of coercion and of the state itself as an instrument of power of one class and a weapon of struggle against the surviving enemy classes.

In its initial period, the proletarian dictatorship has an extremely difficult and complex task that can be subdivided into three spheres of action: political, military and economic. Military defence against counter-revolutionary attacks from within and without and the reconstruction of society on a collective basis depend upon a systematic and rational plan of activity which, while utilizing the diverse energies of the whole mass with the maximum efficiency and results, must also achieve a powerful unity. As a consequence, the body which leads the struggle against the domestic and foreign enemy, that is, the revolutionary army and police, must be based on discipline, and its hierarchy must be centralized in the hands of the proletarian power. The Red Army itself is thus an organized unit whose hierarchy is imposed from without by the government of the proletarian state, and the same is true for the revolutionary police and tribunals.

The problems of the economic apparatus which the victorious proletariat erects in order to lay the foundations of the new system of production and distribution is more complex. The characteristic that distinguishes this rational administration from the "chaos" of bourgeois private economy is centralization. Every enterprise must be managed in the interest of the entire collectivity and in harmony with the requirements of the whole plan of production and distribution. On the other hand, the economic apparatus (and the groups of individuals that comprise it) is continually being modified, not only through its own gradual development but also by the inevitable crises in a period of such vast transformations, which cannot be without political and military struggles. These considerations lead to the following conclusions: in the initial period of the proletarian dictatorship, although the councils at different levels must appoint their delegates to the local executive organs as well as to the legislative organs at higher levels, the absolute responsibility for military defence, and in a less rigid way, for the economic campaign, must remain with the centre. For their part, the local organs serve to organize the masses politically so that they will participate in fulfilling the plans and accept military and economic organization. They thereby create the conditions for the broadest and most continuous mass activity possible, and can channel this activity towards the formation of a highly centralized proletarian state.

These considerations certainly are not intended to deny all possibility of movement and initiative to the intermediary organs of the state hierarchy. But we wanted to show that one cannot theorize that they must be formed by the application of groups of electors organized on the basis of factories or army divisions to the revolution's executive tasks of maintaining military or economic order. The structure of such groups is simply not able to confer any special abilities on them. The units in which the electors are grouped at the base can therefore be formed according to empirical criteria. In fact they will constitute themselves according to empirical criteria, among which, for instance, the convergence in the workplace, the neighbourhood, the garrison, the battlefront or any other situation in daily life, without any of them being excluded a priori or held up as a model. This does not prevent the representative organs of the proletarian state from being based on a territorial division into electoral districts. None of these considerations is absolute, and this takes us back to our thesis that no constitutional schema has the value of a principle, and that majority democracy in the formal and arithmetic sense is only one possible method for coordinating the relations that arise within collective organizations. No matter what point of view one takes, it is impossible to attribute to it an intrinsic character of necessity or justice. For Marxists these terms have no meaning. Therefore we do not propose to substitute for the democratic schema which we have been criticizing any other schema of a state apparatus which in itself will be exempt from defects and errors.

V

It seems to us that enough has been said about the democratic principle in its application to the bourgeois state, which claims to embrace all classes, and also in its application to the proletarian class exclusively as the basis of the state after the revolutionary victory. Something should be said about the application of the democratic mechanism to organizations existing within the proletariat before (and also after) the conquest of power, i.e. in trade unions and the political party.

We established above that a true organizational unity is only possible on the basis of an identity of interests among the members. Since one joins unions or parties by virtue of a spontaneous decision to participate in a specific kind of action, a critique which absolutely denies any value to the democratic mechanism in the case of the bourgeois state (i.e. a fallacious constitutional union of all classes) is not applicable here. Nevertheless, even in the case of the party and the trade union it is necessary not to be led astray by the arbitrary concept of the "sanctity" of majority decisions.

