Table of Contents
- Conceptual Attunement
- Relating On Ideology to Badiou’s Later Work
- An Outline of On Ideology
Excerpts from “On Ideology” (1976)
- The Old, The New, The Invariant
- The Party as the Place of Class of the Force of Mass
-On the Mass Line and the Cycle of Knowledge
-On the Relation of Intellectuals to Marxism (Lenin, Kautsky, Marx)
Alain Badiou is famously (or infamously) an unapologetic defender of Mao, the Cultural Revolution, and the Maoist politics that he practiced in the 1970s (more precisely, from 1969 to 1984) as a part of the organization UCFML (Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes de France Marxistes-Léninistes). Referred to variously as “Maoist carrion” (Debord) and “a Maoist escaped from the intellectual zoo of Vincennes” (J-F Martos), he was something of a philosophical menace in the 1970s. He viciously attacked Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizome (1976) in the comically titled essay “The Fascism of the Potato” and even led his students in raiding parties to physically disrupt Deleuze’s lectures at University Paris 8, where he was himself a professor of philosophy alongside Deleuze. He also led a group called Foudre (thunder) which disrupted and denounced those deemed reactionary, but this time in the sphere of arts and culture. Today he’s known for his intransigent political stances and the systematic philosophy developed in the three volumes of Being and Event.
Francois Balmès (1944-2005) is a more obscure figure. Like Badiou, he was both a Maoist militant in the UCFML and an intellectual. More specifically, Balmès was a philosopher and a psychoanalyst; in the '90s he went on to publish a number of books and essays on various psychoanalytic topics as well as a monograph on Lacan (Ce qui Lacan dit de l’être ), the Master of the École Freudienne being a common idol of Badiou and Balmès even in the 1970s. (It’s worth recalling that there was considerable mingling of Althusser and Lacan’s students—Badiou was a sort of adjunct to the main Althusserian gang of Balibar, Rancière, et al—in the annals of the two revues Cahiers pour l’analyse [1966-1969] and Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes [1964-1968] as well as in the general intellectual milieu of Paris). In 1994 Balmès became a founding member of the École de psychanalyse Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalytic association splintered from Jacques-Alain Miller’s École de la Cause Freudienne which is notable for reviving Lacan’s struggle session-esque attempt at something like group therapy, le passe. (See this diagram of French schools of psychoanalysis).
Those without any French will probably have a quite limited familiarity with the long period before the publication of Being and Event (1989) in Badiou’s work. The short book these excerpts are taken from was going to be published in an English translation by Bruno Bosteels—who is a union buster, by the way—a few years ago, but that was canceled for unknown reasons. I chose what to excerpt based on which sections contained, on one hand, the main theses of the book, viz. the “communist invariants,” and, on the other hand, those which most concretely discussed organizational topics, viz. the mass line and the relation of intellectuals to the masses. Further below is a brief outline of the sections I did not translate.
On Ideology forms a sort of trilogy with Badiou’s other two solo texts published by Francois Maspero (Parisian leftist publisher) in the 1970s, Rational Kernel of the Hegelian Dialectic (1978), a commentary on a text by a Chinese philosopher, and Theory of Contradiction (1975), a collection of essays on dialectical materialism. These three books were reissued a few decades later in one volume in French under the title Les années rouges accompanied by an introduction from Badiou. Rational Kernel has been released in English as a free translation. One of the essays contained in Theory of Contradiction, “An Essential Philosophical Thesis: It Is Right to Rebel,” has also been published in English translation. Badiou’s contributions to the volume La situation actuelle sur le front de la philosophie (Cahier Yenan no. 4) (1977) have been translated in The Adventure of French Philosophy (2012). Badiou did actually publish a considerable amount of other material during his “red years,” but much of it was in UCFML periodicals like Le Perroquet and Le Marxiste-Léniniste which are unfortunately hard to come by and have not been reprinted or compiled anywhere. A partial archive of Le Marxiste-Léniniste (1972-1981) is available here. All three numbers of the short-lived La Cause Marxiste (1982-1983) are available here. Many other texts from the period are either collectively signed or were only edited by Badiou. In a 2005 issue of Duke University’s positions journal, Bosteels compiled a bibliography of UCFML publications.
The primary task of these publications under Maspero, as outlined in the introductory editorial materials to Marxisme-Léninisme et Psychanalyse (Cahier Yenan no. 1) was to:
- Demonstrate that Marxism-Leninism still lives, that only by putting it to work could one think reality, make advancements in theory, and be counted in the camp of revolution
- Critique and denounce revisionism and its objective allies: the eclecticism of those who believe themselves able to butcher what they claim to be the corpse of Marxism in order to make their “new” theories, their uneasy positivisms, their speculative syntheses, far away from the class struggle, far away from history
- Attack the temporary hegemony of the new idealisms which aid the ideological preparations of counterrevolution
Besides that, a significant part of it was concerned with defending the “Leninism” of what was even then being called Marxism-Leninism-Maoism against their internecine MINO (Maoist In Name Only) enemies: the anti-organizational aesthetic Maoism of Tel Quel, the spontaneism of the Gauche Proletarienne, the Manichaean Linbiaoism of Guy Lardreau and Christian Jambet (themselves ex-GP), et cetera. Even the “post-Leninism” of the UCFML—a term that they weren’t yet using in 1976—was situated within the orbit of Lenin; it was an attempt to come up with a new answer to the organizational question instead of pretending that the problem had been objectively superseded by the spontaneous revolt of the masses (Gauche Proletarienne) or that any form of organization was inherently fascistic (Tel Quel). For those more curious about the exact positions of the UCFML, there is, thankfully, a pretty thorough summary of the UCFML’s positions circa 1976 in Le Marxiste-Léniniste no. 11. In La Cause Marxiste no. 3 there is likewise a critical summation of the UCFML’s activities and positions in the text “L’UCF: Histoire et Politique” which is unsigned but clearly bears the conceptual signature of Sylvain Lazarus. (In fact, much of the unsigned work of the early 80s from the UCFML resonates most strongly with the work of Lazarus, who, according to Badiou, “was for a long time content to act as an exemplary political leader and thinker in the realm of politics” without publishing any extended treatises on his own thought up until The Anthropology of The Name . The UCFML’s specific conception of “Post-Leninism,” at least, seems to have largely originated from Lazarus).
During the Cultural Revolution, it was customary to preface documents with thematically appropriate quotations from Mao. I would chose these ones for On Ideology:
“Where there is repression, there is revolt.”
“It is right to rebel against reactionaries.”
“The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.”
Understanding Badiou’s conceptual framework in this period is assisted by a table he produced for the volume La situation actuelle sur la front de philosophie.
The middle terms—class and organization—are what Badiou sometimes calls “diagonal.” They are capable of mediating the inherent antagonism between the dynamic (above) and static (below) terms. For example, with regard to the role of organization in relation to the State, we read that, “The party leads the withering away of what it must lead (the State, the separation of politics). The party's only proletarian reality is the turbulent history of its own self-dissolution” (ibid, p. 181). The role of class in relation to mass is clarified in the body of On Ideology.
