Class Consciousness and the Role of Revolutionaries

Printer-friendly version

When the proletariat,” Marx tells us, “calls for the destruction of the existing world order, it is simply expressing the secret of its own existence, because it constitutes the actual destruction of this world order.”

However this destruction can in no way be a blind and strictly predetermined act - some­how the direct product, the mechanical re­sult of a certain number of economic causes. On the contrary it demands of its subject a fully developed consciousness of the goal to be attained. But if one holds to a bour­geois vision of history, this consciousness, defined as an awareness that one has of one’s own existence, is limited to the subjective and intellectual category of a sum of ideas applied to the interpretation of reality.

For all bourgeois science, thought, consci­ousness, detached from the general movement of matter, is above all the affair of isolated individuals or groups of individuals with some vague interests in common. Thus, because its reasoning is unable to break free from the gross distortions of the domi­nant ideology, bourgeois science conceives of the process of gaining consciousness only as a purely mental mechanism which leads an individual, or even a social group, to gain a consciousness of what he (or it) is, through a process of stimulus-reaction­reflection-action. By transforming this movement of an isolated individual into the dynamic of a social class, this vision is led to depict and fix social classes in indi­vidual and mythical terms. The proletariat thus appears solidified, objectified as a simple economic category. It is reduced to a kind of compact to ‘gain consciousnesses’ as a single entity of what it is and what it has to accomplish. And from this learned two-dimensional view of society the conclusion is reached that the proleta­riat is now simply a class-for-capital; or that it is enough for it to wait, a ‘teeming mass’, for consciousness to come simultane­ously and homogeneously into the brain of each worker; or that it is nothing more than a sort of human body, with the party for a head, the workers’ councils for legs, etc ...

This completely erroneous way of conceiving of the historic process of a social class, first criticized by Marx in the Theses on Feuerbach, is explained by the fact that the bourgeoisie, unable to question its own existence, can only think in terms of strati­fications, categories and arbitrary divi­sions. For the bourgeoisie there is only the complete and finished reality of a world di­vorced from practice, unchanging and dead matter, thought surrounding reality like a veil, neither able to transform itself nor reality itself. Form and content, perceived object and conceived subject, idea and mat­ter, theory and practice, are joined, stuck hack to back and bonded inseparably but also differentiated, envisaged each accord­ing to a mode of existence of its own. The world of objects is content to ‘be there’. As for their unity, which in the bourgeois mind can be no more than that of parallel lines which meet at infinity, it is reduced to no more than an intellectual conjuring trick.

In fact it is the failure of all vulgar materialism that, even if it recognizes the determination of matter it only considers the object in a form independent of and ex­terior to the subject, and not as human practice. Class consciousness has only to be condensed into a theoretical programme, and held by a minority while the proleta­riat acts in the material world unable to achieve consciousness without the help of an intermediary, an indispensable link, the party which provides the mediation between experience and class consciousness. Or else proletarian class consciousness is no more than a sort of instructive, immediate res­ponse to external stimuli and revolutio­naries - for fear of disturbing and viola­ting this natural metabolism, can only bury their heads in the sand like ostriches and wait for things to happen spontaneously.

Revolutionaries themselves cannot be content with this simplistic view; because they are aware that they have not arrived at their vision of reality by chance, nor is it the product of individual will; because the es­sential role they play in social reality can­not be restricted to an intellectual or emp­irical description of the objective and sub­jective conditions of the communist revolu­tion. And what might seem too abstract or too theoretical is only a necessary step, a moment in the practice of their organized intervention. Conceiving of a movement the­oretically, trying to get a mental ‘picture’ of a process, is rather like wanting to float down a river without leaving the bank. This is why revolutionaries, having no inte­rests separate from those of the proletariat, cannot be content with abstract representa­tions or schemas, with journalistic or day-to-day descriptions of social reality. Part of a whole, products of and active factors in an historical process, their theoretical reflections signify, in the last instance, the adoption of political positions on rea­lity, a desire to radically transform soci­ety. Today in the era of social revolution, when the proletariat is re-emerging onto the historical scene, their intervention is even more vital - after a half-century of counter-revolution and confusion which has weighed heavily on the class struggle, grossly fal­sifying revolutionary theory, leading some groups into the swamp of degeneration, and demanding of today’s revolutionary minorities an indispensable theoretical clarification as a precondition for organized practice within the class.

For this reason, these reflections on class consciousness and the role of revolutiona­ries and the party must absolutely not be approached from their purely theoretical aspect. If the first elements of the analy­sis put forward here have been confined to tracing the broad outlines, other factors taken from the actual experience of class struggle will reinforce, modify and clarify a number of points. In the last analysis only the activity of the class can confirm or invalidate revolutionary theory. As Marx wrote in the Theses on Feuerbach: “All systems which lead theory towards mys­ticism find their rational solution in hu­man practice and in the understanding of this practice.” (Thesis no.8).

Conditions of the communist revolution

1. When the capitalist mode of production has exhausted its usefulness, it can only be superseded by the action of a class in which consciousness is generalized and which is united on a world scale: the proletariat. And this condition is of such cen­tral importance because it is the only one which enables us to clarify the specific character of the communist revolution, and the passage from a mode of production based on the law of value to a higher mode of existence. In fact there is a gulf between what humanity has experienced up to now, on the level of its historical development, and the qualitative leap for which it is prepa­ring itself, a leap which will bring the pre­sent period to a close and liberate man from all exploitation. And this immense differ­ence is all the more difficult to conceive of since the historical succession of diffe­rent modes of production has unfolded as a necessary, determined, and more or less un­conscious process; since up until the present period of time the motive force had been a revolutionary class which already possessed economic power within the old outmoded system of production. This qualitative diffe­rence is reflected in the historic level of consciousness which is demanded for the des­truction of the capitalist mode of production and the transition towards communism. This consciousness, far from being reducible to a simple mental, ideological or individual phenomenon, must be placed within the context of a social class.

2. The concept of social class comprises not simply an economic classification or cate­gory, or a sum of isolated individuals. It is essentially based on a historical evolu­tion which forges common political interests. The proletariat does not really exist as a class except through the historical develop­ment which places it in mortal confrontation with capitalism, and this development itself is fundamentally only real in the process of coming to consciousness which accompanies it. The communist revolution differs fundament­ally from all previous revolutions to the extent that for the first time in the history of humanity a revolutionary class, the bearer of new social relations, does not possess any economic power within the old society. The proletariat is the first and the last revo­lutionary class in history which is also an exploited class. This clearly shows that it must, because of the socio-economic position that it occupies in the capitalist mode of production, be fully conscious of its historic goals. In fact it is the only class which has the subjective and objective pos­sibility of coming to an understanding of the whole of society. The proletariat has no roots in capitalism’s soil; it has no possi­bility of developing an ideology on the bas­is of these roots, because it does not pos­sess within itself the seeds of a new exploi­tation of man by man.

Since ideology presupposes a politico-juri­dical superstructure and an economic infra­structure determined by the productive forces which continue to dominate man, the process of coming to consciousness can, for the pro­letariat, only pose itself as a necessary precondition for the capture of power and the complete dismantling of the capitalist infrastructure.

3. The proletariat is the only class in his­tory for which the historic necessity to destroy the whole system of exploitation co­incides completely with its interests as a revolutionary class, interests which are themselves linked to the interests of the whole of humanity. No other class or social strata in society can bring about this historic future. This is why these classes cannot reach a consciousness of the neces­sity to transform the whole of society, even if they have vague awareness of the social barbarism which surrounds them (an awareness which is however always recupera­ted in one way or another by the dominant class and the blindness of bourgeois ideo­logy). From a capitalist and thus an ideo­logical point of view, realization of the historic and transitory character of society is obviously impossible. For the bourgeoi­sie, social relations are fixed, eternal, existing outside the realm of human will. Although the bourgeoisie uses its mystifi­cations against the working class more or less clear-sightedly, its whole aim is to banish all awareness of the class struggle. In this way the objective limits of capita­list production determine the limits of its consciousness, which because of these limitations can never be more than mere ideology. It is in this context that the principal bourgeois mystifications today attempt to make the proletariat believe that a new kind of management more appropriate to the system could put off the collapse of capitalism indefinitely.

