Invariance of social democracy, invariance of marxism
ILCL - International Library of the Communist Left
[last] [home] [content] [end] [search]

If linked: [French] [German] [Italian] [Spanish]


Invariance of social democracy, invariance of marxism

Invariance of social democracy, invariance of marxism
[top] [content] [end]

It appears that sooner or later we will be caught up in the birth of a «World-wide Olive», a new «Third Force» in the political spectrum. We have in mind, between one domestic tiff and another, and with slightly diverse but converging political accents, Prodi and Blair, D'Alema and Veltroni, Clinton and Jospin. A grand plan designed to go beyond the already-lightweight Socialist International, the house of commons for all the ultraliberal social-democratic parties, more or less in the government or more or less in the opposition. Oh, mystical mystery of the beginning and ending of this 20° century!

The matter neither surprises nor shocks us. If social democracy, in all its varieties and shades, is in power just about everywhere in Europe (and elsewhere: there are talks of a soon-to-be-born Japanese Olive...), this is because social democracy has a specific role, today as it did yesterday.

In the face of an economic crisis whose proportions continue to grow and shake ever more the planet, the ruling bourgeois class must turn to defensive measures. With an experience garnered from almost four centuries of domination, it knows the need of the moment: that of calling on those political forces whose obedience is unquestioned, but are able to radiate the goodness and assurance of a respected «progressivism».

At its disposition stands a social democracy that from across the arc of almost a century - if not more so, as we will see - has traversed diverse experiences, while conserving certain determinant characteristics, and playing a precise role with extraordinary obstinacy and invariance.

• • •

Not by chance in the 1848 Communist Manifesto one finds an accurate description and definition of future social democracy:

«A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of conditions of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind... The Socialistic bourgeois wants all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat [...]
A second and more practical, but less systematic, form of this Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class, by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change of the material conditions of existence, in economic relations, could be of any advantage to them. By changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism, however, by no means understands the abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by revolution, but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour, but at the best, lessen the cost, and simplify the administrative work of the bourgeois government
». (1)

And from one of our texts of 1921 («The Function of Social Democracy in Italy»), one may read:

«The social-democratic parties maintain that the democratic period is not over, and that the proletariat can still serve its class needs by these democratic forms. Given that these political forms exist and that the proletariat, particularly in the conditions resulting from the war, can draw no advantages from them, social democrats are led to advance and propose changes to a more perfect and advantageous democracy, suggesting that the present system acts against the proletariat only because it is not fully democratic.From here arise all the new plans for a republic, the extension of suffrage, the elimination of the upper house [of parliament the granting of new powers to parliament, and so on.» (2)

• • •

From 1848 to 1921 and from then to now, social democracy has been a participant in a number of diverse experiences. Yet it has retained those characteristics of being the last bulwark of bourgeois constitutional order - the efficacious instrument of its conservation, the traitorous political force that in the end turns over to the enemy, for the coup de grace, a proletariat that it has already disarmed and defeated.

In point of fact, a continuous thread binds international social democracy, which in the opposing camps of 1914 rushed into defensist war - a way of evading revolutionary responsibility - to that of the Weimar Republic, marked in the immediate post-war by the blocking and massacre of the German proletarian revolution, thus paving the way for the advent of the Nazi regime.

To this sanguinary record of classical social democracy, one must add victorious Stalinism, a specific «variety» that brought with it additional proletarian massacres - from the Canton Commune of the Chinese Revolution of 1927 to the physical elimination of the Bolshevik Old Guard in the 1930s. Again, here too, the invariable unexception: the way classical social democracy was, in the critical years of the first post-war period, the main prop of the bourgeois social order, so Stalinism was, after 1926, the means for the renaissance and coalescing of a young capitalism that it baptised, brought to maturity, and directly succoured by means of very precise domestic and international policies.

Stalinism was not limited to passing on programs, strategies, and tactics of classical social democracy. To it was added the additional experience of managing polities and enforcing savage social repression within and without the USSR. The fraternal parties, the stalinised «Communist» Parties, in the 1930s prior to the war and in the post-war, openly supported the bourgeois governments and joined in the effort to reconstruct the capitalist economies emerging from that blood bath. They continued that tradition and went even further they assimilated into the new societies the politico-social heritage of defeated fascism, its reformist and dirigiste policies, its «social character» and its system of nepotism - which in turn fascism had co-opted from classical social democracy.

So, here again, the continuity, the invariable survival! As we noted on the morning after «Liberation»: «the fascists have been defeated, but fascism has won.» Meaning that the substance of fascism (economic and financial centralisation, state intervention in all branches of economic life, militarisation of social life, forms of consensus via the media, etc.) was passed on in the victorious «democracies».

