Arrigo Cervetto's Class Struggles and the Revolutionary Party (1964)
The Workers' Coalition
The Working Class' Political Struggle
The Party of the Workers' Struggle
The Two Aspects of Workers' Spontaneity
Consciousness' Embryonic Form
The Influence of Bourgeois Ideology
How the Party Fights Spontaneity
The Strike: A School of War
The Strike: A Natural Economic Phenomenon
The Proletariat's Natural Superiority
The Strike: A Proletarian Tool
The Interconnection of Strikes
Radicalizing the Struggles
The Trade-Union Issue
The Third Period of Lenin's Theorization
The Social Violence of Democracy
More Democracy, More Violence
The "School of Communism"
The Struggle for Revolutionary Influence in the Trade Unions
Revolutionary Work in Reactionary Trade Unions
We have already said that the production relations-distribution relations coincidence illustrates the life of the capitalist social formation in its class struggles, in the political and ideological aspects that these struggles take on as a reflection of the historically determined production relations and their inherent distribution relations. Marxism reaches these conclusions, as we've seen, by applying its scientific criteria. But Marxism would remain mere scientific formulation, valid as it is, if the science developed were not a science of the revolution, i.e., if it were not a science of action. Only when science becomes strategy does it appear as the solution to all the problems that the capitalist socio-economic formation poses. We have already observed how Lenin was the main author of this process of developing the science into strategy.
Now let us observe how this process occurs in a specific, crucial, basic field of social relations: in the field of capital-wage, in the class struggle inherent in this relationship. Marx already provided all the particularities of the class struggle between capital and wage. It is necessary to keep them in mind because Lenin develops them consistently throughout his thirty-year theorization with a scientific faithfulness that demonstrates the scientific method's continuity between "teacher" and "pupil" in analyzing social phenomena.
Marx writes: "Large-scale industry concentrates a crowd of people who don't know each other together in a single place. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance-coalition.
Thus, the workers' coalition always has a two-fold aim: that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist. If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, coalitions, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in the face of always-united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages. Once it has reached this point, the association takes on a political character... Do not say that social movement excludes political movement. There is never a political movement which is not at the same time social. it is only in an order of things in which there are no more classes and class antagonisms that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions. Until that day on the eve of every general subversion of society, the last word of social science will always be: battle or death, bloody struggle or nothing. The issue is inevitably raised this way."
This terse statement contains the Marxist complete view of the wage struggle between capitalists and workers and of the first associated, trade-union form of association that this struggle takes on at a certain stage in its development. It is useful to insist on this point because the development of the trade unions itself, with all of the problems that it also poses to the revolutionary party, should never cause one to forget this elementary and purely scientific truth.
The wage is the price of a commodity that, as such, is subject to the market and competition. Marx explains that it is competition that "divides their interests," i.e. the people who sell this commodity as well as those who purchase it. However, as the capitalists-purchasers are increasingly united, the proletarians-sellers must create a coalition to "stop competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist."
This basic truth, that describes the competition's movement of a commodity that is unique because it is the only one that adds surplus-value to its own value, can appear obvious due to the long experience that wage struggles have now generalized throughout the world.
The obviousness, however, is only apparent. In reality, just as this truth had value as a scientific discovery for Marx who made it, likewise, it has value as the defense of a scientific milestone for us. It would seem to be an accepted idea, and yet it is not. Indeed, it is enough to go to Marx's consequential conclusion, that every political movement is a social movement to immediately realize that what seemed to have been assimilated has not been at all. It shows how something taken for granted and seen as obvious merely hides incomprehension and confusion. Seeing only the economic law behind the workers' coalition and overlooking its political consequence means not understanding Marx. It means remaining on the threshold of the science, staying tied to the flattest economism, to the most vulgar "pure" economics. Even the bourgeois economists discovered the economic law of the workers' coalition. Marx, on the other hand, discovered the political movement in it, that is, the objective process through which the class struggle becomes consciousness, becomes party.
In autumn 1895, Lenin wrote the Explanation of the Law on Fines Imposed on Factory Workers. In this essay, he deals with an aspect of the workers' struggle in Russia. This writing is important in many ways, but here we will underline one of its central theses that clearly demonstrates Lenin's complete understanding of Marx's lesson. It also shows how he could not lapse, while analyzing an aspect of the class struggle, into the objectivism that he razes in the "Struve-like Marxists".
"Fines are not imposed to compensate for damage," Lenin writes, "but to establish discipline, i.e., to secure subordination of the workers to the employer, to force the workers to follow the employer's orders, to obey him during working hours. "
Lenin thoroughly discusses the political aspect of the workers' struggle in the Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party which he wrote in prison in 1896, when he began preparations for the book The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Under point B of the Program, he writes:
"The struggle of the Russian working class for its emancipation is a political struggle, and its first aim is to achieve political liberty."
While in the Explanation he comments that:
"What is meant by these words: the struggle of the working class is a political struggle? They mean that the working class cannot fight for its emancipation without securing influence over affairs of State, over the administration of the State, over the issue of laws. The need for such influence has long been understood by the Russian capitalists, and we have shown how they have been able, despite all sorts of prohibitions contained in the police laws, to find thousands of ways of influencing the State authority, and how this authority serves the interests of the capitalist class."
One could cite hundreds of passages in which Lenin explains and develops the concept of the Russian working class' political struggle and points out the practical tasks that it sets out. However, in order to fully understand these tasks, they must be framed in the revolutionary strategy that Lenin develops for Russia. For the time being, we are most interested in seeing the typical, universal aspects of this strategy and, on the other hand, in considering its particular aspects in as far as they demonstrate the extreme theoretical an political coherence of Lenin's Marxist thought. He continually connects the former to the latter, derives the latter from the former, and in the latter finds confirmation of the former.
At the end of 1899, during his deportation, Lenin wrote his essay On Strikes. In 1924, this was published for the first time in the journal Proletarskazia Revolutsia.
Lenin was supposed to write three articles for the journal Rabociaia Gazeta on this topic. Only the first was found in the archives, and it has not been possible to establish if the other two were actually written. It is truly a shame that no one knows whether or not Lenin continued with the organic development that he announced in the first article. Not so much because his theorization can be considered incomplete (Lenin developed his theses at various times and in various articles), but because On Strikes can be considered Marxism's first systematic handling of the workers' struggles. Even if the first article is complete, it is likely that the other, subsequent articles would have given us interesting material to reconstruct all of Lenin's thought during that period and to closely connect it to the theses on the party set forth in What Is to Be Done?
The fact that Lenin's thought is often analyzed or declaimed in pieces is symptomatic of and almost demonstrates the failure to assimilate Marxism's scientific method by those who claim to support it or to dispute it from various positions. A typical example concerns What Is to Be Done?, a text that has already produced rivers of ink and filled library bookshelves. The Leninist concept of the party is extracted through a series of quotations from a text that, isolated this way, is subjected to a judgement that has nothing scientific about it, even in the way it is presented. Now, it is practically childish to study an issue, a thesis, a complete theory regarding a series of social phenomena in this way.
We think that we have demonstrated that What Is to Be Done? is already in Capital’s scientific method; it is already in The Development of Capitalism in Russia. We can add that, again according to our scientific criteria, What Is To Be Done? is already in On Strikes, just as the political struggle lies within the economic struggle, and the Leninist concept of the party includes the Leninist concept of the classes' struggles and the working class' struggle.
The Marxist view of social relations cannot, under any circumstances, regard those relations as isolated, except in scientific abstraction. Similarly, the Leninist concept of the party cannot be taken individually unless it is done as a scientific abstraction. just as, in practice, the Leninist concept of the party cannot be understood except in relation to the experience of the workers' struggle, likewise, in theory, the Leninist concept of the party cannot be fully understood except in relation to the Leninist view of the workers' struggle that is one of its inseparable component parts.
By the same token, the concept of the party is no aprioristic truth in What Is to Be Done? Rather, it results from the definitions of "spontaneity" and "trade-unionism," that is, of "certain features" (certain, and not all, as Lenin will explain) produced by the historical experience of the workers' struggle.
If we then choose to follow Lenin's ideas as they develop step by step, something that is not usually ever done, we cannot fail to realize the fundamental importance of the stage in which the concept of the workers' struggle is developed within the framework of the concept of the party. Within this same process, in this continual and consistent confirmation and development of Marx's thought, the workers' struggle and the political struggle merge perfectly in the concept of the party, just as they did in Marx. But, if Lenin were to reestablish and continue Marx, there had to be a historical reason. This was, in fact, the separation performed by the Second International between the economic and political forms of the classes' struggle in general, and the working class' struggle in particular. This was indeed a theoretical separation because in practice, the political influence in the economic struggle is an objective reality. Each economic struggle is a political struggle, and the workers' struggle itself, left to its own spontaneity, ends up bearing the brunt of the other classes' political influence.
It is in the field of all the classes' interrelations, that is, in politics, in the State, that the working class can reach political consciousness, i.e., have its own policy. But it is through the economic struggle that the working class reaches the field of politics, and not vice-versa because every economic struggle has a political content. It is a movement in social relations; it is a dynamic in class relations, and it affects the interrelations between all the classes, the sphere of the State.
Basically, Marxism's revision took place in the practical sphere of the relationship between economic and political struggle because the classes' struggle always affects this relationship. Each class tends to change this relationship to its own advantage, and every political movement must always be traced back to the base of class interests.
For Lenin, returning to Marx and re-establishing Marx's science as the working class' political consciousness through the party did not mean conducting an abstract battle to defend abstract principles. Nor was it a battle against a revision of ideas. Rather, it was a concrete struggle, a political struggle especially within the working class, to counteract all the political influences that the other classes established and continually establish in the course of the workers' struggles.
The wage struggle is an objective phenomenon. It is the social relation's mode of existence within the process of capitalist production and the inherent distribution relations. The solution, the social outlet for this struggle is, however, a subjective phenomenon. It depends on the consciousness of the struggle itself; it depends on the degree to which the science has been circulated in the classes; it depends on the action that each class is able to develop; that is, it depends on each class' political action. This is the sphere of the revolutionary party's struggle. And, the fact that What Is to Be Done?, A Step Forward, and other writings concentrate this struggle within the party itself means that the struggle has to be resolved and won within the party in order to be brought to and won within the class.
But let us examine how all these concepts are expressed clearly in the essay On Strikes. Lenin starts by asking himself a question: "How can the origin and spread of strikes" that "in Russia have become extraordinarily frequent be explained?"
This is Lenin's approach to this problem, as a true materialist and not as an economicistic spontaneist: "When there were only a few big factories in Russia there were few strikes..." He then asks himself. "Why is it that large-scale factory production always leads to strikes? It is because capitalism must necessary lead to a struggle of the workers against the employers, and when production is on a large scale the struggle of necessity takes on the form of strikes." Lenin follows Marx's framework faithfully and develops it accordingly. The workers' struggle is brought about by capitalism, and with large-scale production, this struggle, "of necessity takes on the form of strikes".
This thesis must be underlined. It is the outcome of an analysis of the "factual material" from experience that leads to discover a now "generalized," "necessary" form of the workers' struggle within large-scale production, that is, the strike. Later we will see the importance that strikes have in the Leninist view of the economic and political struggles and their particular interconnection.
We follow Lenin again to see how he reaches the concept of "strike struggle."
Lenin starts with the illustration of Marx's theory. "Capitalism," he writes, "is the name given to that social system under which the land, factories, implements, etc. belong to a small number of landed proprietors and capitalists."
The workers have to sell their labor-power. The employers try to reduce wages while the workers try to get the highest possible wage. "A constant struggle is, therefore, going on between employers and workers over wages..." The employer is free to buy the labor-power at a lower price, just as the worker is free to go to work where the pay is better. "The worker always bargains with the employer, fights with him over the wages."