In order to understand what Badiou and Balmès say about mass, class, movement, and organization, one must be aware that “class” and “proletariat” in general refer to the organized class. This follows the way that terms like class and proletariat were often deployed by Mao and others (the party as the bearer of the proletarian class-stand leading the non-proletarian masses of peasants, etc.). This definition goes further than that, however: “...the proletariat is never anything else than what practices to the end the political antagonism with the bourgeoisie” (Badiou 2012, p. 219). Badiou went so far as to openly reject the “workerist” (elsewhere called “objective”) definition of the proletariat in favor of this political, Maoist definition:
Whoever comes and tells us that the proletariat is the worker exploited by capitalism proves the nullity of his Marxism, at the most basic level: the grasping of the notion of the class struggle pure and simple. In order for the proletariat to exist and construct itself, it must divide itself, purge itself from the social class of exploitation and unionism and take control of the whole political world, the revolutionary politics of the whole people. And it is true that Maoism and the Cultural Revolution have brought this Marxist certainty to its extreme. (ibid)
(Sidenote: their conception of the party and their use of the term parti de classe seems to have been somewhat influenced by their reading of the Bordigist Roger Dangeville’s volumes of Marx and Engels’ writings on the same topic, despite their assertion to the contrary. Antonio Negri actually interpreted Badiou’s Being and Event as a revival of Bordigism and Badiou’s concept of evental sequence as a reworking of Bordiga’s concept of historical cycle of struggle. Much to consider, especially with regard to their treatment of the question of invariance. Bordigists and post-Bordigists (Gilles Dauvé, for example) generally consider the communist programme to be invariant within the capitalist epoch, at least since Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts, but Badiou and Balmès go one further and claim that the communist programme is in essence invariant during the entire epoch of class and State society. Badiou has maintained this position, with some modifications, up to the present. He discusses it in The Communist Hypothesis and other works written in the 2000s.)
“Masses” does not refer here, as it sometimes does in Mao’s works, to a particular group of classes, but rather to those who are more descriptively called “non-party people.” This sense is also captured by the locution “broad masses,” which typically refers to the masses in general and not merely to the “progressive” or “active” elements within the masses as such. This is important to understand because the distinction between mass and class does not here mean that the masses are not (nominally, from the objective standpoint) proletarian. Of course, Badiou and Balmès are writing at an abstract and conceptual level in this text, so there is some leeway in how the terms are used.
Badiou and Balmès’ critique of what the Neo-Kautskyist Mike MacNair has lately taken to calling the “merger formula” (as opposed to the related but different “vanguard” thesis of Lenin) is both compelling and problematic. Compelling because it draws on real revolutionary history and problematic because it conflates Marxism with socialism. Kautsky did not define Marxism theoretically as the fusion of Marxism and the workers’ movement, which is the claim that Badiou and Balmès effectively attribute to him; he historically defined Marxism as the fusion of (heretofore utopian, bourgeois, purely theoretical) socialism and the workers’ movement. The former definition is really, really stupid, too stupid even for Kautsky, while the latter is much more defensible. However, we can interpret their substitution of “Marxism” for “Socialism” in the formula as an attempt to update the practical implications of the merger formula. No one today is claiming that intellectuals need to fuse utopian socialism with the workers’ movement, but many do, implicitly or explicitly, claim that we (you might be an intellectual if you read online magazines) need to bring (academic, correct, etc.) Marxism to it. Indeed, the “fusion” of Marxism and the workers’ movement was the primary goal of the UCFML. From this perspective, Badiou and Balmès’ treatment of the merger formula seems much more compelling, even if the distinction between the historical and immediate organizational registers is somewhat obscured. They are taking the merger formula as both a historical and practical-organizational thesis—which is after all what it always was—and posing it against their own thesis based on the mass line. Moreover, their stance—namely that what occurs in the fusion of the intellectuals and the proletariat is principally the subordination of the former to the latter—is supported by a letter from Marx and Engels to the German Social Democrats.
Some explanation of On Ideology’s terminology of force, place, direction, etc. will be needed. Force is easier to understand, because in this text Badiou and Balmès are only talking about the force of the masses. There is a force of the State, no doubt, but that’s not the topic of this text. Only a revisionist conflates force and State. Place is roughly analogous (it is impossible to speak about Badiou without recourse to analogy; Deleuze, when Badiou called his philosophy totally metaphorical, retorted that Badiou’s was totally analogical, which for Deleuze also meant theological) to determinateness in Hegel. In his Theory of the Subject, Badiou uses the neologism “splace” (space of placement) to refer to the structure of placement, i.e. the structure which determines how things are placed. Splace is related to the State and to the Symbolic. Revolutionary force is, however, the “outplace.” Furthermore, the seizure of power, the dictatorship, is an inversion of places, or so Badiou tells us in Théorie de la Contradiction. An inversion can, but does not necessarily, lead to a qualitative shift: the logic of places becomes subordinate to the logic of forces. This means that in occupying the place of the State, the revolutionary force transforms it and progressively abolishes it. Revisionism is therefore the occupation of the place of the bourgeois State without abolition and with an aim towards parity with the imperialists: “for the revisionists and their lackeys, force is in reality reduced to place” (Théorie de la Contradiction). This means that in revisionism the overall movement of class and mass, its invariant tendency towards the abolition of classes and the State, is reduced to occupation of the State.
This philosophy of place and force which Badiou espoused throughout the 1970s was never fully systematized in the way that his philosophy of being and event has been. Not even Theory of the Subject is really a full systematization of this philosophy; also, it appears to contradict his earlier polemical texts at several points. As such, the concepts have some wiggle room. Their exegesis requires some vibes-based reading.
The term ‘reflection’ is continuously used with reference to the traditional Marxist (dating back to the Second International) theory of “ideological reflection” which is effectively summarized in Mao’s dictum that “every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.” Anyway, it means that thought ‘reflects’ social, political, historical reality. This theory of reflection was used in revolutionary-organizational theory, historiography, aesthetics, and anything else which dealt with topics broadly related to ‘consciousness’ or ‘ideology.’ The term ‘ideology’ is also spoken in the Maoist register, in which “proletarian ideology” is not an oxymoron, as it would be with Marx and Engels or with the first iteration of Althusser’s philosophy. That said, ideology is here being posed as spontaneous thought, thought that merely reflects being without possessing the negative and subjective power of theory/science/knowledge. Mass ideological resistance is transformed into Marxist-Leninist class knowledge. This being the case, Badiou and Balmès’s denunciations of Althusser in this book are belied by their reintroduction of what amounts to little more than a worked-over ideology/science dichotomy, albeit with a more positive orientation.
