8. "That is, so long as the intellect adopts a purely speculative, purely theoretical attitude" (Marx). He distinguishes between the theoretical attitude (knowledge of the real object) and the practical attitude (transformation of the real object).
two attributes extension and thought. Marx protects himself in another way, more securely, by the use of the thesis of the primacy of the real object over the object of knowledge, and by the primacy of this first thesis over the second: the distinction between the real object and the object of knowledge. Here you have that minimum of generality, that is, in the case in question, of materialist theses, which, by drawing a line between themselves and idealism, open up a free space for the investigation of the concrete processes of the production of knowledge. And finally, for whoever wants to make the comparison, this thesis of the distinction between real object and object of knowledge "functions" in a very similar manner to Lenin's distinction between absolute truth and relative truth, and to a very similar purpose.
Lenin wrote: "You will say that this distinction between relative and absolute truth is indefinite. And I shall reply: it is sufficiently 'indefinite' to prevent science from becoming a dogma in the bad sense of the term, from becoming dead, frozen, ossified; but at the same time it is sufficiently 'definite' to enable us to draw a dividing-line in the most emphatic and irrevocable manner between ourselves and fideism and agnosticism, between ourselves and philosophical idealism and the sophistry of the followers of Hume and Kant." Which means, to put it bluntly: our thesis is precise enough not to fall into idealism, precise enough to draw a line between itself and idealism, that is, correct enough in its generality to prevent the living freedom of science from being buried under its own results.
The same is true, keeping everything in proportion, of my thesis on the difference between the real object and the object of knowledge. The stakes were considerable. It was a question of preventing the science produced by Marx from being treated "as a dogma in the bad sense of the term", it was a question of bringing to life the prodigious work of criticism and elaboration carried out by Marx, without which he would never have been able -- to put it in his way, which remains classical -- to discover behind the appearance
9. Materialism and Empirio-criticism, Moscow, 1967, p. 123 [translator's note ].
of things, and in diametrical opposition to this appearance, their unrecognized "intimate relations". It was a question of getting people to understand and to appreciate the unprecedented break which Marx had to make with the accepted world of appearances, that is, with the overwhelmingly "obvious truths" of the dominant bourgeois ideology. And since we were ourselves involved in the matter, it was a question of turning this truth into a living and active truth for us, because we had to break with other "obvious truths", sometimes couched in Marx's own vocabulary, whose meaning the dominant ideology or deviations in the Labour Movement had distorted. It was a question of recalling that if, as Lenin said, "the living soul of Marxism is the concrete analysis of a concrete situation", then knowledge of the concrete does not come at the beginning of the analysis, it comes at the end, and the analysis is only possible on the basis of Marx's concepts, and not on the basis of the immediate, "obvious" evidence of the concrete -- which one cannot do without, but which cannot really be understood from the marks which it bears on its face.
Finally -- and this was not the least important aspect -- it was a question of recalling with Marx that knowledge of reality changes something in reality, because it adds to it precisely the fact that it is known, though everything makes it appear as if this addition cancelled itself out in its result. Since knowledge of reality belongs in advance to reality, since it is knowledge of nothing but reality, it adds something to it only on the paradoxical condition of adding nothing to it, and once produced it reverts to it without need of sanction, and disappears in it. The process of knowledge adds to reality at each step its own knowledge of that reality, but at each step reality puts it in its pocket, because this knowledge is its own. The distinction between object of knowledge and real object presents the paradox that it is affirmed only to be annulled. But it is not a nullity : because in order to be annulled it must be constantly affirmed. That is normal, it is the infinite cycle of all knowledge, which
10. Cf. Engels: "Knowledge of nature just as it is, without any foreign addition ". Cf. also the Leninist theory of reflection.
adds something to reality -- precisely, knowledge of reality -- only to give it back, and the cycle is only a cycle, and therefore living, as long as it reproduces itself, because only the production of new knowledge keeps old knowledge alive. These things happen more or less as in Marx's text, which says: living labour must "add new value to materials" in order that the value of the "dead labour" contained in the means of production should be preserved and transferred to the product, since (I quote) it is "by the simple addition of a certain quantity of labour that . . . the original values of the means of production are preserved in the product" (Capital, Part III, ch. VIII, "Constant Capital and Variable Capital").
