Posts Tagged ‘paul cardan’

The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid (SPGB – 1969)

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

‘The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid’, Socialist Standard, No. 774 (February 1969)


Men will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. “Socialism” means a world-wide society, democratically controlled, without profits, wages or money. This is a practical proposition now.

All attempts to solve such problems as war, poverty, loneliness, miserable and degrading toil, inside a society based on wages and profits are sure to fail. We, alone of all political organisations, use Marx’s slogan “Abolition of the wages system!”

Thousands of people come forward with plans to re-arrange the wages system. They imagine that slavery can be operated in the interests of slaves! They are wasting their time.

One such school of thought is the political group which calls itself “Solidarity.” Their case is presented in a pamphlet entitled The Meaning of Socialism, which declares that the root of misery in work is, not wage-slavery, but the system of management.

The author, Paul Cardan, proposes to keep the compulsion to work through threat of starvation. He even quotes approvingly St. Paul’s injunction “He that does not work, neither shall he eat.” Production for the market is to be retained in Cardan’s “Socialism” but it is to be “a genuine market for consumer goods, with consumers’ sovereignty.” The wages system is to be retained. We are still to be hired and fired, disciplined and dragooned—but with a difference which Mr. Cardan sees as important: instead of the majority of workers being supervised by a specially trained section of workers (management) the entire work-force in each place of production will manage itself democratically, through workers’ councils. The key feature of “Socialism” is that it will “eliminate all distinct strata of specialised or permanent managers.”

The Socialist Party rejects “workers’ management” as a solution to workers’ problems. We insist on the abolition of wages.

It is to be feared that the tyranny of your mates might prove as terrible as the tyranny of your manager, if your mates are equally as bound up with production for sale on a market. This is the crucial difference between “Solidarity” and us. We say that tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet—the permission to live—must be abolished.

The most crucial error in Cardan’s analysis is his belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be guided by “workers’ management” towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and’ imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Cardan that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which members of “Solidarity” ought at least to consider.

Perhaps they will say that the important thing is the removal of the ruling class. It is true that the capitalists, like all ruling classes, live in great luxury and possess immense power. But it is a mistake to think that the workers are poor because the capitalists consume so much. On the contrary, the wealth actually consumed personally by capitalists is an insignificant (and diminishing) fraction of total wealth produced. Taking the consumption of the capitalists and sharing it out amongst the workers would result in a rise for us all of only a few shillings a week. It is a fact that our masters live off the fat of the land, but if they starved in garrets we should still be slaves. Socialists an not primarily concerned, like vulgar moralists and apostles of “fair play,” to indict the caviar and yachts of the Paul Gettys, but rather the misdirection of production: the subordination of consumption to accumulation and the immensity of organized waste and destruction.

Similarly, though the capitalist class has power, we do not merely condemn the arbitrary, irresponsible decisions of those in high places. We condemn also the decisions which capitalists and workers are forced to make as a result of the workings of capitalism’s laws of motion.

“Capitalism without capitalists” could never in fact come about. Should the working-class reach a level of understanding where they could pressurize the ruling class out of existence, they would long since have passed the stage where they would have abolished the wages system and established Socialism. And there are several purely economic arguments why escalating differences in access to wealth would always result from a wages-profits system. But even if we suspend these judgments, and consider “Capitalism without capitalists” in our imaginations, we can see it would be no improvement on capitalism with capitalists. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation not a state of affairs Which Socialist aim for.

Some advocates of “workers’ control” advance the argument that although it wouldn’t solve workers’ problems it should still be supported because workers are too simple- minded to understand the abolition of wages, and must therefore be given “workers’ control” as the sugar on the pill (except that these gentlemen invariably then forget about the pill altogether). Cardan cannot use this line argument, and this is to his credit, for he has quite correct debunked it:

“The Party . . . “knows” (or believes that it knows) that the sliding scale of wages will never be accepted by capitalism. It believes that this demand, if really fought for by the workers, will lead to a revolutionary situation and eventually to the revolution itself. If it did it would “scare the workers off” who are not “yet” ready to fight for socialism as such. So the apparently innocent demand for a sliding scale of wages is put forward as feasible . . . while “known” to be unfeasible. This is the bait which will make the workers swallow the hook and the revolutionary line. The Party, firmly holding the rod, will drag the class along into the “socialist” frying pan. All this would be a monstrous conception, were it not so utterly ridiculous.”

We would certainly endorse this attack on Vanguardism, but it is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of absurdities which Cardan peddles.

