Response to several points raised by @Sushi_Goat
The problem I face in this response to @sushi_goat is how to answer without this becoming just another instance of dueling Marx quotations, which serves no useful purpose. I made my argument citing certain quotes that, I think, clarify my position. @sushi_goat pointed to instances where, it could be said, Marx and Engels reject my view. However, since both sets of quotes come from Marx and Engels, even where they appear to contradict, I assume they don’t — Marx and Engels were not that sloppy.
I want to address several issues raised by @sushi_goat that are very closely related to my understanding of the characteristics of the working class. He raises points that I think are of great importance for understanding how the working class is responding to this crisis.
1. Is the proletariat a class?
Perhaps the easiest way to begin this response is to take as my point of departure a point on which both @sushi_goat and I seem to fully agree without reservation:
“If the proletariat was not a class, it would be nonsensical to claim that they act as a class, and that they overthrow the state as a class.”
I completely agree with @sushi_goat on this point. Since Marx and Engels did not believe the proletariat was really a class, they could not very well then argue that the proletariat acts as a class without fatally compromising their argument. In fact, they make this exact point in the text: in their revolution the proletarians act only as individuals, not as a class:
“It follows from all we have been saying up till now that the communal relationship into which the individuals of a class entered, and which was determined by their common interests over against a third party, was always a community to which these individuals belonged only as average individuals, only insofar as they lived within the conditions of existence of their class — a relationship in which they participated not as individuals but as members of a class. With the community of revolutionary proletarians, on the other hand, who take their conditions of existence and those of all members of society under their control, it is just the reverse; it is as individuals that the individuals participate in it.”
In historical materialism, the proletarians are already not a class under capitalism and can only act as individuals. The class character of the proletarians does not disappear only under communism, because they never really were a class in the first place. Marx and Engels state this directly in the German Ideology in one of the passages actually quoted by @sushi_goat: the revolution of this class ends all classes because (1) it no longer counts as a class in society; (2) it is not recognized as a class; and (3) it expresses the disintegration of class society.
I am not sure how Marxists can directly quote Marx and Engels on a matter, yet draw the exact opposite conclusion supported by the text. As @sushi_goat argues, it is indeed nonsensical to claim the proletarians act as a class if they are not a class. However, this is the nonsensical claim of conventional Marxism, not mine. Since @sushi_goat, Marx and Engels, and I all agree that, in historical materialism, it is nonsensical to assert a non-class acts as a class, this would seem to suggest the proletarians are not a class — as Marx and Engels in fact state explicitly in a passage cited by @sushi_goat.
But let’s examine the structure of Marx and Engels argument in this particular part of the German Ideology. The particular passages both @sushi_goat and I cite are actually set up in a very interesting fashion. Marx and Engels seem intent on drawing our attention to a contrast between the characteristics of proletarians and those of other classes.
For instance, at the outset they contrast the way the bourgeois class formed historically — in opposition to the dominant social relations of feudalism — and contrast this with the way the proletarians are formed — a product of bourgeois social relations themselves. The bourgeoisie had to band together to fight for its existence against the old regime and formed itself as a class in conflict with the old regime. Marx and Engels point this out, to make the point that a class only appears as a class when it is in conflict with other classes — otherwise, they argue, the members of the class are on hostile terms with each other.
How then are we to understand the implications of the fact that the proletarians are a product of bourgeois social relations and do not find themselves in conflict with bourgeois material relations? In first place, this means they do not have to fight for their existence as a class against the bourgeois regime as the bourgeoisie itself had to fight against the old regime. In second place, it means that they never appear as a class, but as a collection of individuals who are on hostile terms with each other. Since, as a class, they do not confront the bourgeois regime, their conditions of life as a class is characterized only by absolute hostility among themselves.
As @sushi_goat explains, if my interpretation of the German Ideology is correct, Marx and Engels cannot very well then argue the proletarians act as a class. And it turns out they do not. Moreover, they point to definite material conditions surrounding the emergence of the proletarians that demonstrate why this is difficult and perhaps impossible for them to act as a class.
Given the conditions of unmediated hostility within the class, (i.e., conditions not mediated by conflict with the ruling class), is it difficult to understand why the working class is so readily susceptible to racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant hysteria and every other form of reactionary ideology? Is it a surprise that the working class one country can be enlisted in wars of aggressions against other national capitals and their working classes? The fact that proletarians are not recognized as a class is not just true for society at large, but first and foremost for the class itself: Empirically, they don’t know they are a class.
So when communists talk to them about class, class struggle, class interests and class consciousness, they mostly haven’t a clue what we are going on about.
2. Is there a proletarian class consciousness?
Since the proletariat as a class was not formed the way other classes were formed, and since it does not behave the way other classes behave, we should expect that its consciousness should, in fact, not be a class consciousness at all, but some other sort of consciousness. And we find evidence for just this argument in the German Ideology and in the writings of Kautsky and Lenin.
First, it should be noted that nowhere in the material cited by @sushi_goat do Kautsky and Lenin ever speak of the Marxist unicorn, proletarian class consciousness. So far as I know, neither writer held to the idea such a thing existed. Thus, to my thinking, it is not really in dispute whether such a thing exists. It doesn’t exist and cannot exist because, as we learned above, the proletarians are not a class and don’t act like a class.
The question then is what sort of consciousness do the proletarians possess?
At issue in Kautsky’s and Lenin’s arguments is whether the working class is capable of a communist consciousness and, on this score, both Lenin and Kautsky answer in the negative. Kautsky goes further and labels the very idea the proletarians have a spontaneous communist consciousness a “revisionist” position.
Personally. although @sushi_goat seems to believe otherwise, I have never labeled anyone revisionist — I prefer the more formal term, dumb. Ignorant, if you will, and ignorance seems to be the case here.
Lenin’s argument seems to quite innocently cite Kautsky as an authority — so we can excuse him to an extent; however, it is difficult to determine who Kautsky cites as the basis of his own argument. I have pointed out before that Kautsky’s argument labels as “revisionism” a statement that seem to quote Marx and Engels argument almost verbatim. The similarity between the German Ideology and Kautsky argument is uncanny and I really have no explanation for it. I am not about to charge Kautsky deliberately misquoted Marx and Engels — in may just be the case that he is responding to someone else.
But let us just compare Kautsky’s argument on socialist consciousness to Marx and Engels own argument on communist consciousness.
According to Kautsky:
“Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and the class struggle create, not only the conditions for socialist production, but also, and directly, the consciousness of its necessity.”
Well, it turns out this is exactly what Marx and Engels did in fact argue in the section of the German Ideology quoted by @sushi_goat, “The Necessity of the Communist Revolution”
According to Marx and Engels:
“In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being … and connected with this a class is called forth, … from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness…”
I may be wrong, but it seems to me Kautsky is quoting the German Ideology almost verbatim to then deny Marx and Engels believed communist consciousness arises from the working class itself.
But this is not the only problem I have with the conventional Marxist narrative on this subject: If Kautsky and Lenin are to be believed, not only is the working class unable to develop its own consciousness, it cannot develop any consciousness at all. This would make the proletarians rather unique among classes in society, but — okay — my argument is that they are unique among classes. However, does this uniqueness extend to their consciousness (or lack of it) as well?
According to Lenin, the working class cannot develop an independent consciousness: the choices are bourgeois ideology or socialist ideology. Bourgeois ideology, not surprisingly, arises from the bourgeois class and bourgeois material conditions of existence. However, and perversely enough, so does socialist consciousness! According to Kautsky and Lenin, the only consciousness the proletariat is capable of acquiring is one or another variant of bourgeois consciousness. So not only are the proletarians incapable of creating their own consciousness out of their own praxis, they are only capable of reflecting bourgeois consciousness.
There is a question to be raised here: how can the consciousness of the proletariat reflect the material conditions of the other class? Since in historical materialism, consciousness is determined by material conditions, how does this happen? Bourgeois consciousness is a product of bourgeois material conditions of life, but, it turns out, so is proletarian consciousness.
In the Kautsky/Lenin version, the proletarians own consciousness is brought to it from without by bourgeois intellectuals. In Marx and Engels’ argument, proletarian communist consciousness arises from the proletarians themselves and emanates to other classes in society from contemplation of the conditions of the working class. How these two approaches to the question of consciousness can be reconciled remains a task for Marxists, but, for the most part, they refuse even to recognize there is a problem.
3. Do proletarians have a class interest?
If the proletariat is not really a class does it have a class interest? This truly comes down to the practical question of what motivates proletarians in their struggle. I think there is no disagreement that no effort to overthrow the state can be posited without some sort of an interest and, in this regards, Marx and Engels had a quite interesting argument, which could be stated in this form:
Even if we assume any class has a class interest, we are still left with the problem of how the members of the class know what its class interest is. How do the capitalists know what their own class interest is? If it had a class interest, how would the proletariat know what it was?
I might know what my own interests as an individual are, but these personal interests do not constitute a class interest. The interest of the bourgeois class is not the sum of all the particular interests of all members of the bourgeois class — nor is this true for the proletarians. The interests of any class are not the sum of the interests of the members of the class.
If I am not concerned about the interests of the working class, it is for a very good reason: I don’t know what the working class interest are and can’t know this. The interests of the working class do not diffuse among its members like some class substance adhering to each member of the class. Likewise the interests of the bourgeois class are not in any way apparent to the members of that class. We could start this discussion off with one premise: no member of any class in bourgeois society has any idea of her class interests nor any way of apprehending the interest of the class to which he or she belongs.
