Backwards to socialism
” This form of socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues”. (Communist Manifesto p60).
Reactionary socialism is identified in the third section of the Communist Manifesto. In essence it combines extreme hostility to capitalism with utopian notions of socialism. The Manifesto praises their anti-capitalism and their support for the working class. However these views were “always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history”. (Communist Manifesto p56)
Reactionary politics are opposed to the present state of affairs with the aim of restoring the past. The term “reactionary” had its origins in the French revolution with those classes who wanted to restore the French monarchy and the authority of the Catholic Church. In French ‘reactionary’ meant a movement towards the reversal of an existing tendency or state.
The Manifesto explains that reactionary socialism looks back to the past “either to restore the old means of production and of exchange and with them the old property relations, and the old society… or to cramping the modern means of production and exchange, within the framework of the old property relations that have been, or were bound to be, exploded by those means. In either case, it is both reactionary and utopian”. (Communist Manifesto p60).
Anger against capitalism and the hope of restoring the past inevitably ends in disillusion. Hand-loom weaving, steam engines, the 1945 welfare state, the British Empire, British manufacturing and the USSR are in the dustbin of history, never to return. The Manifesto concludes that “Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self deception, this form of socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues”. (Communist Manifesto p60).
The Communist Manifesto identifies the ideas of ‘Critical-utopian socialism’ (Communist Manifesto pX). The early socialists were highly critical of capitalism. The Manifesto applauds them because “they attack every principle of existing society”, which is valuable “for the enlightenment of the working class” (Communist Manifesto p70). Anti-capitalism was a central pillar of utopian thinking. Moral, ethical and religious ideas about the struggle between good and evil influenced early utopian socialism.
Thomas More in 1516 used the term ‘Utopia’ for an imaginary society in the Atlantic. It became a general term for all imagined perfect or nearly perfect communities. It comes from Greek combining “no place” and “good place”. Utopias are visions of a better future in contrast to existing society. But they are dreams which combine the impossible and the unrealisable. For this reason the Communist Manifesto identifies these ideas ultimately as reactionary.
‘Critical-utopian socialism’ combines polemic against the evils of capitalism and the “new social Gospel” with “fantastic pictures of future society”. (Communist Manifesto p70). For utopian socialists “future history resolves itself in their eyes, into propaganda and the practical carrying out of their social plans”. (Communist Manifesto p69). These plans are the property of intellectuals for whom “Historical action is to yield to their personal inventive action, historically created conditions of emancipation to fantastic ones”. (Communist Manifesto pY).
Middle class radicalism
The Manifesto locates the politics of reactionary socialism in the interests of certain social classes. The first example is “feudal socialism”. Supporters of the landed aristocracy, angered by Capital’s revolution, railed against their capitalist enemies. They appealed to the working class in the language of socialism. Their polemics are “Half lamentation, half lampoon, half echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism striking the bourgeoisie to its hearts core”. (Communist Manifesto p56)
The Manifesto identifies the petty bourgeoisie as another source of anti-capitalist reaction. This class is also under threat. Capitalism is squeezing them to death. Consequently they react against “the concentration of capital and land in a few hands; overproduction and crises; it pointed out the inevitable ruin of the petty bourgeois and peasant, the misery of the proletariat, the anarchy of production, the crying inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the industrial war of extermination between nations, the disillusion of the old moral bonds, of the old family relations, and the old nationalities”. (Communist Manifesto p60)
Here anti-capitalism is combined with nostalgia for moral, family and national values of the past. Reactionary socialism bears the imprint of a class, hostile to big capital and big banks and sympathetic to small business, co-operatives, and self employment. It shares with anarchism the utopian idea of breaking up big capital into small units, reversing globalisation and returning to the purely national and local production. The clock is turned back to an imagined world – a more radical, humane and green utopia.
The German Nazi Party was a reactionary national socialist party which reflected the anger of the German middle class ruined by capitalism and fearful of the organised working class. The Nazis combined anti-capitalist rhetoric with anti-Semitism, ideas about racial purity and traditional family values. In the holocaust this potent mix found the ultimate extension of reactionary politics in anti-human barbarism.
The Communist Manifesto criticises all kinds of reactionary socialism, to make a sharp distinction with scientific communism. The defenders of capitalism have always argued that communism is a utopia, an impossible dream. It could only ‘work’ if implemented by force or dictatorship. In the great famine during Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ (1958-61) China is presented as the results of ‘communism’ rather than the reactionary consequences of utopian socialism.
Marx and Engels rejected the claim that scientific communism was a utopia. They rejected all utopian visions of socialism and based communism on a scientific analysis of Capital and its actual development now and in the future. Their communism was possible because it was founded on the material basis of the existing society. Communism came from within capitalism.
Scientific communism was in one sense an extension of the most advanced and most productive capitalism. This was revolutionary because it stripped out all that was reactionary by liberating the real productive forces. There was only one social force that could bring that change. The job of science is not to invent a ‘model utopia’ but destroy all existing utopias. Science must uncover, discover or expose ‘communism-within-capitalism’, locating what is new in the present.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is a reactionary party. It has grown as a result of mass alienation from neoliberal policies, austerity, unemployment and poverty. UKIP blame the establishment, the EU, and mass immigration. UKIP want to turn the clock back to the imagined society of the 1960s, before the dismantling of the Elizabethan welfare state, before the Common Market and mass immigration.
The essence of all reactionary arguments against the EU is returning to a Europe of smaller independent nation states. Reactionary nationalism looks back to national independence presented in xenophobic terms as immigrant-free utopias. Nationalism claims to protect the nation from consequences of capitalism by erecting national borders, national passports, national currencies, trade barriers, taxation systems and immigration controls.
Reactionary nationalism, like King Canute, takes its stand against the incoming tide of globalisation, Europeanization and cosmopolitan culture driven by international capital. Reactionary nationalism in Europe seeks ‘power’ by gathering up support from alienated small businesses and disorganised section of the working class with an eclectic mix of ideas borrowed from, nationalism, socialism and anarchism. This includes: the French Front National; the Danish People’s Party (DPP); Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO), Hungary’s anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-EU Jobbik party; Finland’s the anti-immigrant and anti-EU Finn’s Party.
We could construct a reactionary socialist case against the EU from first principles. It would recognise the EU is a capitalist club which brings with it all the evils of capital accumulation, crisis, recession, mass unemployment and poverty. Reactionary socialism does not recognise the laws of capital accumulation and hence the ‘shape of things to come’ and becomes a moral condemnation of capitalism and the EU.
Reactionary socialism locates its anti-capitalism and anti-EU politics in anarchist or petty bourgeois preference for small capital and small states. It fears multinationals, rejects Europeanisation and globalisation and idealises the EU as something unchangeable in a changing world. It has no confidence in the working class to transform Europe. Instead of mobilising across Europe, reactionary socialism wants to retreat to national independence.
The EU is bad and the answer is thus to leave it. It shares with reactionary nationalism a preference for the safety of the past and a return to a mythical national independence as the fifty first US state. It is a return to British capitalism under Anglo-American imperialism under cover of abstract propaganda for a British road to socialism, for a socialist Europe and socialist world.
“We got to get out of this place…. there’s a better life for me and you” The Animals.