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Table of Contents - Num. 205 February 2019



2)  Towards the Next Crisis 


European News
4) The British Political Establishment in the Grip of Crisis

100 years since the assassination of the Spartacist leaders
5) Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

6) Deals and Cynicism in the Syrian Power Game

7) Bankers, Generals and Top Civil Servants for Bolsonaro

The world car industry battle
8) Electrification and Motorization

The Elections in the US
9) The Politics of State Subsidies and the Midterms

The working class in the world
10) China, India and Asia

News from the Silk Road
11) Third Party Markets Are the Prize in the New Global Partition

12) Nervous at the WTO

13) The Autonomy of Our Class: The Fixed Point from Which to Set Off.

14) Publications



«Analysing the process of production and distribution of capital, and the process of production and division of surplus value, Marx and Engels analysed the real base of the classes, fractions and strata. Not only could they not neglect the superstructure of the institutions, but they were the ones who discovered them. What corresponds to profit, income, etc.? The fractions. How do they express themselves politically? Through political currents and parties.»

Arrigo Cervetto wrote this in February 1978, in a report that leaves a trace of a political fight, part of the political battle of the restructuring crisis in the ‘70s. With that crisis the foundations of the political cycle of state capitalism weakened; the new political cycle of imperialist liberism, which would soon be confirmed in the Anglo-Saxon area in Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s lines, had been inspired by the German area. The restructuring that affected the big state-owned groups and brought into question the weight of welfare and public spending implicated theories and ideologies of state intervention in the economy.

The «crisis in bourgeois political theory», argued Cervetto in a December 1977 editorial, was propagandised as a «crisis in Marxism», when, on the contrary, it was a «crisis in the theory of planning and programming»:

«Whole economic sectors are plunging into crisis in the metropolises and are expanding vertiginously in the young capitalist countries. All the economic policies of the imperialist states are plunging into crisis. All the dirigiste economic theories are plunging into crisis. Reformist and opportunistic theories are plunging into crisis. The political theory of two cycles of the imperialist phase is collapsing miserably. In its petty-bourgeois variations this collapse would like to adopt the name of “crisis in Marxism”, attaching the Marxist label to state capitalism.»

One theme of this ideological campaign, which had accompanied confused agitations of the movements of intellectual unemployment in Italy in 1977, was the accusation that Marxism did not have a political theory, that it lacked a serious analysis of «representative democracy», of the «relationship among the various powers», of the «role of the political parties and the bureaucracy», and of the «function of the state in the economic cycle».

Actually, Cervetto rebutted in his February 1978 report, «all of Marx and Engels’ strategy» is based on the analysis of classes, fractions, class strata and fundamental groups, in their dialectical relationship with the political superstructure. Whence their analysis of «all the aspects of democracy», of the «British party system» and of the «subdivision of political power and governing power». Whence also the rejection of Ferdinand Lassalle’s theory that conceived of the ruling class as a «single reactionary mass».

This concept is picked up again in the editorial of the following month, “Pluralism of Economic Power”, with an exposition that is well known to us:

«Marxism has always taken the conceptual framework of plurality and balance of powers into account. In their lives Marx and Engels thoroughly investigated the political struggles in France, England, and Germany. Almost a century of political struggles passed beneath their theoretical lens and political phenomena like Bonapartism, Conservatism, Liberalism and Bismarckianism found their most complete materialist analysis. Definitions like balance of powers, political power, and governing power found their scientific systemisation in Marxism. Lenin was able to apply them successfully in his analysis of the Russian conditions. The same can and must be done for the situation of the present day.»

In the February report we again find a source of reflection later summed up in the newspaper; the battle had also had the internal consequence of the orientation of the new generation of militants that had drawn close to our party in our tactic over the crisis in the education system. The «theory of the balance of power», argued Cervetto, is an «updating in the imperialist phase» of bourgeois political theory:

«Do we perhaps deny the theory of the balance of power? No! for us there undoubtedly exists a plurality of powers. But power is such if it has a real base, i.e. if it is a real power. […] The balance of power is the balance in the institutions that regulate the struggles among the fractions, i.e. among the real powers. Only a rough version of historical materialism, a version lacking a political theory or theory of powers, does not analyse the fractions and their struggle: i.e. does not analyse politics.»

