Here is the translation of part two of the series written by the comrade of Proletarios Revolucionarios, let’s let the introduction speak for itself:
On activism, theory, the individual and revolutionary organization. An imaginary debate between a few comrades
This text, composed for the most part of key fragments from texts by other historical and international comrades on the themes proposed, is the continuation or second part of my text “The self-abolition of the proleariat as the end of the capitalist world (or why the current revolt doesn’t transform into revolution”, and it’s a tentative and provisional response to the question “So what should we do then?”
1. Amadeo Bordiga (Activism – Italy, 1952)
Activism is an illness of the workers movement that requires continuous treatment.
Activism always claims to possess the correct understanding of the circumstances of political struggle, and that it is “equal to the situation”, but it is incapable of engaging in a realistic evaluation of the relations of force, enormously exaggerating the possibilities of the subjective factors of the class struggle.
It is therefore natural that those affected by activism react to this criticism by accusing their adversaries of underestimating the subjective factors of the class struggle and of reducing historical determinism to that automatic mechanism which is also the target of the usual bourgeois critique of Marxism. That is why we said, in Point 2 of Part IV of our “Fundamental Theses of the Party”:
“… [t]he capitalist mode of production expands and prevails in all countries, under its technical and social aspects, in a more or less continuous way. The alternatives of the clashing class forces are instead connected to the events of the general historical struggle, to the contrast that already existed when bourgeoisie [began to] rule [over] the feudal and precapitalistic classes, and to the evolutionary political process of the two historical rival classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat; being such a process marked by victories and defeats, by errors of tactical and strategical method.”
This amounts to saying that we maintain that the stage of the resumption of the revolutionary workers movement does not coincide only with the impulses from the contradictions of the material, economic and social development of bourgeois society, which can experience periods of extremely serious crises, of violent conflicts, of political collapse, without the workers movement as a result being radicalized and adopting extreme revolutionary positions. That is, there is no automatic mechanism in the field of the relations between the capitalist economy and the revolutionary proletarian party. […]
The indefatigable and assiduous labor of defense waged on behalf of the doctrinal and critical patrimony of the movement, the everyday tasks of immunization of the movement against the poisons of revisionism, the systematic explanation, in the light of Marxism, of the most recent forms of organization of capitalist production, the unmasking of the attempts on the part of opportunism to present such “innovations” as anti-capitalist measures, etc., all of this is struggle, the struggle against the class enemy, the struggle to educate the revolutionary vanguard, it is, if you prefer, an active struggle that is nonetheless not activism. […]
The resumption of the revolutionary movement is still nowhere in sight because the bourgeoisie, putting into practice bold reforms in the organization of production and of the State (State Capitalism, totalitarianism, etc.), has delivered a shattering and disorienting blow, sowing doubt and confusion, not against the theoretical and critical foundations of Marxism, which remain intact and unaffected, but rather against the capacity of the proletarian vanguards to apply those Marxist principles precisely in the interpretation of the current stage of bourgeois development.
In such conditions of theoretical disorientation, is the labor of restoring Marxism against opportunist distortions merely a theoretical task?
No, it is the substantial and committed active struggle against the class enemy.
2. Camatte – Collu (On Organization – France-Italy, 1972)
At the present time the proletariat either prefigures communist society and realizes communist theory or it remains part of existing society. […]
Today, now that the apparent community-in-the-sky of politic constituted by parliaments and their parties has been effaced by capital’s development, the “organizations” that claim to be proletarian are simply gangs or cliques which, through the mediation of the state, play the same role as all the other groups that are directly in the service of capital. This is the groupuscule phase. In Marx’s time the supersession of the sects was to be found in the unity of the workers’ movement. Today, the parties, these groupuscules, manifest not merely a lack of unity but the absence of class struggle. They argue over the remains of the proletariat. They theorize about the proletariat in the immediate reality and oppose themselves to its movement. In this sense they realize the stabilization requirements of capital. The proletariat, therefore, instead of having to supersede them, needs to destroy them.
The critique of capital ought to be, therefore, a critique of the racket in all its forms, of capital as social organism; capital becomes the real life of the individual and his mode of being with others […] The theory which criticizes the racket cannot reproduce it. The consequence of this is refusal of all group life; it’s either this or the illusion of community.[…]
Today the party can only be the historic party. Any formal movement is the reproduction of this society, and the proletariat is essentially outside of it. A group can in no way pretend to realize community without taking the place of the proletariat, which alone can do it.[…]
The revolutionary must not identify himself with a group but recognize himself in a theory that does not depend on a group or on a review, because it is the expression of an existing class struggle. This is actually the correct sense in which anonymity is posed rather than as the negation of the individual (which capitalist society itself brings about). Accord, therefore, is around a work that is in process and needs to be developed. This is why theoretical knowledge and the desire for theoretical development are absolutely necessary if the professor-student relation – another form of the mind-matter, leader-mass contradiction – is not to be repeated and revive the practice of following.[…]
It is necessary to return to Marx’s attitude toward all groups in order to understand why the break with the gang practice ought to be made:
– refuse to reconstitute a group, even an informal one (cf. The Marx-Engels correspondence, various works on the revolution of 1848, and pamphlets such as “The Great Men of Exile,” 1852).
– maintain a network of personal contacts with people having realized (or in the process of doing so) the highest degree of theoretical knowledge: antifollowerism, antipedagogy; the party in its historical sense is not a school.
