Letter To the Editor of Red and Black Notes, Toronto
On February 26, 2005 the meeting in Toronto on class consciousness and the role of the revolutionary organization could not be developed in depth because the discussion got cut short due to time limitation. We would like to take this opportunity to explore further the topic of the meeting.
There were two presentations, one by NF, editor of Red and Black Notes, and the other by the IBRP. The first posed a point of departure for the discussion, laying out the materialist basis of class consciousness and raising the question of the role of the revolutionary organization in the process of coming to consciousness. The other presentation by the IBRP, on the other hand, was rambling, suffered from immediatist enthusiasm about the class struggle, filled as it was with anecdotes about recent struggles in Quebec, but did not lay out the position of the IBRP on class consciousness and the revolutionary organization. In this sense, it did not contribute to political clarification.
We think that the discussion posed by Red and Black contains elements that can advance the understanding of the topic. First, we salute the clarification contributed by the first part of the presentation as to the working class being the revolutionary subject. Our understanding of class consciousness cannot advance if we don’t first identify the class in society who bears a revolutionary consciousness. Red and Black used the materialist approach to effectively explain and demonstrate that it is the conditions of exploitation and oppression experienced by the working class that provide the fertile soil for its revolutionary consciousness to arise.
The presentation then ran into difficulty in trying to connect the development of class consciousness and the role of the revolutionary organization. The presentation said that revolutionaries could “assist” in this process, but it could not clarify what this meant. This reflects the difficulty the comrade is having in clarifying his position as he moves away from councilism, which minimizes and even denigrates the importance of the revolutionary organization in the revolutionary project. It reflects a difficulty perhaps to understand the relationship between revolutionary minorities and the class.
Unlike the trotskyist who intervened in the discussion to insist that it is essentially revolutionaries who were petty bourgeois and bourgeois intellectuals who bring revolutionary ideas from outside the proletariat and inject them into the working class, we do not make a separation between revolutionary minorities and the working class. Marx himself, whom the trotskyist might view as an ‘intellectual’, was always clear that his understanding derived from the living struggles of the class. Revolutionaries and revolutionary organizations are not separate from the class, but are secretions of the class, as it struggles to understand reality in order to change it.
Revolutionaries are the workers who come to understand the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism earlier than their class brothers. It is in this sense that we say they are the vanguard of the proletariat – they are in the forefront of the struggle to understand, to come to consciousness. For us the vanguard is not the general staff of the revolution that orders the workers around. It is the most class conscious workers whom the class itself secretes, and who fulfill the task for which they are secreted: to spread their understanding to their class brothers and sisters, to accelerate the process of coming to consciousness within the class, and to deepen, clarify, and elaborate the theoretical arsenal of the working class.
It is this dialectic process between the class and the revolutionaries that councilism does not understand and that trotskyism taints. This basic interconnectedness between class consciousness and organizations means that a proletariat that has not given rise to a strong revolutionary organization is not prepared for the revolutionary confrontation with capitalism. It means that there is a weakness in the development of revolutionary class consciousness within the class. A class that is struggling to come to consciousness gives rise to revolutionary minorities and organizations. These are the tools, the means the class gives itself to assure the acceleration, deepening, and extension of consciousness within the class. Internationalism.
Internationalism, New York, April 2005