4. Class consciousness, far from coinciding with ideology, is above all its principal negation, its fundamental antithesis. Today it is above all a question of drawing human­ity from the lethargy in which it is sub­merged, of making the world conscious of it­self and its actions - which no ideology can possibly achieve. Because ideology, the product of economic factors and an alienated social reality, attributes an autonomous existence to objects, and to consciousness a power of abstraction divorced from all material contingencies, it is impossible for it to undertake the critical or practical transformation of society. Revolutionary class consciousness, far from preceding action so as to direct it towards a precise aim, is above all the process of transforming society; a living process which, as a product of the development and exacerbation of the contradictions of the decadent capitalist mode of production, forces a social class to realize the essence of its existence through a practical and theoretical (and thus cons­cious) negation of its conditions of life. The history of this process includes the his­tory of proletarian struggle, and that of the revolutionary minorities which have ari­sen as an integral part of this struggle.

The characteristics of coming to consciousness

1. The fundamental differences between ideo­logy and class consciousness are based on the origin itself of ideology and its mate­rial roots. These roots reach back into the history of the division of labour, the sepa­ration of the producers from what they pro­duce, the independence of the relations of production and the domination of man by the material form of his own labour. The laws inherent in capitalism, laws which are char­acterized by the domination of dead labour over living labour, the domination of exchange value over use value and the fetish­ism of value, lead to the transformation of social relations into relations between things, and allow the development of juridi­cal relations whose point of departure is the isolated individual.

It is also these laws which through the development of specialization prevent man from seeing things as a totality, and imprison him in a series of separate categories, isolated and independent from one another (the nation, the factory, the neighbourhood etc ...). The vision of totality becomes nothing more than a simple addition of dif­ferent branches of knowledge; knowledge which is itself the exclusive property of specialists.

For its part, class consciousness appears as a vision of totality, the consciousness of the class as a whole. This can only be a wholly collective process, Its point of departure is a class united in struggle, destined to destroy capitalist social rela­tions: it implies the domination of the whole over the parts. But this totality can only be posed if the subject which poses it is itself a totality, and only if the subject is a class does it possess this cha­racter of a totality. This is why to be­come a unified, conscious class, the prole­tariat will have to smash all barriers, all separation, all frontiers whatsoever, and impose the dictatorship of its workers’ councils beyond national barriers.

Another consequence of the reification of social consciousness is the separation be­tween parts and the whole. In this period of capitalist decadence, where all reform has become impossible and where revolution is the order of the day, economic struggles tend to transform themselves into political struggles and openly confront the system. The proletariat is led to consciously transform society: this is why for the pro­letariat the vision of totality implies an understanding of the dialectical contradic­tion between its immediate interests and the final goals, between an isolated moment and the totality. From the isolated moment, in other words in situations where the class is atomized and mystified and an inte­gral part of the capitalist system, the pro­letariat must go on to unite on a world scale and transform itself from an economic category to a revolutionary class. Only the proletariat is able to achieve this unification as a conscious class, because the nature of associated labour gives it the possibility of this global vision.

2. The nature of this coming to conscious­ness, which makes it above all a class consciousness, allows us to understand the fundamental opposition which at present exists between ideology and consciousness. And it is not out of linguistic purism that we affirm that there is no proletarian ideology or revolutionary science, and fur­ther that a revolutionary minority can nev­er be the ‘bearer’ or the ‘embodiment’ of this class consciousness. Reducing a whole historical phenomenon, at once practi­cal and theoretical, to a mere reflection crystallized in the party programme, Lenin­ists and Bordigists of every tendency under­stand the nature of class consciousness with the same flawed reasoning that allows mys­tics to affirm that the body of Christ is the incarnation of the Holy Ghost.

In fact both ideology and mysticism owe their existence to the fact that the separa­tion between manual and intellectual work has allowed the development of a mode of thought which is characterized by the distance it attempts to place between its own reality and the material conditions of its existence, and by its concern to appear as independent and autonomous thought, as the unique causal agent which animates matter.

Conceiving of reality as a series of media­tions, necessary steps between man and mat­ter, bourgeois ideology refuses to recognize its real origins. Attributing to reality an independent existence, bourgeois ideology opposes to metaphysical materialism an idea­lism of action, by considering theoretical acumen as the only valid and true cause of action and by relegating practice to its lowest ‘natural’ form.

For its part, class consciousness coincides fully with social reality, its raison d’etre being a product of the historical develop­ment of the contradiction between the pro­ductive forces and the relations of produc­tion. The need for a radical transformation of the relations of production demands a true, global vision of the whole of social reality.

