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THEORY INDEX

Lenin's gOwn Wordsh
(Part Six: Class Struggle and the Proletarian Vanguard Party)

18. On the Theory of Class Struggle


"On the Theory of Class Struggle"

gTo the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the eupper classes,f a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ethe lower classes not to wantf to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ethe upper classes should be unablef to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in epeace time,f but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the eupper classesf themselves into independent historical action. (gThe Collapse of the 2nd International,h Collected Works Vol. 21, pp. 213-4)

In recent years in the forefront of the discussion of the objective situation of revolution has either been the theory of revolution based on waiting for or expectation of crisis, or a revolutionary policy that imagines that revolution can be brought about merely by making a subjective appeal for confrontation.. Clearly, seen from this sort of theory or policy, there is no necessity for an analysis or consideration of the objective revolutionary situation.

The fact is, however, that without a change in the objective situation, which is unrelated to the desires of a particular political tendency or class, a revolution is not possible. At the same time, if the objective conditions exist this does not mean that a revolution will break out at any time. During the 1968 gMay Crisish in France, this sort of objective change had occurred and a revolutionary situation existed, but no revolution occurred. A revolution necessitates this objective change as well as a subjective change, that is, gthe ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action powerful enough to break (or dislocate) the old government.h (Ibid) The role of the vanguard party is primarily to create this revolutionary ability among the masses and develop it.

What is the Class Struggle?

gWe are all agreed that our task is that of the organization of the proletarian class struggle. But what is this class struggle? When the workers of a single factory or of a single branch of industry engage in struggle against their employer or employers, is this class struggle? No, this is only a weak embryo of it. The struggle of the workers becomes a class struggle only when all the foremost representatives of the entire working class of the whole country are conscious of themselves as a single working class and launch a struggle that is directed, not against individual employers, but against the entire class of capitalists and against the government that supports that class. Only when the individual worker realizes that he is a member of the entire working class, only when he recognizes the fact that his petty day-to-day struggle against individual employers and individual government officials is a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and the entire government, does his struggle become a class struggle. (gOur Immediate Task,h Collected Works Vol. 4)

The class struggle of the proletariat is often referred to, but ultimately its meaning is not clearly defined. Lenin says that if workers are only struggling for better treatment from individual employers or for increased wages, this is still only the embryo of the class struggle, and not class struggle in the full sense of the term. According to Lenin, the class struggle is a political struggle waged against the capitalist class as a whole and its government. This, however, is not simply a matter of politics. There are trivial, partial political struggles and there are fundamental political struggles. gMarxism recognizes a class struggle as fully developed, enation-wide,f only if it does not merely embrace politics but takes in the most significant thing in politics -- the organization of state power.h (gLiberal and Marxist Conceptions of the Class Struggle,h Collected Works Vol. 19, p. 122) Therefore, this class struggle appears as gthe struggle of a definite political party for definite political and socialist ideals.h (gOur Immediate Taskh) The conclusion that the class struggle is the revolutionary struggle of the proletarian party probably sounds strange at first. However, this is at the heart of Leninism. This is the idea that the overall class struggle is a conscious struggle of the proletariat, thus a revolutionary struggle to overthrow the bourgeois class and its government, and that this struggle has to first achieve the party unity of the advanced workers nationwide, organize the workers and carry out revolutionary propaganda and agitation among the working class.

Reformist and Revolutionary Struggles

ggIt would be absolutely wrong to believe that immediate struggle for socialist revolution implies that we can, or should, abandon the fight for reforms. Not at all. We cannot know beforehand how soon we shall achieve success, how soon the objective conditions will make the rise of this revolution possible. We should support every improvement, every real economic and political improvement in the position of the masses. The difference between us and the reformists (i.e., the Grutlians in Switzerland) is not that we oppose reforms while they favour them. Nothing of the kind. They confine themselves to reforms and as a result stoop -- in the apt expression of one (rare!) revolutionary writer in the Schweizerische Metallarbeiter-Zeitung (No. 40) -- to the role of ehospital orderly for capitalism.f We tell the workers: vote for proportional representation, etc., but donft stop at that. Make it your prime duty systematically to spread the idea of immediate socialist revolution, prepare for this revolution and radically reconstruct every aspect of party activity. The conditions of bourgeois democracy very often compel us to take a certain stand on a multitude of small and petty reforms, but we must be able, or learn, to take such a position on these reforms (in such a manner) that -- to oversimplify the matter for the sake of clarity -- five minutes of every half-hour speech are devoted to reforms and twenty-five minutes to the coming revolution. (gPrinciples Involved in the War Issue,h Collected Works Vol. 23, pp. 158-9)

The sphere of the trade union movement is firmly governed by the idea that labor unions should carry out economic struggles and leave political struggle to the political parties. Even in the case of those who do not hold this view, there are many who think that the political parties should naturally emerge from the development of the labor unions.

Leninfs views were completely removed from this sort of vulgar trade-unionist consciousness. Even though revolutionaries build upon reformist struggles, they continue to carry out revolutionary propaganda, and indeed must do so. However, the content of reformist struggles and the content of revolutionary struggles are, in a sense?i.e., if one goes beyond the fact that they are struggles against capitalistic production?opposed and in conflict with each other. The task, therefore, is not simply to combine the two. Lenin insisted that the reformist struggle must be unconditionally subordinated to the revolutionary struggle! It is natural that revolutionaries would support reforms, and indeed the stupid position of simplistically gopposingh reforms and gsupportingh revolution in the end only benefits reformism. At the same time, however, any support for reforms must be done in a manner that makes it clear to the masses that socialist revolution is the only real solution.

The Struggle for Democracy and the Struggle for Socialism

gThere is a general statement: the socialist revolution is impossible without the struggle for democracy. This is unquestionablecBut further, in a certain sense for a certain period, all democratic aimscare capable of hindering the socialist movement. In what sense? At what moment? When? How? For example, if the movement has already developed, the revolution has already begun, we have to seize the banks, and we are being appealed to: wait, first consolidate, legitimize the republic, etc.!h (Letter to Inessa Armand, Collected Works vol. 35, p. 267)

In the section gImperialism and Struggles for National Liberationh in chapter 16, we quoted a passage from Lenin saying that socialism is impossible without the struggle for democracy. But here it appears that he is saying the opposite, namely that the democratic objective acts as a brake on the socialist revolution. This, however, would be a superficial view. In the former passage, Lenin was criticizing Radek and others who negated the struggle for democracy, whereas here he is opposing the views of those (Rosa Luxembourg, for example) who proposed democracy without socialist revolution. For example, in the midst of an imperialist war, Luxemburg raised democratic goals while ignoring the struggle for socialism. There is no question that Germany at the time was a state ruled by an autocracy, but this at the same time Germany was a highly developed capitalist state that was waging an imperialist war, and the liberation from this situation lied solely in socialist revolution. The position of Luxembourg was thus opportunistic and mistaken, and when revolution did break out in Germany it was this view that gacted as a break.h Out of the November 1918 revolution a republican system emerged, but ultimately this represented the miscarriage of socialist revolution in Germany. The responsibility for this lies in no small measure in the mistaken theory and practice of Luxembourg. Lenin says, gdonft lose sight of the main thing (the socialist revolution); put it first (Junius has not done this); put all the democratic demands, but subordinating them to it, coordinating them with it (Radek and Bukharin unwisely eliminate one of them).h (Ibid.) There are many people who cite the passage that we examined in the gImperialism and the Struggle for National Liberationh section, but very few who pay attention to this letter to Inessa Armand, even though it is only by looking at both that one can grasp the thought of Lenin on this subject in a comprehensive and complete manner. Otherwise, one is only one-dimensionally quoting from Lenin and using such quotes to support an explanation one finds convenient or to justify opportunism.

On Unity

gLet us, however, consider in general and in the light of present-day events the meaning of the eunityf slogan. The proletariatfs unity is its greatest weapon in the struggle for the socialist revolution. From this indisputable truth it follows just as indisputably that, when a proletarian party is joined by a considerable number of petty-bourgeois elements capable of hampering the struggle for the socialist revolution, unity with such elements is harmful and perilous to the cause of the proletariat.h (gWhat Next,h Collected Works Vol. 21, p. 109)

The slogan of gunityh is an important one, and without uniting the proletarian class cannot defeat the bourgeoisie. However, a pseudo-unity, in words only, with opportunism is of no benefit and quite harmful. In the revolutionary movement in Russia as well, all political factions opposed the Bolsheviks, and were gunitedh together. A gunityh congress was held in 1912 August, and was called the gAugust Bloc.h Lenin paid no heed to this gunityh -- that is the gunityh between opportunists, Mensheviks, and the followers of Plekhanov and Trotsky -- and instead stood at the helm of the Bolshevik party, rallied workers groups, all while being criticized as the destroyer of gunity.h However it was the Bolsheviks, who fought against the pseudo-unity of the opportunists, who brought about the unity of the proletariat, and struggled on the basis of a principled strategy, whereas this pseudo-unity of the August Bloc fell apart. Today the JCP peddles the idea of unity between the Socialist and Communist parties, but this is an unprincipled, pseudo-unity, and nothing more than the modern version of the August Bloc.

