Table of Contents
1. The objective social character of worker-socialism
3. Socialism as the final objective
4. Marxist world-outlook and criticism
5. The causes of the historical non-success of worker-communism
6. Revolution and reform
7. The party and the class
8. The council movement
What forms the basis for our unity as a trend and a party? From which general premises do we derive our concrete answers to questions facing communism today? I think in the course of the past few years we have said and written enough about our differences, as worker-communists, with other tendencies within the Left. So, here I shall only touch upon those features which, in my opinion, characterize our movement politically, and form the political bases of the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI).
A central point that we consistently emphasized throughout our debates of recent years is that worker-socialism is an independently existing social movement and not a derivative of the activity of Marxists or communists. It is an historically initiated, ongoing movement. The struggle against capitalism with the aim of replacing it with socialism, through a working-class revolution, is a living and firmly established vision within the working class - it is a living tradition of struggle. The theory or the self-consciousness of this movement may, at any given period, be accurate or inaccurate, right or wrong. Nevertheless there always exists a current within the working-class movement that aspires to, and constantly tries to, push the entire class in this socialist direction.
Our first distinctive point of departure is, therefore, that we see socialism, communism, the worker-communist party, as taking shape in the context of such a real and objective struggle by the working class, be it at times weak and limited in scope, that is always in motion in contemporary society. Socialism is not a model, a Utopia or a profound design for society, only waiting for us socialists to implement it. It is not an arbitrary design, or a prescription exported from the realm of reason to the realm of practice. Socialism is, first and foremost, a framework for a certain social struggle that is being waged inevitably and independently of the presence or absence of a party; ... a social endeavour that has continued nearly throughout the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, and is still, today, clearly observable.
Clearly, different social tendencies try to influence this movement, this class endeavour, and guide it in the direction of their own visions. Nevertheless the working-class struggle against capitalism and for social equality, lurks underneath whatever cover other social movements or parties try to wrap it in. This movement can be distinguished from other movements in contemporary society by its general social goals, by the substance and focus of its protest within the present society, and by its socio-class origins. ... There is always a part of the working class who are not content with a defensive struggle, who do not believe they can get what is truly theirs within the framework of the present system, who think capitalism should give way to socialism, who believe that the bourgeoisie must be dispossessed of the means of production, and, finally, who believe that to achieve all this it is necessary to unite and make a revolution. This is nothing but the very definition of worker-socialism.
Even behind the activities of right- wing trade unions, behind the words of local labour leaders, however naive and timid such words may be, we recognise certain facts pertaining to the socialist tendency and the socialist struggle of the working class; facts that many radical Left tendencies are essentially unable to see. For, right-wing illusions within the working class are acquired, but the anti- capitalist tendencies, tendencies that force labour leaders to speak up, are intrinsic and genuine. Worker-socialism is the tendency within the class which creates radical leaders, and maintains the constant pressure of radicalism on non- radical leaders.
To recognise and emphasise, therefore, the existence of an objective, socialist endeavour within the working class itself, notwithstanding the intellectual expression it might find in different periods, is one of our important characteristic features as a current and a political tradition. We see beyond the daily activities of the workers' movement, the objective existence of a socialist strand within the working class and believe that communist organisation must develop in the context of this real, social tradition of struggle.
The party we are forming today belongs in this tradition, and not in the tradition of the Iranian radical opposition, or the radical Left at large. The social and political origins of this party are not to be found in the struggle against monarchy, against the Islamic regime, against dictatorship or imperialism. This party is formed in the tradition of workers' struggle for economic equality in society - a socialist struggle that has been constantly waged in capitalism - and only in there does WPI seek the source of its power and strength.
This is another characteristic of our tradition. Not only our world-outlook but also our political practice has an internationalist basis. It is evident, already today, that those who have the slightest liking for the concept of "the fatherland", including that spectrum in the Left who, on those rare occasions when they speak of workers and their demands, still refer to them as "the workers of our fatherland", should not and will not join this party. Nationalism has a strongly negative sense in our tradition. Today, we speak of nationalism and patriotism with such a tone that would have been inconceivable for the Iranian Left ten years ago.
The Worker-communist party has no nationalistic sympathies whatsoever. We speak of mankind and then we speak of workers. These are valid concepts for us. We don't see as valid any other division and classification of the human population that may fall between the two. We do of course demand, and fight for, the abolition of every discrimination based upon various divisions and categorisations of humanity; but these divisions do not, in themselves, form the point of departure for our political work and political organisation. We have not arisen from any national struggle, we do not recognise national and state boundaries in our political and agitational work. The class struggle, everywhere, is the focus of our activity. ...