A few words about the translation. Most of it is pretty literal. Badiou and Balmès use a comprehensible if at times communistically stilted form of French. The only dilemmas I really encountered in translation concerned the transformation of genitives (above all else de masse and de classe) into adjectives, such that résistance idéologique de masse became mass ideological resistance. On a few occasions I rendered such locutions with of the masses, but de masse and des masses are both used in this book, although it’s debatable if they’re used with any real difference. There is a slight difference in register between masse and masses; the former is more abstract and theoretical, while the latter is more immediately concrete and likely to be referring to some actual body of people.
Relating On Ideology to Badiou’s Later Work
The relation between Badiou’s early work and his mature system has been treated a few times. For example, Bosteels’ 2005 essay “Post-Maoism: Badiou and Politics” as well as his monograph Badiou and Politics have been valuable resources in my own study. Alberto Toscano has also penned an excellent essay, “Marxism Expatriated: Alain Badiou’s Turn” (in The Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism ), on the topic. Badiou himself has asymptotically touched on the topic without fully explaining the turn in too many interviews to be listed here; one of the more in depth interviews on the topic of the années rouges and the question of Maoism in relation to philosophy is appended to Tzuchien Tho’s English translation of Rational Kernel of the Hegelian Dialectic.
That said, the question of what exactly happened in Badiou’s head is still obscure to the scholar. The conceptual apparatus of Theory of the Subject, which was written in the mid to late 1970s but published in 1982, is totally different from that of Can Politics Be Thought (1985), the first major deployment of Badiou’s system of evental philosophy and a text which contains many of the essential philosophico-political theses that Badiou has maintained to this day. The content of his seminars also swerved at this time, going from the four year patchwork of Lacan, Hegel, game theory, Mao, and Marx which comprised Theory of the Subject to three years on logic and rationality and the beginning of a twenty-two year tradition of weekly Saturday seminars on selected topics in logic and mathematics in addition to his normal philosophy seminars. In other words, a return to the theme of formalization that he was so concerned with in the 1960s.
In at least one instance, Badiou has conceptualized the shift in his thought as being motivated by the end of a political sequence: the “Red Sequence” of 1965 to 1975 or 1976—that is, from the opening barrages of the Cultural Revolution to the death of Mao. This explanation of the rupture is as good as any other: Badiou has strived to remain faithful to the events of May ‘68 and the Cultural Revolution, but by the late 1970s the political sequences which they opened were, to use the terminology of Sylvain Lazarus, ‘saturated.’ The situation, in the absence of an evental opening, now demanded the philosophical thinking of the event as such.
An Outline of On Ideology
Sections translated here are marked in bold.
The first part of the book is dedicated to establishing some basic contentions about the theory of ideology and settling accounts with a few enemies, the foremost of which is Althusser. They read Althusser’s later, post May ‘68 “revisionist” theory of ideology as elaborated in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1970) as making two essential claims:
- Ideology is the representation of an imaginary relation of individuals to social practices
- Ideology interpellates individuals into subjects
In general, Althusser conflates ideology with dominant ideology and denies the possibility of revolutionary ideology while simultaneously conjuring up an idealistic, quasi-Platonic “imaginary” in which ideology exists. Badiou and Balmès posit two counter-theses:
“Ideas, even when placed in false consciousness
- Denote practical and historical realities; relations of class, not imaginary relations;
- Are, with regard to their transformations, regulated by forces exterior to thought and not by the laws of the imaginary.”
In Section C of Part 1 we learn more about the difference between mass ideology and dominant ideology. Spontaneous (mass) ideology represents things, in an unreflected way, as they really are, i.e. as divided, for the relations of the social real are divided (“one divides into two,” etc.). In correctly representing the real of society as divided and antagonistic, this ideology is opposed by dominant ideology, which works according to the anti-dialectical principle of “two fuse into one,” or, as it pertains to society, class collaboration. Because there are “material limits to ideological mystification” dominant ideology generally does not deny that there is contradiction tout court, but rather disguises the antagonistic contradiction of class society as a non-antagonistic contradiction. It “organizes a double postulate of unity:
- All apparent antagonism is at best a difference, at worst a non-antagonistic (reconcilable) contradiction.
- All difference is itself inessential: identity is the law of being, not, admittedly, in real social relations, but in the ceremonial register of regulated appearances [comparutions, i.e. official appearances before the State]: before destiny, before God, or before the municipal ballot-box. (The third procedure of dominant ideology is the exteriorization of antagonism: the social body, supposed as unified, is opposed to an “out-class” term which is posed as heterogeneous: the foreigner (chauvinism), the Jew (anti-semitism), the Arab (racism), etc. The procedures of this transfer [of antagonism] are themselves grounded in the exasperation of the true principal contradiction.”
Because spontaneous ideological revolt is the upsurge of the antagonism at the heart of the real, it is therefore unrepresentable within dominant ideology. (The idea of revolt being unrepresentable is a theme that Badiou keeps past his ‘red years’).
The first section of Part 2, “Domination and Resistance,” is largely a critique of the idea that the ruling class uses its dominant ideology to “trick” the masses. Badiou and Balmès argue that the historical defeats of the masses should be understood as “physical” defeats and not as instances of trickery or deception. (This part of the text is therefore a part of Badiou’s larger, decade-long anti-Deleuze polemic). The analysis of “fascist discourse” is of little worth. The masses are not “deceived,” but rather divided into a part which takes the side of fascism (or reaction in general) and one which takes the side of resistance. The defeat of the latter and the consequent apparent hegemony of the former is a matter of violence plain and simple. But what is this resistance? “It’s not voting for Mitterand. All of political life and practice is drawn into a violent, antagonistic nudity, and the theatrical, ‘libidinal,’ vociferous organization of fascist discourse is only the reflection of the exigencies of the times. [...] To speak frankly, ‘fascist’ discourse does not exist. There are only concrete, varied forms of the violent victory of the counterrevolution.” Fascism does not cause the weakness of the proletariat: the weakness of the proletariat leads to the victory of fascism. Domination does not work on the basis of a fixed logic; its animating force is the fight against the creative resistance of the masses.
No summary of 2-B because it’s translated in full below. 3-A has a useful summary of the “double character” of ideological resistance:
- There is, on the one hand, mass ideological resistance, which is linked to the revolt against the State, to the will to abolish class differences, and which is concentrated in the communist invariants
- There is, on the other hand, class ideological resistance, which is linked to a specific principal contradiction, to the will to affirm itself as a class bearing a particular programme, and to the idea of changing the state.
These two characters are contradictory, but this contradiction is the dialectical definition of ideological resistance. In effect, mass revolt is the bearer of a universal, anti-class (communist) aspiration, while its concrete historical structure is determined by the [contemporaneous] class opposition.”