Class consciousness recognizes its origins and its object: the proletariat, the living kernel of production, a social class in a constant state of becoming. The process of the proletariat’s coming to consciousness, based on the dialectical unity between being and thought, rejects any form of intermed­iary or mediation between existence and cons­ciousness. Proletarian class consciousness becomes conscious of itself and in this way restores the unity between man and reality.

3. The proletarian is forced to sell his labour power as a mere object in relation to the whole of his personality, and it is this objectivity, this rupture created bet­ween labour power, an object condemned to exploitation and the subject who sells it, which makes for the possibility of gaining consciousness. It is through its struggle against capitalist exploitation that the proletariat is able to perceive itself at the same time as the subject and the object of understanding. This perception, and the proletariat’s awareness of its own condition of extreme poverty and inhumanity, is at the same time the exposure and destruction of the whole of society.

Thus by destroying the whole of society the proletariat simply expresses the essence of its own existence, being itself a negation of society (the only social relation exist­ing between capitalism and the proletariat being the class struggle). The self-reali­zation of the proletariat as a class-for-­itself is achieved through the destruction of the system; consciousness is both a fac­tor and a product of this process. For the proletariat the understanding of itself is the understanding of the essence of society; it arrives not simply at a consciousness about an object, but at a direct conscious­ness of the object itself. To this extent it is already practice and effects a modifi­cation of the object. By recognizing the objective character of labour as a commodity this process can expose the fetishism of commodities and reveal the human character of the labour-capital relation.

The illusions, mystifications and barriers imposed on thought by ideology are thus simply the mental expressions of a reality itself reified by an economic structure and their negation cannot be accomplished by a simple effort of will, but only by over­coming them in practice. This is why class consciousness is not simply a theoretical calling into question of capitalist society but proceeds above all from a critique and a material destruction of the system as a whole. Class consciousness, by recognizing the historical nature of economic laws, exposes the historic and transitory charac­ter of the capitalist mode of production, describes the objective limits of this mode of production and analyzes the historical periods of society. This exposure is a pro­cess which joins theory and practice to the extent that each illusion which is dispelled, each mystification exposed, corresponds to a real desire to destroy wage slavery.

4. However, if this historic consciousness emerges from the need for the proletariat to gain an overall understanding of reality from a class viewpoint, this does not in itself means that the proletariat will immed­iately attain this understanding. On the contrary, the class character of this pro­cess exactly corresponds to the heterogen­eous and painful development of working class practice and theory, which right from the very beginning confronted the coercive pressures of the bourgeoisie.

The proletariat, even when unified in times of struggle, cannot act as a single entity mechanically directed towards its goal. The dialectical contradiction between its posi­tion as a revolutionary class and an exploi­ted class, its total destitution within society, means that it is the first victim of bourgeois ideology. Unable to develop its consciousness along the set lines of an ideology, or a series of practical ‘recipes’, the proletariat can only come to consciousness of its position through a real process linked to the material conditions of its social existence. It is these objective conditions and the ever-present oppression of the dominant ideology which constrain the proletariat, as an integral part of the ten­dency to constitute itself as a revolution­ary class, to secrete revolutionary minor­ities in order to accelerate the process of theorization of its historic acquisitions, and the diffusion of these within the class struggle. Class consciousness is thus not a ‘mirror’ of reality, a mechanical reflec­tion of the economic situation of the work­ing class (if this were true it would have no active role to play), and is not the spontaneous product of the soil of capita­list exploitation.

In reality class struggle arises from the convergence of several factors: the economic premises, although indispensable, are not in themselves sufficient. The economic struggle of the proletariat is not enough to engender a whole theoretical and practi­cal movement; it doesn’t have magic creative powers, like the single, all-powerful force which is idolized by certain spontaneists. Class struggle is not an entity in itself, separated from the world and detonator of the movement of matter, it is the world, for­ged by it and forging it in its turn. For this reason, only the fusion of a number of elements, the product of the development of the class struggle itself, can in the last analysis lead socialist consciousness to its highest historical level. Fundamentally these elements are the following:

-- the economic constraints to which the proletariat is subjected and its position as an exploited class;

-- the objective conditions of the period and the level reached by the contradictions of the system (the decadence of capitalism, deepening of the crisis);

-- the level of class struggle in response to the situation, and the more or less deve­loped tendency for the proletariat to orga­nize itself as an autonomous class;

-- the increasingly decisive influence of revolutionary groups in the class struggle and the ability of the proletariat to re-appropriate its revolutionary theory.

