Over a period of two centuries and more, humankind has made tremendous strides in developing its power to control nature and, in terms of medicine and surgery in all their aspects, over itself. But we have proved as yet unable to break through into the higher stage of civilisation whose objective preconditions have long existed - the stage characterised by rational, human control over our society, and over nature, by a harmonious relationship with the eco-system on which everything depends.
We are still at the mercy of irrational social and political forces, even while our power to tame the irrational forces of nature, at whose mercy humankind has been throughout its existence, reaches an amazing and still increasing capacity.
Where social relations are concerned, humankind is kept in a condition of possibly suicidal macro-irrationality by the internal conflicts, contradictions and bestialities of a class society that has outlived itself: by the fact that we still live in a society controlled by an exploitative ruling class in its own interests.
Uncontrolled social forces, and social forces controlled by the ruling class predators, create repeated devastation in communities and countries across the world. Many, many millions of human beings, even those living in the richest countries, live lives imprisoned in want, insecurity and ever-threatening, socially-determined, avoidable catastrophe, side by side with people - close by, or in places that with modern transport systems are also "close by" - living rich and, some of them extravagant, lives.
The dominant religion in our society is the awestruck worship of market forces and the human groups and individuals who personify their depredations. We take it for granted that tens of millions of human lives each year should be sacrificed to propitiate the forces of social chaos.
In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels outlined the alternative in the history of human society to the victory of the representative of historical progress. "The mutual ruination of the contending classes" takes on a new and terrible meaning in our time, in a society that progressively destroys the natural preconditions of production and is destroying the conditions of its own social existence.
The progressive ruination of the environment is the terrible ultimate price humankind will pay and is paying for its prolonged incapacity to put its own society under rational democratic control - that is, make a socialist revolution.
What is the socialist revolution? How does it relate to the existing system? What makes the socialists' belief in their own cause rational, the product of a scientific view of history, despite the present weakness of socialism?
Capitalism creates the basis of socialism
Capitals grow by the eating up of the smaller by the bigger capitals, in a progression that has led in our time to global companies richer than many governments. Today, world-wide, the capitalist classes are dominant in a way less than ever before alloyed by old customs and compromises, and they are more closely intermeshed across national frontiers. Simultaneously, the old measures of social provision implemented by Western welfare states and Third World bureaucratic regimes are being stripped away. Inequality between rich and poor is increasing worldwide, and within most individual countries.
"Hand in hand with centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime.
Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.
The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated...
This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on co-operation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production...
The transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property... is the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people".
Capitalism rests on the exploitation of wage workers, people with no property in the means of production and only their own labour power to sell - the proletariat. Capitalism creates the proletariat. What do we mean when we say that the proletariat is central to the socialist alternative to capitalism?
The revolutionary potential of the working class
Marx again: "The first attempt of workers to associate among themselves always takes place in the form of combinations.
Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance - combination.
Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist.
If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in the face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages. This is so true that English economists are amazed to see the workers sacrifice a good part of their wages in favour of associations, which, in the eyes of these economists, are established solely in favour of wages.
In this struggle - a veritable civil war - all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character.
Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends becomes class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle...
When it is a question of making a precise study of strikes, combinations and other forms in which the proletarians carry out before our eyes their organisation as a class, some are seized with real fear and others display a transcendental disdain.
An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on the antagonism of classes. The emancipation of the oppressed class thus implies necessarily the creation of a new society. For the oppressed class to be able to emancipate itself, it is necessary that the productive powers already acquired and the existing social relations should no longer be capable of existing side by side. Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself. The organisation of revolutionary elements as a class supposes the existence of all the productive forces which could be engendered in the bosom of the old society.
Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination¦? No.
The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class, just as the condition for the liberation of the third estate, of the bourgeois order, was the abolition of all estates and all orders.
The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism...
Meanwhile the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a struggle of class against class, a struggle which carried to its highest expression is a total revolution. Indeed, is it at all surprising that a society founded on the opposition of classes should culminate in brutal contradiction, the shock of body against body, as its final denouement?
Do not say that social movement excludes political movement. There is never a political movement which is not at the same time social.
It is only in an order of things in which there are no more classes and class antagonisms that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions. Till then, on the eve of every general reshuffling of society, the last word of social science will always be:
˜Le combat ou la mort; la lutte sanguinaire ou le nÃ©ant. C'est ainsi que la question est invinciblement posÃ©e'."
[From the novel Jean Siska by George Sand: ˜Combat or Death: bloody struggle or extinction. It is thus that the question is inexorably put.']
