Home > Juan McIver, The 'Solidarity' Group > McIver – Revolution Re-Affirmed: Mysteries of Cardanism Part 2

McIver – Revolution Re-Affirmed: Mysteries of Cardanism Part 2

Showing his profound ignorance of Marxism, Cardan asks the following theoretical questions in Revolution Re-Affirmed (RR):
“Where, since 1923 (date at which Lakacs’ “History and Class Consciousness’ was published) has anything been produced which has advanced Marxism? Where, since 1940 (date of Trotsky’s death), has a single text been written defending traditional Marxist ideas at a level which allows one to discuss them without blushing? Where, since the Spanish Civil War has a self-styled Marxist group participated in any meaningful way – and according to its own principles -in a genuine activity of the masses? Quite simply: nowhere’.” (p6)

The ultimatistic, categorical flavour of these statements shouldn’t terrorise the reader of Cardan. We are used to his grandiose oversimplifications paraded as “new” theories. The best way to begin to bring together the loose ends in the above quoted paragraph is to subject Cardan’s assertions to a rigorous historical analysis.

Firstly, we are puzzled at the assertion that Lukacs’ 1923 book “advanced” Marxism. In what sense are his forumulations about reification superior to Marx’s? It indeed was revolutionary for Lukacs to bring back – philosophically at least – some of the cornerstone of Marx’s methodology. This was especially so when the doctrinaire and positivistic practice of Social Democracy had buried that revolutionary kernel, and the Leninism of the Comintern had proven to be merely voluntaristic Kautskyism. So, Lukacs was in a way being “traditional”, – in what way does that amount to an “advancement”? Lukacs also posed the question of reification in an entirely a-historical way, which allowed him to become a rabid ultra-Leninist when the pressing issues of the day confronted revolutionaries. On the question of the party vanguard, on the question of the trade unions, his views were not an “advancement” but rather a retrogression – a retrogression towards Leninism, the ideology of state capitalism today. It is no accident that the latter-day “Lukscsians” are in agreement with Leninists on the fundamental issues of the class struggle. Philosophically, people like Leszek Kolalowski and Lucien Goldman are cases in point. If Cardan wants to mention “advancements” of their sort, we recommend Antonio Gramsci’s The Modern Prince. A more down to earth apology for centralised state bureaucracy.

Unfortunately for Cardan, after 1940 many texts were written that allowed one to discuss without “blushing”. As a matter of fact. Trotsky’s writings do produce blushings, and did produce blushings in many revolutionaries at the tine of their publication. Trotsky’s discussions on bureaucracy, for example, are sophomoric and actually were retrogressions theoretically and practically. His refusal to accept that a private-propertyless bureaucracy could be a class ignored the historical precedents of Asiatic formations, or Engels’ statements about the capitalist nature of the bourgeoisie’s “official representative”: the state. Many revolutionaries were able to see the Russian bureaucracy as a capitalist class, or as a stratus dedicated to capital accumulation. Socialists didn’t have to wait to read Chalieu’s 1949 writings on the Russian relations of production o become aware of these problems.

The term “Spanish Civil War” in itself is a mystification. When we talk about the 1917 Russia Revolution we don’t allude to it as the “Russian Civil War – it was a working class revolution. The same goes for Spain, it was a proletarian revolution. For Cardan, the use of Republican verbiage in this case is a natural mistake, a corollary to his assumption that the POUM participated “according to its principles” in the Spanish Revolution. Was joining the Catalonian Generalidad part of its “principles”? Was such a reactionary section (plus many others) a “meaningful” participation with the masses? The POUM may have been “self-styled” Marxist, but was that Bukharinist bloc really Marxist?

The examples that Cardan cites to prove “the end of classical Marxism” are all suspect, partly due to omission of relevant historical data and mainly due to Cardan’s own political views. What he understands as “classical Marxism” is perhaps his own past “Marxism”, a misunderstanding one can put up with but not excuse.

The Marxism Cardan should have been attempting to criticise is the one expressed by diverse oppositional currents in the 3rd International which held revolutionary positions on the question of the workers councils. On the nature of reformism; some were against the Russian ruling class explicitly before and after Kronstadt. But Cardan never wastes time with such currents. Like Deutscher. He probably thinks that those “sects” were not influential enough or were perhaps utopian. Ultra-left marxism wasn’t historically “successful’. But then neither has a world proletarian revolution. [???] political practice, however, means nothing if we don’t assume [???] such development, such ‘success’. Is possible and necessary to [???]

Cardan’s arrogant disregard for the ultra-left could be understood as rejection of even the heritage of Socialisme ou Barbarie when it still thought itself as Marxist. After all, the review appeared after 1923, not to mention 1940! The many excellent essays by Cardan himself, by Mothe, Lefort, Bricianer and others, were advancements in Marxism in the early 50’, in spite of their implicit acceptance of Leninism. The Cardan of the 60’s is no longer the same thing.

