History and Class Consciousness Georg Lukács 1923
Politics cannot be separated mechanically from organisation.
Lenin: Speech concluding the 11th Congress of the Russian C.P.
ALTHOUGH there have been times when problems of organisation stood in the forefront of debate (e.g. when the conditions of amalgamation were under discussion), it nevertheless remains true that theorists have paid less attention to such questions than to any others. The idea of the Communist Party, opposed and slandered by all opportunists, instinctively seized upon and made their own by the best revolutionary workers, has yet often been seen purely in technical terms rather than as one of the most important intellectual questions of the revolution. It is not that materials were lacking for such a theoretical deepening of the problem of organisation. The theses of the 2nd and 3rd Congresses the debates on policy within the Russian Party and the practical lessons of recent years provide a plethora of material. But the theoretical interest of the Communist Parties (always excepting the Russian C.P.) seems to have been too much absorbed by the problems presented by the economic and political situation, by their tactical implications and their foundation in theory. With the result that no really vital theoretical energy seemed to be left over for the task of anchoring the problem of organisation in communist theory. If much activity in this sphere is correct, this is due more to correct revolutionary instincts than to any clear theoretical insight. On the other hand, there are many false tactical attitudes, e.g. in the debates on a united front, which derive from a mistaken view of the problems of organisation.
Such ‘unconsciousness’ in these matters is quite definitely a sign of the immaturity of the movement. For the question of maturity and immaturity can only be resolved by asking whether the attitudes of the class and the party that leads it towards action are abstract and immediate, or concretely mediated. That is to say, as long as an objective still lies beyond reach, observers with particularly acute insight will be able to a certain extent to envisage the goal itself, its nature and its social necessity. They will, however, be unable to discern clearly either the concrete steps that would lead to that goal or the concrete means that could be deduced from their doubtlessly correct insight.
The utopians, it is true, can clearly see the situation that must constitute the point of departure. What makes them utopians is that they see it as a fact or at best as a problem that requires a solution but are unable to grasp the fact that the problem itself contains both the solution and the path leading to it. Thus “they see in poverty nothing but poverty without recognising in it the revolutionary, subversive side which will overturn the old society”. The antagonism emphasised here between a doctrinaire and a revolutionary science goes beyond the case analysed by Marx and broadens out into a typical antagonism in the evolution of the consciousness of the revolutionary class. As the proletariat advanced along the road to revolution, poverty ceased to be merely something given: it became integrated into the living dialectics of action. But — depending on the stage of development attained by the class — its place was taken by other phenomena which were regarded by proletarian theory in a way that closely resembled the structure analysed here by Marx. It would be a utopian illusion to infer that utopianism had been overcome by the revolutionary workers’ movement merely because Marx refuted its first primitive manifestation.
In the last analysis this question is the same as that of the dialectical relation between ‘final goal’ and ‘movement’, i.e. between theory and practice. At every crucial stage of the revolution it reappears, always in a more advanced form and with reference to different phenomena. For a problem always makes its appearance first as an abstract possibility and only afterwards is it realised in concrete terms. And it only becomes meaningful to discuss whether questions are rightly or wrong y conceive w en this second stage has been reached, when it becomes possible to recognise that concrete totality which is destined to constitute the environment and the path to the realisation of the goal in question. Thus, in the early debates of the Second International, the general strike was a purely abstract utopia which only acquired a concrete form with the first Russian Revolution and the Belgian general strike. Likewise, only after years of acute revolutionary conflict had elapsed was it possible for the Workers’ Council to shed its utopian, mythological character and cease to be viewed as the panacea for all the Problems of the revolution; it was years before it could be seen by the non-Russian proletariat for what it really was. (I do not mean to suggest that this process of clarification has been completed. In fact I doubt it very much. But as it is being invoked only by way of illustration I shall not enter into discussion of it here.)
It is precisely the problems of organisation which have languished longest in the half-light of utopianism. This is no accident. The great workers’ parties grew up for the most part in periods when the problem of revolution was only conceived as influencing programmes in a theoretical way rather than as something which informed all the actions of daily life. Thus it did not seem necessary to spell out in theoretically concrete terms the nature and the probable course of the revolution in order to infer the manner in which the conscious sector of the proletariat should consciously act. However, the question of how to organise a revolutionary party can only be developed organically from a theory of revolution itself. Only when the revolution has entered into quotidian reality will the question of revolutionary organisation demand imperiously to be admitted to the consciousness of the masses and their theoreticians.
And even then only gradually. Even when the revolution became a fact, even when the necessity of taking up an immediate attitude towards it became unavoidable, as was the case during and after the first Russian Revolution, no real insight emerged. Part of the reason for this lay in the circumstance that opportunism had already taken root so deeply in the proletarian parties as to render a correct theoretical understanding of the revolution impossible. But even where this was not the case, even where the driving forces behind the revolution were clearly understood, this insight could not develop into a theory of revolutionary organisation. What stood in the way of that was, in part at least, the unconscious, theoretically undigested, merely ‘organic’ character of the existing organisations.
The Russian Revolution clearly exposed the limitations of the West European organisations. Their impotence in the face of the spontaneous movements of the masses was clearly exposed on the issues of mass actions and the mass strike. A fatal blow was dealt to the opportunistic illusion implicit in the notion of the ‘organisational preparation’ for such actions. It was plainly demonstrated that such organisations always limp behind the real actions of the masses, and that they impede rather than further them, let alone lead them.
Rosa Luxemburg saw the significance of mass actions more clearly than anyone and her view goes much deeper than this criticism. She locates the defects of the traditional notion of organisation in its false relation to the masses: “The overestimation of or the misapprehensions about the role of organisation in the class struggle of the proletariat are usually accompanied by feelings of contempt for the unorganised proletarian masses and for their political immaturity.” Her own conclusions lead her, on the one hand, to a polemic against this overemphasis on organisation and, on the other hand, to an analysis of the function of the party. This is seen to lie “not in the technicalities of the preparations for the mass strike and in supplying its leadership but first and foremost in the political leadership of the whole movement”.
This was a great step forward in understanding the whole problem of organisation. By destroying its status of an abstraction in isolation (by correcting the tendency to ‘overestimate’ organisation) Rosa Luxemburg made it possible to define its true function within the revolutionary process. It was necessary, however, to go one step further and to look at the question of political leadership in the context of organisation. That is to say, she should have elucidated those organisational factors that render the party of the proletariat capable of assuming political leadership. We have elsewhere discussed in detail the considerations that prevented her from taking this step. It is only necessary to point out here that this step had in fact been taken some years earlier, namely in the debate about organisation in the Russian Social Democratic Party.
Rosa Luxemburg had clearly understood the issue but on this one question she sided with the retrograde party (of the Mensheviks). It is no accident that the factors responsible for the split in Russian Social Democracy included, on the one hand, the division of opinion about the nature of the coming revolution, and the tasks it would impose (coalition with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie or else a struggle alongside the peasants’ revolution), and on the other hand, the problems of organisation. What turned out to be disastrous for the movement outside Russia was that no one (not even Rosa Luxemburg) realised that the two issues really belonged together and were bound up in an indivisible dialectical unity. In consequence the opportunity was missed to disseminate information about the problems of revolutionary organisation among the proletariat with a view to preparing it intellectually for coming events; (at the time this was the most that could be expected). Moreover, even the correct political insights of Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek and others could not become sufficiently concrete — even as political trends. In Rosa Luxemburg’s words they remained latent, merely theoretical, their links with the concrete movement were still infected with Utopianism.
Organisation is the form of mediation between theory and practice. And, as in every dialectical relationship, the terms of the relation only acquire concreteness and reality in and by virtue of this mediation. The ability of organisation to mediate between theory and practice is seen most clearly by the way in which it manifests a much greater, finer and more confident sensitivity towards divergent trends than any other sector of political thought and action. On the level of pure theory the most disparate views and tendencies are able to co-exist peacefully, antagonisms are only expressed in the form of discussions which can be contained within the framework of one and the same organisation without disrupting it. But no sooner are these same questions given organisational form than they turn out to be sharply opposed and even incompatible.
