Editorial Introduction: The following text was initially published as Etienne Balibar’s response included in the 1978 Discutere lo stato collection, and was included in the the French independent Marxist journal Dialectiques the following year. 1 On the one hand, it measures the considerable distance Balibar began to take from Louis Althusser’s positions on the revolutionary party and the state expressed in “Marxism as a Finite Theory”; on the other hand, it extends Balibar’s investigation during the 1970s of the (unfinished) political theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and the workers’ movement more broadly. Readers familiar with his recent carefully-researched genealogies of the political concepts of modernity will find a similar attention to detail and nuanced methodological approach in these earlier articles on communist practice. His 1974 collection of essays, Cinq études du matérialisme historique, his 1976 intervention in the French Communist Party’s debate over the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the co-authored volume with Cesare Luporini and Andrê Tosel, Marx et sa critique de la politique and his contributions to the Dictionnaire critique du marxisme all feature in this trajectory. 2
In this essay, Balibar criticizes what he sees as the shortcomings of Althusser’s understanding of the state (“it is not a matter of thinking in terms of the inside or outside of the state…but in terms of the internal contradictions of the system of state relationships”) and, crucially, the limits of the party-form as the revolutionary agency capable of breaking capitalist state power. Balibar thus sided with Poulantzas on the need for a relational theory of the state, but also runs into similar tensions in conceiving a revolutionary transition to socialism which now must “shift the relationship of forces on the terrain of the state,” in new combinations of representative democracy and autonomous popular movements with their own forms of self-organization and mass practice. 3
Surprisingly, Balibar turns to the Chinese Cultural Revolution as a recent political sequence that offers lessons for rethinking the party-form, especially in the ways that the class struggle would take on new organizational forms in the revolutionary process, with the party becoming a primary “site” of class struggle. Balibar takes this point further by discussing “the contradictory place of the revolutionary party” within the ideological state apparatuses, which renders the party’s role in attacking the strong and weak points of class rule uncertain. The question of socialist transition calls for a more capacious understanding of social power and the “network of state relations,” which ties together the mechanisms of economic control, the division of labor, and ideological domination. 4 Balibar would continue to return to these themes over the course of the 1980s, developing a research program of “proletarian politics,” of communist strategy and organizational forms, that still deserves our attention. 5
I have intentionally given this intervention an open and interrogative form, which only engages some of the problems raised by Althusser and other comrades. 6
Althusser’s statements were surprising because they take the opposite position of the arguments advanced by “Eurocommunist” attempts to rectify the effects of the Stalinist deviation in the Western Communist parties: “Party of Struggle and of Government” (PCI: Partito di lotta e di governo), “party of government” (PCF). To a number of our comrades, Althusser’s comments appear to shift away from the workers’ movement, towards both spontaneism and defensive struggle (“protest”), attributing the dynamic capacity of social transformation to only a diffuse ensemble of heterogeneous “movements” and preventing the revolutionary party from moving beyond the task of opposing the state. In sum, his arguments appear to retreat from the risks of power due to a dramatic “deviation.”
I want to note that, following the logic of Althusser’s argument, the idea of a “party of opposition” would be equally as erroneous as that of a “party of government.” An oppositional party, as the pure and simple expression of a popular resistance framed within a fixed relation of social forces and the given “rules of the game,” is only the reverse of a “party of government.” It is confined to the continuous reproduction of a fundamentally invariant balance of forces. We cannot help but invoke here a crucial factor in the European situation during the period of the Third International (in the broad sense that only the actuality of the “crisis” prompted an overturning of the given facts): despite the real revolutionary potentials and tendencies the Popular Fronts and the Resistance movements contained, there was a perfect symmetry between the Communist parties “of government” and the Communist parties of opposition, both sharing the same model of organization, a common ideology and “line” (which is not to say, without contradictions). In fact, they are two aspects of the same system, and it should be understood that they leave the status quo of state forms of domination intact, because they submit to the imperialist “logic” of change [évolution]. As a result, when Althusser criticizes the idea of a “party of government,” he is proposing to investigate and recompose the effective means for the seizure and transformation of state power.
The problems of Althusser’s text and other recent interventions appear to me to lie elsewhere. What does it mean that “the party must be fundamentally outside the State,” with the clarification that it is “through its activity within the masses”? What does it mean to “tear the party away from the state”? Do we not find here an ideal (and idealist) conception of a party that would be nothing but the effect of the (revolutionary) will of its members, the product of the rules it imposes on itself in accordance with the final goal or end that it tends towards (communism = the withering-away of the state) and which would then be “free” to choose the space that it occupies within the relations of society, even to itself be able to define its “interior” and “exterior”? Or rather, do we actually find here the aporia, which always tripped up Marx himself, concerning the “autonomy” of the revolutionary party as split between irreconcilable alternatives: sometimes the party fuses with the “class consciousness” of the masses, other times it represents the organizational and educational leadership of the proletariat; sometimes the party is founded on the “free association” of its members, taken as individuals, while still other times it is determined by the very form and existence of state institutions (especially their national form). We might think that this aporia is not foreign to the glaring flip-flop [chasse-croisé] visible in Marx’s arguments on revolutionary transition: whether, as in the Communist Manifesto or in the texts on the 1848 revolutions, they are centered on the initiative of a class directly “organized into a political party,” but ignore the question of the transformations of the state; or whether, as in the analyses of the Paris Commune, they pose the problem of the nature and functioning of a “working-class government” but without the role of the revolutionary party being adequately examined. 7 All this unfolds as if these two problems (state, party) do not share a common theoretical ground, as if they correspond to two incompatible “perspectives” on the revolutionary process. But all this takes place as if the concepts of the “revolutionary party” and the “proletarian state” represent two competing solutions to one and the same problem, the “transition” to communism (or the historical autonomy and hegemony of workers), one being always too much, although the experience of class struggles places limits on both. This impasse re-emerges anew each time the “model of the Paris Commune” is put back “on the agenda”: especially in Soviet Russia from 1917–1918 and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966–67. What follows are several thoughts on this problem.
Party and “Apparatus”
A common feature of bourgeois sociology, at least since Robert Michels, is to view the workers’ parties as “little state apparatuses,” constructed “on the model” of the bourgeois state and thus potentially integrated into its functioning or destined to assure its reproduction (understood against a revolutionary rupture). 8
It is not insignificant that this common feature is borrowed from the anarchist critique, as well as the parallel critique of the functioning of social-democracy by the founders of the communist parties, when elsewhere their organizational practice of struggles and their conception of the leading role of the working class would have opposed them to one another. The fact that this critique periodically resurfaces unchanged within the workers’ movement itself is undoubtedly the symptom of a very real problem: it is proof that this critique depends on our ignorance of what the state is and what our working class parties effectively are, as historical forms and products. It is striking that Althusser, who is certainly aware of the insufficiency of the metaphor of the state machine, reproduces it in respect to the party when he seeks to highlight the latter’s dependency on the state.
In fact, is this critique not simply the reverse of the stated aim of the party apparatuses? We in France are well-positioned to identify it, since it is the official viewpoint of the leadership of the PCF and its “democratic centralism” (a viewpoint that has been relentlessly repeated since the 22nd Congress, and which Paul Laurent has just recently published a book about: that the state is one thing, the party is another; that for this reason their “modus operandi” are opposed, one calling for pluralism, and the other for centralism; and that in “the socialism we want” (different from the socialism of the USSR), there will be an “independence of state and party” such that each is “free” to realize its own ends, etc. 9 I assume that the institutional particularities of the Italian context, where the Constitution derived from the Resistance enables the ideological recognition of the antifascist parties as an “associative trauma” of the state to be presented as a popular victory (won, or at least recuperable), lead to a different discourse: especially the idea that “pluralism” (social groups, or even the masses) traverses [pénétrer] every one of the great mass parties. Thus, instead of mechanically opposing the functioning of the party and the functioning of the state, or the democratization of the party and the democratization of the state, there will rather be a tendency to identify them in a process of reciprocal action: the party is the instrument of the democratization of the state to the very extent that it will, progressively, “make itself the state,” that is, democratize itself by enlarging its mass base and its capacity to politically “mediate” between the interests of different popular fractions. But does not this variation, ultimately, return us to the same place? Is it not satisfactory to displace the difference that, in the PCF’s ideology, concerns the comparison between party and state (that is, government) onto the comparison between parties that are associated/competing within the state? Or again, is it not satisfactory to organize in a different way the opposition of the “good (democratic) state” to the “bad (corporative) state,” or the good party (which enables the historical initiative of the masses) and the “bad party” (that represses and manipulates them)? This is an abstract and moral opposition that shows, in all of the cases represented, the incapacity to analyze the historical genesis and effects of the real contradictions that are “working upon” the workers’ parties today, and thus, in the last analysis, the working class itself. Is this not an urgent task that must be posed through the critique of the “statist model” of the communist parties, and which alone can enable us to break free from idealism?
