We are publishing an English translation of the first part of "Clase revolucionaria, organización política, y dictadura del proletariado," published in "Alarma". Both parts of the article deal with the question of class consciousness and political organization. Munis' understanding of the relation of the class to revolutionary theory is laid out in both parts of the article and it informed his critiques of Bordigism, Lenin, and council communism. We consider this article to be an extremely important text of the Spanish communist left.
Should revolutionary theory be introduced into the working class from the outside, as Lenin said, or should it come from within the class itself? The truth is that it is neither the one nor the other in the full sense, perhaps it’s both at the same time, but in a very different sense to that attributed to it by the supporters of both interpretations. It is not a thesis properly speaking, but rather ways of seeing something that has been produced by the accumulation of multiple social factors. The debate seems absurd, because for a long century there has been talk of proletarian revolution and everybody is aware that the working class had not discovered communist theory or the idea of proletarian revolution. But it loses all absurdity when it comes to determining the relations between revolution and organization from any present situation up to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie was able to generate its own revolutionary theory because it was already a possessing class long before conquering the entire state and it was, in general, more cultured than the nobility of the absolute monarchy. The proletariat, on the contrary, is not and never will be a possessing class, and in order to be imbued with culture it needs to cease to be a proletariat. However, to ask whether or not the entirety of communist theory and its corresponding praxis should come from wage workers is a greater nonsense than to ask whether chemistry, physics, genetics, automobiles, cybernetics, etc., have to be or not as many proletarian creations. Simply put, none of the sciences would have acquired its current development without the presence of the working class, more precisely, without the enormous wealth that its social position obliges it to create for other people. Although for the moment each and every one of the sciences are used to keep the working class on a short leash, the development of the sciences cannot be optimal or fully scientific except through the proletariat in communism. There is therefore a palpable relationship between the proletariat and the sciences, whether it is paid attention to or not, and the relationship will become one of possession after the abolition of capitalism.
The relationship between the proletariat and revolutionary theory is much more intimate, regardless of the possible margin of error in the theory in question, since it is simultaneously a margin for rectification and development. Rather than a relationship between the two, we must speak in terms of interpenetration. Revolutionary theory does not appear, in fact, as a knowledge of capital, whose objective perfection ultimately requires turning against capital itself, as in the case of the sciences and their technical applications. Revolutionary theory, rather, arises from the beginning as insurgent, as antagonistic towards a society founded on capital and on wages, and is enriched through the struggles of the proletariat against capital. The condition that the working class suffers in today's society is what directly provokes the emergence of revolutionary theory. Without the previous development of philosophy, human sciences, hard sciences and capitalist society itself, this would have been impossible. But it would have been completely unthinkable without the insurrectionary struggles and attacks of the workers, from the most remote to Babeuf's "Society of the Equals", rebellions like that of Lyon in 1830 and the unrestrained insurrection of the proletariat in almost all of Europe from 1848 onwards. The intertwining of the material, intellectual and human factors given by the continual turn of history, and the passionate and subjective activity of the workers, which plays no less of a role, gave birth to revolutionary theory. There is therefore in it both exteriority and interiority to the proletariat, but that which is presented as exterior is no longer men belonging to other classes but is rather knowledge: any knowledge. Knowledge in this sense, in relation to the proletariat, also represents interiority in the making.
Due to the inexistence of its being in the industrial world of today, in other words, because the proletariat's interests are completely opposed to the existence of capitalism, the proletariat is the anti-class par excellence and the figure of communism. While it is not manifested in acts, this communist latency shows above all the strict economic and cultural dependence of the class on capitalism. Such dependence prevents the majority of wage earners from accessing that which is essential to revolution: theoretical knowledge. The individual exceptions to this may escape at any moment from the general condition and the same applies for revolutionaries that are drawn from the ranks of the bourgeoisie. In both cases, they can only be minorities. As a result, a distinction between the revolutionary class and the revolutionaries appears from the beginning and to such an extent that even if we imagined all past, present and future revolutionaries coming from the proletariat, they would still appear as distinct from the revolutionary class; as long as the latter does not pass from the potential to the dynamic, from its communist latency to the communist transformation of society. In times dominated by reaction as we have lived since 1937, when all sorts of swindlers and cops of the proletariat pretend to be communists, the barrier between class and revolutionaries becomes nothing short of insurmountable up till the atrophying of the situation.
