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Contribution to a Councilist Program in Spain

Internationale Situationniste #10 (March 1966)

Translated by Ken Knabb

A NEW CURRENT of social critique is developing in Spain, with which we are in considerable agreement. This current is not only faced with the task of opposing that particular retrograde form of power, the Franco regime. It has to oppose all the forms of global power, because it is preparing to confront the next Spanish form of capitalist power. Its aim is to form an alternative at the moment (which will not be long in coming) when the Franco regime comes to an end — so that a choice is presented between modern capitalism, as it exists in the European Common Market, and genuine socialism, i.e. workers’ power, which exists nowhere in the world. This current is opposed to all the old organizations of the Spanish left, which are hostile to a struggle for such objectives. But there is also a struggle within this current, between a lucid critique of existing conditions and tendencies that still confusedly cling to fragments of old revolutionary ideologies. The difficulties of underground activity and the numerous forms of censorship imposed by the Franco regime complicate the work of clarification and objective discussion that is needed. The collapse of old leftist politics outside Spain provides the Spanish comrades with negative object lessons about what they must avoid. But the positive experience that could be provided by a new radical critique has been limited by the extremely restricted base of such a critique.

The first attempt of this current to express itself in Spain was the formation of the FLP (Frente de Liberación Popular). The FLP experience proved disappointing because (like the Algerian FLN in 1954) it consisted of groups issuing from the various traditional parties which decided to put aside the question of a program in order to engage in joint action. This coexistence of antagonistic perspectives was soon recognized by the radical wing as the main cause for a stagnation in the FLP’s initial activity (reflected in insufficient linkups with striking workers) and for its inability to clarify the forthcoming crisis of Spanish society. The most advanced tendency that has emerged during the ensuing public discussion over the last few years has published the journal Acción Comunista, of which four issues have appeared since January 1965. According to the opening declaration of this journal: “The editorial committee of Acción Comunista, composed of revolutionary Marxist members of diverse workers organizations, is beginning with these collective articles to elaborate the political platform of a socialist revolution in Spain.” The editors go on to say that this platform will need to be deepened and concretized, “counting on the contributions and critiques of all those who are in agreement with us on the two fundamental points of our platform: the necessity and possibility of a socialist alternative to the current development of capitalism in Spain, and the need for the formation of a genuine revolutionary workers party.” We have been encouraged to make the present contribution to this discussion by the radical and staunchly internationalist perspectives that have been expressed by the Acción Comunista comrades, particularly in Lorenzo Torres’s article “From Workers’ Commissions to Workers Councils” (in issue #2).

The theoretical discussion initiated by Acción Comunista has already addressed four main issues: (1) how to characterize the economy and society of present-day Spain; (2) the general goal of a radical current in Spain; (3) the evaluation of the present state of the global revolutionary movement; and (4) the question of revolutionary organization. On the first two issues we are in complete agreement with the positions they have adopted. The discussion of the last two has been less extensive, and the arguments and ideas that have emerged have been less clear. In this context we are going to offer some observations which we hope will prove useful.

