The Consciousness of the Proletariat

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The Consciousness of the Proletariat
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: The Consciousness of the Proletariat. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Proletarian consciousness

This article says early on that:"Proletarian consciousness, like revolutionary ideas of the past, can only really triumph at the end of the political and social victory of the working class." Does this mean that the class will only achieve a full consciousness of what it's doing - in making the revolution - after it has actually done it and has started to build, or even built, the international communist society? If this is the case, then it means that the proletariat can engage in making the revolution without being fully conscious of what it's doing, and with only a partial consciousness. This would increase the need for a fully cognizant party to be in place.

However, later in this same piece, in item one, under "The consequences...." section, it says: "Class consciousness, the revolutionary programme of the proletariat, must proceed and condition the overthrow of existing society." I take it that 'proceed' is really 'preceed' in which case isn't this latter quote saying something a bit different from the first?

For myself I would guess that the first statement may be nearer the truth. And that we only fully become conscious of what we're doing in the process of doing it. Don't Marx and Engels say something similar in 'The German Ideology'? (Cant lay hands on the quote, while remaining on line!) But this might be thought to raise the question - just how much consciousness does the class need before discovering the need for revolution? There may not be an answer. Time will tell.

Difficult to measure

 Welcome to the forum Fred.

It's obviously difficult to measure 'how much' consciousness the working class will need to initiate a revolution, but in a sense both statements are true: there has to be a qualitative development of consciousness for a revolutionary situation to come about, but at the same time this will still be very heterogeneous, with some layers of the class far in advance of others. This will certainly make the party an absolute necessity - not to impose the revolution by force but to play a leading role in bringing wider and wider sections of the class into the struggle.  


Alf wrote:

 not to impose the revolution by force but to play a leading role in bringing wider and wider sections of the class into the struggle.  


I don't mean to sound flippant but how do you propose to do this?

Big question!

 I would think that the Bolsheviks in 1917 provide a pretty good example -  a political organisation that is able to have a direct influence through its analyses, slogans, proposals for taking the struggle forward, impacting above all on the most determined layers of the class who in turn can provide an organised framework for drawing the more hesitant layers into the movement. Or am I missing something? How would you answer the question?

the Party

 I think that is a good answer I just fear that there is potential for force if events start to retreat or the class go against the Party however much the Party doesn't want to use force. There is the danger of the Party becoming the dominant and monolithic force within the proletarian organs and the same results occurring. Or am I missing something? Anyone else?

Party or State?

radicalchains wrote:

 I think that is a good answer I just fear that there is potential for force if events start to retreat or the class go against the Party however much the Party doesn't want to use force. There is the danger of the Party becoming the dominant and monolithic force within the proletarian organs and the same results occurring. Or am I missing something? Anyone else?


I think that depends on whether or not and to what extent the party has gotten mixed up with the state a la Russia 1917-1923. A party w/o state power is unlikely to be able to use force against the broader proletariat. If events go into retreat the party should, in theory, be losing influence and power. It would actually be less capable of using force against the proletariat. Now if that party has gotten mixed up with the state, then the retreat of the revolution would tend to heighten its power, as the retreat of the revolution would likely mean the strengthening of the state and bring forth its more conservative and repressive features.

Was this the quote Fred ? ...

" Both for the production on a mass scale of this Communist consciousness ,and for the success of the cause itself , the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary : an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement , in a revolution ; this revolution is necessary therefore , not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew "

{ German Ideology : pg 87 }

I take this as meaning : the revolution was not merely a task ( 'inevitable' or 'thought up outside the real world' )for the proletariat to carry out : in making the revolution the proletariat change themselves - indeed humanity itself : for the revolution requires a massive transformation of its own agents .

And in a way could it be otherwise from a dialectical analysis the starting point of which is 'the real , living world of man', the materialist view of history ( as I believe Marx preferred to call his method ) I hear an 'easier said than done ?' : that question is certainly in me on defeatist days : fight or die on combative days .

A very relevant initiation of the discussion on this vital topic and article , as are the replies : the vanguard , the party/workers' councils challenge , the dismantling of the illusory power of State ( or does it semi-magically 'wither away '), the uneveness of development over the globe , the period of transition ..