Blockages and obstacles
Today the wage-working class is, for the first time in history, probably the largest social class on the planet. There are probably also more organised workers across the world than ever before, with maybe 200 million trade unionists today. Nominal trade union numbers were bigger before 1989, but were artificially inflated by including the members of the state-controlled fake unions of the USSR, Eastern Europe, etc.
But the idea that they exist to replace capitalism with a higher system, to take humankind to socialism, is not the guiding principle of these labour movements.
Explosions recur, both in the older capitalist countries and the newer ones, as in France 1995 and South Korea 1996. But even when the working class struggles and organises on a large scale, it finds that capitalism has tremendous flexibility for accommodating such struggles and for seducing and pacifying the leaders of workers' organisations.
Earlier generations of socialists thought of the transition from capitalism to socialism as a much more simple business than it has proved to be, as something covering a shorter time span than it is taking. They thought of the self-preparation of the working class to lead humankind out of capitalist neo-barbarism as much more straightforward thing than it has been.
Labour movements experience not only phases of growth and political development, but also phases of destruction and defeat - such as that experienced by the revolutionary labour movement before World War Two -of decay, decline and political regression, and then, again, periods of new growth and political refocusing.
In the last 20 years, side by side with a long political regression of labour movements in countries like Britain, there has been a tremendous growth of working class movements in aggregate across the world, then a lull in the last ten years or so, and now some signs of a new generation of young radicals emerging.
The bourgeoisie too spent ages as a class that needed to remake society in its own image. It took the bourgeoisie, living within feudalism and monarchist absolutist systems, hundreds of years to make itself fit to be the ruling class.
It went through many phases, experienced false starts, defeats, was led into "historical compromises" with its class-antagonists.
Yet as a revolutionary class it had immense advantages compared to the proletariat in capitalist society. Its wealth, power, self-rule and historical self-awareness grew even within the old system; the growth of markets, the increasing role of money in the old society, cleared its way and made it socially a subordinate segment of the exploiters even before it ruled. By contrast, the working class in capitalism remains the basic exploited class: it can progress only by independent organisation and by way of its social and political awareness. It can progress only by building a labour and socialist movement.
The Russian labour movement which, led by the Bolshevik Party, took state power in October 1917 was, in the sharpness of its theory and the adequacy of the revolutionary practice guided by that theory, the highest point reached by the working class in world history so far. It remains the great model and guide for the socialists who have come after it.
The activists and the spontaneous struggle
George Plekhanov answered the question "What is the socialist movement"?
"Shortly before the revolutionary year of 1848 there emerged among the Socialists men who looked at socialism in a completely new perspective. Seen in this new perspective the principal error of previous Socialists was precisely the fact that [for them] ˜Future history resolves itself, in their eyes, into propaganda and the practical implementation of their social plans.'
The Socialists with the new outlook saw in the future history of the civilised world something else, something incomparably more promising.
What precisely did the Socialists with the new outlook see in it? Above all class struggle, the struggle of the exploited with the exploiters, the proletariat with the bourgeoisie.
In addition they saw in it the inevitability of the impending triumph of the proletariat, the fall of the present bourgeois social order, the socialist organisation of production and the corresponding alteration in the relationships between people, i.e. even the destruction of classes, among other things.
Although they knew full well (better than their predecessors) that the socialist revolution involves a complete transformation in all social relationships, the Socialists of the new tendency did not concern themselves at all with working out a plan for the future organisation of society.
If for the followers of scientific socialism the whole future history of bourgeois society resolves itself in the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, all their practical tasks are prompted by precisely this class struggle.
Standing resolutely on the side of the proletariat, the new Socialists do everything in their power to facilitate and hasten its victory. But what exactly can they do in this case?
A necessary condition for the victory of the proletariat is its recognition of its own position, its relations with its exploiters, its historic role and its socio-political tasks.
For this reason the new Socialists consider it their principal, perhaps even their only, duty to promote the growth of this consciousness among the proletariat, which for short they call its class consciousness.
The whole success of the socialist movement is measured for them in terms of the growth in the class consciousness of the proletariat. Everything that helps this growth they see as useful to their cause: everything that slows it down as harmful.
Anything that has no effect one way or the other is of no consequence for them, it is politically uninteresting¦
You will only be recognised as a Socialist if your activity has directly facilitated the growth of the class consciousness of the proletariat. If it does not exert this direct influence then you are not a Socialist at all, even though the more or less remote consequences of your non-socialist activity may bring some degree of advantage for the cause of socialism¦.
My view, I hope, is sufficiently clear. It is expressed in its entirety in the epigram: Without workers who are conscious of their class interests there can be no socialism
If I assert that the promotion of the growth of the class consciousness of the proletariat is the sole purpose and the direct and sacred duty of the Socialists, then this does not mean that the contemporary Socialists stand for propaganda, for propaganda alone, and for nothing but propaganda.
In the broad sense of the word this is perhaps true, but only in the very broad sense¦ In general it is not easy to draw the line between agitation and what is usually called propaganda.
Agitation is also propaganda, but propaganda that takes place in particular circumstances, that is in circumstances in which even those who would not normally pay any attention are forced to listen to the propagandist's words. Propaganda is agitation that is conducted in the normal everyday course of the life of a particular country.
Agitation is propaganda occasioned by events that are not entirely ordinary and that provoke a certain upsurge in the public mood. Socialists would be very bad politicians if they were not to use such notable events for their own ends".
Side by side with the broad, elemental class struggle of the working class - and with some autonomy from it, not necessarily on the same rhythms and tempos - a certain proportion of each generation of young people growing up under capitalism become convinced that they must fight to replace this society of exploitation and competition by socialism, a society of solidarity. And some of them are consolidated as activists.
For working-class struggles to move towards revolutionary conclusions, what is needed is that those activists organise themselves; educate themselves; keep their theory and their revolutionary drive bright and sharp; and integrate themselves into the existing labour movement and win respect there, so that at critical moments of class battle they can directly challenge the old time-serving leaders and prevent the diversion of the "spontaneous socialist" impulses of the workers in struggle.
That way the activists can win wider influence, recruit new activists, refresh their own ideas by learning from the battles, and ultimately enlarge, improve, and sharpen their organisation so that at one of the inevitable points where large working-class struggle coincides with drastic internal crisis for capitalism they can lead the working class to revolutionary victory.
That is what the Russian Marxists did between the 1880s and 1917. In Russia the first revolutionary socialists - most of whom also considered themselves "Marxists" - were the populists. The development of the Russian Marxist movement involved a small section of activists separating themselves off from a populist movement which, though in crisis, was still large, active, and influential, in order to argue in theoretical pamphlets for a new approach.
That approach was summed up by Plekhanov in the idea that the Marxists were "convinced that not the workers are necessary for the revolution, but the revolution for the workers"
Later the Marxists became a mass movement in 1905, only to split definitively and be reduced to very small numbers of reliable activists in the years of reaction which followed. As Lenin put it, "Russia achieved Marxism... through the agony she experienced in half a century of unparalleled torment and sacrifice, of unparalleled revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, practical trial, disappointment, verification, and comparison with European experience".
The revolutionary party
The working class is unique among all revolutionary classes in that it remains a class of wage slaves until, by seizing political power and the means of production, it makes the decisive step towards emancipating itself. Contrast the classic bourgeois experience.
The bourgeoisie develops historically within feudalism and neo-feudalism as part of a division of labour within society which allows the bourgeoisie to own a segment of the means of production, and itself to be an exploiter, long before it takes political power in society. It thus builds up wealth, culture, systems of ideas to express its interests and view of the world. It, so to speak, ripens organically, and the taking of power, the sloughing off of the old system - even if accompanied by violence - represents the natural maturing and growth of a class already in possession of important means of production and a share of the surplus.
The working class remains an exploited class - in more developed capitalist countries, the basic exploited class - up to the death knell of bourgeois social and political rule. It does not accumulate leisure, wealth or its own distinct culture. Its natural condition as a raw social category is to be dominated by the ideas of the ruling class. Its own natural and spontaneous self-defence and bargaining within the capitalist system - trade unionism - binds it ideologically to the ruling class, to bargaining within the system and in times of crisis taking responsibility for it. Its natural tribunes and intellectuals are the trade union bureaucracy.
On the face of it the proletariat might be doomed to go through history as a subordinate class. Marx and Engels themselves wrote: "The ruling ideology in every society is the ideology of the ruling class."
In fact the working class becomes a revolutionary class, conscious of its own historic class interests and possibilities in the following way, according to the views of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. A set of social theories is created and developed on the basis of bourgeois social science (economics, philosophy, history) which uncovers the necessary logic of the historic evolution of capitalism towards the completion of its organic tendency to become more and more social and monopolistic - by way of common ownership and the abolition of capitalism. The proletariat is located as the protagonist in this stage of history.