Marx’s activity was always that of revealing the real movement that leads to communism and of defending the gains of the proletariat in its struggle against capital. Hence, Marx’s position in 1871 in revealing the “impossible action” of the Paris Commune or declaring that the First International was not the child of either a theory or a sect. It is necessary to do the same now.[…]
It follows from this that it is also necessary to develop a critique of the Italian communist left’s conception of “program.” That this notion of “communist program” has never been sufficiently clarified is demonstrated by the fact that, at a certain point, the Martov-Lenin debate resurfaced at the heart of the left. The polemic was already the result of the fact that Marx’s conception of revolutionary theory had been destroyed, and it reflected a complete separation between the concepts of theory and practice. For the proletariat, in Marx’s sense, the class struggle is simultaneously production and radicalization of consciousness. The critique of capital expresses a consciousness already produced by the class struggle and anticipates its future. For Marx and Engels, proletarian movement = theory = communism.[…]
Actually, the problem of consciousness coming from the outside did not exist for Marx. [Kautsky-Lenin] There wasn’t any question of the development of militants, of activism or of academicism. Likewise, the problematic of the self-education of the masses, in the sense of the council communists (false disciples of R. Luxemburg and authentic disciples of pedagogic reformism) did not arise for Marx. R. Luxemburg’s theory of the class movement, which from the start of the struggle finds within itself the conditions for its radicalization, is closest to Marx’s position (cf. her position on the “creativity of the masses,” beyond its immediate existence).[…]
Once we had rejected the group method, to outline “concretely” how to be revolutionaries, our rejection of the small group could have been interpreted as a return to a more or less Stirnerian individualism. [and as “a new theory of consciousness coming from the outside through the detour of an elitist theory of the development of the revolutionary movement] As if the only guarantee from now on was going to be the subjectivity cultivated by each individual revolutionary! Not at all. It was necessary to publicly reject a certain perception of social reality and the practice connected with it, since they were a point of departure for the process of racketization. If we therefore withdrew totally from the groupuscule movement, it was to be able simultaneously to enter into liaison with other revolutionaries who had made an analogous break. Now there is a direct production of revolutionaries who supersede almost immediately the point we were at when we had to make our break. Thus, there is a potential “union” that would be considered if we were not to carry the break with the political point of view to the depths of our individual consciousnesses. Since the essence of politics is fundamentally representation, each group is forever trying to project an impressive image on the social screen. The groups are always explaining how they represent themselves in order to be recognized by certain people as the vanguard for representing others, the class. […]
All political representation is a screen and therefore an obstacle to a fusion of forces. […]
In the vast movement of rebellion against capital, revolutionaries are going to adopt a definite behavior – which will not be acquired all at once – compatible with the decisive and determinative struggle against capital.
We can preview the content of such an “organization.” It will combine the aspiration to human community and to individual affirmation, which is the distinguishing feature of the current revolutionary phase. It will aim toward the reconciliation of man with nature, the communist revolution being also a revolt of nature (i.e., against capital; moreover, it is only through a new relation with nature) that we will be able to survive, and avert the second of the two alternatives we face today: communism or the destruction of the human species.
In order to better understand this becoming organizational, so as to facilitate it without inhibiting whatever it may be, it is important to reject all old forms and to enter, without a priori principles, the vast movement of our liberation, which develops on a world scale. It is necessary to eliminate anything that could be an obstacle to the revolutionary movement. In given circumstances and in the course of specific actions, the revolutionary current will be structured and will structure itself not only passively, spontaneously, but by always directing the effort toward how to realize the true Gemeinwesen (human essence) and the social man, which implies the reconciliation of men with nature (Camatte, 1972).
3. Francesco Santini (Apocalypse and Survival Italy, 1994)
[from: https://libcom.org/library/apocalypse-survival-reflections-giorgio-cesaranos-book-critica-dell%E2%80%99utopia-capitale-expe – See also the pdf edition published by Malcontent Editions]
10.2 Two opposed points of view on organization.
In 1971 Comontism took shape and the group that had formed based on the positions of Invariance [the journal directed by Camatte] dissolved. It must be mentioned that both tendencies had diametrically opposed attitudes towards the “question of organization”. One of these attitudes was in fact that of Cesarano and a large part of the current. The idea of Comontism instead whimsically identified its own members (largely veterans of the similar Organizzazione Consigliare di Torino) with the historical party of the proletariat, or, even better, with the “human community”.
On this basis, it created an organization with branches in several Italian cities (see Maelström, No. 2), which erased any distinction between theoretical and practical activity, between public life and private life, between individual and organization. Comontism thus attempted to breathe life into a concrete communism, characterized by:
1. The collectivization of all resources for survival;
2. A “total” way of living together;
3. The constant practice of the “critique of everyday life” in order not to yield to the pressure imposed by society in the form of family, social milieu, legal relations, etc.
The immediatist illusion of the group caused it to overlook one fundamental fact: that between capitalism—that is, between personal relations dominated by valorization—and communism, there is a revolution that, according to Marx, serves among other things to “get rid of all the old shit”. For Comontism the Gemeinwesen [human community] had to be put into practice here and now: it was all about the passage to communism of twenty or thirty persons, communizing all relations all at once: this idea would lead inevitably and immediately to the production of an ideology: immediatism was rapidly followed by the elaboration of a whole set of “theoretical” corollaries.
