Setting Straight Some Popular Misconceptions
About Revolutions in the Underdeveloped Countries
The eminently revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie consists in having introduced the economy into history in a decisive and irreversible way. As the faithful master of this economy, the bourgeoisie has since its appearance been the real (though sometimes unconscious) master of universal history. For the first time universal history ceased to be some metaphysical fantasy or some act of the World Spirit and became a material reality as concrete as the trivial existence of each individual. Since the emergence of commodity production, nothing in the world has escaped the implacable development of this neo-Fate, the invisible economic rationality: the logic of the commodity. Totalitarian and imperialist in essence, it demands the entire planet as its terrain and the whole of humanity as its servants. Wherever the commodity is present there are only slaves.
In response to the bourgeoisies oppressive coherence in keeping humanity in prehistory, the revolutionary movement a direct and unintended product of bourgeois capitalist domination has for more than a century counterposed the project of a liberatory coherence that is the work of each and everyone, the free, conscious intervention in the creation of history: the real abolition of all class divisions and the suppression of the economy.
Wherever it has penetrated that is, almost everywhere in the world the virus of the commodity never stops toppling the most ossified socioeconomic structures, enabling millions of human beings to discover through poverty and violence the historical time of the economy. Wherever it penetrates it spreads its destructive character, dissolving the vestiges of the past and pushing all antagonisms to their extreme. In a word, it hastens social revolution. All the walls of China crumble in its path, and scarcely has it established itself in India when everything around it disintegrates and agrarian revolutions explode in Bombay, in Bengal and in Madras. The precapitalist zones of the world accede to bourgeois modernity, but without its material basis. There too, as in the case of the proletariat, the forces that the bourgeoisie has contributed toward liberating, or even creating, are now going to turn against the bourgeoisie and its native servants: the revolution of the underdeveloped is becoming one of the main chapters of modern history.
If the problem of revolution in the underdeveloped countries poses itself in a particular way, this is due to the very development of history: In these countries the general economic backwardness fostered by colonial domination and the social strata that support it and the underdevelopment of productive forces have impeded the development of socioeconomic structures that would have made immediately practicable the revolutionary theory elaborated in the advanced capitalist societies for more than a century. As they enter the struggle none of these countries have any significant heavy industry, and the proletariat is far from being the majority class. It is the poor peasantry that plays that role.
The various national liberation movements emerged well after the rout of the workers movement resulting from the defeat of the Russian revolution, which right from its victory was turned into a counterrevolution in the service of a bureaucracy claiming to be communist. They have thus suffered either consciously or with false consciousness from all the defects and weaknesses of that generalized counterrevolution; and with the additional burden of their generally backward conditions, they have been unable to overcome any of the limits imposed on the defeated revolutionary movement. It is also precisely because of this defeat that the colonized and semicolonized countries have had to fight imperialism by themselves. But because they have fought only imperialism and on only a part of the total revolutionary terrain, they have only partially driven it out. The oppressive regimes that have installed themselves wherever national liberation revolutions believed themselves victorious are only one of the guises by which the return of the repressed takes place.
No matter what forces have participated in them, and regardless of the radicalism of their leaderships, the national liberation movements have always led the ex-colonial societies to modern forms of the state and to pretensions of modernity in the economy. In China, father-image of underdeveloped revolutionaries, the peasants struggle against American, European and Japanese imperialism ended up, because of the defeat of the Chinese workers movement in 1925-1927, by bringing to power a bureaucracy on the Russian model. The Stalino-Leninist dogmatism with which this bureaucracy gilds its ideology recently reduced to Maos red catechism is nothing but the lie, or at best the false consciousness, that accompanies its counterrevolutionary practice.
Fanonism(1) and Castro-Guevaraism are the false consciousness through which the peasantry carries out the immense task of ridding precapitalist society of its semifeudal and colonialist leftovers and acceding to a national dignity previously trampled on by reactionary colonists and ruling classes. Ben-Bellaism, Nasserism, Titoism and Maoism are the ideologies that signal the end of these movements and their takeover by petty-bourgeois or military urban strata: the reconstitution of exploitive society with new masters and based on new socioeconomic structures. Wherever the peasantry has fought victoriously and brought to power the social strata that marshaled and directed its struggle, it has been the first to suffer their violence and to pay the enormous cost of their domination. Modern bureaucracy, like that of antiquity (in China, for example), builds its power and prosperity on the superexploitation of the peasants: ideology changes nothing in the matter. In China or Cuba, Egypt or Algeria, everywhere it plays the same role and assumes the same functions.
In the process of capital accumulation, the bureaucracy fulfills what was only the unrealized ideal of the bourgeoisie. What the bourgeoisie has taken centuries to accomplish through blood and mud,(2) the bureaucracy wants to achieve consciously and rationally within a few decades. But the bureaucracy cannot accumulate capital without accumulating lies: that which constituted the original sin of capitalist wealth is sinisterly referred to as socialist primitive accumulation. Everything that the underdeveloped bureaucracies present as, or imagine to be, socialism is nothing but a realized neo-mercantilism. The bourgeois state minus the bourgeoisie (Lenin) cannot go beyond the historical tasks of the bourgeoisie, and the most advanced industrial countries show to the less developed ones the image of their own development to come. Once in power, the Bolshevik bureaucracy could find nothing better to propose to the revolutionary Russian proletariat than to follow the lessons of German state-capitalism. All the so-called socialist powers are nothing but underdeveloped imitations of the bureaucracy that dominated and defeated the revolutionary movement in Europe. Whatever the bureaucracy is able to do or is forced to do will neither emancipate the laboring masses nor even substantially improve their social condition, because those aims depend not only on the productive forces but also on their appropriation by the producers. However, what the bureaucracy will not fail to do is create the material conditions to realize both. Has the bourgeoisie ever done less?
In the peasant-bureaucratic revolutions only the bureaucracy aims consciously and lucidly at power. The seizure of power is the historical moment when the bureaucracy lays hold of the state and declares its independence vis-à-vis the revolutionary masses before even having eliminated the vestiges of colonialism and achieving effective independence from foreign powers. Upon entering the state, the new class suppresses all autonomy of the masses by pretending to suppress its own autonomy and to devote itself to the service of the masses. Exclusive owner of the entire society, it declares itself the exclusive representative of that societys superior interests. In so doing, the bureaucratic state is the fulfillment of the Hegelian State. Its separation from society sanctions at the same time the societys separation into antagonistic classes: the momentary union of the bureaucracy and the peasantry is only the fantastic illusion through which they jointly accomplish the immense historical tasks of the absent bourgeoisie. The bureaucratic power built on the ruins of precapitalist colonial society is not the abolition of class antagonisms; it merely substitutes new classes, new conditions of oppression and new forms of struggle for the old ones.
The only people who are really underdeveloped are those who see a positive value in the power of their masters. The rush to catch up with capitalist reification remains the best road to reinforced underdevelopment. The question of economic development is inseparable from the question of who is the real owner of the economy, the real master of labor power. Everything else is nothing but the babble of specialists.
So far the revolutions in the underdeveloped countries have only tried to imitate Bolshevism in various ways. From now on the point is to go beyond it through the power of soviets.(3)
1. Fanonism: See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.
Contributions servant à rectifier lopinion du public sur la révolution dans les pays sous-développés originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #11 (Paris, October 1967). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.