Aye there's the rub ...or......job....




jk1921 wrote:

I think that depends on whether or not and to what extent the party has gotten mixed up with the state a la Russia 1917-1923. A party w/o state power is unlikely to be able to use force against the broader proletariat. If events go into retreat the party should, in theory, be losing influence and power. It would actually be less capable of using force against the proletariat. Now if that party has gotten mixed up with the state, then the retreat of the revolution would tend to heighten its power, as the retreat of the revolution would likely mean the strengthening of the state and bring forth its more conservative and repressive features.

Perhaps unable to use force against the majority but that maybe rests on the size, strength, organisation and discipline of the Party. And besides, it's no joke that force may only be used on a minority exactly because it isn't having the influence it expects or desires (or other reasons). Either way, if measures are taken to force events along it seems there will be a detrimental effect all-round.

However, having said this we're not living in the early twentieth century anymore where there were millions upon millions of illiterate workers, living in total poverty (obviously there is a lot of poverty but it is of a different kind) and constant fear of progroms (still exist too, sadly) and so on. People are also more aware of what is going on in the world (despite the constant bourgeois mystifications and propaganda of the current mode of production) plue the high level of communication even in under developed countries. I think these factors will make a huge difference to some of the practical problems.

The Party will not wield

The Party will not wield State power, the Councils will. The councils will be the best reflection of the will of the prole. and if they use violence against a minority of the class (shooting looters?) then that is the prole. will.

The Party may well 'indirectly' exercise power through its members who occupy council positions, earned though winning a mandate.

I am not exactly sure what the ICC say in this regard.

I see councils as multi tiered.

A base layer corresponds to a direct mandate from territorial assemblies. But these delegates may then mandate their own members to higher level councils. Eventually a world council. No doubt the formula for this will have to be refined by praxis. But the Party, via its mandated members could have significant/majority/total control of the decisive executive organs without violating the mechanisms of prole. delegation.

The Party rules? In a sense, but not in the manner of the Bolsheviks.


Lazarus wrote:
The Party will not wield State power, the Councils will. The councils will be the best reflection of the will of the prole. and if they use violence against a minority of the class (shooting looters?) then that is the prole. will.

This is kind of the crux of the problem. Does the 'will' of the councils (the class) make everything 'right' or 'just'. I think that's a difficult question.Shooting looters or people for similar infractions - maybe too light a word is a very strong measure and wouldn't necessarily stop looting. Problems arise when minority positions will be the 'correct' position but it's not taken (and therefore will clash with the dominant position in a Party or organ of the class), in this case some other measures to stop looting. The question would be why are they looting, how do you stop looting. Not simply shooting the individuals who do it.

For example, was it the prole 'will' that shot the piss artists in the cellar of the Winter Palace or was it the will of one person or fraction of the Party? Does that make it the 'will' of the class - probably not.

Right or just is what

Right or just is what advances the revolution.
Terrorising the opposition may be 'wrong' from an abstract moral perspective, but better that than let them restore capitalism. We want them to fear us. Terror is not fair but if it is necessary, so be it.
Revolution is also a conflict within the working class.
The situation will dictate, but we cannot rule out violence against those who resist.
All depends on the real conditions on the ground.

Lazarus says: "All depends on

Lazarus says: "All depends on the real conditions on the ground." This must be true. And conditions now are very different from how they were in 1917. But finally it all depends surely on just how much class consciousness the mass of the proletariat has achieved. If we have reached the point where we understand just why we have to get rid of capitalism, and vitally the sort of existence we wish to replace it with, then we are less likely to see the shooting of looters, for example, as having much relevance to our exercise. In 1921 the Kronstadt garrison had sufficient consciousness to appreciate what a balls up the Bolshevik party was making. in 1871 the commune had enough class consciousness to enable Marx to learn that the proletariat can't just seize hold of the bourgeois state and make use of it for it's own purposes. As Lazarus said, the councils will reflect the will of the proletariat, and I think in the end we have to trust the class and it's councils, and the influence on the councils which the party will have. It's good to be thinking about this, especially with events in the States actually waking up a bit! And thanks AS for the quote.

Violence within the class

I am not actually against violence or the use of force per se. Not a pacifist at all. In fact I can think of quiite a few bourgeois off the top of my head I would want to use force against without being in a revolutionary period....