The Masses are Already “in” the State
The masses are not, in any case, “outside the state.” They are, rather, the opposite: always-already caught up in a network of state relations, that is, the institutional divisions (the code of professional “qualifications,” as well as those of national belonging) or mechanisms of repression and ideological subjection [assujettissement] which, in given historical conditions, are quite simply indispensable to their existence and which also form the material condition of all politics. In this regard, it is clearly Lenin who, through his fundamental critique of the concept of “spontaneity” together with his simultaneous recognition of the capacity for revolutionary rupture in the initiative of the revolutionary masses, laid the groundwork for a materialist position, by correcting the ever-present idealism of the Communist Manifesto – which identified the revolutionary proletariat as a class not only outside of the state, but outside of all ideological relations, from the family and the nation up to religion and morality.
But if the masses are never “outside the state,” that means the revolutionary workers’ movement is no longer “outside the state,” but rather subjected, in its constitution and development, to the limits and forms of state relationships. In this regard, I find the representation that a number of Marxists provide of a primitive workers’ movement, “camping outside the city,” facing a state apparatus to which it is radically exterior – a state apparatus often understood in purely coercive terms – completely wrong. The “passive revolution” often invoked to specify the institutionalization of the workers’ movement at the end of the 19th century, even if it is still an adequate concept, is only a change in the forms of dependency of the state and the workers’ movement (marked especially by the crystallization of the “roles” of party and union). It also points to the necessity of analyzing, simultaneously and for each historical conjuncture, both the nature of the state relations on which the effectivity of the centralization of state power is founded, and the level of antagonism (or the index of political effectivity) of class struggles as they unfold. Put otherwise, it is not a matter of thinking in terms of the inside or outside of the state, that is, of the “purity” of antagonistic positions (an old idealist temptation already denounced by Lenin), but in terms of the internal contradictions of the system of state relationships. What is undoubtedly misguided in the current positions of certain Communist Parties (like the PCF) is not that they have introduced the idea of contradictions within the state as a fundamental given fact of the revolutionary struggle. Rather it is the case that: 1.) they have presented these contradictions as something absolutely new (and certain theorists, not shying away from any “audacity,” have gone so far as to discern the objective preconditions for the “withering-away of the state”!); 2.) to have localized these contradictions in the most narrowly “political” apparatuses, in the official (juridical) sense defined by the bourgeois state (preserving, by the same move, even today, a mythical image of the family, school, culture, etc.; and especially, by endeavoring to thus isolate a “crisis of the state” which, miraculously, is not accompanied by any “crisis” of workers’ parties and their union, cultural, and municipal transmission belts); and 3.) to have consequently strongly underestimated the still-massive unevenness in the balance of class forces, to the point of imagining for each electoral detour a bourgeois state on the brink of collapse, workers on the verge of gaining hegemony, etc.
Bourgeois Politics and Proletarian Politics
The Marxist revolutionary tradition has conceptualized the relationship between the constraints that the state places on the development of the revolutionary movement, the existence of internal contradictions within the state, and the historical initiative of the masses through the distinction between bourgeois politics and the proletarian politics of the workers’ movement. They constitute a theoretical couple, a “unity of opposites,” whose concrete translation is encountered in each conjuncture through an ongoing process of experimentation since, in light of this opposition, each political tendency “divides into two”: for example, the independence of working-class organization into workerism and proletarian hegemony, the struggle for national liberation into nationalism and anti-imperialism, etc. It is indeed to this distinction (one could say that this is the true “kernel” or core of the unity between theory/practice in Marxism) that Althusser refers to.
However, the recognition of this distinction has been historically accompanied by massive difficulties. These difficulties began with the distinction between (bourgeois) politics and (proletarian) non-politics, identifying all politics with the reproduction of the forms of domination of the existing state. In many ways, anarcho-syndicalism represented the most profound expression of this understanding, at the same time that it revealed its narrow limits. With Lenin and October 1917, the distinction is displaced at the theoretical level onto the opposition between institutional forms (“bourgeois democracy” and “proletarian democracy,” even to the limits of Parliament and the Soviet, or Council). This new formulation is tied to the fact that, for the first time, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” referred to, in reality, not simply a revolutionary tactic but a historical phase of transition, with its particular forms of class struggle and contradictory social transformations, whose paths are not determined in advance. But this representation (which we must not forget is accompanied by an unprecedented intensification of class struggles via the impetus of communist parties) also has a double negative effect, more and more noticeable over time.