But "is it possible for a single worker to wage a struggle by himself. The number of working people is increasing, peasants are being ruined and flee from the countryside to the town or the factory... In the cities there are increasing numbers of unemployed and in the villages there are more and more beggars; those who are hungry drive wages down lower and lower. It becomes impossible for the worker to fight against the employer by himself... The individual worker becomes absolutely powerless in face of the capitalist... Even under slavery or serfdom there was never any oppression of the working people as terrible as that under capitalism when the workers cannot put up a resistance or cannot win the protection of laws that restrict the arbitrary actions of the employers." To keep from reaching extreme conditions, the workers begin a "desperate" struggle; they rise up together.
"Workers' strikes begin. At first the workers often fail to realize what they are trying to achieve, lacking consciousness of the wherefore of their action; they simply smash the machines and destroy the factories... In all countries the wrath of the workers first took the form of isolated revolts... [which] gave rise to more or less peaceful strikes, on the one hand, and to the all-sided struggle of the working class for its emancipation, on the other. What significance have strikes (or stoppages) for the struggle of the working class?"
After having illustrated the historical process through which the wage struggle becomes a strike struggle, Lenin tries to define the meaning that strikes have taken on in the workers' struggle.
If the worker's wage, therefore, is the outcome of a purchase-and-sale contract, "the workers are compelled to organize strikes either to prevent the employers from reducing wages or to obtain higher wages. It is a fact that in every country with a capitalist system there are strikes of workers... As capitalism develops, as big factories are more rapidly opened, as the petty capitalists are more and more ousted by the big capitalists, the more urgent becomes the need for the joint resistance of the workers, because unemployment increases, competition sharpens between the capitalists who strive to produce their wares at the cheapest (to do which they have to pay the workers as little as possible), and the fluctuations of industry become more accentuated and crises more acute."
Before continuing to read Lenin, we should stop briefly on the theses that he presented and that can be called the fundamental bases of the Marxist and Leninist theory on trade unions, that is the theory that deals with a specific aspect of the social relations.
In this field as well, the science-social reality relationship fully substantiates the concept of the workers' struggle. This struggle is viewed with a materialist criterion. In its objectivity, in the "need" to struggle for wages. The entire social reality in which Lenin frames this struggle is important to scientific knowledge of this economic law. The wage as the price of a commodity, is not only seen at the final stage of the market, but it is seen throughout the socio-economic process that determines the market itself.
"Those who are hungry drive wages down," says Lenin, and the hungry people include the two-fold phenomenon of the cities' growing unemployment and the countryside's growing poverty. This phenomenon, moreover, is in turn an aspect of small farmers’ ruin and their flight to the city to increase the labor-power market.
This historical process makes an isolated wage struggle impossible and a workers' coalition necessary not only to carry on "general competition with the capitalist," but, above all, to resist the capitalist, to restrict his arbitrary actions. We see, therefore, how the same wage struggle in Lenin is, on the one hand, the product of the relations between all the classes and, on the other, because of this characteristic, a political struggle. Undoubtedly, the wage struggle cannot be an isolated social relation, but it is closely connected with the other social relations (development of capitalism in the countryside, the peasants' ruin, growing poverty of some groups of peasants, etc.).
This becomes truer the more this interdependence operates in capitalism’s development. Lenin points out a series of relations that define it clearly:
1) the more capitalism develops, the more big factories increase;
2) the more big capitalists increase, the more vigorously small capitalists are eliminated, competition between capitalists increases, lower wages are paid, workers become unemployed, industry fluctuates, and there are crises;
3) therefore, the more capitalism develops, the more immediate becomes the need for the workers to be united in their resistance.
The fact that this need is the result of capitalist development and not of class consciousness, is confirmed by the historical experience of all capitalist countries in which the beginning of strikes - that is, on the one hand, of a new form of wage struggle, and, on the other, of the working class' multi-form struggle - is also the beginning of a desperate struggle in which the workers "lack consciousness of the wherefore of their action".
This is the "typical" aspect, the one that is shared by all capitalist countries, in the beginning of the workers strike struggle. In Lenin’s view, we can define this as a political aspect. The lack of consciousness, the so-called "pure" spontaneity, the "need" to revolt provoked by a concrete experience, is ultimately the objective basis, the embryonic form of the workers' political consciousness. If the revolutionary party, the higher form of political consciousness' organization, were unable to fight and eliminate the other classes' political influence over the working class; if it were unable to bring the class back to a primary awareness of its social condition; if it were unable to trace the class back, in capitalism’s situations of crisis, to this condition of political revolt and to raise it to a condition of social revolution, the party would have no historical reason to exist.
If the working class is the only revolutionary class in capitalist society, it is not only because it can potentially reach the science, but, especially, because the revolutionary potential lies in its own social condition. If Marxism and Lenin, in What Is to Be Done?, say that the proletariat's spontaneity is trade-unionist, this is because the proletariat is subjected to the political influence of the other classes (especially the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie) and not because the proletariat is in and of itself trade-unionist. If we read What Is to Be Done? carefully, we can see how the Leninist concept of the party arises from the international proletariat's entire historical experience of spontaneity-trade unionism.
"But there is a difference between spontaneity and spontaneity," Lenin writes in Chapter II of What Is to Be Done? Even between 1860 and 1880 (but also in the first half of the century), Russia experienced strikes accompanied by "spontaneous" destruction of machines and equipment. Compared with these "revolts," the strikes that occurred after 1890 could even be called "conscious" - such was the importance of the progress that the workers' movement made in the meantime. Ultimately, this demonstrates that "the spontaneous element" is nothing other than "consciousness in an embryonic form".
Further ahead, Lenin writes:
"It is often said: the working class gravitates spontaneously towards socialism. This is perfectly true in the sense that the socialist theory defines the causes of the misery of the working class more profoundly and precisely than any other theory. For that reason, workers are able to assimilate it so easily, provided, however, that this theory does not step aside for spontaneity and provided it subordinates spontaneity to itself.
The working class gravitates spontaneously towards socialism, but bourgeois ideology - which is the most widespread (and constantly revived in myriad forms) - still remains the ideology that, above all others, spontaneously imposes itself on the workers ... But why, the reader will ask, does the spontaneous movement, the movement that follows the line of least resistance, lead to the predominance of bourgeois ideology? For this simple reason: bourgeois ideology is far older than the socialist, it is more fully developed in all of its aspects, and because it has immeasurably greater means of circulation at its command."
We could quote other passages on the topic, but we feel it adequate to pause on this last central point, on this "simple reason" that Lenin so clearly expresses. Moreover, this comes after be mentions the fact that ideological predominance can also belong to other classes in countries that are not highly capitalist. "... But the spontaneous development of the workers' movement," he writes, "leads to subordinating it to bourgeois ideology... [not to fight spontaneity] is the same as giving socialism up... as leaving the field to the Struves and Prokopovichs who direct the workers' movement "along the line of least resistance," i.e., along the line of bourgeois trade-unionism, or to the Zubatovs who direct it along clerical-police ideology lines."
Why, then, in Russia, doesn't the spontaneous development of the workers' movement necessary lead to bourgeois trade-unionism? Why may it also be directed along clerical-police ideology lines?
The answer lies in the "simple reason" that bourgeois ideology in Russia does not yet have the history, the full development, the command of the means of circulation that it does in more capitalistically developed and more bourgeois countries. Naturally, capitalism's development and the international connections give bourgeois ideology in Russia the same advantages that characterize its predominance in other countries. But the party cannot just stand by and watch this process. The party must have scientific awareness of the relationship between workers' spontaneity and bourgeois ideology; it must be aware of the historical factors that determine the process through which bourgeois ideology "remains the ideology that, above all others, spontaneously imposes itself on the workers."
The party's task is to oppose bourgeois ideology's predominance. It can only do this in its class sphere, within the working class, i.e., in the only social sphere with a contradiction between the superstructure (bourgeois ideology) and the structure (labor power); in the only social sphere with a contradiction between those who sell their labor power and the ideology that is not their own because it belongs to the labor-power purchasers. The party fights bourgeois ideology in its form as the ideology of a class that dominates the class it exploits, that is, in the form of the workers' spontaneity. It fights and can fight it because "ultimately, the spontaneous element is nothing other than consciousness in an embryonic form," i.e., the embryonic form of scientific consciousness. This spontaneous element, left to its spontaneity, left to its mechanical development, can do nothing more than fall under the influence of the most widespread, oldest, most fully developed ideology, that is, bourgeois ideology.
And when Lenin says ideology, he is clearly not saying science. Socialist theory "defines the causes more profoundly and precisely," that is to say, it is a science. Bourgeois ideology "is more fully developed in all of its aspects," that is to say, it is ideology, a developed and perfected tool of predominance, leadership, of hegemony of one class over the others; of rule over reality, but not a tool for precise knowledge of reality. If Marxism has won in the sphere of precise knowledge of reality and allowed for the rise of the revolutionary party, in the social sphere of the working class not only Marxism has not won, but it must fight its entire battle against spontaneity, against the form in which bourgeois ideology influences the working class.
In other words, Marxism, the party, has already defeated bourgeois ideology in the social sphere of the class, in the sphere of culture. (Lenin quotes, approvingly, Kautsky⁽s famous passage: "Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so. Both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicles of science are not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of some members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduced it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions make that possible. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without, and not something that arose within it spontaneously") Marxism has demonstrated that bourgeois ideology is the culture of the ruling class, thus revealing its mystifying character, and has ultimately proved that it is an "ideology" and not a science. However Marxism must still defeat bourgeois ideology within the working class. This is the party's historical task.
But how can the party fight an ideology that is older, more widespread, more developed in all of its aspects, more refined and varied, constantly revived in myriad forms, and, in short, more mystified? How can it fight an ideology with enormous advantages over the science, over Marxism, precisely because of these traits, because it is a tool of influence, because it is a tool to create a common meaning, because it is a foundation for all the prejudices and habits that fill the working class, as Lenin will discuss in The State and Revolution?
The mechanist, who reduces the Marxist principle of the superstructure's derivation from historically determined production relations to a positivistic formula; he who does not see how much of Marx and Lenin's work is dedicated to studying and solving this question, will not even raise it.
On the other hand, the question is not even raised by those who believe they have solved the problem by pronouncing a "reversal of practice" in which "will" is a mere conceptual category, something that may not be scientifically defined, that has no relationship with the structure it "wants to overthrow" and can't therefore be scientifically subject to analysis and verification using the materialist criterion. Will remains "pure" will, a mystified and eclectic definition of an opportunist practice that is such because it is not directed by the consciousness of one's own role, but rather by a pseudo-consciousness.
If we then look carefully, we are faced with two of the various forms of bourgeois ideology, with two classic forms of spontaneity. The essence of the first or second form is the lack of an actual struggle against bourgeois ideology in the social sphere where it must historically be fought, that is within the working class. And this means "leaving the field to the Struves and Prokopovichs".
We mentioned a first and second form of bourgeois ideology, because it is not enough to know that one must fight against bourgeois ideology within the working class, but one must know how, in what way, and why it is necessary to fight.
Lenin will illustrate how, in what way, and why the battle against bourgeois ideology must be fought in all of his theorization of the workers' struggle "through strikes" and in all his revolutionary political action "through the party".
Let us continue reading his essay On Strikes: "However, strikes, which arise out of the very nature of capitalist society, signify the beginning of the working-class struggle against that system of society."
Isolated, the workers "remain veritable slaves"; by fighting together, "they become human beings". Why?
Because: "Every strike reminds the workers that their position is not hopeless, that they are not alone...
In normal, peaceful times, the worker does his job without a murmur, he doesn't contradict the employer; he doesn't discuss his condition.
In times of strikes he states his demands in a loud voice... he doesn't think of himself and his wages alone, he thinks of all his workmates... Every strike brings thoughts of socialism very forcibly to the workers' mind. It has often happened that before a big strike the workers of a certain factory... knew hardly anything and scarcely ever thought about socialism; but after the strike... more and more workers become socialists."