In order to make credible his notion of “Socialism” (capitalism minus capitalism’s laws) he says that modern techniques of production are introduced under capitalism more to reduce the freedom of workers than to increase profitability:

“Machines are invented, or selected, according to one fundamental criterion: do they assist in the struggle of management against workers, do they reduce yet further the worker’s margin of autonomy, do they assist in eventually replacing him altogether? . . . No British capitalist, no Russian factory manager would ever introduce into his plant a machine which would increase the freedom of a particular worker or of a group of workers to run the job themselves, even if such a machine increased production.”

This astonishing claim is made without the smallest shred of evidence being supplied. Whilst it is possible that a few shrewd managers may accept a cut in short-term profits for the sake of insuring long-term profits by fragmenting workplace organization, the intricate conspiracy necessary for Cardan’s sweeping statement to be true would be humorous to contemplate. It borders on paranoia to attribute “ever minute division of labour and tasks” to the management‘s conscious attempts “to combat the resistance of the workers.” Division of labour, and other atomizing and features of modern techniques, are primarily the results of attempting to maintain or increase the level of profits. Modern productive methods are dictated, at a given of technology, by market laws (that is, from the management’s point of view, laws of costs and revenue) and largely outside the will of the capitalists themselves, or that of the managers.

A lot of Cardan’s propositions are developed in contrast to what he calls “Marxism.” It is quite apparent that he is abysmally ignorant of Marx’s theoretical system; the “Marxism” he denounces is the crudest mish-mash of fifth-rate Bolshevism. That is doubtless a further condemnation .of the dire results of Bolshevik confusion-mongering, but it hardly excuses Cardan for making statements about Marx without having read him.

For example, in The Meaning of Socialism, we read:

“By “Socialism” we mean the historical period which starts with the proletarian revolution and ends with communism. In thus defining it, we adhere very strictly to Marx. This is the only “transitional period” between class society and communism.”

Marx of course, never drew any distinction between Socialism and Communism, and always gave these words identical meanings. “Solidarity,” like the “Communist” Party and Trotskyists, concede that it is necessary to abolish wages and money, but say that this is an “ultimate aim” (translation: not an aim at all).

It is also claimed that Marx has been proved wrong by what happened in Russia, because private property was abolished there without his predicted results. Cardan ought to consider Marx’s statement that as long as power over people exists, private property exists. Cardan further believes that Russia has abolished unemployment, which is admittedly not ignorance of Marx, but of Russia.

It is alleged that Marx saw the domination of men by machines as an inexorable consequence of the advance of technology, as a fact which had to be accepted even in Socialism. This is an outrageous howler. Marx was at great pains to stress that the domination of living labour by dead labour was in point of fact an optical illusion. When the instruments of labour appeared to be outside the control of Man, it was in actuality the case that Man’s social relations were outside his control. Thus when Engels talks about the “mastery of the product over the producer” he does not mean that the products are actually the masters, but simply that they seem to be, as long as producers cannot control their social organization of production. They will remain unable to do so as long as these are commodity relations (1). Socialists have always emphasised that in Socialism production will be organized not just to make more goods, but also to make work itself enjoyable.

Like most Left-wingers, “Solidarity” believe that the Russian Revolution was Socialist. This belief is not an accident, but is closely related to their other misconceptions. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” wrote Marx. The Nightmare of Leftism, which weighs so heavily on the brains of today’s Romantic Revolutionaries, is the tradition of capitalist revolutions: the glorification of bloody insurrection, a mystical “Peoples Will” or “Proletarian Consciousness” which has no connection with what people actually will, or what workers actually understand, and hence the disparaging of political democracy, and the theory that revolutionary workers can be “held back” by a Party apparatus. “Solidarity” is no exception. Its ideas belong to the past; they have no future.

On the October Revolution Mr. Cardan comments:

“Many people (various social democrats, various anarchists and the Socialist Party of Great Britain) have said that nothing really happened in Russia except a coup d’état carried out by a Party which, having somehow obtained the support of the working class, sought only to establish its own dictatorship and succeeded in doing so.

We don’t wish to discuss this question in an academic manner. Our aim is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution. The questions which are important for us are different ones. Did the Russian working class play a historical role of its own during this period? . . . The independent role played by the proletariat was clear-cut and undeniable.” (From Bolshevism To The Bureaucracy.)”

To this we can only retort that the view attributed to the Socialist Party is surely too silly to have even been held by anyone. All capitalist revolutions are highly complex phenomena, and 1917 was no exception. Cardan’s aim “is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution,” despite the fact that in his writings he persistently refers to it as such, no less than four times in this particular pamphlet prior to the above excerpt! Of course workers played an independent role in 1917. Workers have played an independent role in every capitalist revolution without exception. That should be elementary.

Two questions have to be asked; they answer themselves. Had Russia in 1917 reached a level of development where abundance for all was possible? And did the Russian working-class in 1917 possess a clear understanding of the need for a wageless, moneyless, stateless society?