The «critics of Marxism» demonstrated they knew only that rough version, and did not know that «pluralistic sociology» derived from the opportunistic revision of the Marxist theory of politics, fractions and powers carried out by the «Austro-Marxists»:

«The specific form of capital, i.e. the democratic form of the most advanced capitalism, needed an updating of the theory of the balance of power. This occurred through Austro-Marxism.»



Crisis of Social-Democratisation and Balance of Power in the New Political Cycle

Cervetto was referring to Austrian Social Democracy and the theories of Karl Renner and Otto Bauer, in Vienna before and after the 1914-18 war catastrophe, and to their relationship with Hans Kelsen, the founder of democratic juridical thought. In assonance with Kelsen, Renner, breaking away from the Marxist conception that sees the state as an expression of the ruling class, had gone on to maintain the «neutrality» of the state as the tool of «social technique». In one of the more sophisticated attempts at revising Marxism, Bauer had theorised a condition of «balance» among the classes in which the state, finding itself in an autonomous condition with respect to the opposed forces and interests, could be steered and influenced in a reformist direction.

Anti-Marxist but close to the Social Democrats, Kelsen would be Renner’s adviser in the Chancellery in 1920 and would contribute to writing the Constitution of the first Austrian Republic, defining what would be the first European model of a Constitutional Court. «The judiciary» – we read in one of Cervetto’s notes in 1981 – «as the guarantor of balance in the clash of fractions by means of the legislative and executive powers». It goes without saying that the Courts themselves, as the American example demonstrates, are crossed at every level by the clash among groups and fractions.

We cannot dwell further on this except to observe the particular historical circumstances of the political struggle in Vienna in the immediate post-war period, amid the rubble of the catastrophic collapse of the Hapsburg Empire on which the October 1917 conflagration and the civil war in Russia was reverberating. Bauer was pushed by the deadlock that had been created in the Austrian legislative power between the Social Democrats and the People’s Party to theorise a «balance» among the class forces. As for Kelsen, he gives the following explanation of the origins of his “Pure Theory of Law” in one of his autobiographical sketches:

«Considering the Austrian state which was made up of so many different racial, linguistic, religious and historical groups, theories that tried to found the unity of the state on some socio-psychological or socio-biological connection among the people who belonged juridically to the state itself clearly revealed themselves to be fantasies. Insofar as this theory of the state constitutes an essential part of the pure Doctrine of law, the latter can be considered a specifically Austrian theory.»

Let’s continue with the blueprint of the February 1978 report. «Every theory has a social function», Cervetto explained; the main aim of «pluralistic sociology» in the Anglo-Saxon area was «to give a theory to the struggle of the fractions», while that of fighting Marxism was «secondary»:

«The task of fighting Marxism had been set concretely and socially in the German area, where the democratic-bourgeois revolution had arrived last and the proletariat was therefore favoured by the radicalisation of the theoretical, political and economic class struggle. […] For this reason, too, the theoretical clash, as a consequence of the political clash, occurred at the highest level, just as it occurred, because of “combined development” and the “double revolution” in the Slavic area.»

Combined development and the double revolution are to be referred to the particular condition of capitalistic development in Russia in its relation with the world market, and to the succession between the February democratic-bourgeois revolution and the October proletarian revolution. Both assaults of this double revolution were linked in Lenin’s international strategy by the growing pressure on the masses of the waves of war, in which revolutionary defeatism and the slogan «immediate peace» would weld the Petrograd vanguard proletariat to the immense hinterland of the Russian countryside. However, this international strategy required the October Revolution, the proletarian head on a peasant body, not to remain isolated and to be only the first link of the revolution in Europe:

«While, with Leninism, the theoretical clash in the Slavic area was won to the point of practical verification, in the German area the bourgeoisie won with revisionism. In view of what was at stake, this may have been inevitable.