We pursue a world strategy. And in Iran, where we have direct involvement and influence, we pursue, as part of that world strategy, a more direct and more comprehensive political programme of action. ...
Socialism has been defined and interpreted in lots of different ways. We are one of the few currents who emphatically maintain that socialism should be identified with abolition of wage-labour and creation of economic equality between people. It means equality in the status of people in the social production.
This clearly distinguishes us from all those currents who identify socialism with planned state economy, with industrialization, or with redistribution of wealth, etc. We maintain that socialism requires the abolition of wage-labour, and the transformation of the means of labour, means of production, into the common property of society. Social welfare and economic security of people can only be the result of such a revolution in the economic foundations of society.
This party is being formed in the Marxist tradition, and in defence of Marx. Worker- communism, in my opinion, will not get anywhere without Marxism. Defending Marx and Marxism, as a social critique, is a distinctive feature of our tradition.
There are a good many people these days who perhaps want to retain their Left parties, to stick around in the political scene as socialists, but, at the same time, reckon that in order to do so one should primarily modify or revise Marxism. Such as, for example, trying to bring together, "democracy" and "market" with Marxism and socialism. As far as we are concerned, these are worthless absur dities... I believe the main bulk of those who abandon Marxism are people who had accepted it in the first place, not as a critical, enlightening outlook, but as a fashionable school of thought that had imposed itself upon them. A great many of them are people who had been using Marxist terminology as a wrapping for views and social aspirations alien to Marxism. Until very recently the world was swarmed with such Marxists.
I believe Marx's social criticism is indispensable for worker-communism and the worker-communist party. And I personally see as one of our major differences with most of the tendencies within the workers' movement their neglect of Marx and the Marxist critique.
We are the Marxists of the workers' movement. We should challenge the non- Marxist traditions in the movement. We should criticise, from a Marxist standpoint, the way they explain the condition of the working class, the society, the economy, the state, religion, the political regime, etc. This is a fundamental objective of our tradition and our party that worker-leaders should become Marxists.
Our account of the history of the socialistic struggle of the working class, and of the causes of communism's failure so far, is itself a characteristic and distinctive feature of our tradition.
The question every communist should answer today is, "Why did all this happen? Whatever happened to communism?" Many have already come up with what they regard as answers. The tell us: "Marxian theory was wrong", "Leninism was a false contribution to Marxism", "socialism, in general, has always been a Utopia; it's not practicable", etc., etc.
In response to explanations of this sort, or, rather, in explaining the conditions of communism today, we put forward a totally different argument. We say what in practice came to a deadlock was another social and class movement; a movement that had no kinship, except in name, with socialism, with Marxism, and with the social movement of the working class. What we are witnessing today is the defeat of a certain pseudo-socialist social movement that emerged in the twentieth century and was expressed and represented by the ruling parties in the Eastern bloc and its various pseudo- socialist offshoots - supportive or critical of the mainstream - outside that bloc. Indeed, this collapse requires careful analysis in its own right. But what we have to explain is the ineffectiveness so far of the socialist working-class movement as distinct from this bloc.
The creation of this bloc had detrimental effects on the socialist working-class movement. In fact, it was erected as a monument to the defeat of the latter. The revolution of 1917 was the product of our movement. But, we were defeated in the Soviet Union; not today, but a long time ago. It was a long time ago that we were defeated there, were forced into isolation, and lost the vast influence we enjoyed both within the workers' movement and in international politics.
So, if we are asked today, "why communism reached nowhere a century and a half after Marx?", our answer will be: the bourgeoisie inflicted a serious defeat on us in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution; a defeat we have not yet been able to recover from. It was, therefore, the rise of the Eastern bloc (and not its fall) that brought about the defeat of worker-communism. ...
In my opinion, the communist movement of the working class has [since then] always existed alongside the official communism; and that's exactly why we should use, instead of the word "communism" which brings to mind this official, non-proletarian stream, the term "worker-communism" in order to refer to our own class movement...
We are able to explain the reasons for our own historical defeat. We are able to show why bourgeois movements borrowed the slogans and the language of our movement. We can explain why and due to which weaknesses and shortcomings, our movement was defeated by nationalism in the experience of the Soviet Union. We can explain what the social bases and objectives of this false socialism were. And, today, we can explain why this dominant pole was itself ultimately defeated, and so on.
As worker-communists, we do not recognise therefore the crisis of the official pole of communism as the crisis of worker-communism, and consider this a view that distinguishes us from other tendencies. Our own problems, our own isolation, our own inability to meet the challenges of the contemporary world, and so on, are much older. As I said, the rise of the Soviet Bloc was itself an indication of the isolation of our social movement. Our response to the present-day situation is therefore not to revise the theoretical and practical principles of our class movement, but to intensify our efforts.
