On Conjuncture

By Jan Makandal
(December 2012)

One of the objectives of revolutionaries and proletarian revolutionaries, among many, that are imperative in our struggles to defeat capitalism is to constantly popularize knowledge, revolutionary knowledge for the masses to appropriate objective reality in order to be more effective in their struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

We are in a very particular historical period of capitalism and imperialism. Without systematic theoretical work and outside a correct conception of struggle of the popular masses, under the leadership of the working class, where the emancipation of the masses is being constructed in the struggle, there can’t be emancipation without appropriation. There can’t be emancipation without direct fundamental participation in the struggle at all levels by workers and the popular masses. There can’t be the theoretical development of proletarian theory outside the struggle of the working class.

For me, Lenin was totally erroneous when he argued that the theory of the class came outside the class, and was external to the class. This was an elitist approach that led to the development of an elitist, bureaucratic relationship between the revolutionary organization and mass organizations and with the masses in general.

Lenin’s position was empirical. He drew conclusions from external contradictions without an effort to understand the internal contradictions and the specific development of capitalism. The Paris Communes, the practice of the working class, the direct participation of the working class permitted revolutionaries at the times to gradually rupture with social democracy. The emancipation of the working class, the collective construction of proletarian theory by the proletariat will allow the working class to be present in the political scene not as flexible executants but rather as an independent autonomous force capable of dictating its own politics. In the period of capitalism and imperialism, the Proletarian Alternative needs to be constructed in order for the proletariat to dictate its own politics, to unify the rest of the popular classes under its leadership and to pave the way for another social formation.

We must have the demeanor not to do theory for theory; we must have the démarche to proceed to understand the reality we are in scientifically, in order to emerge in a transformative process of that objective reality. In this case, when we revolutionaries undertake analysis of a conjuncture, or structural analysis of a social formation, it is to objectively define the means to transform the social reality of that social formation. It is also important to determine if the analysis [conjunctural or structural] we are undertaking will be useful in our “what is to be done” to transform that reality. Like that, when we do/if we do conjunctural analysis or systemic analysis of a conjunctural or systemic crisis, it will allow us to understand what is needed to transform that reality. Whether it is an analysis of crisis, an analysis of the conjuncture and/or the capitalist system, they are important in the development of popular struggles against capitalism and imperialism. This analytical process must be a collective endeavor internal to the class, based on the dialectical relation of the revolutionary organization to the working class, to mass organizations and the popular classes.

With the development of the crisis in capitalism and imperialism, a very important point needs to be tackled: whether our approach should be conjunctural or structural. As revolutionaries, we are faced with the same question whether we are here in the US, the bastion of imperialism, in Nepal dealing with its own objective reality, or in Haiti, in crisis, with new elements showing the total failure of the State. There is no established recipe to follow because simply there is no general theory in the strict usage of the concept of theory. Each mode of production raises the need for a specific theory. Each mode of production is specifically involved with its own social process, its own contradictions, its own trends and the historical conditions in which they are forming, constituting, reproducing and transforming. Even if there are no recipes, we must apply a general scientific theory of the mode of productions:

·   Each mode of production is determined fundamentally by the nature of the relations of productions that are themselves structurally determined and reproduced between producers, non-producers, and the means of productions.

·   All modes of production imply, as an organic, necessary condition, the social presence and the social activity of a class of non-producers appropriating the means of production, making them a mode of social exploitation of labor.

·   All historical modes of production, setting aside what we called primitive communism, are fundamentally historical forms of exploitation.

·   The problematic of all historical modes of production is the problematic of resistance against exploitation.

·   The problematic of all modes of production is the problematic of abolishing exploitation at all levels and forms.

·   All modes of production are characterized by the nature of the productive forces.

·   No mode of production in a social formation exists equally with other modes of production. One mode of production will tend to dominate all other existing modes of production within the same social formation, making the concept of the semi’s [semi colonial, semi feudal and semi capitalist] flawed.

·   All modes of productions are characterized as well by super structural forms necessary for the reproduction of their social relations.

·   The capitalist mode of productions is different from all other historic mode of productions. The social relations opposing capital and labor in the production of surplus value fundamentally characterizes the capitalist mode of production.

The analysis of a conjuncture is important in the development of a political struggle. Political struggle, depending on the class waging it, is always a struggle to maintain or to radically change the relations of these classes, either to maintain domination, or weaken domination or to radically destroy domination.

In order to address the question of conjuncture, it is important as well to add some more theoretical precisions.

