The role of Marxism in the reconstruction of the international communist movement

Opening speech of the conference “cambiare il mondo”.

The role of Marxism in the reconstruction of the international communist movement

Communism as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” [Marx, Engels, the German ideology] to realize itself needs both objective and subjective conditions, that is to say of a reality to be engaged in by consciousness to speed up its transformation. Thus to realize communism we need a revolutionary work that, as such, it cannot not foresee a revolutionary theory. The aim of this article is to reiterate the role and importance of the theory.

In its masterpiece, Marx demonstrates that any human labour process presupposes abstraction capacity: “A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many architects in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will” [capital, ch. VII].

Even political work, therefore, needs a theory to guide it. The bourgeoisie have understood it for a long time and to establish its dominion against the feudal nobility and the clergy as ruling classes promoted the development of theoretical thought (think of publications by important intellectuals who were also political and business such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Adam Smith and David Ricardo). But since the bourgeoisie has definitively conquered political power, “the class struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms”. Capitalists are not interested “whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, prize fighters are hired; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic” [Marx, capital, afterword to the second German edition]. Anyone who participates in academic debates can easily realize it. The scientifically founded theoretical knowledge is therefore considered useless if not accumulable to serve the much desired and contradictory growth of productivity, or even harmful if it calls into question the established order. From which the great emphasis on the so-called hard sciences and the great attack on the humanistic disciplines.

On the contrary, the communists, if they want to transform the world, must continue to reflect, deepen and continue the theoretical foundations of their political and economic action to better guide it. This means first of all recognizing that “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” [Lenin, what is to be done?]; with Marxism to represent, then as today, that revolutionary theory.

A theory, moreover, which is not dealing with communism as “a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself” [Marx, Engels, the German ideology] and thus can only appear “after reality has accomplished its formation process and is well done” [Hegel, preface to the lines of philosophy of law]. In fact, Marxism, which, is based on the best philosophy, the socialist movement and political economy had managed to produce until then, allows the claims of the lower classes to pass from utopia to science thanks to very important discoveries – above all the materialistic conception of history and the theory of surplus value based on the commodification of labor-power - which could only be accomplished at a certain level of development of social relations [1]. In other words, “first man acts, and then thinks: naturally understanding this relationship between action and thought in the dialectical sense that is proper to him” [Donini, lineamenti di storia delle religioni, p. 114 (in Italian)]. On the other hand, if “before thinking, before theorising, before reflecting, man had to live" [ibid. p. 77] these thoughts, theories and reflections, born of the economic structure, react in turn on it, helping to modify the same production relationships from which they arise.

So if socialism has become a science “demands the same treatment as every other science – it must be studied” [Engels, the peasant war in Germany]. Which means:

I. Clarifying the relationship between theory, practice and organization, rejecting any reference to the re-foundation of Marxism, since is the party that needs to be refounded (at least in Italy), not the doctrine that instead must be re-laid on its class foundation (of class struggle, for a classless society) removing every eclecticism and economism (exaltation of spontaneity and devaluation of the conscience);

II. On this basis, develop a knowledge of the modern capital as detailed as possible, avoiding “writing receipts for the cook-shops of the future” [Marx, capital, afterword to the second German edition];

III. Develop and a culture absolutely independent from the one of the bourgeois (from which it is born but must know how to overcome, preserving all the good that it has produced);

IV. To spread this knowledge and culture, that is to say, to promote a mass-based omnilateral formation which cannot be second to any other practical commitment, since it must guide the action as the worker’s brain guides his hands.

To limit the analysis to the first two points, clarify the relationship among theory, practice and organization means having to recognize that (unfortunately) the full consciousness does not develop spontaneously within the working class – that “exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc” – but “grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals” [Lenin, what is to be done?]. Therefore, if the contribution of “bourgeois ideologists – who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole” and “in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour... go over to the proletariat” [Marx, Engels, manifesto of the communist party] – is still fundamental only to the extent that they recognize that Marxism is a “complete and harmonious” theory [Lenin, the three sources and three component parts of Marxism]; that does not need grafts (e.g. Keynesians) or can be applied to contents and objectives different from those for which it was born, recognizing it however relative, thus “reflection of eternally developing matter” [ivi].

