Georg Lukács 1920
First Published: in Kommunismus, 1/16-17, 1920;
Source: Georg Lukács. Political Writings, 1919-1929;
Published: N.L.B. 1972;
Edited: by Rodney Livingstone;
Transcribed: by Brian Reid.
Like Lenin’s writings this latest pamphlet deserves to be studied most carefully all communists. He reveals yet again his quite extraordinary ability to grasp what is decisively new about a new phenomenon in the development of the proletariat; his ability to comprehend its very essence and to make it comprehensible in the most concrete way. Whereas his earlier writings were largely of a polemical nature, concerned mainly to examine the fighting organizations of the proletariat (primarily the state), this one deals with the present development of the embryonic new society. Just as the capitalist form of production, with its labour discipline dictated by economic compulsion (hunger), was superior to the naked violence of serfdom, so the free cooperation of free human beings in the new society – even in the field of productivity – will far surpass capitalism. It is precisely in this respect that the social-democratic defeatists of the world revolution are most skeptical. They point to the slackening of labour discipline, the fall in productivity – in short, to the inevitable concomitants of the disintegrating capitalist economic system. And with an impatience and intolerance matched in intensity only by their patience and tolerance towards capitalism they point out that these things did not change immediately in Soviet Russia. Lack of raw materials, internal struggles and organizational difficulties count as excuses in their view only for capitalist states; their line is that a proletarian social order ought to mean the internal external transformation of all conditions, an all-round improvement in the situation, from the very first moment that that order is born. Genuine revolutionaries, and above all Lenin, distinguish themselves from such petty-bourgeois utopianism by their lack of illusions. They know what can be expected, not only of an economy ruined in the World War, but also – and above all – of human beings who, under capitalism, h been spiritually corrupted and depraved and indoctrinated with egoism. However, freedom from illusions never leads the true revolutionary to lose heart or to despair; his understanding of the situation as it really is serves rather to strengthen his faith in the world-historical mission of the proletariat. This faith can never be shaken, no matter how long it takes to realize it, no matter how often it is beset by adverse circumstances. It accepts all these disruptions and obstructions, but never allows them to distract him from his goal and the indications of its imminence.
The communist Saturdays, the mobilization to work which the Russian Communist Party has taken upon itself, have been discussed frequently and from many different points of view. Understandably, the main emphasis has always been put on their actual and possible economic consequences. But however important these may be, the communist Saturdays and the possibility and form of their origins are significant in a further sense, one which takes us far beyond their immediate economic consequences. ‘The enormous historical significance of the communist Saturdays is that they reveal to us the purposeful and voluntary initiative of the workers in the development of labour productivity, in the transition to the new work discipline, in the creation of socialist conditions in the economy and in life generally.’
The non-Russian communist parties are frequently criticized for imitating the Russian example too slavishly in their actions and their demands. It seems to me that in several (by no means inessential) respects, the exact opposite is the case: the European communist parties either cannot or will not examine the true sources of the Russian movement’s strength – and even when some of the lessons strike home they cannot raise the necessary strength to translate them into action.
The communist Saturdays, as the first seeds of the transition from a capitalist to a socialist economic order, as the starting-point for the ‘leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom’, are in no sense institutional measures of the Soviet government, but moral actions of the Communist Party. And it is precisely this vital and decisive aspect of the reality of the Russian Communist Party which has been least appreciated by its sister parties, who, far from copying its example, have hardly ever drawn the correct and necessary conclusions from its achievements.
