Rethinking Political Power and Revolutionary Strategy Today

Standoff with the Police, Greece, 2011

We asked several contributors to write on the theme of the state and revolutionary strategy, for a roundtable discussion revolving around the following prompt:

“In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the socialist movement spilled a great deal of ink debating the question of state power. Lenin’s work was perhaps the most influential, but it also provoked a wide range of critical responses, which were arguably equally significant. But whether or not Lenin’s conception of the correct revolutionary stance towards the state was adequate to his own particular historical conjuncture, it is clear that today the reality of state power itself has changed. What is living and what is dead in this theoretical and political legacy? What would a properly revolutionary stance towards state power look like today, and what would be the concrete consequences of this stance for a political strategy? Does the ‘seizure of state power’ still have any meaning? Does the party still have a place in these broader questions?”

This essay is one contribution to the roundtable. Please be sure to read the others: Geoff Eley, Joshua Clover and Jasper Bernes, Jodi Dean, Nina Power, Immanuel Ness.

The question of political power has returned to the forefront of political and theoretical discussion. This is not a coincidence. The acute economic crisis, its serious social consequences, the open political crisis in certain social formations, and the very sight of the overthrow of governments and regimes under the force of political mobilization – despite, in the case of the Arab Spring, the tragic end of such processes – mean that such questions are again urgent.

This development comes after a long period of retreat, during which it was more than obvious that the forces of capital had the initiative and were hegemonic, even in the form of the neoliberal “passive revolution.” 1 During that period, from the end of the 1970s to the end of the 2000s, social movements and the radical Left refrained from confronting the question of political power. It was as if the political limit of radical or emancipatory politics was a politics “at a distance from the State” to borrow Alain Badiou’s expression, namely a politics of movements from below, of putting pressure upon the state, of resisting capitalist reconstruction, of opening cracks, of giving face and voice to the excluded, but not of aspiring to achieve hegemony, seize political power and initiate processes of social transformation. In a certain way, this was exemplified in the whole conception of “changing the world without taking power.” 2 However, the very materiality of political power is still with us; it presents an unavoidable terrain of social antagonism, and at the same time an unavoidable question.

The very evolution of the contemporary forms of protest and contestation — and the fact that in most cases, with the exception perhaps of Greece, despite the dynamics from below, political developments from above have remained within the contours of a preexisting political configuration and in most cases have had a more reactionary transformation — means that the question of political power and state power remains a nodal point. I mention Greece as a potential exception, because of the electoral rise of the Left as a political translation of the dynamics of the movement. In this sense, the question that unavoidably emerges is the following: is it possible to have a process of social transformation that could move beyond the limitations imposed by capitalist social relations and forms, without dealing with the question of what social classes retain political – and state – power?

However, this brings forward another important question: what is the relation between social and political power, between social and political relations, forms and antagonisms, and how are what we tend to define as class rule or class power established, secured, and reproduced?

It is interesting here to note that there have been important developments in our understanding of social and political power.

  1. In contrast to a traditional view of the economy as a neutral productive process whose exploitative class character is determined mainly by legal relations of ownership guaranteed by political relations of force, we now have a more complex apprehension of the importance of social relations of production, as complex and overdetermined social, political, and ideological power relations within production, and, at the same time, as social and political matrices for capitalist social forms. In this sense, we now have a much more complex conception of the grounding of political power upon social relations and forms. This has been the main point of most radical currents within Marxism from the 1960s onwards that insisted upon the primacy of the relations of production and the centrality of class antagonism, from the work of Althusser 3 to the seminal researches of Bettelheim on the class nature of the USSR, 4 through Italian operaismo 5 and other Marxist currents.
  1. In contrast to a negative conception of political power as coercion and repression, Foucault’s work has helped us realize the “productive” aspects of the disciplinary or biopolitical functions of the modern capitalist state, and offers important insights into the social and historical processes that subsume population under the norms of capitalist production and create “productive” subjects. 6
  1. At the same time, ever since the revolutionary movements in the wake of the October Revolution were confronted with the very complexity of power and hegemony in advanced capitalist social formations, we know that we can treat neither politics (and political apparatuses and institutions) nor ideology (and ideological apparatuses) as mere epiphenomena of the economy or as simple instruments in the hand of the ruling class. In contrast, Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and of the integral state offers an ability to apprehend the expansive forms of the capitalist state and the complex interplay of the dispositifs of the hegemonic apparatuses. 7
  1. In contrast to any instrumentalist conception of the state, we know from the work of Poulantzas that it is much more productive theoretically and politically to think of the state as a material condensation of social relations of force, as a terrain of struggles traversed by social antagonism. 8