It is clear how Lenin "materialistically" shows us the process that "through strikes" leads the workers' struggle above and beyond the wage struggle that deterministically gave birth to it and from which it can never be separated (as Lenin himself will demonstrate in the analysis of the interconnection between economic strike and political strike). He also shows us how this process is reflected in the specific sphere of bourgeois ideology's influence and in the struggle against it, i.e., in the specific sphere of development of political consciousness as a historical form of circulation of the science, of Marxism.
This process itself marks "the beginning of the working-class struggle" against the capitalist system. The form it manifests itself leads the individual worker, who had no knowledge of and didn't think of socialism - i.e., who knew and thought of ideas that are part of bourgeois ideology - to think about his condition; to think about the other workers' conditions, to think not only of himself or his own wage.
A strike is an objective form of social life that necessary reflects itself in the individual's subjective life. A strike is a fact, a reality, a new form of life for social relations, a "Mont Blanc of factual material". Only after it has been a concrete fact can it "bring thoughts... very forcibly," and only because the concrete fact originates "out of the very nature of capitalist society" can it bring this idea and allow the worker to become a human being, to discuss his condition and that of others. In other words, this fact allows man to develop "consciousness in an embryonic form," to develop within himself the science's embryo, the embryo of the scientific criteria of knowledge of what is real.
Within this materialist process of consciousness development lies the objective possibility for Marxist science's circulation. In this sense, Marxist science is introduced to the working class from the outside; it merges completely with the spontaneous creation of the embryo of consciousness spontaneously generated in the workers' struggle by social relations, by the constant and inevitable struggle for wages that has become "necessarily a struggle through strikes".
The struggle against bourgeois ideology, therefore, has a material process to work on and in which it can verify itself. It is no longer a struggle between ideas, a struggle of will, a struggle of persuasion. Rather, it is the will to carry on this struggle; the will not to "step aside for spontaneity"; the will to submit the party’s exact, scientific idea of the social process' spontaneity in which it must operate, to the process itself, to reality itself.
The scientific idea, the will to apply it properly, the organizational tool suited to this purpose: this is what the party must "fully develop in all of its aspects". This is the party's permanent and necessary task, because it must always be aware of how and in what way it must and can conduct the struggle against bourgeois ideology within the working class; how and in what way it can and must free socialist consciousness' spontaneous assimilation of the obstacle that is bourgeois ideology.
Once it has scientifically known the objective law that regulates the process in which the workers' political consciousness develops materialistically, the party must constantly and necessarily know the "particular forms" that allow or prevent this process in a given, specific situation. It must know all of the various forms in which the Struves and Zubatovs manifest themselves, not so much in their theoretical and external expression, but in their practical one within the working class. The party must know what the worker thinks and how what he thinks is determined by what he does in any given situation.
The party must know "how" and "when" the worker can think of his own social condition and the condition of his and the other classes; how and when the movement of social relations can very forcibly bring the idea of socialism to the worker; how and when the party must intervene in an carry on this process in the most fully-developed way possible. This is the role of propaganda and agitation that the party fulfills. But, in order for propaganda and agitation to be "fully developed in all of their aspects," so that they are not propaganda and agitation of "ideas" but instead a conscious factor in a materialist process of creation, the party must analyze and know all the elements in this process, the forms in which they manifest themselves, and the new forms in which they can manifest themselves.
This is why the party's struggle is a bitter, hard one ridden with hurdles. This is why it is a struggle in which will is not enough; this is why a scientific will is needed. It is a struggle in which the idea of a "reversal of practice" is not enough. Instead, exact knowledge of the practice's entire dialectical process is necessary. The propaganda of an idea is not sufficient in this struggle, rather the action must be determined that reaches the idea from reality and reality from the idea.
Lenin gave the party the scientific tools it needs for this action. The struggle for wages "through strikes" is no longer an "idea" that the party has of this struggle. Instead, it is a material process to be analyzed as a "natural historical process" - using all of Marxism's scientific criteria - from which the ideas arise and in which the party operates and verifies.
Further ahead we will see how Lenin developed the tool of analysis of strikes and how he applied the scientific analysis criteria to define the "strike statistics".
For the time being, we will limit ourselves to continue the reading of On Strikes to find another important statement.
"A strike, moreover, opens the eyes of the workers to the nature, not only of the capitalists, but of the government and the laws as well."
Government officials tell the workers that they are worried about their fate, and the workers, who "have no contacts with government officials" directly, often believe them. But, in the struggle:
"The workers begin to understand that laws are made in the interests of the rich alone; that government officials protect those interests... this is the reason that... strikes [are] a "school of war"... A "school of war" is, however, not war itself. When strikes are widespread among the workers, some of the workers including some socialists, begin to believe that the working class can confine itself to strikes... some think it is sufficient to organize a general strike... It is a mistaken idea. Strikes are one of the ways in which the working class struggles for its emancipation, but they are not the only way; and if the workers do not turn their attention to other means of conducting the struggle, they will slow down the growth and the successes of the working class." For successful strikes, "funds are needed" to support the workers. "All that is necessary is a hitch in the affairs of industry... and the factory owners will even deliberately cause strikes, because it is to their advantage to cease work for a time and to deplete the workers' funds. The workers, therefore, cannot confine themselves to strike actions and strike associations.
Secondly, strikes can only be successful where workers are sufficiently class-conscious, where they are able to select an opportune moment for striking... There are still very few such workers in Russia, and every effort must be exerted to increase their number. This is a task that the socialists and the class-conscious workers must undertake jointly by organizing a socialist working-class party for this purpose."
Thirdly, strikes "show the workers that the government is their enemy... only a socialist workers' party can carry on this struggle by spreading among the workers a true conception of the government and of the working-class cause".
"When all class-conscious workers become socialists..." the working class "will become an integral part" of the socialist movement. The struggle for wages through strikes has become, in Lenin's analysis, a school of war which is not yet, however, the working-class "war itself". Rather, this struggle becomes the war to the extent that the party - an organization of Marxist and class-conscious workers spreads "a true conception" about the social and political nature of the capitalist system among the workers and brings the strike to a strategy of its own.
In the "school of war," the working class not only understands its relationship with capitalists, but also its relationship with the State. That is, it understands what all class relationships are as well as all the classes' interrelations, the sphere of politics and the State. But only the party can teach the working class that strikes are one of the struggle's tools but not the only one. Moreover, only the party can teach that the strike strategy is part of the revolutionary strategy and not the revolution's entire strategy as "some of the workers (including some socialist) begin to believe" without realizing "that strikes are only one means of struggle, only one aspect of the working-class movement".
Three years later, Lenin, in his article "On a Draft Law on Strikes," published in the September 1st, 1902 issue of Iskra, said more. He wrote that: "The working-class movement has become so vast that strikes have truly become a natural economic phenomenon."
At this time, Lenin gave his theorization of the party a systematic character. It is symptomatic that his scientific handing runs parallel to analyzing and formulating the problems of the workers' struggle and of the agrarian question, within the general framework of studying and defining all the factors in the revolutionary strategy.
In May, 1901, the article "Where Is It Necessary to Begin?" appeared in Iskra. This article already raised the issues that would be developed later in What Is to Be Done?, published in March, 1902, but begun in May, 1901 at the same time as the first nine chapters of The Agrarian Question and Marxist Tactics. These were drafted between June and September of 1901, while chapters 10, 11 and 12 were written in the fall of 1907.
Given this interdependency of the topics studied, the analysis of the 1902 workers' struggle is of special relevance.
Lenin, having studied the draft of a new law on strike, immediately writes:
"Considering a strike as if it were a crime provokes overzealous interference by the police. This interference is more damaging than useful, and creates more problems and headaches for the employers than relief…
[Therefore, in the draft]... one hears the voice of an entire stratum of employers who are in contact with productive labor... the tradesman's nickel liberalism is much more important than the State official's dime liberalism... The police don't investigate the reasons for the strike. Rather, they only deal with blocking it, and to do this, they use one of two methods: either force the workers... to go back to work, or order the employers to make concessions... The workers' struggle has taken on such tenacious forms, that the police State's intervention has begun to be truly damaging. This intervention not only damages the workers (who have never been anything but damaged by it), but also the employers themselves, for whom the police intervened in the first place... Even some employers have started to realize that the European class-struggle forms are preferable to the Asian-like arbitrary will of the police." Having identified the cause (the strike that has become a natural economic phenomenon), Lenin describes its effects on other classes (employers who propose new regulations for strikes; the czarist bureaucracy's intervention that begins to be damaging) and everything that these classes begin to think and understand.
But what should the party's attitude be towards the reactions this new "natural economic phenomenon," i.e. the strike, has produced? Lenin is clear on this issue as well:
"In its number and compactness lies the proletariat's strength, that increases with the process of economic development itself. At the same time, this process only increases the disparity and division of interests between the petty and great bourgeoisie. In order to be able to evaluate this "natural" superiority of proletariat's, social-democracy must carefully follow all the clashes of interest between the ruling classes. It must use them, not only to gain an advantage for this or that group of the working class, but also to enlighten the entire working class, to draw useful teachings from each new sociopolitical episode.
The poetical advantage for the workers in changing the law as the liberal employers proposed is too obvious to make it worth a lengthy discussion. It is an unmistakable concession to a growing strength... The Ministry of the Employers' new step also offers us another useful teaching: the need to know how to use any liberalism in practice - even if it is nickel liberalism. At the same time, it teaches us to still remain alert so that this liberalism doesn't corrupt the masses of people with its false approach to the problems"
For Lenin, the party must know how to use any nickel liberalism that openly conflicts with the czarist bureaucracy's dime liberalism. However, it must also prevent the employers' concession to the workers' growing strength from becoming a weapon of corruption. The lesson that Lenin teaches us is, ultimately, that: the practical advantage that the workers gain from a concession made by the capitalists to the growing strength of the workers' struggle is obvious, and the party's attention should not halt on it. Rather, it should focus its attention on the advantage that the capitalists think they will gain from it. The practical advantage for the proletariat is the result of its natural superiority determined by the number and compactness that increase with the process of economic development itself. But the party's political advantage comes from analyzing the clashes of interest within the ruling classes and, therefore, in this light, from evaluating the weight that the proletariat's natural superiority, can have in the revolutionary strategy of the classes' struggles.
The idea of the "natural superiority" of the proletariat is a scientific evaluation that has nothing to do with the evolutionary-gradualistic view of the classes' development. This evaluation commands the party's full attention; it tests the extent to which the science has been assimilated, and measures the ability to develop a strategy that corresponds to the development and contradiction of all the social forces.
"In its number and compactness lies the proletariat's strength," Lenin says.
The proletarian "quantity" "increases with the process of economic development itself". This phenomenon can be recognized by analyzing economic development itself. We therefore have an initial objective-statistical element that indicates the proletariat's quantitative strength. This latter constitutes the first material factor of the proletariat's superiority over the other classes, and in particular over great and petty bourgeoisie. These two, along with the proletariat, are the social forces produced by capitalist development.
The elimination of pre-capitalist social forces is part of the nature of capitalist development. Consequently, the quantitative social result of this process must be based on capitalist society's essential classes: the bourgeoisie and proletariat.
The second factor of the proletariat's natural superiority is its compactness. This is another material factor determined by capitalist economic development that, as Lenin has already explained, necessarily leads to large-scale production, to the concentration of large proletarian masses in big factories, and to the necessary development of wage struggle into strike struggle. This provides us with a second objective-statistical element that results from the analysis of capitalist production's concentration and centralization.
Thus, the proletariat's number and compactness are two statistically definable elements of the social relations. We will have a proletariat comprised of a given number of people, and we will have a given number of capitalist companies with a given number of wage workers. Finally, these companies will have to be classified according to their number of employees. But evaluating the proletariat's strength requires a second series of judgments: it must be evaluated in relation to the other classes, and this relationship must initially be studied in a statistical-economic context.
The level of proletarization in a given capitalist society must come forth from this examination as must the level of proletarian concentration-compactness with respect to the urban and rural great and petty bourgeoisie’s disparity and fractionation.
This evaluation will provide us with working-class percentage indices to compare with the other classes and social strata. More important, it will provide us with indices of the proletariat’s concentration in a given country's economic production process. Since the proletariat's "natural superiority" is not an absolute figure but rather the result of a series of relationships with all the other social forces, we can evaluate this given society by considering the level of proletarization and that of proletarian concentration. That is, we must evaluate this society by considering both phenomena and not just the first.
This is what Russian Marxists did when they analyzed the features of industrial development in Russia and the ensuing proletarization. In their opinion, the fact that the small and young Russian proletariat - which numbered merely 1,691,000 units in factories and workshops in 1905 - was concentrated in large firms was a factor that strengthened "natural superiority" in contrast with Russia's low absolute proletarization level.
However, by scientifically evaluating the proletariat's "natural superiority," Lenin's party can assign the Russian proletariat a crucial role in the strategy of the international revolution. It can do this because the evaluation of proletarian compactness is strictly determined by the assessment of the other classes' disparity and fractionation of interests, in particular between the great and petty bourgeoisie.
This is the point where the evaluation of the proletariat's "natural superiority" becomes a precise scientific evaluation that can direct action. In fact, it started with analyzing objective-statistical data to translate the tensions, the exertion of effort, and the rupture between the classes into quantitative terms.
Only now does the classes' sociological evaluation become a political evaluation, i.e., an evaluation of the classes' strength in their interrelations, and of the factors that halt, slow, or increase potential strength.
Obviously, this holds as much for the proletariat as it does for the bourgeoisie, both great and petty. It holds at any level of capitalism's development and is particularly valid in the current, imperialist stage in which the proletariat's number and concentrations have reached gigantic dimension.
So, based on these dimensions that provide the proletariat with an objective basis, never before witnessed in the history of mankind, for its "natural superiority," the pressure of bourgeois ideology on the working class also takes on gigantic dimensions. That is, this pressure takes on dimensions that are adequate for what bourgeois ideology must contain. Opportunism exalts the concept of "proletarian unity" as never before, and it has even raised it to mythic dimensions with the most refined and elaborate forms.
Decades of ideological pressure on the working class have made each individual worker a prisoner of this myth. This is the most counter-revolutionary myth that bourgeois ideology has developed over the centuries.
First of all, it should be pointed out that the concept of "unity" itself is opportunist and ideological, and not a scientific concept. This concept that bourgeois ideology developed mystifies reality into an abstract, unitary view that is better suited to keeping the capitalist economy's real interests intact.
Lenin explains that while the process of economic development itself increases the proletariat's number and compactness, at the same time, the disparity and fractionation of interests between great and petty bourgeoisie also increases. The proletariat may only take advantage of its "natural superiority" if it is able to use die other classes' "natural disparity" to "independently" carry on its revolutionary strategy against all the classes until it reaches the stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This stage is the natural outcome of the proletariat's superior, independent, scientific class struggle.
Only under these circumstances, that become reality through the revolutionary party's leading role, is the proletariat strong, superior, compact because the bourgeoisie, both great and petty, is divided and fractionated.
It is obvious that this Leninist view has nothing to do with the bourgeois myth of workers' unity. Instead, it is based on specific concepts of quantity, compactness, strength, disparity, and fractionation.
In reality, the mystification of workers' unity is an attempt to unify the disparity and fractionation of all the bourgeois class' interests. Even if workers' unity does not prevent the futility of this opportunist attempt of bourgeois ideology, nonetheless, it represents a temporary solution.
Workers' unity under opportunist policy will alternatively fall into the strategy of great and petty-bourgeois reformist tendencies; or it will be big capital's tool for trade-unionist operations to attenuate the social and political consequences of capitalism's development and the ensuing clashes of interests between the great and petty bourgeoisie; or it will be a tool for democratic operations in which the petty bourgeoisie uses the united proletariat to defend its own interests against big capital; or, finally, it will be a tool for the fascist attempt to mediate the various classes' conflicting interests through the State.
In all these cases, what is essential is that the proletariat's political unity, that is, class uniformity in the relationship with the capitalist State, is indispensable to avoid worsening the bourgeois strata's fractionation of interests. One must never forget that these interests can only become irreconcilable when the proletariat aggravates them with its independent strategy; otherwise, they always find temporary mediations - at the proletariat's expense.
This happens firstly in the wage struggle, i.e., at the economic source of the conflicting interests between those who subdivide the workers' surplus-value. With its natural superiority, with its strength and compactness, the proletariat can aggravate and exasperate the disparity of interests between big and small capitalist production through its wage struggle. It can greatly accelerate the process of capitalist concentration and provoke a giant crisis in all fields of small capitalist production where the organic composition of capital can't withstand a single labor-power price determined on the labor-power market by a quantitative and compact wage struggle. And lastly, through the party, the proletariat can take advantage of the permanent crisis of interests within the bourgeois camp in order to carry on its revolutionary struggle for power.
When the proletariat is compact in strategy, the clashes of interests within the great and petty bourgeoisie will tend towards the greatest political exasperation. That is, they will tend towards the greatest struggle to impress the most advantageous direction for each conflicting bourgeois stratum on the State body responsible for mediating these conflicts. Inevitably, as history shows us, this will bring the State apparatus itself into crisis, and this, from the proletarian point of view, means that the first line against the proletariat weakens, becomes disorganized and inefficient.
In terms of political exasperation, whether these bourgeois conflicts of interests appear as fascism or anti-fascism, totalitarianism or democracy, Zubatov or Struve, is a problem that concerns defining the particularity of the historical time in which the contrast arises. Undoubtedly, the party must define this particularity, but, most of all, it must assess the conflicting forces; the degree to which they annul each other; the time when they can be temporarily mediated, and continually relate the evaluation of bourgeois forces to that of proletarian strength. Comparing forces is the key to the revolutionary party's strategy. On this base the party faces the united workers' myth and the reality of proletarian unity as a tool in the bands of bourgeois strata for mediating their conflicting interests.
Corroding this tool, decomposing the proletarian forces that it uses, recomposing them in the proletariat's independent strategy - this is the party's permanent task. Only when the bourgeois forces are weakened because the revolutionary party has deprived them of the sustain of the workers' forces, can the party rely on the proletariat's natural superiority in the face of the bourgeois forces. The latter, having lost their proletarian contingents, inevitably clash and open the way to a crisis of disintegration that leaves the proletariat as the only compact force.
On January 22nd,1917, at a meeting of young workers in Zurich, Lenin gave a "Lecture on the 1905 Revolution". Here, he illustrated the strike's role in that revolution. In 1905, he said, a colossal country with a population of 130 millions, "dormant Russia," changed into a Russia with a revolutionary proletariat and a revolutionary people. What methods and ways made this transformation possible?
"The principal factor in this transformation was the mass strike. The peculiarity of the Russian revolution is that it was a bourgeois-democratic revolution... since its immediate aim... was a democratic republic... At the same time, the Russian revolution was also a proletarian revolution; not in the sense that the proletariat was the leading force, the vanguard of the movement but also in the sense that a specifically proletarian weapon of struggle - the strike - was the principal means of bringing the masses into motion and the most characteristic phenomenon in the wave-like rise of decisive events. The Russian revolution was the first, though certainly not the last, great revolution in history in which the mass political strike played an extraordinarily important part. It may even be said that the events of the Russian revolution and the sequence of its political forms cannot be understood without a study of the strike statistics to disclose the basis of these events and this sequence of forms."
Then Lenin provides some statistical data that make it possible to evaluate "the real, objective basis of the whole movement." For this purpose, he uses the general statistical conclusions that he had reached in his 1910 essay Strike Statistics in Russia. But we will discuss this later.
"The average annual number of strikers in Russia during the ten years preceding the revolution was 43,000, which means 430,000 for the decade. In January 1905, the first month of the revolution, the number of strikers was 440,000. In other words, there were more strikers in one month than in the whole of the preceding decade! In no capitalist country in the world, not even in the most advanced countries like England, the United States of America, or Germany, has there been anything to match the tremendous Russian strike movement of 1905. The total number of strikers was 2,800,000, more than two times the number of factory workers in the country! This, of course, doesn't prove that the urban factory workers of Russia were more educated, or stronger, or more adapted to the struggle than their brothers in Western Europe. The very opposite is true."
And here, Lenin repeats the concept that - as we shall see - he had already expressed seven years earlier, but this time, he expands on it.
"But it does show how great the dormant energy of the proletariat can be. It shows that in a revolutionary epoch - I say this without the slightest exaggeration, on the basis of the most accurate data of Russian history - the proletariat can generate fighting energy a hundred times greater than in ordinary, peaceful times. It shows that up to 1905 mankind did not yet know what a great, what a tremendous exertion of effort the proletariat is, and will be, capable of in a fight for really great aims, and one waged in a really revolutionary manner!"
By following Lenin, we now begin to understand how the strike, "the specifically proletarian weapon" was the "principal means of bringing the masses into motion," for waking dormant Russia, and how a socially bourgeois-democratic revolution was proletarian because of its tools of struggle. The proletarian exertion of effort, i.e., the fullest and most independent use of the working class' energies in society, in a "really revolutionary" manner; the class tension brought to its breaking point: this is the mechanism that shook Russian society, this is the mechanism that can shake any capitalist society to the extent of the specific weight of the classes' energies.
"The history of the Russian revolution," Lenin writes, "shows that it was the vanguard, the finest elements of the wage-workers, that fought with the greatest tenacity and the greatest devotion. The larger the mills and factories involved, the more stubborn were the strikes, and the more often did they recur during the year. The bigger the city, the more important was the part the proletariat played in the struggle. Three big cities, St. Petersburg, Riga and Warsaw, which have the largest and most class-conscious working-class element, show an immeasurably greater number of strikers, in relation to all workers, than any other city, and, of course, much greater than the rural districts."
The vanguard role of the proletariat of the most important cities' large factories becomes critical here, as it is the moving force behind the revolution - a specific trait in the Marxist conception of class struggle that is antithetical to the bourgeois concept of workers' unity.
"The finest elements of the working class," Lenin continues, "marched in the forefront, giving leadership to the hesitant, rousing the dormant and encouraging the weak.
A distinctive feature was the manner in which economic strikes were interwoven with political strikes during the revolution. There can be no doubt that only this very close linkup of the two forms of strike gave the movement its great power. The broad masses of the exploited could not have been drawn into the revolutionary movement had they not been given daily examples of how the wage-workers in the various industries were forcing the capitalists to grant immediate, direct improvements in their conditions. This struggle imbued the masses of the Russian people with a new spirit. Only then did the old serf-ridden, sluggish, patriarchal, pious and obedient Russia cast out the old Adam; only then did the Russian people obtain a really democratic and really revolutionary education."
The interconnection between political and economic strikes, Lenin explains, was entirely original because it was the outcome of the proletarian vanguard's struggle that led the class and the exploited masses into a general struggle. This was the result of the proletariat's independent energy and not of the proletariat's giving in before the semi-proletarian and non-proletarian exploited masses.
"The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary, struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class; only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its win."
This pedagogic function of the struggle acts both within the class as well as towards the exploited masses. It teaches socialism to the class and democracy to the exploited masses. Precisely because it is the expression of the predominant proletarian energy, it has the opportunity to use the "democracy" that it taught to the non-proletarian masses as the moving force behind a revolutionary strategy that leads to the abolition of democracy and to the dictatorship of the proletariat. This pedagogic function is the essence of the interconnection between the economic and political strikes.
This particular kind of struggle marks a step forward for the proletarian force; it indicates that this force has only been used from a class point of view; it highlights that the proletariat's pressure has profoundly affected the exploited, non-proletarian masses' political struggle and has forced them to adopt the proletarian "weapons": strikes.
Can this be defined an alliance between the proletariat and the intermediate strata, as the opportunists invent in Lenin's thought? Only counterfeiters could affirm this. The terms "alliance" and "hegemony" have been mystified by their pens and practice. They have been filled with such counter-revolutionary content that it is even necessary to make philological clarifications.
For the opportunists, "alliance" is a concept borrowed from bourgeois diplomacy. For them, "hegemony" is a concept taken from bourgeois idealist philosophy. Consequently, affiance and hegemony are two concepts that express the capitalist need to organize a contradictory, chaotic, unbalanced, social and political reality in breadth and depth, internationally and domestically, and to organize it for defense and attack purposes, because defense and attack characterize all the cycles of conflicts of interests.
So, in this sense, alliance and hegemony are concepts that do not fall within Marxism's scientific rigor. Marxism has used them historically, as it has many others, especially in the language of political agitation, as conventional terms that could approximate translations of scientific analysis. It has used them as terms that could politically define some stages of the revolutionary struggle preceding the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Only counterfeiters could hide the class, dictatorial content that substantiates the Leninist concept of "workers' and peasants' affiance" or "proletariat's and colonial peoples' alliance". Only hardened opportunists could ignore the concrete, material, statistically recognizable value of the proletariat's strength in establishing a "hegemonic pedagogy" towards semi-proletarian, sub-proletarian, and petty-bourgeois strata, that is, towards strata that capitalist development creates as disintegrated and divided social dust: the hegemonic role of force before that of ideas.
Marxism faces this social magma, from which the proletariat's quantitative development derives, because Marxism acts on tendencies. In this sense, Marxism uses the concept of alliance and hegemony as political tools in an entire process of proletarization in which the proletariat's strength develops to multiply itself
The fact is that the opportunists or the mechanists, for whom the proletariat becomes a conceptual category that serves the former for diplomatic alliance schemes and the latter for confining the class in a deterministic limbo, do not even think that the proletariat is the outcome of a process of proletarization. In its regard, the party must face many problems that it faces with the exploited masses. The manner in which Lenin handles the relationship between metal and textile workers in 1905 is highly instructive:
"The textile workers, who in 1905 were two-and-a-half times more numerous than the metalworkers, are the most backward and worst-paid body... It follows quite obviously that the economic struggle, the struggle for immediate and direct improvement of conditions, is alone capable of rousing the most backward strata of the exploited masses, gives them a real education and transforms them - during a revolutionary period - into an army of political fighters within the space of a few months."
Already in 1902 Lenin had said that strikes had become a "natural economic phenomenon". This affirmation is more than a generic statement about a tendency the forms of the workers' struggle take on in large-scale capitalist production. It contains something more important, i.e., the discovery of an objective law that regulates wage struggles at a given level of the productive forces' development.
As with all objective laws, this is also defined after analyzing a series of socio-economic facts. Materialist criteria find concrete application in this analysis while, on the other hand, the movement of social relations, the struggle, the "economic phenomenon" can be studied and defined as a "natural phenomenon". This "economic phenomenon" would in fact risk being described and defined using merely idealistic criteria if it were impossible to reduce it to its material essence.
And here again, the legend of a voluntarist Lenin is shattered. Lenin does riot create subjective categories - such as trends and struggles subordinated to a political will - which do not exist or are irrelevant in reality. He does not subjectively invent traits for the workers' struggle that better fit his concept of the party. Lenin does not limit himself to recording the workers' struggles and to exalting strikes: he does much more.
He analyzes these strikes scientifically, ultimately leaving the subjective view of strikes behind.
Strikes are a "natural economic phenomenon," and, therefore, should be studied as part of nature, as part of capitalist society's nature.
No Marxist, either right or left-wing, had done this before. It is enough to mention the international discussion caused by the 1905 events on general and mass strikes to see this.
Instead, for Lenin, the 1905 experience is a formidable accumulation of concrete facts. And, with regard to these facts, it is finally possible to apply the scientific principles that he had fruitfully formulated and applied when analyzing capitalism's development in Russia in contrast with the populists. This experience had also allowed him to define the concept of objective law in analyzing the 1902 strikes. At the end of 1910, Lenin wrote his long essay Strike Statistics in Russia for the magazine Mysl.
He began his essay with an opinion on the Ministry of Commerce and Industry's publications concerning the statistics on factory workers' strikes in the decade 1895-1904 and the years 1905-1908.
Lenin wrote: "The material collected in these publications is so rich and precious that it will take a great deal of time to study thoroughly and analyze completely."
As he had already done for the Zemstvo agrarian statistics, Lenin studied this "rich and precious" material and analyzed the data from bourgeois statistics using Marxist methodology, and applying and perfecting tools that he derived from the scientific principles.
In the essay in question, Lenin wants to circulate the "preliminary results of an attempt at a more detailed analysis."
"First of all," he writes, "the fact that strikes in Russia in 1905-1907 were a phenomenon that the world had never seen before is entirely certified."
To prove this, he compiles a table on the number of strikes by thousands, years, and countries. The years included range from 1895 to 1909, and the countries are, in order, Russia, the USA, Germany, and France.
Against a maximum reached in 1905 of 2,863,000 strikers in Russia, we have a maximum of 660,000 strikers in the USA.
"The 1905-1907 three-year period is exceptional. The minimum number of strikers in Russia during these three years surpasses the maximum reached by the world's most capitalist countries."
In fact, the three-year minimum is 740,000 strikers in 1907. Should therefore Lenin shout the "natural superiority" of Russian strikes? Should he proclaim a Russian "particularity" that legitimates a "national" path, as all the opportunists who today run about seeking particularities, even in the Constitutions, feel justified to do?
Here is Lenin's "universal" answer:
"Certainly, this does not mean that Russian workers are more advanced and stronger than in the West. It does mean, however, that mankind did not know until then what kind of energy the industrial proletariat is capable of developing in this field. The particularity of the historical course of events is that the approximate measure of this ability first appeared in a backward country that is still experiencing a bourgeois revolution."
On the other hand, in Lenin's statistical analysis, the average number of Russian strikers between 1895-1904 was 43,000. After the exceptional three-year period, there were 176,000 in 1908 and 64,000 in 1909.
In his statistics on strikes, Lenin above all seeks the "typical" aspect of the proletarian struggle - the class' "energy". Indeed, the particularity does not be in the energy expressed by the Russian workers, but in the historical course that allowed a backward country's workers to show "the approximate measure" of the industrial proletariat's potential energy.
The search for the historical causes that determined the fact that it was the Russian proletariat that demonstrated the international proletariat's energy potential is the search for the particularities of the Russian situation.
But it is not so much this aspect that Lenin highlights. Rather, he underlines the typical aspect of the industrial proletariat's energy potential in the strike struggle. It is particular that this potential shows up in Russia before anywhere else. If a given energy was produced in Russia by a given proletarian force, we finally have a material element that can be statistically identified. This allows us to obtain an energy quantitative coefficient in relation to the quantity of proletarian force employed.
Obviously, we only obtain quantitative data that only make quantitative assessments possible, but this is the first objective evaluation factor needed to scientifically analyze social phenomena such as the workers' strike struggles.
Lenin analyzes other statistical data that make it possible to scientifically analyze Russian strikes and that provide us with another method for reaching a quantitative evaluation of a tension stage in the capital-wage relationship.
He analyzes the damages (commodities not produced) incurred by Russian industry as a result of the strikes. This analysis covers the industry as a whole and the sub-division of the strikers into four fundamental industrial areas: A) metalworkers, B) textile workers, C) printers, carpenters, tanners, chemists, and D) mineral and foodstuff workers.
In the decade between 1895-1904, the damages suffered amounted to 10,400,000 rubles altogether; in 1905, they totaled 127,300,000 rubles; in 1906, 31,200,000; in 1907, 15,000,000, and in 1908, 5,800,000. Between 1905 and 1907, the value of commodities not produced increased to 173,500,000 rubles. The damages the workers suffered due to pay lost during strikes (calculated based on the various industries' average daily wage), in the decade between 1895-1904 totaled 1,597,000 rubles; 17,541,000 in 1905; 3,820,000 in 1906; 1,815,000 in 1907, and 451,000 in 1908.
During the three years between 1905-1907, the workers suffered damages of 23,200,000 rubles, that is, more than 14 times the previous decade s total losses.
Lenin provides a second table on the "Average damage (in rubles) incurred by industrial workers as a result of strikes," where he disproves the official statistical calculations. Once again, this pertains to the decade between 1895-1904 and the years 1905, 1906, 1907, and 1908.
While considering the enormous differences in wages between the workers in the various industries, Lenin's more detailed calculation distinguishes workers according to industrial groups A, B, C, D, and makes it possible to determine that:
"A metalworker (group A) incurred 30 rubles in damages as a result of the strikes in 1905, that is, three-times the average, and more than 10 times the average damages suffered by a mineral or foodstuffs worker (group D).
"The conclusion that we reached above, that is, that towards the end of 1905 the metalworkers exhausted their strength in this kind of struggle, is vigorously confirmed in the table in question: in group A, the damages between 1905; and 1906 decreased 8 times, while it dropped 3-4 times in the other groups."
And here we see how Lenin's Marxist lens carefully dissects the generic data of official statistics on the damages suffered by industrial workers. The government statistics calculated an average 10-copec undifferentiated damage for each industrial worker per year during the first decade; 10 rubles in 1905; 2 in 1906, and 1 ruble in 1907. On the contrary, Lenin's study shows true adherence to the class' reality, to its internal problems, to its internal differences, to its internal subdivision into vanguard and rearguard. Thus, the statistics on the damages suffered by the workers were also useful to review the working class' forces. Mentioning these statistical data is of great interest here, not so much to historical purposes, but rather because we can reconstruct Lenin's statistical methodology and draw all the general indications that make it useful for the revolutionary party's present tasks.
The party should be able to analyze every workers' struggle and every strike movement with Lenin's statistical methodology.
Lenin calculates the damages industry suffered for commodities that were not produced (173,500,000 rubles) and the damages incurred by the workers for wages not received (23,200,000 rubles). The ratio is about 7.5 to 1 which allows us to make an approximate and quantitative evaluation of the class conflict. By calculating the surplus-value rate and the rate of profit, and by calculating the total of the unrealized profit in monetary terms, we could have a ratio that is undoubtedly inferior to 7.5 to 1, and is perhaps closer to 1 to 1. Nonetheless, this ratio would show us exactly how much capital was destroyed by the struggle.
How much energy did the proletariat use in this struggle? How much energy is the proletariat capable of? To answer these questions, it is necessary to go back, after analyzing the damages incurred, to Lenin's analysis on the strike days:
"To understand how, in Russia, with a relatively small number of factory and workshop workers compared to Western Europe, the number of strikers could be so high, one must take repeated strikes into account."
Thereafter, Lenin provides a table with the usual sub-division by years and (a) percentage of the strikers in relation to the overall number of workers, (b) percentage of the cases of repeated strikes in relation to the overall number of strikes.
Lenin writes: "These figures show us that the three-year period between 1905-1907, which was exceptional in terms of the total number of strikers, also distinguishes itself with the frequency of repeated strikes and the high percentage of strikers in relation to the total number of workers."
Indeed, in 1905 percentage (a) reaches a peak of 163.8% and percentage (b) a peak of 85.5%. But Lenin does not stop with these two percentages; he also compiles, with the usual sub-division by years, a third percentage that we could define (c). This is the "percentage of strikers in the plants in which strikes broke out, in relation to the overall number of workers." In 1905, this percentage was 60%.
The relation between percentages (a), (b), and (e) demonstrates a "wavy" strike movement with a decrease in the number of strikers compared to 1905: the decrease in the number of strikers is lower between 1906 and 1907 than between 1905 and 1906.
Lenin searches for the reasons behind this oscillations by analyzing the more and less industrialized governorates, and their alternatine movement: some governorates entered the struggle one year after its start, some others re-entered the struggle after a pause.