Theoretical victory with strategy or applied science would lead to the proletarian revolution, while in the Slavic area it only led to double revolution. It was natural that the height of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois theory – the sociology of power, the theory of the elites and the pessimistic criticism of democracy – should be mobilised against Marxism in the German area.

Revisionism, for its part, picked up the Marxist political theory of the fractions, stratification and balance of power and broke them down in an eclectic, conservative way. However, if these bourgeois and petty-bourgeois theories about politics (classes and the state) succeeded in preventing the diffusion of Marxist science in the proletariat, they were unable to spread because they lacked a vast base of productive forces. They remained at the stage of “intellectual” incubation. Only when they were transplanted to the Anglo-Saxon area were they able to flourish.»

According to Cervetto, the fact that, for imperialism, the incubation of political theories and «the highest level of [anti-Marxist] theoretical clash» had occurred in the German and not the Anglo-Saxon area confirmed the dialectical and not mechanistic conception of the materialist method; «in the reciprocal action and reaction of all the factors and through them the economic movement ends up establishing itself as the necessary element in the midst of the infinite mass of incidental things».

Even if they were subsequently transformed and reformulated in the Anglo-Saxon academic world, theses that would become the ideological arsenal of imperialist democracy in the more advanced powers had been conceived in the specificity of Vienna’s intellectual circles. In weighing up all the elements of that 1978 report, we must not ignore the pedagogical irony with which Cervetto addressed the new generation of young students, who, in one of their university bulletins, had dealt with the theme of the attack on the Marxist theory of politics with a good deal of naivety, leaving spaces for democratistic theories where they believed they had closed them. Indeed, the theories of pluralism with which one wanted to accuse Marxism of lacking a political science had been incubated and fertilised half a century before precisely by the revisionist confrontation with Marx and Engels’ theory.

We observe that a similar reflection had been argued by Cervetto two months earlier, in his editorial The Crisis in Bourgeois Political Theory, regarding state interventionism in the economy in the cycle between the two world wars. In those two tormented decades, state capitalism had gone looking for its theories and ideologies, and one of its sources had been precisely the intellectual trade between Vienna and the Weimar Republic:

«A whole series of petty-bourgeois ideologies – the permanent reflections of the weakness, impotence, and futile ambition of the intermediate social layers – offered a cultural background to the great-bourgeois need of the imperialist state; these ideologies, from Russian Stalinism to social-democracy and its notion of “organised capitalism”, were just variations in a worldwide tendency. The great-bourgeois theory took shape in the most developed imperialist countries in the name of Keynesianism or economic planning. The cultural terrain had already been prepared by the sociologists of power who, in order to fight Marxism, had attempted to overturn the foundation of the materialist conception of politics, that is of the Marxist theory of the state.»

For these theorists, wrote Cervetto – for Max Weber, Roberto Michels, Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto – «classes are not the product of social relations of production but of juridical relations of power; social division is not that between exploiters and the exploited but between directors and the directed, between governors and the governed». We might add today, between the people and the elite, as the rhetoric of the new property-owning populism vernacularises. Then:

«Old theories of the “primacy of politics”, already expressed by the German and French capitalist nations in the nineteenth century, weaker than and defeated by the stronger Anglo-Saxon capitalism, began again to see the light in Germany, where they had never entirely disappeared, and were readapted in the Anglo-Saxon area which now needed them.»

Two observations conclude that February 1978 report. The first has a great deal to do with the reflection on the forms of imperialist democracy that we believe needs to be dealt with today, in order to understand developments and contradictions of the new political cycle and the crisis of social-democratisation. It may be important to see, continued Cervetto, why that theoretical clash did not take place in the French area. Democratic theory was dominated there by the legacy of the currents of the French Revolution, «in its Rousseauvian, Jacobin and Girondist version», united by the principle of «French primacy»:

«The imperialist updating of the pluralistic theory, the theory of the balance of power, the theory of the elites, would never come from France. This could come only from the German area, where the confrontation with Marxism could certainly not be upheld with Rousseau’s people, but had to divide the people into stratification, elite and balance of power in order to rebut the Marxist analysis of classes, fractions and politics.