To sum up, movements for “workers’ management,” “workers’ participation” and “workers’ control” (though their various adherents distinguish very loudly between these three) will probably be used by capitalism, as in Yugoslavia, to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management, and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to muffle the trade union struggle and enhance the process of exploitation. This is not what the members of “Solidarity” want, but then neither is the present structure of the steel industry what Labour Leftists wanted. “Workers’ management” is a cul-de-sac, to replace the cul-de-sac of nationalization. Please, don’t take another fifty years to see through this one. . . .

We say that in an epoch of potential Plenty the cry should be, not “workers’ management,” but “To each according to his wants!”

(1) This point is made abundantly clear in Marx’s Wage Labour And Capital, and Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, and is frequently stressed throughout Marx’s writings.

Maurice Brinton interview (1990)

January 5, 2013 Leave a comment


Interview with Chris Pallis (aka Maurice Brinton) produced by Agora International during the Cerisy Colloquium. He talks about the importance of Cornelius Castoriadis’ (aka Paul Cardan)’s ideas in his break from Trotskyism, and the ‘Solidarity’ group, of which he was the most prominent member.

Source: Agora International

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

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

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.


McIver – Revolution Re-Affirmed : Problems of Method (Part 1)

December 30, 2011 4 comments

This newly translated essay by Cardan has been presented to the London group. Actually, the essay says nothing that Cardan hasn’t said before. To answer all the questions posed by the essay is not possible here, though such a critique is indeed necessary. However, it is possible to answer some points, especially on the method used by Cardan, which determines the way he presents facts.

Cardan’s approach to Marxism is highly contradictory. On p2 he remarks that “What was best in Marx’s writing may…serve as an inspiration…” for analyses of phenomena previously considered “marginal.” On p6 we read:”…one of the most indestructible principles taught by Marx himself [was that’ an ideology was not to be judged by the words it uses but what it became in social reality.| Lukacs HISTORY AND CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS is considered by cardan as an advancement of Marxism (p6). There is, apparently, a dimension in Marxism which should be followed (maybe) or developed. What exactly it is is not made clear.

But the dimension which shouldn’t be accepted is the “economic system” developed by Marx in Capital (Modern Capitalism and Revolution, p33) Marx’s economic conception “…are equivalent to treating the workers in theory as capitalism would like to treat them in practice …but cannot: that is, as mere objects.” (MCAR, p23) Cardan also holds that bureaucratic politics “objectively flow” from Marx’s economic ideas: “These are the ideas that have finally culminated in Stalinism and which-shared by Trotskyism-have made it impossible for Trotskyism to clearly differentiate itself as a political tendency. For objectivist views of economics and history can only be a source of bureaucratic politics,…” MCAR, p35) This is so even if Marx himself didn’t draw such political conclusions from his economic theories. Cardan here doesn’t go far enough as some anarchists who claim that those views explain Marx’s dictatorial machinations in the First International, or that those views are some how connected to anal-eroticism.

We hold that there’s a revolutionary continuity in Marx’s writings,from the 1840’s to his death. Volumes have been written on this, and we believe that analyses such as provided by Dunayevskaya or David McLellan, Korsch, Goldman and others, are more historically accurate than Cardan’s mechanical construction of “two” Marxes. This doesn’t mean that the whole, or any. Of Marx’s works shouldn’t be continuously re-examined. We simply disagree with Cardan’s methodology. All of Marx’s writings are historical evidences. Some of his programmatic ideas can only be reactionary today – such as those expressed in The Communist Manifesto. Many of his personal scheming in the First International was unprincipled (though there’s much historical debate here, not only among “defenders of the faith”). But we refuse to allow a simplistic and reductionist theory a la Cardan, which neatly attempts to tidy up revolutionary theory by constructing a direct bridge from Marxism to state capitalism, or bureaucratic capitalism as Cardan would prefer.

Cardan’s description of Marx’ theory of wages is a more adequate description of Lasalle’s doctrinaire nonsense about “The Iron Law of Wages”. Of course, depending upon one’s personal predilections on method, it is possible to create a view of Marxism which corresponds closely to Lassalleism or Stalinism, using the appropriate dose of quotations. This approach is applicable to any social theory, including Cardan’s ideas. Humanist liberalism, grass-roots reformism and all sorts of populist experiments can easily be construed from Cardan’s views, and he will need to say ”I’m not a Cardanist”. It would be unfair. However, to draw a parallel between Marx and Cardan here. Marx was always able to quote his sources in a rigorous and scholarly manner. Cardan, who undoubtedly has learned a lot from Weber, Rizzi, Marcuse, Aron and others, usually never quotes any philosophical source. One gets the impression that his theoretical development has occurred in a vacuum or perhaps through intuition (for an incomplete through quite perceptive analysis of Cardan’s views, it is useful to read George Litchteim’s Marxism in Modern France, pp 184-192).

