“The Search for the Subject
Revolutionary Marxism after WWII has attempted to answer three questions: the question of the subject, the question of the class (which is also the question of who can revolutionarily change the world, and where a collective subject constitutes itself that can set this process in motion), and the question of their own role in the revolutionary process. We find workerism’s answers most interesting, then and now.
On the question of the subject, there are essentially three answers: the apology for the nineteenth-century bourgeois subject of civil society (Frankfurt School), the denial of the subject (structuralism, mainstream modern Marxism), and the concept of class composition.
The concept of class composition criticizes false materialism, which derives class struggle from the existing equal economic position of workers in capitalism. Simultaneously it is a critique of a philosophical class concept, which presents the class as a pure antagonist, as a subject that rebels and takes sides for itself, regardless of existing conditions of production. Class composition builds a bridge between subjectivity and material conditions. Marx did the prep work in his “Theses on Feuerbach,” in which he recognized human activity as something material. Therefore, the subject cannot be sought one-sidedly in the material independent of humanity, nor in an ideal independent of the material, but rather only in the co-incidence of the changes in humanity itself, its activity and thinking, with the changes of circumstances (“immanence”!).
The answer of the workerists was more fruitful than the two others, because they were developed directly out of running struggles: the class struggle didn’t work from outside “on capital,” but it constituted the capital relation. The class struggle expressed itself not only in a historical chain of conflicts, struggles and uprisings, but also in the accumulation of capital, in its “organic composition,” as Marx called it.
To the question what role we can take in this process, Marxism-Leninism gave an explicit answer: the organization into cadre parties, apart from the working class, but with the claim to be bringing it the correct “class consciousness.” This basic idea survives to this day, always popping up.
Contrary to that stands the position of the council communists, who deny any thought of a “special role” for left activists in class struggles, any “intervention from outside.” They see their own role in merely putting information at the disposal of the workers (“mailmen”).
The class-composition critique of the bourgeois subject can be formulated like this: the only material foundation on which one can speak of a subject is class composition. That is, it has to do with a collective subject that constitutes itself under the conditions of a determinate mode of production in struggle against the capital relation. Any material analysis of the subject must therefore go through the analysis of class composition. Whoever wants to revolutionarily change society must put themselves in relation to class composition.”