- There has been the very rapid isolation of the question of the “party” as a historical form, by presenting it as definitively attached to the contradiction between bourgeois and proletarian politics (and practice), that is, as the place where, finally (under the condition of the “correct line,” or the “correction of deviations,” etc.), this contradiction is always-already resolved.
- The localization of the essential aspect of this contradiction in an antithesis of juridical forms (I have already taken the opportunity to highlight the symptomatic importance that the Soviet Constitution of 1936 assumes the Stalinist deviation as a “point of no return,” and which already proclaims, in fact, the “state of the whole people”). 10
By crystallizing and displacing the fundamental contradiction between bourgeois politics and proletarian politics in this way, communist ideology has generated new forms of “parliamentary cretinism” and “anti-parliamentary cretinism” in the workers’ movement. We obviously cannot escape these new forms by searching for different types (“organic intellectuals,” get to work!) of “syntheses,” “combinations,” or more or less subtle doses of parliamentary democracy and “direct” democracy (or of self-management: cf. that theoretical pearl from our French party, “comprehensive national self-management” [autogestion nationale d’ensemble]) that we want to turn into the formula for socialist transition. 11 At the same time, it has ruled out an essential element of the revolutionary dialectic of Marxism, which we can try to express in the language of strategy: by posing the necessity of the seizure of state power (and thus the destruction or the control of its repressive “organs”) Marxism emphasized that proletarian politics must assemble the highest possible concentration of its own forces against the strong points of bourgeois class domination (the points where it is “concentrated”). But whatever the real importance of the juridical or quasi-juridical form (the change of “powers,” the “representation” of citizens, etc.), it is only a relatively weak point of the state apparatus. By this I mean that it is not only easily transformed independently of the whole or totality, but that it draws its efficacy from the cumulative effects of all of the underlying apparatuses of political and ideological class domination (school, family, law, etc.).
The Cultural Revolution, the Party, and the Ideological State Apparatuses
In this regard, the Chinese Cultural Revolution – which remains the most significant attempt to internally address the extensive rectification of the Stalinist deviation – holds lessons that still merit further study. For as much as we really know about it (and its own opacity is certainly one of the aspects of its current failure), the Cultural Revolution is also a testimony to the difficulty of extricating the elaboration of a “proletarian politics” from the impasse described above. The Cultural Revolution position, whereby the class struggle (the “two roads”) continues throughout the entire transition without the question of the real exercise of power by the proletariat ever being definitively settled, moves beyond an abstract and equivocal Leninist argument, giving a new meaning to “transition” by potentially adjusting or correcting its mechanistic and fatalist dimensions (the transition is no longer a program of construction, with predictable, if not calculable, institutional and economic stages; as Marx said, it is indeed an outcome of “long struggles… a series of historic processes” – that is, a contradictory tendency). 12 Let’s put aside the difficulties that arose over the course of the Cultural Revolution from the way in which it reduced the revolution of the ideological superstructures to a transformation of the “division between intellectual and manual labor” (and the very narrow limits to which this transformation remained confined); what is revealing is above all the attitude directed towards the party.
What can we observe here? First, a two-pronged revolutionary line of questioning, certainly hazardous and contradictory, but which touches upon decisive problems:
- The Cultural Revolution (CR) asserts that the new stages and new dimensions of the class struggle can demand, in a given conjuncture, new organizational forms (young students and workers, for example). This calls into question the evolutionist and in fact apologetic Kautskyist schema, preserved by the communist parties, in which the party represents the “final” form of the merger of struggles and the synthesis of theory/practice. Therein lies the implicit assumption that such a form of organization and struggle which is strong when confronted with one aspect of class domination (the centralization of economic and political power) is weak in relation to another (in what I will call – playing on Marx’s distinction and Lenin’s understanding of politics as the “concentrated expression of economics” – the concentration of powers: economic control, the division of labor, ideological subjection).
