The essential feature of the activity of IP is the task of theoretical deepening: that is to say, responding to the different issues posed by the present period in light of the inadequacy of the old theoretical tools which we have inherited. Among these issues is the political organization, its role in the class struggle, and its structure and way of functioning. It is around this complex of issues that this text is focused. It has two objectives :
- On the one hand, the mistakes of the past and the errors of mostpolitical groups have never been the object of a detailed theoretical examination. Thus, in forming IP, we sought to avoid the traps into which the ICC had fallen, but ended up by seeing the problems in formal terms, and, therefore, without understanding the political roots of its errors.
- On the other hand, while the world and our class face crucial problems, IP and most of the groups that compose the “revolutionary political milieu” confront such difficulties that it is often difficult to fulfill their tasks and to rise to the level required by the nature of the current period.
It is therefore necessary to renew our theoretical efforts by posing the question of the organization as a political and not a formal question. The Revolutionary Organization as the Vital Crucible for Collective Work
The revolutionary organization is born from the heterogeneity of class consciousness, and that of the working class itself. It is a part that detaches itself from that heterogeneity in order to assume a particular role: that of mediating between past and future, between theory and practice. While class consciousness develops in an uneven fashion, with advances and retreats, the revolutionary political organization represents a continuity in the link between the final goal and a particular historical moment. What is specific to it is its modified relation to that link: very often, the consciousness of the bourgeoisie or individual consciousness, psychological consciousness, as Lukács terms it, only functions after the fact; what is needed, for its clarification, is the occurrence of a concrete action. In the revolutionary organization, by contrast, the dialectical link between theory and praxis is such that this theory makes it possible to consciously bring about an action. The revolutionary organization, therefore, has the particular function of showing as clearly as possible the link between the concrete historical moment and the final goal, between the specific action and an action carried out in the interest of the whole of the working class. As a result, the action and its theoretical foundation deepens the process of clarification in which the organization is engaged, and that fluidity is reflected in the very form that the organization assumes. Today, we experience in a particularly telling way the importance of that function of the revolutionary organization, inasmuch as the working class perceives in an uneven way that capitalism has nothing to offer; that its prospects for employment, and its very future are at risk. The question of the link between that perception and the action that needs to flow from it (the question of the general perspective), the link between the daily struggles of resistance and conscious political action, as well as the need for the working class to see itself as a distinct social class and the vehicle for a social transformation, are all at the heart of the present need for revolutionary organizations to function as a tool for theoretical clarification.
It is through the evolution of capitalist society and the ever-growing gap between the generic being and the social being of the exploited class, that the necessity to resist that development arises. That is what generates its struggle and what can produce a repudiation of the global conditions of capitalist society. But, we also know that there is nothing mechanical or ineluctable in all that, and that it is the political consciousness of the proletariat that will alone make it possible to develop that struggle against the totality of the system, to pass from the struggle against the effects of capitalism to the struggle against its causes. Today, what is lacking in the class is an understanding of why things happen the way they do in capitalist society, and what other perspective is possible. That, and how to bring about a social transformation and what social force can do it. These are the issues that are at the heart of our theoretical preoccupations and which are also at the heart of the function of clarification that is the task of a political group. By affirming that, we can, then, already distinguish ourselves from the definition that – explicit or not – a number of political groups give as their function: we do not exist to provide the slogans or to direct the action of the proletariat for an already defined objective. Rather, our function is essentially to seek to grasp the meaning, to clarify, to forge links between the different moments in the activity of our class.
The organizations of the bourgeoisie reproduce the mode of functioning of bourgeois thinking: its members act in a more or less limited way, deferring to a leader, avoiding responsibility, waiting for the “other” to act in their place. There are rights and duties. By contrast, the revolutionary organization can only exist thanks to the wholehearted engagement of each member, fully involved in the daily activities, which assumes a collective form. That wholehearted engagement means that there exists neither rights nor duties, but rather the coherent will of a group in the service of a common task, one voluntarily decided upon by each member. Social relations in capitalist society render the human being unsatisfied; he is isolated and reified by social relations, her only “freedom” residing in private property and egoism. In such a framework, the individual then seeks false satisfactions: power, awards. In short, it is a “freedom” that alienates one all the more, and a “solidarity” that is only a social regulator aimed at containing the violence engendered by capitalist society.