A segment of the intellectuals of the bourgeoisie comes over to the proletarian wage slaves.
The proletariat itself evolves as a class through the stage of primitive elemental revolt at being driven into the capitalist industrial hell-holes to the stage of organising itself in combinations to get fair wages, and then to the stage of banding itself together for political objectives. It develops various political traditions.
In Britain the world's first mass working class movement grouped around the demand for the franchise, which meant, in the conditions then, the right to take power. In France a tradition of communist insurrection, involving sections of the proletariat, developed. It was rooted in the left wing of the great bourgeois revolution. A tradition, experience and theory of working class politics developed.
Marx and Engels put a floor of a theory of the evolution of society (evolution including revolutions at turning points) under the once utopian aspirations of the early working class movements.
Instead of control of a portion of the means of production, the working class develops its own organisations. Within these organisations a struggle takes place between the ideas that represent the historic interests of the proletariat - Marxism - and the ideas of the bourgeoisie. This struggle occurs even where Marxists are the founders of the labour movement.
Antonio Gramsci summed up the threefold nature of the class struggle
"We know that the proletariat's struggle against capitalism is waged on three fronts: the economic, the political and the ideological. The economic struggle has three phases: resistance to capitalism, i.e. the elementary trade-union phase; the offensive against capitalism for workers' control of production; and the struggle to eliminate capitalism through socialisation.
The political struggle too has three principal phases: the struggle to check the bourgeoisie's power in the parliamentary State, in other words to maintain or create a democratic situation, of equilibrium between the classes, which allows the proletariat to organise; the struggle to win power and create the workers' State, in other words a complex political activity through which the proletariat mobilises around it all the anti-capitalist social forces (first and foremost the peasant class) and leads them to victory; and the phase of dictatorship of the proletariat, organised as a ruling class to eliminate all the technical and social obstacles which prevent the realisation of communism.
The economic struggle cannot be separated from the political struggle, nor can either of them be separated from the ideological struggle.
In its first, trade-union phase, the economic struggle is spontaneous; in other words, it is born inevitably of the very situation in which the proletariat finds itself under the bourgeois order. But in itself, it is not revolutionary; in other words, it does not necessarily lead to the overthrow of capitalism...
For the trade-union struggle to become a revolutionary factor, it is necessary for the proletariat to accompany it with political struggle: in other words, for the proletariat to be conscious of being the protagonist of a general struggle which touches all the most vital questions of social organisation; i.e. for it to be conscious that it is struggling for socialism...
The element of consciousness is needed, the ˜ideological' element: in other words, an understanding of the conditions of the struggle, the social relations in which the worker lives, the fundamental tendencies at work in the system of those relations, and the process of development which society undergoes as a result of the existence within it of insoluble antagonisms, etc.
The three fronts of proletarian struggle are reduced to a single one for the party of the working class, which is this precisely because it resumes and represents all the demands of the general struggle.
One certainly cannot ask every worker from the masses to be completely aware of the whole complex function which his class is destined to perform in the process of development of humanity. But this must be asked of members of the party.
One cannot aim, before the conquest of the State, to change completely the consciousness of the entire working class... But the party can and must, as a whole, represent this higher consciousness."
The blight of Stalinism
For more than 100 years things other than working class defeat and the continuation of capitalism to this stage have been possible. Working class victory and the beginning of a rational socialist system were possible; but we have had defeats. As a result, today, we have neo-barbarism superimposed by an outmoded bourgeois ruling class on an economically dynamic society.
Trotsky, who had helped the Russian workers in October 1917 demonstrate that the working class suffers from no inbuilt organic political incapacity, understood that the crux of the crisis of human civilisation in the mid-20th century was a crisis of the labour movement. Great labour movements had been created on the perspective of preparing the working class to suppress wage labour and capitalism - a working class that would make itself the ruling class, and freeing itself from capitalism, begin to free humankind from class society. The leaderships, bureaucracies and upper working class layers of the old socialist movement had, when the first imperialist World War broke out, delivered the labour movements into the hands of their bourgeois enemy as cannon fodder and butchers of the workers of other nations.
The Communist International had been created in 1919 and after to restore independent working class politics after the collapse of 1914. The Stalinist counter-revolution in the USSR in the 1920s tied the Communist International to the new bureaucratic ruling class in the USSR.
