by Jan Makandal
October 24, 2015
The left’s coup de grace certainly did not originate with Sanders. Its degeneration is the result of persistent and long-term opportunism and populism. Bernie Sanders is simply one additional element accelerating the debacle of today’s petit bourgeois radical left, a pertinent effect pushing it into an abyss of its own creation.
This radical petit bourgeois left is expert at quoting dead proletarian revolutionaries, tuning their valuable contributions into verses frozen in time. But they are totally inept at using these quotations as a guide for the future.
They refuse to acknowledge or use proletarian theory (Marxism at its core) as a science. Marxism can’t stand still in time, but is in a constant mode of rectification and consolidation. The insistence of using quotes, making others speak for them, is not a sign of political unity with these previous revolutionaries, but is instead an exemption freeing them from elevating the quotes to a theory which can eventually guide them in their own practice.
For proletarian militants, practice is a validation of theory, whether it proves a theory is incorrect (indicating the need to rectify the theory) or correct (from which follows the need to consolidate). But we can observe that even when these petit bourgeois radical leftists cite quotes, their content is far apart, very far apart from their own political practices. In other words, for them there is no dialectical relation between theory and practice. Instead, these quotes become ossified and inevitably contribute to the stagnation of proletarian theory.
At the same time, we must point out that with all their expertise in quoting dead proletarian revolutionaries, this petit bourgeois radical left seems to dismiss and erase all the quotes that refer to the incapacity, impotence and ineptitude of the petite bourgeoisie (even with all their intellect) to appropriate Marxism.
When left on their own, facing ever-present social contradictions and an undesirable future, and thus forced to analyze concrete reality, this left has been only producing eclectic and mechanical theories that are NON-AUTONOMOUS, in the final analysis theories that are in the interests of the capitalist class.
This radical left never seems to grasp that one of the basic underpinnings of proletarian theory is the antagonism that exists in the relation between capital and labor. Because of that antagonism, Marx and Engels INSISTED that proletarian theory is not political economy, which leads to the conclusion that no one can use proletarian theory to FIX CAPITALISM but ONLY TO DESTROY IT. Every attempt to use proletarian theory to fix capitalism will inevitably fail and lead merely to an upgrade of capitalism.
It is only when that theory becomes a guide of the productive workers that the scientific alternative to capitalism is plausible.
One of the principal tasks during the Russian proletarian revolution was the struggle against petit bourgeois opportunism and populism. In China, Mao crowned that struggle by calling on petit bourgeois elements who were really down for proletarian revolution to disrobe themselves of their class origin, and transition to the proletariat. (By the way, this does not mean that as a prerequisite of that transfer one needs to work in a factory. Some proletarian revolutionaries are needed in capitalist units of production, but not all are needed there).
Every time petit bourgeois radical left enters the political arena, we are constantly reminded of the theorem that without proletarian leadership, their class in incapable of leading or offering an alternative to capitalism. Many proletarian revolutionaries have reminded us of this relative absolute truth, but even with the petit bourgeois left’s ability to quote and debate the words of others, they seem not to have received the memo.
What are the reasons for this incapacity? First, the radical petit bourgeois relation to capital is non-antagonistic. They are non-antagonistically dominated by capital. They must resist that domination, but their resistance is limited to a struggle to realize a certain level of equality. Equality is not achievable in capitalism. But even if it was, because this objective is not based on an antagonism, it can only be a reformist struggle.
The petite bourgeoisie is not a fundamental class in capitalism; the reproduction of capitalism is not based on them. Rather, they assist the circulation of capital. In fact, this petit bourgeois class benefits, along with capitalists, from the production of capital. Thus they tend to turn a blind eye to the source of capital, the working class, and are unable to address any struggle from the interest of that class.
Not only that, the petite bourgeoisie actually uses many schemes to distance themselves from the proletariat and erase it from the political scene. One way is by constantly attempting to create new systems. Another way is by diluting the concept of working class to the point of meaninglessness, by asserting that they are also included in it, based on their theory that everyone who works is a worker. They even go so far as to assert that students are workers or can even be revolutionary workers (whereas the reality is that students, even if originating from the working class, are pursuing a class transfer into the petite bourgeoisie by obtaining a degree). These are expressions of their populism.
Populism and opportunism are the class line of the petite bourgeoisie, because if they do not practice it they will be left out of the equation in the struggle for an AUTONOMOUS SOCIETAL ALTERNATIVE. While the petit bourgeois is dominated by capital, at the same time they want to dominate the proletariat, to neutralize the working class’ role as the only potential viable force in the struggle for a societal alternative.
How is that working out for them?
The international struggles that they have supported in the last fifty years or so have all, in their entirety, allowed nothing more than a consolidation of capitalism. Because these struggles have not been led by the working class, a new fraction of capitalists has been historically constituted in many social formations; many of its members are ex-Leftists from the petite bourgeoisie.
