Correspondence on the Tasks of Communists Today

We are including here a short correspondence we have recently had via our webmail with Sander Hewitt. It was not originally intended for publication but, as we explained to Sander when asking his permission to publish this correspondence, the issues he raises are also issues which other correspondents have recently raised with us (but not as bluntly) in this very difficult period for the working class. We invite other readers to send their comments on this exchange, or on issues which might have been provoked by it.

Letter from Sander

Dear IBRP,

I would like to know what I, as an individual Communist, can do to help bring about communism. “Terrorism” or acts of violent resistance seem to do nothing but provide ammo for bourgeois propagandists. And I have tried educating the proletariat about communism and ideas of class struggle, but they are almost universally disinterested. Thus I am left wondering what I can do aside from educating myself to fight for what I believe in? It seems almost as though I am forced to take up the position of a Menshevik and sit idly by and observe capitalism run its course without the ability to do anything except wait.

Your thoughts?



Our Reply

Dear Sander

Thanks for your letter. The problem you pose is not just a problem for an “individual communist” as you describe yourself. The question of what real communist work at this present time of low class consciousness is also critical even for organisations of communists. As you say at present the mass of the world working class are “almost universally disinterested” in questioning the consumer society in which they are enslaved so our perspectives cannot be anything else but long term. We have to do several things. One is to analyse and publicise those struggles where some resistance to the system is taking place (however far these struggles may be from our “ideal” of what is a class movement leading towards communism). The second is to go wherever there is a struggle and talk to the workers. As Marx noted in The German Ideology the actual process of revolution, of taking part in rapid change, actually changes working class consciousness (not mere education as an intellectual or bookish process). Every struggle, even a not very revolutionary one, poses questions for workers that are not posed in their normal everyday lives. Third there is the question of developing revolutionary understanding. You seem to have limited this to a process of personal or individual education and this is the big problem you have. In no field of human activity can you do it alone. Newton may have been being ironic when he stated that he saw so far, “because I stand on the shoulder of giants”, but the message is correct. Marx and Lenin might have been outstanding theorists of the proletarian cause but their achievements (and even their limitations) were all based on the earlier work of others as they often acknowledged. For the proletariat as a whole it is collective action and collective discussion which are the way forward. We in the Bureau take great strength from the discussions we have with each other because we are at least part of an organised expression of the working class.

By developing collectively we can make a contribution to our own emancipation. Really, the logic of our argument is that as an individual you cannot be much of a communist. Those individual terrorist actions you correctly condemn at the start of your letter are in fact anti-working class, for the very reason that you give, but also because changing the personnel of the capitalist system does not change the system. We hope you don’t find this insulting but that is currently the only way we can see to offer any help. We would obviously encourage you to participate in our work by getting involved in criticising our publications, but there are other communist organisations if you do not find our version of the proletariat’s acquisitions up to now adequate. Perhaps though you fear the very question of organisation. The nature of the defeat of the Russian Revolution in which the Party which had expressed the highest consciousness of the working class then became the instrument of a new anti-working class state power has blighted the prospects of communism for nearly a century. Even the fall of Stalinism did not release us from this historical nightmare as the ruling class everywhere has never lost an opportunity over the last decade and a half to refer to this “ collapse of communism”.

However this message will lose its force over time. Capitalism remains a system of brutal exploitation whose contradictions are only overcome for a time only for them to burst out anew just when everyone begins celebrating the new dawn of capitalist

civilisation. The current speculative bubble which is distorting real capital values cannot last forever, and if the system goes through a new global crash, the working class will need to have organised instruments in place in order to fight the authoritarian barbaric solutions which the capitalists will themselves put forward. And this is why we need to fear not the question of organisation but the question of disorganisation. If we do not carry what we have established and developed into the next revolutionary wave then the working class will again go into a struggle lacking the weapons it needs to win. The proletariat, in each epoch, cannot start from a tabula rasa but can only fight on the basis of the historic acquisitions of its previous (failed) struggles. We have to stick around and get organised within the working class as a whole in time for that day. It may not occur in our lifetimes but if every generation only fought on the basis of seeing the overthrow of capitalism in their lifetimes (and for some comrades who hate capitalism almost physically this is very difficult) then the bourgeoisie would be safe from overthrow and they could happily carry on taking the world to hell.

There are individual contributions to be made (writing a tome explaining how the current financialisation of capitalism has a limited historic existence, for example) but this will not actually make the revolution since ultimately it will be made by hundreds of thousands, millions of men and women because, to achieve socialism, as Lenin said, “no-one else can do it for you”. One contribution you could usefully make right now would be to write your views to us which we could put in our press as part of discussion inside the proletariat but, as we said at the beginning, our real contribution has to be in bringing together those, like ourselves, who we flatteringly call the vanguard of the class, in order to prepare as widely as possible for a more significant role in the class struggle.

In this spirit we wish you a happy and rewarding New Year in 2007.

Internationalist greetings.

Jock for the CWO/IBRP

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