There was no Marxist clash in France. The pre-imperialist democratic theory predominated. Without the German transplant in Anglo-Saxon soil the French democratic plant would already have withered.»

Let’s fix this concept in our minds: with «Rousseau’s people» the bourgeoisie of the imperialist twentieth century would not have gone anywhere. It had to fight the Marxist school in order to have a democratic theory abreast of the times, adapting the pre-bourgeois theory of Montesquieu’s three powers – an imprint of the dialectic between the monarchy, aristocracy and Third Estate of the nascent bourgeoisie – to the era of the pluralist centralisation of the wills of the big concentrations of capital. Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, if you like, and the prevalence of that economic area after the destruction of two world wars subsequently embraced and generalised those theoretical solutions and ideologies, making them the prevalent form of imperialist democracy. In its way, they are the sources and integral parts of their democratic-imperialistic ideology: political forms born in France in 1789 were re-elaborated theoretically in continental Europe between the two wars, then they were transmitted to the Anglo-Saxon world, naturally disinclined to abstractions, and then they returned to the Old Continent in the post-WWII period, disguised as an import.

We need only look at the Brexit crisis in Britain, that of the gilets jaunes in France and also the clash between the presidency and Congress in the United States to see that this is what we are talking about. A key feature of imperialist democracy is the prevalence of the legislative over the executive power, the real sphere in which pluralist centralisation can also acquire efficacy and prompt execution. In London, David Cameron’s Executive abdicated its role three years ago, entrusting to the roll of the dice of a referendum a strategic decision, membership of the EU. Something he should have known how to mediate and keep in the prerogatives of his cabinet. As we explain elsewhere in this newspaper, in English schools that form of centralisation is presented as «elective dictatorship». However, the paradox is that it is exactly the House of Commons the one attempting a rebalance. The prospect of a legislative power burdened with the particularisms and electorally-determined overestimation of petty-bourgeois and intermediate strata, is putting at risk for the future precisely the efficacy of pluralist centralisation for the fundamental groups.

Not only has calling «Rousseau’s people» to a referendum didn’t resolve the problem, because that false «general will» does not respond to the interests of the key fractions of big industry and City finance. The germ of crisis has also insinuated itself into the balance of checks and balances of British imperialist democracy, with a fundamental fact of which the notion had been lost: in forty years that dynamic had become inseparable from the powers of the EU, and the executive’s efficacy in its «elective dictatorship» depended in essential terms on the British presence in the European Council to define its legislation, or in the European Commission to regulate the Single Market, external trade relations or financial regulation.

It is curious, but fundamentally very characteristic, that the discussion in Paris is apparently turning in the opposite direction to Britain’s, but objectively the question is the same: how to guarantee a mass consensus in the face of the oscillation of the intermediate strata frightened by the spectre of decline and in the straitened circumstances of the descending cycle of social-democratisation. In the common opinion, a «hyper-presidency» with few effective counterweights and without intermediate bodies to which to refer, becomes the target and the scapegoat of every dissatisfaction, and paradoxically it is the «crisis in parliamentarism» that is seen as a contradiction. The Macron presidency, is attempting to face its «Tocqueville moment» on a pilgrimage through rural France, seeking an interlocutor in the mayors’ local powers. However, Paris, too, is fumbling around in the dark as it seeks a way that links internal consensus, European restructuring and its connection with the powers of the Union. Here «Rousseau’s people» are wearing gilets jaunes, but not even in this case can it be the solution for imperialist democracy in France.