Every ‘theoretical’ tendency or clash of views must immediately develop an organisational arm if it is to rise above the level of pure theory or abstract opinion, that is to say, if it really intends to point the way to its own fulfilment in practice. However, it would be an error to suppose that every instance of organised action can constitute a real and a reliable index of the validity of conflicting opinions or even of their compatibility or incompatibility. Every organised action is — in and for itself — a tangle of individual deeds on the part of individuals and groups. It is equally false to interpret it either as a socially and historically adequately motivated ‘necessary’ happening, or as the consequence of ‘erroneous’ or ‘correct’ decisions on the part of individuals. This tangle, confused in itself, can only acquire meaning and reality if it is comprehended within a historical totality. That is to say, it must possess a function within the historical process and its mediating role between past and future must be understood. However, an analysis that would see an organised action in terms of the lessons it contained for the future, as an answer to the question ‘what then shall we do?’ sees the problem in terms of organisation. By gauging the situation, by preparing for the action and by leading it, such an analysis attempts to isolate those factors that lead with necessity from theory to the most appropriate action possible. It seeks out the essential determinants that connect theory and practice.
It is evident that only an investigation along these lines will make possible a truly seminal self-criticism and a truly seminal analysis of past ‘errors’. The belief that events are generated by a ‘necessity’ leads to fatalism; similarly, the empty assumption that the ‘errors’ or the adroitness of individuals were the source of failure or success will yield no decisively creative doctrines for future action. From such a point of view it will always seem more or less ‘adventitious’ that this or that person should have been positioned at this point or that and made this or that mistake. The discovery of such a mistake can only go to show that the person concerned was unfit to hold his position. This insight is not without value, if correct, but as far as the essential self-criticism is concerned it can only be of secondary importance. The very fact that such a point of view so exaggerates the importance of individuals shows that it is incapable of objectifying the roles played by these individuals and their ability to determine an organised action decisively and in a particular manner. From this viewpoint individuals are regarded as fatalistically as objective fatalism regarded the whole process. But if the question is seen to involve more than merely isolated and chance phenomena, if it is granted that the right or wrong lines of action pursued by individuals are not without influence on the whole complex of events but that over and above this, and while accepting as given that these specific people were occupying these posts, etc., it is legitimate to investigate the objective range of possibilities for action open to them — in that case the problem will once again have entered the realm of organisation. For this would be to direct attention towards the unity, holding the actors together and examine its appropriateness for a particular action. It would be to ask whether the right organisational methods have been chosen for transforming theory into practice.
Of course, the ‘error’ can lie in the theory, in the choice of objective or in the appraisal of the situation. But only an analysis orientated towards organisation can make possible a genuine criticism of theory from the point of view of practice. If theory is directly juxtaposed to an organised action without its being made clear how it is supposed to affect it, i.e. without clearly expressing their connectedness in terms of organisation, then the theory can only be criticised with regard to its own internal contradictions. This aspect of the problems of organisation enables us to understand why opportunism has always shown the very greatest reluctance to deduce organisational consequences from any theoretical disagreements.
The attitude of the German right-wing (Socialist) Independents and the followers of Serrati towards the conditions of admission laid down by the Second Congress, their attempt to shift the ground of the debate about their material disagreements with the Communist International from the realm of organisation to that of ‘pure politics’, sprang from their correct opportunistic instinct to the effect that in that realm the disagreements would endure for a very long time in a latent, and for practical purposes, unresolved state. By contrast, the Second Congress put the problem on the organisational level and thus forced an immediate and clear decision.