If there is one commonplace which cannot be too strongly emphasized, it is that the communist party is the organizational expression of the revolutionary will of the proletariat. It is therefore by no means bound to embrace the whole of the proletariat from the very outset; as the conscious leader of the revolution, as the embodiment of the revolutionary idea, its task is rather to unite the most conscious sections, the vanguard, the really revolutionary and fully class-conscious workers. The revolution itself is brought about necessarily by the natural laws governing the economic forces. The duty and the mission of communist parties everywhere is to supply the revolutionary movement – which to a large extent arises independently of them – with a direction and a goal and to lead the elemental outbreaks sparked off by the collapse of the capitalist economic order on to the only viable path of salvation, on to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The old parties were compromise combinations, heterogeneous collections of individuals, and consequently very quickly became bureaucratized, very quickly gave rise to an aristocracy of party officers and subalterns who were cut off from the masses. The new communist parties, on the other hand, should represent the purest expression of the revolutionary class struggle, the transcending of bourgeois society. However, the transition from the old society to the new implies, not merely an economic and institutional, but also and at the same time a moral transformation. Let there be no misunderstanding: nothing is further from our thoughts than the petty-bourgeois utopianism of those who fondly imagine that social change can only be brought about through an inner transformation of human beings. (Not the least indication that this is a petty-bourgeois notion is the fact that its proponents – whether consciously or not – thereby relegate the transformation of society to some dim and distant point in the timeless future.) On the contrary, we insist that the transition from the old to the new society is a necessary consequence of objective economic forces and laws. For all its objective necessity, however, this transition is precisely the transition from bondage and reification to freedom and humanity. For that reason freedom cannot be regarded simply as a, fruit, a result of historical development. There must arise in that development a moment where freedom itself becomes one of the driving forces. Its significance as a driving force must constantly increase until the time comes when it takes over completely the leadership of a society which has now become human, when ‘mankind’s pre-history’ comes to an end and its true history is able to begin.
The beginning of this phase seems, in our view, to coincide with the rise of revolutionary consciousness, with the founding of the communist parties. For every Communist Party – as long as it does not merely stand in opposition to bourgeois society, but actively embodies its negation – represents far more than just the antithesis of the old social-democratic parties. It signifies in fact the beginning of their destruction and disappearance. The greatest tragedy of the workers’ movement has always been its inability to tear itself completely free from the ideological matrix of capitalism. The old social-democratic parties have never even seriously tried to do so: they have remained essentially bourgeois parties, with all the accompanying characteristics: compromise, vote-catching, cheap-jack demagogy, intrigue, social climbing and bureaucracy. Hence coalitions with bourgeois parties are not merely the consequence of objective, political necessity; they spring from the inner structure, the real essence of the social-democratic parties. It is therefore easy to understand why, in the truly revolutionary, albeit not fully conscious elements of the workers’ movement, voices should have made themselves heard denouncing, not only the corrupt petty-bourgeois and counter-revolutionary nature of the old parties, but the whole idea of parties as such. One of the chief reasons for the emergence and the attraction of syndicalism is doubtless to be found in the ethical rejection of the old parties.
The Russian Communist Party never succumbed to these dangers. Instead of the usual dilemma – old style party or syndicalism, bureaucratic organization or destruction of the party – they devised a clear ‘tertium datur’, a third approach. It is this third approach whose consequences we can now discern in every facet of the Russian Revolution. So far, however, we have been too cowardly and too idle to recognize its basis and incorporate it as a driving force into our own movements.
The basis of this power of the Soviet Communist Party is to be found, first, in its internal organization; secondly, in the way in which it conceives its task and mission; and thirdly (as a consequence of the first two) in the manner of its effect upon its members. In contrast to the old social-democratic parties and most non-Russian communist parties, it is a closed, not an open party. Not only does it not try to recruit anybody and everybody to its ranks (one of the chief causes of corruption and compromise); it does not even accept all those who want to join. Such people are sifted through the ranks of the so-called sympathizers ('Friends of the Communists’), of whom those who meet the moral demands made of a Russian communist are admitted to the party itself. The party, however, is by no means concerned with merely increasing its membership, but rather with the quality of those who remain in its ranks. For this reason the party uses every opportunity arising from the tremendous exertions of the Revolution to purge its ranks. ‘The war mobilization of the communists,’ says Lenin, ‘helped us in this respect: the cowards and blackguards turned their backs on the party. That sort of reduction in the number of members represents a significant growth in the strength and reputation of the party. We should continue the purge by exploiting the initiative of the “communist Saturdays.”’ This purging of the party is therefore based on ‘a constant stepping-up of demands in relation to real communist achievements’.
