Morning session: Discussion of 'Communism is not a utopia'

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The presentation, delivered by a sympathiser of the ICC, laid out three basic premises for the discussion of this question:
  • That communism, contrary to the ideology of the bourgeoisie, does not contradict human nature;
  • That it is the decadence of capitalism that has created an objective need for communism;
  • And that it is the working class that is the only social force capable of carrying overthrowing capitalism and creating communism.

The first respondent agreed with the notion that capitalism today represents a “crisis of humanity” but questioned how this crisis could be overcome. Is there not also a “crisis of leadership”, in that there is no strong revolutionary party leading the working class today? The speaker mentioned his own Troyskyist background and stated that for this milieu, this question of leadership is the principle question facing the working class.

The question stimulated some lively responses, exploring the role of the party and class in making the revolution. One comrade immediately responded that this view reduces the problem to simply a question of “getting the right leaders”. Other comrades went on to elaborate some important points. The leftist approach is flawed on a number of levels.

Most crucially, it is based on a misunderstanding of the role of the party in the revolution[1]. The party is not there to “organise” the class, its role is push forward the consciousness of the class to enable it to organise itself. This is a complex process related to the balance of class forces. To put things another way, if it’s true the working class is not lining up behind the party – or producing capable leaders – then there is a reason for this is to be found in the consciousness of the proletariat as a whole. The Trotskyist view is simplistic and idealist in the sense that it sees everything else being “ready” for revolution – you just need the right Lenin or Trotsky to come alone and the revolution will happen.

Secondly, the leftists measure consciousness on the basis of how much workers agree with them (i.e. their particular organisation). Consciousness is seen as the adherence to the party line. For communists, class consciousness is to be found in the increasing confidence of the working class to examine questions for itself rather than being dependent on a minority of “intellectuals”.

Leadership can therefore be examined only in the context of the class as a whole. The Bolsheviks were only able to take on the role they did because the mass of the class had awoken to a real consciousness of their own needs and saw that the Bolsheviks were expressing their own demands in a coherent form.

The role of minorities in this process is vital. Because of the nature of the proletariat’s oppression, at most points in history it will only be a minority of the class that is able to throw off the shackles of bourgeois ideology. They have a duty to develop this consciousness by discussing with other revolutionaries and organising themselves to spread this consciousness as far as their means allow.

The forms these efforts take will depend on the objective and subjective circumstances of the time. In the current period, the appearance of web forums and discussion groups around the planet represents this hunger for consciousness deep within the proletariat. The party is the highest product of this process but it is not the only form consciousness takes. By definition, the party cannot exist unless there is a movement within the working class to create it.

Another aspect of leadership was raised, namely the role the proletariat takes in the revolution in relation to other social classes. The ICC believes the proletariat to be a minority on a global scale. There was some debate about this, with various exchanges on differing views of the numerical weight of the peasantry in the third world. Also discussed was the effect of “decomposition” in lumpenising the working class in the central countries. But despite some disputes on the sociological aspect of this, there was a general agreement that the “core” of the working class i.e. those sectors in the heart of capitalism with relatively stable jobs, the discipline and belonging of the workplace, etc. would be a minority.

Despite the disagreements, all participants were agreed that those on the fringes of the working class were not to be written off either. These sectors can engage in powerful struggles and, because of their extreme deprivation, can often act as the detonator for movements. Nonetheless, for the struggle to advance, it is necessary for the “core” to join, bringing their experience and capacity to lead the struggle with them.

Another aspect of the discussion dealt with the issues of working class youth and their struggle to reappropriate the lessons of their class. For many workers, especially those under 30, the last big struggles that would have impacted upon their consciousness took place when they were children. Many have never experienced open struggle in the workplace. There is a hunger for solidarity, especially in reaction to extreme alienation, but little actual understanding of it. Despite this weight, there is an effort within the class to recover this – many of the strikes in the current period have placed this question firmly in the centre, through practice if not explicitly in theory.

Communists have a role to play here, but it is not to somehow artificially engender solidarity. Rather, it is a question of making workers in struggle conscious of the implications of their own praxis i.e. making, practical, instinctive actions into explicit conscious ones. This also works the other way – by drawing on the lessons of the past, revolutionaries can help the working class recover the “abstractions” of theory and lessons learnt from the past so that they can be applied again in today’s situation.

The discussion emphasised the continual nature of this drive for consciousness. It cannot be posed in the sense of the working class becomes conscious, makes the revolution and that’s it. Even after the revolution, there will be heterogeneity of consciousness within the working class. Different layers of the class will be more or less convinced about the communist programme. Only a permanent reflection and discussion undertaken by the whole of the class can drive this process forward.

In some respects, it might appear that the discussion did not focus on the immediate points of the presentation. But, in fact, it examined one of the most vital elements of the opening text – the revolutionary nature of the working class. The concern of revolutionaries to tackle this question springs from the fact that the communist revolution will be the first truly conscious revolution in human history, just as communism itself will the first human society to manage itself in a fully conscious manner. It is precisely because of this that consciousness is such a preoccupation for the proletariat – and it is the proletariat’s capacity to develop this consciousness that conditions the nature of the proletarian revolution.

The rebirth of the class struggle in 1968 was largely dominated by a sense of consciousness rising out of struggles. It was the inspiration of the massive struggles of this period that pushed new revolutionary forces to seek out the “red thread” which had been largely crushed by the counter-revolution and maintained only in the obscure writings of the communist left. Today, a different pattern in emerging: although there have been no massive struggles on the scale of ’68, significant minorities within the working class have already demonstrated an increasing drive to rediscover the “red thread”. If this trend continues, the proletariat will enter into the mass struggles of the future with a far more developed theoretical consciousness than it had in ’68. Although today we are witnessing but small steps in this direction, it is with confidence that we can say along with Marx: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

DG, 15/9/07.

[1] It should be said that confusions on the role of the party are not limited to the leftist milieu. They are also firmly entrenched in the revolutionary milieu as well, especially among the Bordigists.

General and theoretical questions: