THREE PAPERS PREPARED FOR MHI’S LEFT FORUM PANEL, May 21, 2016
I. Ravi Bali
The concept of the Vanguard Party is associated with the first great Marxist theoretician to emerge after the death of Marx. Lenin finished writing What is to be done? in early 1902. A mere 15 years later in 1917 his Bolsheviks were the leading political organisation as the workers fought for their revolution. Lenin consolidated his stature by at each point of the revolutionary struggle being able to express what the necessary tasks were and how and when to carry them out. In the face of resistance from many within his own party Lenin argued for “all power to the soviets”. The soviets were not created by the Bolsheviks but were created by the workers themselves in the course of struggle. In recognising their importance Lenin was arguing for the working class to become the new dominant class in Russian society, not under the direction of intellectuals who constituted the majority of the Bolsheviks at that stage, but the workers themselves who would become their own government. The Lenin of 1917 who had confidence in the potential of workers to self-develop into a society without bosses is very different to the Lenin that wrote What is to be done? in 1902.
It is important to establish that there was a major break in Lenin’s thinking between 1902 when he wrote WITBD and the later point at which he became the outstanding intellectual of the Russian Revolution. This break occurred in 1914 at the outbreak of 1st World War when the German Workers Party under the leadership of Karl Kautsky betrayed the international working class and the cause of revolution by supporting their own government in voting for war credits. As Kautsky had known Marx personally and by that time the leading theorist after the death of Marx and Engels, the betrayal was felt deeply by many revolutionaries including Lenin. The biggest and best organised working class of any country in the world, had been led into the imperialist slaughter, Lenin had to reorganise the whole basis of his thinking to try and work out how this could have happened? Lenin grappled with the Hegelian roots of Marx’s thinking, and only after this process emerged as the greatest revolutionary of his own period.
This background is important because WITBD was never repudiated or corrected by Lenin and so for those who do not look at the development in Lenin’s thinking, it is easy to assume WITBD is the product of a Lenin who was always the most prescient of revolutionaries. The legacy of this is that WITBD is treated as Lenin’s definitive treatment of the subject of revolutionary organisation, and that is a problem. The conception of working class organisation in WITBD is so problematic that any organisation that bases itself upon its ideas will massively overestimate the role of intellectuals and grossly underestimate the working class in the making of revolution. Vanguardism as presented in WITBD also represents a break with Marx’s view of the working class and shows a different attitude later shown by Lenin in for example the trade union debates after the Russian Revolution in the early 1920’s.
In WITBD Lenin argues that preparedness for revolution is not evenly spread through the working class as a whole and that to maintain the highest possible theoretical development of the class it is important for a revolutionary party to relate the most advanced and receptive workers. He makes the distinction between propaganda and agitation. Propaganda being a complex of interrelated ideas that expose the underlying nature of the capitalist system and agitation a single or very few ideas that deals with the impacts on workers and touches on their direct experience. The audience for these ideas will be determined by the complexity of their content – so propaganda is to create conscious revolutionaries and will be aimed at a relatively small number of workers, agitation because of its relative simplicity is to appeal to the broad masses. The idea of the vanguard is the advanced section of workers who can be won through propaganda to a revolutionary outlook. Once this is achieved the agitational work through this leading section of workers can win the masses to revolution.
In anticipation of WITBD Lenin wrote the previous year (1901) in Where to Begin
“The Russian working class, as distinct from the other classes and strata of Russian society, displays a constant interest in political knowledge and manifests a constant and extensive demand (not only in periods of intensive unrest) for illegal literature. When such a mass demand is evident, when the training of experienced revolutionary leaders has already begun, and when the concentration of the working class makes it virtual master in the working class districts of the big cities and in the factory settlements and communities, it is quite feasible for the proletariat to found a political newspaper.” (LCW vol 5 p22)
A little later Lenin continues
“…tomorrow we may have to support popular indignation against some tsarist bashi-barouk on the rampage and help, by means of boycott, indictment, demonstrations etc, to make things so hot for him as to force him into open retreat. Such a degree of combat readiness can be developed only through the constant activity of regular troops. If we join forces to produce a common newspaper, this work will train and bring to the foreground, not only the most skilful propagandists, but the most capable organisers, the most talented political party leaders capable at the right moment of releasing the slogan for the decisive struggle and of taking the lead in that struggle.” (LCW vol 5 p23)
So the production and distribution of the newspaper is paralleled to a military operation – and no military has ever functioned without a hierarchy. Implicit in Lenin’s conception is that there are leaders (the party intellectuals) and there are the led (the workers). The nagging doubt will be when do the workers become their own leaders so that they create a classless society?
