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1) THE POLITICAL CYCLE OF ATLANTIC DECLINE
2) 320,000 Multinationals between Liberalism and Regulation
3) Fear and the Struggle
4) A Catastrophe for British Europeanism
5) A Fratricidal Showdown Between Erdogan and Gulen
Pages from the history of the workers’ movement
6) The Communist League and the Democratic Assault of 1848
The World Steel Battle
7) Strengths and Weaknesses of Russia's Steel Industry
Elections in the USA
8) Differentiated Turnout
9) The Easy Niches of “Happy Degrowth”
The working class in the world
10) The Immigrant Generations in Europe
What is a general line of the bourgeoisie? How do the political processes of imperialist democracy act in relation to this line? How does the link between the general big-bourgeois line and its mass power base in the petty bourgeoisie and intermediate strata and among the wage earners occur?
Europe and the United States are going through a phase of strong political swings, the latest manifestations of which were the referendum for leaving the EU in the UK (Brexit) and Donald Trump’s victory in the primaries on the basis of nationalist and protectionist marketing. By now, the combination of the fibrillations in Europe and America, in the face of the drastic change in the world balance, suggests the characteristics of a political cycle of Atlantic decline. This has not yet inverted the general liberalist nature of the world cycle, but this strategic evaluation needs wider recognition, starting precisely from the theoretical premises of Marxist political analysis.
In 1972, in the editorial “Italian Imperialism and the World Crisis”, Arrigo Cervetto interpreted as a «freezing» phase of the Italian imbalance the Andreotti-Malagodi centre-right government, within the framework of the «petty-bourgeois counterblow» following the wave of trade union wage struggles and its ebb in the slowdown of the 1971 cycle.
Cervetto’s thesis was that the reformist line of big capital had «already won» in any case: his analytical premise was that the determinants of Italian politics came from its relation with the world markets, starting from Europe and from Germany in particular. In the face of that general context, Cervetto asked himself whether the swings of the petty bourgeoisie did not therefore have any influence. His answer was that they could not determine strategy, the big business groups’ general line, but that they could weigh on the «short-term compromise» among the fractions. They influenced the political forms in the short term, but not the general lines of Italian imperialism in the long term.
The general line can only be big-bourgeois since the petty bourgeois cannot, by its very nature, have an international strategy. A few years earlier, in a note on Bordiga’s theses about the origin of Fascism, published in the periodical “Prometeo”, Cervetto had started from the same theoretical premise to motivate a general evaluation of Mussolini’s twenty-year hegemony. Fascism had sprung from the very rapid imperialist maturity reached by Italy in the 1915-1918 war; it had been the search for a solution to the reconversion of the armaments industry via imperialist expansion:
«The Fascist demagogy of “mutilated victory” and of “humiliated proletarian Italy” is not only an ideology for the frustrated petty bourgeoisie, it is not only an ideology to use against the international proletariat; it is also, and above all, the ideological expression – and it will be for 20 years – of Italian imperialism which uses it not only at home, but which also proposes to use it in its inter-imperialist struggles against the other bourgeoisies, [...] as soon as it has a state geared to this aim».
The petty bourgeoisie could not determine the Fascist solution; it was big capital that seized and espoused those ideological and political manifestations:
«When the ideologies of Fascism are analysed, it is necessary to bear in mind these concrete roots, otherwise one risks both seeing ideologies detached from reality (and not false representations of reality, as they really are) and seeing “petty-bourgeois ideologies” and not being able to explain why, since ruling ideas are those of the ruling class, the ruling ideas were those of the petty bourgeoisie, which was not ruling. [...] of course not all the bourgeois fractions favoured or were interested in the Fascist-imperialist solution; this explains, in fact, the moments of political struggle. But at that critical moment that ended up hitting all the fractions, albeit to a different extent, all of them ended up finding the moment unifying».
It goes without saying that these considerations are only a part of Cervetto’s analysis of the Fascist phenomenon; in the texts collected in “The Political Shell” the question would be linked to the forms of imperialist democracy. In the 1920s-‘30s crisis, Fascism and Nazism would be, in Cervetto’s opinion, the transitory solutions of bourgeoisies that sought, as if groping their way, the forms for political centralisation in that phase of crisis and stagnation, and that would spread the solution of imperialist democracy only in the post-WWII period.
The fact remains that the same materialist criterion of linking the general line of an imperialism back to the groups and fractions of big capital leads to two different conclusions. Astride the 1960s and ‘70s, the «reactionary counterblow» of income and the petty bourgeoisie was bound to derail the reformist line of big capital. In the 1920s, on the contrary, the coalition of the ruling groups espoused the ideologies and political forms generated in the petty bourgeoisie by the upheaval of war, and gave the petty-bourgeois-generated ideological manifestations a big-bourgeois content.