What I am talking about is violence and the use of force within the exploited class. The bourgeoisie loot from the class as a whole but it is usually proletarians who loot from shops, as we've seen recently in England - though come the time perhaps the exploiters will loot the shops in some sense, destroy supply lines, pay off lumpen elements to cause mayhem etc.

I actually agree, terrorising the class opposition has nothing to do with abstract notions of morality and so on but has everything to do with circumstances and the situation.

Perhaps the danger of looting is within a period of scarcity on the way to a society of abundance as sections of our class could resist increased levels of production. There are all sorts of scenarios, hoarding commodities and raw materials, a black market etc

Fred, I don't think class consciousness is only what the class or individual proletarians believe but the actual action they take. But maybe that's what you are sayig. 



I'm not a pacifist either,

I'm not a pacifist either, and do not doubt that the bourgeoisie will engage in a violent fight for their power to exploit. But with regard to working class looters, as Chains says it's more a question of finding out why exactly they are looting, rather than just taking extreme action against them. The alteration of people's mind sets on a mass scale is necessary,as Marx says, and the revolution does this. So violence within the class is not to be encouraged.

And finally, if Chains means in his closing sentences above, that proletarian action and proletarian consciousness are one and the same; in contrast to the sort of disconnect we find in the bourgeoisie between what they say and what they do, then I'll go along with that.

party and power

 I don't agree that the question of morality can be left out of the equation during the revolution. The methods used by the revolution can't be at odds with its goals. The experience of the 'Red Terror' in Russia is largely negative: the attempt to create an atmosphere of terror rebounded against the proletariat very quickly. I also don't agree with Lazarus that the party is 'de facto' in power if it has a majority of delegates. We used to have this argument with the CWO a lot in the past, but I was under the impression that they had since moved on, towards a clear recognition that power cannot be delegated and that there should be no confusion about where it lies. In any case, if the council system is working properly, with delegates recallable at any moment, it is unlikely that the same delegates will be elected each time: what was a majority one day could well be a  minority the next.   

This text was written in 1979, partly in response to what we saw as the ambiguities of the CWO on this question of substitutionism:

Alf has said, and pointed

Alf has said, and pointed out, what I was too timid and scared to say regarding Lazarus' comments on the role of the party, and terror. (I was afraid of making mistakes, and that's foolish). The article Alf provides a link to, is a massive effort and will require a number of reads by me! Although written in 1979, (by C.D Ward - who I am pleased to say I briefly knew, often think about, and trust is well?) deals with extremely relevant issues about the enormous differences between bourgeois and proletarian understandings of democracy, and the relationship between the class, the party and the state in the period of transition. It also serves to shed light on what may remain a significant and genuine difference between the CWO and the ICC. I can't resist quoting bits so here is the closing section.

" There are many people who want to be ‘leaders’ of the working class. But most of them confuse the bourgeois concept of leadership with the way that the proletariat generates its own leadership. Those who, in the name of leadership, call on the class to abandon its most crucial task to a minor ity are not leading the class towards communism, but strengthening the hold of bourgeois ideology in the class, the ideology which from cradle to grave tries to convince workers that they are incapable of organizing themselves, that they must entrust others with the task of organizing them. The revolutionary party will only contribute to the progress towards communism by stimulating and generalizing a consciousness which runs entirely counter to the ideology of the bourgeoisie: a consciousness of the inexhaustible capacity of the class to organize itself and become conscious of itself as the subject of history. Communists, secreted by a class which contains no new relations of exploitation within itself, are unique in the history of revolutionary parties in that they do everything they can to make their own function unnecessary as class consciousness and activity becomes a homogeneous reality throughout all of the class. The more the proletariat advances on the road to communism, the more the whole class will become the living expression of “man’s pos itive self-awareness”, of a liberated and consci ous human community."