This is why Leninists/Trotskyist/Maoist micro-sects, who regularly claim to represent “the interests of the working class”, are full of shit. They haven’t the slightest fucking clue what any class’s interest is in society.
The interests of a class are not the interests of the members of that class in any way shape or form. Class interest are an expression of the material conditions of the class, which stand outside and over against the individuals composing the class. As Marx and Engels argue in the German Ideology, these material conditions take form that is independent of the members of the class — something @sushi_goat cites in his relevant quote.
The interests of the bourgeois class find their ideal expression in the form of a state that also stands over against the members of the class. This is why the bourgeois state is the “ideal” representative of the bourgeois class and it is also why the bourgeois class cannot rule directly on its own behalf, but only through a state. No member of the bourgeois class knows the interests of that class; they only know their own interests.
The interest of the individual members of the class only coincide with the interests of the class taken as a whole, to the extent the individual member of the class is an average sample of the whole. (In this sense, it can be likened to the value of a commodity, whose socially necessary labour time “is to be considered as an average sample of its class.” — Marx) The interest of the bourgeois class, in other words, only represent the material conditions of the average member of that class. Marx and Engels were very careful to avoid the caricature of their theory, which states somehow the interest of the bourgeois class are identical with the interest of its members.
People have a lot of different interest and often these interest run into conflict with their class interests — Engels is a good example. Another good example is a worker who, fearing competition from migrant workers, join some militia group patrolling the border. How could Engels’ interests be extrapolated to the bourgeoisie as a whole? How can this worker’s interest be extrapolated to the working class?
What constitutes the interests of a class are only the average material conditions of the class and these conditions are entirely independent of the members of the class themselves. Thus Marx and Engels argued, “the class in its turn achieves an independent existence over against the individuals…”
Now, what are the average material conditions of the proletariat? Wage Labor. Without the sale of their labor power, no worker could last for even a month. But it precisely the average conditions of the class — labor — that drive the class into poverty and creates capital as a power over it. Ideally, its interest is in the sale of its labor power, but this interest itself has been turned against the proletarians by capital.
So if I can be faulted for anything, it may be in saying the proletarians have no interest — but this is only because the interest they do share drives them to destitution. Their interest as an average member of their class is itself the very thing that grinds them under the capitalist machine.
No other class in society is positively destroyed by pursuit of its own material conditions of existence, its own interests and this, of course, presents us with a logical paradox: How can any class in society have an interest that operates only to undermine its conditions of existence? Clearly if a class has an interest that positively undermines its own material conditions of existence, the class itself should collapse.
Well, duh. If we go to Capital, we find just this: the average conditions of the class — wage labor — leads to the abolition of its material conditions of existence, i.e., to the abolition of labor.
And, of course, this now brings us to the state and @sushi_goat’s objection to my argument on fascism.
4. Do I ignore the need for a ‘state’?
As I stated in the 3 previous sections, there are severe defects in the arguments of Marxists regarding class. Most Marxists assume the working class is indeed a class, when Marx and Engels made clear they thought it was not. Marxists routinely refer to something they call a working class consciousness, when there is no evidence for this in historical materialism. Many Marxists continue to insist, contrary to Marx and Engels own explicit statements, that the working class is incapable of producing its own communist consciousness and does not need the ‘assistance’ of vanguardists. Finally, Marxists routinely refer to the “interests of the working class” when such an interest does not and cannot exist.
All of these points have implications for any discussion of the state.
At the outset, let me say that there is a real difficulty encountered when discussing the notion of the state. As used by Marx and Engels, the term “state” refers to both the old state and the commune. Marx and Engels, as everyone knows, took great pains to argue the commune was not a state. To clear up any ambiguity on this, I will take Marx’s and Engels’ suggestion and use the term ‘commune’ to designate the working class organized as the ruling class.
So, how does a commune differ from a state? Surprisingly, this question has nothing to do with whether or not the capitalist are suppressed. Marxists make a big show of believing it is an urgent task of the working class to put down a rebellious group of formers capitalists. In fact, unlike as in Marx’s day, the number of real capitalists is actually very tiny and requires almost no effort at all to police. What distinguishes the commune from a state has nothing at all to do with suppressing the enemies of the working class. Rather, it is the relation of this organ of power to the class that composes it.
In the last part of this essay, I showed why Marx and Engels thought the interest of any class takes a form that is independent of the class. This interest, which expresses the material conditions of the class, is ideally represented by what Marx and Engels call the ideal community. The ideal community, the state, is a substitute for the real community, which “always took on an independent existence in relation to them”.