At the same time, we live in a period of expansion of state repressive apparatuses, new technologies of surveillance, and new technologies of killing and repressing. In this sense, contemporary state violence is both a determining and overdetermining factor in social and political antagonism, exemplified in the various forms of excessive preemptive and asymmetrical violence by the dominant forces. We are living in a period that is marked by the realization of both how many aspects of the working of the state do not have to do with violence, and by the confrontation of the extreme violence of contemporary capitalist states.

In this sense, it is interesting to go back to the classical definition of smashing the state. We should remember that it was not an easy conception to formulate. On the one hand, it referred to the actual need to capture political and state power and use state coercion in order to expropriate the capitalists of their ownership of means of production, to impose measures of social equality and public provision of services and to initiate a process of social transformation.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production. 9

At the same time, this use of state coercion was just the beginning of a broader process of social transformation that would lead to a society of full equality, without any form of exploitation and coercion, a stateless and classless society. This is the main point of the Communist Manifesto, but also of most of Marx’s interventions.

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. 10

As such, this represents a decisive break with a locus communis of the political philosophy of modernity, namely the position that the guarantor of the just and free society is the state. In contrast, in Marx’s intervention we have the insistence that the state is the problem. At the same it attempts to strike a delicate balance between two conflicting positions: on the one hand, the utopian insistence on an exodus from the state, exemplified in the projects of building socialist communities “outside” existing institutions, and the anarchist insistence on an “instantaneous” abolition of property, exploitation, and any form of state organization; on the other hand, the “reformist,” statist view of the state as an instrument of social rationalization and enhancer of justice, exemplified in nineteenth-century Germany in the personality of Lassalle. This balance was not easy to achieve, and Balibar has commented on Marx and Engels’s inability to write an Anti-Bakunin or Anti-Lassalle.

In my opinion, one does not wonder enough about the fact that such indefatigable polemicists such as Marx and his faithful assistant Engels turned out to be incapable of writing an “Anti-Lassalle” or an “Anti-Bakunin” which would have been practically much more important than an Anti-Dühring or even than the reissue of an Anti-Proudhon … What is Marx’s response when Bakunin systematically associates the totality of Marx’s “scientific socialism” with Lassalle’s “state socialism”? He has no other recourse than to reaffirm the meaning of the Manifesto’s democratic program, which, as a matter of fact, had allowed Lassalle to proclaim himself in its favor. Conversely, Marx also proclaimed himself, as against Bakunin, in favor of “real anarchism,” which he supposedly discovered and defended “long before him.” The high point of this “response” consists in the affirmation that Marxism and Bakunin’s anarchism are the opposite of each other, which ends up admitting an enormous concession that they are constituted from the same terms. 11

Moreover, again as Balibar has stressed, after the experience of the Paris Commune Marx felt compelled to “rectify” the Communist Manifesto 12 by insisting that the state apparatus could not be used as it is after the revolution. This implies that the process of transformation, of revolutionizing, of “withering away” of the state starts at the beginning and there can no simple “use” of actually existing apparatuses, since the dominant social relations are inscribed in the very materiality of the state apparatus under capitalism. Balibar summarizes this point in the following manner:

The fact that is revealed here we can express in the following way: the exploiting classes and the exploited class that, for the first time in history and because of its place within production, is in position to take power for itself, cannot exercise their power (and even their absolute power: their “dictatorship”) with the same means and thus in the same form. They cannot not in the sense of a moral impossibility, but of a material impossibility: the machine of the state does not function “on behalf” of the working class; either it does not function at all, or it functions but on behalf of someone else, that can be no other than the class adversary. It is impossible for the proletariat to conquer, then keep and use political power by using an instrument analogous at that which served the dominant classes, or it will lose it necessarily, under one form or the other, “violent” of “peaceful.” 13

The question of the materiality of the state and its efficacy came into prominence after the first wave of revolutionary struggles in two crucial ways. On the one hand, it was the question of the complexity of the state in “western formations,” exemplified in the “defeat of the revolution in the West” and the work of Gramsci. The other aspect of course was the evolution of Soviet Union, where, in the name of socialist construction, not only did the state continue to expand but in the end an impressive coercive apparatus was deployed along with a paternalistic version of a “social welfare state.” Moreover, the trademark of communist reformism, but also of post-WWII social democracy, was to view the state as a neutral and even positive apparatus that not only represented the possibility for redistributive politics, but could also be considered an antechamber of socialism (along with the “progressive” development of the productive forces). 14

In a curious twist of history, it was the neoliberal counterrevolution with its anti-state rhetoric, evident even today in the almost paranoid character of the Tea Party’s tirades against Obamacare, that led to another wave of “idealization” of the state on the part of many militants. I am not denying, of course, that the defense of welfare, public services, and the redistributive intervention of the state is positive, nor do I deny the urgency of these tasks. What I am trying to highlight is how all these have led to certain retreat of the critique of the state as an integral part of left-wing or communist politics.

In this sense, we need a new critique of the state and a full apprehension of the extent of its workings. To this end, as we have already stressed, both Antonio Gramsci’s conception of the “integral state” and his elaboration of the mechanisms of hegemony, and Michel Foucault’s analysis of biopolitics can be of use. They can help us realize the strategic, relational, and in no sense neutral character of the state. But what about the “positive” aspects of the state that are now under attack by neoliberal fundamentalists? Here a more Poulantzian approach is necessary: if the state represents the material condensation of a balance of class forces, then the positive aspects of the capitalist state cease to be expressions of political and social rationality and instead appear as what they are: the uneven and ever-threatened expressions of the presence of working-class and popular struggles and demands within the state.

However, at the same time we must stress that this does not mean that we can have a process of self-transformation of the state “from within,” based upon the mere efficacy of popular struggles. There is always going to be an aspect “in dominance,” and this is the role of the state in the reproduction of the dominant social relations of exploitation and class domination, and in enhancing capitalist strategies of accumulation. Moreover, even maintaining these positive aspects (such as the public provision of basic goods and services), is far from certain if we take into consideration the widespread use of management techniques coming from the private sector and industry, and the constant pressure of privatization.

Therefore, what is needed is not just to struggle so that hospitals and schools remain a responsibility of the state, but also to struggle to transform them. How can we make them accountable to actual human needs, and not the targets set by the government? What forms of democracy within the workplace must be introduced, forms of democracy that should not limit themselves only to the employees in a particular branch but also the “users” of these services, in an attempt towards self-management and actual collective decision processes? These are important and urgent questions of a directly political nature, which cannot be answered only in theoretical terms but also through actual experimentation within particular historical and political contexts.

At the same time, the problem of the repressive apparatuses of the state remains important. They are the last line of defense against any potential process of social transformation, and we must expect them to act this way. Reducing their size, smashing all parallel structures, and doing away both with the chain of command and their immense material means, imposing forms of democratic social control at all levels, can be steps in this direction.

All these are not just theoretical questions. One of the most interesting aspects of contemporary developments and the combination between economic and political crisis is that the question of a governmental power is again a possibility as a limit case, in “weak links of the chain” such as Greece, where there has been an impressive electoral shift towards the Left. 15 Whether this can indeed be part of a revolutionary sequence depends, to a great extent, upon how to deal with the question of the state. The reason is that unless there is a process of actual transformation and, in the last instance, of revolutionizing the state, in the end the political and economic strategies already inscribed in the state will prevail. This has to do not only with the mentalities of civil servants, but also with the material processes within state apparatuses, their degree of transparency but also mystification, and the knowledge processes involved.