He studies "this phenomenon critical to understanding the historical course of events," and he describes it in detail, sector by sector, month by month because "the period of one year is too long to study the "wavy" character of the strike movement. From a statistical point of view, we now have the right to say that in the 1905-1907 three-year period, each month counted one year. Over these three years, the workers' movement lived for thirty years.
There was not a single month in 1905 in which the number of strikers dropped below the minimum for the 1895-1904 decade. But, 1906 and 1907 only had two such months per year. Unfortunately, the official statistics do not have adequately considered monthly data or data for the individual governorates. Thus, we are forced to completely recalculate many tables."
Lenin recalculates the tables by quarter and subdivides the three-year period's strikes into economic and political ones, i.e., he keeps in mind - as he writes in his 1912 article "Economic Strike and Political Strike" - that "it was life, the creator of particular forms in the strike movement, that made it necessary to introduce this subdivision. The combination of economic and political strikes is one of the main traits of this particularity."
Each year is divided into four quarters, and the quarters in which the "greatest increase in the wave" occurs are enclosed in a rectangle. The quarters with the "greatest increase in the wave" coincide with crucial political events that Lenin lists scrupulously and that find confirmation in the statistics on political strikes.
In this three-year period Lenin finds a rule, that is: "the increase in the wave of strikes marks critical points, turning points, for the country's entire social and political evolution. The statistics on strikes clearly show us the main moving force behind this evolution. This does not mean at all that the form of the movement in question is the only one or the highest one...
It does mean, though, that we are faced with the statistical picture (undoubtedly an incomplete one) of a class movement which was the mainspring in determining the events' general direction. The other classes' movement gathers around this center, follows it, is directed or determined by it (positively or negatively) - their movement depends on it."
The rule that Lenin draws out of his analysis of the three year period demonstrates the intimate, counter-revolutionary essence of opportunist policy. It also shows the concrete aim this sets in preventing the proletariat from becoming the main moving force in capitalist society's critical points, in its turning points.
It is no accident that opportunists of all leanings reject the rule that makes it possible for the proletariat to be the main moving force in every social and political event.
They oppose Lenin's affirmation, which is based on scrupulously analyzed facts. Lenin himself says so in his May 31st, 1912 article "Economic Strike and Political Strike".
"If the liberals (and the liquidators) tell the workers, you are strong when "society" sympathizes with you, the Marxist talks to the workers differently: "society" sympathizes with you when you are strong. Society, in this case, must be understood as all of the population's democratic strata: petty bourgeoisie, peasants, intellectuals in close contact with the workers' life, office workers, ere..."
Lenin gives us a concrete example in another passage in the essay on strike statistics when he reviews the failure of the struggle for the 8-hour working day:
"There can be no doubt that the demand for an 8-hour working day pushed away many bourgeois elements who could sympathize with different workers' aspirations...
The liberal point of view reveals itself in considering the unity of economic and political struggle as a "weak side of the movement". Marxism, on the contrary, sees a weakness in this unity's inadequacy, in the insufficient number of participants in economic strikes. By finding out the three-year period's "general law" - the movement gains strength when the economic struggle gains strength - statistics clearly confirm that the Marxist point of view is correct. This "general law" is logically connected to the essential characteristics of any capitalist society: it always has strata that are so backward they can only be awoken with an extreme flare-up of the movement. And, the backward strata can only be brought to the struggle by economic demands."
With finely-honed precision, this passage also shows another dialectical Marxist thesis that radically denies opportunist practice.
Capitalist society, Lenin says, will always have backward strata, heavy rearguards of the working class. To bring them into political struggle, the party must extend the economic struggle to the utmost; it must start with these groups' economic claims to raise them up.
Consequently, does the existence of these backward strata justify the opportunist alibi according to which, since there are more backward sectors, the class can't and shouldn't develop more advanced struggles? Certainly not. The opportunist alibi does nothing more than theorizing capitalism's need to maintain large proletarian and semi-proletarian sectors in a backward situation and to politically unite the class vanguards with the more backward sectors on the base of the latter, i.e., on the terrain where bourgeois ideology has its strongest and most massive influence.
The class vanguards are pushed into backward positions where they can be controlled and annulled - through the bourgeois myth of workers' unity that capitalism's agents developed and utilized within the workers' movement. What is an effect of opportunist policy is instead presented as a cause which, in this mystified version, justifies all of the class' defeats and its economic and political subjugation to the capitalist system.
This justification upholds the myth to the point that it becomes another component of such "common sense" as is the vulgarization of bourgeois ideology within the working class.
The true dialectic is overturned into sophism. In his analysis, Lenin shows us that the backward strata can be brought forward and awoken "only by an extreme flare-up" in the struggle. The more acute the battle - and it may become more acute only when it manages to unsettle the economic roots of class relations - the vaster it becomes to embrace the entire class.
It is this struggle's acuteness and vastness that then brings the class' most backward strata to political consciousness and makes the economic struggle a political one. In this dialectical process, the proletariat, with all of its energy, even that from the most backward strata, takes on a predominant role - even in a bourgeois-democratic revolution. Even in this kind of revolution, such as in 1905, can the proletariat have a non-subordinate role, provided it maintains all of its independence, provided it uses all of its energy and demonstrates all of its strength.
Its energy and strength lie in the basic conflict between capital and wage. The proletariat must appeal to this conflict and its elementary nature. What seemed to be the "weakness" and "backwardness" of a large part of the class becomes, instead, the entire class' strength, its inexhaustible reserve of unused "energy" that can be thrown violently onto the scales of class relations. This is the task of the party and its proletarian vanguard, and this task can only be fulfilled to the extent that their use of "energy" and their "exertion of effort" manage to "awaken" the entire class.
Thus, the party's strength and that of the proletarian vanguard is multiplied by the miracle of multiplying the forces that each historical revolutionary period witnesses and that the opportunists will never understand, even if they tenaciously oppose it.
If this is valid during a bourgeois-democratic revolution, it is a thousand times more valid in the present stage in which proletarian revolutions come onto history's agenda. Lenin taught us to assess all the proletariat's strength dialectically, also and above all what does not appear on the surface because it has never been used and recognized by the enemy classes and counter-revolutionary opportunists.
The party must, however, be fully aware of this strength. It must know how much potential energy it can call up; it must know two other features of the proletarian "energy": "tenacity" and "wideness."
Lenin establishes an average of strike days per striker and provides us with a first "tenacity" index.
"The tenacity of the struggle illustrated by these figures," he says, "reached its peak in 1905... It should be noted that, Western European strikes are far superior in terms of tenacity in the struggle. In the five-year period between 1894-1898, the number of strike days for each striker was 10.3 in Italy, 12.1 in Austria, 14.3 in France, and 34.2 in England.
If we consider strictly political strikes separately, (for Russia) we have the following figures: 1905, 7 days per striker; 1906, 1.5; 1907, 1. The economic strikes are always distinguished by a longer-lasting struggle."
Keeping in mind the strikes' varying tenacity over the years, we can conclude that the number of strikers is insufficient to precisely establish a comparative picture of the movement's wideness in different years. On the other hand, the strike days provide an exact index. Having established a "wideness index" with statistical data on the strike days, Lenin continues:
"This way, the wideness of the movement, established precisely, in 1905 alone surpasses the total wideness of the movement in the entire previous decade by more than 11 times.
In other words, in 1905, the wideness of the movement surpassed the average annual movement's wideness in the previous decade by 115 times.
This ratio shows us how nearsighted the people are who can too often be met in the official scientists' environment (and not only). They consider the pace of social and political development that characterizes the so-called "peaceful," "organic," "evolutionary" times to be a rule that always holds; to be an index of modern mankind's potential speed of development. In reality, the "development" pace in these so-called "organic" times, is the index of greatest stagnation, of the greatest obstacles to development."
According to Lenin, the pace of social and political development - that is, in the case of 1905, capitalism's social development in the cities and countryside, and the development of the bourgeois-democratic republic - is determined by the proletariat's strength. As opposed to those who see capitalism's development as a process during which the proletariat is defenseless and passive, Lenin sees it as a stage of history in which the proletariat is a propelling force, a dynamic class that compels the weak bourgeoisie to carry on its economic development, to accelerate the social differentiation in the cities and countryside, and to create an ever-more numerous proletariat. In this process, the working class becomes a pivot around which the movement of social strata gathers, the same strata that economic development destines to proletarization. The working class becomes a social and political force that the bourgeoisie will never again be able to crush as it did in the nineteenth-century's revolutions. It becomes a force that can defend itself and accelerate the "second revolution," the socialist revolution. The proletariat, therefore, is not a passive factor in capitalist accumulation. Its economic and political struggle, far from slowing accumulation - as the opportunist, who reasons from the "accumulating" class' point of view believes becomes a powerful impulse to accumulation; a shove to quicken the pace of capitalist accumulation that is thereby forced to devour all the pre-capitalist economic forms and, in particular, rent.
Lenin provides us with an example of how a Marxist views the issue of the pace of social and political development:
"In terms of the struggle between workers and employers, the official statistics on the outcomes of strikes are highly instructive...
The general conclusion that must be drawn here is, first of all, that, the higher the movement's strength, the greater the workers' successes. The most advantageous year for them was 1905, the year in which the strike movement's impetus was at its peak."
This holds for the first, second, and fourth quarter of the year. The third quarter, however, was a period of decline in the number of strikers.
"With the slackening of pressure comes the employers' victory: 59,000 strikers lost and only 45,000 won. The percentage of losing strikers was 35.6%, that is, more than in 1906. This means that "that general sympathizing atmosphere" towards the workers in 1905 which the liberals speak of so much as the main cause for the workers' victories... did not prevent their defeat at all when they released their pressure."
Here, Lenin addresses the issue of the greatest use of the proletariat's energy. To understand how this problem comes up, it is necessary to follow its development and establish some essential traits that emerge from analyzing the strike statistics.
First of all: in Russia, the metalworkers were the most advanced sector of the proletariat.
In 1905, out of 100 factory workers, there were 160 strikers, but, in the same year, there were 320 strikers out of 100 metalworkers. Keeping in mind the frequency of repeated strikes and the high percentage of strikers in relation to the total number of workers (another feature of the three year period), the number of metalworker strikers exceeds the number of workers three-fold.
Second of all: this demonstrates that large-scale industry's proletariat provided the greatest energy to the movement.
"If the energy and tenacity of the strike struggle (here we only speak of this kind of struggle) had been the same throughout Russia as it was in the districts of St. Petersburg and Warsaw, the total number of strikers would have been two times higher... the workers could only appreciate half of their strength in this field since they only used half of it. The workers who were spread throughout the villages and in relatively small urban and industrial centers, despite they constituted half of the total number of workers, provided 40% of the total number of strikers between 1895-1I904 and only 25-30% between 1905-I907. The metalworkers were better prepared than the others by the decade preceding 1905. Almost half struck during this decade (117,000 out of 252,000). Since they were the most prepared, they were the vanguard also in 1905."
Thirdly: the relation between the class energy and its use is, therefore, the relation between the class vanguard and rearguard. Specifically, in Russia's case, this relation is between metalworkers and textile workers who made up approximately 40% of the factory and workshop workers.
"The relation between metal and textile workers is the characteristic relation that exists between the vanguard and the large masses. To stir the large masses, the vanguard had to invest such a colossal amount of energy at the start of the movement that it was then relatively weakened at the height of the movement itself. It is obvious that such irregularity in the movement denotes a certain waste of forces due to their disunity, to their inadequate concentration."
Lenin used the tool of strike statistics not only to evaluate the proletarian force, but especially to discover the way in which this force can be used best and wasted least.
After the October revolution, Lenin actively dealt with the trade-union issue. Obviously, this issue was never excluded from his theoretical development and political activity, even when the workers' struggle objectively surpassed the trade-union forms and took on political ones of struggle for power. Even in his war-time and revolutionary-period writings, Lenin did not overlook studying the forms of the workers' "strike struggle" and the issue of the relationship between these forms and the party's action.
But, during that stage of the class struggle, the main point in the working class-party relationship presented itself at a more advanced level of the revolutionary strategy, that is, at the beginning of the international proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia.