In contrast to the party, the trade union is characterized by the virtual identity of its members' immediate material interests. Within the limits of the category, it attains a broad homogeneity of composition and it is an organization with voluntary membership. It tends to become an organization which all the workers of a given category or industry join automatically or are even, as in a certain phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat, obliged to join. It is certain that in this domain number remains the decisive factor and the majority decision has a great value, but we cannot confine ourselves to a schematic consideration of its results. It is also necessary to take into account other factors which come into play in the life of the union organization: a bureaucratized hierarchy of functionaries which paralyses the union under its tutelage, and the vanguard groups that the revolutionary party has established within it in order to lead it onto the terrain of revolutionary action. In this struggle, communists often point out that the functionaries of the union bureaucracy violate the democratic idea and are contemptuous of the will of the majority. It is correct to denounce this because the right-wing union bosses parade a democratic mentality, and it is necessary to point out their contradictions. We do the same with bourgeois liberals each time they coerce and falsify the popular consultation, without proposing that even a free consultation would resolve the problems which weigh on the proletariat. It is right and opportune to do this because in the moments when the broad masses are forced into action by the pressure of the economic situation, it is possible to turn aside the union bureaucrats' influence, which is in substance an extra-proletarian influence of classes and organizations alien to the trade union, thereby augmenting the influence of the revolutionary groups. But in all this there are no "constitutional" prejudices, and communists, provided that they are understood by the masses and can demonstrate to them that they are acting in the direction of their most immediate felt interests, can and must behave in a flexible way vis-à-vis the canons of formal democracy. For example, there is no contradiction between these two tactical attitudes: on one hand, taking the responsibility of representing the minority in the leadership organs of the unions insofar as the statues allow; and on the other hand, stating that this statutory representation should be suppressed once we have conquered these organizations in order to speed up their actions. What should guide us in this question is a careful analysis of the developmental process in the unions in the present phase. We must accelerate their transformation from organs of counter-revolutionary influence on the proletariat into organs of revolutionary struggle. The criteria of internal organization have no value in themselves but only insofar as they contribute to this objective.

We now analyze the party organization which we have already touched on in regard to the mechanism of the worker's state. The party does not start from as complete an identity of economic interests as does the union. On the contrary it bases the unity of its organization not on category, like the union, but on the much broader basis of the entire class. This is true not only in space, since the party strives to become international, but also in time, since it is the specific organ whose consciousness and action reflect the requirements of victory throughout the process of the proletariat's revolutionary emancipation. When we study the problems of party structure and internal organization, these well-known considerations force us to keep in mind the whole process of its formation and life in relation to the complex tasks which it continually has to carry out. At the end of this already long exposition, we cannot enter into details of the mechanism which should regulate consultation of the party's mass membership, their recruitment and the designation of responsible officers. There is no doubt that for the moment there is nothing better to do than hold to the majority principle. But as we have emphasized, there is no reason to raise use of the democratic mechanism to a principle. Besides its consultative functions, analogous to the legislative tasks of the state apparatus, the party has executive tasks which at the crucial moment of the struggle, correspond to those of an army and which demand maximum discipline toward the hierarchy. In fact, in the complex process which has led to the formation of communist parties, the emergence of a hierarchy is a real and dialectical phenomenon which has remote origins and which corresponds to the entire past experience of the functioning of the party's mechanism. We cannot state that the decisions of the party majority are per se as correct as those of the infallible supernatural judges who are supposed to have given human societies their leaders, like the gods believed in by all those who think that the Holy Spirit participates in papal conclaves. Even in an organization like the party where the broad composition is a result of selection through spontaneous voluntary membership and control of recruitment, the decision of the majority is not intrinsically the best. If k contributes to a better working of the party's executive bodies, this is only because of the coincidence of individual efforts in a unitary and well-oriented work. We will not propose at this time replacing this mechanism by another and we will not examine in detail what such a new system might be. But we can envisage a mode of organization which will be increasingly liberated from the conventions of the democratic principle, and it will not be necessary to reject it out of unjustified fears if one day it can be shown that other methods of decision, of choice, of resolution of problems are more consistent with the real demands of the party's development and its activity in the framework of history.

The democratic criterion has been for us so far a material and incidental factor in the construction of our internal organization and the formulation of our party statutes; it is not an indispensable platform for them. Therefore we will not raise the organizational formula known as "democratic centralism" to the level of a principle. Democracy cannot be a principle for us. Centralism is indisputably one, since the essential characteristics of party organization must be unity of structure and action. The term centralism is sufficient to express the continuity of party structure in space; in order to introduce the essential idea of continuity in time, the historical continuity of the struggle which, surmounting successive obstacles, always advances towards the same goal, and in order to combine these two essential ideas of unity in the same formula, we would propose that the communist party base its organization on "organic centralism". While preserving as much of the incidental democratic mechanism that can be used, we will eliminate the use of the term "democracy", which is dear to the worst demagogues but tainted with irony for the exploited, oppressed and cheated, abandoning it to the exclusive usage of the bourgeoisie and the champions of liberalism in their diverse guises and sometimes extremist poses.

Rassegena Communista - February 1922

 


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