In the free activity and solidarity of the totality of the comrades of a revolutionary organization, what happens is not that one marches in lockstep towards a pre-determined goal, but rather the ongoing construction of a process each moment of which involves the members in the building of a new society. Nothing is foreordained; everything is open and the outcome of the historical perspective (barbarism or revolution) first of all depends on the political consciousness of the proletariat and the role of clarification that its revolutionary minorities play in the general process of development of that consciousness. IP situates itself in a perspective that is neither shaped by economic determinism as the motor of social change, nor by a pure subjectivism, but instead by the interaction between objective and subjective elements in social reality. Too often, we have had a tendency to confusedly see the perspectives before us (historical course and revolution) through the lenses of the past and with rigid schemas. An economic crisis can produce barbarism and war, and the very forms in which the destiny of humanity might be taken in hand by the proletariat will arise as a function of the actual political and economic context if a revolutionary outcome is to prevail. That is why the ongoing activity of militants is so important: that function of grasping the meaning of what is happening in the world around us can only occur through a permanent effort of theoretical reflection within a revolutionary organization. Such an understanding distances us from pre-determined vision according to which all that is needed is to appropriate a political program, a theory elaborated in the past or analyses produced by all-knowing central organs whose conclusions would be transmitted to the “mass” of comrades of the organization to be reproduced in the press or in interventions.
One cannot raise the question of the activity of the revolutionary organization without raising the question of collective work. It’s the pivot around which political work in an organization takes place, it’s what gives it its very meaning, and it’s surely a crucial factor around which the difficulties in the functioning of many revolutionary groups, and IP in particular, revolve. Every comrade has the capability to generate interesting ideas and texts. Nevertheless, there is a qualitative difference between a work of individual reflection and the political work of a group, and that distinction is linked to one that pertains to class consciousness: there is a fundamental difference between individual consciousness (which at certain moments can be highly developed) and class consciousness – collective consciousness – which, alone, makes it possible to grasp the totality and to transform the world. Political work has no meaning if it is not inscribed within a collective dynamic, theoretico-practical activity between comrades and between activity directed to the class and reflection within the organization. If that collective dimension is lacking, there is merely an activity of individual research that risks the danger of falling into the kind of abstraction that characterizes bourgeois thought. Examples of that, alas, are not in short supply, and we have seen very politically capable comrades, with years of militant activity to their credit, stray into research having a largely abstract character. The isolation that characterizes bourgeois society, the reification of theory with its corollary, “private property in thought and writing,” means that all revolutionary organizations, whatever their degree of consciousness and resistance against the dominant ideology, must bear its weight, and IP has certainly not been spared that danger. We have long said, that while a given text must be written by a particular comrade (or comrades), if that text is not inscribed within a collective preoccupation and ongoing process of common development and discussion, it will at best result in a publication no different than what occurs with academic papers, and at worst add to the piles of paper that fill our libraries.
This misunderstanding concerning the vital function of collective work is all too prevalent in the political milieu, and especially in the “networks” where excellent texts written by individual comrades fail to stimulate the development of a common theoretical activity. What seems to characterize the networks is a kind of “consumer” logic: we have created our own political marketplace, choosing the texts that catch our eye, with an attitude of relative passivity. I think that there is a link between these types of functioning and the political conceptions of the ICC. That organization, and, indeed, most of those constituted in the wake of ’68, were built on the basis of a past model: the vision of a mass party that would educate and organize the working class, born in the nineteenth century, was at the origin of the Leninist conception of class consciousness and of the function of the revolutionary organization. Such an organization would re-group gifted elements – in opposition to the unpolished masses – and its function was to provide clear slogans, to develop strategies to lead the class to the “correct” objectives and actions (inasmuch as the class is incapable of acting on its own), and to articulate a program to be assimilated, at first by its own militants, and then by the class as a whole. There is, then, a set relation between party and class, not one of dynamic interaction; there is a pre-determined program and an already set goal, as opposed to a vision of an interaction and a co-construction between the class and its revolutionary minorities, and of a political theory and perspectives developed out of that interaction. That alienated vision of the revolutionary organization produces alienated relations within it: one must work together for a single, pre-set, objective, and the notion of collectivity and freedom are the same as one finds in bourgeois society – collectivity becomes collectivism, that is to say, the effacement of the individual and his or her regimentation. Freedom, being assimilated to bourgeois individualism, is therefore discarded. One implication that follows from this, is that while differences of opinion may co-exist for a time, it is a given that divergent positions must give way to a single position in every instance. What became a caricature in the ICC probably originated in those conceptions inherited from the past.