Lenin's argument in "What is to be Done?" is a simplification of a simplification. It itself is a simplification of Kautsky’s "The Three Sources of Marxism." Lenin’s mind, more erudite than dialectical, led him to see revolutionary thought as a pure distillation of science and philosophy that could be applied afterward to the workers' movement. Wisely, Rosa Luxemburg asserted that Marx had not waited to write "Capital" in order to become a communist, but that the fact of being a communist enabled him to write it. In fact, the existence of workers' struggles and the existence of revolutionaries within them was the primary condition for the use of science and philosophy to elaborate revolutionary theory. The distinction between the revolutionary class and revolutionaries is imposed by capitalism, which becomes enlarged in periods of inactivity. But denying its existence is the same as denying the possibility of revolution and of entrusting the future to an economic- social automatism; in other words, it is evolutionism.
This allows us to address the problem of the connection between class and revolutionaries, between revolution and organization, between party and dictatorship of the proletariat, not in the abstract, imagining ideal conditions, but in the concrete, starting from the existing real situation and practical experience.
The simplicity of Lenin's argument in "What is to be Done?" is not the only reason for his democratic centralism, which today still produces so much debate. Contained in his argument is also the idea that revolutionaries must respond to the discipline and centralization imposed in the factories on the working class with a parallel centralization and discipline, but of a different type. He overlooked the fact that the revolutionary action of the class marches straight forward to demolish the forms of organization and obedience that are inseparable from the capitalist system. In addition, there remains in his argument a remnant of the idea that the State as it exists can be captured and used for revolutionary purposes, an idea that had been refuted by the experience of the Commune. Thirdly, the Bolsheviks carried out illegal political work under Tsarist Russia, which excluded democratic discussions and decisions in most cases. In practice, the leadership was vested with even broader powers than those conferred on it by democratic centralism. The same would happen, by the force of repressive reality, in any situation of illegality. Democratic centralism, nevertheless, was not a tactic that responded to a temporary situation. It was intended to be, under normal conditions, the best form of organization for revolutionaries and their link with the working class.
Experience has shown that the powers granted to the central leadership, even between congresses, would ultimately reveal themselves to be despotic and one of the most destructive instruments of counterrevolution in Russia. The criticisms made of Bolshevik democratic centralism by Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky have had the most tragic of confirmations. It was no slight error of the latter to have maintained his adherence to democratic centralism even after Stalinism was established. He realized his error in supporting it shortly before he was assassinated, since he felt the need to remember, approvingly, his early and energetic opposition to it. Nevertheless, this change of heart has left the nature of Trotskyism virtually untouched. More inclined to unlearn than to learn, in that as in other aspects, Trotskyism continues to see in democratic centralism an organizational talisman and often employs it as a weapon against its rivals.
It is superfluous to consider here the period inaugurated by the Stalinist counterrevolution, because here we are no longer dealing with a question of democratic centralism or any conception of the relationship between class and party, but of the strengthening of the bureaucracy in its new economic and political position. As a consequence, the brutal and reactionary dictatorship still prevailing in Russia does not take interest in the question of the relationship between class and party. The dictatorship, rather, is interested in the extent to which democratic centralism contributed to its own emergence.
The Bolshevik party never identified dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship of the party. The old tune of "one class one party" was a ploy of the counterrevolution. The decree that prohibited even the fractions within the Bolshevik party, drafted by Lenin, was still careful to warn that the measure was not a revolutionary principle, but a simple and urgent provision to get out of a predicament. Such a caution appears as a cruel sarcasm today; but that will not prevent that event from being an important testimony against the conception of the single party, whatever direction it may adopt. The Bolsheviks, however, never had a clear conception of the relationship between the revolutionary class and revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks soon tended in their daily actions to supplant the proletariat as a party and with the closing of the 10th Congress in 1921, the substitution was already more complete than Lenin, Trotsky and the best militants believed, both in terms of the leadership and the base. The Bolshevik base itself was supplanted by the leadership and the latter would soon be replaced by the Secretariat of the party, which was were Stalin had led his attack. The Secretariat spread and imposed an increasingly undemocratic centralism.