In retrospect, we have to sympathize with Comontism: it was a group of courageous individuals who always stayed at their posts at the revolutionary front, bravely confronting harsh repression and fighting against various Maoist-workerist splinter groups that had specialized military structures crafted to ensure that the assemblies and demonstrations were conducted in a way that was acceptable to their father-master PCI (with the sole exception —besides, naturally, the Bordiguist groups that had already experienced the armed repression of the “extraparliamentary” Stalinists—of Potere Operaio, a group devoted to guerrilla tactics which, although it did not publicly defend the revolutionaries, was always opposed to […]the systematic calumnies of the left which had for several years been proclaiming that “situationists=fascists”. It is indisputable, however, that Comontism was a revolutionary group, which the Cronaca di un ballo mascherato justly cited as part of the radical communist current. Not in vain did it claim to have remained on the terrain of revolutionary practice, when so many other former Luddites had accepted the separation between the “militant” public life and private life, which soon led them to passive nihilism and, in many cases, to renounce the revolutionary option in favor of worldly success or simply a tranquil life. On the other hand, one cannot avoid criticizing the retreat of Comontism with respect to the level attained by Ludd. Comontist immediatism is nothing but a substitutionism of the proletariat carried to its logical extreme.
From this point of view, Comontism was an authentic model of ideology, based on an undeclared but easily recognizable hierarchy, which subjected its recruits to initiation tests and examinations of their radicality. The most disastrous aspect of Ludd, which we shall discuss in connection with Cesarano’s critique, became a systematically and relentlessly applied ideology. Among its ideological conclusions we find: the apology for crime (the only respected and recognized way to survive); the praise, not publicly proclaimed, but a constant feature within the group, for hard drugs as an instrument of destructuring and liberation from family and repressive relations; the sectarian attitude of superiority displayed towards every element external to the organization; the group’s hostility to the hard working, sheep-like proletariat, which was viewed as just as culpable as everyone else who was not part of the organization. All of this turned Comontism into a gang at war with all of humanity, and an uncritical follower of the criminal model. This is what we mean by “ideology”: the theorization of this practical attitude in fact prevented any critical procedure from assuming a material basis: they were dogmas embedded in the extremely coercive experience of the members of the group. This form of immediatism was certainly one of the reasons that prevented Cesarano from drawing practical conclusions, and which led him to lose himself in sterile abstractions.
However, behind this and other dead ends of Cesarano we find certain positions that are diametrically opposed to those of Comontism: the positions of Invariance.
Invariance had “resolved” the problem of organization by studying the measures employed by Marx to prevent the party from succumbing to bourgeois reformism during the period of counterrevolutionary retreat. This analysis was extremely partial, since it completely ignored all of Marx’s activity that was devoted to building the communist party, and distorted the revolutionary tradition by avoiding a critical examination of the purely political activity of Marx taken as a whole. This attitude was expressed in a text from 1969, published three years later by Invariance under the title, “On Organization”, signed by Camatte-Collu, which can be summarized as follows:
1. Under the real domination of capital every organization tends to be transformed into a Mafia or a sect;
2. Invariance avoided this danger by dissolving the embryonic group that had begun to form around the journal;
3. All organized groups are excluded a priori, because of the risk that they will be transformed into Mafias;
4. Relations between revolutionaries are only useful at the highest level of theory, which each individual can attain in a personal and independent way, or otherwise fall prey to followerism.
According to Camatte and Collu, the danger of individualism was of no account because the “production of revolutionaries” was already underway—in 1972: the extension of the revolutionary process was such that a network of interpersonal contacts at the “highest” level of theory was already guaranteed and was even evident.
Thus, Camatte and Collu expressed in the clearest way an error that was typical of the entire current and of Cesarano himself. In reality, a pre-revolutionary stage on an international level was not opening up in 1972 (despite the fact that the movement would continue to resist, although only in Italy), nor was an inexorable production of revolutionaries imminent (even Camatte and Collu would desert). Therefore, the disregard of individualism was nothing but an illusion. There was nothing glorious about dissolving the small group that was forming around the journal. This did nothing but accelerate what was already taking place: the dispersion of the sparse revolutionary forces that remained from 1968, forces which would not experience a resurgence (in France there were no more large-scale social uprisings, and in Italy the revolutionary current faced 1977 so weakened by individualism that it was incapable of undertaking any relevant interventions). In fact, individualism favored the dissolution of the revolutionary perspective: either because life in isolation produced a feeling of reduced self-esteem—which could only be escaped by comparing oneself with one’s peers—which prevented one from perceiving the movement and which generated discouragement and depression, the loss of one’s defenses against the invasion from “outside” and surrender to dominant tendencies; or because it disguised personalism and elitism, and served to enable one to get rid of those uncomfortable relations that could stand in the way of an opportunist reinsertion into bourgeois ideology. During the seventies and eighties the work of the liquidation of the organizational remnants (which were by then fragile and informal) and the unjustified fear of succumbing to politics, “workerism” or leftism, contributed the impulse to jump to the “other side of the barricade” for those exponents of the “elite” who had transformed theory into a fetish and who were mistrustful of the alleged danger of followerism (a danger that was actually imaginary and non-existent: in Italy no group or personality exercised any attraction or obtained passive followers such as the Situationist International had on the other side of the Alps. In France, in any event, Invariance never did so). We have been analyzing two views regarding organization that were typical of the seventies, which we can reject without any remorse, and above all without falling prey to any of the mystifications offered by the youngest elements. The first view, that of Comontism, is the model of the criminal gang-historical party-human community. Although respectable from a human point of view (like its current epigone, the French group, Os Cangaceiros), and although it was often interesting for the practical-organizational-lifestyle solutions that it proposed (the revolutionaries must live “as if” communism was already a fact and could thus face the terrible struggle for survival together, which was twice as hard for them), its vision was born from resentment: the proletariat is not revolutionary, so “we” (the tiny groups) are the proletariat; we are the now-realized human community. This led them to a dogmatic and ideological evaluation of their own sectarian activity and offered the most disastrous answers: the terroristic self-criticism imposed on every gesture and every word; the fetishism of coherence; the lurking possibility of political decline, caused above all by the spell cast by action, which led them to become a mere gang of loud-mouthed thugs. All of this was based on the totemic-fetishistic blackmail of “practice”, in the ideological scorn for theory and lucid action.
