class consciousness and revolutionary organisation

From the ICC

The party cannot claim to be the sole and exclusive bearer or representative of class consciousness. It is not predestined to have any such monopoly. Class consciousness is inherent in the class as a whole. The party is the most advanced organ of this conscious­ness and no more. This does not imply that it is infallible, nor that at certain times it may be behind the consciousness attained by other sectors or fractions of the class.

I think this is up to date and representative of the ICC. I think it is wrong. I dont think that class consciousness is inherent within the class as a whole.

I dont think workers, myself included, could get to class consciousness without the revolutionary organisation. We would always be dragged into some false cul-de- sac.

Where I do have my doubts is the role of the pro -party organisation and the role of the party itself, it seeems to me that we are already fulfilling what the ICC sets out as Party tasks, albeit on a limited scale.


Yes, but we do ofcourse believe that Party can be wrong. Whilst the bordighists believe it is infallible!

Good point MAO7. I think the problem here Steve may be with the definition of "class" consciousness. This follows a whole spectrum from class awareness (class in itself) to communist consciousness (class for itself). I think a lot of hot air was wasted in the International Conferences on this because it was not always clear what different people were talking about. The party is part of the class but forged as a weapon by the class. To then deny that this weapon has no special purpose seems to udnermine the whole notion of why have one in the first place. It is true that the collective fight of the working class can take it beyond the existing limits of society without a party (and there are points in hsitory when communists were slow to see where the mass movement had taken us) but the key role of the party is that it is the historic consciousness of the class and as such it is the bearer of the communist programme which has to be put into the debate in order for capitalism to be finally overcome. Where it is not present then other capitalist agendas will certainly take over. As to the second question of the difference between us and the party not only does size matter but so too does the preparation of the working class. Until it is ready to force the revolutioanry minorities to unite by its own actions we will not have a real international party which is not a government in waiting but sticks to its task of promoting world revolution. We are a long way from that.

Class consciousness is inherent in the class, though that doesn't mean that everyone's got it now. Just that they have the potential for it. The ability to think is inherent: but not everyone does it (lol). If class consciousness wasn't inherent in the class then where did Marx get it from, or the ICT?

Hi Charlie

I'll put down some unpolished thoughts, no doubt they will be corrected.

I don't see Marx as single handedly working out the entire trajectory of humanity simply from his own head. He was given plenty of material upon which to base his conclusions by the working class and its struggle with the bourgeoisie which did not require permission from any social scientist to reach very high levels of organisation, the main example immediately springing to mind being the Paris Commune which surely deeply influenced Marx.

However I do think that Marx and Engels should be given their due for their profound contribution to the revolutionary cause and the debt we owe them acknowledged. The fact is that the working class does not spontaneously break with bourgeois ideology and generally speaking is not revolutionary, nor could it be so by an act of will (i.e. the thinking that Charlie laughs about).

Just as I could never know for example that the earth's core was as hot as the surface of the sun by an act of pure will and mental effort. It requires advanced scientific preparation, material prerequisites etc to come to that conclusion.

The working class is generally speaking th recipient of bourgeois ideology and even if Marx did not invent communist theory ex-nihilo, he certainly put together and refined the pre-existing theoretical insights and material evidence, provided by the working class amongst others, into a coherent whole which we can elaborate but whose premises have stood the test of time.

The ICT stands on the shoulders of Marx and Engels and others not simply parroting and reproducing their work, but deepening and broadcasting it in ways suitable for the audience of our times.

I suggest that part of the ICC's refusal to accept the positions of the ICT comes from their over-optimistic perspective of class consciousness which disregards the limits of spontaneous working class consciousness and the absolutely essential role of the revolutionary organisation which in turn in large part owes its own theoretical abilities to the extraordinary genius of Marx and others who added to Marx's contribution.

May as well put this here....

At the Sheffield anarchistr bookfare I got into a debate with the commune (Barry) on rev. organisation.

He rejected democratic centralism and talked about the inability of the majority to contradict leaders, have their say etc.I read through the latest commune and it does talk about some measures mostly around a ''no re-election'' theme but also ideas like

"Everyone, especially those in positions of power, should have to do some of the menial tasks that have to be done, e.g. emptying the dustbins or weeding a communal flowerbed." (commune, issue 32, pg 11).

However, all that I read seemed to be adding a few details but not replacing democratic centralism, just adding a few checks.

I wonder if there is a better way, or if modern technology could provide a means for ''equality in decision making'' which was a visible commune slogan and one many of us would find attractive.

I like the commune's perspective

"Today we urgently need to reassess how we can democratically relate to the class and among ourselves''

But the crucial danger will be to stop any emerging bureaucracy.

But aside from posing the question they didn't seem to give too much by way of solution.

Perhaps if we are to have further dealings with the commune, we need to consider this aspect of their politics and answer their concerns.

It is always difficult to use words from the past as people attribute meanings to them that are not what they originally meant. We thus end up in nominalist arguments talking past each other (there were at least two such in the meetings I went to). Democratic centralism originally meant that all higher bodies were elected by lower bodies but of course by the time we get to the practice of the USSR in the mid-twenties this has long gone and it just means centralism. If you read the pamphlet Stalin and Stalinism again you'll see that Stalin used the actual practice of dc to destroy it. Because he was given the apparently tedious role of party secretary he APPOINTED local party secretarys who conducted the local elections (and at a time of declining revolutionary participation but increasing scope for careerism they hardly had to work hard at getting Stalin's creatures elected). The issue can only be solved by having no permanent dedicated officials (instead having rotation of tasks and limits to the amount of time an individual can do a task) and the election of those to higher bodies is on the the principle of mandated delegation (ie. total right of recall). The question of bureaucracy will always be difficult but the idea of delegated mandates is not made up - it is soemthing the working class has discovered for itself (and as such the principles are written into the statutes which govern the practice of the CWO and Battaglia).

