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.