I.O.D.: An invitation to an open debate among proletarian internationalists
Whereas ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest‘ does not adhere to Leninist conceptions of the role and function of politicized minorities of the proletariat, it is not blind to relevant analyses of burning questions either, let alone to promising efforts to contribute to a renewal of Marxism, that may originate from Leninist tendencies. As such we consider the Istituto Onorato Damen (I.O.D.), that has originated from a split of Battaglia Comunista in 2009. We present its latest revue and its long-term project (AFRD Vol.4 issue #3, on page 7 ff.). The following article sets forth their vision on the actual tasks and responsibilities of proletarian internationalists and a proposition for an open debate on the basis of an historical materialist approach, criticizing certain tendencies with origins in the historical Italian communist Left for abandoning this terrain.
“What is known is not known. In the process of knowledge, the most common way to deceive oneself and others is to assume something as known and accept it as such.” (G.W.F. Hegel)
Being aware, with Lenin, that “without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement”, (1) means for the communist vanguard a precise assumption of responsibility.
When, in the years of affirmation of the highest phase of capitalism (imperialism), revolutionaries proclaimed the alternative between socialism and barbarism, the latter appeared as the terrible future that the capitalist mode of production prepared for humanity by its very mode of functioning. Socialism, however, starting from the same capitalist contradictions, presented itself as a prevention of barbarism and as the promise of a finally human society.
Today, almost 50 years after the beginning of the structural crisis of the third cycle of capital accumulation, barbarism, more than a menacing potential, unleashes its force throughout the planet, in an immense increase.
Such are the tensions that reboil within the current mode of production, that the shadow of the common ruin of the struggling classes, in the absence of a response from the workers, is increasingly taking on the character of a catastrophe. Permanent war, brutal exploitation, violent domination, devastation of the conditions of life on Earth, radical forms of alienation, are the inhuman everyday life of the workers.
Many old formulas of the Third International have long shown that they do not know how to respond to the problems that capitalist society poses today. Its interpretative schemas, as well as most of those of the Communist Left of the twentieth Century, are no longer sufficient or adequate today.
As a reminder: the hermeneutical grids in which to frame the events of historical-social reality are not theory. The theory is a form of human praxis, which, of course, also produces coordinates that allow us to place and understand the phenomena, but it does not end there.
The problem arises in particular when coordinates are confused with rigid schemes and theory is downgraded to a relationship between subject and object, with which the former takes possession of the latter.
Not so, when recalling the first Thesis on Feuerbach, with which Marx explains that:
“The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object [der Gegenstand], actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object [des Objekts], or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in opposition to materialism, was developed by idealism — but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects [Objekte], differentiated from thought-objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective [gegenständliche] activity. In The Essence of Christianity [Das Wesen des Christenthums], he therefore regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice [Praxis] is conceived and defined only in its dirty-Jewish form of appearance [Erscheinungsform]. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.” (2)
The repercussions in materialistic metaphysics or idealism are as easy as they are common. The result is the impossibility to practice human critical-practical activity, and in this knowledge-transformative activity, in which subject and object co-institute themselves in a dialectical relationship.
Recently, we happened to read, in a publication of the zone that derives from the Italian Communist Left, a very indicative interpretation of the XI. Thesis on Feuerbach (“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”)
Marx would here hurl himself against the philosophy that interprets reality (often badly). But it can be seen that the authors of the text in question do not even conceive the perspective of the overcoming/reversal (we doubt they frequent the dialectical territories of the Aufhebung) of philosophy in a human activity [that is] no longer split and evaded, in which understanding and transformation represent a single process.
Without realizing that, by understanding it in this way, they flatten the XI. Thesis like the […] false readings of bourgeois thinkers, they almost make Marx the supporter of a vulgar pragmatism, which has to do with praxis as much as Stalin’s ‘Dialectical materialism and historical materialism’ has to do with the ‘German Ideology’ by Marx and Engels: in short, nothing.