Acción Comunista has shown that Spain can no longer be considered an economically backward country — a dogma which continues to be maintained by all the traditional workers parties. The development of capitalism under Franco during the last decade (part of a global process) has transformed all the conditions in Spain. The ruling class no longer has its main base in a land-owning bourgeoisie, as was the case in the 1930s, but in an industrial bourgeoisie closely interlinked with international capital. This transformation is reflected in the scale of current expansion, in the rapid decrease of the agricultural proletariat (which is being channeled into the new factories), and in the success of Spanish manufactured goods on the international market (in Cuba, for example). It is this development, which has also been provoking a resurgence of worker struggles since 1962, that is leading the ruling class to seek more modern “European forms of exploitation” to replace the old Francoist forms. The neo-capitalist solution to the Franco regime has organized its political force, with the support of the Church, in a pseudo-underground Christian-Democratic party which seeks to unify the oppositional Catholics. This party, due to the influence of the professors who belong to it, has up till now largely controlled the student opposition, and has taken particular care to prevent any juncture between workers’ and students’ actions (the recent episode in which students were surrounded by the police in a Barcelona convent that had granted them asylum illustrates this point). Being aware, however, that the Catholic labor unions will not suffice to guarantee a painless birth of the new regime they envision, the Christian Democrats are seeking other “workers organizations” capable of lulling the workers to sleep during the transition. They will find such elements in the Spanish Socialist Party, particularly among those who are calling for a technocratic renewal of this reformism, such as T. Galvan. The “national reconciliation” advocated by the Stalinist party is completely in favor of such collaboration (though the Spanish bourgeoisie’s mistaken but ingrained fear of “reds” may cause it to reject this sincere offer of collaboration and assistance). The recent negotiations between the CNT and the Falangist unions are yet another reflection of this same tendency toward submission to bourgeois evolution.

The Acción Comunista comrades accept the present struggle for democratization while simultaneously pointing out its inevitable limits and putting forward their own perspectives. Specifically, they advocate participating in the workers commissions and factory committees that already exist illegally or semilegally, in order to work toward a local, regional and national coordination of these commissions to the point of transforming them into workers councils. This change of function and unification of sovereign workers assemblies would constitute a classic dual-power situation, concretely revealing the alternative between capitalism and workers’ power. Acción Comunista does not present this outcome as a probability, but as a possibility which will depend on the consciousness of the masses and on the programmatic formulations that revolutionary elements will have been able to develop among those masses. None of the organized political groups have any conception of this sort of activity — as was shown by the example of the Madrid steelworkers’ struggle, which was organized by a workers commission outside the influence of any of those groups. Supporting the power of workers councils, Acción Comunista advocates a model of socialist society incompatible with any bureaucratic domination, whether economic or political: “When a class has gone through the practical apprenticeship of struggle against a union bureaucracy (in this case the Falangist bureaucracy), it becomes easy for it to understand the dangers of any bureaucracy and the need for a genuine workers democracy, within its own organizations as well as outside them . . . and the need for direct election of all its delegates, at the shopfloor, enterprise and national level” (Acción Comunista #2, p. 22). If there is a significant bureaucratic danger at the moment of victory, it is even more obvious that the mere reconstitution of a “Popular Front” safeguarding the capitalist order, as sought by so many of the oppositional forces, amounts to the defeat of any post-Franco socialist perspective.

Although they are preparing to support in their country a total struggle against modern capitalism, and against the bureaucratic organizations whose inevitably reactionary role they denounce, not all of the Acción Comunista comrades seem to completely recognize the implications of this capitalist modernism or the role of this bureaucratic power in the world, or the interaction between the two (their simultaneous rivalry and solidarity). The theory of revolutionary organization is clearly inseparable from such a consistent analysis. In issue #1 (pp. 26-27), Acción Comunista declares itself in favor of “a total freedom of criticism concerning the numerous and increasingly evident negative aspects” of the so-called socialist countries (whose global crises have had the salutary effect of undermining some of the illusions held by the bureaucratically influenced underground organizations in Spain) and calls for “a scientific analysis of the social system of those countries.” But this analysis is not sufficiently developed. The lack of precision regarding the nature of the oppression in Russian or China is still greater in the case of Cuba, Castro’s “antidogmatism” seeming to have at least temporarily impressed some of the Acción Comunista editors. Similarly, the Marxian critique of ideology has as yet been taken up only vaguely in Acción Comunista; and without the foundation of that critique it is not possible to understand and effectively combat the bureaucracy of professional leaders. And in fact the democratic workers organization that Acción Comunista evokes seems to be insufficiently distinguished from Leninism: the proposal that “permanent” members be limited to a minority in its “Central Committee” is certainly an inadequate precaution against the bureaucratization of the party itself. In another place Acción Comunista seems to accept the project of one big nonbureaucratic labor union, only to admit a few lines later that the predictable union divisions and the examples of coopted trade unionism in the modern capitalist countries render such a project very dubious (since the unitary enterprise committees must maintain their sovereignty, there will be an inevitable open struggle between those assemblies and any union).