What is at stake with regard to these theses? Let us take Marxist science and suppose that political conditions are such that no-one works on it any more, no-one is adding any new knowledge. Then the old knowledge that reality has pocketed is there, within it, in the form of enormous and dead "obvious" facts, like machines without workers, no longer even machines but things. We could no longer in this case be sure, as Lenin puts it, of preventing science "from becoming a dogma in the bad sense of the term, from becoming dead, frozen, ossified". Which is another way of saying that Marxism itself risks repeating truths which are no longer any more than the names of things, when the world is demanding new knowledge, about imperialism and the State and ideologies and socialism and the Labour Movement itself. It is a way of recalling Lenin's astonishing remark, that Marx only laid the foundation stones of a theory which we must at all costs develop in every direction. It is a way of saying: Marxist theory can fall behind history, and even behind itself, if ever it believes that it has arrived.
Marx and Theoretical Humanism
I now want, very briefly, to follow one last path across my essays, in order to test out another provocative thesis: that of Marx's theoretical anti-humanism. I would say that, just for the pleasure of watching the ideological fireworks with which it was met, I would have had to invent this thesis if I had not already put it forward.
It is a serious thesis, as long as it is seriously read, and above all as long as serious attention is paid to one of the two words which make it up, and not the diabolical one, but the word "theoretical ". I said and repeated that the concept or category of man did not play a theoretical role in Marx. But unfortunately this term "theoretical" was ignored by those who did not want to understand it.
Let us try to understand it.
And, to that end, let me first say a word about Feuerbach, some of whose texts I translated. No-one will deny that Feuerbach's philosophy is openly a theoretical humanism. Feuerbach says: every new philosophy announces itself under a new name. The philosophy of modern times, my philosophy, he says, announces itself under the name "Man". And in fact man, the human essence, is the central principle of the whole of Feuerbach's philosophy. It is not that Feuerbach is not interested in nature, because he does talk about the sun and the planets, and also about plants, dragon-flies and dogs, and even about elephants in order to point out that they have no religion. But he is first of all preparing his ground, if I may put it in that way, when he talks about nature, when he calmly tells us that each species has its own world, which is only the manifestation of its essence. This world is made up of objects, and among them there exists one object par excellence in which the essence of the species is accomplished and perfected: its essential object. Thus each planet has the sun as an essential object, which is also the essential object of the planet, etc.
Now that the ground is prepared, we can turn our attention to man. He is the centre of his world as he is at the centre of the horizon that bounds it, of his Umwelt. There is nothing in his life which is not his : or rather, nothing which is not him, because all the objects of his world are only his objects in so far as they are the realization and projection of his essence. The objects of his perception are only his manner of perceiving them, the objects of his thought are only his manner of thinking them, and the objects of his feelings are only his manner of feeling them. All his objects are essential in so far as what they give him is only ever his own essence. Man is always in man, man never leaves the sphere of man,
because -- in a simple little phrase which the young Marx took over from Feuerbach, and which provoked some scholarly discussion among the participants in last summer's Hegel Congress in Moscow -- the world is the world of man and man is the world of man. The sun and the stars, the dragon-flies, perception, intelligence and passion are only so many transitions on the road to the decisive truths: man's specific characteristic, unlike the stars and the animals, is to have his own species, the essence of his species, his whole generic essence as the object, and in an object which owes nothing to nature or religion. By the mechanism of objectification and inversion, the generic essence of man is given to man, unrecognizable in person, in the form of an exterior object, of another world, in religion. In religion, man contemplates his own powers, his productive forces as powers of an absolute other before whom he trembles and kneels down to implore pity. And this is perfectly practical, because out of it came all the rituals of religious worship, even the objective existence of miracles, which really do take place in this imaginary world since they are only, in Feuerbach's words (and I quote), "the realization of a desire" (Wunscherfüllung ). The absolute object which is man thus comes up against the absolute in God, but does not realize that what he comes up against is himself. The whole of this philosophy, which does not limit itself to religion, but also deals with art, ideology, philosophy, and in addition -- a fact which is too little known -- with politics, society, and even history, thus rests on the identity of essence between subject and object, and this identity is explained by the power of man's essence to project itself in the self-realization which constitutes its objects, and in the alienation which separates object from subject, makes the object exterior to the subject, reifies it, and inverts the essential relation, since scandalously enough the Subject finds itself dominated by itself, in the form of an Object, God or the State, etc., which is however nothing but itself.
It must not be forgotten that this discourse, of which I can only sketch the premises here, had a certain grandeur, since it called for the inversion produced by religious or political alienation to be itself inverted; in other words, it
called for an inversion of the imaginary domination of the attributes of the human subject; it called on man finally to claim back possession of his essence, alienated in his domination by God and the State; it called on man finally -- no longer in the imaginary world of religion, in the "heaven of the State", or in the alienated abstraction of Hegelian philosophy, but on the earth, here and now, in real society -- to realize his true human essence which is the human community, "communism".