It is easy when reading What is to be done? to follow Lenin’s intent to combat the revision of Marx’s ideas into an accommodation with capitalism and lose sight of an important underlying assumption that informs it – that the working class are not by themselves revolutionary. This is really important because I have read this work a few times in the last 30 years and only recently noticed that Lenin was endorsing the idea that it is intellectuals, who having read and understood Marx, are the only ones who are intrinsically revolutionary, not the workers
When Lenin talks of economism as a political trend and describes it as the tail-ending of the masses what he counter-poses instead is guiding the working class to revolution by giving them the correct revolutionary theory. He argues that as Marxism gained in popularity:
“Those who have the slightest acquaintance with the actual state of our movement cannot but see that the wide spread of Marxism was accompanied by a certain lowering of the theoretical level. Quite a number of people with very little, and even a total lack of theoretical training joined the movement because of its practical significance and its practical successes.” (LCW vol 5 p369)
In the following paragraph he gives us his famous statement:
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”
Lenin is ambiguous on his view of the Russian working class, he notices how in the late 19th/early 20th Century strikes the workers have matured in their understanding from previous decades (referred to as primitive revolts) he notes:
“This shows that the “spontaneous element”, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form. Even the primitive revolts expressed the awakening of consciousness to a certain extent. The workers were losing their age long faith in the permanence of the system which oppressed them and began….. I shall not say to understand but to sense the necessity for collective resistance, definitely abandoning their slavish submission to the authorities.”(LCW vol 5 p374)
So an acknowledgement of the workers revolutionary instincts, only a few lines later to continue:
“Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, not yet Social Democratic struggles. They marked the awakening antagonisms between workers and employers; but the workers were not and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system.” (LCW vol 5 p375)
The embryonic form of revolutionary thinking already being shown by workers may not alone be sufficient to successfully complete a revolution, but Lenin goes much further than this. So he first says in reference to the other left groups’ attitudes to the current workers struggles
“they want to have that struggle recognised as desirable “which it is possible for the workers to wage under the present conditions” and as the only possible struggle, that “which they are actually waging at the present time”…We revolutionary Social Democrats, on the contrary are dissatisfied with the worship of spontaneity, ie, of that which exists”. (LCW vol 5 p367)
Now those taking the existing dominant expression of workers struggle as a basis for revolution I think Lenin is correct to criticise. The spontaneitists who think workers are already expressing a complete and sufficient basis for revolution, even through to this day, underestimate the role of revolutionary theory in the process. But Lenin goes much further, he argues that it is the Marxist intellectuals who make the working class revolutionary with theory.
“…Social Democrats, active in the period of 1895-98, justly considered it possible even then, at the very beginning of the “spontaneous” movement, to come forward with a most extensive programme and a militant tactical line. Lack of training of the majority of the revolutionaries, an entirely natural phenomenon, could not have roused any particular fears. Once the tasks were correctly defined, once the energy existed for repeated attempts to fulfil them, temporary failures represented only part misfortune.” (LCW vol 5 p377)
So according to Lenin, at this stage, leadership will come from the revolutionary intellectuals once they have gained sufficient experience. On their own the workers are not revolutionary
“But the spontaneous development of the working class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology…for the spontaneous working class movement is trade unionism, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence our task is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working class from this spontaneous, trade unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy.” (p384)
Lenin believes that workers can become revolutionary only once they have come under the influence of the proper intellectuals.
This is a departure from Marx’s view of the working class which was that their position in society compelled them to continually fight against their capitalist bondage. And since the accumulation of capital was based on the exploitation of workers labour through using machinery – the expansion of the capitalist system increased the domination over the workers. It was the objective position of the workers within production and their subjugation to the regulation of the machine that had a crippling effect on workers self expression and humanity. The compulsion to resist this domination of people by things, which is intrinsic to the function of capitalism, is what makes the working class a revolutionary subject. The working class have aspirations to be free in a way that can never be accommodated under capitalism.
If we ask what makes a revolutionary subject? then we can see Lenin’s WITBD as a divergence from Marx. Lenin sees the intellectuals as the revolutionary subject and the workers as a necessary object. For Marx it was the workers themselves through their experience fighting to establish their own control as human beings rather than being controlled by capitalist technology that made them revolutionary. If the impulse to revolution is not already there it cannot be implanted from the outside. The aspiration for new conditions of life and work might not be the workers’ dominant impulse at any given point but if it is not present at all (as Lenin suggests) then the worker will always be an object but simply of different outside forces.