I agree with ALF. The

I agree with ALF. The revolution cannot procede in a manner which is contradictory to its goal. Self-defence against clear attempts of counter-revolution will undoubetly be necessary, but this is a far cry from attempting to force the revolution to advance through terror. The dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary in order to prevent the bourgeoisie from regaining state power; however, the proletariat cannot force society to move in a communistic direction. The proletariat's morality will be an important factor in convincing the rest of the population of the superiority of communism. This is why the proletariat must not engage in utilitarian and expedient justifications for policies that run counter to the goal of communism. This can only work against the ultimate success of the revolution. The other non-exploiting strata must see that the proletariat offers something fundamentally different than the bourgeoisie. Whether you are shot by the bourgeois state's cops repressing a strike, or the post-revolutionary transitional state for "looting"; it hardly matters as the the end result is the same: you're dead. Its hard for the people in question to see the difference. The proletariat must prove that it is above the logic of expediency and has a fundamentally different society in mind. It must not be tempted to obviate morality in the pursuit of an immediate end or to prevent a temporary set-back in the transitional period. This is a major lesson of the Russian Revolution and in particular Kronstadt.

are we doomed?

Like many articles written by the ICC this one is well worth re-reading as I think is this whole thread.  Written four years ago, it is proof of what a long time four years can be! The comrades  who contributed to the thread are still around but seem to be different now. Less confident?  Has the atmosphere suffered a deterioration?  The seemingly calm but questioning optimism of those comparatively happy days is now a pleasant but disturbing memory.  Has something gone wrong? What has changed? 

Have comrades lost faith in the revolutionary class?  Has the class lost faith in itself?  Where is the class?  

Or has the bourgeoisie already won?  Hmm! What a victory if they have. What a victory for overall and total decomposition, and world wide immiseration and hopelessness.  

But the article itself is all about CONSCIOUSNESS  and its differences from the warped  "insights" of the deteriorating thought of the bourgeoisie. In short, their ideology.

Is it finally the case that everything - the future, the revolution and human life itself  - all depends on a sufficient number of workers acquiring enough class consciousness to begin a move in a revolutionary direction? The answer of course is "yes". The question is  silly! So. Are there any signs at  all that this could be happening? Are there any outward and visible signs of the inward emergence of class consciousness? Is the class maturing?

Are we all maturing, or are we doomed? 



I don't think it's

I don't think it's necessarily an ideological question, if we're talking about work place struggle then there simply has to be immediate gains to be made for anyone to care. My brother works for B&Q and they are closing 60 stores - so he may lose his job. With a reliable track record at work, and a young family, how can any sane person suggest that he organize at work in response to any layoffs?

I think it would be wrong to say that it's just ideological, on the grounds that there may have been changes to capitali which means that organization doesn't really pay.

reply to lem

But what if "immediate gains" are no longer available lem? What then? Does that mean that workers no longer have anything to care about?  Your brother may lose his job.  If he doesn't lose it this year, he may lose it next year. Millions the world over have already lost theirs or, in the case of young people, never  had one to start with. What about them?  Are they all just going to sit around waiting sadly for some kind of release from boredom and nothingness?  If they wait long  enough there could be a war coming in their direction or some crazed religious sect which sets them on fire or blows up their city because they haven't got the right religious loyalties, or sees them  as just superfluous to capitalism's requirements and kills them off. 

I am sorry your brother may lose his job and sorry for his wife and kids.  Especially the kids. But everything about this capitalist society is getting worse and worse at an accelerating rate.  Even if your brother keeps what is probably a boring and tedious job anyway (apart from the limited wages) what's going to happen to his kids when they grow up - assuming decaying capitalism permits them to grow up?  Will they have jobs?  Will they have to fight wars and crazed religious sects?  Will they have to struggle for existence in conditions of earth shattering climate change, food shortages, epidemics and collapse of welfare systems?  

Will the efforts your brother is currently making now to keep a job,  maintain his family  in some sort of decent life style despite poor wages and austerity and with adequate  food on the table, be enough to hold off the deterioration and  further collapse of capitalism worldwide so  that the children can grow up in peace and lead their lives in the bourgeois paradise of liberty freedom and ample money for all? I doubt it lem. I really do.  

And I'm sorry to have to point this out.  But unhappily it's true isn't it? There is no future to look forward to anymore and while this is awful for all our children and while they don't deserve it and didn't ask for it, unless somebody somewhere does something about this situation very soon then the future doesn't  bear thinking  about and  may no longer even truly exist in any worthwhile way anymore because the bourgeoisie have brought us to the very edge of destruction. (I know this sounds melodramatic but unfortunately it isn't. It's true!) 

