03/02/2019 by socialistfight
Chapter 3 of Class Consciousness and the Revolutionary Party, In Defence of Trotskyism No 3, Winter 2011
The class as we encounter them at any given point is becoming more class conscious or is retreating from it depending on the booms and slumps of the system and their understanding of why. This depends on what political influences they come under, the presence or absence of reformist or revolutionary parties, whether these are moving to the left or to the right, etc. We stress ‘class consciousness’ because this is the understanding that workers develop of their separate class interests and the need to fight with class struggle methods (strikes, pickets to stop scabbing, etc). The vast majority of workers with this understanding still have a reformist class consciousness. Sectarians deny the mass parties of the working class, Labour and Stalinists, are part of the class or at least deny the need to relate seriously to them and work within them where possible. Because they are we need the UF and the TM to take the struggle forward to increase the confidence of the class by victories won and to embolden the vanguard to think of revolutionary solutions. Their contact with revolutionary propaganda enables them to see the need to join a revolutionary party.
The work of educating the masses in class consciousness is vital but clearly, all subjective revolutionaries and many reformists do this. For instance, the British SWP, despite all their backward opportunism, clearly do more education in class consciousness (and even some confused revolutionary theory) than anyone else on the left in meetings, the annual Marxism schools and in the weekly educational columns in their press.
Of course, the SWP also propagate a great deal of miseducation and in the end did and will sell out. But only a brain-dead sectarian or outright reactionary would want to see them destroyed by the state to open the road for the genuine ‘Marxists’. We must realise that, because the domination of bourgeois ideology and the long crisis of Trotskyism the ranks, and some leaders of these groups may be sincere subjective revolutionaries or at least genuine reformist socialists.
Even the Stalinists educated, and still do to some extent, workers in reformist class consciousness; that workers have separate interests as a class and need to fight for them. The major source of cheap reproductions of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin was both the USSR and China. And these texts were taught and discussed in these countries and within the Communist Parties in the West. Stalinists led strikes and even ‘deformed’ revolutions. The Stalinists were indeed counter-revolutionary but in defence of the nationalised property relations and as a political current within the working class they could not be ‘counter-revolutionary through-and- through’; that would mean they were capitalists .
We must seek to ensure that these workers’ organisations fall to the left. We must defend them against the right. True, the genuine revolutionary Trotskyist Party (when we build it) will educate the vanguard more consistently, will be more able to propose those demands that will bring the question of state power into question and will better prepare for its overthrow. Only they will fight for and lead the second October.
They will have to do mass agitational work and relate to these groups who do in a principled way. For the majority of the time, outside of revolutionary situations, a revolutionary party has a more important, though closely related, task. It must build itself among the vanguard of the working class. That is it must prepare the minds of the workers’ natural vanguard for the conflict. It must recruit and train revolutionary workers’ leaders. It must relate to as many others as it can by the tactic of the UF and TM. It must vitally acknowledge that, because of the profusion of groups and the pressures of capitalist ideology, it will not be able to recruit all the best elements in the short to medium term.
It must teach and develop this vanguard politically – how to relate to the broad masses themselves, how to unite with them through conflict, that is it must differentiate them out and then set them to agitate amongst their fellow workers. From this, it follows that a revolutionary party must have a principled relationship with other subjectively revolutionaries and class fighters .
A principled relationship means that we must be ever willing to form all manner of UF-type alliances. We must always put the needs of the class struggle first and cooperate where ever possible with all those who are fighting and leading struggles. At the same time, we must be uncompromisingly critical of their policies and those tactics that weaken, divide or compromise the future of the class for narrow party-political advantage. We must march separately but strike together to use the traditional formulation. We must be prepared to enter and even fuse with larger ‘revolutionary’ groups provided we can maintain the right to fight for our own politics. In the case of mass parties, we need to maintain our own press and other means of propaganda.