For our part, we have tried not to fall into the same errors, but we have then placed ourselves on an almost exclusively formal level. Reacting to the stifling of individual positions, to rigidity in debate, to recourse to the quasi-disciplinary measures we had to endure in the ICC, we have had a tendency to privilege the freedom of comrades to write as a function of their individual interests. The fear of the stultifying centralization that we knew so well in the ICC often made us afraid to synthesize a debate or to conclude a discussion. If we point to such difficulties within IP, they are found throughout the revolutionary milieu and in the formation of the networks for discussion that have arisen as part of that same movement of formal opposition to the disastrous organizational practices of the ICC, without that putting into question the profound accomplishments and qualities of these networks.
There exists a fundamental difference between the theoretical activity of the bourgeoisie and revolutionary theoretical activity. Reification, fetishism of forms, and abstraction, for the former; a dialectical link between praxis and living theory for the latter. Revolutionary theoretical activity consists in developing the practical essence of theory on the basis of theory itself, and of the relation that it establishes with its object. In that respect, there is no separation between theory and practical activity, and it is also in that respect that the historical function of theory makes possible the practical course of the masses – and that, by bringing about the unity of theory and praxis. The essence of theory is the dialectical method. One does not speak of unilateral causality, but of reciprocal action. The rigidity of concepts is dissolved to the benefit of a constant and fluid passage from one determination into the other, from an overcoming of opposites. The dialectic has a threefold basis: it examines the relation of Subject to Object in the process of History. It is in that dynamic that revolutionary theory is first of all an agent of change, a vehicle of revolution, and cannot be conceived outside its practical implications, implications that flow in two directions: from theory towards the class, and from the questions posed by the class and by the actual world towards theoretical comprehension.
What makes revolutionary theory “right” or “wrong,” Lukács tells us in History and Class Consciousness, is not the proof of the facts, which confirm and establish the theory at issue. Things are much more complex, and what makes it possible to determine the correctness of a theory is precisely its capacity to no longer be merely a theory but a concrete clarification, a factor in making possible a choice of action. Correct theory is what gives meaning to the specificity of our daily life, in linking it to the course of history.
Theory is inseparable from its concrete embodiment; revolutionary theory makes it possible to grasp facts in their historical concreteness, that is to say, not to be the prisoner of facts such as they appear in a given context, but to grasp their internal form, their hidden form, their essence. The theoretical activity of the revolutionary organization makes it possible to find the mediations through which the facts can be connected to their essence, and, therefore, makes it possible to attain at one and the same time a vision of the totality while grasping the place of the different elements and their relation to that totality. To recast the characteristics of revolutionary theory in contrast to bourgeois theory may seem pointless. Obviously, we are not interested in theory as an end in itself. However, looked at more closely, we can ask if there is not a distinction between the theoretical understanding of something and the way in which we put it into practice. Within IP (though it is the same in other groups too), we often raise the question of the proper balance between “intervention” and “theoretical activity:” does the “period” demand more of one or the other. Today, it seems to me, that if that question is not mistaken in itself, it nonetheless reflects a lack of clarity with respect to the meaning of the function of a revolutionary organization – a lack of clarity arising from the inability to grasp the integral link between theoretical activity and practice. In that lack of clarity, we have mixed up the form and the content of political activity. I think that the form of the organization and its activity undergo changes depending on its strength, opportunities for direct intervention, and the – eventually new – kinds of intervention that arise. That form must remain supple and fluid so as to permit the organization to adapt in the most open way to the reality of the moment. However, what does not change is the content of revolutionary activity. The goal of a revolutionary organization is always to comprehend the world in which it exists, the world that has given birth to it, and to trace the perspectives for the world to come; that, and presenting the fruits of that comprehension -- which is always in flux and developing – to the working class. The theoretical function of the organization is inseparable from its practical aspect, and there is never a situation in which the organization focuses exclusively on theory because the period does not permit intervention, or downplays theory because the period demands more intervention. If that dialectical link between theory and practice is lacking, the organization becomes either activist or sectarian. And in either case, it cannot fulfill the role that the class assigns to it: that of being an active element for clarification, making sense of the world and the ways to transform it. Even in the darkest periods, where circumstances force the revolutionary organization underground, revolutionaries must seek to communicate their understanding of the world to their class.