None of these elements can, seen in isola­tion, be detached from the others and be posed as a single basic cause of the whole process. It is quite clear that economic constraints and revolutionary theory impose themselves as active factors in the develop­ment of proletarian consciousness, but they do not constitute the primary cause of the process. To look for a basic, isolated cause of a whole process leads to the fos­silization of this process and to completely sterile debates like ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’.

The role of revolutionaries and party

To define proletarian consciousness as an historic process characteristic of a social class, and characterized by the affirmation of the ‘conscious being’ on the scene of history, is to go no further than a simple statement of fact. To stop at this point would leave us with nothing more than a theoretical dissertation on the characteris­tics of class consciousness with no understanding of the objective forces which have led us to formulate these definitions. In fact it is by going beyond the purely theo­retical aspect of their activity that revo­lutionaries gain a consciousness of their historical role as an active part of a whole. One can’t knock down a wall by blowing at it, or destroy a whole system of exploita­tion with pious words and philosophical re­flections. It is by fully taking up their responsibilities to the working class that revolutionaries can accelerate the process of gaining consciousness and the constitu­tion of the proletariat as an autonomous class. For revolutionaries this responsibi­lity necessitates a clear vision of their function, the identification of the historic tasks for which they have been engendered.

1. The nature and function of revolutionary groups and of the party can only really be explained through the profoundly contradic­tory nature of the process of the proletar­iat’s coming to consciousness. This is a contradiction which underlies and accompanies the development of class struggle itself, and will continue to be a feature of the period of transition right up to the final disappearance of classes: the contradiction between the position of the working class as an exploited class and its historic tasks which will lead to the abolition of all exploitation; the contradiction between the proletariat’s inability to create a ‘proletarian ideology’ on the basis of any kind of economic power, and the over-riding need to gain a theoretical understanding of the lessons of its struggle, to be fully conscious of its historic goals. Thus the proletariat is force:

-- on the one hand to put into practice in its day-to-day struggles the fundamental watchword of the communist revolution: “the emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves”;

and on the other hand to forge the indis­pensable theoretical weapons for its cons­cious emancipation, even though it is impos­sible for the proletariat to break complete­ly from the hold of the dominant ideology.

Revolutionary minorities thus appear as pro­ducts of this contradictory need. They arise as an integral part of the proletariat and yet are not necessarily members of the working class in a sociological sense. Be­cause the economically dominant class con­trols the material and ideological means of production, the proletariat cannot give birth to a culture or ideology ‘sociologi­cally intrinsic’ to itself, since this would imply an economic interest, and thus an interest in the perpetration of its position as an exploited class. For this reason revolutionaries are defined as members of the proletariat (according to political criteria); their task is the theoretical elaboration of the historic lessons of the class, and to ensure that these lessons are understood on the widest possible scale.

2. Because the proletariat has to conscious­ly overthrow the old society, this transfor­mation, at once practical and theoretical, demands a clear vision, a keen understanding of “the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the prole­tarian movement” (Marx, The Communist Mani­festo). So long as class antagonism and capitalist exploitation continue to exist, this vision of the final goals of the move­ment will continue to be confronted with the coercive influence of bourgeois ideol­ogy. For this reason this vision will not immediately be granted to the majority of the proletariat. The diffusion and growth of revolutionary theory, and consciousness of the final goals of the proletarian revo­lution within the class as a whole, cannot take the form of a ‘natural’ phenomenon, or a mathematical and linear progression: above all it is the product of an organized effort by the class. This conscious attempt by the proletariat to equip itself with a revolutionary theory, and to draw lessons from its past struggles, takes a material form in the appearance of revolutionary minorities and their constitution in pre­-revolutionary periods into a party.

This constant striving of the proletariat itself towards the constitution of a revo­lutionary party is absolutely not compar­able to the voluntarist action of indivi­duals or groups of individuals who think that the construction of a revolutionary party is a substitute for action by the class as a whole. The fact that revolutio­nary theory appears as the theory of revo­lutionary groups does not make it a result of individual effort or the ‘discovery’ of “this or that would-be universal reformer” (Marx, The Communist Manifesto). It is the concretization of the development of actual class struggle, and arises in response to a vital need in the proletariat.