- The CR asserted that the party is in the class struggle [le parti est dans la lutte de classes]: not as a pure term, a definitive “achievement,” but as a site with decisive stakes in this struggle. 13 There is not, then, a resumption and continuation of the revolution in the state without revolution(s) in the party – submitting the party to the critical “contestation” of the masses and transforming itself. At the same time, this seems to clarify and concretize the thesis of the “withering away of the state” a bit, wresting it from the mechanical images of pure and simple “destruction” and the “blank slate,” as well as from the economistic mystifications (where the withering away of the state = rational, purely “technical” social management). It [the CR] pointed in the direction of an uninterrupted revolutionary struggle within the very apparatuses in which the the conquest of power by the workers and the masses materialized.
Yet it does seem, especially if we follow the very careful analysis put forward by Charles Bettelheim in his China Since Mao, that this argument, in its own way and too soon, turns over into its opposite: it becomes the argument according to which, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle unfolds above all (if not exclusively) in the party, it is “concentrated” within it. This means that class struggle is always still in the party, and the party alone, that the “two roads” need to be identified and their conflicts settled. This also means that no particular “faction” is definitely assured to retain power (Liu, Lin Biao, Teng, the “Gang of Four…”), but the party as such is sure that the question will be settled within its ranks. “Life insurance” for the party! However, the masses are utilized and manipulated more than ever to support this or that tendency. Despite a formal inversion of Stalinist practice (unity of the “collective leadership” at all costs within the party becomes “class struggle within the party”), the result is exactly the same.
We must then pose the question (without an answer in advance): In the experience of the Cultural Revolution, what is fundamentally missing, not only in terms of social forces and historical conditions, but in terms of analysis and revolutionary theory?
I am tempted to add a parallel question concerning Althusser’s “Ideological State Apparatuses,” insofar as they find a direct resonance in the echoes of the Cultural Revolution. The concept of the ISAs is clearly intended to analyze the development of contradictions and the class struggle within the network of state relations. To take up the strategic metaphor again, it is a matter of posing the problem of a revolutionary struggle in the long term (but which involves conjunctures as much as “crisis”) corresponding not only to the (relatively) weak points of the apparatus [dispositif] of class domination, but to its strong points, which are not necessarily the most apparent or those that can be reached by directly “aiming” for them.
It is a matter, then, of seeking to analyze the complexity of the conditions upon which this tendential reversal of the relation between the initiative of the masses and their subjection, even their manipulation, depends – a reversal that is only another name for the development of the contradictions of the state, and thus the primacy of “proletarian politics” over “bourgeois politics.” At the same time, there needs to be an understanding of why, in the proletarian class struggle, this liberation of the possibilities of mass initiative can be missed – as was ultimately the case in France in May ‘68, when an unprecedented mass movement developed – leading simultaneously to the break between the party and the masses and the reciprocal sterilization of the “movement” and the “organization,” in the absence of grasping, perhaps indirectly, how to articulate a strategy for the conquest of power (at the level of its statist centralization) and a tendency towards the disruption of class domination (at the level of its concentration, as materialized in the ISAs). But even at the theoretical level, has Althusser succeeded in grasping the point of this articulation, or has he only proposed a program? Once again, the question of the party is here a relevant index: a discussion of the ISAs only makes sense if it allows us to recognize and analyze the contradictory place of the revolutionary party itself within the “play” of the ISAs, or if one prefers, to analyze the constitution and transformation of the revolutionary party as an antagonistic tendency in the ISAs. This has not really been done up to this point. Perhaps there is simply a lack of good historical and materialist analysis of the place of workers’ parties and organizations in the history of capitalist class relations (some elements for this, however, are starting to emerge). Once again, we are led to ask ourselves what is always missing theoretically (in order to make this a primary objective of our work on – and within – the “crisis of Marxism”).
Contradictions of the “Party-Form”
If we want to be “historicist,” our historicism needs to be (if I may borrow from Gramsci) an absolute historicism. This does not mean “relativizing,” in different ways, the historical meaning of the party-form in order to soften its contradictions, but to sharpen these contradictions so as to be able to discover the material conditions for its transformation. This task only appears to be “destructive.” In reality, it corresponds to the imperative necessity to make up for the dislocation that has affected the workers’ movement, due to the transformations of imperialism (and thus the capitalist social relation, its forms of exploitation, and the state “technology” of the dominant class). It may well be that what has been called “Eurocommunism” has been the phenomenon of a very brief conjuncture, not only because it corresponds to several illusions about the proximity and means of the “revolution in the West,” but because it believes it can resolve the contradictions of the party-form without substantially addressing them. Eurocommunism has not discovered any means for overcoming the oscillation between the strained [crispé] maintenance of Stalinist structures (in the name of the leading role of the working class) and the conciliation to bourgeois parties (The CP becoming “a party just like the others,” whether they are “of government” or “oppositional”).
