C.L.R. James 1936
First Published: in Fight,Volume 1. No. 2. December 12th, 1936, p. 16, signed CL Rudder;
Transcribed/Marked up: by Ted Crawford/Damon Maxwell.
The basis of Marxism is the class-struggle. Many in the labour movement agree with that in words, but keep on thinking in political terms instead of looking through these and getting at the class realities that lie below. That is why revolutionary periods are so worthy of study. In them one sees the real interests of classes stripped of all the political drapery of quieter times. If we look at some great revolutionary periods of history we shall see some very clear lessons for us to-day. We shall not begin with the British and French Revolutions. They will be treated in separate studies. Let us take the first great socialist revolution in European history, the French Revolution of 1848. It was a socialist revolution in the sense that it was made by the workers organised in factories by capitalist production. Also they were aiming, though not clearly, at socialism, the conversion of bourgeois private property into socialist property. The revolutionary workers came out into the streets of Paris, overthrew the government and could have had the power if they knew how to. But the masses cannot seize power. They need a revolutionary party. The trouble in France was that there was no revolutionary party and the workers came under the leadership of Louis Blanc, a great believer in democracy, exactly the same type as Citrine, Attlee and Leon Blum. Louis Blanc at once tied the workers to the Liberals and made an attempt to solve the problems of the workers through a democratic parliament. Liberals and workers established a republic. But this only meant changing the political form, and leaving untouched the economic class grievances which are the main driving force of a workers revolution. A dangerous situation developed. The workers were ready for drastic action, but listened to Louis Blanc and his talk of parliamentary democracy.
Let Lenin tell us the inevitable result:
“For while in a society with a keen class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, particularly when this struggle is inevitably made more acute by a revolution, there can be no “middle” course, the whole essence of the class position and aspirations of the petty bourgeoisie consists in wanting the impossible, in aspiring towards the impossible, i.e., towards just a “middle course.”
The third determining class force was the proletariat which aspired not towards a “conciliation” with the bourgeoisie but towards a victory over it, towards a fearless development of the revolution onward, and what is more, on an international scale.
This was the objective historical soil from which sprang Cavaignac. The vacillations of the petty bour¬geoisie “pushed it aside” from active roles, and the French Cadet, General Cavaignac, taking advantage of the fear of the petty bourgeoisie to entrust itself to the proletariat, decided to disarm the workers, to shoot them down in large numbers.
The revolution was terminated by this historical shoot¬ing; the petty bourgeoisie, numerically preponderant, had been and remained the politically impotent tail of the bourgeoisie, and three years later France again saw the restoration of a particularly vile form of caesarist mon¬archy.”
The military dictator, the “Fascist” of those days, did not come by accident but arose precisely because of the vacillations of the Government, which was a perfect example of the Popular Front.
Marx and Engels, having studied history closely, drew the conclusion: “the workers must have their own party which knows what it wants and will pull the petty bour¬goisie behind them in action, the petty-bourgeois masses, not the politicians.” The workers were anxious for allies, “but,” said Marx, “watch your ally as you would your enemy, march side by side with him but never join with him.” Working on those lines, Lenin formed and led the Bolshevik party. In 1917 when then Russian workers and the peasants who formed the army, upset the Tsarist Government, the Bolshevik party was unorganised and too weak to seize power. The Democrats helped to form the workers’ Soviets and then gave the power to a Liberal Government. Soon these representatives of the workers actually joined this Liberal Government. That was a Popular Front Government if ever there was one; with Liberals and most of the workers’ “democratic” repre¬sentatives, all except the revolutionary Bolsheviks. We know how this Kerensky Government failed. People blame Kerensky, but it is absurd to do so. A Government of that kind can never function in a crisis. Democracy is a political form. But in modern revolutionary crises it is property which is at stake. It was at this period that Lenin quoted the example of 1848 and warned that in a period of crisis a government must know its mind and act, or the great property-owners would do what they did in 1848 - take advantage of the confusion and organise a military rebellion. A few months after the thing happened. Kornilov attacked, but the Bolsheviks were on the alert and, being outside of this Popular Front Kerensky Government, mobilised the masses under the banner of the socialist revolution and swept on to victory.
We can see a parallel situation in Spain to-day. In 1931 Workers and Liberals got rid of Alfonso and the Spanish Revolution began. But, once more, in a revolutionary period as the present time, a government of Liberals and Workers cannot function. In the inevitable confusion Franco got his chance. In France, the Radicals (Liberals) and Blum, the Labour leader, cannot function. They have been travelling opposite ways from the time they started and confusion grows daily. The rival claims of the workers and capitalists cannot be settled in the French Parliament, and it is in this uncertainty that the Fascists get their chance. The lessons of a hundred years of history are clear. The workers must unite in a Workers’ Front and take workers’ action under the leader¬ship of a revolutionary party. The lower middle classes follow those who take action.