Bordiga on Sorel

It is as­ser­ted that in or­der to elim­in­ate so­cial in­justice, all that is re­quired is to re­late every com­mod­ity’s ex­change value to the value of the labor con­tained with­in it. Marx shows — and will show later, pit­ting him­self against Bak­un­in, against Las­salle, against Dühring, against Sorel and against all the oth­er lat­ter-day pyg­mies — that what lies be­neath all this is noth­ing oth­er than the apo­lo­gia, and the pre­ser­va­tion, of bour­geois eco­nomy.

For about ten years or so pri­or to the Oc­to­ber Re­volu­tion, re­volu­tion­ary syn­dic­al­ism had been fight­ing against so­cial-demo­crat­ic re­vi­sion­ism. Georges Sorel was the main the­or­eti­cian and lead­er of this cur­rent, even if earli­er ante­cedents cer­tainly ex­is­ted. It was a move­ment which was par­tic­u­larly strong in the Lat­in coun­tries: to be­gin with they fought in­side the so­cial­ist parties, but later split off, both be­cause of the vi­cis­situdes of the struggle and in or­der to be con­sist­ent with a doc­trine which re­jec­ted the ne­ces­sity of the party as a re­volu­tion­ary class or­gan.

The primary form of pro­let­ari­an or­gan­iz­a­tion for the syn­dic­al­ists was the eco­nom­ic trade uni­on, whose main task was sup­posed to be not only lead­ing the class struggle to de­fend the im­me­di­ate in­terests of the work­ing class, but also pre­par­ing, without be­ing sub­ject to any polit­ic­al party, to lead the fi­nal re­volu­tion­ary war against the cap­it­al­ist sys­tem.

Sore­li­ans and Marx­ism

A com­plete ana­lys­is of the ori­gins and evol­u­tion of this doc­trine, both as we find it in Sorel’s work, and in the mul­ti­far­i­ous groups which in vari­ous coun­tries sub­scribed to it, would take us too far off our track; at this point we shall there­fore just dis­cuss its his­tor­ic­al bal­ance sheet, and its very ques­tion­able view of a fu­ture non-cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety.

Sorel and many of his fol­low­ers, in Italy as well, star­ted off by de­clar­ing that they were the true suc­cessors of Marx in fight­ing against leg­al­ist­ic re­vi­sion­ism in its pa­ci­fist and evol­u­tion­ist guise. Even­tu­ally they were forced to ad­mit that their tend­ency rep­res­en­ted a new re­vi­sion­ism; left rather than right wing in ap­pear­ance but ac­tu­ally is­su­ing from the same source, and con­tain­ing the same dangers.

The part of Marx’s doc­trine which Sorel reckoned to have re­tained was the use of vi­ol­ence and the struggle of the pro­let­ari­an class against bour­geois in­sti­tu­tions and au­thor­ity, es­pe­cially the State. Thus he ap­peared to be in strict con­form­ity with the Marx­ist his­tor­ic­al cri­tique ac­cord­ing to which the con­tem­por­ary State which emerged from the bour­geois re­volu­tion in its par­lia­ment­ary demo­crat­ic forms and re­mains an or­gan­iz­a­tion per­fectly ad­ap­ted for the de­fense of the dom­in­ant class, whose power can­not be re­moved by leg­al means. The Sore­li­ans de­fen­ded the use of il­leg­al ac­tion, vi­ol­ence, and the re­volu­tion­ary gen­er­al strike, and raised the lat­ter to the rank of the su­preme ideal, pre­cisely at a time when in most so­cial­ist parties such slo­gans were be­ing fiercely re­pu­di­ated.

The cul­min­a­tion of the Sore­li­an the­ory of “dir­ect ac­tion” — that is, without leg­ally elec­ted in­ter­me­di­ar­ies between pro­let­ari­ans and the is the bour­geois­ie — is the gen­er­al strike. But in spite of it be­ing con­ceived of as oc­cur­ring sim­ul­tan­eously in all trades, in all cit­ies of a par­tic­u­lar coun­try, or even on an in­ter­na­tion­al scale, in real­ity the in­sur­rec­tion of the syn­dic­al­ists is still re­stric­ted, in­so­far as it takes the form of ac­tions by in­di­vidu­als, or at most, ac­tions by isol­ated groups; in neither case does it at­tain the level of class ac­tion. This was due to Sorel’s hor­ror of a re­volu­tion­ary polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion ne­ces­sar­ily tak­ing on a mil­it­ary form, and after vic­tory, a State form (pro­let­ari­an State, Dic­tat­or­ship); and since Sore­li­ans don’t agree with Party, State, and Dic­tat­or­ship they would end up tread­ing the same path as Bak­un­in had thirty years be­fore. The na­tion­al gen­er­al strike, as­sum­ing it to be vic­tori­ous, would sup­posedly co­in­cide (on the same day?) with a gen­er­al ex­pro­pri­ation (the “ex­pro­pri­at­ing strike”), but such a vis­ion of the pas­sage from one so­cial form to an­oth­er is as neb­u­lous and weak as it is dis­ap­point­ing and eph­em­er­al.

In Italy in 1920 — in an at­mo­sphere of gen­er­al en­thu­si­asm for Len­in, for the party, for tak­ing power, and for the “ex­pro­pri­at­ing dic­tat­or­ship” — this su­per­fi­cially ex­treme slo­gan of the “ex­pro­pri­at­ing strike” was ad­op­ted by both max­im­al­ists and or­dinov­ists; this was one of many oc­ca­sions when we had to de­fend Marx­ist po­s­i­tions strenu­ously and piti­lessly, even at risk of be­ing ac­cused of brid­ling the move­ment.

Sorel and his fol­low­ers are ac­tu­ally far re­moved from Marx­ist de­term­in­ism, and the in­ter­ac­tion which oc­curs between the eco­nom­ic and polit­ic­al spheres is a dead let­ter to them. Since they are in­di­vidu­al­ists and vol­un­tar­ists, they see re­volu­tion as an act of force which can only take place after an im­possible act of con­scious­ness. As Len­in demon­strated in What is To Be Done?, they turn Marx­ism on its head. They treat con­scious­ness and will as though they came from the in­ner self, from the “per­son”, and thus, in one deft move­ment, they sweep away bour­geois State, class di­vi­sions, and class psy­cho­logy. Since they are un­able to un­der­stand the in­ev­it­able al­tern­at­ive — cap­it­al­ist dic­tat­or­ship or com­mun­ist dic­tat­or­ship — they evade the di­lemma in the only way that is his­tor­ic­ally pos­sible: by rees­tab­lish­ing the former. And wheth­er this is done con­sciously or not may be a burn­ing is­sue for them but, frankly, we are not that in­ter­ested.

We are not really in­ter­ested in fol­low­ing the lo­gic­al evol­u­tion of Georges Sorel’s think­ing after that: ideal­ism, spir­itu­al­ism, and then a re­turn to the womb of the Cath­ol­ic Church.

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