Sunday, 2 February 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 11

Engels, in "Anti-Duhring" shows that Duhring's
 "Force Theory" of history is wrong.  Ruling classes
do not rule because they are able to mobilise force,
but because the ideas on which they rest are dominant.
In “What Is To be Done?”, Lenin recognises the problem, set out in Part 10, and the contradictions that arise from it, for the revolutionary class. On the one hand, so long as capitalist property relations remain dominant, and the bourgeoisie constitute the ruling class, bourgeois ideas will continue to dominate. They do not just dominate the bourgeoisie, and its state, but the society as a whole. Engels sets out at length, in Anti-Duhring, where he attacks the force theory of history, that, in the end, it is not force that explains why revolutionary classes assume power, or why ruling classes are able to remain in power. The theory propounded by Duhring is that politics dominates economics, and ruling classes assume power, and remain in power, on the basis of their ability to mobilise force, but Engels shows that although ruling classes always resort to force, when required to maintain themselves in power, and, for the same reason, revolutionary classes have to resort to force, to overcome it, the former only use force in exceptional circumstances, once their position is established. They rule, because their ideas dominate the society, and their ideas dominate the society because they appear rational, and flow from the social relations existing within the society.

But, if the bourgeois ideas remain dominant, then how can workers move forward? Unless they develop socialist ideas they will not challenge bourgeois property, which means the bourgeoisie will continue to be the ruling class, which means its ideas will continue to dominate. In fact, Lenin demonstrates that, even in so far as the workers are led, spontaneously, to confront capital, for example, to defend wages and conditions, such struggles remain within, and reinforce, bourgeois ideas. The very fact that workers engage in a struggle over wages, as Marx points out in “Value, Price and Profit”, means they continue to operate within a framework in which they accept the continued existence of Capital, and the wages system. Moreover, Lenin points out that these trades union struggles are not “class struggles”. They are, necessarily, struggles of individual groups of workers against individual employers. Rather than being class struggles, they amount to nothing more than sectional struggles, which can often set one section of workers against another, just as the normal functioning of Capitalism creates competition between workers, that divides one from another, and reinforces an individualist ideology.

Basing himself on Marx and on Kautsky, Lenin provides an answer to this dilemma. Because of all the above, Lenin argues, the workers cannot spontaneously arrive at a socialist consciousness. It is brought to them from the outside by sections of the bourgeoisie who are able to analyse society, and understand its laws. In other words, it is brought to them by people like Marx and Engels, and by Lenin etc. Having done so, and fused these ideas with the organisations the workers have spontaneously created themselves – trades unions, co-operatives, friendly societies and so on – the workers can then begin to transform the material conditions in which they exist, via a political struggle. But, Lenin realised that, these organisations continue to exist within Capitalist society, and its ruling ideas, continue to influence those organisations, so that it is necessary for there to be a continual vigilance, a revolutionary core against those bourgeois ideas infecting the workers party. But, its important to understand the dialectical relation between the two. The workers may not be able to consciously understand the world they inhabit without the analytical tools the Marxists give to them, but the analysis of the Marxists itself is not simply sucked out of their thumb either. It is based, in line with the Historical Materialist method on codifying the solutions that the workers, themselves have spontaneously developed. Engels, for example, says that their ideas arose on the back of the real world actions of the Chartists. And, as Marx put it in the Programme of the First International,

“It is the business of the International Working Men's Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever.”

Such an infection was represented by the ideas of people like Bernstein and the Economists who believed that the spontaneous economic struggles, and the drive to achieve reforms in the workers interests would themselves cause the workers to arrive at this socialist consciousness. It is this that causes Lenin to launch his struggle against Economism, and to advocate the need for purity, even if that requires splitting the Party.

Yet, there is an odd formalism and idealism in Lenin's position. On the one hand, it seems to assume a kind of monolithism and fixedness of the material conditions, so that substantive change can only arise on the back of a sudden break, which is at odds with Marx's analysis, and particularly with his analysis in Capital. On the other, it seems to assume that the revolutionary vanguard can itself somehow isolate itself from the society in which it exists, and the dominant ideas that flow from it. This is the basis of Lenin's view of socialist revolution, as a political rather than social revolution, which is heavily influenced by the experience of the Great French Revolution, and it is also the basis of the search for purity within Leninism that in the 20th. Century led to its increasing separation from the actual labour movement with devastating consequences for the working class.

Back To Part 10

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