C.L.R. James 1968

World Revolution: 1968

Source: Speak Out, June-July 1968;
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg, with thanks to Ian Birchall.

This is an analysis.

  1. We take it for granted that those who are in contact with the working class or classes nearest to it, either in France or out of France, are engaged in maintaining and increasing contact, making the situation as clear as possible, and learning as much as they can from the response of those sections of the population they are dealing with.
  2. Marxists have a special function, first of all to analyse the situation and, as a necessity for fruitful intervention, to know exactly the stage of development.
  3. Three things are requisite for the Marxist to understand:

i) The national state must be destroyed and the only way in which that can be done is the break-up of all bourgeois institutions and their replacement by socialist institutions.

The French Revolution has shown that the mass of the population is ready to take over society and to form new institutions. (de Gaulle recognises that and that is the basis of his insistence on “participation”) The decay of bourgeois institutions is proved not only by the tremendous outburst of the great body of the nation (an outburst, comprehensive as no previous revolution has been), but proved also by the fact that the bourgeoisie and the middle classes were quite powerless before the strength and the desire to break up the old state. They had very little to say and, as far as can be judged from here, were paralysed by the decay and rottenness of the capitalistic regime and the power and range of the revolt against it. I have seen no evidence that this positive necessity has been made clear in any of the statements that I have seen.

ii) The first concrete enemy is the bourgeois national state. It is absolutely impossible for a national state of any kind at this stage of the twentieth century to develop and even to maintain itself even under the most revolutionary and proletarian of governments. Therefore, the Marxist must know and seek every possible means of making clear that the national quality of the state must be destroyed; that is to say, the revolution has got to be an international socialist revolution. To put it crudely, the appeal to the masses of the population and other countries in Europe to make their own the fate of the French Revolution must be made at all levels. As far as I can see it has not been made by any section of the revolutionary leadership. I would be glad to know that here I am wrong. The national state cannot function today. And not to know that, not to make that clear, means the destruction of the revolution.

iii) Let me try to make clear what I am trying to say. The safety of the revolution, it’s completion, its ability to fight against the enormous pressures which will be placed upon it, the questions of food, finance, and possible military intervention of the counter-revolution of a certain kind, these are not questions removed from the day-to-day struggle. From the very beginning it has to be made clear that the economic relations, political relations, safeguarding of the revolution against military intervention or financial pressure, every single aspect of daily and political life now depends on the transformation of the bourgeois institutions into socialist institutions, the unleashing of the strength of the working class first of all. I am afraid I am not being as successful in saying what I want to say as I would like to be: We do not make the revolution to achieve the socialist society. The socialist society makes the revolution. I hope, however, that fellow Marxists will see what I am striving at. Today there is no period of transition from one regime to another. The establishment of the socialist regime, the power of the working class and those substantial elements in the nation who are ready to go with it, that is not something which one must look for to be achieved in the future: That is absolutely necessary now, not only for the socialist society but to maintain the ordinary necessities of life and to defend the elementary rights of all society.

  1. What are the new socialist institutions?

We do not know, nobody knows. The working class and the general mass of the population are creating them in action. Our business is to be aware of thats to let them know that they alone can create the new institutions.

We use the highest peaks of the past as a guide. The highest peak so far reached is the instinctive action of the working class in the Hungarian Revolution.

  1. Such is the rejection of the bourgeois regime by the great mass of the population that without the Communist Party the regime would have collapsed completely without the possibility of any regeneration. The connection between the policy of the Communist Party and the co-existence policy of Moscow is now a secondary question. It is the knowledge everywhere of this which has given to the students the leadership. One conclusion now has to be drawn, it is this:

Communist Party, Social Democratic Party, Trade Union leadership, are all bourgeois institutions. The revolution which has begun in France and which we shall see continuing everywhere over the next period, will save itself delay and temporary defeats if only from the very beginning it recognises that all negotiations and arrangements about wages or anything, else that the revolution has to undertake, are to be undertaken by its own independent organisations. It may take some time before the French Revolution establishes this. But outside of France we can learn this. None of the regular institutions must be allowed to enter into negotiations on behalf of any section of the revolution. Over the next period new upheavals must understand this from the very beginning. Students will represent students and discuss with university staffs. Workers will represent workers, peasants will represent peasants. No kind of established organisation which has been functioning in the bourgeois regime is to be accepted as a representative. This will be difficult to establish, particularly

in regard to the trade union leadership especially where it represents a majority of the organised workers. But that for the revolution of 1968 is the key point at issue. No question of anarchism arises here. The very structure of modern society prepares the working class and sections of society to undertake immediately the creation of socialist institutions.

  1. To get rid of de Gaulle is now a strictly minor matter.

One can take part in elections or not take part.
The real question is the substitution of new institutions for old ones.

  1. It is not for someone who is away from the centre of events to be dogmatic about what should be done. But what is urgently required is (a) the sending of representatives to countries abroad and particularly to the recently independent countries; and (b) the invitation to representatives of ail countries to come to France, to take part in what is going on, and to learn the necessities of revolutionary struggle today. The absence so far not only of intervention but of any statement by organisations in advanced countries shows their deadly recognition that they live on the surface of a similar volcano.
  2. It is at this stage only that I point out the stages of the Marxist movement. Marx put forward the basic ideas in the Communist Manifesto after profound studies in philosophy, economics and revolutionary history, and the watching of a movement of the workers in some insignificant part of France. Then followed the Commune in 1871. It was the Commune in 1871 which gave to Lenin and the Bolsheviks indications as to be able to understand what took place in 1905. 1905 was the dress rehearsal for 1917. We have to be able first for our own benefit to understand what has taken place between 1917 and 1968. We need not go preaching this to the working class but the Marxists have to be quite clear as to the stage of development so as to be able to recognise, welcome and intensify the advances that are taking place instinctively in the nation and in the world at large. This work has to be done and only a Marxist can do it. The greatest mistake would be not to do it at all. Equally mischievous would be the idea that it can be done apart from the concrete struggles that are taking place (France) or are inherent elsewhere. The World Revolution in 1968 has entered in what could be a decisive and final stage. De Gaulle is an episode as were the Tsar and Kerensky. Judge the seriousness and understanding of a babbler by what he makes of this; de Gaulle is Nicholas, Kerensky and Kornilov all in one.
  3. The Facing Reality Grouping owes it to itself and to all those with whom it can come into contact to make clear the stages of its own development over the years, what it has had to contend with and the way it has overcome these difficulties. That is precisely what Lenin did when he was expecting the revolutionary upheaval during the war. Those were the conditions under which he thought it necessary to write State and Revolution. I cannot go any further at present but hope to clarify further according to the development of events and the work that is being done along the lines that I have indicated. What I think is here. But it is not easy to put it down briefly. It will be done best for ourselves (and probably for fellow-Marxists, too) by tracing our own development over the years. I think, however, the stage is best expressed here by the phrase; “the revolution does not struggle for the socialist society, it is the socialist society which will make the revolution.” I recommend (a) the study (and circulation) of our own development; (b) the French Revolution, 1789-1794; (c) Lenin and the Russian Revolution, February to October 1917.