Any materialist analysis is bound to start form the observation of political forms and of an ideological production of which the petty bourgeoisie and the intellectual strata are the inexhaustible breeding ground. But what is decisive in identifying a strategic process are not ideologies, but the forces that latch onto them. However, this is also why a political cycle will never be the pure transposition of a strategic trend, but a dialectic of imbalances and adaptations with respect to the basic line of the movement. Resolving this conundrum is the specific investigative field of Marxist political science.
For the analysis of the current political cycle in Europe, the USA and also Japan, we think the conceptual tool of analogy with Cervetto’s elaboration for the 1970s, and not that for the 1920s-‘30s, is valid. First of all, this reflects our evaluation of the world cycle, in which the contradictions of the old areas still find room in the development of the new areas, and also links us back to our 2008 analysis of the crisis in global relations, which had neither the depth nor the catastrophic nature of the 1930s’ crisis. As we shall see, however, it is not only a question of this.
The general line of the fundamental groups in the USA and the EU does not abandon imperialist liberalism, although China’s irruption has triggered a new strategic phase which gives new characteristics to that general line. The swings of the petty bourgeoisie, the intermediate strata and the wage earners influence those characteristics and are also brandished in the struggle between groups and fractions to define them, but they are not the determining factor of the new cycle.
Having said this, new strategic phase also means new scientific criteria. At the level of power relations, in our evaluation of the world contention, we have introduced a criterion that we have summed up in the image «"Financial Times", "Global Times"», from the comparison between the two London and Beijing newspapers: the inter-power relations in the new strategic phase now require the Chinese position to be regularly considered together with that of the Atlantic “consensus”. This also holds true for the nature of the cycle. In the face of the crisis triggered by Brexit, we observe, for example, that “Global Times” has argued that China should guarantee the «development of globalisation». The line that is being centralised in Beijing is now as equally important as the line expressed in Washington, Brussels and London, or in Berlin and Paris.
At a political level, we believe the parallel with Cervetto’s 1972 analysis is valid, first of all because of its specific aspect of materialist method: the swings of the petty bourgeoisie and the intermediate strata – in the United States and Britain the wage-earning stratifications are now largely prevalent – cannot determine the general line, but they can determine its forms.
We believe the common feature of these swings on both shores of the Atlantic, in the US and in Europe, has to be sought in their common social causes and not only in the imitative processes favoured by the media circuit, which also exist, but which are an additional factor. We see these common causes in the descending cycle of social-democratisation, which already existed and which has interwoven with the social and political effects of the 2008 global crisis, exacerbating its processes. That crisis is linked to the struggle among the metropolises to reduce the burden of parasitism and the welfare systems, or at least to limit its relative weight; hence it is a process that began in the 1970s and ‘80s, was relaunched in the 1990s, and is a characteristic of the political cycle of imperialist liberalism. Overlapping it are the social and political effects of the global crisis, which has accelerated and exacerbated already ongoing phenomena, starting from the relative decline of the United States, the EU and Japan with respect to China and other emerging powers.
This is why the new political cycle can be defined as the political cycle of the crisis of social-democratisation, or at least of its descending phase, as the political cycle of Atlantic decline, or also as the political cycle of the new strategic phase. It is a question of seeing the characteristics of this new cycle, which does not abandon its general liberalist stamp but characterises it differently, and of considering how it links up with the intermediate, petty-bourgeois and wage-earning strata, in the face of swings that have gone so far as to provoke a political and institutional crisis in Britain, that are reflected in a divisive presidential campaign in the United States, and that, in varying degrees, affect most of the national political cycles in the EU.
As we have said, a preliminary theoretical question is the nature of the general line of the bourgeoisie and of the political processes of imperialist democracy that allow us to synthesise it. Almost twenty years ago, as we contextualised the point of no return which the EU was nearing with its last battles for the single currency and the federation of the Euro area, we studied the «monetary power» of the constituting ECB in the light of Arrigo Cervetto’s analysis of the bourgeoisie’s political powers. In their study of the political struggles in France, Britain and Germany, Marx and Engels had given a scientific solution to such concepts as «the balance of powers, political power and government power», observed Cervetto; Lenin had applied them to the Russian situation and «the same can and must be done in the present situation».
Then came the synthesis of Marx’s scientific solution, formulated in the March 1978 editorial «Pluralism of Economic Power», included in the book “A Political Shell”: «Marxism maintains that there is a plurality of economic powers which become economic powers. A power is such if it has a real base, i.e. if its actual economic power. The balance of powers is, therefore, the balancing of the political wills of the bourgeois sections within certain specific institutions. Plurality of economic powers of the capitalist groups, and balance of their political wills in the State: this is the pure political form, the democratic form, of social capital».[i]
Another text, “L’ineguale sviluppo politico” (“Uneven Political Development”), contains Cervetto’s specific April 1979 reflection on «monetary power», in which the distinction of monetary power, the central banks’ tendency towards independence, is motivated by the bourgeoisie’s general interest in removing such a crucial function from the particular influence of single groups and fractions:
«In every country, the pluralism of “economic powers” determines a pluralism of “political powers” and a “balance of powers” of various institutions. Hence, if “monetary power” is centralised in a central bank, it is not delegated, except partially, to the “executive power” - in general the Treasury -, but entrusted to the central bank. This is therefore freed from the political junctures of the executive. History has shown the ruling class that it is easier for a fraction to win over the Treasury than the central bank, and it really treasures this experience».
