Communist Organisations and Class Consciousness - Introduction

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“The question we must answer in a decisive manner is the following: how can we overthrow capitalism, how can we act towards this end in such a way that, throughout the whole process, the proletariat keeps things under its control?”

(Intervention of the KAPD at the 3rd Congress of the Communist International, 1921)

The question of the organisation of the workers’ movement has throughout its history provoked texts, discussions and divergences. We may recall, for example, the debates within the International Working Men’s Association, the polemics between Lenin, Luxembourg and Trotsky and the texts on this subject by the Italian and German left communist movement. It is natural that revolutionaries should attempt to clarify their method of organisation, their tasks within the working class and the nature of their intervention. The working class is confronted with this fundamental question: how is it to develop its understanding of the capitalist system? How is it to prepare for the final confrontation with capitalism?

       Thus from the dawn of the working class movement the proletariat found it necessary, parallel to the creation of its union organisations, to forge the weapon of revolutionary consciousness. For this, mass organisations alone are insufficient. The emancipation of the working class is equally dependent on the organisation of revolutionaries; the political party.

       To deepen the understanding of the ultimate goal of the working class movement, to bring about the destruction of capitalism, the proletariat cannot simply organise around the defence of immediate interests. It must be able in practice to resolve the following questions:

      How can a political offensive develop out of the day—to-day struggles of the class?

      How can the understanding develop within the working class of the necessity to go beyond economic demands, and to overthrow society?

      How can the working class struggle against the domination of bourgeois ideology?

Today, when permanent reforms are no longer possible, in the “era of social revolutions” it is even more important to be able to answer these questions. Even before the out­break of World War One, which proved the irreversible decay of capitalism, a solution to this problem had been developed within the working class movement. The workers’ councils were the form of organisation created by the working class for the seizure of power; revolutionary minorities were given the task of accelerating the revolutionary process. Even after the defeat of the revolutionary wave of the Twenties, the healthiest revolutionary elements survived the onslaught of the counter—revolution. These fractions were able to preserve the political acquisitions of former struggles. After fifty years of counter—revolution, new organisations, revolutionary groups and discussion circles emerged in response to the class struggle of the Sixties. Some of these, including the International Communist Current, organised from the start on an international level around a clearly defined programme. But the ICC is not the only expression of these efforts by the proletariat to light up the path towards revolution. Groups emerging from the old Left Communist movement, discussion circles, organisations defending positions more or less close to the ICC, all these expressed the rebirth of revolutionary consciousness within the working class. Most of these groups are currently engaged in discussions aimed at clarifying their differences and areas of agreement. The International Conferences at which these organisations participate are an expression of the understanding within the proletarian movement of the need to work towards the creation of an international party. [1]

Many of these discussions centre on the role of the party and the tasks of revolutionaries. As yet, these debates have been restricted to clarifying the general framework within which we can understand our differences of interpretation. We think that it is important for the ICC to draw out the political framework for its own conception of the role of revolutionaries. Future pamphlets dealing with more concrete and practical issues will supplement this analysis. But as a first step we think it is necessary:

-          to understand what is communism and the communist revolution;

-          to understand what distinguishes working class conscious­ness from all past ideas;

-          to understand the role of revolutionaries as a function of the nature of class consciousness.

To outline the general framework of our positions we have approached the problem in the following way: before dealing with the question of revolutionary intervention, we will try to show why the methods, the forms of action, and the forms of organisation of the working class must necessarily correspond to the objective requirements of the revolutionary process, and of the development of working class consciousness, which makes the intervention of rev­olutionaries indispensable, rather than the extraordinary qualities of an omniscient party!

It is only by understanding how the communist revolution will be different from all past revolutions, and why working class consciousness is not an ideology, that one can understand the need for revolutionary organisation and the role of revolutionaries.

At present the understanding of the tasks of the party remains on an extremely theoretical level. The whole question is still obscured by the misconceptions of the past, which have been reinforced by fifty years of the almost total domination of bourgeois ideology. We have to renew our links with the communist tradition, avoiding the traps of the past. Moreover, the renewed struggles of the work­ing class are still in their infancy.

But already the re—emergence of working class struggle has forced us to confront the question in practice in our intervention. We are confronted every day with new, concrete problems, which have to be resolved as quickly as possible. Our positions are enriched and refined by the reality of working class experience. We have to be able to draw the political lessons of this reality. As our intervention is increasingly directed towards the class struggle itself, our analysis must become more concrete, if it is to rapidly answer the needs of the class struggle.

[1] This was written in August 1979. The subsequent break­down in the International Conferences has been dealt with in the International Review, no. 22.