The course of the classes' struggles in Russia and the world quickly matured the factors of the workers' struggle-party relationship, and also the dynamic of this relationship during previous decades, particularly characterized by capitalism's relatively peaceful development. The workers' "strike struggle" became the workers' struggle through Soviets and the dictatorship. But, the fact that the workers' struggle reached his political maturity as struggle for power does not mean that it finally outgrew the forms that we can define as "trade-union" forms. Even the "qualitative leap" in the workers' struggle and in its relationship with the party is a contradictory, dialectical process marked by extreme contrasts, by extreme lacerations, by profound imbalances. The course of the international revolution will serve as the example.
Consequently, the "qualitative leap" includes a series of forms of workers' struggle, "old" and "new" forms whose basic and general tendency, however, is made up of capitalism’s crisis and the objective possibility that the crisis resolve itself in the revolutionary break-up of capitalism's political and economic order. Therefore, even the "trade-union" forms of the workers' struggle can have a short-term revolutionary perspective and can, in the capitalist crisis, constitute a powerful starting point for a process of forming revolutionary consciousness, a condition necessary to move to more advanced political forms on the road towards the assault to power.
In the situation opened by the imperialist war and the October revolution, Lenin's theorization covers the entire process of the classes' struggle and the various forms that they take on. It also magnificently frames all of these aspects in the international revolution's only general strategy.
Lenin does not remain a prisoner of the formula. Rather, he penetrates to the substance, analyzes it, connects it to the strategy's general movement. He considers the Soviets and the trade unions. In the former he sees both the factors that can be developed into the pillars of the dictatorship of the proletariat as well as the factors that can be used by petty-bourgeois democracy's counter-revolution. In the latter he sees both the class momentum that can make trade unions a "school of war" for the social war that has begun, as well as the traits that make them a social organization for labor aristocracy and opportunist bureaucracy.
For Lenin, there is a resolving factor in this process. It is the revolutionary party and its correct strategy that allows the fighting tendencies to prevail in the Soviets and trade unions, thus leading the working class onto the road to the revolution.
Some Anglo-Saxon historians have interpreted Lenin's position as a contradiction that is only resolved by temporary pragmatism. They feel that Lenin would once again deal with trade unions and champion revolutionary work within reformist trade unions only after realizing that the Soviets or Councils had failed in Europe.
This opinion may seem valid, but, as with any opinion based essentially on a political position's formal aspects, it is superficial. That the Soviets had a fundamental and critical role in Lenin's concept of the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat is no mystery. The State and Revolution is crystalline on this point. Lenin did not invent the Soviets, but they arose as more advanced proletarian organizational and struggle forms. For these reasons, Lenin outlines that even more advanced forms will be expressed by the socialist revolution in Europe, and, in particular, in Germany. However, this does not cause Lenin to forget the trade unions and the traditional form of union organization. Indeed, even when his attention is focused on the Soviet, he never ceases to study the trade union issue, to study "how" and "when" under those circumstances, the class' economic struggle can raise itself to revolutionary political consciousness and struggle.
For Lenin, this is the essential, and this remains the constant throughout his writings on the workers' struggle and the class-party relationship.
From this point of view, some of his 1919-1922 writings on the trade-union issue are exemplary.
"The Trade Unions' Tasks During the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (Report at the Second All-Russia Trade Union Congress, January 20th, 1919), "Trade Unions and the Economic Crisis in Capitalist Countries" (Speech at the Fourth All-Russia Textile Workers Congress, February 6th, 1921), "The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions under the New Economic Policy" (January 12, 1922), and "Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions" (written in May, 1920 and included as Chapter 6 in Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder), represent the complete body of Marxist development and revolutionary strategy on the trade-union issue.
To face the problems that the workers' struggle raises in a revolutionary stage, these works cannot be overlooked.
They represent the mature development of Lenin's thought on the trade-union issue, the most consequent development of the works Lenin wrote in what we could define as the first period (On Strikes, etc.) and second period (Strike Statistics, etc.).
From a general point of view, this third period could be seen as a theoretical-political synthesis of the first period (abstraction) and second one (analysis). However, to see it thus, one must keep the clear limitations of such a format in mind along with the unavoidable distortions that it produces when reconstructing Leninist thought fully.
If we use this format, it is, above all, to the purpose of closely connecting Lenin's theorization with the course of the class struggle. Consequently, it becomes legitimate to define a "third period" marked by theoretical-political synthesis that corresponds to a historical phase that raised the workers' struggle to a struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Not even in this case do we have a "qualitative leap" that can represent an overcoming of the past in Lenin's thought. Leaps of this kind are foreign to his solid, scientific and Marxist background.
In the third period, the laws on the workers' struggle pronounced in scientific abstraction and verified by analyzing Russian "particularities" find their universal formulation (analysis and definition of imperialism; analysis and definition of labor aristocracy; historical analysis of opportunism in the trade-union field). This new, higher analytic verification (since it derives from a broader field of social facts and class struggles) makes the Bolshevik tactic (that is, precisely the synthesis of theory-abstraction-analysis and policy' action) universally valid: it becomes the International's trade-union tactic.
We have already said that we find the historical-political synthesis of the Leninist view of trade unions in the third period. What are the fundamental theses that can be inferred by carefully studying the 1919-1922 writings? What are the universally valid theses for a Leninist framing of the trade-union issue? In what way are these theses an integral part of the class party's revolutionary strategy?
Let us start with the first thesis that concerns the slogan of trade unions' independence (or neutrality), the slogan criticized and combated by Lenin since his struggle against the "economist" tendency.
Lenin tells us that this slogan, "must not only be examined from the trade-union point of view," because it is also wrong "from a theoretical point of view":
"The brutal, treacherous killing of Liebknecht and Luxemburg is not only the most tragic and dramatic event in the revolution starting in Germany, it also sheds an extraordinarily brilliant light on the way in which the present struggle's problems are addressed..."
"We have heard, precisely, and especially, from Germany, for example, speeches about much-praised democracy, on the slogan for democracy in general, and for the independence of the working class from State power.
"These slogans, which, at first sight may seem independent of each other, are, in reality, closely connected.
"They are closely connected because they demonstrate how strong petty-bourgeois prejudices are, even now, in spite of the proletariat's immense class-struggle experience...
"If we remember just the ABCs of political economics as we assimilated them from Marx's Capital, how can one speak of democracy in general, how can one speak of independence?"
Lenin rightly reconnects the concept of democracy and trade-union neutrality to a common root. In essence, trade-union neutrality is only a variation, applied to a specific area of social life, of bourgeois democracy.
And Lenin wishes to demonstrate exactly that "democracy" means "more violence." This thesis is essential and develops the On Strikes essay's thesis, since the abstraction (On Strikes) of the struggle to "decrease or increase" wages always takes shape in a "socio-economic formation" with specific political institutions. There is no wage struggle taken out of society and the State political institutions that society forms.
In this sense, the Leninist strategy of the Russian proletariat's struggle for democracy is a condition for accelerating the movement of the classes' social and political violence and to prepare a free and "democratic" field for the development of social tensions and rupture between the classes.
Lenin's Marxism demolishes this precise point in the opportunists' "democratic" reformism, the opportunists who see democracy as pacifism instead of the contrary.
Unfortunately, the German workers' movement, lacking a Leninist party, was not able to learn from this formidable thesis of Lenin's which should, instead, have been one of the pivot points of the German revolution. The highly democratic Weimar Republic was, for many years, a giant accumulation of social violence. The working class, a prisoner of "democracy," was impotent to use violence's "deposits of accumulation". When capitalism used them fully, "democracy's" violence led to the tragic, Nazi epilogue.
A petty-bourgeois, anti-fascist democrat will object that this is what happened in Germany, capitalism with Prussian military roots, etc. However, Lenin's thesis has universal validity, is not limited to Germany, and indicates an objective law that regulates the "violent" content of democracy:
"The closer the political forms approach to democracy, such as in France, the more quickly civil war can break out from a case such as the Dreyfus affair. The more liberal America's democracy is with the proletariat, the internationalists, and even simple pacifists, the more quickly can cases of lynching occur and the flames of civil war spark.
The importance of all this is even more clear, for us, now that the first week of bourgeois freedom, of democracy in Germany has brought with it the most furious explosion of civil war, much more acute than it is here, much more desperate.
So, it is not the propaganda or theory but rather the facts of civil war that will become increasingly overwhelming as Western European States' democracy is old and ancient. These facts strike the most backward, obtuse minds."
Who knows if this statement, made on January 20, 1919 after two years of civil war in Russia, will strike minds even more blunted by the democratic-opportunist mystification!
Lenin says clearly that the first "democratic" week in Germany demonstrated an acuteness of civil war much higher than three years of revolution in Russia did. There is enough to bewilder the most obtuse minds of those who depicted history according to their democratic ideology and who built a series of sophisms around it called "the democratic path to socialism"!
And yet, the facts have proved Lenin to be right. Based on these facts, he was able to establish his thesis. The older and more ancient the democracy, the more overwhelming becomes social violence and the more it educates the proletariat. Social violence is the outcome of class antagonism. It is not simply a "domestic" product, but also an "international" one since old democracy is the political expression of the old capitalism which has now become imperialism. Therefore, violence is exercised in the relationship between the capitalist and working classes. The more capitalism manages to subordinate the proletariat, the more it develops its violence and predominance. Whether the forms of this violence are more or less open depends on the level of the working class' resistance, independence, and offensive. The German, French, and American situations that Lenin analyzed reflect a variety of the different working classes' levels of resistance, of independence, and offensive. They also show a diversity of imperialist positions within the respective capitalisms: consequently, we will have different "political" solutions and different evolutions of the "democratic forms" following the immediate post-war crisis.
This variety of political solutions will be further confirmation of Lenin's thesis on the equation democracy = violence.
But, in the thesis he presents, what are the effects on trade-unions in a situation marked by the flare-up of class struggle? What are the effects brought about in the relationship that both Marxism and Lenin have always affirmed - see the concept of indissolubility between economic and political strike; see the opinion on "trade-unionist policy" in What Is to Be Done? etc. - between trade-unions and politics in the new imperialist stage? What are the effects, then, in the new imperialist stage in which Marx's statement, "every economic struggle is a political struggle" must refer to a content of political struggle that can no longer be either "trade-unionist policy" or reformist spontaneity?
Lenin faces this issue and defines its solution in what we may list as a second thesis:
"The trade union movement, as such, is having to undergo a particularly abrupt change. The ideologists of the bourgeoisie... endeavored to make the economic struggle, which is the basis of the trade union movement, independent of the political struggle. But now, precisely now, especially after the political revolution, which has transferred power to the proletariat, the time has come for the trade unions, as the broadest organization of the proletariat on a class scale, to play a very great role, to take the center of the political stage, to become, in a sense, the chief political organ."
In outlining these new political tasks that trade unions must undertake under the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin develops his theory of trade unions as a "school of war" into a theory of trade unions as a "school of communism".
Now, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the trade unions are a "school of communism" because they organize the workers' masses as extensively as possible.
The proletarian State is the State of political management of the entire class. In this sense, the trade unions are "turned into State," they are State.
Lenin goes on to affirm that the class will be educated, not by books "but by its own practical work of movement," because "only when it elaborates forms which will enable all working people to adapt themselves easily to the work of governing the State is the socialist revolution bound to be lasting."
This new description of trade unions under the dictatorship of the proletariat - their new political role - provides us with a fundamental Leninist view of the relationship between consciousness-class and science-social relations. From the "school of war" concept, we reach the "school of communism" concept. reach this when the relationships' solution becomes primarily political, when, with the course of the class struggle (the factual material) and the corresponding poetical experience (the science), the economic struggle that substantiates the trade-union movement expresses the utmost political solution.