But what does it mean today to smash the state? Does this mean the abolition “by decree” of state bureaucracy, specialized coercive apparatuses, the judiciary? And what will they be replaced by? Revolutionary militias, people’s courts and ad hoc collective decisions? In a strange dialectic, the answer is yes and no. On the one hand, one could imagine that for a whole period some form of public authority will remain in place, but it will be “of a completely different type.” This will also include institutions guaranteeing full political rights and a protection against arbitrary decisions. At the same time, forms of a “people in arms” should be put in place in order to implement de facto democratic social control of coercive apparatuses, and the same goes for the combination between progressive legal reform, greater emphasis on participation in the execution of justice, and a new conception of legality based not only upon abstract and universal rules, but also upon the concrete analysis of each case in its peculiarities (a practice common to all forms of popular justice associated with major popular movements).

Here another point must be made. It is an open question whether in advanced capitalist societies with their extended economic, political, and ideological state apparatuses (or “hegemonic apparatuses” of the “integral state”), a “classical” insurrectionary opening of a revolutionary sequence, in the form of an “organic crisis” of the state is possible, or whether a “democratic road” is possible, in the form of hegemonic crisis leading to sharp changes in electoral representation and the achievement of governmental power, as the experience of Bolivia or Venezuela and the electoral dynamics in Greece seem to suggest.

However, this would be an underestimation of the potential of bourgeois counterattack, of segments of the state apparatus that defend the previous social “status quo” and of course of imperialist forces that might want to undermine, sabotage, or even openly oppose any process of social transformation. In this sense, even though the beginning of the process can be democratic, its evolution will not necessarily be “peaceful” and this must be an aspect that no one interested in communist politics should underestimate. In this sense, the question of popular violence, as a democratic, political, non-idealized, non-instrumental, form of violence, remains an integral aspect of revolutionary politics. It is exactly the challenge of what Georges Labica described as the “impossibility of non-violence.” 16

This requires a deepening of and experimentation with extended democratic practices. This is in sharp contrast to the suspicion of open democratic practices that plagued the historical communist movement. Democracy means contradictions, differences, struggles, conflicts, not just “voicing of opinions.” This is not only unavoidable, but also positive; it is the only way to deploy an actual “dialectic in action,” to experiment with a different configuration, to make good use of struggles and demands even during “socialist construction.” It is also the only way to actually wage class struggle against all the forms of reemergence of capitalist social forms, practices, norms, and relations, which in most cases take the form of “the most obvious solution.” One might even say that only in the context of socialism, of communist politics, democracy can find its real nature. In a certain sense, capitalism is innately undemocratic, since the democratic impulse, not as the sanitized “deliberation” proscribed by liberalism, but as collective will or social transformation, is an expression of subaltern demands and aspirations. In a way, the syntagm “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in terms representing both the history of struggles for democratic rights from the part of the subaltern classes and the attempt of the bourgeoisie to establish its hegemony through parliamentary procedures.

Moreover, we have to think of this process in terms of experimentation. This goes both for political and social forms. In this sense, the emergent forms of popular self-organization, of networking, of equal voicing, of open and democratic decision-making and in general all the forms of contemporary “democracy of struggle” should not be seen in an instrumental way as just ways to organize the struggle more efficiently. Occupations of open spaces, with their egalitarian and democratic organization, from Syntagma to Zuccoti Park and Gezi Park, mass assemblies, mass coordinations of broader movement, are also emerging forms of popular power from below, of experimentation with new forms of democracy; they can be considered emerging contemporary forms of dual power. In a similar way, contemporary forms of solidarity, of self-management, of alternative non-commercial networks of distribution, of open access to services, are not only ways to deal with urgent social problems. They are also experimental test sites for new social configurations, for new non-capitalist social relations, based upon the “traces of communism” in contemporary social resistances and collective demands and aspirations. Revolutionary politics is also a learning experience, a process of learning through the experience of struggles. In this sense, “smashing the state” is a process of collective experimentation with new political and social configurations, based upon the experiences of struggles and self-organization which emerge long before the nominal seize of power.

