Conscious Self-Emancipation

In my criticism of the SPB and Red Action - see my contribution 'Self-Emancipation of the Class', OP 5 - I wrote that the Manifesto of the Communist Party, in dealing with what the reactionary socialists had to offer stated that they:

'did not even hold out the prospect of the emancipation of the oppressed workers through a communist organisation'

This quotation, in fact, is from the answer to question 24 in the Principles of Communism which was written by Engels in October 1847 for the Communist League and used as the basis for the Manifesto. So, my apologies to those who couldn't find it, particularly Comrade Gordon of Red Action who is perfectly entitled to take me to task over that.

But Gordon responds by digging out a completely different passage, from the Manifesto section 'Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism', which I did not refer to at all. He then constructs an argument, not only to falsely accuse me of advocating leadership by 'petty-bourgeois tendencies external to the class', but also to open up an attack upon Lenin as, wait for it, a reformist who considered that the working class was incapable of emancipating itself!

On what does Comrade Gordon, using profuse quotations from Marx, base his claim that Lenin considered that the working class should place itself under the leadership of 'educated and propertied' bourgeois? Lenin, in What Is To Be Done?', recorded his agreement with Kautsky, that:

'The vehicle of science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians, who, in their turn, introduced it into the proletarian class struggle ...'

Gordon dubs this observation of historical fact, as 'the proposed model of the party-class relationship' and he again quotes from Marx claiming that Lenin considered that the workers 'must be freed from above by philanthropic persons from the upper and lower middle classes'.

At this point, Gordon glibly quotes from Marx on the International:

'What was new about the International was that it was established by the working men themselves. Before the foundation of the International all the different organisations had been run by some radicals among the ruling classes, but the International was established by the working men for themselves.'

Maybe Comrade Gordon will soon try to have us believe that Lenin was merely a radical from the ruling class. The workers in the International were what Lenin would have described as advanced workers, a number of whom were already versed in the theory of scientific socialism. And who was the effective leader of the International? None other than Marx, the bourgeois intellectual!

In fact, it was Lenin also, and not just Marx, who 'entirely trusted to the intellectual development of the working class, which was sure to result from combined action and mutual discussion.' Lenin insisted not just on the necessity for the composition of the revolutionary party to be predominantly working class but also he stressed the importance of developing a working class intelligentsia that would balance and complement the influence of bourgeois intellectuals within the party. He insisted that provision should be made for those workers in the party, who had the potential for independent theoretical elaboration, to be released from stultifying conditions at work.

On the question of the interrelationship between the 'spontaneous' and the 'conscious'. The point is that, whatever the degree of spontaneity displayed by the class, its se!f-emancipation will be a conscious self-emancipation precisely because its class ideology, elaborated in the first place by bourgeois intellectuals, has already been introduced into the class, nationally and internationally, by intellectually developed, advanced workers. What it all comes down to is that, in order for the working class to achieve Gordon's idea of its self-emancipation, it must firstly deprive itself of its most revolutionary conscious elements organised in a disciplined, political party. Presumably this is to be replaced by Red Action's 'unconditionally democratic', revolutionary party.

On industrial management in the Soviet Union, Comrade Gordon, I did not concede 'Lenin's advocacy of economic autocracy', that is, absolute economic government by one man, because Lenin did not advocate any such thing, any more than he advocated political autocracy or absolute government by one man. When Lenin referred to the necessity for 'the subordination of the will of thousands to the will of one' he was advocating one man management in each enterprise. He was making a plea for industrial discipline, to accord with an overall economic strategy to meet the needs of the first socialist society which was struggling for its very survival.

Discipline forms an essential part of the rational organisation of the productive forces in society and workers recognise that, although in a country with a higher, industrial culture, such as Britain, how discipline should be maintained in the transition from capitalism to communism will be very much a matter of continuing debate.

Abbie Young
Open Polemic Issue 7