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(en) Italy, FdCA theoretical pamphlet: "Anarchist Communists: A Question Of Class", Part III of VII

Date Thu, 08 Sep 2005 08:18:49 +0300


3. Why communist: what we have in common with the left
Throughout its history, there has been a fringe within the Anarchist
movement which, as a result of a philosophical defence of the
individual (seen as some self-sufficient monad), has resulted in a
completely reactionary contempt of the masses. But a very large
majority of the Anarchist movement (almost the entire movement)
has always been a part of "the left" and has defended the weakest,
the exploited, fighting doggedly for their liberation.
Some Anarchists, while declaring themselves to be part of the left
and believing that their theory can liberate the whole of humanity
(both servants and masters), have come to believe that good ideas
live by themselves - all it needs is for them to be understood. So,
their main task has ended up as pure, idealistic propaganda and a
consequent refusal of class struggle.

They have, on the one hand, refused organization on the basis that it
is an essentially authoritarian principle and, on the other hand driven
by a blind hatred (and not by a precise analysis) of Marxism, they
believe that society divided into classes is not a reality but some
philosophical invention of Trier's. The result of all this is inaction
and sterility.

Among the class-struggle currents of the Anarchist movement there
are three which use the term communist in their theoretical
definitions (Libertarian Communism, Anarcho-Communism and
Anarchist Communism) whereas others make reference to
syndicalism (Revolutionary Syndicalism, various forms of
Anarcho-Syndicalism). We will deal with these distinctions later on.

It should be noted at this stage that the term Communism refers
openly to the acceptance of class principles which distinguish all
revolutionary leftists, irrespective of their school of thought.

In fact it was Anarchists who first adopted the term on a wide scale.
Its early adoption represented early maturity on the part of the
Anarchist movement, which passed from the Collectivist phase to
which Bakunin was still linked ("from each according to their ability,
to each in relation to their work"), to the truly egalitarian phase
("from each according to their ability, to each according to their
needs").

Until such times as Anarchists adopted the communist adjective,
around the end of the 19th century, it had been relegated to certain
unimportant utopian sects such as the Icarians who were influenced
by Étienne Cabet.

Initially, it was the Marxists who had assumed the name. Marx and
Engels chose it, in fact, for their small group of German immigrants
in Britain, the Communist League, and used it in their 1848 work,
the "Communist Manifesto". Successively, however, they fell back
on the term Social Democracy in all countries, partly as a result of
their alliance with the Lassallians which led to the birth of the
German Social Democratic Party, and partly because the
Communist programme was judged to be too advanced for political
movements which still had to act within bourgeois societies which
had not yet developed fully. Orthodox Marxism, in fact, believed that
before there could be a social revolution, the bourgeoisie had to
develop all its progressive potential and the proletariat had to
cooperate in this, because only when this task of the proprietary
classes had been exhausted and when bourgeois society had turned
on itself, could the contradictions within it explode, giving rise to the
new era of proletarian domination.

It was only after the Russian Revolution of October 1917 that
Marxist parties all over the world returned to the use of the adjective
communist. By that stage, though, Anarchist Communists had
already been using the term for around half a century as a synonym
of class-struggle Anarchism.


3.1 Method (historical materialism)

Any activity which is designed to transform the existing situation
and change the structure of society cannot but come from an
analysis of the situation it finds itself in. The absence of such an
analysis inevitably leads to an inability to understand and establish
what objectives to aim for in order to obtain the desired
transformation, what the social structure's weak points are, what its
contradictions are. It is impossible, in other words, to prepare a
revolutionary project (which in order to be just that, apart from being
clear in its aims, must inevitably mark out a direction which can
guide its action).

The absence of a project conceals to a greater or lesser extent the
conviction (at times implicit and not understood) that the
contradictions in the present social structure can contain within
them the inevitable end of the capitalist system. In other words, a
mechanical, spontaneist conception which for that very reason
believes in the self-destruction of the system, which involuntarily
activates, but above all without the possibility of dispensation, its
own process of extinction (for example by allowing the proletariat's
rage to grow, organize and explode). The long, messianic and
useless wait for the cathartic moment of revolution which has been
with us for well over a century now, has definitively proved this
approach. If only the Luxemburgists knew!

What we need to do, then, is begin this analysis, but first of all we
must define a methodology which we can use to interpret the
situation. In defining a method of analysis, the first thing to be said is
that it does not, and must not, have any pretence of being absolutely
objective. Methods designed for different aims are inevitably
different. One thing, however, is important: the method, which we
will analyse and define, without doubt provides the only key to
reading both the past and the present. In other words, it is the only
one which can make sense of the varied panorama of scattered facts
which present themselves. On the other hand, this does not mean
that we will abandon it if certain facts cannot be explained by it; first
of all, because there is as yet no other method which is as successful
as far as the interpretation of history is concerned; secondly, because
history is not a linear process without contradictory aspects, which
can therefore require a comprehensive outline in which every aspect
can be contained (our method takes account of and has as its proposition,
this contradictory fact, and seeks only to re-construct the lines which
undergo historical development); lastly, because historical materialism,
the method we are talking about, is simply too appropriate for our ends
and it has provided too many positive results in the history of the
proletariat.