In the long run, this experimentation needs to deal with social relations and forms that can act as terrains of reproduction of capitalist relations of production. One side has to do with the attempt to overcome the compulsion of the market. The market is not just a mechanism of exchange. It is also a form or socialization of private labors and an expression of the reproduction of capitalist forms. Moreover, it is also a powerful ideological mechanism which constantly compels us to treat capitalist social forms as “natural.” The experimentation with non-market forms of coordinating economic practices is therefore an important aspect of any attempt towards socialist transformation. Another side has to do with the social division of labor. An important aspect of the Marxist tradition has been that the transition to communism also entails the abolition of the division of manual and intellectual labor. Moreover, the very experience of class struggles in the USSR and other social formations of “actually existing socialism,” has shown that the reproduction of the capitalist division of labor and workplace hierarchy lead, in the end, to the reproduction of state-capitalist forms of exploitation even under the abolition of private property. This was also the main thrust of the critique of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. 17 Therefore, the attempt to socialize knowledge and technical expertise, to offer full access to scientific study and training in all sectors, and to implement forms of democratic decision at all levels of in the workplace still remains some of the most important exigencies of any process of social transformation.

Moreover, only such an attempt towards extensive democratic participation in all levels of social life, including the supposedly closed terrain of the economy, is a necessary step towards overcoming the bourgeois separation of the economic and the political. The division between economic agent and citizen, so fundamental in bourgeois politics, must be superseded in any process of social transformation through a necessary re-politicization of the economy. This is exactly the meaning of a new form of politics, a new political practice, based upon extended democracy in the workplace, new extended forms of participative democracy, forms of representation from the workplace (an important element of the initial soviet voting system), and limits against the creation of a professional political class.

These aspects are important exactly in the attempt to actually smash the state, decrease the need to resort to state coercion, establish democratic decision and self-organization (the very meaning of “free association”) at all levels, and actually create a much more equal and free society. This will be the result of struggles, but also of experiments

In light of the above, we can see that the notion of “dual power” 18 acquires a broader significance. It is no longer a question of just a period of organic crisis and catastrophic equilibrium, during which there is an antagonistic coexistence of two competing state forms. Dual power refers to the emergence of new social and political forms. as part of the elevation of struggle and the fight for power and hegemony on the part of an alliance of the subaltern classes. It is not a political “stand-off”; it is a process of intense struggle, but also of learning and experimentation. Moreover, dual power is in fact the best way to describe the actual social and political balance of forces after the seizure of power, especially if we are talking about a potentially “democratic” process. In such a case, we will face the new forms of popular power, self-management, worker’s control, the attempts to institutionalize new social and political arrangements and the continuous resistance of important parts of the state apparatus – along with the attempt from the part of the forces of capital to resist the attacks against capitalist property and capitalist relations of productions.

To put it in Gramscian terms, when we attempt to discuss the question of revolutionary strategy in contemporary terms, we are in fact always facing a combination of war of position and war of maneuver. In fact, a war of position, namely an attempt to construct hegemony, is necessary both before and after the seizure of power. This should not be read as a reference to some “cultural” hegemony or “preparation,” as it was the reformist reading in the 1970s. Rather it refers to this continuous process of struggles, collective experimentation, creation of new forms of popular power and workers’ control. “Smashing the state,” therefore, is not opposed to an attempt to build hegemony; rather, the two are part of the same dialectic of social transformation.

This dialectic of hegemony and the need for a process of cultural revolution can also be seen as the only way to create the ideological and cultural conditions for the necessary politicization of everyday life and socialization of the political process that “smashing the state” and even more “withering away of the state” entails. This requires making people think and act beyond the compulsion of the market, but also beyond relying on an impersonal and benevolent state apparatus. A revolutionary process also entails a new collective ethos of participation and collective responsibility in order to avoid the danger of an alienated relation to social and political processes that can easily lead to the reproduction of capitalist social forms and norms.

All this means that the question of the political program is important, especially in countries such as Greece where the Left is facing the challenge of political power. What is needed is a set of demands that not only bridge the gap between immediate demands and socialist transformation, but actually articulate a narrative of transition, point to the necessary ruptures that can begin a revolutionary process. Such a program cannot be limited to demands for “redistribution”; it must also point to an alternative economic and productive paradigm, include demands for the rupture from processes of internationalization of capital such as the euro, for mass nationalizations of banks and strategic enterprises, for self-management and alternative distribution networks, and suggest a new orientation away from “export-oriented growth” (including seeing service sectors such as tourism in countries such as Greece as “heavy industry”), and consumerism, towards a new hierarchy of economic priorities based upon actual social needs and environmental sustainability.

Therefore, “smashing the state” entails a confrontation with all the major questions of revolutionary strategy and the actual attempt to initiate a process of social transformation; it should be seen as a highly original and open process of social transformation.

A final point refers to the question of political organization. What kind of political organizations do we need in order to be able to attempt such a revolutionary process? The traditional model that viewed, in a schematic and mechanical way, the confrontations with the question of power in terms of a military logic, placing all the emphasis on discipline, is of course inherently inadequate, and moreover runs the risk of imitating the model of the bourgeois state. It is necessary to think that in the struggle for a different society, based upon principles and practices antagonistic to the bourgeois/capitalist logic, we need organizations that reflect the emerging new social forms. In contrast to the traditional view – according to which the exigencies of the struggle and the need for disciplined commitment to the revolutionary process justify limits to intraparty democracy, suppression of free discussion, and rigid hierarchy – we want political organizations that are at the same time laboratories for the collective elaboration of new projects and new mass forms of critical political intellectuality, and experimental sites for new social and political relations. In this sense, they have to be more democratic, more egalitarian, more open than the society around them. Gramsci was one of the first to stress this conception of political organization as laboratory:

One should stress the importance and significance, which, in the modern world, political parties have in the elaboration and diffusion of conceptions of the world, because essentially what they do is to work out the ethics and the politics corresponding to these conceptions and act as it were their historical “laboratory” … The relation between theory and practice becomes even closer the more the conception is vitally and radically innovatory and opposed to old ways of thinking. For this reason one can say that the parties are the elaborators of new integral and all-encompassing intellectualities and the crucibles where the unification of theory and practice understood as real historical process takes place. 19

However, this should not be considered an abstract exigency, but as an urgent task which also entails the whole process of reconstructing and reinventing political organizations. 20 Contemporary radical political organizations do not reflect only the dynamics of the conjuncture and current struggles; they are also the result of a whole period of crisis and retreat of the communist and revolutionary socialist movement. This is also evident today in the limitations of the main organizational forms suggested: the “horizontal coordination” of movements, which is indispensable in order to create alliances and open spaces of struggle, but at the same time does not aid in the necessary elaboration of political programs, and usually does not permit any discussion of questions of political power and hegemony; the left-wing “electoral front” that usually is based on a minimum program of immediate anti-neoliberal reforms that can easily take the form of a reformist agenda for progressive social democratic governance; the classical model of the revolutionary group or sect (along with the respective international currents) that tend to reproduce fragmentation, sectarianism, and parochial authoritarian version of an “imaginary Lenin.” In contrast, “repeating Lenin” today means thinking in terms of maximum originality, of trying not just to reproduce some model but to create laboratories of new political projects. This can be accomplished neither by simple electoral coalitions nor by an antagonism between groups for “hegemony” within the radical Left. We need democratic political fronts, based upon anti-capitalist programs that can also act as processes that can bring together different currents, experiences in the movement, political sensitivities that can actually act as laboratories of new and antagonistic political projects.

All this should not be seen as the result of our preoccupation with the singular dynamics of the Greek experience, the depth of the crisis and the potential for radical left politics there. A more strategic approach, an attempt to ground our politics in the “traces of communism” of today’s resistances, however minor or small-scale they might seem, a new emphasis on articulating alternative narratives and not just “demands,” an attempt to create fronts and networks that bring together different experiences and currents – all are equally indispensable both in social formations where the Left is facing the challenge of power, and in social formations where the process of reinventing a revolutionary sequence must start again after a period of disintegration.