Bolshevik centralism played a nefarious role during this very process. Thanks to the powers conferred by statute on the leadership, the general secretary was able, through simple secretarial ukases, to get rid of "bothersome" men and committees, replace them with his supporters, fabricate majorities at will, isolate and deprive of the opposition the most outstanding leaders, to begin with Trotsky; the general secretary was able to secure, in a word, exclusive, lifelong, and absolute leadership, which far surpassed that of the worst despots of the past.
The absence of a clear and accurate conception of the dialectical unity: proletariat - revolutionary party, blinded the best Bolsheviks by preventing them from seeing where the counterrevolution came from and from reacting accordingly. Thus, when Lenin realized that Stalin was a dangerous disloyal beast and that the political clash between him and Trotsky threatened to cut the party in two, his main concern was to avoid rupture and he recommended as a remedy the increase of the number of members of the Central Committee. We now have enough historical perspective to affirm that the split would have been, at most, a lesser evil. Indeed, even if it surely would not have straightened out the course of the revolution, it would have forced the counterrevolutionaries out of their bureaucratic den and into the open light. Long before that, it is evident today, there was no other recourse but to appeal to the rank and file against the leadership and the proletariat against the Bolshevik party. Already in the Kronstadt insurrection, the leaders perceived as a serious threat to the revolution what was only a stumbling block and a warning. What they were unable to perceive was the fact that the counterrevolution was incubating in their own party and that the repression of the insurrectionists served in its favor. So, still with the formation of the Left Opposition, Trotsky and his followers refrained from appealing to the working class against a party that they themselves considered degenerate. This is because surreptitiously, without a clear theoretical justification, the supplanting of the revolutionary class by the party had left its mark on everybody’s mind. On such a path, it was possible to pass, with no apparent solution of continuity, from democratic centralism to the most repressive and reactionary centralism of all time.
What was said before about Kronstadt can be applied, to a lesser extent, for the other Soviet oppositions, understanding as such those that had advocated for the power of the Soviets. A proletarian regime has to know how to treat the internal problems of the class differently than the Bolsheviks, even when dealing with right-wing deviations in some of its sectors. If the class as a whole is not capable of overcoming those deviations in their organs of power, the impositions of the ruling revolutionaries will not succeed in overcoming them either. Wanting to carry out the task of the revolutionary class, the ruling revolutionaries erected themselves in power independently of it. As a result, what they sought to fight against infiltrated their own organisms like an invasion of termites. Because in moments of revolution nothing exists as accommodating and pharisaic as bourgeois mentalities in search of expansion. We must add that this is certainly not the exclusive attribute of the bourgeoisie.
None of the Soviet oppositions that the Bolsheviks found themselves facing, however, deserve political approval, with exception of the demand for freedom in the Soviets. They did not even have a faint vision of what the revolution would look like in Russia, much less internationally. At the same time, the Workers' Opposition, which some groups hold in high regard today, was, as was transparent in their program, in reality an opposition of the trade union bureaucracy. Kollontai and other leaders of the Opposition soon found their place in the counterrevolution. But during the prevailing confusion at the time, not a few alarmed revolutionaries embraced it. These revolutionaries would later die soon afterward in Siberia, in the company of those who made up Trotsky's Opposition.
Before continuing, an internationalist reflection is needed. It is hard to believe that the Russian revolution could have been saved once the NEP gave free rein to mercantile relations. But the world revolution could have been saved, which continued to spread from one country to another until Spain in 1936-37. If the world proletariat had unequivocally witnessed the end of the Russian revolution, it would have turned its back on Moscow and its parties, as they were more than willing to keep the proletariat restrained everywhere, and new revolutionary organizations would have emerged easily. But Russia lacked something similar to the French 9 Thermidor, when, the day after the dismissal of the Committee of Public Safety, the heads of its members rolled to the basket of the guillotine, being killed along with the revolution. It was not the fear of death on the part of the enemies of Stalinism that prevented them from doing something that would mark that solution of continuity and save the international revolution; what prevented them was the equation of class dictatorship with party dictatorship. Fifty years of catastrophic proletarian defeats and of an ideological prostitution that still continues to stain consciousness have their origin in that failure.