The treatment of ‘modern capitalism’ in RR is inferior in quality to Cardan’s previous text, Modern Capitalism and Revolution. A Critique of the latter is included in this collection of documents, so we won’t dwell on Cardanite ‘economics’ here. What is important in RR is its treatment of classes. On p9 we read: ‘For classical Marxism the division of society was between capitalists, who owned the means of production, and property-less proletarians. Today the division must be seen as between order-givers (dirigeants_ and order-takers (executants).’

And ‘Society was seen as dominated by the abstract power of impersonal capital. Today we see it dominated by a hierarchical and bureaucratic structure, affecting all aspects of social life.’ (ibid, p9)

Thus for Cardan the dominant contradiction ‘…within capitalism is exemplified in the type of cleavage between management and execution which modern capitalism brings about.’ (p10)

Cardan’s views of bureaucracy remain hopelessly trapped within a Trotskyist framework. In the 50’s, Cardan began to talk of bureaucracy as something which Marxism hadn’t predicted, a category which couldn’t be dealt with ‘traditional’ methods of thinking. In this he was simply following a long tradition in the Trotskyist movement. When Trotsky was defending his views of Russia as a ‘degenerated workers state’, he inevitably showed an incapacity to understand an alternative critique: that one provided by the theory of state capitalism. Instead, he gave signs that he would have accepted a view of Russia as a sort of ‘bureaucratic-collectivist’ society, a ‘new’ type of exploitative society. In Trotsky’s views, capitalism can only be the impersonal power of capital expressed through private property. Cardan’s views of the 50’s don’t challenge this methodology. According to him, the bourgeoisie was abandoning the historical arena to the ‘bureaucracy’. Empirically, such a view contains a lot of truth, but it fails to understand why this is so.

Cardan’s early views were challenged by many revolutionaries: by Munis, by Bordiga (the latter wrote a very biting polemical attack against Cardan’s ‘new’ ideas in an essay called ‘La Batrachomyomachie’) and others. Cardan’s views on bureaucracy failed to stress that bureaucracy has always existed in capitalism (the enlightened monarchs. The Prussian bureaucracy, the Meiji technocracy, etc.) The need to accumulate and concentrate capital in a period of capitalist decadence brings also the emergence of totalitarian political forms. The frenzied need to accumulate or facilitate accumulation. Required a centralised state machine which can (not without creating serious social upheaval) attempt to accumulate capital on its own, liquidating the old bourgeois class. The crux of the question here is not the ‘bureaucratisation of the world’ but rather the mechanisms of capital formation which facilitate or require a historical tendency towards bureaucracy.

The question of classes and Cardanism’s rejection of the relationships created by ownership/control of the means of production is crucial to Solidarity’s practice.

At times Cardan in RR engages in this type of sophistry: ‘…to speak today of the proletariat as a class is to indulge in purely descriptive sociology: what united workers as identical members of a group is imply the sum total of the common passive features imposed on them by capitalism [and by Cardan, We should add], and not their own attempt to define themselves as a class, united and opposed to the rest of society, either through their activity-even peiecemeal-or through their orgaisation-even that of a minority.’ (RR,p17)

What the hell is this supposed to mean? That we can’t refer to the working class? Should we instead relate to the ‘piecemeal’ efforts of each Cardanite to bore us to death?

Some London Cardanites believe that the working class are ‘order-takers’ and that the capitalists are the ‘order-givers! This permits them to continue to believe that the notion and reality of the working class as the only revolutionary class has some place in Solidarity’s theory and practice. This allows them to present their faces with some air of credibility to workers, particularly in factories. At this point the right-wing Cardanites (ie, the real, consistent ones keep their heads down.

The middle-of-the-road Cardanites recognise that he situation is not too clear-cut. They try to unite that which can’t be united. A populist approach (the ‘authority’ question) and a revolutionary materialist one. Thus these Cardanites have many revolutionary agencies: students, teachers, Cardanites, priests, schoolchildren, ‘youth’, some workers (those who aren’t ‘sociological’) and who knows what else.

But the real Cardanites. Those who accept Cardan’s latest viewpoint, still haven’t taken over the group completely, though this is just a matter of time. With Cardan, they hold that the important division now (the most ‘modern’ one that is ) is between ‘those who accept the system and those who reject it! This is a vulgar psychological banality and we shouldn’t waste too much time with it. It means that Cardanites have theoretically prepared themselves to enter into all kinds of populist experiments, reactionary alliances and organisational demise. There is no need to have a group if the ‘acceptance or refusal’ view point is held. Each Cardanite can say that he or she ‘refuses’ the system and leave it at that. Many of Dostoevsky’s heroes, Genet’s Queens, lumpenproletarians. Manson’s friends could apply for membership in Solidarity. Why not? A lunatic or an assassin certainly ‘refuse’ the system more than any loud-mouthed Cardanite! Moral stances would now be the criteria for being a revolutionary.

As a final point we should say that the marxist concept of the division of society into materially determined class does include authority relations. It also provides a framework to analise and relate to other social groups which Cardan stupidly assumes were ‘marginal’ to Marxism. The ‘order-giver order-taker’ equation doesn’t give us a clue as to why orders have to be given or what kinds of orders are we referring to . As in all categories of Cardanism, we begin from subjective and arbitrary definition, devoid of material foundations.


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