So. What is to be done?  Does everyone sit around waiting for the approaching  end, or do they organize to fight to get rid of the capitalist system of existence altogether before it finally manages to get rid of us? We still have a choice terrifying though it is. 

If you've already lost your  job then it's difficult to organize at work.   If you're in fear of losing your job then it's difficult to organize at work as this may result in your losing the ghastly job you're fearful of losing! But something has to give.  Your brother lem - to use him as an example - cannot secure his children's future in this society. He can't even secure his own.  Sooner or later he is going to have to face this awful fact which he must already  be dimly aware of but probably doesn't want to have to admit consciously. And  he and millions of others in the same rapidly sinking boat are going to have to come  together with this new admittance of and openness  to reality as their  conscious underpinning. 

In short, class consciousness offers the only way out of the existential mess that all workers, employed or not, are faced with internationally. And while it may be distasteful to have to admit it the rigors of class warfare are the only  viable alternative to the mass destruction the bourgeoisie is offering. 

well no i am not at all

well no i am not at all saying that class consciousness isn't desirable only that without drastic changes to the visibility of the crises etc., calling for it in individual cases is perverse or absurd.

It had never occurred to me

It had never occurred to me that the crisis isn't visible. 

the box jelly fish

How visible does the crisis have to become before we notice it? Isn't it already the elephant in the kitchen?  Or, even worse, the cobra under the bed sheets; the box jelly fish in the local swimming pool.

Isn't  it the individual at work who one day says what others are quietly thinking, that it's about time we got rid of this bloody awful way of life and came up with something better, who opens his friends minds by saying it,  and don't others agree? Or the youthful applicant  at the unemployment office who wonders aloud how much longer  he can go on putting up with this and finds that he triggers a similar response in others and also a conscious repulsion for the system?  I know individuals can achieve little but I don't think their contribution means nothing at the start of things.  Even rivers have a source. 

Aren't we all just waiting for the spark?  Those like Trotskyists who don't understand the class and don't want a class revolt anyway, would say what we're waiting for is a leader who'll light our fuses. But who wants to be blown up? We don't want leaders because we don't need to be led.  But we do have to somehow inspire each other and trigger each others consciousness first of the crippling system but quickly followed by our consciousness of ourselves as a class that can change everything. 

I don't know whether people talk to each other much these days about work, and daily life, the threat of unemployment and so on, the uselessness of the poiitical parties and the futility of the coming British election where all the parties stand for the same horror, but suspect they possibly don't. After all, we don't even have those phony Union led days of strikes anymore when we march together from one place to another and then go home to the telly. Now we hardly have time to speak to each other at all, and never meet in groups in the open. We're trapped. The bourgeoisie have trapped us in their barely   open prison and control and check out all we do. 

I don't think what I'm saying is perverse or absurd, just desperate. And waiting for further drastic and punishing changes to the system isn't a pleasant option, rather like waiting for the massive tsunami on the horizon to reach your part of the beach. Blow up your rubber wings mate and swim for it! 

i didn't mean to cause

i didn't mean to cause offence but maybe in athens the crisis is obvious. here i feel that there is mostly an apolitical optimism in response to a long but not crippling recession.

of course things are different for much of the lumpen class, and there is a definite [pernicious] urgency to a lot of the discussion on-line on newspaper stories. but the latter i see more as a product of the technology than perceived problems with capitalism.

consumer confidence is on some huge high, they say. yes that's an ideological expression of it, but i DEFINITELY think the crisis could be a lot more visible.


thanks for your well wishes btw

Do we live on the same

Do we live on the same planet?

the guardian have a

the guardian have a "capitalism in crisis" page

it's last update was 5 years and 2 days ago haha !!

 Why did no one see it coming? Can we fix it? And did the boom years corrode our moral character? Guardian writers and contributors ask where we go from here and what we can learn from the crunch and the downturn 


> Do we live on the same

> Do we live on the same planet?

well i am sorry if you find this offensive or idiotic, but unemployment is down etc etc. it seems to me to be about zero hour contracts, not really socio-economic collapse.


of course i'm not talking about my own opinions or that of the "milieu".

