How should revolutionaries orient their interventions?

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We publish below an extract from a letter sent by one of our readers, Robert, after an online meeting he attended, followed by our reply.

… Concerning the struggles of proletarians: should revolutionaries denounce the struggles of proletarians who make mistakes, use methods that are not their own, or just criticise them? Because in my opinion, there is a difference between denouncing and criticising. Denounce means to point out as guilty. To publicly report dishonest, immoral or illegitimate practices. To condemn: "to declare (someone) guilty", "to blame something", "to close, prevent", "forbid". Criticize: "capable of discernment, judgement", "separate", "choose", "decide", "sift".

If we look at these three definitions, in my opinion, we must condemn and denounce the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois organisations that mislead the proletariat. But we must criticise a movement led by proletarians by offering more clarification, with the aim of removing it from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois influence. If we denounce a proletarian struggle, we denounce it to whom? To the police, to the justice system? The state in general? Or denounce proletarians to other proletarians? For example, denouncing black proletarians, on the pretext that their movement is framed by bourgeois organisations, to white proletarians? To tell white proletarians that you have to support your black brothers but on a class basis? Or tell them no, it's an interclass movement, you have to denounce it? To criticise is to go through a struggle to see its strengths and weaknesses.

Let's see what Marx says about this, and I stress that I learned this phrase from the ICC, to criticise the PCInt, and I think it is right. Marx says: "Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.”

When Marx says that we don't say: "Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle ". This means, in my opinion, that Marx does not denounce or even condemn the struggles of the proletarians, even if the proletarians are wrong. But Marx adds: "We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to." This means, in my opinion, that revolutionaries must critique the struggles of proletarians and make sure that they are oriented towards class goals, towards the final goal which is the dictatorship of the proletariat.

For partial struggles and the role of revolutionaries: "No more than one judges an individual by the idea he has of himself, one cannot judge such an epoch of upheaval by its self-consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained by the contradictions of material life, by the conflict that exists between the social productive forces and the relations of production" (Karl Marx). What I understood from this sentence is that revolutionaries must not limit themselves to the outward appearance of struggles, but must look for the causes that push proletarians to engage in interclassist struggles. For the meaning that bourgeois and petty-bourgeois organisations and proletarians give to slogans is not the same. When proletarians speak of liberty, equality and fraternity, they mean dignity, bread, peace... Even if the words are ambiguous.


ICC response

To begin with, we would like to welcome the letter from the comrade who wished to continue the debate and bring other arguments to those developed in the discussion at the meeting. We can only encourage this type of initiative and it is in this context that we are responding to the comrade.

The questions raised by the comrade are of great importance: it is a question of determining how revolutionaries should orient their intervention in the face of protest movements of all kinds. The first thing we have to emphasise here is the question of class terrain.

Capitalist society offers a considerable number of possibilities for indignation, anger and protest, so innumerable are the horrors, violence and misery that it generates. This leads to a whole series of scattered movements in which proletarians, refusing to accept all these expressions of barbarism without flinching, can find themselves. It also happens that proletarians, sincerely indignant, support and participate in movements demanding rights and legislation for oppressed categories (women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, etc.). But these are real traps set by the bourgeoisie, very often by its left-wing groups and parties, which instrumentalise the obvious disgust caused, for example, by the situation of African Americans in the United States or violence against women. These proletarians therefore find themselves trapped in fragmented movements, and consequently enlisted behind purely bourgeois demands.

Two examples can illustrate these situations. Many proletarians are worried about the future of the planet in the face of global warming and the increase in so-called "natural" disasters. But by getting involved in struggles for improved action by the state towards nature, these workers ally themselves with all layers of society in the illusion that improvements within capitalism are possible. They thus miss the only effective fight to save the planet: the fight for the destruction of capitalism! A fight that only the working class can lead.

In the same way, police violence in many developed countries, some of it highly publicised, has deeply outraged many proletarians. But by going to fight for laws and procedures to guarantee police behaviour that is more "respectful of individual rights", workers simply put themselves at the mercy of the bourgeoisie and its state, forgetting that police forces are always the military wing of the bourgeois state in the repression of the proletariat's struggles, as the history of the workers' movement has shown on many occasions.

We cannot therefore characterise a movement by the sociological fact that proletarians participate in it. As individuals, proletarians are potentially sensitive to all causes and represent nothing in terms of social force. The only social force capable of fighting capitalism is the working class, and this class is not the simple sum of the individuals who compose it, it is not a sociological entity which exists only through the individuals who compose it. The working class exists through its economic and political dimensions within capitalism, through its struggle against the exploitation of its labour power through wage labour. In other words, as an exploited and revolutionary class. It finds its strength in its history, its struggles, its international character. Consequently, it is as a collective force, whose bond is international class solidarity, that it can truly establish a balance of forces against the bourgeoisie.