Trade-union organization during this stage changes qualitatively in the sense that it can no longer be an organizational form of the economicist spontaneity that tends towards compromise in the wage struggle. Just as trade unions become a counter-revolutionary tool to defend capitalism for the reformists, for the revolutionaries they become a mass organization to be used in the socialist revolution. The trade-union issue takes on qualitatively new political aspects on both sides, and its correct framing becomes crucial for one or the other class' victory. Lenin says that under the dictatorship of the Russian proletariat, "it is inevitable that trade unions are turned into State...".
"Perhaps we have already managed to forget, occasionally, the times in which we only dealt with these questions in theoretical discussions." Here is the role of practice. The "school of communism" is such also because it belongs to the class majority.
"The trade unions have never embraced more than one fifth of the wage-workers in capitalist society, even under the most favorable circumstances, even in the most advanced countries, after decades and sometimes even centuries of development of bourgeois-democratic civilization and culture. Only a small upper section were members..."
"We can already say we have done far better than the men who made the French Revolution, which was defeated by an alliance of monarchical and backward countries. The French Revolution, in the form of the power of the lower ranks of the bourgeoisie of that time, held on for a year only, and did not at once evoke a similar movement in other countries. Nevertheless, it did so much for the bourgeoisie, for the bourgeois democracy... We have done much better. What was done in a year for the development of the bourgeois democracy at that time, we have done on a far larger scale for the new proletarian regime in about the same time. And we have done it so successfully that already now the movement in Russia, whose beginning was due to a special set of circumstances rather than any merit of ours, to special conditions that put Russia between two imperialist giants of the modern civilized world - that the effect of this movement and the victory of the Soviet system during the past year has been to make the movement international. The Communist International has been founded..."
If Lenin's view of the role of trade unions in Russia is by now clear to us, we still must examine what role he assigns to the trade unions in capitalist countries.
In the analysis of the relationship between trade unions and capitalist countries' economic crisis, we can find what we may define as Lenin's third thesis.
Lenin holds that the European working class, whose labor aristocracy received a "fair part of the [imperialist] profits," is reawaking, apparently as the result of the economic crisis. However, at the same time he thinks that Europe does not have "a party that can guide the revolutionary proletariat as happened during the Russian revolution... It has not existed for decades, and, therefore, no one fears it."
But, capitalism "knows that if capitalists did not have the trade unions in their hands through some leaders who call themselves socialists, but who, in realty carry out the capitalists' policy, capitalism's entire framework would collapse. "This is the reason why:
"The struggle to influence trade unions has ignited around the world. Currently, in all civilized States, they gather millions of workers, and on them does all this internal work depend, invisible to first sight. The fate of the capitalist States is inevitably decided in relation to the developing economic crisis."
From the European events, and mainly from those in Germany, Lenin draws an important lesson. The party has not existed for decades - as, in contrast, it did in Russia and cannot be established in a short period of time, not even during a crisis. Building the party demands decades of preparation, testing, selection, verification of analyses and actions, as the history of the Bolshevik model teaches. Under no circumstances can the Marxist revolutionary party be the result of improvisation, enthusiasm, of the wave of maximalist radicalization induced by the crisis. The party of the revolution prepares over the long decades of the counter-revolution, just as the Bolshevik party in the imperialist war prepared itself over the long decades of capitalism's peaceful stage. No country in Europe experienced a similar process of party development. For Lenin, this is a matter of fact, and he says so clearly when he affirms that the party "has not existed for decades, and no one fears it". It has certainly existed for years, however, and this confirms his thesis.
As a result, capitalism’s crisis will not affect the party so much as it will the trade unions. Thus, from a strategic point of view, it becomes extremely important - even if this is invisible at first glance - to know who will influence the trade unions, what outcome the struggle to politically influence the trade unions will have. The counter-revolutionary or revolutionary political outcome to the crisis depends on this influence because the outcome - as opposed to Russia - will not be determined by the party, at least during this first stage, but above all, by the trade unions.
The trade unions, consequently, can objectively determine this political outcome, they can play this great role. Have they perhaps changed their nature? Obviously not. But they can perform a role that surpasses their nature. In Lenin's thought, it is the very concept of the social nature of a dialectical organ.
He always sees the movement, the classes' struggle, the movement of social relations, the dynamic factors of social life, and never sees the abstractions statically as formal definitions. For him, scientific abstraction is always determinate abstraction, a hypothesis to be verified.
Lenin is not a schematic nominalist: if, for example, the trade unions can, in general, be defined as trade-unionist, it is schematic, and therefore wrong, incorrect, to say that they are trade unionist in all of their aspects.
They can be a "school of war," a "school of communism," etc. and they can be the social sphere of the struggle for political influence, for example in Germany.
This is the third important lesson that Lenin infers from Germany's "factual material," after the lesson of the strikes in Russia and that of 1905. How Lenin clothes the abstraction of "economic struggle-political struggle" from Marx's Poverty of philosophy in "flesh and blood" is highly instructive. It is also significant how he reconnects to this abstraction historically, precisely, politically in the framework of a concrete investigation into the organizational forms of the European proletarian revolution's moving forces.
The lesson of Germany's "factual material" is theorized in the sixth chapter of Left-wing Communism, "Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions?," written in May, 1920, i.e., the year before Lenin's analysis of the capitalist crisis-trade unions relationship.
"The trade unions were a tremendous step forward for the working class in the early days of capitalist development, inasmuch as they marked a transition from the workers' disunity and helplessness to the rudiments of class organization..."
"The trade unions inevitably began to reveal certain [Lenin underlines "certain" and not "all," since trade unions also contain the proletariat, the only class that is truly revolutionary] reactionary features..." when "... the highest form of class organization began to take shape...," i.e., the revolutionary party.
"However, the development of the proletariat did not, and could not, proceed anywhere in the world [therefore, not even in Russia, even with the Soviets] otherwise than through the trade unions, through reciprocal action between them and the party of the working class."
"In the sense mentioned above, a certain "reactionism" in the trade unions is inevitable under the dictatorship of the proletariat. It would be egregious folly to fear this "reactionism" or to try to evade or leap over it, for it would mean fearing that function of the proletarian vanguard which consists in training, educating, enlightening and drawing into the new life the most backward strata and masses of the working class and peasantry...
In countries more advanced than Russia, a certain reactionism in the trade unions has been and was bound to be manifested in a far greater measure than in our country... In the West, a craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, case-hardened, covetous, and petty-bourgeois "labor aristocracy," imperialist-minded, and imperialist-corrupted, has developed into a much stronger section than in our country."
Consequently, the struggle against Western trade-union leaders "is incomparably more difficult than the struggle against our Mensheviks."
In Western Europe, "which is imbued with most deeply rooted legalistic, constitutionalist, and bourgeois-democratic prejudices," it is more difficult to wrest workers from the influence of the Jouhaux and Legiens who "are nothing but Zubatovs, differing from our Zubatov only in their European garb and polish ".
Here, Lenin reaches the heart of what we highlight as his fourth thesis. For Lenin, trade-union leaders now carry out a repressive function as special policemen, as "European" Zubatovs. Democracy has developed this typically fascist function within itself. The trade-union leaders' subordination to the capitalist system, as identified by Lenin, is subordination in the highest degree. From this point of view, the subsequent development of imperialism and the subordination of trade-union leaders did nothing other than confirm this trait and this kind of trade-union integration into the bourgeois State apparatus. This kind of integration, however, is precisely what Lenin investigates, and through this investigation he affirms the trade unions' two-fold aspect and the contradiction between "integrated" leaders and the unionized working masses that can be influenced in a revolutionary sense.
Considering the trade unions' integration differently, basically means conceiving of the entire working class, or at least a large part of it, as "integrated" into the system. It also means not understanding the primary role that Lenin assigns to revolutionary struggle within the trade unions to wrest the masses from the influence of the "integrated" bureaucracy. In spite of the struggle's extreme difficulties ("the leaders of opportunism will resort to... the police and the courts to keep Communists out of the trade unions," Lenin reminds us), it is still the first condition to win political power because "until the struggle has reached a certain stage, and this "certain stage" will be different in different countries and circumstances," there won't be any possibility for the dictatorship of the proletariat to make its revolutionary appearance.
"We are waging a struggle against the "labor aristocracy" in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them over to our side..." We mustn't "forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth. The "theory" that Communists should not work in reactionary trade unions reveals with the utmost clarity the frivolous attitude of the "Left" Communists towards the question of influencing the "masses"."
To influence the masses, one must "absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found," that is, in the trade unions where "millions of workers in Great Britain, France, and Germany are for the first time passing from a complete lack of organization to the elementary, lowest, simplest, and most easily comprehensible form of organization..."
Even this "most elementary and most self-evident truth" has often been forgotten. The revolutionary party, the higher form of organization, can only develop fully when the class' most backward sections have passed through the most elementary form of organization: that is, when they have passed from complete disorganization to organization. The fact that this kind of elementary organization lies in the hands of counter-revolutionaries and reactionaries does not exclude the need for trade-union organization and its necessary function, even in the imperialist age. This fact raises the issue of the struggle that the revolutionary party must carry out to exercise its influence and to spread socialist consciousness even when the class is passing from disorganization to elementary organization. It is a serious, opportunist mistake to think that the party can only work on the vanguard elements of the "elementarily" organized working masses. That is, to think that the party can only take action at a more advanced stage in the class organization process, means distorting the party's role.
As long as the class' elementary forms of organization are the trade unions - and different, permanent organizational forms have not arisen in history - the Marxist revolutionary party must work on the class, even when it is passing from disorganization to elementary organization. In fact, during this particular stage, the party must begin training its militants, building channels for its "influence" and its strengthening.
Lenin outlines this task clearly:
"To refuse to work in the reactionary trade unions means leaving the insufficiently developed or backward masses of workers under the influence of the reactionary leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie, the labor aristocrats or "workers" who have become completely bourgeois... The task devolving on Communists is to convince the backward elements, to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them with artificial and childishly "Left" slogans."
In essence, Lenin is not so much trying to set out a trade-union tactic here as much as he is underlying the main principles of the Marxist view of socialist consciousness development in the working class. That is, he is underlining the principles that govern the relationship between science (the party) and class (economic struggle). Once Marxism has scientifically analyzed this relationship, it is obvious that the class will only reach consciousness and the party through economic struggle and this latter's elementary organizational forms. To conceive of the revolutionary party's complete development process outside of this relationship means falling into spontaneism and raising the class struggle's spontaneity to an elementary organizational form. In other words, it means entrusting the party's development to subjectivity, spontaneity, chance, to the unexpected, to the cycles of the labor-power market.
In 1922, in another passage, Lenin returns to this issue:
"On the other hand," he writes, "it is obvious that the final goal of the strike struggle under capitalism is the destruction of the State apparatus, the destruction of a given class State power."
It is significant fact that Lenin identifies the class struggle's ("strike struggle") outcome, in the destruction of the capitalist State apparatus. This economic mechanism, the wage struggle (which is trade-unionist not because it is in itself, but because of the political outlet that trade-unionism as bourgeois influence gives it), is the basis of class struggle. The economic wage struggle is, in and of itself, the only potentially revolutionary, contradiction, and it is, therefore, revolutionary in itself.
Lenin says that the worker only reaches reformism spontaneously, but that with consciousness, he reaches the revolution. But the economic struggle's spontaneity and revolutionary consciousness are not two separate and independent moments of class struggle. They are, instead, moments of one same, tormented process in which consciousness organized into the party fights to free the economic struggle's spontaneity from the bourgeois influence of reformism. And, inasmuch as the party succeeds, it introduces consciousness into the economic struggle, it raises it to a political one, and makes it a powerful battering ram to destroy the State bulwark.
"The final goal to be reached through strikes" becomes, at this point, the main pivot in the Marxist party's revolutionary strategy.
The workers' struggle-party relationship finds its practical solution in this goal, and it finds it more rigorously the more it welds science and action, consciousness and reality together throughout its stages.
The Leninist concept of the party, at this historical point of arrival, has ultimately demonstrated its universal validity.