“I believe that the status of the state in current thinking on the Left isvery problematic,” Stuart Hall wrote in 1984, in the midst of Margaret Thatcher’s war on the “enemy within.” He reflected on the legacy of the postwar period, which saw the extension of public services within the context of a vast expansion of the state’s intervention in social life.
In the workers’ movement there has been for a long time, and in successive periods, a discussion of the question of the modes and temporalities of the transition to socialism. One tendency, which occurred in various forms, believed it was possible to schematize the temporality of this process, as if socialist construction had to be preceded, always and in every case, by the “phase” of construction of bourgeois democracy.
These theses serve as a supplement to my book Transformation of Democracy and a correction to some misquotations made at the remarkable delegates conference of the SDS. I am generally of the opinion that rather than interpret texts, revolutionaries should change relations. As measured by the state’s actual power relations and by the actual relations of domination in society, the familiar expression for the modern bourgeois state – “parliamentary democracy” – represents a paradox.
The English translation of Daniel Bensaïd’s autobiography, Une lente impatience, is a welcome event in the Anglophone Marxist world. Not only does it contain a rich history of some of the most decisive moments for the French Left from the ’60s to the present, it also deepens our understanding of the heterodox sources that coexisted within Bensaïd’s unique form of Marxism.
In several places throughout his work, Lenin tries to define the notion of a “revolutionary crisis,” especially in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder and The Collapse of the Second International. However, he outlines a notion more than he establishes a concept, as the descriptive criteria that he enumerates remain subjective assessments.
Hans-Jürgen Krahl died in a car crash in 1970, at the age of twenty-seven. By that time he had weathered the rise and decline of the Socialist German Student Union (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, or SDS), among whose ranks he was, arguably, both the most sophisticated theorist and, after Rudi Dutschke, the most incendiary orator. The SDS had been founded shortly after World War II as the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Germany. As the latter moved towards the center, however, the SDS radicalized, eventually leading to expulsion from its parent organization in 1961. It would soon become the most important student group in Germany, even as its official policy shifted further towards revolutionary Marxism.
Historical materialism’s critical economic prognoses on the natural course of the capitalist world order have been confirmed. The conditions for the economic breakdown and crisis of capital have been fulfilled; the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation has long since reached the degree of concentration and centralization that Marx and Engels designated as its naturally produced historical terminus. The existence of the authoritarian state is just as much an expression of the “final crisis” as it is of the temporary, politically mediated success of the attempt to manage it in the interests of monopoly capital.
To speak of the New Deal as a huge qualitative leap in the development of capitalist institutions – a leap that, precisely because it functions at a crucial point in the plot of capitalist society at a global level, has itself a special historical importance – seems to be a statement by now generally taken to be wholly correct. The matter was already settled in the mind of its greatest protagonist and in the ideology created around him that enthusiastically founded the “myth” of the New Deal’s “revolution”; and, if every myth must have a real justification, this one lay in the effective dismantling of the system in the rapid course of a decade. No less significant, at this level, is the bitter opposition from various positions that the New Deal came to provoke; these were attitudes that then, and not accidentally, flowed back against it in a wide underlying consensus.
Written towards the end of what we might call the “second period” of Tronti’s reflections, that of the so-called “autonomy of the Political,” sandwiched between the more famous phase of Operaismo and the – almost completely unknown to the Anglophone world – “third period” political theological phase, that of the twilight of the political, the short text translated here will come to many Anglophone readers of Tronti as a surprise.
The political has a history. It is the modern history of relations of power. To reconstruct, reread, to accumulate materials, to lay out the problems by following the unhurried course of time, to set out from the classics is not an escape into the past, it is an experiment, a test, the attempt to verify a hypothesis. Let us leave formulae to the arithmetic of politics. Let us leave the autonomy of politics to the newspapers. The difficulties encountered by the Marxist theory and practice of the workers’ movement in taking upon itself the fact of power all stem from this absence of knowledge, from this lack of reflection on the historical horizon of bourgeois politics.
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