Any class fighting against the social order of the day can only do this
effectively if it gives its struggle an organised and conscious form.
Whatever the imperfection and alienation in their forms of organisation
and their consciousness, this was already the case for classes like the
slaves or the peasants who did not carry within them a new social
order. But this necessity applies all the more to historic classes who
bear the new relations made necessary by the evolution of society. The
proletariat is, among these classes, the only class which possesses no
economic power within the old society. Because of this its organisation
and consciousness are even more decisive factors in its struggle.
The form of organisation which the class creates for its revolutionary
struggle and for the wielding of political power is that of the
workers’ councils. But while the whole class is the subject of the
revolution and is regrouped in these organisations at that moment, this
does not mean that the process by which the class becomes conscious is
in any way simultaneous or homogeneous. Class consciousness develops
along a tortuous path through the struggle of the class, its successes
and defeats. It has to confront the sectional and national divisions
which constitute the ‘natural’ framework of capitalist society and
which capital has every interest in perpetuating within the class.
b. The role of revolutionaries
Revolutionaries are those elements within the class who through this
heterogeneous process are the first to obtain a clear understanding of
"the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of
the proletarian movement" (Communist Manifesto), and because in
capitalist society "the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling
class", revolutionaries necessarily constitute a minority of the
As an emanation of the class, a manifestation of the process by which
it becomes conscious, revolutionaries can only exist as such by
becoming an active factor in this process. To accomplish this task in
an indissoluble way, the revolutionary organisation:
participates in all the struggles of the
class in which its members distinguish themselves by being the most
determined and combative fighters;
intervenes in these struggles always
stressing the general interests of the class and the final goals of the
movement;and the final goals of the movement;
as an integral part of this
intervention, constantly dedicates itself to the work of theoretical
clarification and reflection which alone will allow its general
activity to be based on the whole past experience of the class and on
the future perspectives crystallised through such theoretical work.
c. The relationship between the class and the organisation of revolutionaries
If the general organisation of the class and the organisation of
revolutionaries are part of the same movement, they are nonetheless two
The first, the councils, regroup the whole class. The only criterion
for belonging to them is to be a worker. The second, on the other hand,
regroups only the revolutionary elements of the class. The criterion
for membership is no longer sociological, but political: agreement on
the programme and commitment to defend it. Because of this the vanguard
of the class can include individuals who are not sociologically part of
the working class but who, by breaking with the class they came out of,
identify themselves with the historic class interests of the
However, though the class and the organisation of its vanguard are two
distinct things, they are not separate, external or opposed to one
another as is claimed by the ‘Leninist’ tendencies on the one hand and
by the workerist-councilist tendencies on the other. What both these
conceptions deny is the fact that, far from clashing with each other,
these two elements – the class and revolutionaries – actually
complement each other as a whole and a part of the whole. Between the
two of them there can never exist relations of force because communists
"have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as
a whole" (Communist Manifesto).
As a part of the class, revolutionaries can at no time substitute
themselves for the class, either in its struggles within capitalism or,
still less, in the overthrow of capitalism and the wielding of
political power. Unlike other historical classes, the consciousness of
a minority, no matter how enlightened, is not sufficient to accomplish
the tasks of the proletariat. These are tasks which demand the constant
participation and creative activity of the entire class at all times.
Generalised consciousness is the only guarantee of the victory of the
proletarian revolution and, since it is essentially the fruit of
practical experience, the activity of the whole class is irreplaceable.
In particular, the necessary use of violence by the class cannot be
separated from the general movement of the class. For this reason
terrorism by individuals or isolated groups is absolutely foreign to
the methods of the class and at best represents a manifestation of
petty-bourgeois despair when it is not simply a cynical method of
struggle between bourgeois factions. When it appears within the
proletarian struggle, it is a sign of influences external to the
struggle, and can only weaken the very basis for the development of
The self-organisation of workers’ struggles and the exercise of power
by the class itself is not just one of the roads to communism which can
be weighed against others: it is the only road.
