Marx is dead, long live Marx!

In 1968, the “golden years” of capital came to an end. Those years, which had allowed conservative forces to talk of the death of Marx, ended with the crisis of the latter’s mode of production of material goods (crisis of Fordism) and their political economy (crisis of Keynesianism) but mainly because of social struggle: the counterculture in the United States, the French May, the hot autumn in Italy, wildcat strikes against the unions in almost all countries, new demands, struggles aimed not only at taking power but at total individual and social liberation…1 It was the beginning of a new kind of revolution, fundamentally ideological, the result of the appearance, in those “golden years” of a new class structure, no longer merely bourgeois and proletarian but also of the managerial techno-bureaucracy in an alliance with the monopolistic bourgeoisie, pitted against the rebels (new social movements: feminist, ecologist, anti-militarist), not to mention the struggles of the masses of the impoverished countries2 with Vietnam in the lead.

It was an ideological revolution which unquestionably affected the dominant revolutionary ideology, Marxism, and here begins my contribution, which I will divide into two large sections: an account of the situation in Spain, and then the rebirth of

Marxism, and why we can say: “Long live Marx!”

Spain in 1968

The new revolution was not only ideological, but also practical, and was reflected in concrete political organizations:

The hierarchical Communist Parties continued to be the major force, but a force that was divided, on one hand, in the orthodox core (the Spanish Communist Party, or pce) which was evolving toward a conservative and techno-bureaucratic Euro-communism, after taking its distances from Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, an evolution which was concretized in Spain in the politics of national reconciliation, in other words in the “social pact” (the same pact with which Keynes had re-launched capitalism), a pact between the different social forces (including progressive business elements) on two common bases: anti-Francoism and rationality, i.e., democracy and technological progress.

This evolution, and the expulsions of Fernando Claudin and Jorge Semprún, produced different heterodox splits, giving rise to Trotskyist and Maoist parties. Of the Trotskyists, the Revolutionary Trotskyist League (Liga Comunista Revolucionaria, lcr) was founded in 1971 by members of the Catalan group Comunismo. It was the Spanish section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, one of the fractions into which the Trotskyist Fourth International was divided. The lcr was born with a perspective of refusing class collaboration and putting an end to capitalism, and argued for a model of territorial organization based on a federation of republics, recognizing the right of self-determination for each of them.

Nationalism was clearly present in Euskadi (the Basque provinces) with eta, and in Catalonia, though the latter was not exactly Marxist but, rather, conservative (CiU). In 1972, a group called Liga Comunista (lc) split from the lcr, but would rejoin the lcr in 1978. The lc in 1973 fused with a split from eta, after the latter’s vi Assembly, and was thus called etavi. In fact the majority of the members of that organization, as revolutionary communists, decided to abandon terrorism as a form of struggle, and to unite with politically similar groups in the rest of Spain. With this union the lcr acquired a base in the Basque country and in Navarra, where it previously had very little presence, using the name lcreta (vi).

With the death of General Franco, and because of the difficulties in explaining the reference to eta outside the Basque country, the lcr dropped its previous name and was called, in the rest of Spain, only lcr; in the Basque country it constituted itself in autonomous form with the name Liga Komunista Iraultzailea (lki). There also existed, within Trotskyism, a very small group called the Partido Obrero Revolucionario Español (pore, Spanish Revolutionary Workers’ Party), a clear expression of Trotskyist orthodoxy.

As for Maoism, the first split in the pce was the Organización Comunista de España–Bandera Roja (Red Flag) (oce–br) an extreme left party, active in the last years of Franco, and during the transition to democracy. It emerged in Barcelona in 1970, out of a 1968 split from the pce in Catalonia, the el Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (psuc). In 1977, it signed onto the “Register of Political Associations.” It argued for a democratic and federal republic as a transition to socialism, and denounced the post-Franco political reform. After suffering multiple splits, it rejoined the psuc–pce in 1989, and disappeared formally in 1994. All in all, the most important group was the Partido Comunista Internacionalista (pci); it had many internal debates, including violent ones, which led to its explosion, though fragments remained active, such as Lluita Internacionalista (li), not to mention the Frente Revolucionario Antifascista y Patriota, with a confused perspective for armed struggle.