This is an important discussion but it’s one where we need to avoid false disagreements.

Re Stevein7’s original comment I agree with Charlie that class consciousness – ie. the tendency for the class to become conscious of itself as a class and of its historic interests - must be inherent within the class as a whole, otherwise there would be no revolutionary minorities in the first place. Marx and Engels may or may not have been ‘extraordinary geniuses’ but if it wasn’t for the struggles of the working class and the emergence of its first political minorities they would have been unable to relate their theories to a practical movement. Presumably as Marxists we all agree that history is not made by brilliant individuals?

Cleishbotham then makes some interesting distinctions about class consciousness but again I think there is a danger of false disagreements.

For a start I don’t think the ICC would deny that the party has a “special purpose” or that it is absolutely indispensable to the success of the proletarian revolution. In fact on the back of every ICC publication you find the following:

Our activity…The regroupment of revolutionaries with the aim of constituting a real world communist party, which is indispensable to the working class for the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a communist society.” (my bold).

This doesn’t sound very different from the ICT’s own statement that:

We are for the party, but we are not the party or its only embryo. Our task is to participate in its construction, intervening in all the struggles of the class, trying to link its immediate demands to the historical programme; communism.”

Nor do I think there is a substantive disagreement with Cleishbotham’s view that:

the key role of the party is that it is the historic consciousness of the class and as such it is the bearer of the communist programme which has to be put into the debate in order for capitalism to be finally overcome. Where it is not present then other capitalist agendas will certainly take over.”

I’m not trying to pretend that there are no differences between the two groups of the Communist Left on this or other questions. But it must be hard for the wider milieu to know exactly what the disagreements are, especially on the party, since the ICT replaced the IBRP.

So I think at the very least, if ICT comrades want to demonstrate that the ICC is wrong, and that the ICT has a correct position on the party, they are going to have to try a bit harder to clarify their differences.

Mark Let's agree that this is a serious issue and in a recent meeting between us the ICC said they substantially agreed with our pamphlet on Class Consciousness and Revolutionary Organisation which they said they would review. This is welcome. However the ICC also have some work to do to "demonstrate" that they have moved on from 1980 and the Third International Conference. After all its subsequent splits in the 1980s (mainly of a councilist orientation) I have quoted the passage you cite on the back of ICC publications to put the point to several ICC comrades that they now could accept the seventh criteria [on the party] but have always received the reply "yes but that's not the point the criteria was just introduced to ensure the ICC could not participate any further in the conferences" (as always organisational defence comes before political clarity). That was 33 years ago. If the ICC were really serious they would now restart the discussion on the basis of that criteria and stop implying that we have a Kautskyian view of class consciousness. Perahps we are on the verge of some sanity on this. I hope so and thank you for your comment.

Thank you, this is constructive and clarifies where the ICT thinks some of the differences are on this issue. I may well raise this on the icc forum because I think there is interest among sympathisers of both organisations in understanding and trying to clarify where real differences lie. ICT comrades of course are very welcome to participate. PS 33 years ago? That's sobering!

In the original post I quoted your article "Class consciousness is inherent in the class as a whole." In my mind that says that the working class is genarally aware of its position in capitalist society and the implications of being an exploited class. However then we are informed"class consciousness – ie. the tendency for the class to become conscious of itself as a class and of its historic interests - must be inherent within the class as a whole, otherwise there would be no revolutionary minorities in the first place." Well, this seems to me to be a whole diferent perspective. It is saying that generally speaking the working class can become class conscious. I can't see that we would argue with that perspective.We may argue about the precise content of such consciousness, but broadly speaking, I think there is convergence over the ability of the majority of the class to acheive a clear perspective of their real situation. We reject any model whereby a ''Party'' representing a largely unaware working class comes to power representing the interests of said class. I think that the difference between the current level of class consciousness and what is required for a revolutionary transformation is the issue here, and in the ICC article I quoted at the top, I think that is obscured. I'd like to hear the thoughts of the ICC on democratic centralism, as I recall they don't subscribe to the concept, opting for organic centralism which I don't clearly understand. I think that as circumstance allows, there could be a greater participation of the whole of the rev. organisation in decision making than democratic centralism suggests, but that would be a modified version of DC, not really abandoning the concept in toto.

Steve I should make it clear I am a sympathiser of the ICC so don’t speak for them.

I’m glad you think there is a convergence here over “the ability of the majority of the class to achieve a clear perspective of their real situation.” The original quote from the ICC text on the party is, I think, making the fundamental point that class consciousness does not solely or exclusively reside in the party – which we also appear to agree on?

Class consciousness is inherently uneven in capitalism: even at the highest moments of struggle like Russia 1917 when we see a mass communist party and the class organised in mass organs of struggle, we still only see a tendency for the whole class to become conscious of itself, and certainly outside of revolutionary situations I agree with you that the working class is not “generally aware of its position in capitalist society and the implications of being an exploited class.” Otherwise there would be little need for revolutionary minorities.

You also state that: “We reject any model whereby a ''Party'' representing a largely unaware working class comes to power representing the interests of said class.” Can I take that as a confirmation that the CWO/ICT rejects any idea of the future party organising the revolution or taking power on behalf of the class, or is there an implication that it could do so if the class is sufficiently 'aware'?