All objective realities, all phenomena in a social formation have a dynamic of development. This development goes through different periods, stages, phases, and moments. We must look at these periods, at these stages, at these phases, and at these moments in the development of these objectives realities, this phenomenon scientifically. This is what is called the periodisation of this phenomenon. Because these phenomenon, these objective realities are dynamic we must understand the reasons of that dynamism and identify the motors of that dynamic.

The engine of that dynamic in all objective realities, in all phenomena, is contradiction. In all phenomena, in all complex objectives realities, we will find many contradictions determining the development and dynamics of these realities. The development isn’t always ascending; it could be also be declining. Nevertheless, these contradictions are the motors of developments of these realities. These contradictions exist from the onset, the beginning of these realities through their end.

In order to understand the development, the dynamic of any phenomenon we must comprehend its contradictions.

In the law of contradictions, there are 4 concepts we must understand:

1] Contradictions are when we have 2 elements existing together and are in struggle one against the other. The most powerful element in the struggle is the principal aspect of the contradiction. The weakest element is the secondary aspect. The principal aspect provides the characterization of the contradiction. In the contradiction of capital and labor, capital for the most part, is the principal aspect. Capital, for the most part, determines the development of that social formation and its reproduction.

2] The fundamental contradiction is a contradiction that exists from the beginning to the end of a phenomenon. It characterizes the phenomenon, the objective reality. If or when it disappears or is no longer fundamental, the phenomenon itself disappears or enters a period of transition engendering a new phenomenon. The fundamental contradiction determines all other contradictions, even if they function independently and autonomously, and in the final analysis, determines the relations of all other contradictions. In a capitalist mode of production, capital and labor is the fundamental contradiction.

3] The principal contradiction is the contradiction characterizing a stage of that phenomenon. It is principal because we must address it in order to pass to a new stage of development of a phenomenon. In a specific stage, the principal contradiction determines the evolution of other contradictions. Hence, all other contradictions play a secondary role in the transition from a stage to another. We identify the principal contradiction as conjuncturally determinant, meaning it concentrates and condenses all the other contradictions and we must address it to resolve other contradictions. In a revolutionary period, the struggle against the capitalist state apparatus is the principal contradiction in a capitalist social formation or a social formation dominated by capitalism: it must be destroyed in order to enter a new stage. The principal contradiction is a stage of development of a phenomenon. It means the principal contradiction will change with a new stage. The principal contradiction will become a secondary contradiction in a new stage with the objective for it to disappear, totally resolve. If not addressed properly, the principal contradiction, now a secondary contradiction, may revert and regain its place as the principal contradiction and enter a new stage a new transition toward a return to capitalism.

4] Secondary contradictions exist in relation to the principal contradiction. If we are clear on what the principal contradiction is, we will be clear on the secondary contradictions.  The principal contradiction and secondary contradictions exist as a couple, as a unit. Secondary contradictions are all the other contradiction, existing in their own mode of priorities, in relation to the principal contradiction.

All phenomena, all objectives realities form a whole, a complex dynamic system constantly changing. In this whole, all elements are braided with one another, forming a dynamic and vibrant structure. This whole, this vibrant structure determines all the elements of that whole. This is another important consideration when looking at the development of a phenomenon.

Nothing is isolated. All phenomena, all complex realities are undergoing the effects of other phenomena, other complex realities that are related to them and that are all undergoing their own development, their own dynamic. This added relation leads us to talk about two sets of additional causes explaining the development of a phenomenon. One is the set of internal causes, all the elements braided inside this phenomenon forming a vibrant structure and the set of external causes, elements that are outside of the phenomenon. Even if these external causes really affect this phenomenon, and even if those effects become principal, the fundamental causes are the one internal to the phenomenon. This is the classic case of imperialist domination of a social formation. Imperialism is external to that social formation, but really plays a role on the development of that social formation. In case of occupation, imperialism will become the overbearing element that needs to be resolved but the fundamental contradictions of the masses and the dominant classes in that social formation still remain.

We must consider as well relations that pertain to all relations between all elements. These are dialectical relations between elements. It is a relation where one element:

a] is determinant in relation to others

b] affects others, even the one that is determinant, the others are affected in return as well

c] is dominant in relation to the others, and one is super-determinant (conjuncturally determinant)

d] the relation contains its own dynamics, the dominance could change

e] the relation could be of correspondence or a non-correspondence. In the case of correspondence one element could favor the development of other elements, other phenomena. In the case of non-correspondence, one could block, handicap the development of others. It may even take the form of contradictions.

In light of all these relations, the most important one, the one that is fundamental is contradiction. Even if in some instances there may be balance between elements, it’s always relative and short term.