Even when these struggles represented an objective advancement, as soon as the class interests of the petite bourgeoisie were realized (at least for some of them), they again set us back, as in South Africa and Nicaragua. Either they simply handed these struggles to capitalism on a silver platter, or they let them be totally recuperated by fraction of the capitalist class and even the feudalist class. This is the consequence of populism and opportunism.
In the US social formation, the petite bourgeoisie radical left has totally capitulated to capitalism, objectively abandoning Marxism except for utilizing Marx’s quotes. With all its revolutionary phraseology, the non-autonomous nature of this class is implacable in the service of capitalism.
Marxism is a tool to analyze what is in front of us, not a reminder of our past. The only benefit our past can offer is that we can learn from it, in conjunction with our direct experience, to consolidate our theory, proletarian theory.
Marxism/proletarian theory is a science (although always incomplete and unfinished) with its own methodology. It has two main components that give us the tools to interpret history: dialectical materialism and historical materialism.
The study of historical materialism is simultaneously the study of the scientific knowledge that it brings, as well as the study of its own history. Marxism/proletarian theory is not a compilation of quotes. It is not a social activity. Too many of the radical left believe that Marxism means simplistically commenting on current affairs (the effects of capitalism) while tacking on a quote to furnish it with seeming ideological authenticity. But this diminishes this science to a spontaneous activity.
Marxism/proletarian theory must be the study of the struggle of the working class, inside the collective struggle of the working class, in the midst of the proletarian movement. THIS IS A POLITICAL TASK. Thus it is the location and the stakes of a ceaseless fight, in which is reflected the effects of class struggle. It is for the realization of two dialectically opposite processes: the study of capital and all its forms of accumulation, plus proletarian revolution/proletarian dictatorship that addresses capital (with all its modes and forms of accumulation) for a NEW ALTERNATIVE.
For that new alternative (initially a subjective endeavor) to become objective, we must identify the fundamental contradiction of capital that allows it to constantly reproduce: the antagonism between CAPITAL AND LABOR. This fundamental contradiction has to be resolving in the political field by defeating what characterizes capital: the state apparatus and capitalist ideology.
The first error of the radical petit bourgeois left is their abandonment and total dismissal of that motor of capital. This is apparent in their positions on many matters including immigration, police brutality, and imperialism, in which for them the working class is utterly invisible. It confirms once again the conclusion of previous proletarian revolutionaries that they are incapable of offering a viable alternative to capitalism. This abandonment of the fundamental contradiction is pushing them into the camp of capitalism. By focusing on capitalism’s effects rather than its cause, they have put themselves in a labyrinth in which they are increasingly incapable of exiting.
Because labor is the original source of capital (through the extraction of surplus value from labor power), labor is the fundamental aspect of capitalism’s fundamental contradiction. This is what needs to be addressed in order to resolve that contradiction. It is only by stopping that extraction that capital and all its forms of accumulation will be abolished. All proletarian revolutionaries have steadfastly declared that PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION IS THE ORDER OF THE DAY.
The class interests of the petite bourgeois renders them unable to understand that reality and thus unable to construct a political line to fulfill that historical task. With all their love of quoting dead proletarian revolutionaries, they seem to totally dismiss that directive (either by including themselves as part of the working class or by rejecting the historical role of the working class).
This is the core of the debacle. By bypassing that antagonism and dismissing the central role of the working class, the petit bourgeois radical left is acting out left populism, which is currently, with different variations and unequal rhythm, in the process of transferring to right populism.
The disagreements between these left populists and the more liberal sectors of the Democratic Party are merely secondary. This petit bourgeois left (in transition to right populism) is unable to distance themselves from the notion of socialism that is being offered by the bourgeois liberal sector. The social base of that bourgeois liberal sector is the petit bourgeoisie. And the potential base of left opportunism is equally the petite bourgeoisie.
Left populists, even if they will secondarily resist, are likely to get on board with the liberal sector of the bourgeoisie. With minimal divergence, they share a level of populist unity on most questions. They take similar positions on issues like Black Lives Matter and free education. On the international front, all of them have supported struggles that went directly to reforming capitalism. Some even support imperialist intervention for the reproduction of imperialist domination, and support reactionaries because of nationalism—a pseudo anti-imperialism.
This confirms Mao’s position that what defines a political organization is its existing political line—not the ability to quote Lenin, Marx, or others. The debacle of left populism is a result of the class line of the petite bourgeoisie, specifically the most radical sector of this class. Their most grievous error, the abandonment of the working class and its leadership, is forcing them into alliance with the enemy. Their incapacity to be autonomous from the capitalist class results in political bankruptcy; they find themselves swimming in a lake of their own piss.
This is not the first time that revolutionaries have needed to demarcate from the failure of left opportunism and left populism. Marx, Engels and Lenin all needed to demarcate from social democracy by declaring themselves communist militants. Nowadays, we must demarcate from the various brands of petit bourgeois socialism and assert proletarian socialism, which is scientific socialism. It is the political line of the proletariat not only to control the means of production, but to engage in addressing the abolition of all forms of concentration of capital.