The philosophical confusion of WITBD is something Lenin shakes off after 1914 in his practical political orientation, as when for example he argued all power to the soviets or that there should be maximum ratio of 1:10 of intellectuals to workers inside the soviets. But he never explicitly returned to the questions as he had laid them out in WITBD (even allowing the reprinting of the pamphlet without any corrective notes). The legacy of this great revolutionary is tainted if we don’t see 1914 as a transformative point in his development, which in practice if not in his written theory he took a fundamentally different approach to that of WITBD.
Raya Dunayevskaya’s critique of Lenin restores the working class as a revolutionary subject. She posits that the impulse for liberation will be always be there amongst the workers and oppressed groups, but at certain points people have a developmental breakthrough in their thinking. Lenin’s identification of the Russian workers in the early part of the century no longer seeing the system as permanent in contrast with previous decades or Dunayevskaya seeing miners in post WW2 America questioning of the role of automation and asking “what kind of work should man do?” It is drawing these ideas out in dialogue and re-presenting them to the workers showing the implications of their own unfulfilled aspirations that the role of theory is able to develop both itself and the workers movement. Dunayevskaya takes seriously the idea that the workers themselves are revolutionary and it is the role of theoreticians in listening to them, to take the strongest and clearest expressions of this, as the point of departure for further development.
If something is not internalised and expressed by the workers explaining their own circumstances and aspiration to transcend their condition, then no revolutionary idea imposed from the outside will help turn them into the makers of their own revolution. The workers need not do this alone, intellectuals and theoreticians can help in the process but the separation between those who think and those who do must be broken. As long as there is a leadership that does the thinking for them – workers are not being prepared for the breaking down the separation between mental and manual labour, they are still not yet subjects of their own revolution.
Marxist-humanists are different from all other left political tendencies because while we reject the vanguardist view of workers as not being revolutionary, we unlike the spontaneitists see the role of theory being vital to allow workers to self-develop to the point of being able to successfully carry through a revolution. We believe it is the role of revolutionary organisation to assist in the self-development of those who aspire to break free of capitalist society.
2. Anne Jaclard at Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s Left Forum panel, May 21, 2016
Yeah, sure, the workers will make the revolution.
Just one question: what does “make” mean?
Many so-called Marxists and socialists agree in the abstract that the workers will make the revolution–but what does “make” mean? That’s where great differences come to the fore. Let’s look at the Marxist-Humanist view in contrast to the vanguardist view.
Marxist-Humanism emphasizes that the working class is the subject, and not the object, of revolution—workers will make it themselves by way of developing themselves and their own movements and rebellions, and the creation of their own organizations, ones that are appropriate to their needs. Their self-development is inextricable from their preparation for creating and running a new society after the revolution—and that second negation is the harder part. In our view, the working class is the self-developing subject of revolution, and not the object of someone else’s plan. This view comes from Karl Marx. And he didn’t mean only that workers would be the force to make the revolution, but that they were also the source of revolutionary theory: liberatory ideas are developed by and through workers’ struggles against capitalist society, ideas seized upon and made their own by the workers, not imposed on them from the outside.
Marx saw that theory, his humanist theory, becomes a material force when it flows from the masses: “Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself.” (from A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1853, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm)
Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of the philosophy she named Marxist-Humanism, explicated Marx’s humanism in terms of the human drive for self-development of all one’s capacities. This drive develops in opposition to the capitalist mode of production that fragments as well as exploits us. In opposition to capitalism dividing us into hands without brains or hearts or creativity, she said, workers fight in “a quest for universality” to become whole human beings. They fight not only to overthrow capitalism (destroying what exists, a first negation), but also to create an entirely new way to work and live (second negation).
But prevalent left thinking is not the above. It is the vanguardist view, whether or not connected to a party-to-lead. It is the view that workers cannot actually achieve the overthrow of capitalism or creation of a new society without the leadership of others from the outside the class, left intellectuals or activists, or workers who are brought into leftist parties and trained to be like them. This view is so common that it is usually assumed to be true, not only by party-people but by well-meaning activists of all stripes.