Mark Have you read our pamphlet on "Class Consciousness and Revolutionary Organisation"? Your final para questions are answered there. The Internationalist Communist Party made it clear in the split with the Bordigists in 1951-2 that "the working class does not delegate to anyone not even its class party the task of building socialism". BUT the class party is one of the weapons forged by the class in its struggle for emancipation which takes the lead in organising and leading the initial onslaught on capitalism. In a movement towards overthrowing the old order communists (who else?) make communist revolutions. The party in itself, however clear, cannot complete the process since the very nature of communist society demands that in the course of the revolution the rest of the class rises to the task posed by the revolutionary situation. If communists fail to convince/arouse the rest of the class in this process of coming to class consciousness the revolution will be stillborn. The Communist Party is not a ruling class in waiting and as a body does not take power in a single geographical area (although its individual members may be dominant in class wide organs in such territories) but concentrates on its real internationalist task which is the spread of world revolution. Hopefully this makes things clearer - the struggle for communism is not just about propagandising but is also of physically organising the revolutionary perspective within the class (in whatever form this takes). The communist minority does not just cheer form the sidelines or wait philosophically for the class to wake up but fights within it and organises within it in order to put the programamtic gains of the previous struggles before the present generation of workers.

Greetings comrades, long-time reader, first-time poster.

Cleishbotham, I think this extract from your last post is very interesting:

...the class party is one of the weapons forged by the class in its struggle for emancipation which takes the lead in organising and leading the initial onslaught on capitalism. In a movement towards overthrowing the old order communists (who else?) make communist revolutions. The party in itself, however clear, cannot complete the process since the very nature of communist society demands that in the course of the revolution the rest of the class rises to the task posed by the revolutionary situation. If communists fail to convince/arouse the rest of the class in this process of coming to class consciousness the revolution will be stillborn....

I agree with everything in it, except the implication contained in the question, buried in a statement, "...communists (who else?) make communist revolutions...".

I think the working class makes communist revolutions; and furthermore I think revolutions (or at least, heightened periods of class conflict) make communists. It seems to me that what you are proposing here is that the communists have one task - making a revolution - and the proletariat has another task - building communist society.

I find it hard to think that's it more than a misunderstanding, in part because it seems to be contradicted by your later assertion that the role of the revolutionary organisation is to work within the working class to make known the lessons of previous struggles (which would I think be a pointless task if it's 'communists' rather than 'workers' who will make the next revolution). But I would appreciate it if you could try to clarify that point.

Do you suppose that the working class can make a communist revolution without having a significant communist minority? A communist minority which does not just meet on Saturdays or Sundays to discuss with itself but is active on the ground in workplaces and communities organising opposition to capitalism? The working class has to create this weapon and it won't be working class Tories or whoever who will fight in the class wide bodies for the communist programme against nationalism and all manner of reactionary ideologies but communists. To talk about the working class in general at such a point is to avoid the issue. We know that it is only in the process of revolution itself that the working class can rid itself of the muck of the past but in that revolution the communists are not idle. We are part of the process by which consciousness becomes generalised throughout the class and should not avoid it (if class consciousness were to homogenously emerge there would be no need of communist minorities but we know that won't happen although councilists beg to differ). The whole issue of insurrection, revolution and building communist society and the different roles played at different times by the mass movement of the class and the communist minority is very complex (and to try to explain it in a paragraph has the effect of trying to demonstrate a sphere by drawing on a piece of paper (it will inevitably lack a dimension)). I will just say that the historical evidence we have before us provides no hard and fast distinctions about who does what when but without a communist minority working for a communist programme (part of which is the recognition that only the mass of the class can "make" socialism) in there the whole process ends up in reaction.

Thanks for getting back so quickly on this.

I'd like to respond to your first question witha question. Do you suppose 'the working class make a revolution with a significant commuunist minority' is the same as 'the communists make the revolution'? If you don't think they're the same thing then I don't understand what your question is for.

I agree that communists are necessary in the entire process of the revolution, from the pre-revolutionary 'opposition to capitalism' right through to the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class and after into the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without a communist minority constantly advocating the extension of struggle, trying to generalise the lessons of struggles and point out where the best interests of the working class lie, organising in workplaces and communities to bring workers together, there will be no revolution. I think we agree on that. But that's not the same as 'communists make the revolution'. a spark plug is necessary for an internal combustion engine, but it doesn't 'make the car go'.

But, I also think that there will be a great many workers who would now think of themselves as Tories (or supporters of any of the capitalist parties) who will be taken the most audacious revolutionary decisions in the course of working out those processes. As you say, the revolution allows the working class to rid itself of the muck of the past; my point exactly. But why you should think that by stressing this point I somehow think that communists need do nothing, I'm not sure. We're not blind watchmakers, winding up the working class and setting it in motion.

I certainly agree wholeheartedly with your summing up - "...without a communist minority working for a communist programme (part of which is the recognition that only the mass of the class can "make" socialism) in there, the whole process ends up in reaction". the role of communists in the revolution is absolutely vital, in that without them there would be no revolution, but it's not sufficient to have a communist minority who will somehow remove agency from the working class as a whole. I think the revolution is the act of the class organised in the councils, rather than of self-proclaimed revolutionaries, even if they do succesfully organise in workplaces (which of course we don't so much at the moment).