Man at the centre of his world, in the philosophical sense of the term, the originating essence and the end of his world -- that is what we can call a theoretical humanism in the strong sense.
It will be agreed, I think, that Marx, having originally espoused Feuerbach's problematic of the generic essence of man and of alienation, later broke with him, and also that this-break with Feuerbach's theoretical humanism was a radical event in the history of Marx's thought.
But I would like to go further. For Feuerbach is a strange philosophical personality with this peculiarity (if I may be allowed the expression) of "blowing the gaff". Feuerbach is a confessed theoretical humanist. But behind him stands a whole row of philosophical precursors who, while they were not so brave as to confess it so openly, were working on a philosophy of man, even if in a less transparent form. Far be it from me to denigrate this great humanist tradition whose historical merit was to have struggled against feudalism, against the Church, and against their ideologists, and to have given man a status and dignity. But far be it from us, I think, to deny the fact that this humanist ideology, which produced great works and great thinkers, is inseparably linked to the rising bourgeoisie, whose aspirations it expressed, translating and transposing the demands of a commercial and capitalist economy sanctioned by a new system of law, the old Roman law revised as bourgeois commercial law. Man as a free subject, free man as a subject of his actions and his thoughts, is first of all man free to possess, to sell and to buy, the subject of law.
I will cut matters short and put forward the claim here that, with some untimely exceptions, the great tradition of
classical philosophy has reproduced in the categories of its systems both the right of man to know, out of which it has made the subject of its theories of knowledge, from the cogito to the empiricist and the transcendental subject; and the right of man to act, out of which it has made the economic, moral and political subject. I believe, but obviously cannot prove it here, that I have the right to claim the following: in the form of the different subjects in which it is both divided up and disguised, the category of man, of the human essence, or of the human species, plays an essential theoretical role in the classical pre-Marxist philosophies. And when I talk about the theoretical role which a category plays, I mean that it is intimately bound up with the other categories, that it cannot be cut out of the set without altering the functioning of the whole. I think I can say that, with a few exceptions, the great classical philosophy represents, in implicit form, an indisputably humanist tradition. And if in his own way Feuerbach "blows the gaff", if he puts the human essence squarely at the centre of the whole thing, it is because he thinks that he can escape from the constraint which caused the classical philosophies to hide man behind a division into several subjects. This division, let us say into two subjects, in order to simplify matters, which makes man a subject of knowledge and a subject of action, is a characteristic mark of classical philosophy and prevents it from coming out with Feuerbach's fantastic declaration. Feuerbach himself thinks that he can overcome this division: for the plurality of subjects he substitutes the plurality of attributes in the human subject, and he thinks that he can settle another politically important problem, the distinction between individual and species, in terms of sexuality, which suppresses the individual because it requires that there should always be at least two of them, which already makes a species. I think that it becomes obvious from the manner in which Feuerbach proceeds that even before him the main concern of philosophy was man. The difference was that man was divided up between several subjects, and between the individual and the species.
It follows that Marx's theoretical anti-humanism is much more than a settling of accounts with Feuerbach: it is directed
at one and the same time both against the existing philosophies of society and history and against the classical tradition of philosophy, and thus through them against the whole of bourgeois ideology.
I would say that Marx's theoretical anti-humanism is above all a philosophical anti-humanism. If what I have just said has any truth in it, you only have to compare it with what I said earlier about Marx's affinities with Spinoza and Hegel in their opposition to philosophies of the Origin and the Subject to see the implications. And in fact if you examine the texts which might be considered the authentic texts of Marxist philosophy, you do not find the category of man or any of its past or possible disguises. The materialist and dialectical theses which make up the whole of what little Marxist philosophy exists can give rise to all kinds of interpretations. But I do not see how they can allow any humanist interpretation: on the contrary, they are designed to exclude it, as one variety of idealism among others, and to invite us to think in a quite different manner.
But we still have not finished, because we still have to understand the theoretical anti-humanism of historical materialism, that is, the elimination of the concept of man as a central concept by the Marxist theory of social formations and of history.
Perhaps we ought first of all to deal with two objections. In fact, we certainly ought to try, because they come up again and again. The first concludes that any Marxist theory conceived in the above manner ends by despising men and paralysing their revolutionary struggle. But Capital is full of the sufferings of the exploited, from the period of primitive accumulation to that of triumphant capitalism, and it is written for the purpose of helping to free them from class servitude. This however does not prevent Marx but on the contrary obliges him to abstract from concrete individuals and to treat them theoretically as simple "supports" of relations, and this in the same work, Capital, which analyses the mechanisms of their exploitation. The second objection opposes to Marx's theoretical anti-humanism the existence of humanist ideologies which, even if they do in general serve the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, may also, in certain
circumstances and within certain social strata, and even in a religious form, express the revolt of the masses against exploitation and oppression. But this raises no difficulty, as soon as you realize that Marxism recognizes the existence of ideologies and judges them in terms of the role which they play in the class struggle.