I think the belief derives from the dominant ideology in the whole world, on the left as well as right, that workers are intellectually backward, lacking in revolutionary consciousness and ideas by themselves. So they can’t make a revolution without having leadership that comes from outside their own movements. With this underlying and generally unexamined assumption—the dogma that the workers are backward—workers aren’t really the subject of revolution. They may be the muscle, but they aren’t capable of knowing what to do. Carrying out the logic of this attitude, the workers end up being game pieces on a board laid out by others, and the others must move them along step by step until their “consciousness” is “raised” so that they are “ready” for revolution.
This view was put forth by Karl Kautsky in what became the German Social Democratic party, in the early 1900s. The legacy he left includes not only this vanguardist attitude, but also a readiness to abandon Marx’s philosophy. That legacy has disoriented and derailed revolutions for a full century now. And it still prevails in the left, in spite of all the revolutions “from below” that we’ve had and continue to have in the post-World War II world. With the vanguardist view, the left’s job becomes to sell socialism to the workers, to convince them to get on the path to revolution—the definition of such a path being yet another presupposed and unexamined dogma. The vanguardists will bring them along through culture or electoral politics or hierarchical unions, or whatever means they think can receive popular acceptance. And discussion of Marx’s views are ruled out.
The idea that working people lack revolutionary consciousness (the consciousness that left intellectuals are assumed to possess) is so ingrained in our capitalistically-educated heads and hierarchically-dominated culture, on the left as well as right, that it takes some serious mental work to understand the world in other terms. We are immersed in a society premised on the division between thinkers and workers, between mental and manual labor. Surely this is not the natural human order—we all start out life with the same brain anatomy. But that division between mental and manual has been the hallmark of class society for eons.
I believe that the dogma that workers are backward remains entrenched at least in part because it serves capitalism so well. In Capital, Marx shows how the inner laws of capital play out, manifested in the history of capitalist development in terms of separating the conception of work from the execution of work, deskilling jobs, and having knowledge embedded in machines (and today in software). This removes from the labor process both thought and control by the laborers—and increases productivity. This is the essence of alienated labor.
We ought to ask ourselves why the left mostly duplicates this division between thinking and doing. Why even those who purport to practice extreme democracy, end up separating into leaders and led even in anti-vanguardist movements, such as happened in Occupy Wall Street (not that these were mostly workers): when the general assemblies proved incapable of efficiency, a small, unelected few, self-designated leaders made the real decisions behind the scenes. The reason for this duplication of class society may be that it is more comfortable and easier for intellectuals to replicate capitalist ideas than to work out new ones. Most of all, when it comes to workers’ movements, the dogma gives leftists a major role to play: leading the masses in social movements, and not having to think too hard about what must be changed in order to remake society, because they already “know.”
In our age, especially in the years since the mid-20th century, capitalism more and more employs workers as appendages to machines; the machines do most of the thinking and control the work process to extremes undreamed of by Henry Ford. This kind of work has brought out opposition from the working class. In the greatest strike against automation in the US, the 1949-50 coal miners’ wildcat strike, miners refused to work on the newly introduced “continuous miner,” a huge machine the miners were to lie on top of as it drove itself through the mine. The workers called it a “man-killer.”
Raya Dunayevskaya went to W. Va. and discussed Marx with those miners. They identified their conditions with Marx’s description of capitalism in his time. One miner told her how he suddenly realized that as much as he hated having to get up every morning and go into the mine, he went, and suddenly he realized he was “not a free man.” Dunayevskaya heard this as an expression of Marx’s emphasis on what kind of labor people do. She concluded that this turn from issues of pay and hours, to the issue of what kind of labor human labor should be, opened up a new stage of cognition and revolt. (You can read about the miners’ strike and the new stage in a pamphlet reproduced on MHI’s website, on the Archives page).
Today, factory workers and even auto mechanics often only push buttons; fast food cooks do a minimum of what you can call cooking; teachers no longer write their own lesson plans. This is not by choice, and people hate their robotic jobs that deprive work of all creativity and pleasure, but they have to work to survive. Rather than advanced capitalism having rendered Marx obsolete, we see the same and worse alienated labor everywhere.
To see the struggle against the basic division between mental and manual work, you have to listen for what workers are saying and look at what is implicit in their words and actions. You have to break with the dogma of the backwardness of the workers, because not only has vanguardism failed to form the basis for successful and sustainable revolutions for 100 years, it has stifled workers’ movements, dulling and pulling back against their revolutionary impulses and ideas. Marxist-Humanists look at mass movements to draw out their battles against internal as well as external barriers to thought and imagination.