Allow me to add here a personal comment on a question about which other comrades may have different views. I do not, by any means, regard the victory of this worker-communist movement as inevitable. I don't even regard its growth as inevitable... The protest of workers against capitalism is, of course, inevitable. But no one can claim that this protest will inevitably occur under the banner of worker-communism - as a movement with a particular political and economic vision and strategy. I do not believe in this inevitability; and it is for this reason that the conscious choices real men and women make at various stages, and the actual practice of different movements at different junctures, is, to me, vitally important. If we are to make any advance, these choices and practices have to be correct and communistic. Living people and living generations of the working class decide the fate of socialism and communism.
The victory of socialism is not an inevitable and pre-determined outcome of history. Perhaps in the 19th century the actual options open to the bourgeoisie seemed limited in the eyes of socialists at the time and so they could have wondered "what the bourgeoisie could in the end really do to avert the pressure of the vast exploited class?" Today, however, the bourgeoisie is capable of physically destroying the world, they can render it barren, they can see to it that the people are in such dire need of bread and oxygen that socialism does not even cross anybody's mind. A modern slavery could just as well be the destiny of the world, at least for several generations.
In short, the issue here is the fate of a definite movement: the socialist working-class movement. The cause of the present state of affairs, the cause of the survival of capitalist barbarism thus far, is that this movement was defeated at some critical turning point in contemporary history. We were defeated in the experience of the Soviet Union; a defeat which conditioned the fate of the world for many decades. We were not properly represented, neither intellectually nor politically, in the fateful controversies that took place in the 1920s over the post- revolutionary course of the Soviet economy. We were not prepared in advance for that challenge. None of the leaders of the socialist movement of the Russian working-class entered that period with a clear economic vision, and thus no resistance was organised, from the standpoint of worker-communism, against the advance of nationalism and the bourgeois economic vision... We did not succeed in keeping our class force under our own banner. For we practically lacked, at a decisive stage and with regard to a cardinal question of the post- revolutionary era, [i.e., the question of the economic content of the October Revolution] any independent banner, or programme...
Now our future too depends, in the same way, entirely on the actual practice of our movement and its activists; on what they do, and what visions they have and hold out to the workers' movement. If we do it right, it will work out; if we don't, it won't. There is no historical inevitability here! ...
Another, and in my opinion very significant, trait of our political tradition is the way we see the relation between revolution and reform. The radical Left has always typically remained isolated from actual social movements for reforms and has been, therefore, scorned by the activists of these movements. The more "radical" a Left tendency has been, the more isolated it has become, and the more incapable it has remained of influencing the social circumstances of its own time. It seems as if maintaining one's political integrity, or remaining radical in one's programmatic ideals, has stood in inverse relationship to gaining actual strength and influence. Revolutionary ideas appear incompatible with effective action. The truth is, I think, that such a contradiction has actually existed in the thinking of the radical Left. For them, Marxism is merely a theory, and not a social movement that ought to express itself in various practical dimensions.
It is characteristic of our tradition, however, that its communist revolutionism is not only compatible with its daily activity to bring about improvements in the conditions of the working people, and in the economic, political, cultural, and judicial state of affairs in society, but is inseparably connected to it. We see people and classes not as politically static and shapeless but in constant struggle to improve their society and their own living conditions. No communist can ignore this actually existing struggle and at the same time call for a revolution that apparently stands independent of it.
The question of the relationship between revolution and reform, and hence the relationship of the revolutionary element with movements and organisations geared to social reform, is one of the main pillars of our outlook. For us, this question is a source of a series of programmatic, tactical and practical conclusions. Issues such as the relation of workers' revolution to numerous movements for liberty and social justice that emerge within the existing society with narrower objectives, the attitude of the workers' party towards unions, the relation between our revolutionary programme for society and our immediate demands in various areas, the issue of legal and underground work, etc., all hinge on a certain understanding of the relation between revolution and reform.
However, understanding the significance of the struggle for reforms is not identical with getting dissolved in reformism. It is true that without getting involved in the current protests in society the revolutionary communist element within the working class is bound to remain marginalised and unable to effectively influence the working class as a whole. But it is equally true that without explicitly representing socialism and workers' revolution within the working class, the worker-socialist tendency would not only fail to get anywhere near its revolutionary objective, but would also leave reform movements captive within the limits of short-sighted bourgeois visions and policies...