Decades passed but social democracy has conserved its decisive role in the constituted order and, if anything, has developed new and more refined means of presenting itself, of beguiling and repressing, of becoming the most effective weapon in the service of the ruling class, the most appropriate and efficacious. We know fascism is a dirt-bag, whereas social democracy comes across neat and clean. The first served to complete the task, but it cannot endure long; it is the second that performs the longer and more complete service - that of disarming the working class.

Again citing our text of 1921:

«The experience of the last revolutions, no less than critical Marxism, demonstrates that all this political baggage is nothing but the mask of a movement that appears to be the only and last program and method of rule that remains to the bourgeois class in these difficult times; that not only all governments formed on this basis are not the bridge to the real conquest of political power by the proletarian masses, but constitute the last and most formidable obstacle raised by the regime against its overturn; and that the theoretical democratic contents of this movement give way - in logical conformity with the historical death of democracy proclaimed by our communist beliefs - to a dictatorial and terrorist practice directed against the proletariat and communism.» (3)

• • •

Far-seeing words not only from the standpoint of what happened in the months and years immediately after 1921, but also from the point of view of what occurred, in Italy and elsewhere, in the subsequent decades. And of what is happening today!

We aver the above for the following reason: if classic social democracy and triumphant, counterrevolutionary Stalinism could still count on ample margins of profit to sustain layers of a working-class aristocracy - i.e., «a sector of working class with protections and guarantees» - which in turn assured social peace and the brutal extraction of surplus labour in Europe and the US for the interval from the Second World War, today social democracy finds itself having to manage a bourgeois economy in crisis. It does not have at its disposal the needed fat to grant largess to left and right, or employ the Welfare State to buy votes and support; it must now be more royalist than the king, and seriously involve itself in the salvation of a system that quakes and has begun taking on water from all sides, without the old means for new dispensations. It must play, quite simply and outspokenly, the gendarme. This truism has been taught to the unemployed and sans-papiers of France, to the striking miners of Germany and Rumania, to the clandestine immigrants who arrive on the Italian coasts, and to all those sectors of the international working class who have been forced-fed «sugar and water» by «left or center-left governments.» And will experience it ever more in the future.

Our text from 1921 concludes in this fashion:

«We understand that the final battle will most likely be against a government of ex-socialists; but it is not our duty to facilitate their coming to power; rather to prepare the working class to see it from the beginning as a declaration of war instead of a cease fire that opens to a peaceful resolution of the problems of the revolution.» (4)

• • •

Now to this invariance of social democracy, an invariance ever more explicitly counterrevolutionary, we communists counterpoise our own invariance, a potent weapon in defence and for attack.

When Marxism was born, in the years around 1848, it was not the work of a pair of genial thinkers. It was the theoretical and programmatic expression of a social and political movement that found itself at an epochal cross-roads.

As a matter of fact, the mode of capitalist production that emerged victorious after centuries of fighting against feudal production reached a summit at that cross-roads; not in the sense that it could not expand and develop

further (which it did); but in the deeper sense that it had exhausted the positive phase of its historical ascent, positive in that the new mode of production lifted humanity ahead. Now it was passing into a period in which it was becoming ever more passé and, with the passage of time, more destructive and self-afflicting. Today, in 1999, one need only look around oneself.

Hence Marxism was born as an epitaph to the old mode of production and as a science of revolutionary rupture. It undertook the responsibility for a detailed analysis, better still, for a near microscopic autopsy, of the capitalist mode of production. It posited itself as a combined theory, program, and praxis applicable for the entire span of time needed for the class struggle to clear the stage of capitalism, an obsolete system of production - a spate of time that revolutionaries hoped (and always hope) would be short; but which, given the whims of the social war, may be long, turning the agony of the old and the birth of the new into a travail seemingly without end. On the other hand, let us remember that the bourgeoisie employed nearly five centuries to dispose of the earlier mode of production.

Marxism, therefore, was born as the expression of the appearance of the new proletarian class whose function is that of being the bearer of the new - a role which arises from the proletariat's place in bourgeois society and not from some intrinsic moral and cultural virtue, as some whose limited or banal view of Marxism (from pro to con) would have it.