For example, the South African Communist Party was so influential within the ANC’s decades-long anti-apartheid struggle, that since the ANC got power and wrote a wonderful-sounding constitution in 1994, the new ruling party’s elitist mentality has allowed it to violate its own laws and principles, and to keep the working class under the same harsh conditions as previously. This has meant failure to build housing, low wages, suppression of dissent, and even shooting and killing striking miners and housing protesters. Large networks of grass-roots organizations of poor people have grown up to fight for their rights and for a new relationship between the working class and power. Listen to S’bu Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers Movement, speaking here in 2010 (it’s in our web journal):
“What happens when the poor become powerful outside the state, when the unorganized organize and speak? When we recognize our humanity and begin to define ourselves before someone else does it for us? We want our full humanity, we want justice, we want dignity, and we want to participate in making our communities, our cities, our provinces, our country.”
So he cited two dangers facing organizations of the poor: first, they are always told that they need leaders from outside to speak for them. He said Abahlali hears this from all the political parties, from those who want to co-opt them, and from some intellectuals, including some leftists. He identified this as the first danger to the movement, even before government repression. He ended his remarks: “Down with homelessness! Down with capitalism!”
Another example, when the mass movement in the streets of Greece was capable of bringing down the government 3 years ago, Syriza dampened the movement and pushed people into electoral politics instead—we know how that has ended up. As Andrew will discuss, the danger of “leading” the masses not only leads them to defeat, but also stops them from preparing themselves to run society. In fact, the 20th century is a history of revolutions that started out great and then “turned into their opposite,” to use the Hegelian concept. The characteristics of the old class society were retained or reinstated.
In spite of all the evidence that the workers are not “backward,” we have gotten a lot of flack for attacking the dogma of the backwardness of the working class, so let’s examine the “backwardness” dogma more closely: we need to distinguish between people not being fully informed, and people not being “ready” for socialist ideas until after the left raises their consciousness. People may not have sufficient knowledge about how capitalism functions to identify all the aspects which have to be overthrown in order to create a new economic and social system, but neither does the left have sufficient knowledge. Nor does the issue of workers’ “consciousness” turn on whether working people use the word “socialism” or any other language of the left.
Now, we are not spontaneists, we don’t think workers’ activity alone will bring on a new society. We see a need for Marx’s theories to enter into mass movements and give them a direction–not a plan or program, but a method of evaluating your actions against the standard of the future new society you seek. Keeping our eyes on that future, we believe the left should try to break down the division between mental and manual labor now by bringing the workers into discussions of theory. By helping their voices to be heard and interchanging ideas, we encourage workers to develop those ideas, sometimes only implicit, that will lead to future self-development of the class. We are talking about ideas that help workers figure out how to run their own lives, without capitalist or leftist bosses. This is the needed preparation for constructing post-revolutionary society.
3. Andrew Kliman, MHI’s Left Forum Panel, May 21, 2016
Spontaneity, Theory, Organization
Although it’s true that regular people lack knowledge of all kinds of things, and although I think it’s true that they’ll need revolutionary theory and philosophy in order to make a successful revolution, they are spontaneously revolutionary in the sense that they spontaneously aspire to a different way of working and living. It is this spontaneous reaching for a different future that Marxist-Humanism highlights as opening a new beginning for revolutionary theory and organization.
In the early 1950s, Raya Dunayevskaya, who founded the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, began to call attention to the new humanist aspirations from below. Appalachian coal miners faced with new technology—automation—didn’t just struggle for higher wages or job security. They didn’t just have so-called trade-union consciousness. They called the automated coal mining machine a “man killer” and they asked what kind of labor human beings should do. This constituted a rejection of the capitalist mode of production in its direct material instantiation. Shortly thereafter, Charles Denby, a worker colleague of Dunayevskaya’s, called attention to the fact that a fellow worker responded to the news of Stalin’s death by saying, “I have just the person to replace him—my foreman.” That worker clearly wasn’t looking for either a private-capitalist boss or a state-capitalist boss to lead him; he was looking for an independent path to a better way of life.
Yes, such things are beginnings, not yet a full-blown, explicitly revolutionary movement. But the question is: will we even hear these things and recognize them as a new beginning for revolutionary theory and organization?
One can reject the idea that socialist consciousness needs to be introduced from the outside, and still fail to hear such things and recognize them as a new beginning for revolutionary theory and organization. That was what happened to the other leaders of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, the organization Dunayevskaya was part of in the early 1950s. CLR James insisted that spontaneous mass struggles by themselves would lead to the new society—they didn’t need theory and they didn’t need organizations rooted in ideas to engage with them. The hostility to theory and to engaging with working people on a theoretical level was so fierce that Grace Lee Boggs celebrated a very different response to Stalin’s death from the one that Denby relayed: in the factory where James’ wife worked, the women workers ignored the news of Stalin’s death and instead swapped hamburger recipes.
I think James and Boggs reacted this way because they reasoned that, since working people are spontaneously revolutionary, the revolution will come automatically. They didn’t appreciate a point that Dunayevskaya continually stressed: that there are two aspects of revolution, the tearing down of the old society and the creation of a new one. James and Boggs didn’t appreciate that a new society needs to be created. They thought that the new society was already present within existing society; it just needed to be set free. Dunayevskaya totally disagreed. Although there are aspirations from below pulling in the direction of a new society, and that’s a new beginning, it is just a beginning, not a full-blown already-existing society just waiting to be set free.
So, on the one hand, we Marxist-Humanists do not think that the task of revolutionaries is to implant in regular people a “consciousness” they will never arrive at on their own. We don’t think that our job is to lead workers’ and other movements, build or control their organizations. On the other hand, we do think that revolutionaries have important tasks associated with the creation of a new society. Our key tasks flow from our recognition of the fact that, yes, regular people are spontaneously revolutionary, but what’s not spontaneous is the creation of a new human society. Regular people’s aspirations for it do not spontaneously lead to its actual creation.
Revolutionaries have to help people develop their capacities to the point where they are fully capable, intellectually and theoretically, of governing society themselves, instead of being led into the Promised Land by someone else, and then led right back out again. (As Eugene V. Debs put it, “Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves. http://www.azquotes.com/quote/586059)
I’m not talking here about implanting “consciousness” in people that they would never arrive at on their own. I’m talking about assisting with their intellectual and theoretical self-development. That’s not at all what people generally mean by “raising consciousness.”
Revolutionaries also have to reclaim and continue to develop Marx’s philosophy of revolution. Marx’s work offers unique perspectives, needed perspectives, on what has to be done in order to actually have a new human society—rather than an attempt at one that collapses or reverts back to capitalism or something worse. And it offers the philosophical perspective of continual intellectual and theoretical self-development. As Marx put it, “a situation where man …does not seek to remain something formed by the past, but is in the absolute movement of becoming” https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/precapitalist/ch01.htm
This philosophical element is what attracts people, again and again, to Marxism, but then it always seems to get put in its place or ignored when it’s time to get concrete. But if our perspective is that “every cook shall govern,” that’s not going to happen spontaneously. It’s not going to happen without profound, and continual, intellectual and theoretical self-development from below. And it can’t wait until “after the revolution.” If Moses is governing, while regular people are consigned to the role of doing what he says, what kind of revolution is that?
So here are some tasks I think we need to accomplish to carry out these perspectives:
- Support and assist movements from below; but don’t try to run them or control them.
2. Combat attempts to control, co-opt, channel, hem-in, or divert movements from below from developing along an independent path.
3. Provide information and analysis.
4. Engage with people and movements on the highest level—the level of intellectual and theoretical development—not just the lowest level.
5. Work out, on the foundation laid by Marx, what must be changed in order to actually transcend capitalism.
6. Reclaim and continue to develop Marx’s and Marxist-Humanist thought.
And this brings me, finally, to …
7. Organization. Thought develops through a collective process, through dialogue and criticism. It’s not just something that goes on in one’s own head. But what will ensure that the needed collective process of the development of revolutionary thought, through dialogue and criticism, actually happens. There needs to be an organization that makes this its responsibility.
“Form of organization” is not the crucial issue. The concept of revolutionary organization is. Karl Kautsky was a theoretical leader of a mass, electoral political party. Lenin was a leader of a small, non-electoral, cadre party. Despite their different forms of organization, they shared the elitist conception that socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian struggle from outside. So they didn’t have the perspective of regular people developing, in an “absolute movement of becoming,” to the point where they were theoretically and intellectually capable of governing society themselves. And neither did CLR James or Grace Lee Boggs, though they rejected the Kautsky-Lenin theory and the vanguard party form of organization. It’s Marxist-Humanism’s unique contribution.
June 7, 2016