Sorry to not get back sooner but am distracted by events elsewhere. The danger of talking past each other is endemic to all discussions on class struggle and it is class consciousness that is the key to the discussion. What is also central to it is the notion of a process. Bordiga once tellingly stated that we have to view things dialectically so that history is seen not as single snapshot but an unfolding movie. I expect you like that as someone addicted to metaphor. But the metaphor of Bordiga, brilliant though it is is wrong, as it implies history is always moving in a single direction. A better metaphor would be a child's kaleidoscope where the movement of one pice of coloured glass alters the premises of everything and new patterns emerge. I think class consciousness is more like this. the communist minority (the red glass?) is the one solid element in this shifting spectrum until the defeat of the capitalist class everywhere. When we say that the workers councils or whatever class-wide bodies are sovereign we mean it but they do not in themselves guarantee the victory over capitalism (as we saw in Germany in 1919). It will be communists who will be fighting in the councils or whatever who will lead the way on this - or the revolution will not be completed). But we are talking here about the process of development of consciousness and where the revolution is going forward the communist minority will become the communist majority (even if not all delegates formally ascribe to the initial minority organsiation or organsations). At certain critical moments this majority may even revert to a minority but remains to fight for the communist programme of which it is the one solid compass. On the other hand as the revolution develops and deals with the various capitalist structures then communist consciousness becomes more articulate amongst a wider mass of workers throughout the world. Our revolution cannot be made by accident but by conscious decision, by those who openly recognise that they are "communists", which in the end has to mean the vast majority of the class whatever their formal affiliation.

I think we're closer to an understanding and indeed agreement than it first appeared. The only thing in you last post that I don't agree with is right at the end, where you say "Our revolution cannot be made by accident but by conscious decision, by those who openly recognise that they are "communists", which in the end has to mean the vast majority of the class whatever their formal affilition."

It seems to me there's a contradiction here, between "...those who openly recognise that they are "communists"..." and "... whatever their formal affilition."

I think my problem is that I don't it's necessary to be recognised as, or to recognise onesself as, a communist in order to be one. The idea of a 'formal affiliation' other than 'being a communist' would I think negate the notion of 'openly' recognising that they are communists. I think that the revolution will be made by the working class, whether or not individual workers recognise themselves, or are recognised by others, as communists. Being a communist is an awful lot more than claiming to be a communist. But between someone acting as a communist without claiming to be a communist, or claiming to be a communist without acting as a communist, I'd take the former as a 'better communist'. In that sense, the revolution will be made by communists - people who act as communists - rather than by 'communists' - people who identify as communists.

Perhaps this is the cause of the misunderstanding in the first place. Where you perhaps intended the former, I may have understood the latter?

A bit late in posting to this, but their is much to agree with here, even if I don't hold a clear position on what practical form political organisation should take.

So a question, which I sort of raised yesterday at the MDG in Leicester and figured it maybe of interest here as well, over how class consciousness develops and whether Lenin's view in 'What is to be done' was correct. The the passage I'm talking about

We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia. In the period under discussion, the middle nineties, this doctrine not only represented the completely formulated programme of the Emancipation of Labour group, but had already won over to its side the majority of the revolutionary youth in Russia.

I would say that how class consciousness is raised through the class struggle is much more dynamic than this and often depend how those struggles develop as well as the social conditions around.

I would agree and I think if you take the whole of "What is to be Done?" minus this wretched quote cribbed from Kautsky then Lenin was also aware of it too. He makes several references to the party being "behind the masses" in WITBD (I think I once counted 7) but no-one has really read it all and content themselves with the quote above. I have no wish to defend Lenin but I also don't like caricatures (usually by those who spring fromWITBD to the decline of the Russian Revoltuion and claim the one caused the other). I am not accusing you of this! Hope the discussion went well at the MDF and we'll hear about it from Slothjabber. In reply to whom (above) I did not say that "communists" would be formally inscribed into an organisation but the revolution will not succeed unconsciously but consciously when the conditions are right. In such a situation the communist programme (which is important) that is defended by a minority today has to become the hegemonic framework of debate to such an extent that people accept it as the necessary way forward from the impasse created by the social decay of capitalism. They may not formally call themselves communists but they will be advocating its cardinal ideas when those ideas become more than the concern of the revolutionay minority who have developed them up to that time. But it won't just be a spontaneous process even though the struggle will be impelled along at many points by spontaneous actions.

I don't disagree, I do think Lenin revised is position from "What is to be Done?" somewhat and while I have never counted how many times he talked about the party being "behind the masses" I do think this was clearly true in the case of 1905 and from my recollections of reading a fair bit of his writings some 20 odd years ago.

I also agree with regard the need for organisation of revolutionary minorities with a clear programme, I guess where I may disagree is more on what organisational form that should take and while I'm in no way opposed to centralism as such, I'm not sure whether the classic Leninist model of the Party is still relevant today. Equally the standard anarchist model of organisation also has its own problems as well.

So far the discussion has been about the relationship of the working class and the revolutionary minority (ies?) it creates. When you talk of models are you raising the issue of how they function internally? We have had to learn much from the experience of the Russian Revolution (some examples like the question of revolution just being about party rule have been mentioned above) but other lessons have been learned in different ways. WITBD focuses a lot on the amateurish nature of revolutionaries in Russia up to that point (and some were a downright liability in a police state) because WITBD was written for a police state and not for a more democratic society (Lenin points this out when saying that WITBD is out of date as early as 1907). However we have taken on board other lessons such as the fight of the Italian Left against Stalinisation/bolshevisation in the 1920s when the Russian model and policies were forced on all CPs. In the course of that we saw that "professional revolutionaries" i.e paid party officials who depended on it salary for their livelihood voted against their principles otherwise they would lose their jobs. This is one reasons why we argue against the notion of professional revolutionaries (the other being that taking people from the workplace to make them officials also makes their clas perceptions change and not for the good). Today our model is an organisation of volunteers. Similarly too we have always argued for democratic centralism (understood that all higher bodies are elected and can be recalled) but that their decisions should be respected externally whilst they can be fought internally. In practice though we work in a much more consensual way (easy in smaller groups) and everyone can have a direct voice so decisions tend to emerge rather than be the outcome of some dramatic vote (in fact given our current size the very need to have a vote would suggest a potential split). We do occasionally put things to a vote but usually because we are not sure of a course to take and use the vote as a mechanism to arrive at a policy. These are all parts of the problem and our way of dealing with it has not only to be based on past (bad) experience but also on the concrete current circumstances that we are faced with. We are for the Party which we assume will be coordinated at an international level but we don't think that this coordination will take the form of just one centre dictating policy.

Thanks for the quick response, For clarification, I used minorities instead of minority as I do think there is a good chance, in fact probable that there will be more than one communist (I don't mean the left) organisation competing within the wider class. As I don't feel all the old divisions that keep revolutionaries in different organisations at present will be reconciled even in the lead up to or in the heightened period of revolution, but that could be still seen as the communist minority.

I should have used quotes for "classic Leninist model of the Party". Thanks for clarifying what CWO mean by democratic centralism, as my only guide as been my own experiences a long time ago and which did focus heavily on WITBD, without looking at a more historical perspective, like of which has already been mentioned above and in your post regarding the Russian model and the role the C_omintern played. At some point I will get around to reading the Platform of the Committee of Intesa._

I recognised your position on minorities as opposed to minority by using that term. I think you are right there will always be different minorities but the differences that communist have are about perspectives for revolution and how we get there. In the course of a real historical revolutionary movement it will become clear that the options are more limited and this will tend to funnel people in one direction. This will lead to a greater tendency for practical work together. The future world party will still have tendencies within it even if is does achieve a degree of greater cohesion.As the class movement moves forward the issues behind the tendencies will diminish but if the movement stagnates or declines then the tendencies will become more acute differences. The latter has happened often enough in the past for us to know that will certainly happen in those circumstances. We can be less sure about exactly what positive form the future organisation(s) will be.

I do not regard Lenin's quote as ''wretched''.

I think he is only saying what Damen says, what we say, that in the absence of a revolutionary party, there is no possibility of revolution.

Certainly the existance of the revolutionary party is no guarantee of a successful outcome, but its absence is a guarantee of a negative outcome. In the context of crisis sticken capitalism that translates into many deaths.

That certain fractions of the class may go further than the trade union idea of reforming this or that aspect of capitalism, the general truth remains.

Perhaps those who mock this emphasis on the revolutionary organisation, this magic wand as the detractors put it, will reflect on the fate of those who are struggling today and will confront the full weight of a capitalism that has no solution for their hunger and desperation.

Fractions of the class? I think there are many examples since Lenin wrote WITBD but just to quote Engels on the 20th anniversary of the Paris Commune in 1891

“Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

The above doesn’t take away the need for international communist organisation, in fact it strengthens the need, however I do believe that any future organisation has to be part of the class and not a separate entity, somehow outside of the class.

With regards the WITBD quote, I would say that it was wretched, back in 1902 when it was written and from a historical perspective still is today.

Now I’ve been sat reading the latest issue of RP at work and in the “Life of the Organisation” and I really have no real disagreement.

Hi Theft, let's compare convictions....

As far as I know the Paris Commune was a government consisting of politicised elements, at least many were outright advocates of varying political trends.

from wikipedia ;

The 92 members of the Communal Council included a high proportion of skilled workers and several professionals. Many of them were political activists, ranging from reformist republicans, various types of socialists, to the Jacobins who tended to look back nostalgically to the Revolution of 1789.

The veteran leader of the Blanquist group of revolutionary socialists, Louis Auguste Blanqui, was hoped by his followers to be a potential leader of the revolution, but he had been arrested on March 17 and was held in prison throughout the life of the Commune. The Commune unsuccessfully tried to exchange him, first against Georges Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, then against all 74 hostages it detained, but Thiers flatly refused (see below). The Paris Commune was proclaimed on March 28, although local districts often retained the organizations from the siege

So, even if we have the organisational form, the council, the commune, the soviet, the political content remains to be resolved. the battle has not ended with the establishment of organisational forms. Victory or failure remain options.

Lenin from WTBD

Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is — either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a “third” ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo programme; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy.

Lenin was not belittling workers intellectual capcity, and in fact in the same work said workers could attain the intellectual development which would allow them to be revolutionary theorists.

_This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge. But in order that working men may succeed in this more often, every effort must be made to raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general; it is necessary that the workers do not confine themselves to the artificially restricted limits of “literature for workers” but that they learn to an increasing degree to master general literature. It would be even truer to say “are not confined”, instead of “do not confine themselves”, because the workers themselves wish to read and do read all that is written for the intelligentsia, and only a few (bad) intellectuals believe that it is enough “for workers” to be told a few things about factory conditions and to have repeated to them over and over again what has long been known._

Again I will say, what will be the fate of those who are fighting today in Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Greece, anywhere, who will inevitably fall under the spell of capitalist ideology, no matter its source. We have no revolutionary organisation. today the velvet gloves are still on, tomorrow the iron fist will crush those who will pay the price for learning the lesson, no revolutionary party, no revolution.