Devoting itself to a concrete discussion under difficult conditions, and having to begin by creating some of the very bases of information that need to be discussed, Acción Comunista has presented to its readers a number of classic texts of the workers movement. This presentation suffers from a certain empiricism, because it is not criticized by the editors from any specific perspective. Documents that are well worth reading — on the program of the Spartakus League, Christian Rakovsky’s Letter to Valentinov, some texts from the First International, a forthcoming text from Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness — are presented alongside Trotsky’s 1936 analyses of the bureaucracy. Marx’s Address of the Central Council to the Communist League (March 1850), reproduced in issue #4, is appropriate in the part where it urges the workers not to give up their political autonomy and warns them of the consequences of tagging behind the petty bourgeoisie, but very dangerous in the final section which advocates the most Jacobin sort of statist centralism. The first part is precisely applicable to Spain and its coming crisis. The latter has been disproved by the experience of all the proletarian revolutions of our time; and was already inapplicable to the situation of Spain in 1936, where regional autonomy was the basis enabling the expression of the most radical tendencies. The present position of Acción Comunista calls rather for a study of a party such as the Kommunistische Arbeiter Partei in 1920 Germany. Moreover, the rich experience of the Spanish revolution has been strangely neglected by Acción Comunista. The problem of revolution can only be posed in a global and total form. Just as it must not forget the scope of its terrain of struggle, revolution must not forget its own past. Acción Comunista is aware of this when it states that its militants are “at the forefront of all the fronts of struggle.” The fundamental theoretical critique of politico-economic power, the understanding of the profound tendencies of modern society in its production of culture and its regimentation of everyday life, the cohesion of all the positions taken at the international level — these are fronts of the same unitary struggle. In this context, it seems to us that Eduardo Mena’s article “Political Regression in Algeria” (issue #3) somewhat underestimates the bureaucratic factor in its condemnation of Boumédienne’s reactionary coup. More disappointing is the reprinting in issue #4 of a particularly stupid and superficial article on the Los Angeles uprising by Bertrand Russell, and of another article by the Trotskyist economist Mandel, whose book (currently fashionable among the Parisian intelligentsia) Treatise on Marxist Economics by its title alone contradicts the whole revolutionary method of Marx, who limited himself to criticizing political economy as a discipline reflecting a society dominated by the logic of the commodity.

The first role of revolutionary organization, the very price of its right to existence, is certainly its coherence, the ruthless critique which must smash the “force of habit,” the most powerful force of the old world among the masses. And the most important habits to smash are the “habits of the left” during a revolutionary situation. At such a moment, if you don’t disarm Noske he will kill you. For forty years this red police role has primarily been been carried out under the “communist” label, whether in Barcelona in 1937 or more recently in Athens or Budapest.

Revolutionary coherence must also be concretized. It is necessary to make the workers aware of what they are capable of doing, and of the consequences of following a revolutionary strategy, whether it ends in victory or in defeat. When workers councils appear, there can be no moderation on either side. A councilist program has everything to gain and nothing to lose from recognizing and facing all its implications. The old principle of battle — “Don’t put your fate at stake without engaging all your forces” — is its principle, and its forces are precisely the awareness of, and desire for, what is possible. The enemies of workers councils are quite justified in fearing the worst from councilist power, just as the councilists must fear the worst from the inevitable retaliation their agitation will provoke, whatever they do or don’t do. The bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy are forced by all their interests (whether as established ruling class or as ruling class in the process of formation) to totally combat the aims of the councils. So you might as well express those aims to those who can recognize them as their program and their life.