This is why it is important to at least raise the question, even very abstractly: has the party-form, as it exists today, and in view of a long-term process whose “deviations” are just as essential as its initial principles and achievements, become the historical form of the reproduction of certain “contradictions among the people”? And is it required, then, to talk about a necessary break with this form, in terms of a process that we cannot yet foresee – either its stages or results? I want to say this here: to speak of a necessary break does not mean (to better clarify it) the liquidation or dissolution of the workers’ movement and existing organizations. The existence of Marxist theoretical “advances” or the existence of popular and labor forces, an organized revolutionary current, are not in question. Without these forces or this current, the problem at hand would not even be able to be posed. What must, however, be seen today are the limits within which these forces have been able to organize, and that the contradictions at work now have nothing to do with either simply uneven development (if that ever was the case), due to unequally favorable “national conditions,” or with a simple delay in development, due to a lagging level of consciousness, the difficulties of political work, the actions of the adversary, etc. They have acquired a structural character (that does not mean “functional”) in the present evolution of capitalism. We cannot remain forever content with the lazy argument that draws, from the reality of the class struggle organized by the proletarian unions and the communist parties and the results they were able to obtain, the anticipated “proof” of the capacities of these forces to lead the revolutionary process through to the end.
Class organizations must be seen as they are today, despite all of the theoretical advances that they represent for the workers and the oppressed, not as they could or should have been.
It is a structural fact – which immanently affects the party-form as a historical form – that Marxism today is a mass revolutionary ideology in only a few countries in Latin America, East Asia and perhaps Cuba (what about countries in Africa?); ultimately, in its current form it has not brought about either the concentration and the centralization of class struggles in the majority of the “developed” imperialist countries (the dominant poles of imperialism), the continuation of the revolution in countries of “actually existing socialism,” the real fusion of the workers’ movement and national liberation movements (except for rare and “precious” exceptions), or the proletarian pushback against the development of multinational “corporations.” It is a structural fact that the “party-form” as it functions today is not the form of unity of the international communist movement, but has become the form of its crisis and division, in which the national interests of the state prevail (especially since the Vietnam War) over the solidarity of struggles – that is, in the last analysis, the subordination to the tendencies of imperialism and its “rules of the game.”
At a more modest but nonetheless significant level, it is a structural fact that in France and Italy, the communist parties – to different degrees – only organize a part of the working class and its struggles, even when the indirect organization (with all the problems this poses) that occurs through unions, municipalities, and regional powers is taken into account. That this limitation has been mostly the result of incorrect or contradictory political lines, especially in France, does not change the fact that it is now materially inscribed in the balance of forces and social-structural relations. In France, the PCF either barely or does not organize the working class in “small and medium enterprises” (including those new semi-urban, semi-rural enterprises created by “subcontracting” or “outsourcing”); it does not organize, or only to a minimal extent, immigrant laborers or around their struggles; it does not organize unwaged women workers (confined to “domestic labor”) who are, then, at the margins of all forms of politics. In Italy, as [Bruno] Trentin and other comrades have noted, the existing organizations (the PCI and the unions) are largely helpless in the face of the cleavage that mass unemployment has introduced within the working class, to the point that the powers of control and contestation that the organizations have won in the large industrial centers become a double-edged sword, which can not only work to unite the exploited, but also divide them! 14
All these facts, and still others, place the principles of the “party-form” into question, and pose the problem of a transformation affecting an entire historical period. A transformation that will certainly go beyond a rectification of the traditional relationships between “party” and “union” set by the Second and Third Internationals and expressed in its conception of the “primacy of politics.” A transformation that, in its immediacy, will problematize the “pluralism” of the party and the “mass movements – thus organizations,” much more fundamentally than the pluralism of (only) parties, which by itself does not help in undermining the subjection of the masses to forms of bourgeois politics – quite the contrary (the weakness of its policy of “mass organizations” is the great historical failure of the PCF, since it led to this nonsense, not only suppressing their development, but also totally paralyzing any initiative on the part of militant communists!). Precisely to the extent that the history of working-class organizations is inseparable from the state and bourgeois society, to the extent that their “limitations” return as either aspects of the bourgeois class domination that we have neither fully understood or threatened, or to new tendencies of the class struggle for which we can not yet account for, these limitations become internal contradictions which then “overdetermine” and precipitate the effects of the crisis latent since the 1930s. This is precisely because in the class struggle, no relationship of forces is stable – the “overcoming” or “supersession” of the historical limits of the revolutionary movement is not possible without a prolonged rupture. But it is also because contradictions explode that this rupture becomes possible in theory and in practice.