Its most precise definition is provided by Marx and Engels: "The first
historical action is therefore the creation of the means to satisfy
these needs, the production of material life itself, and this is precisely
a historical action, a fundamental condition of any history, which
still today, as millennia ago, must be accomplished every day and
every hour simply to keep man alive [...]. In every conception of
history therefore, the first point is that this fundamental fact be
observed in all its facets and that its place be recognized".

Historical materialism is therefore a methodology for the analysis of
historical facts which can establish the primary cause for these in the
evolution of the productive structure of society, in the development
of relationships and forces of production; every event that history
presents us with is therefore not the result of ideas and the clash
between different conceptions of life, but the result of the economic
interests at stake - direct and indirect manifestations of the
relationships which establish themselves with human society in the
production of those goods which are necessary for the satisfaction of
our historically and socially determined material needs. History is
not the history of ideas. Ideas are backdrops created by real
movements that can themselves, however, influence the
movements. History is the history of the antagonisms created by the
production relationships. It is the history of the struggle between the
classes.


3.2 Classes (the protagonists)

The "class-struggle left", "class-struggle unions" or "class interests"
are common expressions in political phrasebooks. But what are
classes for Anarchist Communists, or indeed for the entire radical
left, Marxist and otherwise? They are the social groups that can be
identified on the basis of their position in the cycle of production and
the distribution of goods. For Marxists (for a majority of them, at
least), the definition is quite rigid. There are basically two classes.
First, those who control the means of production (capital, structures,
production machinery, etc.) and who, on the basis of this ownership,
obtain a privileged share of the goods which are produced without
themselves working on the transformation of raw materials into
finished goods. Then there are those (the proletariat) who own only
their ability to work (their labour force) which they sell to the former
group (the bosses) in exchange for a wage which allows them and
their families to survive and reproduce (the very word "proletariat"
comes from the Latin pro-le-s, meaning "offspring"). Others, such as
the middle class are destined to disappear into the proletariat,
while the poor who are unable even to make their way into the labour
markets survive as an underclass (the "lumpenproletariat") and do not
merit a class identity, serving only to keep wage levels down thanks
to competition with the employed, something which serves the interests
of the bosses alone.


For Anarchist Communists from Bakunin onwards, the position
requires further explanation. The position within the productive
cycle does identify fundamental opposing interests - on the one hand
the proletariat which produces goods for consumption through its
labour and which loses the benefit of this as a result of the ownership
system of capitalist society and, on the other hand, the bosses who
take the profit thanks to their ownership of the means of production.
But around this irreparable contradiction are a series of secondary
actors who are no less important. There are the peasants, who
possess their own means of production but who are robbed of the
greater part of the wealth they produce by the mechanism of
distribution which they do not control. Then there are the middle
classes whose function is essential to capitalist reproduction and
who are repaid with ephemeral, derisory privileges and who are
consequently often confused as to where their real interests lie.
Finally there are the unemployed, whose desperate thirst for a
wage puts them in fictional competition with their natural allies.

It is important, therefore, to establish the basic dichotomy and build
a strategy which can bring together the interests (which are only
separate in appearance) of all those who to a greater or lesser extent
are exploited by the present social system based on capitalist private
property. This basic dichotomy cannot be denied or avoided. For this
reason, there is no place from a class-struggle point of view for all
those groups (even though they may be tactically useful in the
building of revolutionary confrontation) which bring together people
on the basis of subjective perceptions or of different interests to those
involved in the production cycle, such as consumers, the poor, the
inhabitants of a neighbourhood, students, etc.


