Self-Emancipation of the Class

Both the Socialist Party of Britain and Red Action, take the view that Lenin was an opponent of the self-emancipation of the working class. (O.P. No.4.)

In support of this, the SPB, after quoting Lenin out of socio-historical context, makes him the original so-called 'Stalinist', the one who prepared the ground for the establishment of a totalitarian, 'state capitalist' and imperialist dictatorship of a new bourgeoisie.

How fortunate for Marx. Likely as not, if he had also been a leader, tempered in the heat of an actual revolutionary struggle against world imperialism, he might also have earned himself a similar accolade. After all, it is certainly evident that 'Lenin led to Stalin' but it is also evident that Marx led to Lenin.

F.Gordon of Red Action ignores the deep differences that existed between Lenin and Trotsky, both before and after 'October' in order to establish a polemical approach to enable him to use the views of Trotsky for his attack on Lenin.

On the subject of the trade unions, he quotes Trotsky as follows:

"the militarisation of labour ... is the inevitable method of organising and disciplining labour power in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism."

But, Gordon, who clearly prides himself on having read a lot of Lenin, says not a word of the fact that Lenin was strongly opposed to Trotsky's approach on this question.

In Lenin's platform, supported by the Party Congress, the trade unions were defined as a school of administration, a school of management, a school of communism. Gordon may not like either approach, but that does not mean that they were not completely different in spirit.

On party and class, he quotes Lenin:

"The dictatorship of the working class is being implemented by the Bolshevik party, the party which as far back as 1905 and even earlier merged with the entire revolutionary proletariat."

He then goes on to say;

'The concept of a distinct party apparatus which has nonetheless "merged" with the entire proletariat (or the entire 'revolutionary' element) evidently conflicts with Marx's own statements concerning the 'self-emancipation' of the class.

Now, one would expect, at this point, that our Red Action, 'Marxist' would refute Lenin's concept of the relationship between party and class with a relevant and perhaps, decisive quotation from Marx himself. But no. It only 'evidently' conflicts with Marx's own statements. So we get 'Marx's own position' being voiced, not by Marx himself, but 'via' another quotation from Trotsky:

'The idea of replacing the will of the masses by the resoluteness of the so-called vanguard is absolutely impermissible and non- Marxist. Through the consciousness and will of the vanguard it is possible to exert influence over the masses ... but it is impossible to replace the masses with this vanguard.'

I doubt that there are any communists who would disagree with that sentiment, but it is not entirely relevant to Lenin's observation of the vanguard merging with the revolutionary proletariat.

What did Marx actually say about the relationship of the party to the class? We need look no further than the Manifesto of the Communist Party which, in dealing with what the reactionary socialists had to offer, states that they;

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

In that simple statement we have a clear, Marxist explanation as to how revolutionary theory needs to be interrelated with the spontaneous in the working class, that is, in the first instance, through a communist organisation.

As Lenin put it:

'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.'

Lenin expanded on this with the correct view that the working class contained different levels of socialist consciousness. Within its ranks could be found advanced workers who accept socialism consciously, average workers who strive for socialism but who cannot become fully independent leaders and, behind them, the mass that constituted the lower strata of the proletariat. He argued that it was largely objective conditions within the working class which created these differences and he particularly attacked the Economists for refusing to respond politically and organisationally to this condition of the working class.

Lenin realised that the linking of the advanced workers with the revolutionary Marxist movement was the key to ensuring the advancement of the class as a whole. But, like some of our present day 'economists', although from a different standpoint, Gordon is, in effect, denying that such differences exist within the working class. However, unlike the 'economists' who approach the working class as generally backward, Gordon seems to approach it as generally advanced.

It is precisely on this view of the class that Red Action poses the idea of the spontaneous self-emancipation of the working class against the idea of the conscious self-emancipation of the working class, as perceived by Marx. Consequently, with this distorted Marxist perspective on the self-emancipation of the working class. Red Action cannot conceive of the possibility of the vanguard party merging with the entire revolutionary proletariat.

Red Action's understanding of the 'self-emancipation' of the working class is connected to its views on 'workers' control' which reveals how far removed it is from scientific socialist theory. Although Gordon reluctantly admits that Lenin was referring to industrial management when he spoke of thousands subordinating their will to the 'will of one', he nevertheless implies that Lenin really meant political subordination to the 'will of one' in society as a whole.

Gordon quotes disapprovingly from the Bolshevik,

'The workers in each enterprise should not get the impression that the enterprise belongs to them.'

And from Lenin:

"When we say: 'workers' control', always juxtaposing this slogan to the dictatorship of the proletariat, always putting it immediately alter the latter, we thereby explain what kind of state we mean. The state is the organ of class domination."

As Marxists, it was absolutely right for both Larin and Lenin to point out in this way that sectional interests must be made subordinate to the general interests of the class as a whole, that workers - in individual enterprises - should not be granted the right to use their particular economic power in the production process for their own sectional interest or to gain particular political advantage. The attitude of communists in the trade unions under a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has to be qualitatively different from their attitude towards the trade unions under a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Gordon goes on to argue that, in 1918, to imprison workers for the duration of a strike or to deprive them of their wages is:

'not an authentic description of the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat'.

Leaving aside Gordon's rather silly notion that the complexity of the dictatorship of the proletariat can be prescribed in this manner, Lenin's approach to the trade unions was aimed at resolving their relationship to the socialist state. To put it simply, they should be neither completely subordinate to or completely independent of their socialist state.

Of course, anarchists and 'state capitalists' are opposed to Lenin's approach on this question. The former, because they view the weapon of strike action as invaluable in their universal struggle against any state and the latter, because they did not accept that the Soviet Union was in any case, a socialist state. Inevitably, the Soviet party, which looked upon itself as Marx's 'communist organisation' through which the emancipation of the oppressed workers would be realised, regarded them as the enemies of socialism objectively assisting the imperialist class enemy in its attacks upon the Soviet Union,

To return therefore to the question of workers' control. There is another, more important and fundamental reason why

'The workers in each enterprise should not get the impression that the enterprise belongs to them'.

This is, not simply because each enterprise belongs to society as a whole but, because such an idea, at the commencement of the lower stage of communist society, moves in the direction of anarchy as opposed to planning. It leads, almost certainly, to demands for powers of ownership being transferred, from society as a whole, to the individual enterprises and therefore to capitalist restoration.

It was in the existing conditions pertaining in the Soviet Union that Lenin developed his ideas concerning the self emancipation of the working class, based firmly on the fundamental theory of Marxism which holds out, to use Marx's actual words once again:

'the prospect of the emancipation of the oppressed workers through a communist organisation.'

That is surely the starting point for anyone who professes to be a Marxist.

Abbie Young