Nothing that has been said prevents us from categorically denying that the counterrevolution was prefigured in democratic centralism or that it was engendered by its extreme application with the suppression of parties and fractions. The facts have shown that such measures did not serve the revolution but its enemies. The counterrevolution, however, can never prosper without economic and social foundations. Those economic and social foundations give it its first impulse and extends its progress. The counterrevolution, in order to carry out their very aims, used whatever was within its reach to use. That is to say that the counterrevolution was originated by capital, but not by going "backwards," by handing it over to the bourgeoisie, but by centralizing it at the discretion of the State. The indeterminate characteristic of the Russian revolution, neither bourgeois nor communist, made it depend entirely on the passage from its first democratic phase (anti-feudal) to the communist phase in which instruments of production, production and distribution collectively fall on the working class. Far from reaching that phase, the revolution officially receded with the NEP and disarmed itself by surrendering to the State, which was going to dispose of the existing and future surplus value in its guise. Lenin's idea of a strategic withdrawal: a state capitalism governed by Soviet democracy in anticipation of the European revolution, did not and could not even truly begin. All capitalism is compulsorily administered by those who collect the surplus value. In this case not only the bureaucracy that proliferated from the local committees to the Kremlin, but also dealers that entered in new and good relations with the bureaucracy thanks to the NEP, bourgeois eager to live well, technicians and intellectuals who had boycotted the revolution and even aristocrats in humble reverence before the upstarts on high. Such was the social basis of the counterrevolution.
On the other hand, if the bourgeoisie had shown itself incapable of making its revolution and extending its system in Russia, it was not only because of the communist threat represented by the proletariat, but also because the development of private capital was already surpassed by the concentration of capital in large international trusts and in the state. The Stalinist counterrevolution empirically discovered that the state capitalist form was the most efficient, both to drive away the communist revolution and to compete with international capitalism. The same thing that allowed the seizure of power by the proletariat in a backward country, plagued by economic, social, religious anachronisms, etc., allowed the counterrevolution to concentrate capital to the maximum degree allowed by the capitalist system as a whole. Two dialectical movements moving towards opposite directions were produced there, one moving towards the communist revolution passing through the democratic revolution made by the proletariat, the other towards state capitalism, dispensing with individual property. In politics, the revolution remained; the counterrevolution only needed to dispense with revolutionary politics, however, that did not make its attack on the revolution any less vicious.
Again, in the economic field, the equation between class and party militated against the proletariat and against the revolutionaries. Added to this false equation between the class and party was the completely false idea that state property constituted "socialist property." Consequently, the counterrevolution was to discard the organic methods of Bolshevism and any substitution of the revolutionary class by one or more combined organizations. However, the richest lesson that revolution and counterrevolution in Russia offer us is the impossibility of making a revolution in two parts, bourgeois-democratic the first and the second socialist. Capitalism will always break through, if from the beginning its source does not dry up: production and distribution based on wage labor. Without starting from there, the permanent revolution is as wild of a pipe dream as the permanence of the revolution. What must count for each proletariat is the level of industrial development of the world, not that of "its" nation alone.
From bad to worse, in the eyes of the organic centralism of the Bordigist tendency, democratic centralism almost appears to be the stench that emanates from the bourgeois jurists. The simple formulation of organic centralism indicates that the term "democratic" has been brusquely outlawed, leaving centralism as the only thing left in the conception. The other word, organic, does not add anything, it is redundant. United to the first one it does not mean more than centralist centralism. That, in fact, is what this tendency wants to mean, which delights in intensifying the errors of Bolshevism and raising them as a revolutionary panacea. It sees democracy as a hindrance for the revolution and for the proletariat, because, as it asks: can the revolutionary validity of a particular theory or measure be decided by a majority of votes? Here is a discovery of Bordigism. No one, in fact, can answer yes to such a platitude. But to make it the basis of an organic conception, is to affirm implicitly that this validity can and must be decided by minority, with or without vote. Bordigism evades the problem by guaranteeing us without blinking that "if the given directives are right, there can be no conflict between the base and the direction". It is organic centralism for a reason, that is to say, it has to do with a relation between the base and center of the party, between proletariat and party, between governed and governors after the revolution, that regulates itself, like a corporal metabolism. This is another Bordigist discovery that allows its faithful followers the most haughty and vacuous disdain of a democracy that through such confused notions they believe to have surpassed scientifically.