Ultimately, as it says in RP 02, and which I fully agree;

By way of a synthesis, here is the assessment made by Onorato Damen at the Turin Meeting and the Congress in Florence: "For the proletariat to again become a revolutionary force it must be assisted, it must be helped so as to learn to recognise its enemies and be free from the influence of the workers' parties that have gone over to the counter-revolution. And it is up to the party to create in the heat of the fight the human class force which is called on to solve this crisis in a revolutionary way, otherwise it leads us to war. In this sense the party is revealed as the necessary theoretical, critical and organisational condition for this revolutionary solution: revolution, or war. "


A couple of quick points I don't think the Commune was a government as such and I'm not even sure Engels was right to call it the DOP, even though it was a clear expression of class power. From what I remember Marx never used the term in his writings on the Commune, (though feel free to correct me) but anyway that is a different discussion.

With regards WTBD I do feel it needs to be put in some historical context. It was written in 1902 at a time most of the leadership of the RSDLP were in exile, the working class in russia was very small and often poorly educated. Those that were in Russia had all the problems of being an illegal organisation. This is in stark contrast to the situation we have today in most countries and we as communists need/have to adapt to the situations we have around us, without losing sight of our internationalist perspective.

Which I think you was suggesting when you said “I wonder if there is a better way, or if modern technology could provide a means for ''equality in decision making'' which was a visible commune slogan and one many of us would find attractive.” earlier in the thread.

I am very tempted to say that we have a different emphasis, though I’m not sure and I am in a way testing out my own ideas in these discussions and to get a better understanding of CWO/ICT view.

However I do think taking Engels quote “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism” and turning it into the Party or Barbarism is problematic and I feel that this can lead to a pessimistic evaluation of the role of the masses (which I do feel is the case with regards the article “Street Protests and Class Power”), as well as an elitist outlook, which I should say is different from talking about a vanguard section of the class, ie the most class consciousness which i have no problems with.

I will leave it there for the time being, as I need to finish off my paper over the next few days, but i’m sure I will come back to the issue.

And sorry not sure what happened to the formatting there?

Regardless of whether the exact wording of Lenin, Marx, Damen, Engels or anyone else would be totally acceptable to the modern revolutionary, I think there is an essential kernel which separates wheat and chaff.

That is the necessity of a revolutionary organisation of sufficient scale to influence events which on their own, without the pre-exicting revolutionary organisation, are destined to burn out leaving capitalism up and running, probably ushering in a period of harsh repression for those who make half a revolution.

All the talk about equality of decision making and non hierarchical structures is meaningless without the revolutionary perspective. We will just come to a pleasant mechanism for accepting capitalism and its deepening crisis.

Where is the evidence for the working class spontaneously coming to revolutionary class consciousness?

Surely if that were possible there would be visible signs of revolutionary organisation and a far greater scale than the current pathetic scene. Say 1% of the working class acheived revolutionary class consciousness (which surely implies revolutionary organisation) that would be millions.

I can't see it.

Occupy and the rest of it will come to nothing in the absence of revolutionary organisation. that certain people involved in Occupy/street protests etc may go on to seek a political home is positive if we can catch them, but in themselves, all we have is single issue campaigns, ever more calls to "make capitalism fair" or an "anti-capitalism" which is nothing of the sorts.

Between spontaneity, inherent class consciousness and Lenin's 'wretched quote' I'll choose to be on the side of the wretched.

Also, Cleish may be able to point out the error of my understanding, but I think that the Italian comrades support the perspective I am putting forward in support of Lenin -

Se non è possibile sviluppare la coscienza politica di classe degli operai dall'interno, con la sola lotta economica e basandosi solamente su di essa, e se è invece necessario estendere l'orizzonte degli operai a tutta la società, organizzando denunce dell'oppressione capitalista in tutti i settori della società, allora è dimostrato che

la coscienza politica di classe può essere portata all'operaio solo dall'esterno, cioè dall'esterno della lotta economica, dall'esterno della sfera del rapporto tra operai e padroni, [dal] campo dei rapporti reciproci di tutte le classi... [Per fare questo i comunisti devono] andare fra tutte le classi della popolazione, devono inviare in tutte le direzioni i distaccamenti del loro esercito.

I cannot read any refutation of Lenin's perspective in this article at least.

“Where is the evidence for the working class spontaneously coming to revolutionary class consciousness?”

I never suggested that the working class would spontaneously come to communist consciousness and have stated as much, along with stating the need for political organisation. My difference being more a question of emphasise and the need to see such documents in a historical context, as well as recognising the composition of the working class has changed.


Firstly, some of my comments have not been aimed at anyone in particular, simply stating what I think.

but, I will try to address this point

However I do think taking Engels quote “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism” and turning it into the Party or Barbarism is problematic and I feel that this can lead to a pessimistic evaluation of the role of the masses (which I do feel is the case with regards the article “Street Protests and Class Power”), as well as an elitist outlook, which I should say is different from talking about a vanguard section of the class, ie the most class consciousness which i have no problems with.

Possibly here we have a constellation of areas of dispute which fuel the divisions between those who call themselves revolutionaries and block the emergence of a stronger revolutionary formation.

Like any other process requiring multiple elements, one cannot pick out one single element and disregard the rest.

A lake of petrol may well be a far more significant element than a single match, but, bring both together and you have an inferno.