The other, “invariantist”, view, which would later spread over a large part of the radical current, is the model of the circle of relations among “theoreticians”. In this case, the enormous totem-fetish of theory conceals the unilateral nature of relations limited to a tiny elite of “critics”.
Such an attitude, now that the illusions regarding a rapid and abundant “production of revolutionaries” have dissipated, amounts in reality to pure and simple individualism. Instead, there is nothing left to do but to adjust to the fact that the revolutionaries are now isolated. To increase their current powerlessness by taking a position against organization does not make any sense. The alternative of continuing to pursue this option, in an environment of the anxious atomization of revolutionaries, insisting on the anti-Mafia phobia and on the exclusivity of relations between a handful of the elect (if one can find any such elect) at the highest level (higher than what?) of theory, is not very attractive.
Although it is now clear that the resurgence of activism and militancy rapidly leads back to politics, it is also clear that the fetish of theory separated from collective efficacy and, if possible, organized practice, offers no way out. Communist principles, united with a critical theory animated by its contrast with the theory of the previous two decades and with the principle results of the recent past—that is: a revolution of and for life, a questioning of the limits of the ego and of personal identity (which in the work of Cesarano are denounced vehemently and comprehensively), the experience of a revolution in the revolution—are the only antidotes against the Mafioso degeneration, which cannot be escaped by way of self-valorizing isolation, and much less by the original and personal road of an alleged creativity.
It is obvious that in 1970 there was no danger posed by the possibility that a militant-activist group associated with Invariance or a core group of “theoreticians” would be formed. In fact, the danger was just the reverse: disintegration and the neglect of the most important questions that should have been addressed:
1. The reformulation of the contribution of the historical ultraleft (Bordiga and the most consistent sector of the
German revolution, which were decisive for the world revolution);
2. Draw up a balance sheet of the new contents contributed by the sixties;
3. The need to create a network of relations capable of enduring and prepared to reinitiate the revolutionary possibilities that were presented during the seventies.
According to Camatte and Collu the “production of revolutionaries” would magically resolve all problems, when what actually took place immediately thereafter was the dispersion of the revolutionaries, and it became evident that they were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunity that would be once again, and only in Italy, be presented.
In the following years the question of nihilism arose, still posed in terms that were upside down with respect to reality: in reality the expressions of nihilism were the abandonment of the revolutionary tradition, the end of the search for communist relations among subversives, the denial of the need to become an effective community, and the underestimation of the need to avoid being dragged down by the counterrevolution.
Comontism was a caricature of relations between revolutionaries, with its illusion that all problems could be magically resolved by the right ideology, and its pretension of being the embodiment of the theory of the sixties, now complete, which only had to be applied in practice without any delay. Although it was aberrant and unsustainable on the theoretical plane, this simplification was based on a profoundly correct demand: theory cannot be a separate and specialized activity, it is an integral part of the everyday coherence of revolutionaries and the need to change reality in its entirety, to have an impact on society and on history.
Comontism had a doubly counterproductive result:
1. Because it created a gang that proclaimed itself to be the enemy of society and the proletariat, preventing any possibility of forming a pole of regroupment and of having an effect on society;
2. Because it was easily recuperable by the most typical ideology of the seventies: that which consisted in justifying—as Toni Negri did—the groups produced by social disintegration, instead of subjecting them to a radical critique. This made Comontism incapable of providing any perspective to a sector, one that was much more coherent in 1977, of young people who broke with the hierarchical and instrumental armed practice of Autonomia Organizatta and who instead wanted to act for themselves, courageously but with impoverished and confused ideas.
Comontism, however, was right to reject the elitism of the few who act “at the highest level of theory”. Such elitism could only lead to the creation of relations rooted solely on the intellectual plane.
Cesarano was the only person who acted on the highest level, producing a clear and explicit theory, completely anti-esoteric, vainly trying to provide a human solution to this pseudo-intellectual milieu, characterized by its absolute fragility and by its tremendous incoherence (except for Piero Coppo and Joe Fallisi, the only other people among his comrades who preserved a revolutionary coherence, without nourishing any pretenses to superiority derived from the possession of theory).