There are other kinds of relations that we must consider that are not elaborated here: determinant relations, dominant relations and super-determinant relations. If we consider them here, we might divert too much from our objective to clarify conjuncture.

Conjuncture is a moment in the development of a social formation, [a society, a country] and, in particular a moment in the political struggle of a social formation. It is a moment in the development of political struggles in a social formation, and thus objectively, in the dynamic development of that phenomenon. If we have to consider the dynamics of the development of this phenomenon [conjuncture] we must go directly to its contradictions: fundamental, principal and secondary contradictions.

If it is a moment, there are other moments. This moment is part of other moments that are more global, forming a whole, a totality. Taking us directly to the relation of the whole with its elements. For example, the social formation of a country forms a whole, a complex reality, but this social formation doesn’t exist by itself, it exists with other social formations in the world. They are part of the universe, our world.

Capitalism is at its higher stage: imperialism. A new objective reality exists: the relation between different social formations in the world is now very tight. We have the relation of imperialist social formations over social formations that haven’t reached that level and never will. We have the relation of struggle and integration between imperialist social formations. In the case of integration, reflecting a certain level of unity, there is always struggle for dominance and hegemony. The inter-imperialist struggles may take, in some instances, an antagonistic form. The inter-imperialist struggles determine the integration, the form the integration takes and the rhythm of development of the integration. All this shows we are facing a complex reality. It’s necessary to look at the global system as a whole and its relations with all elements.

Conjuncture is a moment in the reality of a social formation. The social reality of a social formation covers 3 levels: economic, politic and ideological. The conjuncture relates more specifically to the political reality without discounting the economic and ideological level.

In every social formation, we have classes and will always have class struggles.

Talking of the political level always demands that we deal with a central question: the question of the State, the question of political power. Talking of political struggle always requires that we consider the struggle for political power. It could be to maintain political power, struggle to transform the form and format of political power, the struggle to improve the political condition under a specific political power, the struggle to crush political power or to take power. When we talk of political power we are not talking of the presence of individuals at the helm of the state apparatus. One person, in any social formation, never has power. It is always a social class that has that capacity of domination and the capacity to exercise power. They use people, mostly from the petit bourgeoisie, in the State Apparatus to play two roles: a repressive role, in the interest of the class in power and an administrative role.

In looking at the political struggle, we must always differentiate the class[es] that has power, the dominant classes and the classes that are subjugated, the dominated classes. These classes constitute two political camps. The camp of the dominant classes and the camp of the dominated classes, also the power block and the people’s camp.

Conjuncture is the moment we are in class struggle. Conjuncture is class struggle at this specific moment we are currently in. Conjuncture is the relations of classes at a specific moment, meaning the relations of the dominant classes to the dominated classes, the relationships among the dominant classes and the relations among the dominated classes.

We must recognize that classes are divided in fractions and social categories that can sometimes overlap classes. These fractions and social categories could have a relative autonomous role in certain periods of the political struggle [the students [social category] in the ’60s in the US], these classes; fractions and social category could constitute a social force, in class struggle [the role of the African-American social category in the civil rights struggle]. It is important that we analyze these forces; their political weight in the specific moment of class struggles in the political scene, their impact in/on the conjuncture and the class content of these social category and the role of the classes in the social category[ the level of unity, classes that are playing an hegemonic and leadership role.

If we do not look at the social forces, [classes, fractions or social categories], our analysis of any conjunctures in any social formations would be very empirical and connected to general lines elaborated by previous revolutionaries but may be totally disconnected to the objective reality we are attempting to ascertain.

The analysis of social forces is principal in our understanding of a conjuncture. We need to understand the role of social forces in a conjuncture to understand the limitations or non-limitations of these struggles. We may be able to understand the immediate evolution of these struggles. Therefore in our process to achieve an understanding of a conjuncture we must apply a class analysis of the social forces, understand the relation of forces, their existing potential, the concrete form of these relations of forces. We need to look at the social forces in their existing confrontations. For this relation of forces to exist, we will also need to look at the different existing apparatus.  We will need to consider the relation of these apparatus/organizations to the social forces, to the classes. We need to look at the question of political power and the capacity to maintain political power. We need to analyze the existence of different modes of productions and the level of antagonism existing in the relations of this mode of productions.

We demonstrated that in a social formation there exist three levels: political, economic and ideological. The political relations condense all the other levels, we must go to the political rapport to address and resolve the other contradiction at the other levels. The political relations super-determine all others. At the level of the conjuncture, the relation playing a central role is the political relation, and conjuncture is a concept used to analyze a moment in a social formation at the political level.

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