Hegel’s philosophy is too deep in its principle and comprehensive in its structure for it too have already come to an end. If its opponents consider it as already collapsed, that is an illusion with which they flatter themselves, while it is they who have fallen into certain ruin on account of their one-sideness. Karl Rosenkranz: The Life of Hegel
It is impossible to provide a “slogan of struggle” unless we study every separate form of the struggle minutely; unless we trace every stage of the struggle during the transition from one form to another, so that we can define the situation at any given moment, without losing sight of the general character of the struggle and its general aim, namely, the complete and final abolition of all exploitation and all oppression. V.I.Lenin: What the “Friends of the People” are and How they Fight the Social Democrats
We are publishing the first volume of this journal at a moment when Marxism as an integral world outlook appears to be comprehensively defeated. The much heralded “revival of Marxism” which characterised the last decade stopped at the assimilation of Marx to the pluralistic pantheon of petty bourgeois protest against injustice and demand for redistribution. It is the new “Marxists” themselves who are the first to conciliate with sociology and postmodernism, nationalism and feminism and to protest that they would never dream of negating en bloc the validity of the apologia and mystification which a decadent imperialism peddles as “science” and “critique”.
However, we think it is precisely the subterranean discontent of which this revival forms one manifestation that provides the surest guarantee that the time is ripe not only for yet another assimilation of Marxism to bourgeois thought but for the reaffirmation of its status as the sole legitimate heir to the heritage of human freedom. Since its magnificent culmination in the systems of Kant, Hegel and classical political economy, bourgeois thought no longer the revolutionary critique of feudal society has regressed to the fetishistic worship of the forms of appearance of capital. For almost two centuries it has been a living corpse and necrophilia is never a healthy impulse.
Today it is only Marxism as the inextricable unity of militant practice in the workers movement with the scientific critique of capital and the revolutionary program of its overcoming which carries forward the project of universal emancipation. Following the revolutions of 1848 and with redoubled force after 1917 bourgeois thought has become an increasingly barbaric practice of mystification. The discourse of blind commercial anarchy spewing its savage hatred against the reason and progress it was compelled to abandon and now slanders as “totalitarianism” and “reductionism”. To indulge a reckless eclecticism and mix Marxist methodology with any current of this ideological junk is to destroy it utterly. This mode of proceeding reduces Marxism to the stylistic affect of an empiricist cataloguing of the features of mere appearance deployed to justify the timeless petty bourgeois demand for a “more democratic” regime of wage slavery.
We begin from the opposite standpoint. The integral system formulated by Marx and Engels is not only the culminating point of the rational and liberating impetus of all prior human thought from classical philosophy and falsafa to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, but the only cause of social progress in the 20th century. It was the direct and indirect impact of the October Revolution and of Soviet state power even in the degraded form of the Stalinist bureaucracy which destroyed fascism and tipped the balance of power in the favour of labour worldwide. And the October Revolution and the Soviet state were themselves only the product of the merger of this system of thought with the workers movement.
Today, if we are to carry out the same merger again, to do our part in breaking through the new and more suffocating Restoration which has followed the collapse of the degenerated workers states we must begin by fully grasping Marxist methodology and relentlessly defending it against every bourgeois mixture and adulteration in the process. Before we can unite the most advanced theory with the workers movement we must first possess it ourselves. By the same token in order to assimilate this theory we must act within the working class struggle. Advance towards objective truth is only possible through a perpetual struggle against empiricism and scholasticism.
It is within the above framework, and not through any hopeless romanticism which in the face of its own incapacity flees the rationality of the real and writes a tedious sob story of “objective conditions” that the confusion of the contemporary Marxist left must be understood. Without a solid methodological grounding, the articulation, let alone the implementation of a coherent strategic orientation is impossible. The impotent and pessimistic practice of a “negative critique” at a distance from practice alternates with the tailing of reformist social democracy and petty bourgeois populism. If as Mehring once observed there is nothing more congenial to bourgeois parties than convincing the proletariat that their factional battles are waged on its behalf, nothing should be more pleasing to them then the activity of most Marxists today. One is either enjoined to take a position amidst the dreary squabbles of the party of order or consigns oneself to nihilistic passivity and glorification of the lowest forms of spontaneity.
The single alternative to this dead zone is the construction of a pole of proletarian political independence within the workers movement. An unqualified opposition to all the bourgeois parties (particularly the bourgeois workers parties) on the basis of the program of proletarian dictatorship already clearly and precisely established for our epoch at the First Congress of the Communist International. And working class political independence demands Marxist philosophical independence as its precondition. In order to separate from the bourgeois parties we must begin by separating from bourgeois thought. Separation from bourgeois politics on the basis of separation from bourgeois thought is the guiding program of this journal. It is on the basis of the accomplishment of this separation that we can begin to reconstruct our own independent strength.
The proletarian revolution is neither the realisation or the negation of the bourgeois revolution. But a negation on the basis of full realisation. Those who see it as a realisation dissolve proletarian politics within petty bourgeois democracy and make an apologia of the mystified self image of the bourgeois world. Those who see it as a negation regress even below the democratic bourgeois and dream of a soothing return to primitive servitude. The avoidance of these two extremes and the recognition of the contradictory relation realisation-negation as irreducible and constitutive is the philosophical premise of any independent worker’s politics.
The working class struggle forms an organic whole. No one aspect of the classic tripartite division of economic, political and ideological struggle can be taken in isolation from the others. If in the period prior to restructuring the working class appeared strong on account of the positions it held in the economic struggle, Stalinist and social democratic control of the workers movement ensured that ideologically and politically it remained subordinated to the bourgeoisie. The one sided appearance of strength masked the reality of weakness. A weakness exposed by the imperialist counter-offensive whose effects we still experience. Ideological and political weakness conditioned an incapacity not only to overcome the capitalist production relations but to defend the gains of labour within them.
Likewise, today we can no more expect a successful renewal of the economic struggle in the absence of a counter-offensive on the ideological and political fronts then we can expect advances on the latter two outside of substantive victories in the former. The reconstruction of the labour movement requires the reconstruction of the proletariat as a political and ideological subject within it. The reconstruction of the proletariat can only be carried out within the everyday struggles of the working class. This is our program for the present moment and our guarantee against sectarianism and economism. We welcome those who share this conviction to contribute to our project in the months and years to come.
Unlike some we don’t claim to have ourselves already mastered the Marxist tradition to which we demand the strictest fidelity. Unlike others we refuse to mask our confusion with opportunist calls for “freedom of criticism”. Our proposal is simple, to construct a living politics of universal emancipation within the workers movement on the basis of the most rigorous possible assimilation of the underlying methodology of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Neither dogmatic phrase mongering rooted in the naively empiricist reading of classic texts nor liquidationist conciliation with the universal regression of the present. Rather the reconstruction of the theoretical premises of proletarian political practice not as an academic exercise but as the substantive content of that practice itself.
Editorial Committee of Counter Attack, May 2021.