Happy New Year!

Well some people may think the crisis has gone away, and god knows Cameron tells us often enough that it has;  that unemployment is down, the Health Service saving money and thus being saved itself - because the Borgs  can't afford it for us any more - and wages for some have supposedly crept up a little.  (Did someone in the government make a mistake here? Wages creeping up? I thought we were being brain washed into believing you didn't need a wage if you have a job, because it's government policy that having a job should be sufficient in itself without needing some lousy pay packet for doing it.) 

It's official policy. Working for nothing bestows a proud dignity on those who do it and is always preferable to handouts from the nanny state, which should make you feel  ashamed of yourselves! Thus speaks the Borg, Always pleased with their latest anti-working class con trick.  "Open another bottle of champers, old man. Let's celebrate the Xmas spirit and this delightful new yacht! Did you get it tax free?" 

In North West Englad however, Xmas won't be much fun as the weekly floods continue to recur...well  weekly.  But at least you get a week in which to try and clean up one disgusting stinking mess before the next one arrives, so that's nice. We're all getting to know Appleby and its river quite well as its become a regular feature on the tv news, and we all admire the stoicism of those house and small shop owners  sweeping out the latest influx of river filth as if there's nothing they'd rather be doing.  

They even continue to be polite to tv interviewers and about the government, even though the menacing river needs dredging - but there's little money available for that say the government and anyway we are all having to cut back in order to maintain the profitability of the Borgs' economy and standard of life - for the Borg that is. And  even though the almost unmentionable but increasingly obvious effect of climate change - about which Borg governments only talk but do nothing - could be said to be behind the unpredictable and massive onslaught of storms wind and rain,  which continue to batter the poor old British Isles, we're much too polite to say so and don't wish to be rude. (The weather may well be going bonkers elsewhere too, but you don't hear about that as Sky News is for Brits alone and it is after all Xmas, which is very British too, with the Queens Speech, and it doesn't happen to Muslims, and we wouldn't want Xmas to be spoiled by reference to foreigners, specially refugees, of whom the Borg are extremely fed up!) 

So the indomitable inhabitants of N.W. England stifle their anger and resentment with an almost frozen upper lip and continue mopping away. You might say it's their turn.  Last year you'll remember it was the turn of Somerset, which has at last just about recovered. But are they next again?  Are they due for a return inundation?  After all they're barely above sea level.  Same goes for the affluent Thames Valley. They had a belly full last year too. But remain vulnerable, as nothing ever gets done about anything because there's no money available. The system can't afford anything for those who haven't got anything. Capitalism continually fails to cough up for the masses. We should get rid of it. It doesn't work for us.  Because of course, in fact we work for it.  We must be mad!  

The various Borg governments around the western world constantly bemoan the insufficient funds available to protect communities from increasing and recurrent "natural" disasters as if they would help if they could.  But they can't, and probably wouldn't anyway.  They can't do anything about the weather.Thry can't do anything about the terrifying twisters which ravage certain areas of the US.  There was a monster  in Mississippi a couple of days ago.  Killed some people. Frightened thousands. Caused massive and expensive damage.  The Borg wring their hands if there's a camera about.  But they're powerless.  The  weather gets crazier and it becomes more and more obvious that something is going terribly wrong somewhere.

The Borg can't do anything about the weather, though they may well be the reason it's gone haywire in the first place. For if we really are starting to  suffer under man-made climate change, then it is of course all the Borgs' fault. They have sold the planet and humanity's future for a quick buck!  

As workers we don't have a lot to thank the Borg for - glittering new cities to gape at from afar, cheap summer holidays abroad with attendant terrorists laid on if required, the spectacle of space travel for the special few, improvements in health care if you're lucky, or can pay, and a spanking brave new world of high-tec war and constant surveillance 1984 style. But the nasty things we can hold them responsible for and list against  them as amounting almost to crimes against humanity itself - poverty, starvation, war, terrorism, environmental destruction  and the rest - continually mount up and increasingly make themselves apparent to those prepared to open their eyes and look reality in the face.

 As a poster suggested only last week on this very site: the bourgeoisie is a class of serial killers. And they're good at it.  They still manage to get away with it too. If they aren't stopped soon it'll be too late.