Rethinking revolutionary strategy is no longer a political and theoretical luxury. The current economic crisis is in fact one of the most important transition periods in the history of capitalism. We are witnessing a new historical cycle of movements, of almost insurrectionary character, and – at the same time and in a dialectical relation of mutual determination – of deep political and in certain cases hegemonic crisis (expressed also in the rise of the far Right). It is important to start thinking in terms of strategy again, if we do not want to miss the opportunities offered. After all, we must never forget that history has more imagination than we do.

After its 2014 publication, this article was also included in a dossier entitled “Comrades, Rally Around Your Soviets!”: The Centenary of the October Revolution.


1 On the notion of “passive revolution,” see Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Prison Writings (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971).
2 Cf. John Holloway, Change the World without Taking Power. The Meaning of Revolution Today (London: Pluto, 2002).
3 Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Penguin Press, 1969); Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar, Reading Capital, trans. Ben Brewster (London: New Left Books, 1970); Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, trans. G.M. Goshgarian (London: Verso, 2014).
4 Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, 2 Volumes (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976-77).
5 Mario Tronti, Operai e capitale (Roma: Derive Approdi, 2006). 
6 In this sense, the series of books and courses of Foucault on punitive society, La Societé Punitive. Cours au College de France 1972-1973 (Paris: Seuil, 2013); on disciplinary society, Discipline and Punish (New York : Pantheon Books, 1977); on biopolitcs, Society must be defended. Lectures at the College de France, 1975-1976 (London: Picador, 2003), Security, Territory, Population, Lectures at the College de France 1977-1978 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) — remain indispensable references and a dialogue between Marxism and the work of Foucault more than necessary. On this see Stéphane Legrand, “Le marxisme oublié de Foucault,” Actuel Marx 36, 2004/2: 27-43; and Pierre Macherey, “Le sujet productif.”
7 Christine Buci-Glusksmann, Gramsci and the State, trans. David Fernbach (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980); Peter Thomas, The Gramscian Moment. Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism (Leiden: Brill, 2009).
8 Nicos Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1975); Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism (London: Verso, 1980).
9 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in MECW, vol. 6, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976 [1848]), 504.
10 Ibid., 505-6.
11 Étienne Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas. Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx (London: Routledge, 1994, 134).
12 “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes,” see The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association (London, Truelove, 1871), 15; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Preface to the 1872 German Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party,” MECW, vol. 23 (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 175.
13 Étienne Balibar, Cinque Études de Matérialisme Historique (Paris: Maspero, 1974), 95-6; my translation.
14 On the relation of social democracy and Stalinism to the State see Christine Buci-Glucksmann and Göran Therborn, Le défi social-democrate (Paris: La Découverte, 1981).
15 On these challenges see Panagiotis Sotiris, “From Resistance to Hegemony: The Struggle against Austerity and the Need for a New Historical Bloc,” Socialist Project, E-Bulletin No. 988 (May 26, 2014).
16 Georges Labica, “De l’impossibilité de la non-violence. Entretien avec Georges Labica.”
17 Charles Bettelheim, Cultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution in China. Changes in Management and the Division of Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).
18 For the initial formulation of the notion of “dual power” see V.I. Lenin, “The Dual Power,” Collected Works, vol. 24 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964).
19 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Prison Writings (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971), 335; translation modified. On my reading of these questions, see Panagiotis Sotiris, “Hegemony and Mass Critical Intellectuality,” International Socialism 137 (January 9, 2013).
20 On the question of organization see Peter Thomas, “The Communist Hypothesis and the Question of Organization,” Theory and Event 16, no. 4 (2013).

Author of the article

has taught social and political philosophy as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Crete, Panteion University, the University of the Aegean, and the University of Athens. His research interests include Marxist philosophy, the work of Louis Althusser, and social and political movements in Greece.