3. The proletariat is thus not considered as a class on an abstract level, but on the level of its real actions, its incessant struggle to confront the objective conditions of the period. From this historic practice there has arisen, not a series of dogmatic principles applied to the class struggle like a theoretical ‘recipe’, but the theoretical expression of this experi­ence. Revolutionary theory does not consti­tute a definitive and invariant body of principles, but a true reflection of the concrete activity of the proletariat, made explicit and generalized on a theoretical level by revolutionary groups and re-approp­riated by the class. Thus each problem solved by the struggle and self-organization of the class corresponds to a new theoreti­cal gain, which will itself be transformed into actual practice by the intervention of revolutionaries in future struggles. Thus theory, product of the social existence of struggles, draws its energy from practice, and in turn influences the political clarity of coming struggles.

Developing out of the concrete struggles of the class, revolutionary theory, originally the expression of revolutionary groups does not remain their exclusive property, like a hidden treasure. On the contrary, the very role of revolutionaries and the party con­cretizes the fundamental concern of the proletariat to re-appropriate its historical lessons and to generalize them as widely as possible. Their function is to diffuse revolutionary theory within the class, under­standing that this process is a phenomenon occurring within the proletariat itself, and that it isn’t a question of ‘injecting’ theory into practice, or of seeing theory as some sort of chemical yeast which acti­vates a whole historical process.

Theory and practice complement and interpenet­rate one another. To concentrate on one at the expense of the other, to insist that theory is the primal cause, or on the other wand to ignore the active side of theory, is to risk being lead down the dangerous paths of voluntarism or academicism.

4. It is not the existence of revolutionary groups which makes the proletariat a revolutionary class. Even if the bourgeoisie were to suppress every revolutionary in the world, it would be simply putting back the hour of its death, without being able to suppress the class struggle or prevent the proletariat from throwing up new groups of revolutionaries. By destroying the first blossoms on a tree, one can’t definitively halt the whole process of its reproduction.

For this reason revolutionaries, while hav­ing no interests distinct from those of the class, are at the same time not synonymous with it. They are only a part of it, the most resolute part. Revolutionaries are not the general staff of an unconscious and obedient army, nor are they the helmsmen of the revolution. They trace the broad out­lines of the struggle and point out the final aims of the movement. Their function is not to prepare to take on the ‘management’ of workers’ struggles or to issue the “correct slogans (which) organically give birth to the conditions and possibilities for the technical organization of the proletariat” (Lukacs). Their role is not to organize the class, to direct the autonomous organization of the class by means of prac­tical ‘recipes’ for this or that form of unitary organization, but to always put forward the general political aims of the movement.

5. Revolutionaries and the party cannot sub­stitute themselves for the class. This implies that their function, while being indispensable, does not constitute an end in itself, a complete and perfect process which can replace the activity of the prole­tariat itself, or inject into the spontaneous mass class movement the truth which is inherent to it, or ‘raise’ the proletariat from the level of its primitive economic needs to conscious revolutionary activity. This is why, while being an active and cons­tituent part of the proletariat, which par­ticipates fully in the proletariat’s coming to consciousness, the party is in no way a mediator between theory and practice, exper­ience and consciousness. Both of them, the party and the class, are the material unity between theory and practice; there is no need for this unity - identical in both party and class - to be the responsibility of an intermediary (since an intermediary can only really be placed between two initi­ally separate entities). This unity is a living process which determines both the party and the class as a whole and the class’s unitary organization in workers’ councils. To make the party the mediation between theory and practice comes down to conceiving of theory as external to the pro­letariat, as the sole property of the party, which thus becomes the only force able to ‘draw the sense out of praxis’; it comes down to denying all possibility of the political and conscious seizure of power by the proletariat. Following this reasoning, the workers’ councils would become empty shells, administrative and statified organi­zations. The party would be the sole bearer of revolutionary content within the councils. In which case it would be very logical to assign to the party the actual direction of the dictatorship over society and to put the party at the head of the state and the dic­tatorship of the proletariat.