However, such an attitude is by no means new. The whole history of the Second International is full of such attempts to synthesise the most disparate, the most sharply divergent and incompatible views in the ‘unity’ of a decision, of a resolution that would do justice to them all. Inevitably these resolutions could not provide any guidance for concrete action and remained ambivalent and open to the most divergent interpretations. just because the Second International studiously avoided all implications for organisation it was able to commit itself to many things in theory without feeling in the least compelled to bind itself to any particular line in practice. Thus it was possible to approve the very radical Stuttgart resolution about the war, although it contained no organisational obligations to take any definite concrete action, no organisational guide lines about what action should be taken and no organisational guarantees about whether the resolution could be implemented in practice. The opportunist minority felt no need to draw organisational conclusions from its defeat because it realised that the resolution would have no organisational consequences. This is why after the collapse of the International every shade of opinion was able to appeal to this resolution.
The weak point of all the non-Russian radical groups in the International lay in the fact that while their revolutionary positions diverged from the opportunism of the open Revisionists and the Centre they were neither able nor willing to give them any concrete organisational form. In consequence their opponents, and above all the Centre, were able to blur these distinctions in the minds of the revolutionary proletariat. The fact that they were in opposition in no way prevented the Centre from posing before the revolutionarily-minded section of the proletariat as the guardians of the true Marxism. It cannot possibly be our task here to offer a theoretical and historical explanation for the dominance of the Centre in the pre-war period. We wish only to point out once again that the attitudes of the Centre were viable because in the daily life of the movement, revolution and the reaction to the problems of revolution were not matters of immediate concern. These attitudes included a polemic both against an open Revisionism and against the demand for revolutionary action; the theoretical rejection of the former without making any serious efforts to eliminate it from the praxis of the party; the theoretical affirmation of the latter while denying its immediate application to the situation. With all this it was still possible, e.g. for Kautsky and Hilferding, to insist on the generally revolutionary nature of the age and on the idea that the time was ripe for revolution without feeling the compulsion to apply this insight to decisions of the moment.
The upshot was that for the proletariat these differences of opinion simply remained differences of opinion within workers’ movements that were nevertheless revolutionary movements. And so it became impossible to draw a firm distinction between the various groups. However, this lack of clarity had repercussions on the views of the Left. Because these views were denied any interaction with practice they were unable to concretise themselves or to develop through the productive self-criticism entailed by the attempt to realise themselves in practice. Even where they came close to the truth they retained a markedly abstract and utopian strain. One is reminded for instance of Pannekoek’s polemic against Kautsky on the issue of mass actions. And for the same reason Rosa Luxemburg, too, was unable to develop further her real insights into the leading role played by the organisation of the revolutionary proletariat. Her correct polemic against the mechanical forms of organisation in the workers'
movement as in, e.g. the question of the relationship between the party and the trade unions and between the organised and unorganised masses, led her, on the one hand, to overestimate the importance of spontaneous mass actions. On the other hand she was never wholly able to free her view of leadership from the taint of being merely theoretical and propagandistic.
We have already shown elsewhere’ that we are dealing with no mere chance or ‘error’ on the part of this important and pioneering thinker. In this context what is significant about such arguments can be summed up by saying that they are rooted in the illusion of an ‘organic’, purely proletarian revolution. In the course of the struggle against the opportunistic, ‘organic’ theory of evolution which imagined that the proletariat would by a slow expansion gradually conquer the majority of the population and so gain power by purely legal means, there arose a revolutionary ‘organic’ theory of spontaneous mass conflict. Despite all the ingenious reservations of its best advocates, this theory ultimately implied the view that the constant exacerbation of the economic situation, the imperialist world war inevitably produced by this, and the approaching period of revolutionary mass conflict would issue with social and historical inevitability in the outbreak of spontaneous mass actions on the part of the proletariat. In the process, the leaders’ clear appreciation of the goals and the methods of the revolution would be fully vindicated. However, this theory tacitly assumes that the revolution will be purely proletarian in character.