The internal construction of the Russian Communist Party takes us on to the second aspect of our discussion, the mission of the party in the revolution. The Communist Party, as the vanguard of the revolution, should always be at least one step ahead of the development of the masses. just as the Communist Party was already conscious of the necessity of revolution at a time when the broad masses felt at most a vague dissatisfaction with their situation, so consciousness of the realm of freedom ought already to be a vital factor in the various communist parties and a decisive influence on their actions, particularly if the masses who follow them are not yet in a position to tear themselves free ideologically from the corrupt matrix of capitalism. Such a role for the Communist Party does not of course acquire complete actuality until the setting-up of the government of Soviets. For once the proletariat has established its power institutionally, everything depends on whether the spirit which informs those soviets is really the spirit of communism, of the new humanity which is now emerging, or just a new disguise for the old society. Only the Communist Party can embody this cleansing, purifying and dynamic principle. Since the transformation in forms of government cannot possibly bring about an inner transformation in human beings at the same time, it is inevitable that all the evil aspects of capitalist society (bureaucracy, corruption, and so on) will find their way into Soviet institutions. There is a grave danger that these institutions will degenerate or ossify even before they have had a chance to develop properly. This where the Communist Party must intervene as critic, model, bulwark, organizer and reformer. It is the only body which is in a position to do so.
Having educated the proletariat for revolution, then, the Communist Party must now educate the whole of humanity in freedom and self-discipline. But it can only fulfil this mission if it practises its educational work among its members from the very beginning. It would, however, be completely un-Marxist and non-dialectical thinking to attempt to separate forcibly the two developmental phases mentioned above. On the contrary, their relationship is one of constant mutual interpenetration, and no one can ever determine exactly where the one begins and the other ends. The human ideal of the realm of freedom must therefore be a conscious principle governing the actions and motivating the lives of all communist parties from the very moment of their inception. Organizational forms, raising consciousness by means of education and propaganda – these are crucial and essential means. But they are far from the only ones. Most important – indeed, in the last analysis, the decisive factor – is what communists themselves achieve as human beings.
The Communist Party must be the primary incarnation of the realm of freedom; above all, the spirit of comradeliness, of true solidarity, and of self-sacrifice must govern everything it does. If it cannot achieve this, or if it does not at least exert itself seriously to put such ideals into practice, the Communist Party will no longer be distinguishable from the other parties, except by virtue of its programme. There is even the danger that this unbridgeable gulf which separates it programmatically from the opportunists and the waverers will gradually become obscured, with the result that it could soon be nothing more than the ‘extreme left wing’ of the ‘workers’ parties’. That in turn would present a further, more immediate danger (already posed in accentuated form by the rhetorical recognition of the Third International by the parties of the centre): namely, that the qualitative distinction between the communists and the other parties would degenerate into a merely quantitative one and in time even disappear altogether. The less a Communist Party puts its ideals into practice both organizationally and spiritually, the less able it will be, not only to counter effectively this widespread inclination to compromise, but also to educate the unconscious but really revolutionary elements (syndicalists, anarchists) to become true communists.
Compromise and disintegration spring from the same source: the inadequate inner transformation of communists themselves. The more the communists (and with and through them the Communist Party) have cleansed themselves of all the dross of capitalist, social-democratic party life, such as bureaucracy, intrigues, social climbing, etc., the more their party solidarity turns into true comradeship and spiritual solidarity – the better able they will be to fulfil their mission. Then and only then will they be in a position to gather revolutionary forces, strengthen the irresolute, rouse the unconscious to consciousness – and push aside and destroy once and for all the scoundrels and the opportunists. The revolutionary period which we now face will be rich in protracted and difficult struggles; it will provide us with countless opportunities for this self-education. Our Russian comrades provide the most instructive example, both in organizational and human terms, that we could wish for. It is high time we began to emulate their example in this country, too.
1. Cf. the article by Comrade Vladimir Sorin, ‘The Communist Party and Soviet Institutions'’, in Kommunismus, 1/8-9 (1920), pp. 283ff.