Councilist power is the total enemy of existing “survival.” It therefore cannot itself survive for very long without staking and winning its bet on the total transformation of all existing conditions and the immediate liberation of life. From the very beginning it must bring about the fundamental transformation of what is produced and how it is produced, reorienting people’s needs and abolishing the whole commodity production system. It must transform the organization of the environment, the methods and goals of education, the implementation of justice and the very definition of crimes. It must eliminate all hierarchies and the morality and religion that go with them. The deepening, the defense and the illustration of such a program are the first tasks of any organization that proposes to unleash such forces. But the same program can be expressed by its other side: concrete methods of popular agitation. Acción Comunista is well aware that what will unify the present “opposition” in the immediate aftermath of the Franco regime will be respect for the capitalist order, organized into some sort of democratic national front. The way to make a clear break with this pseudo-opposition is to expropriate the foreign and domestic capital that owns the means of production. This project seems rather abstract, and many people will be unable to imagine any solution to such a complex problem except some form of statist nationalization. To cut through this apparent complexity, let us propose a concrete example.

Advanced European capitalism’s present organization of consumption is leading its privileged strata to buy houses in Spain. An article in France-Soir (11 November 1965) notes that “there are now kilometers of villas, whole strings of vacation-villages which have sprung up in six months on previously vacant beaches. For Spain this is an economic godsend; for the middle classes of France, Germany and England it’s a discovery of paradise — at only ten thousand francs apiece.” The article goes on to quote a representative of the “Constructores Ibericos” real estate company: “Our buildings have been approved by ‘Securitas,’ which verifies construction quality throughout the world, and are also guaranteed for ten years by a Swiss insurance company.” But the insurance companies of Europe could be upset in Spain as they were in 1905 by the “economic declaration” of the St. Petersburg Soviet, which announced that loans contracted by the Czarist government to fight the Russian people would in no case be honored by that people once they had liberated themselves. Those who take advantage of the low price of local labor power by investing in construction in Spain are economically supporting the regime that is responsible for that condition, as well as littering the countryside with “second homes” that will remain empty nine-tenths of the year. To this new form of exploitation, reflecting a contemptuous indifference toward the Spanish proletariat, a councilist program could respond by declaring right now that all foreign real estate investments will be seized without compensation the moment workers councils come to power. The Spanish workers would be able to recognize the highest moments of their past in this project of direct expropriation; while the forces that strive for the democratization of capitalism will see it as the most intolerable action imaginable. But the international impact of this measure would be just as considerable. Everyone knows that the feeble, years-long anarchist campaign urging tourists to boycott Spain has completely failed. This campaign was carried on in the name of political issues that the masses have clearly forgotten. It went against the whole general development of modern society — the same development that has caused the 1936 revolution to be largely forgotten. This development is resulting in poor people going on vacations (eight million French people visited Spain during the summer of 1965) and no political voluntarism evoking some seemingly incomprehensible detail is going to have any notable effect on this trend. In contrast, a threat against the property of people capable of investing in Spain, in apartments that bring them 10,000 francs apiece, has the interest of bringing glaringly into view a wealthy class whose existence has been completely hidden in Europe since modern sociology’s discovery that classes no longer exist. The European ruling class has been just as forgotten as the Spanish revolution: television never talks about it, and the Left only talks about what is talked about on television. Thus, this scientific demonstration of the existence of a privileged class could have the greatest practical effect, and not only on sociologists. According to a report of the National Institute of Statistics published in June 1965, half the wage laborers in France still have a monthly paycheck of less than 750 francs (for 27% of them, less than 562 francs). It is quite obvious that these workers would not be harmed by the decision of their Spanish comrades. On the contrary, this example, by revealing both the disease and the appropriate remedy, could have the most salutary influence in their own country. A workers power in Spain would need such support from the masses of Europe, because it would immediately face the active hostility of all the European rulers and “middle classes.” That sector’s investment in “durable goods” in Spain reflects their confidence in the capitalist future of Spain. Our business is to create, against all present appearances, a totally opposite confidence.