Of course, Rosa Luxemburg’s notion of the range of the concept ‘proletariat’ was very different from that of the opportunists. It was she who showed so incisively how the revolutionary situation would mobilise great masses of the proletariat who had hitherto not been organised and indeed were inaccessible to the organs of the proletariat (farm labourers, etc.). It was she who showed how those masses exhibit in their actions an incomparably higher degree of class consciousness than even the party and the unions which presume to treat them with condescension, regarding them as immature and ‘backward’. Notwithstanding this her view is still based on the assumption of the purely proletarian character of the revolution. According to this view, the proletariat presents a united front on the field of battle; the masses whose actions are being studied are purely proletarian masses. And it cannot be otherwise. For only in the class consciousness of the proletariat do we find that the correct view of revolutionary action is so deeply anchored and so deeply rooted in the instincts that this attitude need only be made conscious, for it to provide a clear lead. Action will then advance of itself along the right road. If, however, other strata of the population become decisively involved in the revolution they may advance it under certain circumstances. But it is just as easy for them to deflect it in a counter-revolutionary direction. For in the class situation of these strata (petty bourgeoisie, peasants, oppressed nationalities, etc.) there is nothing, nor can there be anything to make their actions lead inevitably towards the proletarian revolution. A revolutionary party so conceived must necessarily fail to accommodate such strata; it will be thwarted both by the impetus of their movement in favour of the proletarian revolution and by the obstacle represented by the fact that their action furthers the cause of counter-revolution.
Such a party will also be thwarted in its dealings with the proletariat itself. For its organisation corresponds to a stage in the class consciousness of the proletariat which does not aspire to anything more than making conscious what was hitherto unconscious and making explicit what hitherto had been latent. More accurately: it corresponds to a stage in which the process of acquiring consciousness does not entail a terrible internal ideological crisis for the proletariat. We are not concerned here to refute the anxiety of the opportunists concerning the proletariat’s ‘unpreparedness’ to assume power and to retain it. Rosa Luxemburg has already dealt this objection a decisive blow in her debate with Bernstein.
Our aim here is to point out that the class consciousness of the proletariat does not develop uniformly throughout the whole proletariat, parallel with the objective economic crisis. Large sections of the proletariat remain intellectually under the tutelage of the bourgeoisie; even the severest economic crisis fails to shake them in their attitude. With the result that the standpoint of the proletariat and its reaction to the crisis is much less violent and intense than is the crisis itself.
This state of affairs, which makes possible the existence of Menshevism, is doubtless not lacking in objective economic bases. Marx and Engels noted very early on that those sections of the workers who obtained a privileged place vis-á-vis their class comrades thanks to the monopoly profits of the England of that time tended to acquire bourgeois characteristics? With the entry of capitalism into its imperialist phase this stratum came into being everywhere and is without a doubt an important factor in the general trend in the working class towards opportunism and antirevolutionary attitudes.
In my opinion, however, this fact alone does not provide an adequate explanation of Menshevism. In the first place, this privileged position has already been undermined in many respects while the position of Menshevism has not been correspondingly weakened. Here too, the subjective development of the proletariat has in many ways lagged behind the tempo of the objective crisis. Hence we cannot regard this factor as the sole cause of Menshevism unless we are to concede it also the comfortable theoretical position arrived at by inferring the absence of an objective revolutionary situation from the absence of a thorough-going and clear-cut revolutionary fervour in the proletariat. In the second place, the experiences of the revolutionary struggles have failed to yield any conclusive evidence that the proletariat’s revolutionary fervour and will to fight corresponds in any straightforward manner to the economic level of its various parts. There are great deviations from any such simple, uniform parallels and there are great divergencies in the maturity of class consciousness attained by workers within economically similar strata.
These truths only acquire real significance in the context of a non-fatalistic, non-'economistic’ theory. If the movement of history is interpreted as showing that the economic process of capitalism will advance automatically and inexorably through a series of crises to socialism then the ideological factors indicated here are merely the product of a mistaken diagnosis. They would then appear simply as proof that the objectively decisive crisis of capitalism has not yet appeared. For in such a view there is simply no room for the idea of an ideological crisis of the proletariat in which proletarian ideology lags behind the economic crisis.
The position is not so very different where, while retaining the basic economic fatalism, the prevailing view of the crisis becomes revolutionary and optimistic: i.e. where it is held that the crisis is inevitable and that for capitalism there can be no way out. In this case, too, the problem examined here is not admitted to be a problem at all. What before was ‘impossible’ is now ‘not yet’ the case. Now, Lenin has very rightly pointed out that there is no situation from which there is no way out. Whatever position capitalism may find itself in there will always be some ‘purely economic’ solutions available. The question is only whether these solutions will be viable when they emerge from the pure theoretical world of economics into the reality of the class struggle. For capitalism, then, expedients can certainly be thought of in and for themselves. Whether they can be put into practice depends, however, on the proletariat. The proletariat, the actions of the proletariat, block capitalism’s way out of the crisis. Admittedly, the fact that the proletariat obtains power at that moment is due to the ‘natural laws’ governing the economic process. But these ‘natural laws’ only determine the crisis itself, giving it dimensions which frustrate the ‘peaceful’ advance of capitalism. However, if left to develop (along capitalist lines) they would not lead to the simple downfall of capitalism or to a smooth transition to socialism. They would lead over a long period of crises, civil wars and imperialist world wars on an ever-increasing scale to “the mutual destruction of the opposing classes” and to a new barbarism.
Moreover, these forces, swept along by their own ‘natural’ impetus have brought into being a proletariat whose physical and economic strength leaves capitalism very little scope to enforce a purely economic solution along the lines of those which put an end to previous crises in which the proletariat figured only as the object of an economic process. The new-found strength of the proletariat is the product of objective economic ‘laws’. The problem, however, of converting this potential power into a real one and of enabling the proletariat (which today really is the mere object of the economic process and only potentially and latently its co-determining subject) to emerge as its subject in reality, is no longer determined by these ‘laws’ in. any fatalistic and automatic way. More precisely: the automatic and fatalistic power of these laws, no longer controls the essential core of the strength of the proletariat. In so far as the proletariat’s reactions to the crisis proceed according to the ‘laws’ of the capitalist economy, in so far as they limit themselves at most to spontaneous mass actions, they exhibit a structure that is in many ways like that of movements of pre-revolutionary ages. They break out spontaneously almost without exception as a defence against an economic and more rarely, a political thrust by the bourgeoisie, against the attempts of the latter to find a ‘purely economic’ solution to the crisis. (The spontaneity of a movement, we note, is only the subjective, mass-psychological expression of its determination by pure economic laws.) However, such outbreaks come to a halt no less spontaneously, they peter out when their immediate goals are achieved or seem unattainable. It appears, therefore, as if they have run their ‘natural’ course.
That such appearances may prove to be deceptive becomes clear if these movements are regarded not abstractly but in their true context, in the historical totality of the world-crisis. This context is the extension of the crisis to every class and not just the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Where the economic process provokes a spontaneous mass-movement in the proletariat there is a fundamental qualitative distinction to be made between a situation in which the society as a whole is basically stable and one in which a profound regrouping of all social forces and an erosion of the bases of the power of the ruling class is taking place.
It is for this reason that an understanding of the significant role played by non-proletarian strata during a revolution and an understanding of its non-proletarian character is of such decisive importance. The exercise of power by a minority can only perpetuate itself if it can contrive to carry the classes that are not directly and immediately affected by the revolution along with it ideologically. It must attempt to obtain their support or at least their neutrality. (It goes without saying that there is also an attempt to neutralise sections of the revolutionary class itself.)
This was especially true of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie had far less of an immediate control of the actual springs of power than had ruling classes in the past (such as the citizens of the Greek city-states or the nobility at the apogee of feudalism). On the one hand, the bourgeoisie had to rely much more strongly on its ability to make peace or achieve a compromise with the opposing classes that held power before it so as to use the power-apparatus they controlled for its own ends. On the other hand, it found itself compelled to place the actual exercise of force (the army, petty bureaucracy, etc.) in the hands of petty bourgeois, peasants, the members of subject nations, etc. If, following a crisis, the economic position of these strata were to alter and if their naive, unthought-out loyalty to the social system led by the bourgeoisie were shaken, then the whole apparatus of bourgeois domination might collapse, as it were, at a single blow. In that event the proletariat might emerge as the only organised power, as the victor without its having fought a serious battle let alone having really gained a victory.