When, after 1929, capitalism reached the stage of convulsive semi-collapse, powerful labour movements existed that were strong enough to kick it into its historical grave. But they were everywhere tied to either the bourgeoisie, through the reform-socialist "labour movements", or to the Russian ruling class, through its Communist Parties. Trotsky wrote of their "perfidy" and "betrayal".
In the confusion created by the existence of big socialist parties that weren't socialist, and big Communist Parties that weren't communist, the working class suffered murderous accumulating defeat. Trotsky organised the tiny forces that could be organised to compete, with desperate urgency, for the leadership of the working class against the perfidious incumbent leaderships. But Trotsky and everything he represented was defeated and - as we have to recognise in retrospect - defeated for a whole historical period. Capitalism renewed itself on the mass graves, on the destroyed means of production and the ruined cities of the Second World War and began a long period of expansion. Stalinism survived, expanded and then slowly asphyxiated in its own bureaucratic caul, for half a century, until, in Europe, it collapsed.
Big labour movements grew in Western Europe, especially, in the new Golden Age of capitalism between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. But they grew deeply imbued with reformism and, often, Stalinist ideas. When they exploded into big battles between 1968 and the early 80s, new revolutionary-minded groupings grew, but not sufficient, and not sufficiently clear, to reconstruct a mass revolutionary socialist culture in the time available.
Defeats in the early 1980s allowed a new, more aggressive, mode of capitalist rule to consolidate, and led to a slow ebbing of the old labour movements. New labour movements emerged in new industrial centres, but, again, not yet revolutionary in temper.
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 came at a time when the workers' movement in the West had been on the retreat for a decade. It fuelled a great surge of capitalist triumphalism, which continues to this day. In many countries it demoralised and dissipated large numbers of the men and women who considered themselves "communists" and "socialists" and who really were the people who provided the activist backbone of the labour movement, the trade union branches and the workplace committees.
It created wider openings for the genuine communists, the Trotskyists. But the collapse also revealed how much, in the long years of its isolation, the Trotskyist milieu had become waterlogged with seepage from Stalinism. Today groupings like the SWP, nominally Trotskyist, actually operate more like a small replica of the 1960s Communist Parties, their politics dominated by the "popular front" approach both internationally and in domestic politics.
Who are we, the AWL? We are those who continue to fight for independent working-class politics and for working-class self-liberation against both capitalism and reactionary anti-capitalism (such as Islamic fundamentalism). We are those who continue, as best we can, the Trotskyism of Trotsky and his comrades in the 1930s, rather than extrapolating the cod "orthodox Trotskyism" shaped in the late 1940s and early 1950s into a Stalinist-influenced neo-populism. We are the pioneers of the future mass revolutionary workers' parties which will be free of Stalinist seepage and sharp-edged in their drive for independent working-class struggle.
It is impossible to tell how long it will take the working class to make itself ready to suppress capitalist neo-barbarism and take humankind forward. It is more easily definable in terms of things that must be accomplished.
The labour movements again need to learn by way of their own experience and by the enlightening work of socialists:
- that capitalism is neither natural nor eternal;
- that it is a historically finite system whose inner processes - the creation and recreation of a proletariat and the relentless socialisation of the means of production, of which "globalisation" is the latest manifestation - prepare its own end;
- that capitalism digs its own grave;
- that the working class, which finds no class in society "lower" than itself and which can only organise the economy collectively, that is, democratically, is the representative within capitalism of the post-capitalism future, and the only force that can suppress this neo-barbarism and replace it with something better.
Quick, seemingly miraculous, transformations in the thinking of labour movements have occurred and will occur. That worker who accepts capitalism is in a condition in which her objective interests as both worker and human being are at odds with the ideas about society and the world she has been taught to accept. Once that begins to change, everything can change.
Marxism is a necessary part of this process.
Labour movements can arrive at vaguely "socialist" hopes and aspirations, just as young people can arrive at angry rebellion against capitalism. Scientific understanding of capitalism, of society, of the centrality of the working class and the politics of working class self-liberation - in short, understanding of how we can map the way from capitalism neo-barbarism to human liberation - does not arise "spontaneously". That is what Marxist theory is for. That is Marxism's irreplaceable contribution.
Writing about Russia 100 years ago, Lenin put it like this:
"Social-Democracy [the revolutionary Marxist movement] is a combination of the labour movement with socialism. Its task is not passively to serve the labour movement at each of its separate stages, but to represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to point out to this movement its ultimate aims and its political tasks, and to protect its political and ideological independence.
