Nature and function of the proletarian party

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Nature and function of the proletarian party
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Nature and function of the proletarian party. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

1947 meets 2014

An up-to-the-minute quote. 

 The history of the workers' movement has never known a period which is more sombre and more marked by such a profound retreat in revolutionary consciousness than the present. If the economic exploitation of the workers appears as an absolutely insufficient condition for assuming a consciousness of their historic mission, it turns out that the development of this consciousness is infinitely more difficult than revolutionary militants had previously thought. Perhaps, for the proletariat to recover, humanity will have to undergo the nightmare of a Third World War with the horror of a world in chaos, and the proletariat will have to face a very tangible dilemma: die or save yourself by revolution before it can find the conditions for recovering both itself and its consciousness.


class consciousness v ideology

How about this then?

Marco wrote:
As long as the party remains the crucible where class ideology is elaborated and deepened, its guiding principle must not only be the greatest freedom of ideas and disagreement in the framework of its programmatic principles: an even more fundamental concern must be to ceaselessly maintain and facilitate the combustion of thought, by providing the means for discussion and the confrontation of ideas and of tendencies inside the organisation.

Marco certainly knew how to express ideas.  For instance, the party as "the crucible where class ideology is elaborated".  And later "the combustion of thought" which has ceaselessly to be maintained and facilitated.  (Wouldn't that have made Kautsky and his epigone cringe? Wouldn't that have upset the dying Third International's opportunist apple cart? But wouldn't Rosa have loved it?)

But  to quibble for a moment.  This article and its theses, constantly refers to the proletariat's "ideology" and only once, as far as I can tell, refers to "class consciousness".  I guess and hope that  Marco actually means "class consciousness" whenever "ideology" is mentioned and that use of the latter word  - which is surely a mistaken usage when it appears for instance in the phrase  "the crucible where class ideology is elaborated" - is an historic "slip" of the mind, a question of "fashion", or a bit of a confusion?  

But actually it strikes me as a horrible mistake. Because surely, the whole point about the proletariat and especially its party, and including its advanced minority groupings like the ICT and ICC today, is that it constantly seeks to expose ideology, which is essentially a mode of bourgeois thought, as an essential part of the proletariat's self emancipation.   And that consciousness,  in replacing blind confused anti-rational ideological "thought",  is the very key to the successful revolution.  So I wish Marco and his comrades had been a little more careful here, because the article is an absolute treat to read and gets so many things right in the clearest possible way.

  So about this then?  The party is the crucible where class consciousness  is elaborated and deepened.

It can be an error to fixate

It can be an error to fixate on particular words. Today a small circle of marxists understand ideology as bourgeois ideology but it's clear from the context of its use in the text above that it is referring to class consciousness and the revolutionary theory of the working class.

Thank you for your comment

Thank you for your comment baboon.  

Surely a great breakthrough for Marx and Engels was their understanding that, for the working class,  the concept "ideology"  was the equivalent of "false consciousness",  and that consequently  an all pervasive  "ideological conditioning" was an efficient way for the ruling class of keeping workers locked into the bourgeois world view. 

So the distinguishing  of the concept "ideology" and its juxtaposition with the quite different concept "consciousness"-  especially eventually with "class consciousness" - is a vital moment in the history of proletarian struggle, and may even have helped open  the way to the writing of the Communist Manifesto.   

You're probably right baboon  that I fixate on words, but I still find it surprising that the French Communist Left, so brilliant in their political analyses and grasp of the significance of proletarian class struggle  should make such careless use of the term "ideological" when actually referring to proletarian consciousness.  

And I also wondered is it true that the real meaning  of the word "ideology" as meaning "bourgeois ideology" and false-consciousness,  is confined only to "a small circle of Marxists"?  Surely not. 


Fred wrote:
...I still find it surprising that the French Communist Left, so brilliant in their political analyses and grasp of the significance of proletarian class struggle should make such careless use of the term "ideological" when actually referring to proletarian consciousness.

It's yet another example of a text published by the ICC agreeing with positions that I've taken, in opposition to most who post here.

I've always argued that, even in science, 'ideology' is inescapable for humans. Ideology is a framework of ideas which distort reality. We know from science that a 'copy' or 'reflection' theory of knowledge does not work. But if one wants to claim that the proletariat when class conscious 'knows' the 'Truth of Reality', then one must employ a copy/reflection theory.

Fred wrote:
And I also wondered is it true that the real meaning of the word "ideology" as meaning "bourgeois ideology" and false-consciousness, is confined only to "a small circle of Marxists"? Surely not.

Well, it's confined to those supposed 'Marxists' who actually follow Engels' scientific views, rather than Marx's.

So, the word 'ideology' does not mean 'false consciousness' (which itself is an Engelsian concept, never uttered by Marx).

The bottom line here, Fred, is that Communism is an ideology.

Since we have to choose our ideology, I consciously choose Communism. There is no 'non-ideological' position for humans. All physicists have an ideology, never mind us Commies.


I find you are right LBird about Engels coming up with "false consciousness".  Does that necessarily mean there's no such thing, because  Engels espoused  the backward  kind of scientific ideology and thus invalidated himself?    

But if everything is an ideology, and everyone thinks in ideological terms, and ideology is inescapable, doesn't that make the word more or less pointless.  Ideology then just just means "the ideas somebody has".  So: your ideas about politics and science are better than mine, means that your political and scientific ideologies are an advance and an improvement on mine and can be understood as such. In which case I should swap my outmoded  and "falsified"  ideological package for yours, because yours is better.  By "better" I mean it appears to make more sense at the moment.  Not that it embodies more "truth"!  Because we don't know scientifically and for ever  what's true and what isn't do we, though I wouldn't try jumping from a 10th floor window.  Though it is true ie. a fact that many people suffer under austerity and the actions of the Islamic State right now. In short many of us suffer under capitalism. 

So if we accept that there is a "bourgeois ideology" (as well as a German one!) I suppose we might accept that there is a "proletarian ideology" too: which is to build a "better" society, free from exploitation and free from enslavement to commodity-production-for-exchange.     We can only do this if the proletariat becomes aware of, and takes on board, the nature and the meaning, the significance of its own proletarian ideology and begins to act on it, so that bourgeois ideology is replaced in time, after a revolution,  with that of the proletariat.

 In short, the proletariat has to become conscious of its ideology; and act on the basis of this consciousness.     This consciousness is the knowing awareness of the ideology it has spawned which allows the proletariat a realization of itself as a class, and as a revolutionary class with an historic mission. (Or is this "consciousness" merely a new ideology capable of criticizing the old?) 

So where does that leave us? Does it leave us where  we started?  Still fixated on words?  

I remain inclined to think that "ideological thought" and "proletarian class consciousness" are the opposing ends of a dialectical  proposition.  Thats my ideology!  And that the one acts to dissipate the other.

 But if, when we've begun to build communism somebody says: "Ooh!  I really like this new ideology we're creating together. Its much better than the  one  we had before isn't it?"  I'll agree and leave it there.  

Rethinking the mythic?

Fred, I'm inclined not to take this any further, because I already know just where the discussion will take us, and what reception I'm likely to get (a hostile one!), and just take pleasure in the fact that you've had a bit of a re-think about a difference between 'what Marx is supposed to have said' (which it turns out is 'what Engels said') and 'what Marx actually said'.

Perhaps if you re-read some of our earlier discussions on the threads about 'science', you might now look at what I was trying to say in a new light.

My post above wasn't particularly aimed at you, I was just trying to make a general point that much of what I say is closer to texts and books published and recommended by the ICC, than the positions that most posters here argue.

Put simply, it's the discussion about who constructed 'Marxism'. It's easy to think that the answer is "the bleedin' obvious" (ie. 'Marx'), but any detailed study shows that the 'Marxism' beloved of the Second International and Lenin was actually based upon Engels' views, especially his beliefs about 'nature' and 'materialism'. This is the myth of the multi-person "Marx-Engels".

In fact, much of 'Marxism' is complete bullshit, and is actually 'Engelsism'. But one can remain a 'Marxist' and make these points, if one looks to what Marx actually said.

It's easy for those uncomfortable with this discovery to just call names, and accuse those asking these questions of being 'counterrevolutionaries' or (the favourite) 'idealists', but in fact those, like me, who ask these questions are not only Communists who think that a 'real world' exists, but also subscribe to Marx's famous admonition to 'Doubt Everything!' (omnibus dubitandum).

I only found out the other day that the phrase 'the materialist conception of history' (which I've always accepted as Marx's formulation) is actually Engels' term, not Marx's. He merely talked about 'our conception'.

We all live and learn, eh?


Strange that LBird should be so comfortable with the notion of class consciousness as an 'ideology'. As we point out in a footnote to the text (see below), while we agree with it in the essentials,  there were still some vestiges in it of Lenin's thesis of class consciousness as something introduced from the outside, an ideological view if ever there was one. Perhaps LBird is more of a Leninist than he thinks. But that's ideology for you - always showing things upside down, to use Marx's phrase from The German Ideology: "in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura"


"Today we share all the key ideas presented in this text and in most cases can support them to the letter. This is especially true for its insistence on the fundamental and irreplaceable role of the political party of the proletariat for the victory of the revolution. However, the following expression in the text does not provide the best way of understanding the dynamic of the development of the class struggle and the relations between party and class: . “Left to their own internal development, the workers’ struggles against the conditions of capitalist exploitation can lead at most to the explosion of revolts”. In fact, historical experience has shown the revolutionary capacities of the class, in particular the fact that the combination of the economic with the political dimensions of the struggle can mutually dynamise each other. To be more precise about the role of revolutionaries, it is not to bring consciousness to the workers but to accelerate, to extend and deepen, the development of consciousness within the class. For more elements relating to our position on this subject, we refer readers to the following articles: ‘The mass strike opens the door to the proletarian revolution’,International Review 90 (part of the series on communism), and ‘Questions of organisation: have we become ‘Leninists’?’ in IR 96 and 97".

Outside ideology?

I'm not sure what point you're making, Alf. Are you claiming that class consciousness is not ideological?

If so, are you claiming that class consciousness produces a copy of reality?

I merely claim that, as a proletarian, I have a better understanding of the world if I use a Communist ideology than if I use a bourgeois ideology.

I certainly don't claim that Communism (or class consciousness) gives me a perfect representation of reality.

That is scientifically impossible, as the ICC agrees, if its recommendations for reading are to be followed.

Hegel's heir

Thank you for your replies LBird and Alf.  A final point from me.  When LBird asks above in post 8 "who constructed Marxism?" because he says that's what this discussion is about...the answer is easy.  The proletariat both constructed Marxism and invented it too. For without the existence and struggles of the proletariat Marxism wouldn't exist and Marx would have remained for ever Hegel's heir and upside down! 


Fred wrote:
Thank you for your replies LBird and Alf.

Ta, Fred! That's what we're all here for, isn't it? To try to learn together, collectively?

Ideology and class consciousness

We make the distinction between ideology and class consciousness because the former reflects the objective situation of classes whose consciousness is necessarily distorted, or turned "upside down", by their material interests, which are linked to exploitation and/or commodity relations; the working class by contrast has a material interest in seeing social reality as lucidly as possible because it does not contain within itself any new relations of exploitation and its associated nature bears the potential for the elimination of all reified relations based on commodity exchange. The discussion about 'copies of reality' is a bit scholastic in my opinion, because reality itself is not something static which could then be photographed by some kind of absolute consciousness camera. It's not necessary to make such claims to see that there is something qualitatively new in the class consciousness of the proletariat  

Qualitatively new

Having spent several months trying to re-translate parts of Hegel's first book of Logic, I am inclined to think that he honestly - if insanely - tried to attempt a 'presuppositionless philosophy': that was his aim. He was well aware that even the language used was drenched in partiality but he nonetheless proceeded. His problem was that in his prefaces he gave the game away by paraphrasing his conclusions about the 'totality'.    

Thus the journey of 'pure thought' was ever after confused with his erroneous conclusion as to where it lead. I strongly suspect that his publishers demanded these prefaces - to sell their product. Nonetheless he was attempting something 'radical' in philosophy albeit in ethereal realms.

I say this because what Alf says about there being something qualitatively new about proletarian class consciousness is key.

Take Marx's posit of the abolition of money: it is not about burning one hundred thousand billion dollar bills. It is about superceeding the utterly arbitrary and taken for granted idea that 'value' -'human value' - simply is reducable to one figure :i.e. the market value of a human being.

The abolition of money is the abolition of this comlpletely spurious measure of human worth: the abolition of 'the fraternisation of imposssibilities' as Marx wrote. Meaning that if a man is rich he can buy bravery though he is a coward. He can buy decency though he is indecent.

That is radical and if you have to ask what is radical then - like 'swing' - if you have to ask you ain't got it, as Louis Armstrong said.

Thus: class consciousness is not 'knowing that you are ripped off': class consciousness is not realising that 'the bourgeoisie are bastards': class consciousness is realising the lie at the heart of the utterly spurious, arbitrarily imposed measure of value of human worth: and furthermore that this vacuous measure has been back projected on the whole of the history that man has made by the present ruling class.

Yes: proletarian class consciousness is indeed something radically and qualitatively different.


Lenin and Rosa - partners?

As AS states above: "proletarian class consciousness is indeed something radically and qualitatively different." But from where does it emerge?  How is it different?  And what does "qualitatively" mean in this context? (Forgive me for sounding like A.J.Ayer in the "Brainstrust" program many  years ago) 

This quote is also from years ago, 1948 to be precise. 

Marco wrote:
 Socialist consciousness is not produced by spontaneous generation but is constantly reproduced; once it has appeared it becomes, in its opposition to the existing capitalist world, the active principle determining and accelerating its own development in and through action. However this development is conditioned and limited by the development of the contradictions of capitalism. In this sense, Lenin’s thesis of ‘socialist consciousness injected into the workers by the Party’ is certainly more precise than Rosa’s thesis of the ‘spontaneity’ of the development of consciousness, engendered during the course of a movement that starts with the economic struggle and culminates in a revolutionary socialist struggle. The thesis of ‘spontaneity’, despite its democratic appearances, reveals at root a mechanistic tendency, a rigorous economic determinism. It is based on a cause and effect relationship, with consciousness as merely an effect, the result of an initial movement, i.e., the economic struggle of the workers which gives rise to it. In this view, consciousness is seen as fundamentally passive in relation to the economic struggles which are the active factor. Lenin’s conception restores to socialist consciousness and the party which materialises it the character of an essentially active factor and principle. It does not detach itself from life and the movement but is included within it.

It is of course the juxtaposition of what Lenin said with what Rosa said that is striking. I had got the impression that we weren't supposed to take much notice of what Lenin had said about consciousness being injected into the class by an all-knowing Party,  because, as left communists we knew (1) he didn't really mean it but was making some kind of a special point and/or (2) he did mean it but changed his mind later. And (3) we also know that this particular remark has been  forever  held against him by anarchists of many hues and others too.  


Yet now now here are the French Communists sticking up for him in 1948 and subjecting Rosa - whose hand was supposedly close on the pulse of the proletariat in their Mass Strikes and so on -  to criticism because of her passion for "spontaneity" and it's  outcomes which are denounced as imprecise. Far from being "democracy in action" spontaneity is accused of being at base "mechanistic" and not democratic in a proletarian consciousness kind of  way, because  It's not thought out enough.  It's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.  

But our French comrades while preferring Lenin's thesis find it only  "in a sense" more accurate and reliable than  Rosa's.  For they assume The Bolshevik Party to have developed a significant amount  of class consciousness in its own right  - just  as the Gauche Communistes had themselves - and at least to be in a position to disseminate their understandings of it, if and when required.  

 Rosa didn't have the benefit of an advanced thinking Party,  only Kautsky and the 2nd International. Matters like the question of from whence emanated class consciousness were not high on their agenda, though they had been on Marx's. But she wasn't all wrong  was she?  It was certainly possible for open-minded revolutionaries to learn things from the apparently spontaneous actions of the class in struggle.  Didn't Lenin learn of the importance of Workers Councils  from the class itself?  And hadn't the class invented workers councils so to speak "spontaneously" the product of their own practice  - no injecting of the idea from some outside  party in this particular case.  

So it appears that a combination of ideas and analysis stemming from both Lenin and Rosa  (and others) is what we should aim for. And is presumably what Gauche Communists were actually doing in both theory and practice, for how did they get to be so good! And the Party of course is a part of the  class for itself, 


I read most of this document

I read most of this document a few days ago and found it difficult and full of jargon or specialized language to be more polite. I also found it was saying things I'm sure ICC militants had argued against on the net. But it did challenge my conception of a revolutionary period regarding consciousness. I thought I was very much set against the SPGB outlook and have argued against it many times but reading this, thinking about the various stage of revolution and so on I'm not that sure of myself (I still don't agree with their tactics and strategy). Part of the problem I think is the great difficulty in envisaging the situation itself and fears about counter-revolution - not just from the class enemy but the 'revoluionaries' themselves. On the plus side, I've been reading IR 154 and as luck would have it many of my thoughts and concerns of recent times are discussed. I recommend it to all.

Hello radicalchains. The

Hello radicalchains. The article above by Marco, which may be a translation, is not an easy read but isn't filled with jargon.  That it was written at all in the year 1948 is amazing.   That any communist group existed at that time to write any kind of article at all is a remarkable  fact.


1948 (Orwell's "1984") was a terrible year. True the war was  over but the misery and horror continued unabated. Atomic  bombs were being detonated ominously and what seemed like continuously all over the world,  and film of the monstrosity of their power played non-stop in crowded Cinemas. A Third World Holocaust was generally anticipated.  Survivors of the one just finished struggled with one of the coldest winters on record  in Europe,  along with coal and food rationing, and generalized misery and fear. 

That the Gauche  Communiste  group had survived the war is remarkable, but that they were capable of orgsnising and writing a coherent and thought provoking discourse at all In 1948  is to be commended and taken to heart. 

But now, from the serious to the comic. That the SPGB is about to participate in a bourgeois election only goes to show the power of the century old time warp they've got stuck in. They cannot be compared to Marco's group. 

And finally, with regards to IR 154 which you have been reading comrade radical,  which piece in particular are you recommending, and why exactly, or do we need to read the whole lot? 

Hello Fred,

Yes, I probably underestimate the gross difficulties in developing and getting the document out there in the first place given the period and conditions. The period language, translation or otherwise plus my own lack of wider understandings adds to the difficulties I have reading and comprehending it. I wasn't trying to be disrespectful to anyone but perhaps it comes across that way - I should work on that.

I explicitly said I am still not in favour of SPGB tactics or strategy so I find your comment odd. I wasn't making any comparisons. I wasn't aware we were in a competition either. I've only read half of IR154 so far and would recommend all that I've read so far. I also re-listened to the audio of Why is it so difficut to struggle on the ICC Radio page and recommend that too, all parts .

Hi radicalchains. You're

Hi radicalchains. You're absolutely right. We aren't in a competition. It's just that I think (suspect?) that the communist consciousness of the Gauche Communiste group far exceeded - far exceeds! - that of the SPGB.

I will sample IR 154 at your suggestion. Thank you radical. 

  Lbird would you explain


would you explain the  theory of knowledge  = science is copy of fact. And  contrast with the roy Bhaskar thinking      

I knew Marxist is science not positivist 

Knowledge as a copy of reality?

Amir1 wrote:


would you explain the  theory of knowledge  = science is copy of fact. And  contrast with the roy Bhaskar thinking      

I knew Marxist is science not positivist 

One theory of knowledge holds that 'knowledge' is a 'copy' of the 'thing' that is known.

Lenin argued for this in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, as did Engels, in places.

Bhaskar (at least in his earlier work) was a Critical Realist, which holds that 'knowledge', being a human creation, can't be simply a 'mirror image' of 'reality'. That is, there is something 'social' about knowledge, and so different societies understand the same 'reality' differently.

And Marx was not a positivist, as you say, but I'd further argue that he wasn't a simple materialist, either.

Hope this helps.

LBird does Bhaskar talk at

LBird does Bhaskar talk at all about "common sense"?

'Common' means 'bourgeois'

Jamal wrote:

LBird does Bhaskar talk at all about "common sense"?

He wrote several books, over several decades, from several perspectives, so I don't know!

Most of his work is typically academic, and, like Marx, Bhaskar doesn't use one word where a hundred will do!

As for us Communists, we always know that talk of 'common sense' is capitulation to ruling class ideas.