Non-proletarian resistance only finds its revolutionary form when the mass character, as opposed to the class character, occupies the dominant place. The proletariat, however, inverts this historical trend: “the effective historical content of proletarian ideology is the evaluation of all mass movements (including the workers’ movement) from the point of view of their relation to the dictatorship of the proletariat [as the “real transition to communism”]...” This content is realized through practicing the mass line, i.e. by systematizing, concentrating, and generalizing the ideas of the masses on the basis of the standpoint of the proletariat. But, the mass line cannot fall into “unilateral exaltation” of the masses which is in reality mere tailism, praising the conservative interests of some sections of the masses or even the labor aristocracy.
3-B is more on the relation of mass and class. The communist invariants are ideas of the masses, but “before communism, the masses do not direct the historical process, they make it. Direction is a function of class. Direction means a fraction of the masses constitutes itself into a revolutionary class, i.e. into a class capable of establishing itself as a class of the State [classe étatique] and modeling society as whole in its image.” It is this transformation of massified, non-revolutionary class into revolutionary class and the corresponding transcendence of spontaneity that is essential in revolution. Without the capability of transforming itself from a merely exploited class to a really revolutionary class, a class is “condemned to the simple sporadic repetition of the communist invariants.” The result is that the principle that “the masses make history” has for its limit the process of knowledge, which is the domain of the (revolutionary) class. The proletariat is the first exploited class in history to create an organization of revolutionary knowledge which persists throughout the objective disorganization of the class. Thus, the proletariat is “the greatest formal power [puissance] in history” as well as “the producer of the first ever logic of revolution,” and “proletarian logic is the first form of universal thought…” Badiou and Balmès summarize how their conception of ideology attacks both left and right deviations:
- To the right, it attacks the idea according to which the very possibility of ideological resistance would be linked, not to the revolts of the masses, but solely to the coming of the proletariat as the bearer of a new science.
- To the left, it maintains that only the proletariat transforms the spontaneous justice of ideological resistance of the popular masses into the theory of revolution.
Section 4-A is dedicated to explaining historically why the proletariat is the first exploited class to create permanent organizations. Their answer is that the effects of the capitalist organization of society and labor make both possible and necessary the organization of the proletariat both economically and politically. I give no summary of 4-B because it is translated almost in entirety (I left out just a few pages) below.
Excerpts from "On Ideology" (1976)
2. Revolt and Communist Invariants
B. The Old, The New, The Invariant
Let’s return to the German peasants of the 16th century: they are our guides throughout this book. What did Engels say about their revolutionary ideas? For starters, this:
Muenzer’s philosophy of religion touched upon atheism, so his political programme touched upon communism, and there is more than one communist sect of modern times which, on the eve of the February Revolution, did not possess a theoretical equipment as rich as that of Muenzer of the Sixteenth Century. His programme, less a compilation of the demands of the then existing plebeians than a genius’s anticipation of the conditions for the emancipation of the proletarian element that had just begun to develop among the plebeians, demanded the immediate establishment of the kingdom of God, of the prophesied millennium on earth. This was to be accomplished by the return of the church to its origins and the abolition of all institutions that were in conflict with what Muenzer conceived as original Christianity, which, in fact, was the idea of a very modern church. By the kingdom of God, Muenzer understood nothing else than a state of society without class differences, without private property, and without superimposed state powers opposed to the members of society. All existing authorities, as far as they did not submit and join the revolution, he taught, must be overthrown, all work and all property must be shared in common, and complete equality must be introduced. (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany)
Everything is clear and neat here. The programme of which Münzer was the bearer is nothing other than the developed communist programme: the disappearance of class society, the end of private property, the withering away of the State. It is an energetic, egalitarian doctrine which, moreover, intends to provide itself with violent and dictatorial means of realization.
The question which immediately emerges is that of the knowledge of which class practice this communist programme is the ideological reflection of. In which concrete historical conditions does the universal ideological resistance of the exploited take the form of a radical demand bearing on the very existence of the contradictions of class and state, and [which, moreover,] envisages the process of [the annihilation of these contradictions?]
The key question of the universal history of ideology: who, then, is communist? This question is key because it engages with what is given in the ideological resistance of the exploited not only as pure resistance and negation, but also as affirmation and programme. It is about discerning what within the ideological struggle establishes, beyond rebellious protest, a kind of partisanship [prise de parti] and the force of popular will [vouloir] bearing on the very foundation of the dominant ideology: the class-dictatorship and its statist concentration/focus.
Engels gives an indecisive answer to this question. His first doctrine, the most neat, consists in reserving ideological representations of the communist type solely to the proletariat. The plebeians of the 15th century, of which Münzer is the leader, carry at their side virtualities of workers [virtualités ouvrières]. The formulation of mass communism would be an ideological anticipation reflecting the aspirations of an embryonic proletariat:
Only in Thuringia and in a few other localities was the plebeian faction of the city carried away by the general storm to such an extent that its embryo proletarian elements for a brief time gained the upper hand over all the other factors of the movement. (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany)
Class analysis, which here conforms to the indications of The German Ideology, directly attaches the appearance of revolutionary ideological resistance to the constitution of a revolutionary class (and the peasants do not by themselves form such a class).
Elsewhere and in a more general fashion, Engels always assigned communist ideas to the two extremities of universal history: primitive agrarian communism on one side, communism realized by the dictatorship of the proletariat on the other. The colossal transition which separates these is that of private property, and the ideas which confront this transition have no active historical substance except in prevailing over it: peasant communities/communes and rural communitarian ideology are vestiges whose revolutionary reactivation depends entirely on proletarian initiative:
…the initiative for any possible transformation of the Russian commune along these lines [i.e., those proposed by the Narodniks] cannot come from the commune itself, but only from the industrial proletarians of the West. The victory of the West European proletariat over the bourgeoisie, and, linked to this, the replacement of capitalist production by socially managed production — that is the necessary precondition for raising the Russian commune to the same level.
The fact is: at no time or place has the agrarian communism that arose out of gentile society developed anything of its own accord but its own disintegration. (Engels, “On Social Relations in Russia”)
If one wants to propose a historical assignment of communist ideas to peasant revolts, it must be divided like so: archaic residue on one side, proletarian virtuality on the other. Engels does not deny that the revolution could take support from the communitarian peasant tradition, from its customs and specific ideology, but only by the educative detour of the western proletariat:
…it is not only possible but certain that after the victory of the proletariat and the transfer of the means of production into common ownership among the West European peoples, the countries which have only just succumbed to capitalist production and have salvaged gentile institutions, or remnants thereof, have in these remnants of common ownership and in the corresponding popular customs a powerful means of appreciably shortening the process of development into a socialist society and of sparing themselves most of the suffering and struggles through which we in Western Europe must work our way. But the example and the active assistance of the hitherto capitalist West is an indispensable condition for this. (Engels, “On Social Relations in Russia”)
It is therefore wholly logical that the communist elements of Münzer’s preaching [are principally related] not to the uprising of the peasants, but to the birth of capitalism in the cities.