What is at stake here is something quite different: the theoretical pretensions of the humanist conception to explain society and history, starting out from the human essence, from the free human subject, the subject of needs, of labour, of desire, the subject of moral and political action; I maintain that Marx was only able to found the science of history and to write Capital because he broke with the theoretical pretensions of all such varieties of humanism.
In opposition to the whole of bourgeois ideology, Marx declares: "A society is not composed of individuals" (Grundrisse ), and: "My analytic method does not start from Man but from the economically given period of society" (Notes on Wagner's Textbook ). And against the humanist and Marxist socialists who had proclaimed in the Gotha Programme that "labour is the source of all wealth and all culture", he argues: "The bourgeois have very good grounds for falsely ascribing supernatural creative power to labour". Can one imagine a more distinct break?
The effects can be seen in Capital. Marx shows that what in the last instance determines a social formation, and allows us to grasp it, is not any chimerical human essence or human nature, nor man, nor even "men", but a relation, the production relation, which is inseparable from the Base, the infrastructure. And, in opposition to all humanist idealism, Marx shows that this relation is not a relation between men, a relation between persons, nor an intersubjective or psychological or anthropological relation, but a double relation: a relation between groups of men concerning the relation between these groups of men and things, the means of production. It is one of the greatest possible theoretical mystifications that you can imagine to think that social relations can be reduced to relations between men, or even between groups of men: because this is to suppose that social relations are relations which only involve, men, whereas actually
they also involve things, the means of production, derived from material nature. The production relation is, says Marx, a relation of distribution: it distributes men among classes at the same time and according as it attributes the means of production to a class. The classes are born out of the antagonism in this distribution which is also an attribution. Naturally, human individuals are parties to this relation, therefore active, but first of all in so far as they are held within it. It is because they are parties to it, as to a freely agreed contract, that they are held within it, and it is because they are held within it that they are parties to it. It is very important to understand why Marx considers men in this case only as "supports" of a relation, or "bearers" of a function in the production process, determined by the production relation. It is not at all because he reduces men in their concrete life to simple bearers of functions: he considers them as such in this respect because the capitalist production relation reduces them to this simple function within the infrastructure, in production, that is, in exploitation. In effect, the man of production, considered as an agent of production, is only that for the capitalist mode of production; he is determined as a simple "support" of a relation, as a simple "bearer of functions", completely anonymous and interchangeable, for if he is a worker he may be thrown into the street, and if he is a capitalist he may make a fortune or go bankrupt. In all cases he must submit to the law of a production relation, which is a relation of exploitation, therefore an antagonistic class relation; he must submit to the law of this relation and its effects. If you do not submit the individual concrete determinations of proletarians and capitalists, their "liberty" or their personality to a theoretical "reduction", then you will understand nothing of the terrible practical "reduction" to which the capitalist production relation submits individuals, which treats them only as bearers of economic functions and nothing else.
But to treat individuals as simple bearers of economic functions has consequences for the individuals. It is not Marx the theoretician who treats them as such, but the capitalist production relation! To treat individuals as bearers
of interchangeable functions is, within capitalist exploitation, which is the fundamental capitalist class struggle, to mark them irreparably in their flesh and blood, to reduce them to nothing but appendices of the machine, to cast their wives and children into the hell of the factory, to extend their working day to the maximum, to give them just enough to reproduce themselves, and to create that gigantic reserve army from which other anonymous bearers can be drawn in order to put pressure on those who are in employment, who are lucky enough to have work.
But at the same time it is to create the conditions for an organization of struggle of the working class. For it is the development of the capitalist class struggle, that is, of capitalist exploitation, which itself creates these conditions. Marx continually insisted on the fact that it was the capitalist organization of production which forcibly taught the working class the lesson of class struggle, not only in concentrating masses of workers in the place of work, not only in mixing them together, but also and above all in imposing on them a terrible discipline of labour and daily life, all of which the workers suffer only to turn it back in common actions against their masters.
But in order for all this to happen, the workers must be party to and held within other relations.
