[Marxism] Can the working class create revolutionary leadership. Was Re: the SWP and who cares?

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Mar 28 12:21:44 MST 2004

I think the claim that the working class is incapable of forging a
revolutionary leadership is contradicted by a lot of developments, but
above all the Russian revolution, the Cuban revolution, and what is
taking place in Venezuela today.  Unless, of course, you have a narrowly
workerist and trade unionist conception of working class leadership as
the US Socialist Workers Party  does today, and then none of these
really cuts the mustard.  The leadership will always tend to be made up
of forces of different origins and different struggle experiences that
come together in concrete circumstances (I am not a unity monger) as
Lenin and thousands of  rand file working class fighters and Trotsky and
the left, Left SRs and others came together to make the victorious
As the July 26 Movement rural and urban united through struggle, and
joined with the Revolutionary Student Directorate, the PSP and its
peasant organizations and a range of other Cuban fighters to make
today's Cuban Communist Party.
In the United States, the outstanding single example of that kind of
leadership is Malcolm X, but there was also Debs, the IWW, the Communist
Party, and, yes, Cannon and Dobbs, particularly their role in leading a
fight in Minneapolis that shook the whole trade union movement and
continued until it was crushed at the beginning of World War II.
There are also the examples of Thomas Sankara in Burkina, Maurice Bishop
in Grenada, and the FSLN.  The appearance of a revolutionary working
class leadership doesn't assure victory, by the way.
Then there is the powerful national revolutionary leadership and
movement in Vietnam, which hasn't been decisively defeated or
demobilized yet, in my opinion. (I think they still exist in a certain
living relationship and relationship of forces with the Vietnamese
people as a popular movement).
There are figures like Patrice Lumumba who was having to learn the hard
way about some of the enemies the struggle faced, but was clearly doing
so and left a completely heroic example.
And there is also an example of this in the leadership provided by
Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in the struggle against
apartheid.  Which, no matter what leftists think, was never likely to be
or extremely rapidly become the same thing as the struggle for
socialism.  Getting rid of apartheid was a precondition to the struggle
for socialism, and we are all stronger as a consequence.  Of course, the
problems the colonial revolution ran into in the 1990s added to the
problems of advancing toward a socialist revolution in South Africa, but
we all gainers because the struggle against the apartheid regime and
system, which was a particularly colonial and particularly backward form
of capitalist social relations, was accomplished successfully.
Frankly, I think the SWP I joined and as it existed as a grouping from
1928 was a fighting working class leadership, with all its historically
created sectarian weaknesses,  and had the potential to be a part of a
broader revolutionary leadership in the United States. It survived and
developed for a long time but was definitively smashed up and dispersed
in the 1980s.  It lasted a long time but couldn't last long enough to
converge with other substantial forces with a revolutionary perspective
for this country.  The Barnes leadership was a big factor, but they
operated in material circumstances which broke up and destroyed a lot of
radical groups, including the big blows dealt to the unions, the decline
of Nicaragua and overturn of Grenada, the fall of the Stalinized workers
states in the Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia etc.
There will be others here too, including, I am quite convinced, forces
arising out of the union movement. There will be a July 26 Movement (or
something of the kind) in this country, too.
One thing is clear from what has taken shape over time is that a formula
or a system for creating working class leadership isn't going to work,
or will only work in a certain instance, for a certain time, and up to a
certain point.  You can learn a lot from Lenin, Trotsky, or Fidel -- and
people should be trying to learn from Venezuela, including from Chavez
who has charted a course that has helped produce a broad workers and
peasants movement that is proving quite difficult for imperialism to
defeat. But it never turns out to be the answer to just "do like they
did" or like one imagines "they would do here" because they did what
they did in a specific time and place and in certain historical
circumstances.  I am for real unity based on real convergences in real
life, but I don't think the solution lies in simply trying to
artificially unify everything that moves.  The process has to be lived
with and their is no cookie-cutter solution.
I am convinced that the most important "ideological" programmatic point
is the perspective of a genuine popular revolution in your own country.
That's what unites all the examples I've noted, including Malcolm X.
That's what Cannon insisted he was all about, and I think he was on the
right track there.
But I think hopelessness about the creation of revolutionary leadership
tends to arise out of the more narrow Trotskyist and other sectarian
conceptions of forging leadership, as well as trade union bureaucratic,
social democratic, and Frankfurt School type philosophical influences..
>From a broader and more historical view, this process is still taking
place and, in some places (some of which we don't know about yet as we
didn't know much about what was happening in Cuba through the early 50s
or in Burkina or in Grenada) is moving forward.
So frankly, I see no evidence that history gives any kind of consistent
support to the theory of the incapacity of the working class to create
revolutionary leadership, including in the United States.  

Quite the contrary, actually.  What I see going on in the world gives
grounds for a basically optimistic outlook.
Fred Feldman

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