And yet we are not convinced. The revolutionary ideological struggle engaged by Münzer, in the division that it indicates between moderate heresy (Luther) and radical heresy, reflects neither the residual persistence of millenarian communities nor the infantile stammering of the proletariat: it creates a rupture in accordance with the sudden and general violent rising of the people of the countryside.
The historical evidence seems to us incontrovertible: that of a communist type ideology reflecting and unifying a peasant revolt. We have the feeling that Engels saw a contradiction here, and that, in order to resolve it, he introduced a phantom proletariat, a virtual worker-pleb which constituted the rational referent of a particularly striking ideological phenomenon. On this point, we are in agreement with the critiques formulated by Pierre-Philippe Rey in his book Les Alliances de Classes (Rey, P-P., Les Alliances de Classes, Maspero. In particular pp. 196-200).
We must insist on this tremendous fact: the left wing of an immense armed peasant revolt produced ideas of the egalitarian and communist type, and these ideas were systematized in the preaching of a leading revolutionary: Thomas Münzer.
In truth, Engels did not ignore this. The objective definition of the “plebeians of the cities” (e.g., “declassed bourgeois;” “mass of people without well-defined livelihood or without fixed residence,” etc.) is much closer to the definition of the lumpenproletariat than that of the proletariat proper.
In a fitting reversal, if in Engels’ eyes the medieval lumpenproletariat is still capable of revolutionary force and ideological creativity, this is not because it announces [the arrival of] the proletariat, but because it is still largely peasant: “It must be borne in mind, however, that a large portion of this class, namely, the one living in the cities, still retained a considerable foundation of peasant nature, and had not developed that degree of venality and degradation which characterise the modern civilised [lumpenproletariat].” (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany)
Speaking of the heresy of the revolutionary type which, in the name of primitive christianity, carries communist aspirations, Engels declares, in finding the origins of this heresy very far back in the middle ages, that it is “the direct expression of the peasant and plebeian demands” and even concludes by calling it the “peasant-plebeian heresy.”
It is therefore clear that the revolutionary ideological production of the great peasant insurrections of the middle ages fed on the antagonistic contradiction between peasants and lords and were only secondarily related to the problematic birth of a proletarian ideology. Engels himself is so convinced by this that, by a remarkable inversion of the modern theme of the leadership of the proletariat over the camp of revolution, he recognizes that even in the 15th century, only the peasant uprisings transform the pleb of the cities into a party, and that “even then they were almost everywhere dependent upon the peasants, both in demands and in action…” (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany). One would have confirmation of this inversion in noting that egalitarian, ascetic, and anti-property themes are found as doctrinal reflection of peasant wars in all epochs and in all the world. These themes saw considerable development and force in the Taiping Rebellion, for example.
We even think that, in spite of the scarcity of documents and in spite of a character which is, in the histories of their gigantic uprisings written by the victorious oppressors, mute and effaced, that the slaves themselves found, in the radical simplicity of a programme of the communist type, the reflection adequate to their resistance.
The hypothesis which we are formulating consists rather in developing Engels’s fugitive indications:
“Only in the teachings of Muenzer did these communist notions find expression as the desires of a vital section of society. Through him they were formulated with a certain definiteness, and were afterwards found in every great convulsion of the people, until gradually they merged with the modern proletarian movement. Something similar we observe in the Middle Ages, where the struggles of the free peasants against increasing feudal domination merged with the struggles of the serfs and bondsmen for the complete abolition of the feudal system.” (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany)
This passage seems to suggest that the “communist resonances” [résonances communistes] are a constant in popular uprisings, partially autonomous with regard to the “modern proletarian movement” which is its historical realizer. What is opened here in the ideological sphere is a dialectic of the people and the proletariat to which Maoism has given its full scope.
Our hypothesis is the following: all the great mass revolts of successive exploited classes (slaves, peasants, proletarians) find their ideological expression in egalitarian, anti-propertarian, and anti-state formulations, which constitute the lineaments of a communist programme.
Ideological resistance is affirmed here in its positive connection to the people’s war, to the war of beggars. All these great revolts are, in effect, necessarily deployed in the form of an insurrectionary war; that is to say, they are deployed in the form of an antagonistic contradiction between the mass of direct producers and the State. Engels himself remarked that the “proletarian-peasant” heresy is always linked to an insurrection. It is through the practice of antagonism with the State, in the open form of armed struggle, that the exploited of all centuries concentrate their ideological resistance by taking a stand on the phenomenon of domination as such, and by projecting the annihilation of its objective foundations: the differences of classes and the State.
These are the elements of this general taking-a-stand of the insurgent producers which we call the communist invariants: ideological invariants of the communist type constantly regenerated by the process of unification of the great popular revolts of all times.
The communist invariants do not have a definite class character: they synthesize the universal aspiration of the exploited to reverse any and all principles of exploitation and oppression. They are born on the terrain of the contradiction between the masses and the State. Naturally, this contradiction is itself historically structured in terms of class because the state is always that of a particular ruling class.
However, there is a general form of the State, organically linked to the very existence of classes and exploitation and against which, invariably, the masses rise, bearers of its dissolution and of the historic movement which “will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong–into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax” (Engels, Origin of the Family).
The class ideological resistance specifies to particular historical contents and orders into particular practices a mass ideological resistance which opposes to the millenarian representations of property and those of its statist law a violent exigence which is always parceled out, according to the moment of the antagonism, into egalitarian dictatorship and absolute (non-statist) democracy. There resides the core of ideological resistance, its affirmative essence.
From this point of view, one can try out an abstraction which would bear not, as with Althusser, on the form of ideology in general, but on the content: a certain type of collectivist communism ineluctably arises on the base of mass revolts, even non-proletarian ones. In the ideological sphere thought as a sphere of contradiction, a relatively invariant contradiction develops and opposes ideas of the egalitarian type to hierarchical and inegalitarian ideas, all anchored in the question of property and the State. A certain ideological, mass communism is the concern [affaire] of the people, and does not wait for the proletariat.
Evidently this ideological communism of popular revolts does not have the historical means to immediately realize itself; the real forces of power which it sets in motion are not necessarily those [forces] in whose name it [the ideological communism] has affirmed itself. Engels remarked that Münzer’s communist preaching was utopian in the precise sense [in which] the real historic process underway in the 16th century was the ascendancy of the bourgeoisie and not the possibility of a peasant-plebeian State preparing communism. Behind the communist invariants issued by the popular revolt, there are bourgeois ideas which prepare their domination. The popular force serves to clear the way for these bourgeois ideas by strongly undermining the political and ideological domination of the feudal lords:
On the other hand, this reaching out beyond not only the present but also the future, could not help being violently fantastic. At the first practical application, it naturally fell back into narrow limits set by prevailing conditions. The attack on private property, the demand for community of possession had to solve itself into a crude organisation of charity; vague Christian equality could result in nothing but civic equality before the law; abolition of all officialdom transformed itself finally in the organisation of republican governments elected by the people. Anticipation of communism by human fantasy was in reality anticipation of modern bourgeois conditions. (Engels, The Peasant War in Germany)
Finally, the old and the new are articulated in the sphere of ideological struggle according to the entanglement of three terms and of the whole system of their dialectical division. Ideology, understood as a conflictual process, always puts a triple determination in play: two class determinations (old and new, counter-revolutionary and revolutionary) and a mass determination (the communist invariants). The organic triplicity of ideology, enumerable, if one likes:
- In its form, the ideological resistance of the exploited remains subject to the action of the dominant ideology. And so, for example, Münzer’s communist programme expressed itself from start to finish in the formal element of the christian religion, nourished itself on the Gospels; in short, it could only constitute itself, with regard to its language, as a heresy. Heresy: ideological dissidence which is still internal to the overall unity of the dominant form of representations (in this circumstance, the Christian religion). But religion is the specific form of dominant ideology in societies of the feudal type. We therefore say that, in their form, the ideological elements produced by popular resistance are dependent on domination.
- In its immediate popular content, ideological resistance is inscribed in the tradition of the communist invariants. It is organized around the will of the masses to immediately put an end to the system of exploitation and its statist expression.
- In its historical reality – its class efficacy – popular ideological resistance necessarily prepares the triumph and domination of the ideas of the contemporaneous revolutionary class. For example, the war of peasants and its communist-type ideological reflection opens the way to the abstract egalitarianism of the ascendant bourgeoisie.
This law of triplicity is universal. Even in the period of the construction of socialism, proletarian ideology must energetically divide itself from its old existence as a simple dominant language/idiom [langage]: formal Marxism, where bourgeois ideas prospers. The ideological space is therefore structured like so:
- Revisionism (purely formal marxism, invested with bourgeois contents)
- Proletarian ideology (revolutionary Marxism-Leninism)
- The communist invariants (which animate within the masses the dictatorship of the proletariat qua transition)
The cultural revolution is the exemplary movement of this dialectical space, on the base of the revolutionary revolt of the masses. It teaches that all halting in the construction of socialism, halting reflected in the ritual formalization of Marxism and the bourgeois repression of communist ideas, demands ideological regeneration, the practical source of which is mass revolt, the levy/hoisting [levée] of communist invariants (they made a Commune in Shanghai) and through this process the new affirmation of the proletariat, organized in a party, as the leader of the socialist transition, as the home of ideas and practices where the real steps taken toward the disappearance/withering of the State are measured.
Hence, the essential directive, which binds Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (class ideology) to the communist end goal (mass ideology) is to ceaselessly invent the correct thought of transition, the correct thought of the dictatorship of the proletariat:
[It is] absolutely impermissible to [give up the transitional process/dictatorship of the proletariat] half-way. There are undeniably some comrades among us who have joined the Communist Party organizationally but not ideologically. In their world outlook they have not yet over-stepped the bounds of small production and of the bourgeoisie. They do approve of the dictatorship of the proletariat at a certain stage and within a certain sphere and are pleased with certain victories of the proletariat, because these will bring them some gains; once they have secured their gains, they feel it's time to settle down and feather their cosy nests. As for exercising all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, as for going on after the first step on the 10,000-li long march, sorry, let others do the job; here is my stop and I must get off the bus. We would like to offer a piece of advice to these comrades: It's dangerous to stop half-way! The bourgeoisie is beckoning to you. Catch up with the ranks and continue to advance! (Zhang Chunqiao, On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie )
It is always in the situation where the old world beckons to us, and where ideological communism lifts us a bit higher than [the pace of] the real class struggle, that our rebellious thought must proceed to its revolutionary adjustment.
Let us summarize: an ideology which has arisen on the basis of a vast popular revolt is:
- Always relatively old with regard to its form;
- Invariant with regard to the general elements of its spontaneous programmatic content;
- Novel according to the type of linkage which is established between it and the contemporaneous revolutionary class.
(In the case of the dictatorship of the proletariat, one should the analysis to the division of the working class itself: it is simultaneously the ruling class, and therefore threatening to settle into the posture of a ruling class (this is the process by which the new revisionist bourgeoisie is constituted); and the revolutionary class (oriented towards the realization of communism). A necessary, ineluctable division of the party itself: the struggle between true and false Marxism)
Proletarian revolts are subject to a common rule:
- In the spontaneous form of their practical ideas, they are dependent on twisting [Tordre; in the sense of repurposing] and the past of the bourgeoisie. One must only remember the permanence of references by proletarian revolutionaries to the revolution of 1789 throughout all of the 19th century.
- Their immediate aspirations and their strategic worldview are linked to communism. Like the other exploited classes, the insurgent proletariat proposes and reinvents the affirmative vision of society without class.
- But, the historic singularity of the proletariat is that it is not only the principal exploited class of the capitalist epoch, but also the revolutionary class of this epoch.
The rebellious slaves prepared the triumph of landed property of the feudal type. The rebellious peasants contributed to the elimination of feudalism not for themselves, but for the bourgeoisie. These classes made history and therefore reflected, in their ideas, the insurrection of the excluded.
But, they have disappeared with the order which they attacked and their ideological resistance left hardly a trace. This is a controversial point, since, for example, the great slave revolts of antiquity, at least those which we know (Sicily and Italy) apparently took place several centuries before the decline and fall of the slave system. This is without a doubt one of the reasons for which historians of antiquity, such as Moses Finley, go so far as to deny the anti-slavery character of the slave revolts (cf. Moses Finley, The Ancient Economy).
We do not share this point of view, which manifestly confuses mass ideological opposition (the slaves fought in the name of their immediate interest) and the capacity of the slaves to constitute a class for-itself, possessing a theory of the slave system as a system of exploitation. The second hypothesis is certainly erroneous, but the first is in our view [obviously correct], for, in taking up arms, the slaves, and in particular the rural slaves, knew that they were radically breaking with the existing social order, and that they would have to face its political representation: the Roman State.
How can one explain, in the absence of any specifically anti-slavery resistance, this component of the dominant ideas which Moses Finley describes: “The literature of the Roman Empire is filled with doubts and qualms about slavery; fear of slaves, of being murdered by them, of possible revolts, is a recurrent (and old) theme.” (Finley 1973, p. 84). [Editor’s note: the next sentence in Finley’s book is even more telling in its implications: “But this literature can be matched, passage by passage, from the American South, and in neither society was the practical conclusion drawn that slavery should be replaced by other forms of labour, should be abolished, in short.”]
Do we not have here the shadow cast, in the dominant ideology, by the uninterrupted resistance of slaves?
As for the decline/decadence of the slave system, Finley himself explicitly relates it to the progressive appearance, on the basis of tendencies in the economy of antiquity, of a popular camp of a new type where slaves and peasants bound to the land intermixed, namely the coloni [TN: a type of laborer bound to the land]. A decisive fact in this respect is the stubborn revolt of the “Bagaudae” in Gaul and Hispania which, from the time of the reign of Commodus until the 5th century AD, gathered poor peasants and slaves against the Roman State (the provincial police and the army).
This suite of rebellions breaks apart the myth according to which the revolts of peasants and slaves never fused together in Antiquity. The memory of the ideology and programme of these popular uprisings was destroyed because, as Finley morosely puts it, “late Roman writers ignored them as a deliberate policy.” (Finley 1973 p. 89). Let us not be in turn so many more managers of this official silence: to understand the laws of ideology is from the start to be anchored outside of their erasure and dominant re-writing, in the unshakeable resistance of revolts which are also and always the indomitable refusal of popular thought to submit.
It is true that the proletariat is the first exploited class to speak up in conditions such that no standardized memory can now silence it. It is only the proletariat, the last exploited class of history, that is capable of making history in its own name and thus realizing, through its transitional dictatorship, that [goal] which since the dawn of class society has been the programme of the rebellious producers: a society without class or State.
With the proletariat, ideological resistance becomes adequate to the conflictual system of historical forces engaged in the struggle for power. With the proletariat, ideological resistance is no longer the repetition of the invariant, but the mastery of its realization.
It is on this point that the ideology of revolt and the possibility of revolutionary knowledge is nourished. It is on this point that mass ideological resistance is ordered into an ideological class dictatorship, without thereby being a matter of [mere] usurpation and remodeled antagonism, rather being one of a possible path by which the masses, by stages, dissolve classes and the state. (A process which is, however, long and sometimes reversible: the usurpers, despite it all, won in the USSR, in the name of an abstract working class and a concrete bourgeois dictatorship.)
Marxism-Leninism is the awareness that the proletariat, inheritor of an age-old ideological struggle about the communist programme, is also the realizer of this heritage.
Marxism-Leninism is ideological resistance not only accumulated, but transformed into knowledge and project. Marxism-Leninism is the greatest dialectical inversion which has been produced and can be produced in the conflictual movement which works [out] [works in the sense of “shapes”] and defines the earthly world of ideas.
4. The Partisan Cycle of Marxist Knowledge
B. The Party as the Place of Class of the Force of Mass
1: On the Mass Line and the Cycle of Knowledge
The class party is the material base through which mass ideological resistance takes the directed form of a theory of revolution. This is because, far from being the result of knowledge, the class party is its condition. From there the party, the organization, are constitutive internal elements of the process of knowledge itself.
(That a class apparatus [appareil] is internal to the process [procès] of knowledge goes just as well for all knowledge, including the natural sciences and mathematics. The key distinction here is that of force-to-know and place-of-knowledge. This dialectical opposition structures the well-known division of the concept of truth: truth is universal, and yet there is a class character of truth)
The cycle of revolutionary knowledge, which goes from the masses to the masses, carries in its center the mediation of the party. More elaborately, the cycle of knowledge organizes the dialectical process [processus] as follows:
a) The ideal force
Existence, on the basis of mass revolts, of correct ideas in a state of dispersion and division.
b) The scission of ideal force
Partial systematization of these ideas through the process of class struggle within the mass movement, struggle which opposes the new ideas and the old ideas.
c) The organized placement of scission
Centralized systematization of the ideological struggle in the mass movement, made possible by the existence of the class party which practices Marxism-Leninism; that is to say, class analysis of the situation of the masses and the ideas which are manifested therein.
d) The structure of knowledge (direction/leadership)
Centralized formulation of a revolutionary orientation; that is to say, of the articulation between the systematization of correct ideas and the transformation of the objective situation. That which concentrates this formulation is the directive.
e) The directed ideal as force
Application of the directive by the whole material body which represents the party, conceived as the guiding nucleus of the entire people; that is to say, the leading nucleus of the mass movement itself.
f) Ideal force as recommencement of the cycle
Evaluation of the correctness of the directive through the results effectively obtained in its implementation by the masses. This implementation, as practical movement, produces in turn new ideas in a state of dispersion and division which will then serve as the basis of a new cycle of systematization. This new cycle produces the transformation of the directive; that is to say, its rectification.
This process is far from having merely tactical value. It encompasses the general movement of history and determines the progress of Marxism-Leninism itself. For example, on the basis of the experiences of the revolutionary proletariat of France and in particular the days of June 1848, Marx and Engels, through the network of systemization which constituted the International [Workingmen’s] Association, its investigators, its militants, and by taking the point of view of still-forming revolutionary theory, produced a first version of the theory of the State and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Paris Commune practiced for the first time in history a form of application of something like a general directive: destroy the bourgeois State, build a proletarian State of a new type. On account of the precarity of the organizational edifice which represented the First International, this application was traversed by a profound division between the old ideas of the Proudhonian type and the new ideas. It is nonetheless true that Marx was able to proceed to a new systemization on the basis of these new ideas and considerably deepen his first doctrine of the State.
The cycle which ran from 1848 to 1871 thus includes at once two stages of revolutionary practice of the revolutionary masses, two stages of their process of organization, and two stages of the Marxist theory of the State and revolution. It is in this sense that it represents, on a grand scale, a complete cycle of proletarian knowledge. The schema as a whole is, if you will: mass/class | party | class/mass. To which corresponds: ideas/class analysis | directive | application/rectification. It is this sequence which organizes ideological resistance into revolutionary knowledge.
2: On the Relation of Intellectuals to Marxism (Lenin, Kautsky, Marx)
These theses could appear to be in contradiction with Lenin’s famous formulations in What Is to Be Done? (1902), which seem to make the process of organization not the condition, but the result of the penetration of Marxism, conceived as theory, into the working class. If, in effect, the party is the fusion of Marxism and the real workers’ movement, and Marxism resulted from the scientific work of intellectuals, then the cycle of knowledge is broken and its dialectical composition obeys the principle of “two fuse into one”: the experience of the working class on one side, the scientific elaboration of Marxism by the intellectuals on the other. This is the root of the charges constantly brought forth against Lenin’s citation of Kautsky.
(Let’s recall the citation: “The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia [K. K.’s italics]: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwüchsig].”) (Kautsky quoted in Lenin, What Is to Be Done?)
Taken at face value, this citation could in effect appear to be neither materialist, nor dialectical:
- Not materialist, because the elaboration of Marxism as the class’s guiding thought [pensée dirigeant] does not rest on the practice of the class, but is inscribed in the filiation of the scientific work of intellectuals
- Not dialectical, because that which rules the principle of organization is not scission but fusion
These objections, however, merely seem valid.
1. The objective condition of revolutionary intellectuals’ elaboration of theory is the organic link between these intellectuals and the overall practical experience of the proletariat.