The capitalist social formation, indeed, cannot be reduced to the capitalist production relation alone, therefore to its infrastructure. Class exploitation cannot continue, that is, reproduce the conditions of its existence, without the aid of the superstructure, without the legal-political and ideological relations, which in the last instance are determined by the production relation. Marx did not enter into this analysis, except in the form of a few brief remarks. But from everything that he said we can conclude that these relations too treat concrete human individuals as "bearers" of relations, as "supports" of functions, to which men are only parties because they are held within them. Thus, legal relations abstract from the real man in order to treat him as a simple "bearer of the legal relation", as a simple subject of law, capable of owning property, even if the only property which he possesses is that of his naked labour power. Thus too
political relations abstract from the living man in order to treat him as a simple "support of the political relation", as a free citizen, even if his vote only reinforces his servitude. And thus too the ideological relations abstract from the living man in order to treat him as a simple subject either subjected to or rebelling against the ruling ideas. But all these relations, each of which uses the real man as its support, nevertheless determine and brand men in their flesh and blood, just as the production relation does. And since the production relation is a relation of class struggle, it is the class struggle which in the last instance determines the superstructural relations, their contradiction, and the overdetermination with which they mark the infrastructure.
And just as the capitalist class struggle creates, within production, the conditions of the workers' class struggle, so you can see that the legal, political and ideological relations can contribute to its organization and consciousness, through the very constraints which they impose. For the proletarian class struggle really did learn politics within the framework of bourgeois relations, and via the bourgeois class struggle itself. Everyone knows very well that the bourgeoisie was only able to overthrow the old regime, its production relation and its State, by engaging the popular masses in its struggle, and everyone knows that the bourgeoisie was only able to defeat the great landowners by enrolling the workers in its political battle, afterwards of course massacring them. Through its law and its ideology as well as through its bullets and its prisons, the bourgeoisie educated them in the political and ideological class struggle, among other ways by forcing them to understand that the proletarian class struggle had nothing to do with the bourgeois class struggle, and to shake off the yoke of its ideology.
It is here that the last instance, and the contradictory effects which it produces within the "edifice", intervenes to account for the dialectic of these paradoxical phenomena, which Marx grasps not with the help of the ridiculous concept of man, but with quite different concepts: production relation, class struggle, legal, political and ideological relations. Theoretically, the functioning of the last instance allows us to account for the difference and unevenness between the
forms of the class struggle, from the economic struggle to the political and ideological struggle, and thus for the interplay existing between these struggles and for the contradictions existing in this struggle.
Marx's theoretical anti-humanism, as it operates within historical materialism, thus means a refusal to root the explanation of social formations and their history in a concept of man with theoretical pretensions, that is, a concept of man as an originating subject, one in whom originate his needs (homo oeconomicus ), his thoughts (homo rationalis ), and his acts and struggles (homo moralis, juridicus and politicus ). For when you begin with man, you cannot avoid the idealist temptation of believing in the omnipotence of liberty or of creative labour -- that is, you simply submit, in all "freedom", to the omnipotence of the ruling bourgeois ideology, whose function is to mask and to impose, in the illusory shape of man's power of freedom, another power, much more real and much more powerful, that of capitalism. If Marx does not start with man, if he refuses to derive society and history theoretically from the concept of man, it is in order to break with this mystification which only expresses an ideological relation of force, based in the capitalist production relation. Marx therefore starts out from the structural cause producing this effect of bourgeois ideology which maintains the illusion that you should start with man. Marx starts with the given economic formation, and in the particular case of Capital, with the capitalist production relation, and the relations which it determines in the last instance in the superstructure. And each time he shows that these relations determine and brand men, and how they brand them in their concrete life, and how, through the system of class struggles, living men are determined by the system of these relations. In the 1857 Introduction Marx said: the concrete is a synthesis of many determinations. We might paraphrase him and say: men in the concrete sense are determined by a synthesis of the many determinations of the relations in which they are held and to which they are parties. If Marx does not start out from man, which is an empty idea, that is, one weighed down with bourgeois ideology, it is in order finally to reach living men; if he
makes a detour via these relations of which living men are the "bearers", it is in order finally to be able to grasp the laws which govern both their lives and their concrete struggles.
We should note that at no time does this detour via relations estrange Marx from living men, because at each moment of the process of knowledge, that is, at each moment in his analysis, Marx shows how each relation -- from the capitalist production relation, determinant in the last instance, to the legal-political and ideological relations -- brands men in their concrete life, which is governed by the forms and effects of the class struggle. Each of Marx's abstractions corresponds to the "abstraction" imposed on men by these relations, and this terribly concrete "abstraction" is what makes men into exploited workers or exploiting capitalists. We should also note that the final term of this process of thought, the "thought-concrete", to which it leads, is that synthesis of many determinations which defines concrete reality.