It is not enough for us to appear, and be recognised as, a sincere and active current in the workers' protest movements, as a current that is a participator, and, indeed, part and parcel of these movements. This would prove our distinction from the esoteric radical Left. Our communism, however, begins at the point where we appear in these movements, that is, within our own class, as a current critical of the non-socialist currents, as a current that pursues a more fundamental cause and a more radical change, as a Marxist current that propagates a particular view within the class... .
Supporting trade unions and having close relationships with their Left wing, strengthening the labour movement as a whole against the bourgeoisie, is a vitally important task. But, we must scrutinize, as communist workers, the visions, the policies, and the views of working-class organisations and their leaders. To democratize this or that industrial trade union in the USA, for example, is a fine job. But, a worker- communist should also confront the leaders of such a movement with questions such as: what's going to happen in the end, say, in thirty years, after the union has hopefully been democratized? What do you think of communism and Marxism? What alternative do you have for the reorganization of society? How, in your mind, can workers' total liberation be finally brought about?
The radical leaders of the workers in the USA, Canada, Germany, Britain, etc., should be confronted with the question as to why they are not communists; why they have nothing to say and nothing to do concerning the economic foundations of the present system, the state, religion, the educational system, the equality of sexes, the war drive of the Powers, and so on, and so forth. We do not criticise the sectarian isolationism of the non-worker Left only to bow, in the next step, to the vocational and equally isolationist attitudes of the reformist workers' movements, and to their alienation from the general cause of the working-class social revolution. We are that tendency within the working class which sees the working class as capable of, and duty- bound to, extensive intervention in economic, political, cultural and intellectual life of society. We want the worker to emerge as the force that presents the whole human society with a real alternative. We regard socialist vision, theory, social critique, unity for social revolution as vital; just as we regard wage rise, unemployment benefit, the right to strike, and organising to bring about improvements in the economic and political condition of the working classes as vital. Each one of these aspects expresses a different moment in the life, the struggle, the self- assertion, of the working class; aspects that we regard as indivisible and indispensable. We must criticise all social tendencies, working-class or otherwise, which break apart this whole and keep workers away from the social revolution and the social revolution away from the workers.
Another characteristic of our current is our understanding of the relation between the party and the class. Our party is the party of a certain tradition of struggle within the class itself. Its relation with the working class is thus based on the relation of that tendency within the class with the working class as a whole. This means, firstly, that it is not a party formed by a number of social reformers for the salvation of the working class, but one formed by a part, a tendency, within the working class itself with the aim of uniting and leading the whole class towards its class objectives. ...
Secondly, it is therefore clear that the worker-communist party is not the party of "all workers" irrespective of their outlook and their social and political aims... In other words, it is neither a party derived from a preconceived idea or theory that is now being held out to the working class nor a party of all workers regardless of their social standpoint or outlook. This is the party of the socialist workers who put forward a more fundamental and comprehensive critique of the present system.
We consider ourselves not a political party outside the class, but the party of a critical tendency, with a definite social outlook, within the class itself. It is therefore important for us to confront other tendencies within the class theoretically, politically, and ideologically.
With regard to general forms of organisation for working-class struggle, we belong in the council tradition. We are a party advocating councils as the main form for organisation and direct action of worker masses; and it is from this standpoint that we deal with other forms of workers' organisation...
If a current is really part of the class and seeks to unite and organise it, it can reject other forms of organisation and demand the workers to abandon those forms, trade unions for example, only to the extent that it is itself able to point to an existing alternative for the workers to join... If the council movement has established itself firmly enough to be capable of undertaking those aspects of the defensive struggle which are at present organised by the trade unions, then it would be quite correct to ask workers to leave the unions and join the councils and the council movement... Otherwise, if such an alternative is practically not open to workers, then it would be a clearly anti-worker move to undermine the unions. Our attitude towards trade unions cannot be of the same sort as our attitude towards religious or state institutions.
In a certain sense, this is related to what I said earlier about the significance of reforms and the relation between revolution and reform. Trade unions safeguard, in one way or another, certain social reforms and working-class gains. They are organisations for winning and protecting reforms. One can imagine that today, in the absence of better organisational alternatives for the working class, what wretchedness would come to prevail in the world if there were no trade unions.
We endeavour to build and strengthen the council movement within the working class. And as we progress we call upon workers to join this alternative. We recognise the value of unions for workers' struggles in the absence of strong councils and council movements, but we do not abandon our independent critical views vis-a-vis trade unions.
Spoken: early May 1992 (first cadres conference of the Worker-communist Party of Iran)
Source: Worker-communist Party of Iran no.2, June 92. The present translation is reprinted from International in English, no.2, March 93
Transcription/Markup: Worker Communist Party of Iran/Brian Baggins
Copyleft: Mansoor Hekmat Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.