Perhaps a poor metaphor for the party/class relationship which defies a simple depiction, but what I am trying to say is that the revolutionary organisation is indispensable and that no amount of class struggle of any intensity does away with the need for the pre-existing revolutionary organ. To that extent ''a pessimistic outlook" is entirely justified.

However, that's a bit like one hand clapping. Each hand is of equal importance, and I dare say the comparative importance of struggling masses outweighs that of organised revolutionaries, but it makes no difference, take away one element and you have a bad outcome.

Predicting in advance how the interaction between struggling masses and conscious revolutionaries will play out is problematic, but its easy to predict in advance that every revolt without the presence of the revolutionary party ends with capitalist dominance.

So I think that it is entirely valid to recast the formulation socialism or barbarism as party or barbarism.

We have a party or we have barbarism is the current perspective.

However, the party alone is not sufficient. Only a party which succeeds in making its perspective the dominant perspective amongst the class in general opens a path out of capitalism.

Various elements have to align. I would also put forward that a healthy internal party regime is one such element. Just as an party is no substitute for mass consciousness yet plays a part in bringing the latter about, a party leadership is no substitute for an organisation of conscious revolutionaries who cannot rely on articulate celebrities.

Still, no party, no revolution, though we could go into the reasons for a long time and hopefully those who have resisted the call for principled organisational unity will consider this fundamental premise.

Theft is right to say that WITBD has to be put in historical context. In fact in 1907 Lenin said it was already outdated (although for reasons not directly connected to our discussion). The problem with the Kautsky quote in WITBD is that it puts the issue in an idealist way. The class war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is a permanent feature of capitalist society. It is a war which is often hidden (camouflaged too by bourgeois ideology and propaganda) and occassionally open. In the daily economic struggle the class war is one of limited guerrilla actions but without these there would be no material for the political critique of capitalism and the formulation of its antithesis. The relation between the economic and politcal aspects of the class struggle is not always direct but it is a relationship. Without the economic struggle the political basis for communism woud not be formulated. The kautsky quote though does not focus on this but on the question of "who" formulates socialist ideology. His answer being the educated representatives of the bourgeoisie who have gone ove to the proletariat. But it is irrelevant WHO formulates the political ideas since it is the class struggle as a whole which produces them. The political ideas tend to develop in the great confrontations of open struggle (but often the reflection comes afterwards) and they always tend to develop collectively (despite the huge contributions of some individuals). The Soviets did not arise sponataneously in 1905 but as a result of a real need - to link up all the strike committees of St Petersburg. The realisation of what the soviets had become was only really appreciated as it went down to reaction but its undying legacy was to provide an organisational framework suggestive of a society without a state and capable of responding to the needs of the masses. Where WITBD remains valid is that the rise of a revolutiuonary class consciousness, a communist consciousness, has to give birth to a political organisation which encapsulates the reflection of the lessons of the class struggle (like 1905) in its own programme and practice but we don't need to refer to a 111 year old text to tell us that today.

Thanks for the input.

Regardless of who said what and when, let's try and see what is essntial and relevant. I think that is what Cleish is saying and I accept that. I baulk at phrases like ''the party of Damen'' or "the party of Lenin'' as if they owned the party and had some special god given right to dominate. Revolutionary theory is impersonal and stands regardless of who formulated it.

I think the issue is this. There is no "Socialism from below"....(I'll wait till you calm down), it does not generate spontaneously. In the absence of a source of theory, which today is no longer necessarily of an alien class character even if it originally had to be, all struggle results in failure and a bad outcome for the class in general (even if ephemeral victories are won within capitalism, continuation of capitalist production in my perspective implies a bad outcome for the class in toto).

In my opinion Lenin is saying as much. Workers on their own cannot come to the conclusion of revolutionary internationalism, destruction of the capitalist state everywhere etc. Like lighting, their energy will follow a conductor which the capitalist class is all too happy to provide which remains within capitalism.

Once formulated, workers are perfectly capable of grasping and in turn transmitting such theory and workers under the influence of revolutionary theory are perfectly capable of spontanously organising in ways that can go beyond capitalist limits. Again, I don't read anything in WITBD which contradicts this.

What cannot happen is that workers separated from the revolutionary theory, who do not operate in a vacuum but one saturated by all manner of capitalist ideological influence, can spontaneously become revolutionary.

All illusions in an evolution from street protests to revolution in the absence of the revolutionary organ are absolutely music to the capitalists ears. Their greatest fear is the fusion of struggle and revolutionary theory and will erect any barrier to that deadly outcome that they can.

As cleish says in RP 02 the key factor is the revolutionary organ, the organisation of revolutionaries. The current fragmentation is a factor in the non-emergence of such an organ, alongside other objective and subjective factors.

No party, no revolution. Even if we replace the party word with any other, the essential kernel stands.

Marx, Lenin matters little who formaulated the theory, but the idea of inherent or spontaneous class consciousness is a barrier to the revolutionary party, even if not unsurmountable and not a definitive cause for exclusion from an eventual revolutionary organisation going beyond the meagre forces of today.


The future party will not formed simply because a few revolutionaries call/demand it (that’s not to say that communists shouldn’t make that call). It will come out of the realities of struggle and the needs of the class for political organisation, though this will be only one part of the course. This is where I think you are wrong on both “socialism from above” and “Party or Barbarism”.