Marx thus placed himself on class positions, and he had in view the mass phenomena of the class struggle. He wanted to aid the working class to understand the mechanisms of capitalist society and to discover the relations and laws within which it lives, in order to reinforce and orient its struggle. He had no other object than the class struggle; his aim was to help the working class to make revolution and thus finally, under communism, to suppress the class struggle and classes.
The only more or less serious objection which can be made to the thesis of Marx's theoretical anti-humanism is, I must be honest enough to admit it, related to those texts which, in Capital, return to the theme of alienation. I say purposely: the theme, because I do not think that the passages in which this theme is taken up have a theoretical significance. I am suggesting that alienation appears there not as a really considered concept but as a substitute for realities which had not yet been thought out sufficiently for Marx to be able to refer to them: the forms, still on the horizon, of organization and struggle of the working class. The theme of alienation in Capital could thus be said to function as a substitute for a concept or concepts not yet formed, because
the objective historical conditions had not yet produced their object. If this hypothesis is correct, it becomes possible to understand that the Commune, in answering Marx's expectations, rendered the theme of alienation superfluous, as did the whole of Lenin's political practice. In fact alienation disappears from Marx's thought after the Commune, and never appears in Lenin's immense work.
But this problem does not just concern Marxist theory; it also involves the historical forms of its fusion with the Labour Movement. This problem faces us openly today: we shall have to examine it.
The following remarks constitute Althusser's contribution to the public discussion in L'Humanité on the draft resolution presented to the 21st -- Extraordinary -- Congress of the French Communist Party, held in October 1974. The resolution as finally adopted by the Congress can be read in Cahiers du communisme, no. 11, November 1974.
By instinct, Communists have understood that the resolution put forward for consideration by the 21st Congress contains something new, which could be important.
It is obviously not a question of a change in line. But, within the same line, the Resolution provides more exact formulations, and rectifications and innovations.
1. The political line is defined with a new precision. The objective of the present class struggle is, in the short term, "democratic change", a "new democracy" which will apply the "democratic reforms" contained in the Common Programme, around which the Union of the Left has been sealed. The motor of democratic change will be the "Union of the French People", who can be "gathered together" into a "large majority". The present struggles prove that this union is "under way".
Where are the innovations? Essentially they concern two points:
(a) Who will be in power in the "new democracy"? Not the United Left alone, but the "alliance of all parties and organizations interested in democratic change". Of course
the Union of the Left will remain the heart of this Broad Alliance.
(b) Just as the 20th Congress put the accent on "Popular Union", the Resolution puts the accent on the "Union of the French People".
But, first of all, why this extra notion? Does it not duplicate the notion of the Broad Alliance? The Resolution is not very clear on this important point (cf. paragraph 24, chapter IV).
What difference is there in principle between the Union of the Left and Popular Union? Between the Broad Alliance and the Union of the French People? The difference which exists between a union concluded between organizations and a union forged among the masses. The first is a minority, the second can be a "large majority".
There is of course a dialectic operating between the political union of organizations and union among the masses. When the Union of the Left was concluded, its effects were felt far beyond the ranks of the supporters of the Left, among the masses. The same will be true of the Broad Alliance, when it is concluded. But -- and this is the decisive point -- what is it that has made possible, necessary and inevitable the union between the French Communist Party, which has been fighting for it for years, the Socialist Party and the Left Radicals? The unprecedented development, in May 1968 and since, of the class struggle of the masses of the people, therefore the union of the masses in action.
The development of the union of the masses in the class struggle: thus the agreement between organizations; thus the further development of the union of the masses; thus the broadening of the alliance between organizations, etc. That is the dialectic of the movement, in which it is the union of the masses in the class struggle which plays the determinant role.
One must therefore clearly distinguish between the alliance between organizations and the Union of the French People, so as to be able to grasp their dialectic, and also so as not to give the term "majority" a purely electoral sense. Because, once the elections are won, the alliance in power will only be able to govern against the monopolies if it can depend on
the power of a people united in the class struggle to come.
By definition, the Union of the French People can only be realized at the base. How? "Around the reforms proposed by the Common Programme." But what are the means to this end? The explanations given by the militants of the Party and of the other allied organizations, and their diffusion. Discussions, therefore. Now all this is true. But more is needed: Marxists know that at the level of the masses ideas are only really exchanged in action and through action.
One must therefore be explicit. The Union of the French People is the union of working people, democrats and patriots around the working class ; it is a union, at the grass roots, of the masses of the people in protest and struggle: workers, peasants, employees, artisans, tradesmen, intellectuals, women, soldiers, etc. The union of political, trades union and other organizations is both the effect and the condition of the struggle: but it is the Union of the French People which is the decisive motor of the struggle.