16. The activity of the Centro d’iniziativa Luca Rossi
This is why an activity like that undertaken by the Centro d’iniziativa Luca Rossi [1990’s] is relevant, which we may summarize as follows:
1. Clarifying the revolutionary tradition, which is necessary in order to establish some principles that transcend the waves of barbarism that capital has unleashed on the world that it has colonized (racism, war, the bloody resurgence of national conflicts like those of the period before the First World War, the belligerent expansionism of the old religions), with special attention to the ultraleft current of the epoch of fascism and Stalinism. This labor implies the resumption of the projects that were underway in the seventies and which could not be concluded: the affirmation of communism and its positive description. Because we must confront the mystification that accompanied the collapse of that which seventy years of counterrevolution falsely passed off as “communism”, while fascism and racism no longer just play the role of spectacular scarecrows but have become gigantic zombies armed to the teeth.
2. Drawing up a balance sheet of the Italian radical current, because the revolutionary eruption of those years “set fire to” a series of questions without actually answering them, and got stuck in a dead end just when the time seemed to be most favorable for its activity (1977). This is why it is necessary to demarcate that historical experience in order to extract the requisite lessons from it. There is a clear necessity, among other things, of making accessible the results of this endeavor, but it is unthinkable that this should be done outside the boundaries of a discussion that would make it comprehensible and that would make it an object of criticism for today’s revolutionaries. It is therefore necessary to confront a double task: to spread the principle texts of the seventies and to try to draw up a critical balance sheet of that period.
3. In the short term, we have to avoid repeating the error that was made at that time and that would be totally unthinkable today: the valorization of isolation (which transforms theoretical activity into something abstract and unverifiable). To the contrary, the experiences of the revolutionaries in the workplaces, in the rank and file proletarian organizations, and in the social centers, must be very carefully analyzed without making any exceptions, since they constitute a vital element, without which not even the preliminary formulations of therevolutionary tradition would be viable. One lesson that may be immediately drawn from the radical theory of the seventies is that the revolutionaries cannot omit the concrete relations with the social struggle without swelling the ranks of so many brilliant former revolutionaries; and at the same time, they cannot renounce the concrete and living critique of everyday life without eventually succumbing to passive nihilism.
4. There is no need to fear the organizational and institutional solutions that could serve to attain full practical efficacy. In the current conditions of the profound crisis of capitalism, in which the best elements of the international revolutionary proletariat are not, however, prospering—and there is not even a prosperous class movement capable of self-defense—the revolutionaries face all the typical dangers of the previous periods of retreat, but they still do not possess any historical relation with a recent movement of generalized struggle. Thus, in a certain sense, today much more than in the seventies, we move along the edge of the abyss, threatened by the snare of desperation, deception, and the “catastrophic” crisis of devalorization, in which it is becoming ever more difficult to find a solution in attack and revolt, a solution that, after all, in comparison with our current situation, used to be within reach. So that now, no one may allow himself any kind of indulgence on the terrain of isolation. Revolutionary community, organization and solidarity are urgent necessities, whose absence is dramatically obvious, but whose realization is terribly distant. All of which calls for strong bonds between revolutionaries, without any kind of sectarianism. The current period of “preparatory” work, of clarification of principles, requires not only coherence and intransigence, but also an enrichment of contacts, of sources and discussions. The revolutionary milieu is in itself too weak, it is too much of a “nostalgic” parody of what it once was, to be capable of constituting by itself a valid point of reference. That is why it needs all the contributions it can get, in order to create some degree of circulation of ideas, of research, of study, that would at least establish the minimal conditions for a resurgence.
There will be no movement without principles and without theory, nor will there be any movement if we reproduce the narrow-mindedness that characterized the decline of the radicals.
4. Carlos Lagos Paredes – Communization (Foreward to Apocalypse and Survival by the spanish translator – Chile, April 2010)
[from: https://libcom.org/library/apocalypse-survival-reflections-giorgio-cesaranos-book-critica-dell%E2%80%99utopia-capitale-expe – See also the pdf edition published by Malcontent Editions]
It is one thing to recognize the value of a theoretical work for its radical and clarifying features, but another one entirely to attribute to it the ability to change the course of a social movement. A theory may of course seek to help the proletarian movement avoid being “poisoned” by ideology, but it can only act as one partial influence among many others. With respect to both the case of communist minorities as well as the proletarian movement in general, ideologization is the result of the complex interaction between innumerable factors—among which, the content of immediate social practice occupies a central place—rather than of intellectual errors that are spread by contagion from one mind to another and which can be counteracted by the “antidote” of a correct theory. The practical content of the movement can be analyzed and predicted, but for the most part it is beyond the scope of formal theory, since it responds to its own laws and evolves in accordance with what its protagonists perceive to be immediate necessity. Although theory formally expresses the content of human relations, it only expresses a negligible part of them; it is one mediation among others, and as such cannot by itself alter the material conditions that produce ideology or its supersession. The purview of theory is in fact much more modest: in the best case, it can publicly explain aspects of reality or relations that were not normally perceived, or call attention to the risks and the opportunities of a situation that affects everyone. Everything else depends on the men and women dedicated to action and struggle.