– Translated by Patrick King
This text originally appeared in Italian as “Interrogativi sul ‘partito fuori dello Stato,’ ” in Dicutere lo stato: posizioni e confronto su una tesi di Louis Althusser (Bari: De Donato, 1978), 271-90. This translation is based on its subsequent publication in French as “Etat, parti, transition,” Dialectiques 27 (1979): 81-92.
This article is part of a dossier entitled “The Crisis of Marxism.”
|See Etienne Balibar, “Interrogativi sul ‘partito fuori dello Stato,’ ” in Dicutere lo stato: posizioni e confronto su una tesi di Louis Althusser (Bari: De Donato, 1978), 271-90.
|See Etienne Balibar, “Dictature du prolétariat,” “Pouvoir,” and “Appareil,” in the Dictionnaire critique du marxisme, ed. Georges Labica and Gérard Bensussan (Paris: PUF, 1983). He mentions Marx et sa critique de la politique in a footnote below.
|Balibar details his changing attitudes and positions towards Poulantzas’s work in “Communism and Citizenship: On Nicos Poulantzas,” in Equaliberty: Political Essays, trans. James Ingram (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 145-64. See also Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, trans. Patrick Camiller (New York: Cerso, 1978).
|For more on this point, which echoes Althusser’s theses on the reproduction of capitalist relations and the difficulty in breaking with their material causes, see Alberto Toscano, “Transition Deprogrammed,” South Atlantic Quarterly 113.4 (Fall 2014): 761-75.
|See for example: Etienne Balibar, “Marx, Engels, et le parti révolutionnaire,” La Pensée, No. 201 (October, 1978): 120-35; “Sur le concept marxiste de la ‘division du travail manuel et du travail intellectuel’ et la lutte de classes,” in in L’Intellectuel: L’Intelligentsia et les manuels, ed. Jean Belkhir (Paris: Éditions Anthropos, 1983), 97-117; “Marx, the Joker in the Pack (Or the Excluded Middle),” Economy and Society 14.1 (February 1985): 1-27; see also chapters 4-6 of Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx, trans. James Swenson (London: Routledge, 1994); and “Les apories de la ‘transition’ et les contradictions de Marx,” Sociologie et sociétés, 22.1 (Spring 1990), 83-91.
|The following text was presented to fellow participants in the Centre d’études et de recherches marxistes colloquium on “the Contemporary State in France,” held in Paris, January 6-7, 1979.
|I have approached this problem in my study “Etat, parti, idéologie,” in André Tosel, Cesare Luporini, and Etienne Balibar, Marx et sa critique du politique (Paris; Maspero, 1979). An extract was published as “Marx, Engels, et le parti révolutionnaire,” La Pensée no. 201 (October 1978): 120-35.
|See Robert Michels, Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, trans. Eden Paul and Cedar Paul (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2009 ).
|See the articles written by Paul Laurent for La France Nouvelle (June 6, 1977) and La Nouvelle Critique (no. 103, April 1977). The same arguments are taken up in a much less clearer manner in Le P.C.F. comme il est (Paris: Editions Sociales, 1978).
|This is why I do not agree with the concession that Althusser makes when he says that, in the USSR, the constitutional “rules of the game” were suppressed or eliminated; rather, they were displaced and reinforced, even if the symbolic sanction needed to be periodically repeated – undoubtedly because of the gravity of the internal contradictions. With the fascinating episode of the “new Constitution” of 1977, the “end of the dictatorship of the proletariat” has been officially proclaimed for the second time in 40 years!
|See François Hincker, Jean Fabre, and Lucien Sève, Les communistes et l’Etat (Paris: Editions Sociales, 1977), 167.
|Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 61-62.
|See the PCF’s ritualistic slogan: The best opportunity for the workers is to have a strong communist party” [la grande chance des travailleurs c’est d’avoir un parti communiste puissant].
|On Bruno Trentin’s work, one can read in French his text “Un syndicalisme pour le révolution,” in Dialectiques no. 18/19 (1977).