Finally the United States, where TV democracy has demonstrated in an acute form its potential for imbalance and non-correspondence, bringing to the presidency a demagogue without the necessary experience and qualities for the very delicate management of the relative American decline. From the very beginning, in the words to the Financial Times of the former Secretary of State James Baker, it was said that that the checks and balances of the architecture of American powers would also restrain and steer the Trump presidency. This is happening, but the balancing is complicated by the White House’s continual recourse to television and social media. In the American metropolis, more than elsewhere, the myth of «Rousseau’s people» has been a product of TV democracy and the Net, where so-called disintermediation – the possibility of a direct and immediate relationship with the electorate – becomes an insidious circumvention of the plural dynamic of powers.

The second observation, in the final part of the 1978 report, regards the ideological manifestations of the petty bourgeoisie and intermediate strata: it has as much to do with the dilemmas of big capital, which has to lead those strata back to its own hegemony, as with the tasks of our revolutionary party, which has to fight against petty-bourgeois influence among wage earners.

Cervetto rejected Iring Fetscher’s democratistic criticism of American democracy, denounced as «formal» for an executive power «almost totally independent or out of the control of society». In other words, it is the myth of true democracy that is being reproposed. «Imperialist democracy is real and not formal», Cervetto objected, if anything it is true democracy, the myth of direct democracy, «that is formal because inapplicable», a contretemps demand of «small producers». He then went on to say:

«What does “control of society” mean? What “society”? Fetscher, a “democraticist, does not see that the presidential executive corresponds precisely to the representation of that society and its fractions. Or perhaps it is believed the wage-earning strata can have their own representation? Or even “control”?

We would then have representations of the social strata and controls (or possibility of control, or power of control) of ruling class and ruled class. What is not possible in the structure, where the real economic power and the base of political power lie, would be impossible in the superstructure!!».

Furthermore, that democraticist criticism «trips over itself» when it denounces, together with the independence of the executive power, the conditioning of the lobbies and the «pressure of interests» on the parties:

«What is this if not more efficient control on the part of society (fractions)? Is this not democracy (the expression of civil society)? And how can it be said that the executive is independent from society? It would be if it did not receive the pressure of interests because it would be unable to “combine them”!! That then the predominant interests in social capital are those of the big groups and not those of the small producers is the result of the development of the productive forces. If the political form of the state expressed the latter instead of the former, it would be a form unsuited to capital, as was the absolute monarchy which expressed interests that were no longer predominant.

On the contrary, democracy is the best political shell for capital also because it is the form that adapts itself to its development. For Marx, moreover, it is the pure form of pure capital. In this Marx anticipated the development of the political forms.»

This does not mean that the demands of the petty bourgeoisie, to be understood today also as the vast intermediate strata of imperialist maturity, do not have any influence on politics, but in terms that cannot avoid the relations of force among the classes. Here Cervetto’s considerations are of paramount importance in investigating forms and foreseeable evolution of the new political cycle, and in maintaining the autonomy of our class in the political battle:

«With their petty-bourgeois criticism of imperialism and, hence, of its political forms (executive power, etc.), small producers conduct a rearguard struggle for their representation.

They want to be represented above their real share of social capital. Hence they theorise “real democracy” as opposed to “formal democracy” and revive all the utopias of bourgeois democracy. All they succeed in doing is to try to influence (theoretically) and to use (politically) the wage-earning strata, i.e. to try to make strata that do not have representation objectively (because they do not have shares of social capital) carry weight in their own representation.

They succeed only partially in this (people’s democracy – a formula of Austro-Marxism, editor’s note – social democracy, etc.) because they have no possibility of autonomous representation. Hence the use of the wage-earning strata is partial and ends up only as the conduit of the use on the part of the fractions. The petty bourgeoisie does not succeed in having autonomous parties.»