The years 1960–1968 were the heyday of the Workers Commissions (Comisiones Obreras): worker struggles became generalized, mainly in the negotiations for collective bargaining, and the comisiones are still with us. This process went through three phases:

  1. comisiones as the self-organization of the working class, with branches in the majority of firms. These were nuclei of workers which were the sparkplug of struggles, which rebuilt the workers’ movement destroyed by Francoism, and did so in close contact, despite being underground, with the rest of the workers in a given factory. Their power arose, if not from legalization, at least from tolerance, by forcing specific factories to negotiate with the commission, thereby recognizing it, at least implicitly.
  2. The comisiones managed to establish themselves on a nationwide basis and, further (as economic development took off), were winning concrete demands, which resulted in the dominance of the purely trade-union line, pushed by the pce, winning out over the self-organizing current, defended by Catholic groups and new revolutionary militants. The pce placed its energies in the organizational apparatus (local, regional and national coordination), and with the bureaucracy under its control, was able to push through its line.
  3. The comisiones were thus converted into merely one more trade union, controlled by the pce, even though it retained the original name, in continuity with the historical prestige it had achieved.

Together with this, the Frente de Liberación Popular (flp), the “felipes” (known in Catalonia as the foc and in the Basque provinces as the esba), had begun with a Guevarist orientation but finally, and above all in Catalonia, was rivaling the pce for hegemony in the working-class movement; it even managed to counter-pose, to workers’ commissions in the factories, neighborhood commissions, which inspired tenant associations, still very active today, and commissions of working-class youth. The “felipes” slipped into crisis in 1969, in part under the influence of May 1968, which stirred the discovery of Trotskyism into the mix of Guevarism and Catholicism.

Out of of the flp as well as from religious organizations—Hermandad Obrera de Acción Catolica (the hoac), and the Worker Youth of Catalonia (Juventudes Obreras de Catalunya, the joc)—taking advantage of their legal status, there emerged a Catholic revolutionary movement, playing a crucial role in the workers’ movement.3

Out of these groups there emerged the cadre formation circles (Circulos de formación de cadres), which relinked with the first phase of the workers commissions, elaborating the concept of class organization, the direct organization of workers, which for some rendered “worker” parties totally unnecessary, incorporating as they did an anarchist ideology. We should also note the divisions within Christian Democracy, which, however, had influence only in intellectual milieus, with the exception of the prestigious journal Cuadernos para el Dialogo, founded in 1963.

Communism based on workers’ councils4 was expressed in various organizations:

Acción Comunista (ac), Unión Comunista de Liberación, Organization of the Communist Left (oic), Grupos Comunistas Revolucionarios (gcr) and Germania Socialista. Among these groups there was an attempt at fusion, which also included the historic poum (present only in exile), but this fusion really took place only with the ucl, the gcr and Germania Socialista (the three weakest groups). In spite of this weakness, I think that the ucl introduced two important elements: the concept of transitional vanguard, for the sole period in which the class organization is not yet strong enough, to then disappear afterwards as vanguard, and the idea of unifying Marxism and anarchism, the overcoming of the division inherited from the First International, which was the origin of the working class’s difficulty in allying with other oppositional elements.

It may appear strange that I say little about the Socialists of the psoe (Partido Socialista Obrero Español), the only group which succeeded in governing and which still exists as such. But in these early years it was of little importance, with strength only in the exile groups; in fact, the small group of Tierno Galvan was more important. After Felipe Gonzalez came to power, basically with the support of the German Social Democrats, the psoe became more and more social democratic and totally abandoned Marxism.

There was little support for the masses of the Third World, even though the latter were showing their power; I have already mentioned Vietnam, and we must also add Guevarism and the peasantry (China). In fact, the anti-Franco struggle and the workers’ councils absorbed all energies. Shortly thereafter, the ngos, principally those in solidarity with Latin American revolutions, picked up many militants in what was the final phase of practically all of these organizations.

Now, given this background, we can move on to the analysis of Marxist perspectives.