Isolated from Social-Democracy, the labour movement becomes petty and inevitably becomes bourgeois: in conducting only the economic struggle, the working class loses its political independence; it becomes the tail of other parties and runs counter to the great slogan: ˜The emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves.'
In every country there has been a period in which the labour movement existed separately from the socialist movement, each going its own road; and in every country this state of isolation weakened both the socialist movement and the labour movement. Only the combination of socialism with the labour movement in each country created a durable basis for both the one and the other. But in each country this combination of socialism with the labour movement took place historically, was brought about in a special way, in accordance with the conditions prevailing at the time in each country¦ The process of combining the two movements is an extremely difficult one, and there is therefore nothing surprising in the fact that it is accompanied by vacillations and doubts.".
And again: "The strikes of the 1890s [in Russia] revealed far greater flashes of consciousness: definite demands were put forward, the time to strike was carefully chosen, known cases and examples in other places were discussed, etc. While the earlier riots were simply uprisings of the oppressed, the systematic strikes represented the class struggle in embryo, but only in embryo.
Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, but not yet Social-Democratic struggles. They testified to the awakening antagonisms between workers and employers, but the workers were not and could not be conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., it was not yet Social-Democratic consciousness. In this sense, the strikes of the 1890s, in spite of the enormous progress they represented as compared with the ˜riots', represented a purely spontaneous movement.
We said that there could not yet be Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. This consciousness could only be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., it may itself realise the necessity for combining in unions, for fighting against the employers and for striving to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.
The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals. According to their social status, the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. Similarly, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose quite independently of the spontaneous growth of the labour movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of ideas among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia."
Today, Marxism, scientific socialism - what in Lenin's time was called Social Democracy - is everywhere separate from the labour movement, greatly more so than when Lenin was writing. To unite Marxism with the labour movement is the task of revolutionary socialists and consistent democrats everywhere. The collapse of Stalinism gives us a better chance of doing that then we have had in 75 years.
But Marxism itself - the consciousness of the unconscious processes of society - Marxism as a guide to revolutionary action, has suffered tremendous blows in the last historical period.
The supreme irony is that the collapse of Russian Stalinism, which had through much of the 20th century turned "Marxism" into the pidgin religion of a totalitarian state, should have as its first consequence the discrediting of "Marxism". That is only the first consequence. The collapse of the Russian state-fostered pidgin Marxism clears the way for the development of unfalsified Marxism. We have a considerable way to go yet to achieve that.
The revolutionary Marxist tradition is "given", but Marxism is not. Marxism as a living force in socialist organisations and in the labour movement is not something given - it has to be fought for and won and then again fought for and won over again, and then yet again.
It has to be clarified and refined and augmented, again and again in a never-ending process. That process is, in a word, "the class struggle on the ideological front".
Lenin said it plainly and truly: "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." He also said: "Practice without theory is blind: theory without practice is sterile." In a declaration of the Editorial Board of the revolutionary newspaper Iskra, Lenin wrote:
"The intellectual unity of Russian Social-Democrats has still be to established, and in order to achieve this it is necessary, in our opinion, to have an open and thorough discussion of the fundamental principles and tactical questions¦ Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all firmly and definitely draw the lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity will be merely a fictitious unity, which will conceal the prevailing confusion and prevent its complete elimination.
Naturally, therefore, we do not intend to utilise our publication merely as a storehouse for various views. On the contrary, we shall conduct it along the lines of a strictly defined tendency. This tendency can be expressed by the word Marxism, and there is hardly need to add that we stand for the consistent development of the ideas of Marx and Engels, and utterly reject the half-way, vague and opportunistic emendations which have now become so fashionable¦"
Having rejected eclecticism and indifferentism, he went on:
"But while discussing all questions from our own definite point of view, we shall not rule out of our columns polemics between comrades. Open polemics within the sight and hearing of all Russian Social-Democrats and class conscious workers are necessary and desirable, in order to explain the profound differences that exist, to obtain a comprehensive discussion of disputed questions, and to combat the extremes into which the representatives, not only of various views, but also of various localities or various ˜crafts' in the revolutionary movement inevitably fall.
As has already been stated, we also consider one of the drawbacks of the present-day movement to be the absence of open polemics among those holding avowedly differing views, an effort to conceal the differences that exist over extremely serious questions."
These words offer a guide to revolutionary Marxists now. They will guide the conduct of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty.
The fight for Marxism and for a Marxist labour movement is the fight to prepare the only force capable of taking humanity out of our age of neo-barbarism, the working class, for that task. It is for that task that the Alliance For Workers Liberty exists and fights.