Criticism of "United Front Tactics"

gWhoever does not understand the inevitable inner dialectics of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy -- which leads to an even sharper decision of the argument by mass violence than formerly -- will never be able on the basis of this parliamentarism to conduct propaganda and agitation consistent in principle, really preparing the working-class masses for victorious participation in such garguments.h The experience of alliances, agreements and blocs with the social-reform liberals in the West and with the liberal reformists (Cadets) in the Russian revolution, has convincingly shown that these agreements only blunt the consciousness of the masses, that they do not enhance but weaken the actual significance of their struggle, by linking fighters with elements who are least capable of fighting and most vacillating and treacherous. Millerandism in France -- the biggest experiment in applying revisionist political tactics on a wide, a really national scale -- has provided a practical appraisal of revisionism that will never be forgotten by the proletariat all over the world. (Marxism and Revisionism, Collected Works Vol. 15, p. 37)

The previous passage dealt with the issue of the slogan of unity and the issue of gunityh among socialists, whereas this passage looks at the issue of a bloc with bourgeois liberals (i.e. united front). This concerns, for example, whether or not it would be advantageous for the proletariat to engage in united front tactics with liberal reformists in the election campaign for Tokyo governor. Lenin, for his part, was strongly opposed to gunited frontsh with liberalism, warning that this would only lead to the collapse of the revolutionary struggles of the proletariat.

Petty Bourgeois Criticism of Revolution

[Why the Social-Democrats must declare determined and relentless war on the Socialist-Revolutionaries.] Because the Socialist-Revolutionaries, by including terrorism in their program and advocating it in its present-day form as a means of political struggle, are thereby doing the most serious harm to the movement, destroying the indissoluble ties between socialist work and the mass of the revolutionary class. No verbal assurances and vows can disprove the unquestionable fact that present-day terrorism, as practiced and advocated by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, is not connected in any way with work among the masses, for the masses, or together with the masses; that the organization of terroristic acts by the Party distracts our very scanty organizational forces from their difficult and by no means completed task of organizing a revolutionary workersf party; that in practice the terrorism of the Socialist-Revolutionaries is nothing else than single combat, a method that has been wholly condemned by the experience of history. Even foreign socialists are beginning to become embarrassed by the noisy advocacy of terrorism advanced today by our Socialist-Revolutionaries. Among the masses of the Russian workers this advocacy simply sows harmful illusions, such as the idea that terrorism gcompels people to think politically, even against their will,h or that gmore effectively than months of verbal propaganda it is capable of changing the viewscof thousands of people with regard to the revolutionaries and the meaning [!!] of their activity,h or that it is capable of ginfusing new strength into the waverers, those discouraged and shocked by the sad outcome of many demonstrations,h and so on. These harmful illusions can only bring about early disappointment and weaken the work of preparing the masses for the onslaught upon the autocracy. (gWhy the Social-Democrats Must Declare a Determined and Relentless War on the Socialist-Revolutionariesh Collected Works Vol. 6)

In the article gBasic Theses Against Socialist-Revolutionariesh in which Lenin evaluates the Socialist-Revolutionary Party (read: Japanese New Left), he says that gthe entire trend of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and their party as a whole, is nothing but an attempt by the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia at escamotage of our working-class movement, and, consequently, the whole of the socialist and the whole of the revolutionary movement in Russia.h [Escamotage is defined by Lenin as gdeception, fraudulent appropriation of the results of the labour of others and thus rendering this labour useless, trickery, swindling, etc.h] Lenin asks rhetorically: gWould not the results of the best-intended activity based on this stand prove to be (even though unconsciously and against the will of those who conduct it) eescamotagef of the working-class movement, diverting it from the correct course, decoying it into an impasse, etc.?h(Collected Works Vol. 6, p. 273)

Like the New Left in Japan, the Social-Revolutionaries Party was a superficially-minded political tendency that rejected the future revolutionary struggles of the masses, saying that git is easy to write and speakh of this gas a matter of the vague and distant future,h gbut up till now all this talk has been merely of a theoretical nature,h (gRevolutionary Adventurismh Collected Works Vol. 6, p. 194) and became engrossed in terrorism. Lenin said that, gtheir adventurism stems from their lack of principleh (Ibid.), adding: gThey confuse immediately tangible and sensational results with practicalness. To them the demand to adhere steadfastly to the class standpoint and to maintain the mass nature of the movement is evaguef etheorizing.fh In What is to Be Done? Lenin discusses terrorists in the following way: gThe terrorists bow to the spontaneity of the passionate indignation of intellectuals, who lack the ability or opportunity to link up the revolutionary struggle with the working-class movement, to form an integral whole. It is difficult indeed for those who have lost their belief, or who have never believed that this is possible, to find some outlet for their indignation and revolutionary energy other than terror.h (What is to Be Done? Foreign Language Press, p. 93)

Of course, Marxists do not negate terrorism in general. Marxists would support the class-based terrorism of the proletariat against capitalism. Marxist are, however, firmly opposed to the terrorism of individuals or groups of intellectuals, which are embellished with exaggerated, empty phrases. In geLeft-Wingf Communism, An Infantile Disorder,h Lenin lists three characteristics of petty-bourgeois radicalism [Socialist-Revolutionaries]. First of all, in carrying out the political struggle, they fail to objectively consider the class forces and their interrelations; secondly, they consider themselves grevolutionaryh in terms of recognizing terrorism, and thirdly they sneer at comparatively insignificant opportunism while tailing after and imitating opportunists in fundamental matters! The terrorist strategy of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party is being revived today in the violent tactics of the New Left sects in Japan.

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