The overestimation of the power of written theory is not the only feature that can be criticized in Santini’s article, but this did not discourage me when it came time to translate it. I do not think that in this case the author was trying to argue in favor of personalism or of idealism. I believe, rather, that he permitted himself some exaggerated claims, inspired by his great affection for Cesarano and for the experience that he recounts, which is of course debatable, but does not invalidate the contribution made by the text taken as a whole. The same is true of the emphasis that Santini places on the need for revolutionary regroupment, an aspect that, in my view, he does not subject to a profound enough analysis. Considering the indisputable dispersion of revolutionaries, it seems to me to be of little use to call for their regroupment as if this were itself enough to solve anything. In reality, it is not so much a question of getting the people with revolutionary ideas to associate with one another, but to know for what purpose they would do so, besides the enjoyment of their mutual affinity. To do this, however, does not by any means require that one be a “revolutionary”: we proletarians have a tendency to unite spontaneously because this is what our social nature demands: it is not a question of choice. If such a regroupment has some special purpose, this is another question, but it only makes sense to debate this question in relation to each specific case. Whether it involves organizing a potluck dinner, a strike picket at work, the publication of a text of radical critique or agitation in support of imprisoned comrades … there are a thousand things that can be discussed and acted upon, without losing sight of the fact that each person participates in this or that activity because it directly affects his personal existence. But a general appeal to revolutionaries in order to convince them to regroup in accordance with their ideas, is another matter entirely, which basically is oriented towards transcending concrete determinations that link each person to a specific kind of activity. I shall pause here to examine this point more carefully because I believe that what Santini expresses in his article is symptomatic of a very widespread perception.
What Santini says is true: the retreat of the working class to defensive positions or to mere helplessness only aggravates the devastation produced by capitalist development, and in such conditions isolation cannot be defended with the delirium displayed by the apologists for theoretical purism in the early seventies. But there is also another question: as long as social atomization persists in the proletariat as a whole there will be limitations to the regrouping of radical minorities, since their activity inevitably tends to reproduce the conditions in which their class lives and acts. This must have a repercussion on their practice, which will tend to focus on one particular issue to the detriment of others, with the exclusionary effect this entails. Thus, it is by no means strange that some revolutionaries undertake solidarity actions on behalf of prisoners while others concentrate on rebuilding nuclei of agitation in the workplace; likewise, it is logical that some would prefer to respond to the need for independent media, while others devote their efforts to preserving the historical memory of the proletariat … and so on. It would be absurd to expect that each person should assume responsibility for all the practical necessities of the movement, nor does it make any sense to demand that all those who are engaged in different activities should converge in a single perfectly integrated collectivity: this would be enough to render their co-existence impossible, assuming with justification that a certain degree of dispersion is the inevitable effect of the way one lives in this society. In these conditions, it is normal for those who are trying to develop a “total practice” to end up absorbed in an overwhelming flood of tasks and relations where what they gain in terms of extension is almost always lost in terms of depth. The dissatisfaction that this generates is usually expressed in a recriminatory discourse that makes the radical minorities themselves responsible for the dispersion and weakness of the proletarian movement. Each group or individual therefore discovers reasons for underestimating the others because they are “only” devoted to labor issues, or counter-information, or prisoners’ aid, or theory, etc. Ultimately, from this point of view all of them are culpable for not being sufficiently revolutionary to have an impact on the general situation. Such an attitude is equivalent to putting the responsibility for industrial pollution on the shoulders of the ordinary consumers. In both cases what is expressed is a feature of radical democratism, which relies on the moral power of good intentions to resolve the problems that can by no means be resolved under capitalist conditions.
The preferential dedication to certain tasks will only cease to be a problem in a revolutionary context, in which human relations will possess a new dynamic corresponding to new social problems; and in which the resulting polyvalence will not be a distinctive trait of “revolutionaries”, but of broad sectors of the population. As long as this does not take place, and perhaps even after it has occurred, it is inevitable and even desirable that some should devote themselves with more enthusiasm to one or another type of activity. If the preference for one activity instead of others today appears as a limitation this is not due to the actual content of this activity, but due to the fact that the collective capacity for harmonizing the diverse activities in a coherent community has not been sufficiently developed. This is only a reflection of the way the population as a whole relates to the instruments of production and to the products of their activity. Communism, however, does not impose the abstract demand that each person should occupy himself indiscriminately with everything; instead, it allows for the harmonious social coordination of individual aptitudes. The communist production of the “total man” is not the production of the isolated individual in possession of infinite abilities, but the total community: in this community, man does not need to do everything that the others do, but he has the opportunity to do anything because he no longer encounters arbitrary impediments that separate him from his own inclinations. This has nothing to do with the madness of the “new man” that justified the spectacular protagonism of certain revolutionary leaders, and which is today still nourishing the desire for fantasy and the moralism of those who want to see their own personal requirements rule the lives of everyone in the entire world.
Returning to Santini, I think that his overestimation of theory as well as of the current possibilities for revolutionary regroupment are related to the insufficiency of his criticism of the point of view elaborated by Cesarano and Invariance during the seventies: a point of view in which the crisis of capitalism presents such apocalyptic and unfavorable features for communism, that revolutionary possibilities no longer seem to be contained within the social contradiction of capitalism itself, but elsewhere. Thus, theory appears as a means capable of expressing possibilities situated beyond the immediate social contradiction (which actually amounts to a new esotericism); while regroupment seems to provide access to such possibilities, without taking into account the fact that the revolutionaries themselves are immersed in the social contradiction and in history, from whose limits in any event they can hardly escape.
5. Gilles Dauvé (Militancy in the 21st Century – France, 2014)
[No full english edition available, Translation: Malcontent Editions]
The situationists had made from the rejection of militancy a base banality, a critique that was summed up in 1972 in Militancy, supreme state of alienation.
For us, ‘militant’ is not an insult reserved for those that we wouldn’t do anything together with (as ‘petit-bourgeois’ was long ago for many militants). Certain comrades can be included within the militancy: they don’t seek perfection, but we don’t see it necessarily as a sufficient motive for rupture.
In the situationist critique, to militate signifies sacrificing one’s own life for the cause, denying personal desires and necessities in order to submit to a doctrine. And above all, to believe that it’s possible to change the world with no more than presentations, meetings and words. The militant is a voluntarist multiplied by a productivist.
Forty years later, what has the militant changed into? What consequences do these changes have in our critique of militancy? […]
The professional revolutionary of long ago was paid by the party: today the State or a private organism contracts them or subsidizes them, which was unacceptable for the militants of the 70’s. The rejection of political parties has progressed, the rejection of the State [and of the Market] has diminished […]
There’s no interest in playing at massacre. We don’t believe ourselves to be worse than our neighbor, nor do we imagine overcoming the contradictions of radical critique through the magic of a dialectic that would take up the good parts of each one (the energy of one, the preoccupation to inform of the other, the reproduction of old texts by the third…) abstaining from the faults present in each of them.
In any case, we don’t hope to construct today the organization that will be ready tomorrow “when everything explodes” To remain available is often the best that can be done; to be informed, but without being glued to the screen; to act, but not necessarily every day. In the necessary diffusion of information and radical theses, these are no more important than the links woven for their circulation, useful some day, but it would be impossible and vain to formalize currently. If the collective inertia is an obstacle to the revolution, certain types of actions can also maintain the passivity.
As a proletarian proverb says: “it’s not the revolutionaries who will make the revolution, but the revolution that will make the revolutionaries.”
6. A proletarian revolutionary after participating in a mass revolt and returning to the capitalist normalcy, at a time of economic and health crisis
(Ecuador, March-April 2020)
[translation: Malcontent Editions]
If indeed theory is an activity or a specific form of practice which emanates from reality with the aim of consciously understanding and transforming it, it’s the practice of the class struggle itself that always has the last word in class society. Only in practice can the truth and the force, or not, of a theory be demonstrated. And theory only turns into a material force when it kindles within the masses and they realize it. Revolutionary theory is only practice and immediate in the revolution, and vice-versa: only the practical revolution is immediately theory. The rest is silence… or pure noise.
But the revolution doesn’t depend on “grassroots work” and “agitation and propaganda” focused on “awareness raising” and recruitment on the part of a “revolutionary” organization for its own “accumulation of forces” and “taking of power” under its ideology (e.g. the marxist-leninists). Neither does it depend on creating small “self-managed communes” isolated form the rest of the society in order to “live the utopia here and now” (e.g. the self-managerialists). Much less does it depend on the political, symbolic and mediatic activism of the new leftists (e.g. the leftist postmodernists, including some anarchists). All these forms of supposedly “anticapitalist” action do no more than to reproduce this generalized mercantile and spectacular society, although they think and say the opposite, because they neither attack nor subvert its roots or foundations but rather reproduce them “from below and to the left”.
Then? In reality the revolution depends on the anonymous proletarian masses or the nobodies who neither can nor want to live under the capitalist mode of production and of living any longer, and thus begin to produce for themselves, through necessity and desire, social relations and forms of living that are communistic and anarchic, which can only be developed freely and fully by means of the social revolution, meaning by means of the abolition and overcoming of the class society, in the heat of the class antagonism itself and the reproduction of daily life. In the real social struggles and everyday practices where the proletarians do this, there is where the seed of revolution, of communism and anarchy is to be found.
Meanwhile, individuals tend to be separated amongst themselves, just as theory tends to be separated from practice as well (this last separation/alienation is called ideology), given that capitalism is the world of separation or of the systematic social organization of isolation, independently from what individuals or groups of the left believe and say ideologically to this respect. But the revolutionaries “with neither dogma nor party” will not save us from ideology either, for the simple fact of “living” under conditions of structural social alienation/separation. Thus, to be objective from the communist and class perspective, radical theory must not only be produced in an individual or isolated form and only in relation with other individuals that do the same (as is my case currently, and surely that of other comrades in other latitudes as well as in other eras, including Camatte); but rather it’s necessary to make an effort to construct and practice social relations and forms of living that really transform the capitalist social relations and forms of living, with other proletarians that are “ordinary” but are tired of being proletarians (which is more complicated but also more necessary and effective). “Communism vs. the alienated lone individual” (Santini, 1994)
In effect, what’s more important and decisive than the revolutionary theories and individuals, are the real links of solidarity, mutual aid, care, confidence, communication, gratuity, horizontality and liberty which, in an anonymous and autonomous way, the proletarians create in order to satisfy their immediate vital necessities and, at the same time, to struggle for and live the revolution, that’s to say to change their own lives radically in every aspect, as much in times of capitalist normality (or of non-revolutionary class struggle) as in times of revolts and insurrections (or of revolutionary class struggle). Theory will only be a factor or one more active element of this total and radical transformation of the class and of society; but it will be, because revolutionary praxis – which without a doubt includes revolutionary agitation and propaganda – is lucid or conscious of itself and of its circumstances.
Having it clear that this will not occur at whatever time or whenever it is wanted (as the voluntarists and immediatists believe), but in concrete historical situations of ascent, generalization and intensification of the class struggle and of the capitalist crisis, which affects people’s daily lives and presents them with new social problems to resolve in collective practice.
Furthermore, this can’t be done with people that don’t want to or can’t do it, they cannot and must not be obliged to it (nobody saves or liberates anybody, we all save ourselves or self-liberate together). Real relationships of community and of liberty can only be constructed with other proletarianized individuals that already fight for their own freedom and human community, to reappropriate their lives, in their own realities and with the means that they have at reach.