This union is under way. But it must continually gain strength and especially cohesion if it is to win victory. It is not enough to count on "the crisis" and the general discontent, nor to pile up "sectional" actions. To think that these actions are going to "converge" by themselves would be to fall into the illusion of spontaneism. This discontent and these actions have to be welded together in a common political will. Now what is capable of really bringing and welding these actions and protests together? The working class and its organizations, and in the front rank of these, the Party. That is why the Union of the French People can only be constructed around the working class.
I should like the Resolution to say: (1) the Union of the French People is the decisive motor of the coming political transformations; (2) the Union of the French People must be welded together around the working class; (3) the Union of the French People will be welded together by the action of the masses and action among the masses: the role of the Party is essential in this.
These clarifications are all the more necessary because the Resolution makes an innovation in comparison to the 20th Congress by talking about the Union of the French
People. Why? The idea here is to unite around the working class not only democrats but also patriots (e.g. the Gaullists) who are concerned about France's independence and future. An "electoral manoeuvre", it will be said. A way of gaining votes to cross the famous "barrier".
Communists will never fall into electoral cretinism. They know that electoral relations of force can (here it is the case) obscure the relations of class forces.
When the Resolution defines the French people which it is calling on to unite -- "the whole people, with the sole exception of the feudal barons of big business" -- it tells the truth, but in the form of a slogan.
It is true that objectively, and in the long run, only the monopolists and their agents (plus: world imperialism) have a real interest in the maintenance of the dictatorship of the monopolies in France.
But it is equally true that if this fraction of monopolists has been able to maintain itself in power up to the present day, it is because it has been able and clever enough to represent "the general interest of the bourgeoisie as a class" (Marx), and it could only do this because it had a mass base : not only in the bourgeoisie, but also in the petty bourgeoisie and even in a part of the working class. Thus the electoral "barrier" which has caused so many surprises.
What "obstacle" did the electoral drive of the left come up against? Precisely the present frontier of the mass class base of the bourgeoisie, dominated by its monopolist fraction.
To reduce this "barrier" to nothing but prejudice, or simply to the anti-communist offensive (that is, to "ideas") is idealism. There is of course "tradition": but this is constituted and maintained by concrete links, not only ideological (ideology is something different from just "ideas") but also material, between the ruling class and its mass base. These relations are complicated, but always precise and varying according to social category. The monopolists are not stupid: they know how to use existing relations, to let events develop or to intervene with such-and-such a measure to preserve these relations, through which they "hold on to" the different elements of their mass base (just two examples in a hundred: they know how to close their eyes to tax frauds
among a certain social category; they "hold on to" some working people by the DPO, etc.).
To win these elements for the Union of the French People, propaganda ( = ideas), though indispensable, is not enough. In each case you must study the material and ideological nature of these relations. Only thus can you find the correct response, therefore the correct forms of explanation, propaganda and action. Only thus can you wage a correct ideological struggle, relevant to the masses where they are, as they are: otherwise you will miss the mark. Have the difficulties which L'Humanité is facing also been looked at from this point of view?
In fact the need is for the Popular Union to become the Union of the French People, by winning over the majority of the mass base of the bourgeoisie. Here too you cannot count on any miracles of spontaneity, even stimulated by the crisis (in the past crises have opened the way to fascism). The need is for a political victory, the result of political action, whose centre is the working class and whose means are its organizations of class struggle. If this victory is brought off, then, and only then, will the enemies of the French people be reduced to the monopolists and their agents alone. That is why the definition of the French people by the Resolution has the truth of a slogan, which needs both detailed concrete analysis and action if it is to become real.
2. The Resolution contains theoretical rectifications, which, politically, all tend in the same direction.
It is no longer a question of defining "advanced democracy" in terms of the notorious formula: "Replace the logic of of profit" (capitalism?) "by the logic of needs" (what?). The 20th Congress had already toned this formula down, but it kept the essential terms. At that time Paul Laurent said: the "logic of needs" alludes rather to communism ("From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" -- Marx; a formula which moreover defines communism bb its relations of distribution and not by its relations of production) -- "its use should not be extended". In fact, since advanced democracy is not even socialism, what was this vague allusion to communism doing there?
It is true that the Resolution still talks, for some reason, about a "policy for man" and a "policy of reason" (sic ). But it rectifies itself in several places: what matters is to satisfy popular demands. In using this latter kind of language it is possible to avoid falling into utopianism, that is, into political idealism, and raising excessive hopes, thus causing disappointments -- and to avoid the temptation of trying to outbid everyone in spiritualism (cf. an article in La Nouvelle Critique, February 1973, on the Common Programme, centred on the "needs of the human person"!).