Similarly, revolutionaries are not missionaries who intervene with proletarian individuals to save them from the dominant ideology, as this would be impossible anyway, as no individual can resist the steamroller of the dominant ideology alone. Revolutionaries are the most determined and conscious part of the working class. They represent an organised force whose task is to develop class consciousness and allow the proletariat to take the path of confrontation with capitalism.

In this framework, the intervention of revolutionaries can only be understood as addressing the working class as such. It's when the working class struggles as a class that it can best hear and assimilate what revolutionaries have to say to it, notably denouncing the traps that the bourgeoisie sets for it to lead it to defeat. But also to remind it of the tools and methods it has developed throughout its history to fight its battles, in particular the fact that only its conscious unity and autonomy can preserve it from the traps of the bourgeoisie and establish a balance of forces in its favour.

Therefore, we have to characterise a movement first of all by its demands and its methods of struggle. This does not mean waiting patiently for a "pure" movement, but it does mean identifying two things that are necessary to orientate the intervention:

- on what terrain is the struggle situated?

- in a movement, is it the working class that is mobilised or individuals who are undifferentiated and mixed up with other social strata in society?

At present, the vast majority of workers' struggles are organised by the unions. The latter, in accordance with their function within the state, are constantly dividing the proletarians in order to lead the working class to defeat. If the unions put themselves at the head of struggles, it's because the bourgeoisie sees the awakening of anger and combativity. Thus, during strikes or in demonstrations, demands that belong to the working class, such as better pay or better working conditions, are taken up by the unions. It's by taking up demands that belong to the working class that the unions manage to present themselves as the experts in the struggle and to keep control of it. It is therefore up to revolutionaries to denounce these practices of sabotage and to defend the self-organisation of the class through sovereign general assemblies. In short, as the comrade says, it is a question of "orienting" struggles towards "class goals" and above all "towards the final goal" which is communism.

When, on the other hand, movements are situated on an inter-classist, or even downright bourgeois, terrain, what should revolutionaries do? They must warn the working class against the temptation to find a short cut to developing its struggle and its consciousness. This does not mean, as the comrade thinks, that we "denounce" or attack the individual proletarians who participate in it. What we denounce are the practices that lead to dead ends, the demands that do not belong to the class terrain of the proletariat. It's not like the rebuke of a head teacher, it's the only means we have to make disoriented workers aware that the cause they believe to be just (demanding rights from the bourgeoisie) is in fact a trap which ultimately leads them to defend capitalism (often in the wake of the petty bourgeoisie). We also know that these movements, not being situated on a class terrain, do not allow the working class to be present as a class, because it finds itself drowned or diluted, without any autonomous strength. Our intervention towards the proletarians directly involved is all the more inaudible, incomprehensible. This means that we have to assume that we are going against the tide, because revolutionaries have the serious task of trying to guide the working class towards the most favourable path for the development of its consciousness without ever losing sight of the goal of revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

However, the denunciation of this type of movement does not exempt revolutionaries from reflecting on the reasons why a more or less significant number of workers participate in these movements. This is notably what the ICC did in its analysis of the "yellow vests" movement in France.

Of course, the working class is not a disembodied entity, nor is it a homogeneous being. It is criss-crossed by currents, movements, debates, reflections and struggles. Within it and at each period, the propaganda of revolutionaries has a more or less important echo on a more or less extended part of the class. This is why our intervention must be conceived on a collective, class basis and not on an individual one. The level of consciousness of the working class at a given moment is not the sum of the individual consciousnesses that make it up, but the result of this permanent effervescence of reflection and debate which has allowed, sometimes in a few weeks, as in 1905 and 1917 in Russia, illiterate workers with no interest in politics, to create the conditions for an insurrection and to invent the methods for the exercise of power by the proletariat by creating workers' councils.

It's not an exact science, but a methodology to determine the class nature of a movement and to orient the intervention of revolutionaries within it. But starting from the individual is, on the other hand, a dead end because the individual on the political level does not exist in capitalism. To defend the contrary would be to deny the real conditions of capitalist production and to give credence to the democratic ideology which, starting from the votes of individuals in the polling booth, builds the myth of the "will of the people".

What is most important is to start, on the contrary, from the historical and international dimension of the proletariat, to detect in each struggle the way in which the working class fits into this framework, to measure the extent it is able to develop its struggle by defending its own interests. It is a question of taking stock of the development of combativity, of the search for solidarity and unity.

GD, 11 November 2022


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