3.3 Class Struggle (antagonism)

As we have said, the materialist conception of history implies the
conception that society is divided into classes and that the interests
of these classes are fatally opposed and irreconcilable. This too is an
idea which is shared by the whole class-struggle left and is not an
invention of Marxism (as certain non-class struggle Anarchists
think). It is a reality known even before the theoretical works of
Marx and Engels, though this pair did provide a coherent,
convincing description of it. As in the case of historical materialism,
though, also in this case the paths of Marxism (or better still, the
different varieties of Marxism) and Anarchist Communism quickly
diverged on three fundamental points: the causes of the class
struggle, the development of the class struggle, and the relationship
between the condition of the proletariat class and the consciousness
that it develops of this condition.
For Anarchist Communism, the class struggle is developed within
the full flowering of capitalist society primarily as a result of the
material conditions that the proletariat has to live in. But as these
conditions are not new, nor are they as bad as in past days, other
joint causes are needed: a fundamental role is surely played by the
fact that the capitalist organization of labour concentrates large
masses of workers into the same physical space, both for production
and in daily life, easing the way for political aggregations. Our
agreement with the Marxists is thus far complete. Marxists,
however, tend to overvalue this important aspect, to the point of
considering it the only possible aspect and consider it completely as
an internal movement of the productive forces, who in their
development create the conditions for the birth of workers'
antagonism and therefore threaten from within, for that same
reason, the very life of capitalist class society. They therefore limit
the class struggle to the version of factory struggles, particularly in
industry, which best represents the advanced stage of technical and
productive development. Anarchist Communists, on the other hand,
though recognizing the decisive importance of the two factors mentioned
before, believe that others have their role to play: the growth in
education (not so much regarding schooling, but in the circulation of
ideas), which is dragged along by labour once liberated from feudalism;
an idea of social justice which emerges from the mists of impatience
which have always been produced in every society which is marked by
deep inequality; finally, utopia - the embodiment of a less unfair
world. The Marxists would say these are superstructural factors (or
idealistic, or worse still, petit-bourgeois), but nonetheless of great
importance and, most importantly, they do not relegate the class
struggle to that between workers and individual bosses, but include
the whole struggle between the exploited and their exploiters,
embracing also the demands of the peasants.

This is the source of the second point of dissent. For Marxists,
wherever capitalism develops is where the moment of Communist
revolution draws near, whereas the old-fashioned production
methods (crafts, peasant agriculture, etc.) are inexorably eliminated,
thereby facilitating progress. However, revolutions have always
occurred in places where capitalism was not yet fully developed and
while the new working class (still in a minority) may have provided
grist for the political vanguard's mill, nothing could have happened
without the involvement of the endless masses of peasants.

The third point of divergence is the bitterest: the relationship
between the condition of the class and the consciousness of its real
interests, as interests opposed to those of the proprietary class. Once
again for Marxists this is a problem which does not exist. Either
because, for some of them, the two (class and class consciousness)
are destined to merge, deterministically and spontaneously,
coinciding, driven by the evolution of productive forces, overlapped
by the development of the economic structure. For others, since it is
not necessary for the entire proletarian mass (nor even the worker
minority within it) to be class conscious, it is sufficient that there be
a compact vanguard nucleus, in other words the party. In its Leninist
version, the party is actually outside the workers' movement, as the
workers are incapable of raising themselves to the revolutionary
doctrine as they are weighed down by their own inevitable
economism, that is to say their immediate, daily needs which are
different to and irreconcilable with their historical needs -
something they are incapable of understanding. For Anarchist
Communists, on the other hand, the relationship between the class
and its consciousness can be affected by the more advanced, politicized
elements who act within the proletariat (being a part of it) in order
to stimulate consciousness of its historical interests through the
day-to-day struggles which seek to provide answers to the needs of the
immediate present. This is because the greater the unity and consciousness
in the proletariat, the better the chances of a revolution being able to
assume an Anarchist Communist character quickly, enabling the class to
build the new society without delegating the task to anyone.


3.4 A Society of free equals (communism)

"We do not, after all, differ with the Anarchists on the question of
the abolition of the state as the aim." These words were written by
Vladimir Il'ich Ulyanov, Lenin, in September-October 1917 and the
date is no accident. This is to show that as far as the type of society
which it is intended to realize, there is no apparent contradiction
between the various currents of the revolutionary left. Following a
long phase of uncertainty during the mid-19th century between
Socialism ("to each according to his merits") and Collectivism ("to
each according to his labour"), Communism ("from each according
to his abilities, to each according to his needs") became the common
arena for all those class elements which have developed throughout
the history of the workers' movement. There also exists a common
view of the communist society which would develop (without,
however, going into excessively detailed plans, given the acceptance
of the fact of the enormous self-organizational abilities of the masses
once they are free of the bourgeois yoke!): a federative basis, with
freely-accepted rules for social life being developed from below - in
other words the model sketched out by the Paris Commune. There can be
no communism (equality) without liberty (self-determination); there
can be no liberty without communism.


Though there may be agreement between all the various
revolutionary currents which have appeared in the workers'
movement over the years on the social framework which will be
realized with communism (we could just as easily say "with
anarchism", since no-one denies that it is impossible to separate
economic equality from the liberty of the individual), opinions do
diverge, and noticeably so, on two fundamental issues: what sort of
action is required now, in the bourgeois State, and the timescale and
methods of the passage from the initial revolutionary phase to the
construction stage of the society that we all aspire to.


[to be followed by Part 4]

This text is available to download as a pamphlet in PDF format from
the website of the FdCA, at http://www.fdca.it/fdcaen
==========================================
* [Ed. Note: In the previous parts I and II some paragraphs were cut.
See:
http://www.fdca.it/fdcaen/organization/theory/acqoc/]
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