In other words, so that we can reach a change of scientific paradigm for the study of capitalism - the construction of a new theoretical building with different foundations - we need the overcoming of capitalism. And as long as human society is characterized by the commodification of use values, including labour-power (and its non-capitalist reproducibility), by a mass of people deprived of ownership of the means of production and a minority of owners, from exploitation of labour-power by the latter in order to accumulate more wealth, from competition, Marxism can only evolve in the wake of the laws identified by Marx and Engels and the communist society be born, with all the travails and transitions of the case, from overcoming these characteristics.

This implies the need to develop as much as possible circumstantial knowledge of the forms of changes in capital as a "pre-requisite to identify possible struggles, their immediate directionality and perspective, the margins of practicable autonomy and to be conquered, in short the political line adapted to the phase. If capital, to emerge from its crises, requires more and more effectively possessed knowledge, the communists, who are in a certain sense the filiation, must overcome it in cognitive power to consume the parricide and thus establish their historical laws and the end of classes at a global level "[Carla Filosa, the concept of communism and history (in Italian)].

And the capital offers us changes, even revolutionary ones, without stopping. The most striking are the technological ones: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production and with them the whole relations of society… All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.” [Marx, Engels, manifesto]. Leaving to those more competent than me the analysis of the repercussions that the automation of control is producing on the working class and its struggles (“their immediate directionality, etc ...”), as an example of the changes to study I would like to concentrate on something easier, because widely debated. I refer to the changes occurred between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth that led to the imperialistic transformation of the capitalist mode of production.

Today the category of imperialism is still essential to guide our political action. More than a century after its birth, it remains characterized, as well as by extreme aggressiveness both inside (wage decline) and outside (looting of other nations) to increase quantitatively the valorization, even from the five economic characteristics identified by Lenin:

  1. the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life;

  2. the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy;

  3. the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance;

  4. the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves;

  5. the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.

In over a century of history, no ultra-imperialism of kautskyan memory, no Hardt-Negri empire emerged capable of guaranteeing the desirable perpetual peace. All the agreements between the great powers for the partition of portions of the globe, which are not lacking and will not be lacking, are none other than the photograph of certain power relations. But “the strength of these participants in the division does not change to an equal degree, for the even development of different undertakings, trusts, branches of industry, or countries is impossible under capitalism… Is it ‘conceivable’ that in ten or twenty years’ time the relative strength of the imperialist powers will have remained unchanged? It is out of the question” [Lenin, imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism]. And in fact, even the post-war economic recovery in European countries and in Japan and the actual development of “new” powers (China and Russia) demonstrate this. The recovery/development of the monopolistic financial capital in those countries and their growing penetration of the world market - which in the immediate post-war era was the exclusive prerogative of the USA - lead to a change in the international division of labour, to the breaking of previous agreements (e.g. Bretton Woods, etc.) and the creation of new ones (e.g. One belt one road, etc.).

It is not, however, a question of mere changes in the balance of power. Today, unlike its first phase - that of the "monopoly capital of the state", when the dominant states had a two-way relationship directed exclusively with their own capital and the financial penetration of the world market took place especially towards countries subject to their own sphere of influence , mostly establishing branches without autonomy while the power of direction and control was in charge of the main operating company of the country of origin - the imperialism of the twenty-first century is characterized by a much more internationalized monopoly capital and by:

I. a financial penetration (FDI + portfolio investment) that takes place not only from dominant countries to those dominated but also (above all) among the former, with the consequent creation of international ownership structures;

II. the creation of holdings for strategic control over production and credit, but without executive functions, located in the dominant countries, leaving to other group companies scattered around the world (supply chain) only operational tasks, for which they enjoy great (and greater) autonomy with respect to the past (the holding company sets the results to be achieved leaving a decision on how to achieve them in the individual establishments);

III. a more centralized control system (command) thanks to the spreading of share ownership, shell corporations and the introduction of golden and multiple voting shares - which allows to appoint the majority of the members of the BoDs without owning the majority of shares - and, at the opposite pole, outsourcing operations that go so far as to transform individual workers into apparent entrepreneurs of themselves, formally autonomous but substantially dependent.