As we have said subjective revolutionaries and class fighters may exist in the main in the ranks of rival ‘revolutionary’ organisations, in their middle cadres and in some sections of their leaderships. Their importance lies not only in the fact that the correctness our politics will enable us to recruit more easily from these if we have had a good and principled relationship with them over a long period of struggle. The importance also lies in the fact that subjective revolutionaries and principled class fighters in ‘revisionist’ or even ‘counter-revolutionary’ socialist organisations will have the ear of the masses and will lead them in struggle. So not only is it necessary to have a sympathetic understanding of the reformist attitudes of workers who follow social democratic and Stalinist parties (and, in certain circumstances, mass petty-bourgeois nationalist organisations, of which more later) but it is even more necessary to have the same attitude to the ranks and some of the better leaders of rival revolutionary/centrist groups.
A vanguard exists because it is the natural leadership of the masses. We must teach them to protect and deepen their roots in the masses by ‘merging, in a certain sense, with them’ as Lenin said. What we must not do is rip them away from their roots in the class to make them “professional revolutionaries” who can only relate to other groups by propaganda and not at all to the masses. No, they must take the masses through their experiences of struggle, they fight their backwardness utilising agitation for the class struggle for the broad masses in the main and propaganda for revolutionary socialist theory and goals for the more politically advanced workers to recruit them to the party.
So, we have agitation for the masses, in the main, and propagation for the vanguard. But all this hinges on engagement, on uniting with the workers in struggle. In other words, the UF is crucial to begin the work of revolutionary education. Similarly, the TM is crucial to propel the struggles forward in the direction of revolution.
The first level of class consciousness is reformist class consciousness, but this is a definite advance. It expresses itself in the construction of mass trade unions and social democratic/Labour (bourgeois-workers) parties. It differentiates the working class from previous tail coating of outright bourgeois panics. In Britain they tail-coated the Liberals – and the Tories in some places in the North of England – up to the period around the first Labour government of 1924. In the US they still follow the Democrats – though the blue-collar Reganite skilled workers were a substantial force several years ago.
This definite political advance, recognised by the Bolsheviks, the Communist International and every Marxists worth their salt up to now, must be defended and built upon, of which more later. This development enables the revolutionaries to relate at a higher level to those workers and to employ the tactics outlined by Lenin in Left-wing Communism.
If we said the working class, left to its own devices, is reformist this would be undialectical, but it would contain a large measure of truth. It is never ‘left to its own devices’ in any case. In order to live the working class must enter a social relationship with the bourgeoisie. It must sell its labour power to them in order to survive (increasingly so as welfare states are destroyed). This relationship is of necessity unequal and subservient. Capital, the surplus value created by the labour of past generations of workers, seems like an insurmountable mountain to the workers because they depend on it to live. Hence the only way that appears natural and sensible to the workers is to improve their conditions within that relationship, lest they cut off their noses to spite their faces’ so to speak. That is, they fear their strike action may bankrupt the company and result in the common ruin of all. So, the working class is reformist, QED.
A contradiction exists here. The capitalists are constantly revolutionising the production processes. They are moving vast quantities of capital from one branch of industry to another, from one country to another and from one continent to another to seek the maximum profit. So, the worker is thrown on the scrap heap, willy-nilly. Reformism has failed. Perhaps he (or she) did not try hard enough to make reformism work, were too slow to accept wage cuts, speed-ups and redundancies? Perhaps they struck too often and listened too readily to the militants and ignored the moderates? Certainly, in times of reaction this argument had a powerful echo.
The more far-sighted will rebel. They will see that wages of £5 an hour in England, after all the cuts, cannot compete with 50p an hour in China. The capitalists are playing them for mugs. By succumbing to national chauvinism and racism they are really cutting their nose off to spite their face. A vanguard of workers may go some way down the road of rebelling against this from half-understood ideas from other workers or half- absorbed left-wing newspaper articles.
In order to develop an integrated understanding of their own oppression and how to fight it, they must collectively organise. Trade unions first. Soon the vanguard learns these are necessary but inadequate. So, they meet revolutionary socialist one day. They become convinced of the need for international socialism and revolution, the movement grows, they push their backward work mates forward to struggle on a higher plane, the state is challenged and overthrown. The working class is revolutionary, QED. So, there you have it. The same working class is both reformist and revolutionary? It is reformist for the vast majority of the time. Only at the approach of a revolutionary situation will the vanguard begin to ask fundamental questions about the nature of capitalist society and become amenable to propaganda from revolutionaries about why it must be overturned by revolution. They will then see the need to communicate their new- found understanding to the mass of their workmates.