It is sometimes claimed that the work of Marx was essentially realized in the isolation of intellectual labor and only had a small direct relation to the organization process of the working class. This is a flagrant counter-truth. Marx and Engels conceived themselves as leaders of the international workers’ party their whole lives and had taken part in all the phases of its organization. (If one wants to get an idea of the enormous organizational labor accomplished by Marx and Engels and their concern, in this subject, for a number of miniscule details, particularly with regard to phenomena of division and two-line struggle, they should refer to the texts collected in Marx, K., Engels F. Le parti de classe. Maspero, 1973, 4 vols. It goes without saying that we share none of the political presentations of the compiler of these texts, Roger Dangeville.)
They clearly affirmed that their theoretical enterprise had no meaning outside of an uninterrupted connection to the workers’ vanguard, and this was particularly true in the years of historical materialism’s constitution, from 1843 to 1848:
When, in the spring of 1845, we met again in Brussels, Marx had already fully developed his materialist theory of history in its main features form the above-mentioned basis and we now applied ourselves to the detailed elaboration of the newly-won mode of outlook in the most varied directions.
This discovery, which revolutionized the science of history and, as we have seen, is essentially the work of Marx — a discovery in which I can claim for myself only a very insignificant share — was, however, of immediate importance for the contemporary workers’ movement. Communism among the French and Germans, Chartism among the English, now no longer appeared as something accidental which could just as well not have occurred. These movements now presented themselves as a movement of the modern oppressed class, the proletariat, as the more or less developed forms of its historically necessary struggle against the ruling class, the bourgeoisie; as forms of the class struggle, but distinguished from all earlier class struggles by this one thing, that the present-day oppressed class the proletariat, cannot achieve its emancipation without at the same time emancipating society as a whole from division into classes and, therefore, from class struggles. And Communism now no longer meant the concoction, by means of the imagination, of an ideal society as perfect as possible, but insight into the nature, the conditions and the consequent general aims of the struggle waged by the proletariat.
Now, we were by no means of the opinion that the new scientific results should be confided in large tomes exclusively to the “learned” world. Quite the contrary. We were both of us already deeply involved in the political movement, and possessed a certain following in the educated world, especially of Western Germany, and abundant contact with the organized proletariat. It was our duty to provide a scientific foundation for our view, but it was equally important for us to win over the European and in the first place the German proletariat to our conviction. As soon as we had become clear in our own minds, we set about the task. We founded a German workers’ society in Brussels and took over the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, which served us as an organ up to the February Revolution. We kept in touch with the revolutionary section of the English Chartists through Julian Harney, the editor of the central organ of the movement, The Northern Star, to which I was a contributor. We entered likewise into a sort of cartel with the Brussels democrats (Marx was vice-president of the Democratic Society) and with the French social-democrats of the Réforme, which I furnished with news of the English and German movements. In short, our connections with the radical and proletarian organizations and press organs were quite what one could wish. (Engels, “On the History of the Communist League”) [Yes, they really put a quote this long here -ed]
It is clear from this text that revolutionary theory is developed in the element of direct political and organizational activity. Its fulcrum is the necessary character of the “movement of the modern oppressed class” and its destination is explicitly the reinforcement of this movement itself. The force that makes, for intellectuals, theoretical capacity exist is that this capacity at every moment is an organized mediation of political practice.
It is true that the social division of labor, which is structurally present in bourgeois society, assigns intellectuals specific tasks within the labor of systematizing correct ideas from the masses. However, these specific tasks are not accomplished by the intellectuals on the basis of their social practice as bourgeois intellectuals, but solely on the basis of their organized and centralized connection to the real workers’ movement itself.
A Marxist intellectual can only be an organized intellectual; that is to say, one placed in the process by which the proletariat organizes the memory and direction of its dispersed practice of knowledge. Intellectuals only bring Marxism to the workers’ movement insofar as the workers’ movement brings intellectuals the class-organization.
The relation of revolutionary intellectuals to the real workers’ movement is not a relation of exteriority, but [rather one that] rests on the scission of this movement into its objective, mass existence and its subjective, class existence, [a scission which is] the site of the purification and concentration of the revolutionary ideas resulting from the practice of the masses.
From this point of view, the internal essence of the apparent exteriority of Marxism in relation to the real movement is the dialectical, i.e., split, nature of this movement. Even if they are not directly included in the workers’ movement qua mass movement, revolutionary intellectuals are absorbed in the scission by which the specific organized form of this movement is divided from its immediate objective form. In this sense, the material basis of Marxist systematization is the dialectical nature of the real workers’ movement.
2. In turn, the penetration of Marxism into the workers’ movement is that through which, in the modality of the two-line struggle, the revolutionary process of class organization develops. The internal origin of this penetration is the directive, the political line, which is only formulated and applied through an unceasing struggle against old ideas and bourgeois ideas.
It is the uninterrupted division of the class organization in [following] the bourgeois road and the proletarian road which must be thought as the fusion of Marxism-Leninism and the real workers’ movement. The form of the reality of the appropriation of Marxism by the [working] class through its vanguard is the struggle of the true against the false, it is the struggle which is the very life of the organization, between the two lines, the two roads, and the two classes.
In this struggle, the living and organized form of Marxism-Leninism (the directive, the line) plays a decisive role, but this role is wholly invested in the ideological struggle and material application of the directives; in short, the living history of the revolution and not the passive reception of an external truth. The appropriation [of Marxism by the working class] rests on the recognition by the workers’ vanguard, through its class practice, that the directive is the effective result of the assessment [bilan] of its experience and [that it] operates in reality as the systematization of vanguard ideas.
This recognition is effected in the focus on and constant practice of the directive; that is to say, the transformation of the concrete situation and the elimination of erroneous conceptions. From this point of view, the essence of fusion is scission.
Finally, it appears that the organization is the keystone of the novelty of the proletariat, in terms of knowledge. It is the organization which develops the objective/subjective scission in the mass movement and in doing so determines the possibility of a proletarian class position for revolutionary intellectuals.
It is [the organization] which is the site of the process of division through which the fusion of revolutionary theory and the real movement passes. The organization is the point, fixed and split, where the spiraling cycle of proletarian knowledge unceasingly returns.
Hence knowledge as a whole is governed by the great Maoist principle: “have faith in the masses, have faith in the party”.
Have faith in the masses, because only they, as the producers of correct ideas, constitute the force of knowledge; have faith in the party, because only it determines the place wherein this force is no longer the limited affirmative energy of the masses in their dispersion and resistance, but rather a rationally oriented annulment. It is thanks to the class party that the force-to-know of the masses is not only given in its intensity, but in its direction.
There is no longer, therefore, merely the dominant ideology and that which resists it enormously and invariably. There are two ideologies: bourgeois and proletarian. Certainly, ideology is always split, and all reflection is class reflection. The proletariat is however that which gives form to scission, divides logic itself, and irreversibly submits thought to the recognition of its own scission. The proletariat is not the inventor of ideological resistance: it is its first logician.