On the contrary, it arrives at the understanding that there can be conflict with correct directives, and the opposite, that there can be no conflict with erroneous directives. But the working class, the organs of power, the party, are seen by the organic centralism as a beehive where, excluding exceptions, everything goes perfectly as long as the hormonal distribution between the working females, the drones and the center of the beehive, the queen, maintains the required dose and quality. In the case treated here it is necessary to replace hormones with revolutionary thought segregated by the Center, in other words, the leadership of the party. The effect has the same value and the same inevitability as a chemical reaction. That assimilation of a revolutionary party and the working class into an organism or colony of animal organisms falls entirely within naturalism, not materialist dialectics, and if it has a philosophical background it is certainly not in the revolutionary movement.
Ancient Chinese philosophy established a natural or spiritual, but constant relationship between the Empire and the Emperor (which Mao Tse-tung continues to use secretly) and postulated the same uniqueness of health or degeneration, efficiency or clumsiness, making any form of democracy or supervision of leaders illusory and superfluous. Such organicism applied to what does not constitute a physiological complex, is the wisdom of oriental despotism. It is also found in India and one can still see flashes of it in the ties that during the Middle Ages united the vassals to the lord. Bordigism renews it with proletarian and economist elixirs and places it before our noses as if it were a pure Marxist effluvium. The stench then hangs around until the delirium kicks in.
Bordigism has undeniable merits. In the first place, it maintained an internationalist attitude during the war. Secondly, it always unapologetically denounced Stalinism, although it treated it as reformist, which it is not. It also was in the right to recognize Russia as state capitalist, although there was much to be desired in their analysis. Critiquing Bordigism is not a question of skimping on its value. But we must reject it when, by dint of its conceit, it consecrates itself. The historical Party of the revolution, as the blue-blooded revolutionaries say, the cream of the crop, the only ones able to say and decide what is and what is not just in theory and practice... are to impose it on us if, one day, power happens to fall in the palm of their hands. Because the proletarian dictatorship is in the Bordigist conception the one exercised by the party, it is the brain of the class even by delegation. Furthermore, since the party itself hangs and depends on its Center, it is conceptualized by the Bordigists as the brain of brains. That is how Bordigism is crowned with its ultimate discovery; it is the historical party of the proletariat; it has to carry out the dictatorship and nobody else can; doubting this itself constitutes an opportunist attack on the Party, therefore on the proletariat as a class and on the revolution itself. By subjectifying itself as a revolutionary tendency, it abandons Marxism and dives head first into a redemptionary pontificalism. By such a way, it is obvious, the proletariat would continue being object and not subject of the history, until its disappearance in the communism that it would have been granted philanthropically, graciously and, wanting it or not, by the party mentioned.
Even supposing that this or any other organization was in any case unassailable from the revolutionary point of view, the claim would continue to be unreasonable, and specifically a vulgar usurpation. This is because the historical Party can never be anything other than the proletariat itself in revolutionary action. No organization will be able to overtake that function, which is proposed by Bordigism, without destroying it, because what the movement of a class entails, its development, cannot admit straightjackets or impositions of the Party, however wise and quintessential they may be. The moment we speak of is the conquest of freedom in the face of necessity, and consequently only through the freedom of the proletariat will the dictatorship of the proletariat be realized, which itself is the transition to freedom for all humanity. Let it be said, in vain for them, that the Bordigists should give up their ridiculous idealistic pretension of being the anointed ones of the revolutionary mission of the working masses. Putting us in the implausible, that they would come to govern, their dictatorship would immediately begin to play a reactionary role, in spite of what they could positively contribute before that moment. Fortunately, the danger hardly exists. Their conception is repellent, and they themselves do not count on their ability to grant us the gift of their most governing proletarian wisdom up till the last croak of capitalism sounds, with the catastrophic fall in the rate of profits, that is, the day when capitalist affairs are no longer possible. Revolutionaries can either be scientific or not.