Having said this, nobody can deny that Marxism indeed has become a theology and a “system” of fanatical faith. However, it will take a lot more work to understand why this is so than Cardan’s unilinear explanations. Marxism is the dogma of many state capitalist societies, but it is not simply “Marxism” or “Marxism in general” (as Korsch aptly put it). “…duly edited and purged of their real theoretical content [Marx’s observations of historical development] have become the foundation of an ideology which has replaced other modes of thought over a third of the globe.” Observes George Lichteim in Marxism (pp 146-147). Similarly, Panekoek was able to analyse Lenin’s version of Marxism as a philosophical response springing from Russia’ bourgeois backwardness. Interestingly enough, in Revolution Re-Affirmed Cardan spares no detachment and even contempt for hat he calls “the ultra-left” sects without specifying who these people were or are. Is the ultra-left of the 20s meant here? Various council communists such as Pannekoek and Mattick The fact that the continuity of Marxism as a living revolutionary theory was maintained (however distortedly) by the ultra-left from the 20’s, is of no importance to Cardan.

The term “classical Marxism” used by Cardan (as a system of ideas and action which presumably was destroyed in 1939) only mystifies the historical problem. A lineal continuity is swiftly established between Marxism-Leninism-Trotskyism (pp 1-2). A scientific approach would requite an establishing not so much of common denominators between these components of “classical Marxism” but of actual differences. Even what is common to these components has varying historical nuances.

This methodology is correctly grasped by Lucien Goldman when he writes: “At any given historical moment every writer, thinker and likewise, every social group, is surrounded by a large number of ideas and positions that are religious, moral, political, etc.. and these constitute so many possibly influence. From among them the writer, thinker, or social group selects only one system, or a small number of them, and this selection will really be influential. The problem posed to this historian and socialistic then is not that of knowing whether Kant was influenced by Hume, Pascal by Montaigne, Descartes, the Third Estate of France before the Revolution by political thinkers, but why they sustained precisely this influence in this particular period of this history or their life.” (The Human Sciences and Philosophy, p92)

Lichteim observes that “Social Democracy was older than Marxism,…” (Marxism, p90) The inter-relationships, influences, and tensions which existed between Marx and Engels and the existing European labour movement have been extensively documented and that history continues to be enriched by today’s experiences and research. How and when did Marxism begin to develop as a church within Germany, or as a conspiracy in Tsarist Russia, has to be grasped in its contemporary development. To be sure, for Stalinism, that history is an inevitable progression towards the Moscow autocracy. From a different angle, Cardan arrives at a similar conclusion What we could say is that the canonisation of Marxism is a partial reflection of terrible working class defeats throughout 3 generations. To infer that Marxism is actively responsible for these defeats (because of Marxism’s economic theories) is to give too much weight to Marxism. First, it has to be proven that an “un-alloyed” Marxism was the practice of the 2nd and 3rd (or 4th) Internationals and secondly it has to be proven that millions of people actually read, discussed, adsorbed, developed, digested and criticised the texts of “classical Marxism” The idea that claims that “the working class movement, seen as an organised class movement explicitly and permanently contesting capitalist exploitation has disappeared.” (Revolution Re-Affirmed), p1) is a myth. Such a working class didn’t exist in the first place, except at the realm of production, where the nature of contestation is quite different. In an article on the working class, Paul Mattick Jr. (an unknown ultra-left sectarian) presents a different view to Cardan’s:
“What gave the appearance of a non-intergration of the working class in the past was the existence of ideologically revolutionary organisations ‘of the working class’ – the social democratic trade unions and parties the Communist parties and the unions of the Third International (and Soviet Russia itself in the age in which it was easier to believe in it as bastion of world revolution). In fact these very organisations were, at their moments of strength, also instruments for the integration of the working class. “(New Politics, Vol VIII, N3, p32) Cardan’s assumption that such an organised movement was contesting capitalist exploitation is objectively untrue, and it amounts to an implied apology for Leninism and Trotskyism,. To be sure, there were politically motivated contestations against capitalism, but these occurred mainly in revolutionary periods and in spite of Leninist of Anarchist reformism. All this is clouded by the simplistic terms “classical Marxism”.

Part 2 of this critique will bring out some of the impliations of Cardan’s ideas about “modern capitalism” and his concept of “order giver-order taker”.

Paul Cardan – The Fate of Marxism

January 23, 2011 2 comments

P. Cardan, The Fate of Marxism (London: Solidarity)

Between 1961 and 1965 ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’ published (in its issues 36-40) an important article by Paul Cardan entitled ‘Marxisme et ThÈorie RÈvolutionnaire’. Part I dealt with ‘the historical fate of marxism and the notion of orthodoxy’ and this pamphlet is based on that section. Part II went on to discuss ‘the marxist theory of history’. We published it under the title ‘History and Revolution’ in August 1971. Further sections, not yet translated, deal with ‘the marxist philosophy of history’, ‘the two elements in marxism and what historically became of them’, ‘the balance sheet’, and ‘the nature of revolutionary theory’.

The present text first appeared in Solidarity (London) vol.IV, no.3 (August 1966). A later reprint was produced by Solidarity (Clydeside).

which marxism?

For anyone seriously concerned with the social question, an encounter with marxism is both immediate and inevitable. It is probably even wrong to use the word ‘encounter’, in that such a term conveys both something external to the observer and something that may or may not happen. Marxism today has ceased to be some particular theory or some particular political programme advocated by this or that group. It has deeply permeated our language, our ideas and the very reality around us. It has become part of the air we breathe in coming into the social world. It is part of the historical landscape in the backgrounds of our comings and goings.

For this very reason to speak of marxism has become one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. We are involved in the subject matter in a hundred different ways. Moreover this Marxism, in realizing itself, has become impossible to pin down. For with which marxism should we deal? With the marxism of Khruschev or with the marxism of Mao Tse Tung? With the marxism of Togliatti or with that of Thorez? With the marxism of Castro, of the Yugoslays, or of the Polish revisionists? Or should one perhaps deal with the marxism of the Trotskyists (although here too the claims of geography reassert themselves: British and French trotskyists, trotskyists in the United States and trotskyists in Latin America tear one another to pieces, mutually denouncing one another as non marxist). Or should one deal with the Marxism of the Bordighists or of the SPGB, of Raya Dunayevskaya or of CLR James, or of this or that of the still smaller group of the extreme ‘left’? As I well known each of these groups denounces all others as betraying the spirit of ‘true’ marxism which it alone apparently embodies. A survey of the whole field will immediately show that there is not only the abyss separating ‘official’ from ‘oppositional’ marxisms. There is also the vast m plicity of both ‘official’ and ‘oppositional’ varieties each seeing itself as excluding all others.

There is no simple yardstick by which this complex situation could be simplified. There is no ‘test of events which speaks for itself’. Both the marxist politician enjoying the fruits of office the marxist political prisoner find themselves specific social circumstances, and in themselves these circumstances confer no particular valid to the particular views of those who expound them. On the contrary, particular circumstances ma] essential carefully to interpret what various s men for marxism say. Consecration in power gives no more validity to what a man says than does the halo of the martyr or irreconcilable opponent. For does not marxism itself teach us to view with suspicion both what emanates from institutionalized authority and what emanates from oppositions that perpetually fail to get even a toe hold in historical reality?

a return to the sources.

The solution to this dilemma cannot be purely and simply a ‘return to Marx’. What would such a return imply? Firstly it would see no more, in the development of ideas and actions in the last eighty years, and in particular in the development of social democracy, leninism, stalinism, trotskyism, etc, thann layer upon layer of disfiguring scabs covering a healthy body of intact doctrine. This would be most unhistorical.

It is not only that Marx’s doctrine is far from having the systematic simplicity and logical consistency that certain people would like to attribute to it. Nor is it that such a ‘return to the sources’ would necessarily have something academic about it ( at best it could only correctly re-establish the theoretical content of a doctrine belonging to the past – as one might attempt to do, say, for the writings of Descartes or St. Thomas Aquinas). Such an endeavour could leave the main problem unsolved, namely that of discovering the significance of Marxism for contemporary history and for those of us who live in the world of today.

The main reason why a ‘return to Marx’ is impossible is that under the pretext of faithfulness to Marx – and in order to achieve this faithfulness – such a ‘return’ would have to start by violating one of the essential principles enunciated by Marx himself. Marx was, in fact, the first to stress that the significance of a theory cannot be grasped independently of the historical and social practice which it inspires and initiates, to which it gives rise, in which it prolongs itself and under cover of which a given practice seeks to justify itself.

Who, today, would dare proclaim that the only significance of Christianity for history is to be found in reading unaltered versions of the Gospels or that the historical practice of various Churches over period of some 2,000 years can teach us nothing fundamental about the significance of this religious movement? A ‘faithfulness to Marx’ which would see the historical fate of marxism as something Un important would be just as laughable. It would in fact be quite ridiculous. Whereas for the Christian the revelations of the Gospels have a transcendental and an intemporal validity, no theory could ever have such qualities in the eyes of a marxist. To seek to discover the meaning of marxism only in what Marx wrote (while keeping quiet about what the doctrine has become in history) is to pretend – in flagrant contradiction with the central ideas of that doctrine – that real history doesn’t count and that the truth of a theory is always and exclusively to be found ‘further on’. It finally comes to replacing revolution by revelation and the understanding of events by the exegesis of texts.

All this would be bad enough. But there is worse. The insistence that a revolutionary theory be confronted, at all stages, by historical reality (1) is explicitly proclaimed in Marx’s writings. It is in fact part of the deepest meaning of Marxism. Marx’s marxism did not seek to be – and could not be – just one theory among others. It did not seek to hide its historical roots or to dissociate itself from its historical repercussions. Marxism was to provide the weapons not only for interpreting the world but for changing it. (2) The fullest meaning of the theory was, according to the theory itself, that it gave rise to and inspired a revolutionary practice. Those who, seeking to exculpate marxist theory, proclaim that none of the historical practices which for 100 years have claimed to base themselves on marxism are ‘really’ based on marxism, are in fact reducing marxism to the status of a mere theory, to the status of a theory just like any other. They are submitting marxism to an irrevocable judgment. They are in fact submitting it, quite literally, to a ‘Last Judgment’. For did not Marx thoroughly accept Hegel’s great idea: ‘Weltgeschichte ist Weltgericht’. (3)

marxism as ideology

Let us look at what happened in real life. In certain stages of modern history a practice inspired by marxism has been genuinely revolutionary. But in more recent phases of history it has been quite the opposite. And while these two phenomena need interpreting (and we will return to them) they undoubtedly point to the fundamental ambivalence of marxism. It is important to realise that in history, as in politics, the present weighs far more than the past. And for us, the present can be summed up in the statement that for the last 40 years Marxism has become an ideology in the full meaning that Marx himself attributed to this word. It has become a system of ideas which relate to reality not in order to clarify it and to transform it, but on the contrary in order to mask it and to justify it in the abstract.

It has become a means of allowing people to say one thing and to do another, to appear other than they are.

In this sense marxism first became ideology when it became Establishment dogma in countries paradoxically called ‘socialist’. In these countries ‘marxism’ is invoked by governments which quite obviously do not incarnate working class power and which are no more controlled by the working class than is any bourgeois government. In these countries ‘marxism’ is represented by ‘leaders of genius’ – whom their successors call ‘criminal lunatics’ without more ado. ‘Marxism’ is proclaimed the ideological basis of Tito’s policies and of those of the Albanians, of Russian policies and of those of the Chinese. In these countries marxism has become what Marx called the ‘solemn complement of justification’. It permits the compulsory teaching of ‘State and Revolution’ to students, while maintaining the most oppressive and rigid state structures known to history. It enables a self-perpetuating and privileged bureaucracy to take refuge behind talk of the ‘collective ownership of the means of production’ and of ‘abolition of the profit motive’.

But marxism has also become ideology in so far as it represents the doctrine of the numerous sects, proliferating on the decomposing body of the ‘official’ marxist movement. For us the word sect is not a term of abuse. It has a precise sociological and historical meaning. A small group is not necessarily a sect. Marx and Engels did not constitute a sect, even when they were most isolated. A sect is a group which blows up into an absolute a single side, aspect or phase of the movement from which it developed, makes of this the touchstone of the truth of its doctrine (or of the truth, full stop), subordinates everything else to this ‘truth’ and in order to remain ‘faithful’ to it is quite prepared totally to separate itself from the real world and henceforth to live in a world of its own. The invocation of marxism by the sects allows them to think of themselves and to present themselves as something other than what they are, namely as the future revolutionary party of that very proletariat in which they never succeed in implanting themselves.

Finally marxism has become ideology in yet another sense. For several decades now it has ceased to be a living theory. One could search the political literature of the last 30 years in vain even to discover fruitful applications of the theory, let alone attempts to extend it or to deepen it.

We don’t doubt that what we are now saying will provoke indignant protests among those who, while professing to ‘defend Marx’, daily bury his corpse a little deeper under the thick layers of their distortions and stupidities. We don’t care. This is no personal quarrel. In analysing the historical fate of max we are not implying that Marx had any kind of moral responsibility for what happened. It is marxism itself, in what was best and most revolutionary in it, namely its pityless denounciation of hollow phrases and ideologies and its insistence on permanent self-criticism, which compels us to take stock of what marxism has become in real life.

It is no longer possible to maintain or to rediscover some kind of ‘marxist orthodoxy’. It can’t be done in the ludicrous (and ludicrously linked) way in which the task is attempted by the high priests of stalinism and by the sectarian hermits, who see marxist doctrine which they presume intact, but ‘amend’, ‘improve’ or ‘bring up to date’ on this or that specific point, at their convenience. Nor can it be done in the dramatic and ultimatistic way suggested by Trotsky in 1940 (4) who said, more or less: ‘We know that marxism is an imperfect theory linked to a given period of history. We know that theoretical elaboration should continue. But today, the revolution being on the agenda, this task will have to wait’. This argument is conceivable – although superfluous – on the eve of an armed insurrection. Uttered a quarter of a century later it can only serve to mask the inertia and sterility of the trotskyist movement, since the death of it’s founder.

a marxist ‘method’?

Some will agree with us so far, but will seek final refuge in the defence of a ‘marxist method’ allegedly unaffected by what we have just discussed. It is not possible, however, to maintain ‘orthodoxy’ as Lukacs attempted long before them (in 1919 1 precise), by limiting it to a marxist method, which could somehow be separated from its content and which could somehow be neutral in relation to its content. (5)

Although a step forward in relation to various kinds of ‘orthodox’ cretinism, Lukacs’ position is basically untenable. It is untenable for a reason which Lukacs forgets, despite his familiarity with dialectical thinking, namely that it is impossible, except if one takes the term ‘method’ at its most superficial level, to separate a method from its content particularly when one is dealing with historical and social theory.

A method, in the philosophical sense, is defined by the sum total of the categories it uses. A rigid distinction between method and content only belongs to the more naive forms of transcendental idealism (or ‘criticism’). In its early stages this method of thought sought to separate and to oppose matter or content (which were infinite and undefined) to certain finite operative categories. According to this permanent flux of the subject matter could not alter the basic categories which were seen as the form without which the subject matter could not be grasped or comprehended.

But this rigid distinction between material and category is already transcended in the more advanced stages of ‘criticist’ thought, when it comes under the influence of dialectical thought. Formerly the problem arises: how do we determine which is the appropriate analytical category for this or that type of raw material? If the raw carries within itself the appropriate ‘hallmark’ allowing it to be placed in this or that it is not just ‘amorphous’; and if it is genuinely amorphous then it could indifferently be in one category or in another and the distinction between true and false breaks down. It is precisely this contradiction which, at several times in the history of philosophy, has led from a ‘criticist’ type of thinking to thinking of a dialectical type. (6)

This is how the question is posed at the level of logic. When one considers the growth of knowledge as history, one sees that it was often the ‘development of the subject matter’ that led to a revision of the previously accepted categories or even to their being exploded and superseded. The ‘philosophical’ revolutions produced in modern physics by relativity theory or by quantum theory are just two examples among many. (7)

The impossibility of establishing a rigid separation between method and content, between categories and raw material becomes even more obvious when one passes from knowledge of the physical world to understanding of history. A deeper enquiry into already available material – or the discovery of new material – may lead to a modification of the categories and therefore of the method. But there is, in addition, something much more fundamental, something highlighted precisely by Marx and by Lukacs themselves. (8) This is the fact that the categories through which we approach and apprehend history are themselves real products of historical development. These categories can only become clear and effective methods of historical knowledge when they have to some extent become incarnated or fulfilled in real forms of social life.

Let us give a simple example. In the thinking of the ancient Greeks the dominant categories defining social relations and history were essentially political (the power of the city, relations between cities, relations between ‘might’ and ‘right’, etc.). The economy only received marginal attention. This was not because the intelligence or insight of the Greeks were less ‘developed’ than those of modern man. Nor was it because there were no economic facts, or because economic facts were totally ignored. It was because in the social reality of that particular epoch the economy had not yet become a separate, autonomous factor (a factor ‘for itself’ as Marx would say) in human development. A significant analysis of the economy and of its importance for society could only take place in the 17th century and more particularly in the 18th century. It could only take place in parallel with the real development of capitalism which made of the economy the dominant element in social life. The central importance attributed by Marx and the marxists to economic factors is but an aspect of the unfolding of this historical reality.

It is therefore clear that there cannot exist a ‘method’ of approaching history, which could remain immune from the actual development of history. This is due to reasons far more profound than the ‘progress of knowledge’ or than ‘new discoveries’ etc. It is due to reasons pertaining directly to the very structure of historical knowledge, and first of all to the structure of its object: the mode of being of history. What is the object we are trying to know when we study history? What is history? History is inseparable from meaning. Historical facts are historical (and not natural, or biological) inasmuch as they are interwoven with meaning (or sense). The development of the historical world is, ipso facto, the development of a universe of meaning. Therefore, it is impossible radically to separate fact from meaning (or sense), or to draw a sharp logical distinction between the categories we use to understand the historical material, and the material itself. And, as this universe of meaning provides the environment in which the ‘subject’ of the historical knowledge (i.e. the student of history) lives, it is also necessarily the means by which he grasps, in the first instance, the whole historical material. No epoch can grasp history except through its own ideas about history; but these ideas are themselves a product of history and part and parcel of the historical material (which will be studied as such by the next epoch). Plainly speaking the method of the biologist is not a biological phenomenon; but the method of the historian is a historical phenomenon (9).