The historical, social and impersonal process of the revolution is that which produces revolutionary individuals who associate freely in order to act as such, and vice-versa. That, among other things, is what “that communist production of communism” (Théorie Communiste, 2011) involves, by means of real communities of struggle and of life; that is to say, by means of spontaneous, impure, imperfect, limited and contradictory communities of proletarians that fight for their immediate vital necessities at the same time as fighting for their own liberation and abolition as a social class (communist proletarians fight for our own abolition, as Gorter said well), and for the abolition of Capital and the State. This involves, also, breaking and overcoming the isolation or the capitalist social atomization and, at the same time, making an effort to be the critique and the practical overcoming of the “rackets”, groupuscules, gangs or political mafias of the left that compete amongst themselves for quotas of power within the bourgeois society and its State – the reason for which they are not revolutionary but rather counterrevolutionary.
Contradictory? Yes: better said, dialectical, because the proletariat is the living contradiction and it is only revolutionary when it fights to cease being an exploited and oppressed class. That’s why it’s an anti-class class. The revolution is the positive resolution of this contradiction in motion. Criticizing and overcoming in the said motion all the separations which Capital has imposed; in this case, the separation between individual and community, and between theory and practice; and, therefore, criticizing and overcoming the typical and false leftist debates to that respect: activism-theoreticism (or pragmatism-intellectualism), subjectivism-objectivism and individualism-collectivism. Even so, it continues to be contradictory or dialectical, because it’s a living reality, in constant movement and, therefore, in constant self-transformation. The same applies, historically and logically, to revolutionary organization-anti-organization: it has only been, is, and will be such if it questions and transforms the capitalist social relations and forms of living and thought that it contains and which contain it (which without a doubt includes the male-chauvinist, racist, nationalist, etc. forms of oppression at its very heart); if it realizes radical critique (theoretical and practical) of all the aspects of the capitalist world; if it subverts the current state of things and produces the arms (practical and theoretical) of its liberation in an autonomous and conscious manner; if it prefigures the real human community of freely associated individuals and fights for the communist revolution in deeds; if it struggles for its own abolition as an organization separated from the class, abolishing the capitalist conditions that have produced it as such; in a word: if it really contributes to the self-liberation and the self-abolition of the proletariat as a class which is exploited, oppressed and alienated by Capital and the State.
All of this – as it has already been said and it’s worth making clear – not at a whim but in determined conditions, principally in situations of revolutionary crisis produced or not by the class struggle itself, as well as in everyday life in the measure that it’s possible. And – as it’s also already been said and worth making clear – not in a pure manner without contradictions, because when a movement is real it’s impure and contradictory, and what makes it revolutionary, then, is to assume, sustain and strain these capitalist contradictions in order to overcome them and overcome them all at the root.
On the contrary, the proletarian and popular organizations, as much of the masses as of “cadres”, as much activists as radicals, have not been, are not, nor will they be more than organizations that, through their practices and their relationships, reproduce capitalism but with an “anticapitalist” or “revolutionary” appearance. For which they must also be criticized, fought against, destroyed and overcome by the proletarians that are fed-up with being proletarians and “without a party”. Indeed, to really self-emancipate, the proletariat must criticize, strain, break, transform, abolish and overcome itself radically, without fear, mystification, piety or subterfuge. In this sense, the proletariat, like the revolution, in reality advances through ruptures and leaps. Its militant self-organization and self-activity only make sense if it’s in order to realize this sole end which is truly revolutionary. This means, furthermore, to understand and practice communism as a real movement and anarchy as a tension towards social revolution.
But, unfortunately, what happens most of the time and all over the place is exactly the opposite, despite how many organization-gangs and militant-martyrs of the left that exist and do “real political work and not just blah-blah”. The revolutionary situations, on the contrary, have been, are, and will be decisive historical exceptions, ultimately, according to what the proletariat does or doesn’t do in them as a revolutionary or self-abolishing anti-class class; that’s to say, according to what our class does or doesn’t do to abolish and overcome the living contradiction that it itself is in every aspect of social life, including its organizations, its ideologies and its “revolutionary” roles.
The proletarians don’t learn “these things” only through theory, but principally through their own practical experience and, especially, through the false steps, the errors, the failures, the blows and the defeats suffered in everyday life and in the class struggle, until the revolution… or death. and also it’s something that can happen just as much as it can’t, depending on what, now and in the coming decades, we do or not in order to free ourselves integrally; that’s to say, to self-abolish as a class (and as a gender, “race”, nation, etc.) and in order to create a real human-natural community, above all in this era of generalized capitalist catastrophe where the only radical alternative that’s left for the human species is: communism or extinction.
Other related and recommended texts:
– Give up activism – Andrew X (1999)
– The Necessity and Impossibility of ‘Anti-Activism’ – J. Kellstadt (1999)
– Against the Logic of Submission: Neither Intellectualism Nor Stupidity – Willfull Disobedience (2001)
– La propaganda subversiva y los “ismos” – Ricardo Fuego (2006)
[es, no existing english edition]
– Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations – Situationist International (1967)
– Militancy: highest stage of alienation – Organisation des Jeunes Travailleurs Révolutionnaires (1972)
– The Impotence of the Revolutionary Group – Sam Moss (1930s)
– Rackets – F.Pallinorc (2001)