The parties born as petty-bourgeois also end up under the influence of the fractions, under big-bourgeois hegemony. This is because the petty bourgeoisie «has its own interest in imperialism», and there is the «social-imperialism of the workers’ aristocracy, too». Because the petty bourgeoisie «is disseminated in the process of production and circulation and, therefore, binds itself to its respective fractions». Because «it becomes increasingly parasitical and rentier». Because «it increasingly relies on the imperialist state». For all of these reasons, in fact, «it increasingly integrates itself into the fractions’ political representations».

Let’s link three considerations about the new political cycle to this theoretical framework. The first is of a theoretical nature: the notion of imperialist democracy needs to be investigated in greater depth and clarified in the new cycle, but Cervetto’s criticism of petty-bourgeois democraticism is a very solid base from which to set off, rich in food for thought that already by itself contextualises the new incarnations of «Rousseau’s people» in its demands for referendums, the television arenas of the gilets of every colour and the mystique of Internet democracy.

The second consideration is useful for the concrete analysis of the new political forms. When we take as a tool for investigation and prediction the criterion of the «solubility» of the various expressions of “populism” and “sovereignism” in the European strategic consensus, we refer precisely to that last methodological indication formulated by Cervetto. Ideologies and movements born in the petty bourgeoisie and intermediate strata of imperialist maturation will be assimilated by the big-bourgeois general line, which in the Old Continent is a pro-Europe strategy, or they will be marginalised amidst more or less deep convulsions. The fact that not only Salvini’s League but also Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National have abandoned their opposition to the euro is a truly telling signal in this direction.

The third consideration is again useful for concrete analysis, and regards the other implication of petty-bourgeois ideologies highlighted by Cervetto, the attempt to establish an influence over wage earners. It is a fact that a current of these movements is mixing old material of the social-nationalist, chauvinistic, racist and xenophobic ideologies into so-called sovereignism. Inevitably, it has been said, they will be linked back to big-bourgeois consensus; sovereignism will easily become the watchdog of Europeanism, the defence of the frontiers of Europe as a power or as the vanguard of its wars in the new strategic phase. It will be a matter for their politics.

On the contrary, the contagion of those ideologies among wage earners is our own business; this is why, first of all, we hold tight to the advantage of vast class abstentionism, which at least marks a certain distance from the electioneering manifestations of those attempts to influence. For that matter, the political history of every imperialist power offers a very vast set of samples of those ideologies, and especially of their most insidious variations in dragging with them sectors of our class. As is apparent from the theories of Cervetto that we have retraced, since the war and the 1929 crisis had shaken the social psychologies of all the strata to their very depths, the ‘20s and ‘30s were a violent manifestation of the petty-bourgeois swing. The 2008 crisis was not so intense, but combined with the collisions of globalisation it was enough to trigger an unprecedented cycle of fibrillations in strata of imperialist maturity made. In any case, it made psychologically more fragile by the decades of parasitical and property-owning proliferation and by the demographic winter.

However, in a brief summary, in France the list goes from Bonapartism in December 1848 to Boulangism at the end of the 1880s, to the nationalists of Maurice Barrè’s “Cocarde” and the jaune movement of corporative syndicalism, passing through the national-socialist myths of Georges Sorel’s and the Cercles Proudhon’s syndicalism, and also through Charles Maurras’ pro-monarchical Action Française. It goes without saying that, in 1914, the Union Sacrée united all the currents of social-imperialism. Between the two wars there were also the scission from the SFIO of Marcel Déat’s neo-socialists and the former PCF Jacques Doriot’s French Popular Party, both of which would support the Vichy regime.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini’s Black Shirts and the “social” fascism of the San Sepolcro programme, with which Edmondo Rossoni’s revolutionary syndicalists would merge, would spring from the trunk of maximalism and interventionist socialism. In Germany, the crisis of the Weimar Republic would be the melting pot of the National Socialist combinations.

It goes without saying that their variations, analogies and obvious differences should be studied. But the terms in which European imperialist democracy assimilates or neutralises the new populist and sovereignist outbreaks of the petty-bourgeois social-national myth will leave their significant mark on the future leg of the new political cycle.


Lotta Comunista, N° 581, January 2019  


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