The organisation of revolutionaries (whose most advanced form is the
party) is the necessary organ with which the class equips itself to
become conscious of its historic future and to politically orient the
struggle for this future. For this reason the existence and activity of
the party are an indispensable condition for the final victory of the
d. The autonomy of the working class
However, the concept of ‘class autonomy’ used by workerist and
anarchist tendencies, and which they put forward in opposition to
substitutionist conceptions, has a totally reactionary and
petty-bourgeois meaning. Apart from the fact that this ‘autonomy’ often
boils down to no more than their own ‘autonomy’ as tiny sects who claim
to represent the working class in the same way as the substitutionist
tendencies they denounce so strongly, their conception has two main
the rejection of any political parties and organisations whatever they may be by the workers;
the autonomy of each fraction of the
working class (factories, neighbourhoods, regions, nations etc.) in
relation to others: federalism.
Today such ideas are at best an elementary reaction against Stalinist
bureaucracy and the development of state totalitarianism, and at worst
the political expression of the isolation and division typical of the
petty-bourgeoisie. But both express a total incomprehension of the
three fundamental aspects of the revolutionary struggle of the
the importance and priority of the
political tasks of the class (destruction of the capitalist state,
world dictatorship of the proletariat);
the importance and indispensable
character of the organisation of revolutionaries within the class;
the unitary, centralised and world-wide character of the revolutionary struggle of the class.
For us, as marxists, the autonomy of the class means its independence
form all other classes in society. This autonomy constitutes an
INDESPENSABLE PRECONDITION for the revolutionary activity of the class
because the proletariat today is the only revolutionary class. This
autonomy manifests itself both on the organisational level (the
organisation of the councils), and on the political level and
therefore, contrary to the assertions of the workerist tendencies, in
close connection with the communist vanguard of the proletariat.
e. The organisation of revolutionaries in the different moments of the class struggle
While the general organisation of the class and the organisation of
revolutionaries are two different things as far as their function is
concerned, as far as their function is concerned, the circumstances in
which they arise are also different. The councils appear only in
periods of revolutionary confrontation when all the struggles of the
class tend towards the seizure of power. However the effort of the
class to develop its consciousness has existed at all times since its
origins and will exist until its dissolution into communist society.
This is why communist minorities have existed in every period as an
expression of this constant effort. But the scope, the influence, the
type of activity, and the mode of organisation of these minorities are
closely linked to the conditions of the class struggle.
In the periods of intense class activity, these minorities have a
direct influence on the practical course of events. One can then speak
of the party to describe the organisation of the communist vanguard. On
the other hand, in periods of defeat or of downturn in the class
struggle, revolutionaries no longer have a direct influence on the
immediate course of history.
All that can exist at such times are organisations of a much smaller
size whose function is no longer to influence the immediate movement,
but to resist it, which means struggling against the current while the
class is being disarmed and mobilised by the bourgeoisie (through class
collaboration, ‘Sacred Union’, ‘the Resistance’, ‘anti-fascism’, etc).
Their essential task then is to draw the lessons of previous experience
and so prepare the theoretical and programmatic framework for the
future proletarian party which must necessarily emerge in the next
upsurge of the class. These groups and fractions who, when the class
struggle is on the ebb, have detached themselves from the degenerating
party or have survived its demise, have the task of constituting a
political and organisational bridge until the re-emergence of the party.
f. The structure of the organisation of revolutionaries
The necessarily world-wide and centralised character of the proletarian
revolution confers the same world-wide and centralised character on the
party of the working class, and the fractions and groups who lay the
basis of the party necessarily tend towards a world-wide
centralisation. This is concretised in the existence of central organs
invested with political responsibilities between each of the
organisation’s congresses, to which they are accountable.
The structure of the organisation of revolutionaries must take two fundamental needs into account:
it must permit the fullest development
in revolutionary consciousness within itself and thus allow the widest
and most searching discussion of all the questions and disagreements
which arise in a non-monolithic organisation;
it must at the same time ensure the
organisation’s cohesion and unity of action; in particular this means
that all parts of the organisation must carry out the decisions of the
Likewise the relations between the different parts of the organisation
and the ties between militants necessarily bear the scars of capitalist
society and therefore cannot constitute an island of communist
relations within capitalism. Nevertheless, they cannot be in flagrant
contradiction with the goal pursued by revolutionaries, and they must
of necessity be based on that solidarity and mutual confidence which
are the hallmarks of belonging to an organisation of the class which is
the bearer of communism.
An internal text originally published during debates within the organisation in 1984, which gives an extended account of the different tendencies present in the Zimmerwald Conference against the World War, held in September 1915.
exchange of views below continues a discussion with Red and Black Notes on the
vitally important question of class consciousness and the role of the
revolutionary organization. As readers will recall, in Internationalism 134 we
published a letter to R&BN commenting on a joint public forum they held
with the Internationalist Workers Group, the Canadian affiliate of the IBRP,
last winter. We publish below R&BN’s response to our letter, followed by
some further comments that we offer in an effort to deepen the discussion on
consciousness and revolutionary organization.
As readers of Red
and Black Notes and Internationalism may have noticed, a discussion
has developed on the role of the revolutionary organization and its
relationship to the class.This is a
central and difficult, controversial issue that has been hotly and long debated within the
workers’ movement.It is vital that the
discussion continues for the benefit of clarification.This is why we would like to carry the
discussion further and approach some points on councilism that Fischer, the
editor of Red and Black Notes, raised, as well as other points.
previous articles in this series examined how the communist movement,
during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the darkest years of the
counter-revolution, struggled to understand what had become of the
first proletarian dictatorship to establish itself on the scale of an
entire country – the Soviet power in Russia. Future essays will
look at the lessons revolutionaries have drawn from the demise of
this dictatorship and have applied to any future proletarian regime.
But before proceeding in that direction, we must return to the days
when the Russian revolution was still alive, in order to study a key
aspect of the communist transformation that was raised, though not of
course resolved, during that decisive period. We refer to the
question of ‘culture’.
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...
In response to the horrible war crime of 11 September, new and equally horrible war crimes are now being committed by the USA, which has come under direct attack for the first time in nearly two hundred years. Even before the first assaults were launched on an already ruined Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees were being condemned to death by starvation and disease. The death list will increase dramatically now the military strikes have begun.
Protesters at June's EU summit in Gothenburg were met with the full force of Sweden's liberal democracy. The police attacked with dogs, batons, the cavalry and gunfire. 3 people were shot, 90 injured and 600 arrested. The EU leaders, including Tony Blair and Jack Straw, condemned the "thuggery" of the protesters and backed the police. The Danish Prime Minister thought it a "paradox" that there could be protests at a meeting "where we are working towards a better world". Blair said it was OK for protesters to protest, but, according to him, the way that capitalism was organised was universally beneficial: "The fact is that world trade is good for people's jobs and living standards".
The world wide success of the film Gladiator has generated a renewed interested in Ancient Rome and the role of gladiators. Any inquiry into this question has to raise the spectre of the slave war between 73 and 71 BC, which was lead by the gladiator Spartacus. Unlike the fictional Gladiator which opposes the central character and his small band of gladiators to the truly wicked emperor Commodus, the real slave revolt saw 100,000 or more slaves waging war on their Roman oppressors and defeating the seeming invincible legions time and time again. This revolt, though bloodily crushed, has inspired revolutionary movements. The main grouping of revolutionaries in Germany who opposed World War 1 adopted the name of the Spartacus League to express their determination to wage war on the ruling class; and like Spartacus and the slave army the revolutionary struggle of the workers in Germany was drowned in blood. Thus the name Spartacus became synonymous with the revolutionary aspirations of the exploited. Whereas Gladiator is about the hero and his small band of gladiators standing up for an empire based on 'justice' (no mention of the exploitation of slaves) against the oh-so-wicked Commodus: in short for democracy against dictatorship.
Through his exposes and his contributions to the discussions, Cajo Brendel proved, in our opinion, that the 'classic' positions of the German-Dutch left have lost none of their relevance even if, as Brendel asserted, along with Marx, "our theory is not a dogma but a guide to action". As has long been the case with, what can be called "the Dutch can be called "the Dutch school of marxism", which was animated by, among others, Anton Pannekoek and Hermann Gorter, comrade Brendel denounced the bourgeois character of parliamentarism, the trade unions, and social democracy, and the state capitalist nature of the former eastern bloc. And while the state capitalist currents like Stalinism and Trotskyism have welcomed the new "Red-Green" government in Germany as a step forward for the working class, Brendel showed the profoundly anti-working class nature of this government.