Class feelings

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Sat May 4 15:00:45 MDT 1996

Well, Zeynep, humble intermediary form or not, your contribution shows very
clearly that you're thinking this through yourself and that this process so
far has brought you to the position you stated, and that you're open for
further developments. This is the best possible precondition for a
constructive discussion.

Now, there's a huge black hole in your argument, and that's the absence of
a revolutionary, internationalist workers' party.

This lack is reflected most clearly in the fact that you focus on the
intellectuals and their role. You don't entirely forget the caste of
intellectuals as a whole, but you focus on the few who have reached
revolutionary socialist positions.

When you consider workers, however, you focus immediately on the class of
workers as a whole, and see subjective backwardness -- but this is exactly
what you would have seen if you'd focused on the intellectuals as a whole!

If a revolutionary workers party were a central part of your experience of
politics, you wouldn't have done this. You'd have been able to see and
compare both workers and intellectuals who'd reached revolutionary
socialist positions
and you'd have seen them working side by side for the revolution.

You exaggerate the difficulties in the way of reaching broad masses of
workers by characterizing the class as 'dehumanized'. This is nonsense.
Obviously, workers are alienated under capitalism, the same as everyone
else. Obviously, they are materially shut out from education, full
democratic and cultural participation in society and so on. This doesn't
dehumanize them. They are fully capable of recognizing their own concrete
interests. The problem is that because of the barriers capitalist society
erects for them, they often do this in a very limited and empirical way.

But this is precisely the problem the party can solve. The party has the
task of educating workers in the history of their class and its interests
and their ability to change society in the interests of their own class and
the whole of humanity.

You write:

>working class people can understand everything, if you use the explanation
>of the concept, instead of the name of the concept which is alien to them.
>Immediate form means to me (Louis, I think it means the same thing for you,
>not sure) calling them to fight for say, "land, peace and bread" (Russian
>Revolution), or "land and freedom" (Maybe Cuban and Nicaraguan), instead of
>calling for "dictatorship of the proletariat" as the immediate aim.

and you bring in the distinction between propaganda and agitation. This is
fine. Only you have deleted the role of the party in this process by
talking only of a movement - as if a movement could have a single will and
a historically persistent sense of direction. A movement cannot give
leadership. A movement has a leadership, and needs leadership. This
leadership (at times conflicting leaderships or a struggle for leadership
-- as in Russia between February and October 1917) is provided by the
parties previously existing or emerging during the course of the movement.

For socialists, the important lessons were provided by the success of the
Bolsheviks in October 1917, and they had been around a long time.

You see, the only guarantee the Russian workers and rural masses had that
they would be able to get and keep any 'land, peace and bread', was the
seizure of state power by revolutionary socialists and the transformation
of Russia into a workers' state. This knowledge was in fact not theirs as
such, but was being used on their behalf, in their service, by
revolutionary workers and peasants organized in the Bolshevik party. If you
like, the party mediated between the masses and their historical needs. And
the masses trusted it enough to select and follow its leadership.

The party could only develop to this readiness for its historical task by
discussing the most advanced questions of history, politics, economics and
social transformation with no holds barred. Which meant things like chewing
over the dictatorship of the proletariat for breakfast. The party was able
to discuss things the masses were in no position to discuss, because it
recruited those who were ready to criticize everyday notions, learn the
real reasons behind the oppression and injustice, and fight for a new
society. And it had continuity, because it didn't fizzle out with the
collapse of this or that strike wave or this or that period of social
agitation or national unrest or whatever movement was on the agenda at the

In concrete terms, no parties in the Social-Democratic or Stalinist
traditions are able to provide this kind of 'service' to the working-class.
No purely national parties will be much help either. Three or four
international parties within the tradition of the Fourth International are
what I see as the nearest you'll get at the moment. Starting with my own
organization, these are the International Workers League (also known as the
LIT - Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores), the Workers International
(with the British Workers Press as its flagship paper), International
Militant and the United Secretariat (Mandelite). The first two are
collaborating by way of a Liaison Committee, whose Joint Declaration (on
the world situation and main political goals) I can send you if you're
interested. I don't hold out much hope for the Mandelite tendency because
of its Pabloism in relation to the former Soviet Union (the Stalinist
bureaucracy would be forced by history to do our revolutionary tasks for
us), its growing federalism and its hopeless tailending of a never-ending
stream of one-off movements, but there are a number of serious Trotskyists
still organized in it.

What you say about the development of the Kurdish revolutionary movement
illustrates clearly the way many different levels of consciousness and
commitment can be focused in one great historical task if an organizational
form is found that is capable of encouraging people to act to realize this
task. It also illustrates the limitations of the bourgeois-democratic tasks
such as national liberation - they don't have a necessary social agenda. So
on the one hand the organization of nationalist rebellion is made easier by
the transparency of national oppression compared with economic oppression,
but the solutions will be screwed up by the social fuzziness of a
multi-class programme. The organization of socialist rebellion is more
difficult initially - it requires an enormous effort of patient explanation
and demonstration - but the social clarity of the measures needed will make
the solutions much more viable.

To finish off I want to look at what Louis wrote:

>>The important thing to study about the FSLN is how they came to power.

This is not as important as studying what they did when they had power -
and gave it back to a class enemy they reconstituted (or allowed to
reconstitute - anyone see Terminator II?).

>>... They participated in mass struggles and won the confidence of the

This is excellent. This applies to all of us.

>They refrained from using "Marxist-Leninist" mumbo-jumbo the way
>>you do and communicated a revolutionary message in the most immediate

This is sheer opportunist wishful thinking (as well as containing the usual
Pavlov put-down).

1) Give me an example of 'Marxist-Leninist' mumbo-jumbo and show me where
I've used it.

2) They weren't Marxist-Leninists, so their mumbo-jumbo was of a different
kind, and being petty-bourgeois nationalists they were full of it and
anaesthetized people's minds on social and international issues. Their
whole strategy was one for immediate attrition of revolutionary forces and
medium-term defeat for the revolution. If that isn't mumbo-jumbo, what is?

3) They communicated an anti-dictatorial revolutionary message quite well
enough to win the people and throw out Somoza and his crew. For this
posterity will celebrate them.

4) They failed to communicate a socialist, internationalist revolutionary
message. This failure condemned the democratic side of their revolution to
failure and sold out the national side of it to imperialism after just a
few years. For this posterity will criticize them.

I think a lot of the misunderstandings and bad feeling in discussions on
the list arise from matters involved in what we're discussing right here.

Among (mostly) organized Marxist workers and intellectuals it is pretty
natural to use Marxist terminology you wouldn't at a mass meeting or
talking to strikers. (Propaganda) The thing is, the people you're
addressing understand you, they know what you're talking about and are
willing to try and follow your arguments. At broader gatherings and mass
meetings you avoid the terminology and make your points in plain language.
(Agitation) Again, the goal is that people know what you're talking about
and are willing to take in your arguments.

Problems arise on the list when people can't make their minds up about the
level they're arguing on. It wouldn't be difficult to find examples of
complaints of writers lowering the tone by using street language right next
to others moaning about going over people's heads by using abstruse
'Marxist-Leninist' mumbo-jumbo. But this is only a part of the trouble, and
a minor part at that. It's very easy to ask someone to clarify a statement
that seems peculiar or leaves various ends untied. I've done it to others.
They've done it to me.

A lot of the real problems we have arise from the fact that a good deal of
discussion on the list is between people with pretty firm ideas about
what's needed and what isn't to realize socialism. It's a reflection of the
battles for the leadership of the class taking place in off-line reality.
Part of this battle is reflected in hostile rhetoric and the putting down
of opponents to try and deflect their message and weaken their appeal.

Until the focus of public discussions in the class as a whole becomes a lot
sharper, I'm afraid we're going to have to live with the bickering and flak
as a fact of life. It makes it easier to take, and a lot less personal, to
grasp it as skirmishing among different positions fighting for political
leadership in the class - sooner or later a correct analysis of the class's
interests and a powerful programme of action to transform these into the
interests of the whole of society may take its position at the head of the
class, but it won't happen without a lot of fireworks on the way.



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