The party is not a directive or executive organization, an organ created by the prole­tariat for the seizure for power. The idea that the direction of the workers’ dictator­ship is the task of a single revolutionary party constituted as a mass party during the post-revolutionary period, shows a grave misunderstanding of the real political goals of the party. In fact the party does not aim at disproportionate growth so as to in­corporate as many elements as possible into itself. Its function is not that of a single totalitarian state party. On the contrary it will always remain the expression of a part of the class and its raison d’être will tend to disappear in proportion to the growth of socialist consciousness within the class as a whole.

The fact that the party does not have the task of substituting itself for the class in no way implies that its existence represents a last resort, a necessary evil which should be kept in check or avoided as much as pos­sible. Revolutionaries and the party are necessary products, indispensable elements in the process of the proletariat’s coming to consciousness. To negate their function using the excuse of substitutionist errors in the past is to display a sterile purism; it is to disarm the proletariat of one of its most vital weapons. The historic task of revolutionaries and the party, far from representing some sort of panacea, forms part of a general tendency for the proletariat to constitute itself as a conscious revolutionary class. Revolutionaries are the most combative and resolute elements within the working class; they develop an organized intervention within the class struggle with the perspective of putting forward the final goals of the movement. Their active participation within the class struggle exercises a decisive influence on the general orientation of the movement, an influence which can actually show material results in the general political direction of the struggle, the acceleration of the constitution of the proletariat as an auto­nomous class with the aim of seizing power and destroying wage slavery.


The rift between the relations of production and the means of production has reached such a high level in the period following World War I that today the obviously mendacious character of the ideologies corresponding to these social relations makes it inadequate and forces the bourgeoisie to use a whole series of mystifications which consist in diverting workers’ struggles from their true end.

These basic differences from the ascendant period fundamentally affect the unity bet­ween theory and practice; the developments of the objective conditions for the commu­nist revolution have strengthened this unity. In the period of decadence the communist revolution becomes an objective possibility and the struggles of the class are radicalized in this direction; theory tends more and more to see class conscious­ness as a true unity of theory and practice, thus affirming itself as the simple expres­sion of a conscious unity.

The strengthening of the unity between the social being of the proletariat and its theory expresses itself, throughout the his­tory of the working class in the period of decadence, in the appearance of revolutionary organizations of the class which no longer see their objectives as the amelioration of the living conditions of the proletariat in­side capitalism, but clearly put forward for the working class the violent destruction of the capitalist mode of production and the taking of political power through its own autonomous organizations.

In the ascendant period of capitalism, when the permanent organization of the proletar­iat in its class parties and unions represented its own struggles for real and last­ing reforms, the appearance of revolutionary minorities occurred within a limited frame­work. Today all permanent forms of organi­zation of the class are inevitably doomed to disappear or be integrated into the counter-revolution. As for revolutionary minorities, they are not limited simply to theorizing the lessons of the experience of the proletariat; their practice within the class struggle can be a real contribution to the transformation and clarification of the historical perspective of the class. Theory tends not only simply to be realized in practice, but reality itself changes and begins to incorporate thought; that is to say, that the proletariat tends to re-approp­riate theory for itself, by developing in struggle an awareness of the class frontiers which express the acquisitions of its historic past.

Thus, the revolutionary programme isn’t simply a sum of more or less flexible posi­tions following the fluctuations of history. It is the result of the historic link which unites the different moments of the appear­ance of the proletariat as a class thinking and struggling for its historic mission, which is the destruction of capitalism.

The intervention of revolutionaries repre­sents nothing more than the attempt of the proletariat to reach an understanding of its real interests by going beyond a simple emp­irical statement of particular phenomena; it is the attempt to find the relationship between these phenomena by using the general principles drawn from its historic experience.

Because the incessant defence of class frontiers, the increasingly profound clari­fication of the historic goals of the prole­tariat simply concretizes, in the final analysis, the necessity for it to be fully conscious of its practice, the existence of revolutionary organizations is truly a product of this necessity. Because this coming to consciousness both precedes and completes the taking of power by the proletariat through the workers’ councils, it heralds a mode of production in which men, finally masters of the productive forces, will deve­lop them in a fully conscious manner in order to end the reign of necessity and begin the reign of freedom.


August 1976

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Political currents and reference: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: 

General and theoretical questions: