The publication, in English translation, of Martov's essays on the State and the socialist revolution has thrown into a dither the Right and Left "Communist Oppositions," which, after a series of changes of name and false whiskers, are doing business locally under the guises of an "independent labor league" and a "socialist workers' party." Martov is found to be especially dangerous fare for the followers of these two sets of self-styled saviors of the working class.
The expert writing for the first outfit of professional "leaders of the masses" shoos away the innocent with the naively cunning: "Don't try it. I, the apex of Marxian learning, assure you that the Martov pamphlet is a great disappointment, and not the very best thing to read, you know. So don't waste your time. Do not trouble your mind with unnecessary doubts. Read again, instead, the beautiful, poetic, inspiring work of our great father Lenin on the same question. Lectures by our leader Lovestone, or others of our staff of qualified Marxist professors, on the subject of the universality and essential lovableness of Lenin – the great democrat, our kindly light, and the rock of ages – is much better fun and a lot more instructive."
The second expert warns, almost In Leon Trotsky s own dramatic, La Traviata style: "It is a plot. A plot to deny us the leadership of the masses. A plot to serve the dastardly reformists with an excuse for their betrayals and this way hold us back from emancipating the masses. It is a plot of the mischievous semi-anarchist, semi-syndicalist, semi-socialist International Review to supply theoretic arguments to social democrats, pseudo-scientific Marxists, disheartened intellectuals, cowardly passivists, and this way help them to stop us – the real, up-and-going, tactically and strategically active, revolutionary vanguardist, revolutionary Marxist, Bolshevik-Leninist, Leninist-Bolshevik, genuine sons of the great father Lenin by comrade Trotsky (ideologically speaking, of course) – from building the Fourth International. And that means no less than to reject the proletarian revolution and invite fascism?"
Marx on "Vanguards"
This may be another occasion for quoting what Marx had to say on the "socialist" sects of his time. Just as the chanticleer in the play believes that its morning crowing pulls the sun over the horizon, so these sects – like the self-avowed, little "revolutionary vanguards" of today – tried to make themselves and others believe they were actually "leading” the working class forward. According to Marx, the development of these "revolutionary vanguards” and "that of the real workers' movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. As soon as it has attained this maturity, all sects are essentially reactionary.”
Marx pointed out the usual great lag of prevalent ideology behind material change. The political maturity of the working class (or rather, that of the majority of the population in capitalist society) – its ripeness for independent historic action, undiverted by the lilliputian pull of the various sets of self-appointed vanguards – will come when the movement of capitalism will have demonstrated overwhelmingly that the socialist revolution is the only way out of the capitalist purgatory. It will come after much bitter experience, after repeated disillusionment, after many attempts to make capitalism act the way it cannot act. The increasingly rapid movement of latter-day capitalist development is a condition for the historic maturity of the working class. The basis of this maturity – the changed attitude of the individual toward society – is already becoming noticeable now. Very few workers today believe they can ever be anything but wage slaves when not on relief. Material conditions oblige more and more erstwhile members of the so-called middle strata to understand they are doomed to a hand-to-mouth struggle for survival side by side with the wage workers. There is a suspicion spreading that millions will never work again but will just eke out their mortal days on the dole. Why? Because industry can produce better and faster than ever before.
What Is Socialist Education?
The popular inkling and dread of this situation has given rise in several countries to violent attempts to cope with it: mass movements of social reform that go by the name of fascism. Fascism is an alarm, not a corrective. Like our New Deal, the economic and political measures applied by the Fascist States cannot stop the movement of capitalism in the direction of its historic barrier. They hurry it forward to the stage and form where the need for doing away with the system of production for profit will become generally clear. A wide realization that there is no hope for a decent living under the wages system (whether in its private capitalist form, or under outright State ownership, or under Fascist government control – that, to repeat, is the ideological basis of what Marx described as the coming maturity of the working class for an independent historic movement. The realization that the present social-economic setup – the system of wage labor – cannot serve human needs adequately and must be done away with, that is socialist understanding. The independent historic movement of the working class will arise when, under the pressure of changing material conditions, after deep social experience, there appear signs of wide, popular socialist understanding. This movement will probably grow rapidly once it has begun. After a point, its growth will likely be faster than the changes in form of struggling capitalism. (It will be a greatly changed capitalism that will be taken over for socialism.)
Is this race between lagging socialist ideology and the material development of capitalism – a mechanical, or automatic, process? Human beings will reach a certain outlook as a result of bitter experience and disillusionment; as a result of frustrated attempts to solve the problem of food, clothing and shelter within the framework of the existing system; as a result of the compulsion of the material facts of over-ripe capitalism, which themselves destroy many popular illusions and prejudices hindering today clear social thinking. Will that be a mechanical, or automatic, process?
What is the role of the socialist propagandist in the development of this process? The spread of the understanding that it is necessary to do away with the wages system will not be the artificial product of the "educative" activity of socialists. It will be the cumulative historic product of the reaction of human beings to a rapidly developing capitalism that defeats all attempts at making it behave in an uncapitalist manner. Marx observed that theory, too, becomes a material force when it has laid hold of great numbers. The increased activity of socialist propagandists will have a deep and accelerating effect on the spread of socialist understanding. But placed as one factor in the general scene, the activity of the socialist propagandists cannot be the cause of the changed outlook of the population but rather a sign, a symptom, of the readiness of great numbers, under the pressure of a rapidly changing material environment, to comprehend the socialist message. When it is easier for socialist propagandists to be heard, there will be more socialist propagandists. More people will be talking socialism.
But: "What heights of education must the proletariat reach?" scoffs the Trotsky leaderite. "What is the degree of understanding that it must have of the socialist outlook? Martov would have agreed that the possibility for examining the masses to test their knowledge of socialism is excluded. He would have agreed even that all the masses can be expected to comprehend, under the adverse conditions of capitalism is that the present system is unbearable and that it is necessary to take over the factories and produce for the welfare of the people."
Eighty-nine years after Marx's patient lectures to Willich and Schapper, who were quite earnest in their illusions, our contemporary Messiahs are back to the reasoning of Willich and Schapper. And in 1939 this dogmatic idealism is being peddled as "revolutionary Marxism."
No, brother, nobody will stop to examine the masses to learn if they know enough to make the socialist revolution. We shall know that the so-called masses know enough to make the socialist revolution when they start making it, when the socialist understanding of the great numbers begins to be translated into popular socialist action, when the great numbers start to organize politically in order to accomplish the change from capitalism to socialism. For what is the socialist understanding we are talking about? Exactly this: the understanding that the present system is unbearable and that it is necessary to take over the factories and produce for the welfare of the people. Some get this understanding before others. As Martov put it, its spread "does not take in homogeneously all the layers of the proletariat, nor all phases of their consciousness.” When it will have "taken in" very many, we shall have social action for the abolition of the existing system. Quantity will make the new quality. The spread of socialist understanding will probably advance in great bounds as the accelerated capitalist development refutes harshly the present and future attempts of the national States to cope with it.
What is left of the claim of the "effective role of the vanguard" so brazenly advanced by these un-Marxian sects in the name of historical materialism, in the name of Marxism? "But," argues the Messiah, "it is senseless to think that the workers can achieve victory without a leadership formulating correct tactics and strategy. The masses do not come together on their own initiative and decide when and how to take power?"
What Is "Leadership?"
No? Even in the case of the non-socialist political action – accomplished, under the guidance of knowing minorities (vanguards), by masses that remain ignorant of the real aim, content and limits of their movement – your "leadership" will only formulate programs of action that hope to strike a response in the great mass. To be effective, not utopian, these programs must suit the prevailing outlook, the outlook that the mass has reached under the pressure of material circumstances.
Great numbers of people act for common, social purposes through political organizations, that is, through representatives. Why cannot the great mass of the people, when it possesses the understanding that "the present system is unbearable and that it is necessary to take over the factories and produce for the welfare of the people," act for that purpose through representation by their ablest and most forward comrades? We can even grant the professional "leader" his insistence on an "unmannerly" revolution, though it is evident that the greater the popular support of the revolutionary act the less likely it is to be marked by violence. And the socialist revolution, because it is the "deepest of historic actions," can only be the self-conscious act of the overwhelming majority.
If by "leadership" he means the mouthpieces of an existing general outlook, or the early voices of the future general socialist outlook, or the chosen representatives of socialist mass organizations, – what "tactics," what "strategy," can the persons writing and speaking in behalf of socialism have to offer other than the formulation of the socialist understanding which the historic development of capitalism has brought to the mass?
But by "leadership" the Trotskyite does not mean merely "mouthpieces" of the historic interests of the working class, or the representative instruments of popular socialist action. Observe his use of the military terms: tactics, strategy. By leadership, he means a "general staff of the revolution."
Napoleons of the Revolution
For him and other "Marxists" who have learned their "Marxism" in the schools of the Communist International, social revolutions are affairs of "general staffs" in command of obedient masses untroubled by the understanding of what it is all about. So was it for Bakunin who (writes Marx) "entered the International Workingmen's Association, in 1868, with the aim of forming inside it a second International called the “Alliance of Social-Democracy" with himself as leader," in other words, to "capture" it.
Referring specifically to the Russian situation Bakunin said: "The people itself should compose the revolutionary army. The revolutionary intellectuals would construct a sort of general staff" – to guide the obedient revolutionary army. For, wrote Tkachev (an immediate heir of Bakunin) in the 70's: "Neither now nor in the future is the people, left to itself, capable of accomplishing the social revolution ... The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its true needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution. ..This role and mission belong, unquestionably to the revolutionary minority." The very same relation – a revolutionary minority directing masses that are in a condition of discontent but are unaware of the real aim and content of the movement – has been found convenient by all the professional revolutionary groups, including the modern Bolsheviks, Italian Fascists and Nazis.
This is their organizational scheme:
The mass, the army of the revolution, is under the immediate supervision of the revolutionary party. The membership of the latter forms the officer ranks, the commanding cadres of the revolution. The direction of the movement, its tactical moves, strategy and maneuvers are determined and ordered by the "general staff" of the revolution. That is the inner, ruling clique of the revolutionary party. This structural and functional scheme of the Bolshevik, Fascist and Nazi party organizations was faithfully sketched in Bakunin's revolutionary catechism." The likeness was due to the similar nature of the revolutionary action that all these sets of professional revolutionists faced.
What is the chief concern of the strategy and maneuvers dictated by the revolutionary general staff? It is to win the "leadership" of the mass. It is to keep it from falling under the "leadership" of rival general staffs. This worry finds expression in the Trotskyite's fear that – "they who loudly proclaim that the workers require no leadership are in reality against any leadership but their own." For social revolution is to him a question of "right leaders:" There are good leaders and bad leaders. The Bakuninist, Bolshevik, Fascist, Nazi or Trotskyite general staff constitute the only "good leaders" and "right leaders." The salvation of the masses, the success of the revolution, depends on whether the masses submit themselves to the "right leaders." The alternative is fascism, etc., or bolshevism, or anarchy, depending on which set of professional leaders is broadcasting its claims. The submission of the masses is accomplished by having the Party flaunt the "right policy," expressed through any slogans that will succeed in striking a response in the discontent of the masses. The slogans may be false, in so far as they do not correspond to the aim that the general staff has privately set for the movement. That does not matter. It does not matter if the mass is fooled. The mass does not need to understand where it is going. The thing is to get its obedience. The "revolutionary" policy is revolutionary and the slogans are good slogans if they turn the trick.
Here too these peddlers of demagogic idealism miss reality by a mile. It has already been suggested that no matter what is the historic level of the political action considered – whether it is that of change within the framework of capitalism or that aimed at by the socialist revolution, the ideologists can only manipulate hopes and demands that have seized the minds of the general population as a result of common prevalent experience. People are not fooled into political change. The winning "leaders" are themselves the expression of the prevailing ideas of the mass, with all its prejudices. In the contest for "leadership" which takes place within capitalist society, or in a society undergoing a transformation from an earlier historic level to capitalism, it is the set of "leaders" whose program and promises correspond closest to the prevailing expectations and understanding of the great mass that finally wins the prize of government. The predominant outlook of society, and not the will of any advanced minority, is the decisive factor in any political change, whether it is progressive capitalist or socialist. However, between pro-capitalist and socialist political actions there is, we shall see, a profound difference in the relation existing between the aim of the movement and its popular means.
Thus at one time, in 1917, the Russian Bolsheviks opposed the soviets. They bellowed "all power to the soviets" a little later. They eased their way toward power by adopting as their own the language of the anti-State illusions that possessed the Russian industrial workers in 1918 in reaction to the authoritarianism of the Tsarist regime. But that was merely an avenue to power. They won State power precisely because they offered a program which responded clearly to the great cry of the Russian people for "land, bread and peace." They secured their rule by taking steps to cope immediately with the economic disorganization that prevailed in the country.
Lenin described the economic program of the victorious Bolsheviks as "immediate revolutionary measures, which were resorted to frequently in a practical way when the bourgeois governments went to war, for those measures were absolutely necessary to prevent total economic bankruptcy and famine." These measures – the nationalization of land (already appropriated privately by the peasants), the government regulation of banks and financial combines, the government regulation of industry through syndicates of employers and employees (in the later fascist style) – did not solve the terrific disorganization of the productive process. They could not be applied, since private industrial enterprise could not function even in proffered cooperation with the State. The Russian State was therefore, obliged to step in and make an heroic effort to run the industries – in places after suppressing with the bayonet the shop-committee that had seized the factories. Soviet "socialism" – that is, state-monopoly capitalism – is not the "experiment" which idealistic muddleheads describe it to be. It arose not in consequence to a plan thought up by a strong-willed, far-visioned set of idealists, but in response to the imperative needs of the country.
Instruments of Capitalist Revolution
Similarly the Italian and German Bolsheviks – the Fascists and the Nazis – won State power by suiting their program to the overwhelming popular understanding of their compatriots as to what the “country needed” in a time of national stress. In 1919 Mussolini and his fasci called for the seizure of factories and an international league of “proletarian" nations (Italy, Soviet Russia, Red Bulgaria, etc.). In 1921, they pogrommed trade union headquarters, and called for the "freedom" of private enterprise. The Nazi victory of 1933 is the product of the popular German confusion of the ills of the great depression with the “shame" of the Versailles treaty. National Socialism is a precise and meaningful term, if by "socialism" we mean what the Social-Democracy taught us it was – a popular movement for the reform of capitalism within the bounds of capitalism. Under the pressure of material circumstances both the Fascists and the Nazis were obliged to forget the little man whom they were going to save from the threat of “finance capital” and Russian communism. Following the direction of Bolshevism, they are spreading the concentration of the national economy, under a veiled form of “communist" state monopoly.
Once in power, the successful politicians can influence the thought of the population by means of the official instruments of propaganda and constraint at their disposal. But finally the attitude and expectations of the population, on which the politicians' stay in power continues to depend, are decided not by propaganda, not by tricks of ideology, and certainly not by threats of violence, but by the situation, and need of the productive forces. No matter what the Commissar of Public Enlightenment, or the head of the N .K. V .D., may have to say, no matter how often he may say it, – the developing movement of capitalist production must lead working people, and others who suffer as a result of the contradictions of capitalism, to the understanding that only the abolition of the existing productive relations can solve their problems.
We have been dealing here with the development of the capitalist revolution in Russia, Italy and Germany. The gist of Martov's essays on the State and the socialist revolution is precisely this: the Bolsheviks' accession to power in Russia is, to use Marx's words, "a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution itself and will serve the cause of the latter by aiding its further development." (Page 58, State and Socialist Revolution.) The Russian Revolution is for him a revolution for the capitalist emancipation and modernization of a great backward empire, taking place in the 20th century. The late date of its occurrence, and the role of the industrial proletariat as one of the important instruments of this revolution, explain for Martov the "socialist" phraseology with which its ideologists, the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, the Bolsheviks, dressed it up. The peculiar historic conditions under which this revolution of capitalist emancipation took place, explain for Martov why the Bolsheviks, in order to get to power, reached out for the soviets, those makeshift, spontaneous representative bodies, arising in lieu of more definite representative bodies, in a situation of social chaos. The peculiar situation explains for him the Bolsheviks' convenient loan of the notion of the possibility of instituting immediately a non-authoritarian, non-State social order – finally to clamp down on the country a highly repressive, emphatically authoritarian, bureaucratic State apparatus. No, the soviets were not "devised" by the Bolsheviks. They were found convenient and used by them for the occasion. In a number of ways, the Nazis were just as ingenious in their borrowing. "The Soviet regime becomes the means of bringing into power and maintaining in power a revolutionary minority."
Does that mean that Martov says that the Bolsheviks "represent the tradition of Blanquism," as the Trotskyite critic would have it? No, the shrewd Trotskyite has missed it again. (Or he is again inventing.) Martov makes a point of stressing that the ideas and methods do not represent the "tradition of Blanquism," but rather parallel the ideas and methods of bourgeois Jacobinism. Not that the Jacobin methods and aims were consciously imitated by the Russian revolutionists. Their choice was decided by the similar social tasks facing the two historically distinct movements. Bolshevism is, for Martov, Jacobinism in 20th Century Russia. It used, in spite of its socialist phraseology, '"methods that have featured the bourgeois revolutions. And these revolutions have always been accomplished by transferring the power of a ‘conscious minority, supporting itself on an unconscious majority' to another minority finding itself In an identical situation."
Can't Use Mass Understanding
In other words, Martov does not reprove the Bolsheviks for any errors, let alone (quoting again the wily Trotskyite) their supposed “failure to understand the necessity of waiting for the proletariat to be completely educated to the realization that socialism is desirable and necessary.” As an historic materialist, Martov understood that the socialist or bourgeois revolutionary understanding of the mass cannot be the artificial product of the efforts of educators or propagandists but develops inevitably and dialectically out of its position in capitalism. In that fine chapter on "Metaphysical Materialism and Dialectical Materialism," he shows why "the educator has himself to be educated." For him, what the critic refers to as the "errors of bolshevism" are merits which helped to perfect Bolshevism as an instrument of the capitalist emancipation of the backward Russian empire. In the making of a progressive national (bourgeois) revolution, there is no waiting "for the proletariat to be completely educated to the realization that socialism is desirable and necessary.” This is just as true about the revolutions now taking place in China, India, Turkey and Mexico, as it is true about the still incomplete Russian Revolution. ("Of what use to us," exclaims Stalin in 1939, "is a party of intellectuals?") The job of the Jacobinical intellectuals who "lead" those revolutions, is to mobilize (not to educate) the proletariat where and if, as in the 20th century Russia, the industrial proletariat of the country is important enough to serve as shock troops in the action directed by the "revolutionary vanguard." Mobilization – that is not quite the same thing as socialist understanding, and education.
Martov's writings on the Russian Revolution are especially useful to us because they make clear what a socialist revolution is not. Martov wrote on the Russian Revolution during the years 1918 to 1923. His analysis and observations show that the Stalinist regime of today is not a perversion but a perfection of something that is inherent in Bolshevism, just as it is in Italian Fascism and German Nazism. Martov was not a prophet. He was an observer and analyst. "Revolution betrayed!" is the pathetic cry of a politician who having fallen from power, is profoundly envious of the Bolshevik Caesar smoking his pipe with great ease on the top of the great industrial-military pile that rises on the backs of the Russian people. For the fallen Commissar still loves what, in his dogmatic-idealist way of seeing things, he considers to be his handiwork.
Martov's writings are especially useful to us because they help to uncover the "socialist" masquerade of the agents of a national bourgeois revolution, and their attempts to foist the swindle on the workers of the world, to the hurt of the cause of socialism.
After the "First International " – which was founded by Marx and his associates in an attempt to "replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organization of the working class for struggle" – the labor movement has, in turn, seen the prominence of the following three ideological systems, each of which offered something that responded to the illusions common at the time:
Anarchism and Social Democracy
1. Anarchism in the 80's and 90's. The proletarian revolution was going to begin by doing away with the State. In fact, its most important early figure, Michael Bakunin – though he argued for "autonomism" and "anti-authoritarianism" – had in mind a political scheme that may be described as a loose, autonomist federation of local, typically Bolshevik, "dictatorships of the proletariat," ruled quite authoritatively by the "advanced revolutionary elements" within each, for the supposed benefit of the mass. These semi-independent "negations of the State" were going to be achieved through armed insurrections of the masses led by the professional revolutionists.
Later came "syndicalism," a fusion of the ideals of anarchism with the practice of trade-unionism. Capitalism was going to be done away with by means of "direct action" and general strikes. Anarchism at its best, was the idealistic reaction of intellectuals whose love of liberty and fair-play was sorely bruised in the forward rush of capitalist industry toward the end of the 19th century. It offered an ideological escape to good people who just could not find themselves in the hurly-burly. Anarcho-syndicalism, objectively considered, was the militant reaction of the workers to the obstinate opposition of the employers to the workers' demand for collective bargaining. Its revolutionary rationalization was supplied by the anarchist intellectuals who rushed to "lead" the workers in the tussle with the bosses. The improvement and extension of the use of machinery in the industrial process, which took quite a leap at the beginning of the 19th century, resulted in the vastly increased productivity of labor. This made trade-unionism economically acceptable to employers, and killed "revolutionary syndicalism." Quite a number of very revolutionary anarchist leaders of the workers became respectable, and even conservative trade union officials.
2. The Social Democracy, which waxed big during the beautiful fourteen years before the World War. Social reforms arose to suit the social and political adjustments made necessary by changes in the economic process of capitalism after the great colonial conquests at the end of the 19th century. In the good spirit of wish-thinking, these reforms were confidently recognized by the "socialists" of the time as luscious links in a long sausage string, at the end of which dangled the reform of reforms: socialism. The latter was popularly described as many capitalist reforms piled on the top of each other. The Social Democratic parties, active in the political field as the advance agents and publicity men of these necessary and laudable adjustments of capitalism, thought of themselves as inspiring and creating these adjustments and therefore gently pushing capitalism to "grow into" socialism.
3. Russian (Bolshevist) Communism, combining the Anarchist and Social Democratic illusions in an ideological system by which the labor movement of the world was going to be recruited to stand guard, as a sort of Foreign Legion, over the national progressive (capitalist) Russian Revolution – in the name of the international socialist proletarian revolution. The Communist International was established. With the improved control of the new masters of Russia over this foreign agency of theirs, there were transfused into the minds of their Western adherents all the demagogic tricks and popular illusions that helped the Bolsheviks to win power. In the minds of the foreign recruits of the C.I., the methods and program of Bolshevism (the historic instrument of the capitalist emancipation and modernization of the Russian empire) came to be confused with the struggle for socialism. We thus find added to the typical bourgeois, laborite and anarchist conception of leaderism, the myth of the wonder-working "soviet," now wielded with an authoritarian purpose, and no longer the autonomist institution that it was (under the name of "revolutionary commune") in the anarchist ideology, from which the faith in this makeshift representative body was borrowed.
Ideology of Bolshevism
Underlying these articles of ideology, and forming together with them the heart of what by 1924 came to be described as Leninism, is the proposition that while the working class, may by itself attain a trade union and "reformist" consciousness, it is incapable of independent (class) political thinking. "It receives its social outlook, in the shape of ready made ideology, either from the bourgeoisie or from the revolutionary intelligentsia." The working class, or the oppressed numbers of capitalist society, cannot become conscious of the need of socialism, merely as a result of their position in the productive process of capitalism. This consciousness can only be brought to them from outside the class by the revolutionary intelligentsia.
The formulation of this idea was borrowed by the Bolsheviks from the older Russian revolutionists. They were pleased to have the same idea expressed by their Western master, Karl Kautsky, whose theoretic formulations, "radical" or cautious, suited the confused needs of the clerical staffs guiding the Western Social Democracy – a movement which on its red banner days hailed the distant goal of socialism, but in historic reality was only a popular instrument serving the adjustments made necessary by changes in the economic process of capitalism. This conception is also beloved by the revolutionary intellectuals speaking for the "national liberation" of awakening colonial regions. It is typical of the "socialist" theory of Western Laborism, of the ideologists of "national liberation," and of Russian Bolshevism because it suits the needs of social change toward and within capitalism. How does it apply to the movement for socialism?
Commenting on this theory of Lenin's, Sprenger points out that the great Russian revolutionist reached it by transferring to his "socialist activity" something that is a special feature of class society: the separation between mental and manual labor. To repeat, Lenin forgot that also in the labor movement an intellectual can only formulate – formulate and not create – the ideas that begin to enter the minds of people as a result of social experience. "He considered himself to be the creator of an ideology. He was in fact only the 'mouthpiece' of certain social forces. He called himself a 'Marxist,' but he never held anything more than an idealistic view of the political tendencies of his time, which were themselves created in the material process of social development."
"In Lenin's conception of 'political consciousness' there is no question of proletarian socialism. The sort of 'consciousness' Lenin had in mind was something by the means of which the working class could be mobilized and assigned a task in a bourgeois revolution. Considered from this angle, his stand that the 'political consciousness' of the working class could only be developed outside of the working class had real meaning. His thesis actually amounts to the following: The political thought that was to mobilize the workers for the complicated revolution against Tsarism could only be the creation of the Jacobinical intelligentsia. And this was true to the extent that the expected revolution presented tasks – like the peasant question – which could not be mastered on the basis of the struggle of the proletariat in its historic role as a force for socialism. The chief problem in this revolution was not the shattering of the productive relations of capitalism but the destruction of the surviving feudal relations. Quite naturally the Russian working class could not develop 'spontaneously' (that is, out of its position within the process of capitalist production) an insight into the needs of an anti-feudal revolution. This is the essential meaning of Lenin's thesis on the 'political class-consciousness' of the proletariat. We see that it does not refer to the consciousness of a working class participating in a bourgeois revolution, for which it has to be mobilized as an important auxiliary force. Lenin's 'Marxist' terminology is merely a disguise veiling a position typical of the Jacobinical intelligentsia."
Transformations of the C. I.
This conception also suited the tasks faced by the Communist International. The political consciousness which this great organization of "revolutionary leadership" was going to bring to the workers of the world amounted to this. Under the radicalizing influence of worsened conditions, and manipulated by means of slogans and the right "policies" dangled in front of them by the “revolutionary leaders," the masses were going to be "stampeded" into following the directives put on the order of the day by the "general staff" of the C.I. These directives were put under the general heading of "proletarian revolution." In fact, they had the mentioned great purpose: the defense of the Soviet Union. To suit the diplomatic needs of the masters of Soviet Russia in the sphere of world politics, the C.I. has changed its policies, tactics and slogans a good number of times in the twenty years of its existence. It was a question of immediate armed insurrections in Western Europe, and uprisings for "national liberation" in the colonial countries, at the time when the Western powers, with an eye on the natural resources of Russia, spoke of themselves as crusaders against the menace of Bolshevism and threatened the Soviet republic with intervention and counter-revolution. It was the fate of the apocalyptic Third Period for the capitalist world, when the monster of the Five Year Plans began to drip misery on the Russian people. It is "save democracy" and "build a front of democratic powers against the menace of fascism" now that Hitler and Japan eye greedily the rich Russian empire. The understanding of the necessity of doing all these things is also too complicated a matter for the workers to arrive at without prodding from their betters.
When the Communist parties and their "red" trade-union centrals, composing the C.I., went to the Western workers with "revolutionary” slogans and policies, and called for armed insurrection and immediate general strikes, they remained noisy and ineffectual oppositions to the traditional social-democratic organizations. But once the C.I. embarked on its present "democratic" and popular-front policy, its component organizations in the West are enabled – especially as a result of their strong finances, typical Bolshevik unscrupulousness as to means used, and the advantage of the internationally coordinated and pushed attack – to displace, or "capture" the old radical and laborite mass organizations in some developed countries and the nationalist-revolutionary movements in certain colonial or semi-colonial regions. Thus pro-Russian "Communism" in its pseudo-democratic guise became an important factor in the politics of France, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Mexico, China, and even Great Britain and the United States.
In all these countries, the Communist parties, and the trade-unions and mass organizations under their control, fulfil the "reformist" functions of the Social Democracy, but always with the paramount aim of serving the Weltpolitik needs of the Soviet State. It is only superficially considered that the "line" of the C.I. appears to have changed. The workers are subjected to new tricks of ideology, but, as before, with the purpose of mustering them in the service of the national Russian Revolution. Comrade Dimitroff, the present figurehead president of the C.I., put it plainly, with the aid of a mixed figure of speech: "The keystone for checking the honesty and sincerity of every person active in the labor movement, of every workers' party and organization of the working class, of every democrat in the capitalist countries, is their attitude to the great land of socialism."
Why the "Oppositions?"
Now where do our friends the Lovestonites and Trotskyites, figure within this scheme of things?
They arose organizationally and theoretically as echoes of the internal struggle for the domination of the Soviet State which raged among the Bolshevik big-shots after Lenin's death. They are treated as renegades and counter-revolutionaries by the official Communists, whom they rival weakly for "leadership" that is, pie-cards and collections – in certain labor organizations. Both "vanguards" cross their hearts and swear by the best phrases in the collected works of Lenin that they are the best friends of the Soviet Union and the only genuine exponents of "Leninism-Marxism" or "Bolshevism-Leninism." For its "genuine and original" Leninism, or "revolutionary Marxism," each reaches out to its favorite ideological phase in the history of the C.I. – that is, the one just before their leaders fell from the Soviet Olympus. Thus up to recently, the Trotskyites exhaled heroically the spirit of the first four congresses of the Communist International, while the Lovestonites assured all who would listen that it is the slogans and policies of 1924-1928 that represented the true word of God.
In their contradictory position as self-avowed but spurned "loyal opposition" to the present rulers of the U.S.S.R., both little sets of big talkers are obliged to play at being more "revolutionary" and more "Leninist" than the official Communism. Till the day before yesterday, they presented, in contrast to the “popular front" policy of the C.I., a war policy that apparently called for the defense of the Soviet Union and at the same time proposed the exercise of "revolutionary defeatism" everywhere else, even in the countries that may be war allies of the Soviet Union. Considered closely, we find here too a game of words.
Take, for example, the war policy of the Trotskyites. For several years after his exile, the Old Man of that "movement" played with his "Clemenceau thesis." In 1915, in the face of the German danger, the French bourgeoisie found it advisable to submit itself to the personal dictatorship of the rather unlikable Georges Clemenceau. So, dreamt Leon Trotsky, the inefficient present masters of Soviet Russia would surely be obliged to call on him, the great Commissar of War, to lead their armies and organize victory , in the case of an anti-Soviet revolt or a foreign war. The Bolshevik Napoleon was going to return from his Elba.
Today, however, the old man curbs his fancy. After fulminating hotly against the bad "social patriots" who, as usual, are ready to betray the working class by supporting a war to "save democracy," he counsels his followers that, in France and the United States, and other countries allied to the Soviet Union, the "revolutionists" must not seek "revolutionary victory, as in the reactionary imperialist camps, at the price of military defeat, but by the way of the military victory of their country!"
Trotskyism: Bolshevism Reduced to Absurdity
It is the obvious non-sense of the stand of these communist oppositions that enables the C.I. publicity men to build up a bugaboo of Trotskyism, with which to confute any attempts at independent action in the labor movement of today. Trotskyism, seemingly the personal expression of Leon Trotsky, is Russian Bolshevism reduced to an absurdity. But also Trotskyism, in its ambition to be taken seriously, must attempt to suit itself to the world that is exterior to its particular make-believe. The "general staff" must find an army to command.
Therefore, in accordance with the directions from the all-highest, the Trotskyite organization in the United States has gone through a number of tactical transformations: changes of name, fusions, amalgamations, etc. And it is still on the march. After presenting themselves as a "Communist League" and as a "Workers' Party," Trotsky's literary agents and their followers begged their way into the Socialist Party of America, swearing solemnly they were entering not to "capture" the organization – in accordance with the tactic of the Leninist United Front – but to build it. But soon the Moscow trials came, and brought a heavy "press" for the Old Man. The time seemed to be right for the big job. Clamoring in revolutionary indignation that the bad old membership of the S.P .A. was planning to enter the American Labor Party, the "revolutionists" got themselves expelled from the Socialist Party of America. They hoped to swing (the "revolutionary vanguard" term is "stampede") quite a following. Somehow or other, the "tactic" did not take. The intellectuals who came forward to defend Trotsky against Vishinsky's charges took the occasion not only to condemn Stalin but Bolshevism in general, without sparing its reductio ad absurdum: Trotskyism. With every request from above (to change names and put on a new set of false whiskers and smoked glasses), there were defections of simple-minded Bolshevik-Leninists who failed to understand that theirs was not to reason why, or who just could not keep up with the forced and intricate ideological march of this vanguard of the vanguards. As a result, the Trotskyites' road to supreme revolutionary leadership is strewn with many split-offs, who see the negation of pure Leninism not only in Stalin but in Trotsky himself.
But hew to the line, and let the splinters fall where they may! Today the former Trotskyite "Communist League of America," which had fused with a set of amateur labor-college slummers to form the "Workers' Party," which then dissolved to have its membership join up as a loyal part of the Socialist Party of America and then left in righteous indignation at the very talk of a Labor Party, and, as long as the law permitted, attempted to pose as the S.P.A., or its Left Wing – the Trotskyites are now trying to have their tactic-weary dozens steal individually into the awful American Labor Party, in search of an army to command.
The recent attempt of the Trotskyite "theoretic organ of revolutionary Marxism" to scare into silence its many split-offs by publishing names and other personal details in the lives of those rival Bolshevik-Leninists, and the tearful reproach addressed by the same theoretic organ to the “unattached intellectuals," who continue to see little difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism, both go to show that Trotsky's struggling literary agents are very much afeared they are doomed to remain just Trotsky's literary agents.
Obviously the dialectical materialist view that Martov presents in opposition to the dogmatic idealism resorted to by the opportunist politician cannot solve the problems faced by a "revolutionary vanguard" like the Trotskyites or, as we shall see, the Lovestonites and other self-appointed "leaders" of the working class. You can't do much nature-faking on the basis of historical materialism. Bolshevism-Leninism is the palladium that these "revolutionary" business concerns must defend with all the cunning at their disposal. For what are they without this front of theoretic fraud? Just two more little sets of pie-card artists, rivaling other “revolutionists" like themselves for union jobs and a penny or two in donations.
These "revolutionists" present themselves as "carriers of socialist consciousness to the masses," as professional "leaders" of these masses toward socialism. Thus the Trotskyite critic protests in a tortured tone: “The intellectuals who are in the mortal fear of a disciplined party will do us a great favor if they will figure out how the proletariat can emancipate itself without any leadership." (For the busted, declassed intellectuals afflicted with a messianic yearning, "intellectual" has become a term with which to annihilate uncomfortable opposition.)
We have tried to explain that all is not yet lost when the workers of the United States follow Roosevelt instead of Browder, Lovestone, or Trotsky's proxy in New York, No, all is not lost. To the self-styled "only" vanguard of the vanguards, the following will constitute an unsatisfactory answer:
The political organization that will be the instrument of socialist emancipation finds its form late in the experience of the working class. It will be crystallized in the process of the class struggle. It will arise as the expression of the rise and increase of socialist understanding among the workers and the rest of the oppressed population of capitalist society. This socialist understanding will be predominantly the product of capitalist development, coupled with the lesson of experience derived from wide disillusionment at the various attempts to make capitalism behave any other way than it can.
What We Can Do
The honest "ideologist" can do his bit to help the development of the "real" workers' movement that Marx talked of in his letter to Bolte. He can help by looking facts straight in the face, by studying and indicating the direction and movement of capitalism, by carefully desisting from telling himself and others even "inspirational" lies about the workers' state of mind, about the revolutionary prospects of the social situation. He can help by refuting the multifarious tricks of the current sects and sectarians, no matter how revolutionary may be their protestations. He can help by always being a socialist propagandist – in face of all enthusiasms, whether it is to elect a good man to the presidency, to save democracy by war, to rescue the cause of socialism by joining in the international politics of the U.S.S.R., or even to patch up the punctured fortunes and deflated dreams of a great literary figure and war commissar.
With an eye on the development of the real workers' movement, the honest ideologists will not presume to set themselves up as "leaders," or "vanguards," or as Leon Trotsky himself phrases it (and he is not joking), a "vanguard of the vanguard." Vanguards and leaders do not belong in the workers' movement that will arise with the spread of socialist understanding. It does not belong there, except as an interfering influence. Because the job of this real workers' movement will be not to accomplish a bourgeois revolution, or to serve as an instrument in bringing about "progressive" changes in capitalism, but to abolish capitalism, to make a socialist revolution. Here is how the matter was put more than thirty-five years ago by a person who insisted on peering through the ideological maze of the time.
"Leaders" in the Socialist Movement
"In all the class struggles of the past, waged in the interest of minorities and in which, as Marx said, 'development was brought about in opposition to the great mass of the people,' an essential condition of action was the ignorance of the mass concerning the real aim, the material content and the limits of the movement. This difference between the 'leaders' and the 'led' was the specific historical basis underlying the 'directing role' assumed by the 'educated bourgeoisie.' A natural complement to the role played by the bourgeois 'leaders' was the part of ‘followers’ left to the mass.
"But already in 1845 Marx noted that 'with the increasing depth of historic action grows the volume of the mass engaged in this action.' The class struggle waged by the proletariat is the 'deepest' of all historic actions that have taken place up to now. It takes in all the lower sections of the people. For the first time since the beginning of class society, it corresponds to the interests of the people itself.
"That is why the understanding by the mass of its tasks and instruments is an indispensable condition for socialist revolutionary action – just as formerly the ignorance of the mass was an indispensable condition for the revolutionary action of the ruling classes.
"As a result, the difference between 'leaders' and the 'majority trotting along behind' is abolished (in the socialist movement). The relation between the mass and the leaders is destroyed. The only function left to the supposed 'guides' of the social- democracy is that of explaining to the mass the historic mission of the latter. The authority and influence of such 'leaders' grow in proportion to the work of education of this kind accomplished by them. Their prestige and influence increase only in the measure that they, the so-called leaders, destroy the condition that was formerly the basis for every function of leaders: the blindness of the mass. Their influence grows in the measure that they strip themselves of their role as leaders, in the measure that they make the mass self-directing and they themselves become no more than the executive organs of the self-conscious action of the mass.
"Undoubtedly, the transformation of the mass into a sure, conscious, lucid 'self-leader' – the fusion of science and the working class dreamt of by Lassale – can only be a dialectic process, as the working class movement absorbs uninterruptedly new proletarian elements as well as fugitives from other sections of society.
"Nevertheless such is and such will be the dominant tendency of the socialist movement: the abolition of the relation of 'leaders' and 'led' in the bourgeois sense of the word, the abolition of the relation that is the historic basis of all class domination."
They who presume to set themselves up as "leaders" and "vanguards" do not understand capitalism and therefore cannot conceive of the nature of its negation: the socialist revolution. Especially do they not see that they themselves, strutting in their role as self-styled "leaders," are rather the auxiliary forces of changing capitalism than parts of the movement for socialism.
Let us next consider the revolutionary political institutions offered by these van- guards of the vanguards as the only correct ones. What of the "soviets"?
(International Review, New York, Nº 1, 1939)