(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
How are we to understand the new wave of protests that has been fragmented throughout the world since 2010 in the wake of the financial crisis and the underlying 30 year-long smoothing of economic growth at the center of capital? The Portuguese refugee and militant author Charles Reeve contributes to the analysis of the new uprisings with his 300 pages long historical account of proletarian self-organization from the French Revolution to the present day. At a time when much of what appears to be Marxist philosophy at the university is characterized by a surprising lack of historical knowledge and either prefers to pack airy Maoist passwords about "true ideas" into Platonic formulations or sits deep in Marx's economics-critical writings without orienting themselves to the actual struggles of history, Reeve's historical analysis is extremely welcome. There is no doubt that it will be important to reread historical events where the proletariat has specifically challenged capital and tried to do something else. Of course, all the "theoretical weightlifting" is important, but at least as important is examining the struggles that have taken place in history, where people have resisted the forms of domination of capital and organized themselves against the opaque conditions that characterize capitalist organized work and all the culture it has created.
Charles Reeve's story is organized around the contradiction between authoritarian socialism and anti-authoritarian socialism. Authoritarian socialism includes both the Leninist and Social Democratic versions of socialism. They are, in fact, two variants of the same party- and state-centered socialism that we know from the Soviet Union and from the Western European social democracies. As Reeve explains, when it comes to authoritarian socialism, it is not against capitalism, it merely wants to dethrone the bourgeoisie and control production itself. In other words, they are state capitalists and have never had a more comprehensive emancipation in mind. That, in turn, has anti-authoritarian socialism. That's what Reeve calls "wild socialism." He has coined the term with the German Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert, who used the derogatory as a description of the council experiments that took place in factories, in small towns and in the army in Germany in 1918 after the end of the First World War. Ebert, who was chancellor, was so much against these self-organized experiments that he allowed the proto-Nazi free corps to fight the councils.
It is never now that a different world has to be created; it is every time far more complicated than the masses think.
Self-organization and direct democracy. Reeve has taken over Ebert's term, but reverses it. Where Ebert saw the council experiments as immature and ignorant, Reeve describes them as genuine attempts to create another world beyond capitalism. Wild socialism is thus a radical showdown with the capital economy in favor of another organization, where autonomy and equality are the focal points. Direct democracy and mass participation characterize wild socialism throughout the history of the French Revolution to the Paris Commune, the Council experiments in the Soviet Union and Germany from 1917 to 1921, in Spain in 1936, in May 68 in Paris, and in the Portuguese revolution that Reeve previously wrote about and himself was active in before he had to flee to Paris.
In all the historical events that Reeve analyzes, we find a dialectic between revolution and counter-revolution, in which authoritarian socialism attempts to undermine wild socialism, and in this way authoritarian socialism ends up reaffirming capitalism and its forms of dependence. Each time authoritarian socialism rejects the rebellious masses, accusing them of not understanding how things are connected. It is never now that a different world has to be created; it is every time far more complicated than the masses think. When students and workers in May 68 demand a different world, the leaders of the French Communist Party translate it into a demand for higher wages. The workers, in fact, need someone who can lead the political struggle. Authoritarian socialism will constantly insert leaders who have the right knowledge about how things are connected and what needs to be done. This creates a political elite and separates the political from the social. It is the reverse of the history of the great revolutions from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution, where "professional" revolutionaries must lead the struggle and need parties and institutions from which to lead and distribute the work. However, there is another story in which people organize themselves and do not need anyone to lead and represent them. This is the story Reeve well told.
Socialism or communism or something totally third?
Reeve's historical study is written to qualify the ongoing struggles, and it is an important contribution to the longer historical analysis of revolutionary resistance to capitalism. The question then is whether the revolutionary perspective is the same today as it was in 1789 or in 1918, whether it is a continuum of wild socialism proposed by Reeve. The contradiction between authoritarian and self-organized socialism functions well as an optic to understand the contradictions of the revolutionary break-ups of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, but the question is whether the contradiction is applicable today? As Reeve himself writes, the established labor movement that bore authoritarian socialism is in total ruin today, and both the Leninist avant-garde model and the Social Democratic social-state model have collapsed or are close to it. Today, in many ways, the conflict seems to be sharper and reformist solutions are lacking.
The established labor movement is now totally in ruins.
After 40 decades of swamped market capitalism, in which the rich stopped trying to hide their wealth, but on the contrary, it shows in increasingly bulky forms and where European social democracies proved to be as market affirmative as so-called neoliberal parties, it is difficult to find any mediations between capital and labor. Perhaps the collapse is so extensive that we are no longer in the same historical space as the German revolutionaries in 1918. Capitalism is still there, but is it the same? And is the wild socialism there when the labor movement has disappeared, or is it rather a matter of something new emerging? Another revolutionary movement, perhaps, which is not socialist.