All this determines the emergence of contradictions (and conflicts) between associations of monopolists who are characterized by having international ownership structures and transversal to the various countries to which the classic contradictions (conflicts) between imperialistic countries (and poles) flank. “This does not at all mean that states lose their function of representing bourgeois power - which is the only historical reality that justifies their existence - but they have to perform such a function of representation in a completely different way. Each of them, since it no longer has a direct relationship with its capital, must represent all the capital stationed in the country and mediate between their often opposed interests”. [Gianfranco Pala, transnational imperialism (in Italian)].

Nor does this mean renouncing to fight in the first place its own imperialism. But in order to do this effectively, we need the reconstruction of a new international - of which each party is the national articulation - capable of identifying the weakest link in the current imperialist form to deepen its contradictions without repeating the tragic mistakes made in 1914, when the socialists voted for war credits. To study the evolution of imperialism, then, must serve to understand that, at the moment, in the main dominant countries to fight (and to win) national imperialism immediately poses the not easy question of the struggle against transnational imperialism and therefore of the internationalization of the revolution. It is therefore necessary to investigate what are today's characteristics of imperialism in each country and therefore if, how, to what extent and with what balance of power the national financial bourgeoisie participates in the international monopolistic associations that divide the world and if, how, to what extent and from which monopolistic associations the country is crossed, in order to make its action adequate to the phase.


[1] In this regard there is a famous passage of the first book of capital: Aristotle - the great thinker who was the first to analyse so many forms, whether of thought, society, or Nature, and amongst them also the form of value - clearly enunciates that the money form of commodities is only the further development of the simple form of value – i.e., of the expression of the value of one commodity in some other commodity taken at random; for he says: "5 beds = 1 house" is not to be distinguished from "5 beds = so much money". He further sees that the value relation which gives rise to this expression makes it necessary that the house should qualitatively be made the equal of the bed, and that, without such an equalisation, these two clearly different things could not be compared with each other as commensurable quantities. “Exchange,” he says, “cannot take place without equality, and equality not without commensurability". Here, however, he comes to a stop, and gives up the further analysis of the form of value. “It is, however, in reality, impossible, that such unlike things can be commensurable” – i.e., qualitatively equal. Such an equalisation can only be something foreign to their real nature, consequently only “a makeshift for practical purposes.” Aristotle therefore, himself, tells us what barred the way to his further analysis; it was the absence of any concept of value. What is that equal something, that common substance, which admits of the value of the beds being expressed by a house? Such a thing, in truth, cannot exist, says Aristotle. And why not? Compared with the beds, the house does represent something equal to them, in so far as it represents what is really equal, both in the beds and the house. And that is – human labour. There was, however, an important fact which prevented Aristotle from seeing that, to attribute value to commodities, is merely a mode of expressing all labour as equal human labour, and consequently as labour of equal quality. Greek society was founded upon slavery, and had, therefore, for its natural basis, the inequality of men and of their labour powers. The secret of the expression of value, namely, that all kinds of labour are equal and equivalent, because, and so far as they are human labour in general, cannot be deciphered, until the notion of human equality has already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice. This, however, is possible only in a society in which the great mass of the produce of labour takes the form of commodities, in which, consequently, the dominant relation between man and man, is that of owners of commodities. The brilliancy of Aristotle’s genius is shown by this alone, that he discovered, in the expression of the value of commodities, a relation of equality. The peculiar conditions of the society in which he lived, alone prevented him from discovering what, “in truth,” was at the bottom of this equality.

28/04/2019 | Copyleft © Tutto il materiale è liberamente riproducibile ed è richiesta soltanto la menzione della fonte.


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