The Renaissance of Marxism

Marx did not die but was rather reborn, transformed; we were in the period of the new reading of Marx, of the brilliant influence of the re-reading of Marx by authors such as Althusser and Poulantzas (a conceptual revisiting), of Marcuse, Reich (the role of personal liberation) and others.5 It was an authentic re-birth which made it possible to begin overcoming the two original vices of Marxism:

  1. Economism, which emerged from political economy (a progressive science), and which was characterized by the struggle against scarcity. Three main errors flowed from this: the identification material basis = economic basis, the mystification of the dynamic of the productive forces, and the reduction of classes to economic reality.
  2. Mechanism, expressing a full-blown rationalism, and the mystification of the ideas of science and progress. It erroneously saw history as predetermined, and always progressive, the myth of the future rational society, and thus the possibility of foreseeing the future.

And this arose in spite of what already had been said by Engels: “According to the materialist conception of history, the determining element in history is, in the last instance, the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever affirmed any more than this; therefore, if someone twists this into an assertion that the economic element is the sole determining one, they transform it into a meaningless, abstract and absurd phrase.”6

The supercession of these errors was realized in two visions: one structuralist, the other historicist.

On economism:

  1. For structuralism, the distinction between different aspects of reality, overcoming the view of economic base/superstructure and determining/determined; the distinction between the mode of production of material goods as an abstract concept defining the form of production and appropriation of the surplus, and which is the central concept (here I will call it, for more clarity, the “mode of exploitation”).
  2. Historicism: a modification of the concept of “material basis”: the economic dimension changes historically, and is the production and reproduction of real life. In history, there have existed three material bases: the biological (the patriarchal communist mode of exploitation, the political (the mode of tributary exploitation) and the economic (capitalist mode of exploitation).

In this perspective, all the basic economic concepts are no longer economic:

  • the productive forces have to also include knowledge;
  • the relations of production are the production of social relations;
  • we have to talk not merely of the mode of production of material goods but also of the mode of exploitation in the sense indicated above;
  • it is not sufficient to consider the ownership of the means of production but also their possession, i.e., the power of decision on the daily activity of the firm as the basis of the managerial techno-bureaucracy);7
  • the surplus is not only capitalist surplus value, but also varies according to the material base;
  • social classes vary and we have to distinguish between classes in themselves: the objective interests of distinct professional groups, and classes for themselves: when these interests are concretized in social forces defending those interests.

On mechanism:

History is not the succession of modes of production, but rather a social formation resulting, unforeseeably, from class struggle. The basic concepts are not the social base but rather a social formation, which is greater than relations of production, greater than class structure, and greater than a mode of exploitation.

Marx proclaimed: “I am not a Marxist.” He was right, given the distortions of his thought by his disciples; obviously it cannot be based on any human being, without turning that person into God (which is what happened); rather, a new science was created, historical materialism, not based on any specific assertion, but rather on Marx’s great discovery: history is the result and the creator of class struggle.

I think I can end here, having laid out what Sorel tells us:

Let us return to Marx, that is my motto, and I believe it is the right path. Marxism is very far from being the doctrine and method of Marx; in the hands of disciples lacking historical knowledge and an adequate critical philosophy, Marxism has been turned into a caricature.8

  1. John Holloway, Changing the World Without Taking Power.

  2. R. García-Durán, Saber, sociedad tecnológica y clases (Hacer, 2000).

  3. Antonio Sala y Eduardo Durán, Crítica de la izquierda autoritaria en Cataluña (Ruedo Ibérico, 1975).

  4. Anton Pannekoek, Workers Councils (1941–42).

  5. Herbert Marcuse: One-Dimensional Man; Wilhelm Reich: Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis; Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, Reading Capital; Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes in the Capitalist State.

  6. Friedrich Engels, Carta a J. Bloch, in Friedrich Engels, Obras Escogidas (Cartago, 1957).

  7. Charles Bettelheim, Calcul économique et formes de propriété (Broché, 1971).

  8. George Sorel, Lettres a Benedetto Croce (La critique sociale, no. 1, March 1931).

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