Lets clear up a few myths though, I am not opposed to the idea of a class based party/organisation, I recognise the need for political organisation and without that revolutionary input, yes you are correct in saying that the revolution will fail, but as you yourself have already pointed out, it is no guarantee of success either and that party/organisation can be wrong. So in reality your “Party or Barbarism” is actually Party or Barbarism, but we may still end up with Barbarism anyway? Which is very different from what Engels and then Luxemburg meant when they used the term Socialism or Barbarism.

As for “socialism from above” I can only ask who will create Socialism, the party? the “workers’ state”? No it will be be class aided by it’s own organisations, workers councils which will include political organisation, but what is key is that the party won’t sit above the class directing it from above. As rightly a number of CWO articles point out.

“This will be a necessary instrument for the working class to be able to build a new world. We are not talking here about a party of government but a party of the working class, in the working class, whose task is to fight for the spread of international communism.”

“Do you want a revolution for establishing the dictatorship of the communist party?

No. Only the proletariat has the duty of realizing the revolution and acquiring all power in its own hands; it’s up to the whole working class. “All power to the soviets”, to workers’ assemblies: this is our program and this is true democracy, proletarian democracy”

As I said before I think the issue here is one of emphasis and maybe even a different use of termanology?

I found this on that is of interest to the discussion on WITBD, as it raises some of the issues in this debate.

Only a quick input but I will return to this soon.

I think I have already said in this thread that the existence of the party is no guarantee of anything.

However its absence means failure.

As to the process of formation of the party, we know that to simply proclaim it on the back of a few revolutionaries is no step forward, but it seems to me that the "wait until the class shows it needs a party" perspective is one which Damen criticised as Bordiga's erroneous position.

What do we make of this?

"The Left has managed to translate this theoretical guidance of Marxism, namely, that the bonds between the party and the proletarian masses, with their struggles and their interests should be permanent, for the Left, even in the darkest reactionary periods, there do not exist objective conditions of the proletariat which necessitate the breaking of ties with the masses due to the fact that the latter tend to follow the pressures of the enemy, because they may not constitute a historical class unity and may have definitely passed over to capitalism." Damen

Permanent need for a party no matter the objective situation?

I agree that there can be no separate power above the working class, its organs of power cannot be usurped by a minority claiming superior knowledge.

None of this negates the need for a conscious organisation of revolutionaries before during and after the insurrection.

It is no magic wand, each revolutionary remains fallible, the collective body remains fallible, it cannot institute socialism for a passive class, but it still remains indispensable.

Interesting. Do you have a link by any chance to the full exchange between Bordiga and Damen, i know it's mentioned in Class Consciousness and Revolutionary Organisation.

Theft we are in process of translating all the documents from Bordiga; Beyond the Myth. The main exchange (the 5 letters between them) was in RP1 (series 4) and is up on the website. If you put "onorato damen" into the search engine on this site you get a list of all the articles we have translated from that book. Steve's summary in his last post is right. One of the main issues between Damen and Bordiga was the original idea of Bordiga that the party can only come about at elevated moments of the class struggle and therefore he advocated liquidating the PCInt. Damen argued that this was undialectical as revolutionaries needed to have a continuous work within the class in order to preapre for the future so that the appearance of the party would not be an affair of the last minute (nor a product separated from the class as a whole).

I circulated an A5 leaflet, stressing that it is not an official CWO document, I upload it here if it is of interest. At the meeting the phrase concerning the need for a "majority of workers to become class -conscious theoreticians" was discussed. Possibly there are better words but I ask myself it is possible to be class conscious and not a theoretician? The word theoretician does not necssarily imply a very high level of comprehension beyond what could be reasonably expected.

What is class consciousness?

The perspective that the international working class has the historic mission of overthrowing capitalism and creating a global society without frontiers, classes, money. The exact nature of this society cannot be anticipated; however it can only be the result of a truly class-wide proletarian dictatorship over the exploiters who will not simply walk away. This dictatorship cannot be exercised by any separate minority.

Can the working class attain class consciousness?

It is not possible for the working class to spontaneously generate such a consciousness which is the result of generations of theoretical research and elaboration. Besides, the ruling class is constantly bombarding the exploited with its own perspectives which may vary but essentially converge as regards conservation of capitalism.

However, once formulated, such a consciousness, revolutionary theory, is perfectly within the intellectual capacity of workers to grasp and further elaborate. There is an absolute need for significant numbers, then a majority of workers to become class conscious theoreticians and that means there must be a link between that evolving theory and the class.

Though workers, due to their status of deprivation under capitalism could not originally formulate the revolutionary theory, nor can they spontaneously attain it in struggle unless in contact with a theoretical source, they become instrumental in its transmission and evolution.

The transformation of a working class which exists in terms of a number of separate categories pursuing the defence of its interests within capitalism (unconscious class struggle) into a revolutionary class pursuing the construction of a post-capitalist society can only come about by the generalisation of this class consciousness, fanning out from its original sources via revolutionary organisation largely made up of workers to the rest of the class motivated to assimilate such a perspective due to the objective crisis of the capitalist mode of production.

Hence we see a range of requirements for proletarian revolution.

  1. A sufficiently accurate formulation of revolutionary theory which is not static but constantly feeds on the real situation as it unfolds.
  2. A means to elaborate and transmit such a theory – the revolutionary organisation.
  3. Its assimilation by sufficient numbers of the exploited to catalyse organisational forms which can serve to overthrow capitalism and construct a higher society.
  4. An objective need due to the inability of the status quo to further or even maintain the interests of the vast majority is possibly not an absolute requirement, but this is a powerful motivating force for the mass of the class to accept the perspective offered by the revolutionary minority.