Although the commune, like the state, is a dictatorship over other classes, in historical materialism this form cannot exist independent of the members of society. The distinction between a commune and a state is not its relation to the exploiting classes, but its relation to the proletarians themselves. This commune cannot exist independent of the proletarians and it cannot ‘represent’ the interests of the proletarians on their behalf — only the individual members of the commune themselves can do this.
Marxists always want to turn our attention to the role the commune plays in suppressing its exploiters, but this is not the problem most “really existing socialisms” faced. Instead, we see the opposite problem, where the public authority separates itself from the commune and becomes a power standing over against it.
Now, to be honest, anarchists like Bakunin pointed out this danger to Marx and Engels in their own time. We cannot just look away and pretend that did not happen or that the problem is not significant. It is not simply a question of replacing the present state by a commune as @sushi_goat implies. It is not simply a problem of acknowledging the need for authority, or that the capitalists must be suppressed, it is also a question of the extent to which authority and suppression is even necessary.
While Marx argued that there is a fairly lengthy period between capitalism and communism, he made this argument in his day, not ours. By what yardstick is the extraordinary period of revolutionary transformation to be measured? Is this period fixed? Does it change over time? Is it longer today than it was in Marx’s time? Marxists are fond of telling us that some period is necessary, but they don’t have clue as to how to measure this period’s duration. And this is critical, because the greater the duration, the more likely the public authority is to escape the control of the commune.
As @sushi_goat should know very well, this duration is not determined arbitrarily, but is a function of the level of development of the productive forces at the point where the commune actually emerges from the old society. This would at least suggest that the higher this level is, the shorter the period between the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of fully developed communist relations of production.
Marx thus doesn’t give us a fixed and fast rule, but only sets out a principle. In practice, it is entirely possible (and, moreover, a high probability at present) that there is no significant period of revolutionary transformation at all.
The problem discussed above is further compounded by the fact Marxists routinely refer to the commune as a state, when it is not and they know Marx and Engels were far from satisfied with that term. Engels, for instance, suggested, “All the palaver about the state ought to be dropped, especially after the Commune, which had ceased to be a state in the true sense of the term.”
I am pretty sure I can demonstrate that @sushi_goat is wrong to state I have never mentioned the need for a commune. In fact, even the briefest review of my work will show I talk about the need for association all the time. @sushi_goat may not notice this because I call it an “association”, not a state — and Marxists, for some very bizarre reason, continue to call the commune a state, even though they know this only adds to the confusion about what Marxism stands for.
5. Why do I refer to the ‘Fascist State’, or the state as the national capitalist
But this is not the real problem Marxists have with my view on the state; their real problem is with my calling the present state fascist. If, as I assert, the present state is fascist, Marxists have no Plan B. Since Marxists can only think of praxis in political terms — as political activity — the very idea the state is fascist denies them the only recognizable avenue for overthrow of capitalism.
What does it mean to be a fascist state? It mean the state is now the direct exploiter of proletariat. The assumption of management of the national capital, as @sushi_goat explains, does not do away with the capitalistic relationship; it simply renders the capitalist class itself superfluous to that relationship: as Engels argued, the state itself becomes the national capitalist.
Again, I did not make this up, @sushi_goat saw it for himself in the passage he quoted — he just preferred to ignore it.
Instead, he argues that the passage must be interpreted to mean the rise of finance capital. Well, Washington built 1500 factories during WWII — was this mere finance capital? Washington research and develoment produced the space program, most pharmaceutical and the whole of digital technology today, including the internet — is this just financial capital? Indeed, in the last financial crisis, Washington actually bailed out the finance capitalists themselves. Fascism means much more than simply the emergence of finance capital — no matter what Lenin wrote. Because whatever the fuck Lenin wrote on the matter had already been predicted by Engels in the 1880s.
And Engels did not simply predict finance capital; he predicted the state would become the national capitalist. I have constantly pointed out that this is the context within which I use the term ‘fascism’; but Marxists who object to my writings choose to ignore it. And they choose to ignore it because they know the implications of the state being the national capitalist: politics is dead.
If the state is the national capitalist, there is no longer any possibility of less than revolutionary measures. And this is the reason why they don’t want to admit that in the German Ideology Marx and Engels argued the proletarians overthrow the STATE, not the capitalist class. If Marx and Engels argued the proletarians overthrow the state and then explain the state becomes the national capitalist, what other implications can these two statements have? It means that from the very first, Marx and Engels knew the working class would be finally forced to come face to face with the state itself
That is the only reason why I use the term fascist state — because no one has any illusions that a fascist state need not be overthrown. Nobody thinks a fascist state can be reformed in any way — and this is what we face at present. So, why does @sushi_goat and other Marxists object to the term? What possible reason could they have for denying the state is fascistic. What part of the existing state do they want to save?
None of it can be saved, not a single department, not a single program — it all must be overthrown.