Reflection on the catastrophic crisis in which British Europeanism finds itself can start from here. The moulders of the ruling ideology are shaken by the unexpected result, and comments are circling around the contradiction between the myth of «popular sovereignty» and the institutions of «representative democracy». “The Economist” refers to American political culture and points back to Alexander Hamilton’s “Federalist” and to James Madison in order to contest the use of the referendums in the case of matters of vital interest: «Direct democracy is fine for things that don't matter». Kenneth Rogoff makes an issue of juridical-institutional instruments in the British system. With «real lunacy», the simple majority referendum vote allowed choice in a question even more relevant than constitutional reforms: qualified majorities and two readings in parliament are normally required in the West. Andrea Manzella reproaches the «ground rule» of the Lisbon Treaty, according to which, in Article 10, «the functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy»: with effects for everyone, referendums in a single country nullify «the decisions made by governments and parliaments in the interdependent institutional circuit».
Marxist theory is not surprised by this, because it has its materialist conception of politics that is not trapped in the paper maze of liberal law. The theory of political powers contained in the formula of «imperialist democracy» and the concept of «socio-democratic formation» are basic tools for identifying and analysing the general line of a bourgeoisie. First of all, bourgeois groups and fractions permanently struggle to influence the state and its politics; it is the dialectic of state powers, as a whole and in their dynamic, that expresses their general line.
Secondly, the notion of «socio-economic formation» tells us that all of the economic relations and social and political relations that correspond to them in actual reality are all one: undoubtedly, economic dynamics are determining in them, but only where it is possible to distinguish between structure and superstructure at an analytical level. If in that «multiform combination» there is that crucial connection between economic forces and their political expressions, then observation of the fundamental political expressions tells us the general line of a bourgeoisie. It is possible to succeed in identifying the general line of a bourgeoisie on the basis of key political facts and fundamental political powers, precisely because there is that crucial connection between structure and superstructure in the «socio-economic formation». We need to bear in mind, however, that as it is a process and a dialectical relationship, no reliable result is possible without the concrete analysis of the concrete situation, and without recognising the inevitable succession of imbalances and adaptations.
And now we come to the British crisis. If monetary power is such a delicate matter that the bourgeoisie wanted to avoid it being caught up in the specific struggle of the currents and particular interests of single capitalists by handing it over to an independent central bank and a leadership with a longer and different assignment from the political mandate, then, for the functions for which it is responsible, the general line of the groups and fractions of British imperialism is deposited in the Bank of England. Phases of imbalance and of non-correspondence will always be possible, but the BoE normally has that power and function: if its governor Mark Carney pronounced himself in favour of Remain (staying in Europe), this is a sure element for identifying the general British line.
However, we know from the theory of imperialist democracy that the plurality of powers needs to be considered. Only the dialectic of the plurality of powers, with their structure of checks and balances, allows the centralisation of the plurality of the ruling groups’ political wills. In the balance of powers there is the guarantee that no fraction or group can prevail unilaterally; in the centralisation of the executive there is the way for those plural thrusts not to cancel one another out but to be reconnected to political action: this is the meaning of «pluralist centralisation» in imperialist democracy. The fact that the British executive, in the person of Prime Minister David Cameron and of all his key ministers, was in favour of remaining in the EU, and paid the fatal price of having called a referendum on it, is another confirmation that the general line was embodied in that Remain.
As for the House of Commons, the overwhelming majority is in favour of Remain: 185 to 138 of the Conservatives of the Tory Party, 218 to 10 of the Labour Party MPs, and all of the Scottish Nationalist and Lib-Dem MPs. Taking every precaution because of the chronic crisis of parliamentarism that is a historical characteristic of all the metropolises, in any case, this also expresses the delicate relationship in the field of single-member constituencies with the medium and small capital of the British bourgeoisie.
Having said this, monetary power, executive power, and legislative power clearly identify the Remain choice; as regards judicial power we shall see, if Scotland raises the question of the legitimacy of the Leave decision in the UK Supreme Court. The first conclusion is the following: the outcome of the Brexit referendum seems to be an acute manifestation of political imbalance, which forecasts a swing in the opposite direction. If this is the preliminary fact of the British case, it is a question of seeing its political, economic, social and also strategic implications, but also what associates the British crisis with the overall crisis of Atlantic decline.
Lotta Comunista N° 551-552, July-August 2016
[i] Arrigo Cervetto, “Pluralism of Economic Power”, now in The Political Shell, Marxist Science Publications, 2006, pp. 52-54.