Thus this is a clash between two modes of production, not a superficial skirmish between frogs and mice! This is the basis of our invariance: not in the fact that our theory, our program, as if arising from some evanescent contingency, is valid only for five, ten or fifteen years. It is applicable for the entire period that separates us from communism. In another of our texts, from the 1 950s, we read:

«According to Marxism there is no gradual and continuous progress in history, regarding above all the organization of productive resources, but a series of distant successive leaps ahead that profoundly shake the economic and social structure to its very foundations. These are true cataclysms, catastrophes, rapid crises in which everything changes in a short lime while for long periods everything had remained unchanged, as the stars, the cosmos, the geology, and the evolution of living organisms in the physical world.
Since class ideology is a superstructure of the modes of production, it also is not made up from the daily contributions of grains of knowledge, but arises from the midst of a violent clash and guides the class, in a monolithic and stable manner, through a long series of struggles and attempts until the next successive phase, to the succeeding historic revolution.
» (5)

• • •

This is the invariance that we oppose both to the invariance of capitalism and of social democracy, a social democracy, over all, evermore declaratively subservient to the service of a superannuated mode of production, in equal parts destructive and cannibalistic. In the face of the siren-like coos from the various «left governments» or «center-left governments», in the presence of the high-blown words of a D'Alema and a Blair, of a Jospin or a Schroeder, the workers will have to learn (and at their own expense, faced with the harsh realities of sweeping loss of jobs, of growing unemployment, of intensified exploitation, of police persecution and repression) that the words sounded above have nothing in common with their interests as members of an international exploited working class. They are words which are always used, and on an international level, in the interests of those who have exploited the workers and can continue only to exploit them: capital.

Those sirens, those gentlemen who claim to speak in the name of those who work, are the most insidious of enemies, who with alacrity undertake the most loathsome of tasks - that of deluding and disarming those who cannot and should not be deluded, who must day after day gird themselves to survive and, tomorrow, to triumph.

Therefore, it is not too late to raise up invariance to invariance. The world is entering into a period marked by years and decades of great change - years and decades in which problems will come to the fore, as we, relying on our own invariance, have always maintained. Time will be needed, perhaps much time, and we are in no hurry. The direction is toward a new epochal clash, as in 1848 and in the 1920s of this century.

There must be no illusion that social forces can play a role other than that which history has assigned to them. Social democracy was born to betray and bar the road to revolution: this is no moral condemnation but, pointedly, an historical fact. There must be no possibility, therefore, for a «let's first see how they work,» nor a «let's wait and see.» Since 1848 we know well how they work, since 1921 how it will end, if again «we let them do it.»

Let's oppose invariance to invariance, the only way to prepare oneself for future tempestuous baffles that will not consist of colourful clashes between mice and frogs, but of dramatic, epochal confrontations of modes of production. Precisely this invariance has carried us live to the present, across the most ferocious counterrevolutionary abyss, through the birth and shattering of illusions and myths, the dastardly rhetoric of the latest arriviste in the supermarket of real politik, the stupid arrogance of those who time and again proclaim the failure of communism without having a clue to its contents, thus labeling as communist what was its most ferocious enemy.

Precisely from this invariance we derive our duties, those of a small party with little influence, but that knows how to bear on it shoulders an immense historical responsibility.

These duties consist of:
a) continuing that «criticism of capitalism» in all its aspects - economic, social, political, cultural; in reality, its autopsy, as indicated earlier, the equivalent of touching all the bases of Marxism, without which the «storming of the heavens» would be impossible, something only our current has been able to conserve, shining and razor sharp, from the middle of the 1920s on;
b) working in close relationship with the international working class in order to reintroduce to them the most elementary concepts and methods of the class struggle - goals, objectives, tactics, contents - that seventy years of counterrevolution have erased from the historical memory and daily practice of the class itself;
c) extending the party network worldwide, on the basis of an internationalism that is neither a romantic moral call nor a rhetorical word of order, but a simple fundamental principle of communism.

Here, in this invariance, also is found the great pride of those who fight for communism without expecting political honours, material rewards, personal recognition, and mystical auras; the great patience of those who know that at the end of the road there is no crown of laurel.

But a new and too-long-in-the-coming leap ahead for the entire human species.

[prev.] [content] [end]

  1. K.Marx - F. Engels, «Communist Manifesto», in «The Portable Karl Marx» (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 235-236. [back]
  2. «La funzione della socialdemocrazia in Italia», «Il Comunista», Febr. 6, 1921, now in our «Storia della Sinistra Comunista», Vol.III. [back]
  3. «La funzione della socialdemocrazia in Italia», «Il Comunista», Febr. 6, 1921, now in our «Storia della Sinistra Comunista», Vol.III. [back]
  4. «La funzione della socialdemocrazia in Italia», «Il Comunista», Febr. 6, 1921, now in our «Storia della Sinistra Comunista», Vol.III. [back]
  5. ..., now in our «Per l'organica sistemazione dei principi comunisti». [back]

Source: «Internationalist Papers», number 8, spring/summer 1999

[top] [content] [last] [home] [mail] [search] [webmaster]