Even these comments have however to be seen in proper perspective. They don’t imply that at every moment, every category and every method are thrown into question. Every method is not transcended or ruined by the development of real history at the very instant it is being utilized. At any given moment, it is always a practical question of knowing if historical change has reached a point where the old categories and the old method have to be reassessed. But this judgment cannot be made independently of a discussion of the content. In fact such an assessment is nothing other than a discussion on content which, starting with the old categories, comes to show, through its dealings with the raw material of history, that one needs to go beyond a particular set of categories.

Many will say: ‘to be marxist is to remain faithful to Marx’s method, which remains valid’. This is tantamount to saying that nothing has happened in the history of the last 100 years which either permits one or challenges one to question Marx’s categories. It is tantamount to implying that everything will forever be understood by these categories. It is to take up a position in relation to content and categories, to have a static, non- dialectical theory concerning this relationship, while at the same time refusing openly to admit it.


In fact, it is precisely the detailed study content of recent history which compelled us to reconsider the categories – and therefore the method of marxism. We have questioned these categories not only (or not so much) because this or that particular theory of Marx – or of traditional marxism – had been proved ‘wrong’ in real life, but because we felt that history as we were living it could no longer be grasped through these traditional categories, either in their original form (10) or as ‘amended’ or ‘enlarged’ by post-marx marxists. The course of history, we felt, could neither be grasped, nor changed, by these methods.

Our reexamination of marxism does not take place in a vacuum. We don’t speak from just anywhere or from nowhere at all. We started from revolutionary marxism. But we have now reached the stage where a choice confronts us: to remain marxists or to remain revolutionaries. We to choose between faithfulness to a doctrine which, for a considerable period now, has no longer been animated by any new thought or any meaningful action, and faithfulness to our basic purpose revolutionaries, which is a radical and total formation of society.

Such a radical objective requires first of all that one should understand that which one seeks to transform. It requires that one identifies what elements, in contemporary society, genuine challenge its fundamental assumptions and are in basic (and not merely superficial) conflict with its present structure. But one must go further. Method is not separable from content. Their unity, namely theory, is in its turn not separable from the requirements of revolutionary action. And anyone looking at the real world, must conclude that meaningful revolutionary action can no longer be guided by traditional theory. This has been amply demonstrated for several decades now both by the experience of the mass parties of the ‘left’, and by the experience of the sects.


(1) By ‘historical reality’ we obviously don’t mean particular events, separated from all others. We mean the dominant tendencies of social evolution, after all the necessary interpretations have been made.

(2) K. Marx. Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach.

(3) ‘Universal History is the Last Judgment’. Despite its theological form, this statement, expresses one of Hegel’s most radically atheistic ideas. It means that there is nothing transcendental; that there is no appeal against what happens here and now. We are, definitively, what we are in the process of becoming, what we shall have become.

(4) In his ‘In Defence of Marxism’.

(5) See the essay ‘What Is Orthodox Marxism?’ Lukacs’ book ‘History and Class Consciousness. An English translation of this essay was recently published by ‘International Socialism’, Nos. 24 and 25 (obtainable from 36 Gilden Rd., London NW6 ) C. Wright Mills adopts a rather similar viewpoint in his book ‘The Marxists‘.

(6) The classical example of such a transition is the passage from Kant to Hegel, via Fichte and Schelling. But the basic pattern can be discerned in the later works of Plato, or among the neo-Kantians, from Rickert to Last.

(7) It is obviously not just a question of turning things upside down. Neither logically nor historically have the categories of physics been ‘simply a result’ (and even less ‘simply a reflection’) of the subject matter. A revolution in the realm of categories may allow one to grasp raw material which hitherto defied definition (as happened with Galileo). Moreover advances in experimental technique may at times ‘compel’ new material to appear. There is therefore a two-way relationship – but certainly no independence – between categories and subject matter.

(8) See Lukacs ‘The Changing Function of Historical Materialism’ (loc. cit.).

(9) These considerations are developed mo on p. 20 et seq. of the French text.

(10) In the present article we cannot enter into a detailed discussion as to which of the concepts of classical marxism have today to be discarded for a real grasp of the nature of the modern world and of the means of changing it. The subject is discussed in detail in an article ‘Recommencer Ia Revolution’ (published in January 1964 in issue No.25 of ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’) of which we hope to publish extracts in forthcoming issues.