The Resolution does not repeat the old formula of an "advanced democracy opening the road to socialism ". On the contrary, it puts the accent on "new democracy", "democratic change". In fact, democracy cannot be qualified by any adjective (authentic, true, advanced) which measures a given real democracy against an "essence" of democracy -- but only by one which measures it against its class content: in our case, democracy for the people. Likewise, the Resolution puts the accent on "limited democratic reforms". That does not mean that socialism is forgotten! Nor that a policy of reforms necessarily falls into reformism. Communists know that every victory in the class struggle is, in the more or less long term, a step forward towards socialism. It is not a question of a tactical manoeuvre, aimed at others : "Socialism frightens them? Then we shall keep quiet about socialism! And let us guarantee that this is not the thin end of the wedge!" On the contrary, it is a question of rejecting utopianism and its dangers.
Because it is true, and for us first of all, that there is no "thin end of the wedge". That means: you cannot programme revolution, whether peaceful or otherwise. Lenin said so often enough: it is not enough that revolution (the transition to socialism) should be "on the agenda". The "situation" must also be "revolutionary", which presupposes the accumulation and welding together of a considerable number of national and international contradictions. Finally, the "subjective conditions" (the organizations of class struggle of the masses) must be abreast of the objective conditions.
None of this can be programmed. None of it resembles the "thin end of a wedge". But there is a definite political
consequence: you need a mass political line, strong enough and flexible enough to prepare the Party, even when the revolution is still far off, not only to cope with the "revolutionary situation" when it is opened up, but first of all, right now, to prepare it, to help it mature -- without knowing in advance either when or how it will prevent itself.
The danger of the utopian-idealist formulae which the Resolution abandons or rightly rectifies can be seen. These formulae may deliver militants and the Party over to the illusion of the spontaneity of history, or to the idealism of the omnipotence of "ideas" -- and divert them from their revolutionary task, which before the revolution does not consist in phrasemongering about Revolution, its antechambers and open doors, but in really preparing one-self to make it when the time is right.
As regards reformism, the matter is clear: a policy is reformist when it negotiates reforms which hinder revolution; it is revolutionary when it fights for reforms which prepare revolution.
I think that the Resolution should lead to the rectification or re-examination of a certain number of other utopian idealist formulae (e.g., on the State, Law, and "State Monopoly Capitalism") which in recent years have flourished in the shadow of the slogans which the Resolution has correctly given up.
3. A few words, finally, on the Party.
All the measures proposed lead in the same direction. It is a question of making the Party into a vanguard party which is a mass party : through a bold recruitment policy, the promotion of the young militants linked most closely with the masses (the best in the factory, "the most popular"), and the appeal to the initiative of all militants.
These measures outline the image of a great mass party, armed with Marxist-Leninist theory, and cleared of the remains of dogmatism and sectarianism.
The watchword has been given: we are talking about a "New Party" or, to put it schematically, the accent is no longer placed on the cadres (cf. Stalin: "The cadres decide everything") but on the masses.
It necessarily follows that a heavier responsibility falls to the base of the Party: to the branches. The reason is simple: it is through its base, the branches, that the Party can become a mass party, applying a mass line in mass actions. A party must have many members before it can become a mass party, but that by itself is not enough: what makes it a mass party are its links with the masses, the mass actions in which it takes part, and above all the mass actions in which it can take the initiative "one step ahead of the masses, and one step only" (Lenin).
In these last years some Party militants have had to jump into a moving train, or have even got left on the platform. Why? Because they did not understand in time what was happening among the masses; they did not pay sufficient attention to their needs and reactions,-nor did they make a detailed analysis of these, in order to give them shape, by proposing suitable united actions. The appeal to initiative, like G. Marchais' appeal to "get thinking", is addressed to every militant, but above all to the Party branches.
There can be no mass line (the Union of the French People) without a mass party: but there can be no mass party without clear initiative from "the base of the Party" (article XV of the Statutes ), the branches, which are at the heart of the masses.
I therefore propose that the Resolution should specify, after paragraph 14, chapter V:
"In order properly to fulfil its vanguard role, the Party must thus become a great mass Party, capable of applying the mass line of the Union of the French People. The Party must greatly increase its membership: but to do that, and because it does so, it must be linked to the masses, to their responses and aspirations, in order to give these a shape and to initiate necessary actions, 'one step ahead of the masses, and one step only' (Lenin). This mass line places a heavier responsibility on the Party base, on the branches, and especially on the factory branches, because they are at the heart of the masses."
(Paris - V)