The issue that we want to highlight is not one of stupidity, but one completely political.
To stop at the surface (even of texts!), to turn inward an repeat positions of past decades, like litanies, but also to read reality according to the old schemas, is not only little useful but terribly distorting. What is more: the changes in capitalist society, even in the latter’s essential continuity, are such that merely resuming the theoretical and political acquisitions of even just a few decades ago, if not even a few years ago, can lead you off the road and seriously jeopardize the work for the communist program and the world party of tomorrow.
We already have clear evidence, unfortunately lasting already for decades, of how the claim of “invariance” (a forerunner, of course, of changes and original theories like few doctrines in history) has produced positions even at odds with proletarian internationalism and class independence.
It is enough to quickly recall the positions that many organizations still have on the trade unions (to reconquer or to newly found as “red” organizations), or on support for the wars of national liberation and self-determination of peoples. Once you realize that you have not got the wrong year of the press organs in question, it becomes evident how even organizations born in direct continuity with the Communist Left, can end up stiffening in positions that hinder the prospect of the future Party.
We do not mean that this is class betrayal: we would never dream of considering internationalist comrades, of any organization, on the other side of the barricade, that are steadfast on their battle post. But, precisely for this reason, the matter is more delicate.
We are convinced that it is simply impossible, and indeed harmful in relation to the objective, to hypothesize that the World Party of the communist revolution could be born from the convergence of the current forces that refer themselves to the Communist Left.
We have had sufficient confirmation that this will not be the case. We also noted that for 70 years a part of the proletarian environment, the so-called “Bordigists”, does not intend in any way to establish a debate with other organizations, not even in the simple approach of confronting “available” realities, which would in itself be fruitful, let alone on a basis of fraternal and rigorous confrontation, where this is possible and apt of producing effective advances.
Today we need to recognize the peculiar traits of capitalism in the 21st Century, to overcome the temptation to wear old “hermeneutical spectacles”, and have the courage of a more radical approach.
The materialistic conception of history, the critique of political economy, dialectics, together with the critical rethinking of history and the lessons of the modern international revolutionary movement, from the Communist League to the Communist Left of the twentieth Century, offer the possibility of a communist militancy, capable of facing the theoretical-political challenges necessary to the contemporary struggle for the program and the Party.
We do not think this is anything outdated: if revolutionary Marxism has shown anything over the years, it is above all that it has been able to look far ahead, and to be more indispensable today than it was yesterday. But the point of view that the struggle requires is “human society, or social humanity” (X. Thesis on Feuerbach), not that of psalmodies!
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new confirmation of this comprehensive vision.
As Lorenzo Procopio writes in the article “Analysis of a crisis that will change the global imperialist framework”, in this same revue: (3)
“A superficial reading of the crisis that opened in the first months of 2020 within the capitalist system on a global scale, leads many observers, even in that variegated area that lays claim to revolutionary Marxism, to interpret it as the consequence of the outbreak of the pandemic that hit the planet due to the spread of Covid 19. (…) We will certainly not deny the exasperation of the crisis as a consequence of the spread of the corona-virus within the sphere of capitalist economy (…)”, but “the pandemic has only accelerated and magnified the effects of the current economic crisis (…). This crisis has not been (…) triggered by the corona-virus, but by the contradictions in the capitalist mode of production, which finds itself in difficulty of remunerating the huge mass of fictitious capital produced in recent decades, [as] one of its most recent manifestations.”
This understanding is crucial within the militant work for the future world communist Party, as completely disregarding the understanding of the current phenomena betrays the substitution of a collective work of historical-materialistic theoretical praxis by the mix of superficial readings and adoption of past schemas that we have denounced as useless and harmful, because of their flaws and the theoretical, political, and methodological implications of the latter.
The necessity to interpret what the COVID-19 pandemic tells us about the peculiarities of this critical phase in the life of world capitalism has practically not been felt by most proletarian political organizations.
