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.
Reading through Kant’s excellent 1795 political essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”last night, I happened across and interesting passage regarding the relation between Fate and Providence. Since this is a topic I became interested in through Schelling’s discussion of it in his 1802 Philosophy of Art, it captured my attention with exceptional force. It runs as follows:
The mechanical process of nature visibly exhibits the purposive plan of producing concord among men, even against their will and indeed by means of their very discord. This design, if we regard it as a compelling cause whose laws of operation are unknown to us, is called fate. But if we consider its purposive function within the world’s development, whereby it appears as the underlying wisdom of a higher cause, showing the way towards the objective goal of the human race and predetermining the world’s evolution, we call it providence.
The italicized words are his own, so let it not be thought that I am reading any undue emphasis into his meaning. And, while its mention must be regarded as transitional, a remark made in passim, so to speak, it nonetheless reveals an interesting philosophical tradition underlying the distinction between the two forms of determinism. According to this tradition, Fate operates efficiently/ætiologically (as a causa efficiens), while Providence functions purposively/teleologically (as a causa finalis). This difference was first introduced to discursive prominence by the sixth-century philosopher Boethius, who in his masterpiece The Consolation of Philosophy writes that
[t]he generation of all things, and the whole course of mutable natures and of whatever is in any way subject to change, take their causes, order, and forms from the unchanging mind of God. This divine mind established the manifold rules by which all things are governed while it remained in the secure castle of its own simplicity. When this government is regarded as belonging to the purity of the divine mind, it is called Providence; but when it is considered with reference to the things which it moves and governs, it has from very early times been called Fate.
In other words, viewing the determination of objects and persons, from the standpoint of Fate, their sequence seems wholly natural, impersonal. Conversely, its interpretation as an effect of Providence would have the succession proceed in a spiritual, personal manner.