The Function of the Revolutionary Organization
It is crucial that the question of the function of the revolutionary organization not be separated from the points already established in this text:
- the basic characteristics of revolutionary theory (theoretico-practical);
- the activity of the revolutionary organization (in contrast to that of organizations of the bourgeoisie), which is based on the complete and free engagement of its members;
- that it have a supple and fluid structure, facilitating the mediation between the ambient social reality and the work of theoretical comprehension of that reality;
- that collective work is the condition for the development and dissemination of revolutionary thought.
All these elements must be the constant preoccupation of the members of a revolutionary organization, because we cannot forget the weight of the dominant ideology and the fact that it does not spare the revolutionary organization itself. Its only weapon, therefore, is its consciousness and vigilance, together with its honesty in putting its own theory and praxis in question, and living with the discomfort that provokes. Thus, even if the period has changed, even if the recomposition of the working class makes the process through which a class-for-itself arises more difficult, we need to confront a mistaken understanding of the function of the revolutionary organization as opposed to a change in that function in the present period. The political milieu that was reconstituted after the wave of struggles in ’68 has been dominated by a Leninist conception of class consciousness, of the working class itself, as well as by a vision of an already completed revolutionary theory that must simply be re-appropriated. With all that, came a mistaken conception of the function of the revolutionary organization. For many of the groups that arose, that conception was not so much consciously adopted as it was simply the fruit of models inherited from the past.
An element that needs to be at the center of our understanding of the relationship between the revolutionary organization and the class is the fact that, as a fraction secreted by the class in its heterogeneity, we are nonetheless a part of the class, and that our theoretico- practical work constitutes a process of permanent elaboration within and with the class. The function of revolutionary minorities, therefore, is first of all to engage in the work of understanding the world and its trajectory, and to utilize every weapon and every opportunity to disseminate that understanding within the class. It is to forge a link between the particular and the general, the past and the future, so that what concretely emerges is the meaning of history, of the daily conflicts that abound, and the particular place that the proletariat occupies in that global framework.
There are two contradictory movements within the working class. On the one hand, a resistance to change, distrust of the unknown: a hanging on to the familiar world of the job, one’s tools, even to the competition between individual workers. On the other hand, the suffering wrought by those very same conditions, revolt, and the awareness that in the final analysis the world of capitalism has nothing to offer. We live with this reaction of life against death, and the hopelessness engendered by capitalism. Lukács (again in History and Class Consciousness) points out that the working class experiences an ideological crisis: at one and the same time, it is aware of the precariousness that reigns in the bourgeois order and yet it only poses questions according to the very forms of thought prevailing within that selfsame order. A vital step for our class is to progressively disengage itself from those modes of thought, and to think more freely. Because for Lukács – and this links up with the debate on determinism and subjectivism – it is not as a mechanical result of an economic crisis and the deterioration in its standard of living that the proletariat will be roused to action. For the working class to pass from the struggle against the effects of capitalism to a struggles against the cause of those effects, for its struggle to really take on a political,transformative, and emancipatory dimension, it is necessary for the class to articulate its political activity in a more conscious way, and, therefore, to extricate itself from the stranglehold of capitalist thinking.
With respect to this notion of participation in reflection, and its elaboration within the class, we find ourselves in a different time than the one in which we often found ourselves with our past conceptions: we had a gradualist vision of waves of struggle and levels of consciousness producing revolution after 15 or 20 years of economic crisis. Now, on the contrary, we must have a vision of a slow process of social transformation within an historicaltemporality. As a function of that temporality, and also because of the conflictual, contradictory, dialectical, character of that process we cannot count on anything from the working class. What we can hope for, and what we must contribute to, is that the process of the development of consciousness continue in the direction of a radical questioning of the perspectives for capitalism, a perception of the ineradicable contradiction between the survival of capitalism and the life of humanity. But, I don’t believe that we can codify or determine in advance precisely what that global process will look like or the exact manner in which it will unfold on the historical stage. Moreover, this double temporality re-surfaces in the gap between the action of the class struggle itself and the reflection of that struggle within the revolutionary organization: on the one hand, the immediate stakes of a given struggle and the need for a positive outcome; on the other hand, the need for a continuity in theoretical reflection and looking beyond the stakes of the immediate struggle. It is in that continuity and that staggered time-frame that a link is forged between the particular and the historical interest, and that the interaction between the class and its revolutionary minorities is firmly constituted.
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