Some organizations felt that the epidemic should be read as yet another confirmation of the historical obsolescence of capitalism, and as further proof of their own interpretative etiquette to which every phenomenon on planet Earth has been brought back for decades.
Still, others have considered the pandemic as the trigger of the capitalist crisis, totally overturning reality and renouncing to apply the materialistic conception of history.
There was also no shortage of those who raised their voices on the structural inefficiencies of the health systems and forms of cooperation of the bourgeois states. Others have denounced the logic of profit which suffocates that of health, or the inability of capitalism to manage… natural events.
Furthermore, [we have seen] the unavoidable and very bourgeois delusions of not a few Trotskyists and Stalinists, who saw in the Chinese management of the corona-virus… the proof of the superiority of the “socialist” planned economy of the Chinese “workers’ State” (deformed or not) over the anarchy of the market… while someone else was already crying to the fake news of the death of the beloved North-Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But it is not the extreme bourgeois left that has surprised us.
We take note of how little the internationalist communists today are able to come to terms with the current epochal crisis, with its expressions and phenomena, aware of what it means for our class as a whole.
But we must lucidly reckon with the limited capacity to contribute to the program and to the communist Party of those who are, when all goes well, anchored in the past, or of those who have lost the compass of historical materialism.
That is why we do not hope to see the current forces stemming from the historical communist left composing. This will never happen, but even if it were to happen due to some mysterious circumstance, it could not represent any step forward for our struggle.
At the same time, we think it foolish to consider anyone, individually taken, as the more or less self-sufficient nucleus for the relaunch of the revolutionary perspective.
The road we seek and propose is the most arduous but, we believe, is the only one capable of being fertile. It is the road that passes through the anti-dogmatic and anti-schematic re-appropriation of the Marxian “new materialism” (cf. the X. Thesis on Feuerbach), for the assumption of the point of view of social humanity, for the critical reconsideration of our whole history. It is the road that continues along a long path where each stretch is significant, full of lessons, but which now extends into territories with many new aspects, which only a critical-revolutionary theory can grasp, in dialectical relationship with the working class which constitutes its vanguard.
It is not a path for clerics, with their worn-out prayer books between their fingers. It is the path of revolutionaries, leading through continuous and lively confrontation, which can constitute an effective advancement towards a finally human society.
So what does confrontation mean? At the very least, what kind of confrontation do we seek, as the pure air that gives breath to our battle?
We are not dealing with more or less aged polemics, we are not interested in interminable squabbles, sterilized by the very structure of public dispute, where we end up defending at all costs one thesis against the others, when it is instead a question of multiplying our forces to understand and fight, to collaborate to clarify ourselves, to speak a common language, to progressively represent a less isolated proletarian voice in an increasingly asphyxiating bourgeois world.
The attitude of those who believe that the authentic communist program has appeared in an apocalypse, a revelation, once and for all in perfect organic totality, and is held – it goes without saying – by one’s part; that will therefor be recognized sooner or later by the revolutionaries and then by the proletariat as a whole – is of little concern to us. Likewise, we will not follow those who conceive the political debate as a clash on verse x of the newspaper y published n years ago, because that comma was damned out of place. We have other things to do, because we think there are other things to do. The spirit of the Bolsheviks moves us in this:
“We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighboring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!” (4)
In this issue of the revue you will find a contribution to the critical framework of the corona-virus phenomenon, within the epochal crisis of capitalist society. It wants to be part of a wider confrontation [debate], firm on the foundations of the new materialism, capable of looking at the present and the future with a renewed and more acute look. We count on meeting other companions with the same perspective on this ground.
Mario Lupoli, I.O.D., 05 July 2020
Translation: H.C., July 14, 2020
Source: Il coronavirus e i comunisti oggi, July 5, 2020 (From D-M-D’ no. 15, Special edition, May 2020).
1 V.I. Lenin, What is to be done? (Burning questions of our movement) (1902).