The movements of these intermediate strata are truly spontaneous and they are nothing but spontaneous. They really are nothing more than the fruits of the natural forces of society obedient to ‘natural laws’. As such they are themselves socially-blind. These strata have no class consciousness that might have any bearing on the remoulding of society. As a result of this they always represent particular class interests which do not even pretend to be the objective interests of the whole of society.
The bonds that join them to the whole objectively are only causal, i.e. they are caused by movements within the whole but they can not be directed towards changing it. Hence both their concern with the whole and the ideological form it assumes have something adventitious about them even though their origins can be conceived in terms of causal necessities. Because of the nature of these movements their actions are determined by factors external to themselves. Whatever direction they finally choose, whether they attempt to hasten the dissolution of bourgeois society, whether they again acquiesce in their own exploitation by the bourgeoisie, whether they sink back into passivity as the result of the frustration of their efforts, nothing that they do is implicit in their inner nature. Instead everything hinges on the behaviour of the classes capable of consciousness: the bourgeoisie,, and the proletariat. Whatever form their later fate may take the very explosion of such movements can easily lead to the paralysis of all the machinery that holds bourgeois society together and enables it to function. It is enough to reduce the bourgeoisie to immobility at least for a time.
From the Great French Revolution on, all revolutions exhibit the same pattern with increasing intensity. When revolution breaks out the absolute monarchy and later the semi-absolute, semi-feudal military monarchies upon which the economic hegemony of the bourgeoisie was based in Central and Eastern Europe, tend ‘all at once’ to lose their hold over society. Social power lies abandoned in the street, without an owner so to speak. A Restoration only becomes possible in the absence of any revolutionary class to take advantage of this ownerless power.
The struggles of a nascent absolutism against feudalism were on very different lines. For there the opposing classes could create organs of force much more directly from their own ranks and hence the class struggle was much more a struggle of one power against another. One recalls, for instance, the battles of the Fronde at the birth of absolutism in France. Even the downfall of English absolutism ran a similar course, whereas the collapse of the Protectorate and even more the much more bourgeois-absolutism of Louis XVI were closer to the pattern of modern revolutions. There direct force was introduced from ‘outside’, from absolute states that were still intact or from territories that had remained feudal (as in La Vendee).
By contrast, purely ‘democratic’ power complexes may easily find themselves in a similar position in the course of a revolution: whereas at the moment of collapse they came into being of their own accord, as it were, and seized the reigns of power, they now find themselves no less suddenly stripped of all, power — in consequence of the receding movement on the part of the inchoate strata that bore them up and onward. (Thus Kerensky and Károlyi.) It is not yet possible to discern with complete clarity the pattern of future developments in the bourgeois and democratically progressive states of the West. Despite this Italy has found itself in a very similar situation since the end of the war and up to about 1920. The power organisation that it devised for itself since that time (Fascism) constitutes a power apparatus which is relatively independent of the bourgeoisie. We have as yet no experience of the effects of the symptoms of disintegration in highly developed capitalist countries with extensive colonial possessions. And in particular, we do not know what will be the effects of colonial revolts, which to a certain extent play the part of internal peasant uprisings, upon the attitude of the petty bourgeoisie, the workers’ aristocracy (and hence, too, the armed forces, etc.)
In consequence the proletariat finds itself in an environment which would assign a quite different function to spontaneous mass movements than they had possessed in the stable capitalist system. This holds good even where these mass movements, when viewed in isolation, have preserved their former characteristics. Here, however, we observe the emergence of very important quantitative changes in the opposing classes. In the first place, the concentration of capital has made further advances and this in turn results in a further concentration of the proletariat — even if the latter is unable wholly to keep pace with this trend in terms of its consciousness and its organisation. In the second place, the crisis-ridden condition of capitalism makes it increasingly difficult to relieve the pressure coming from the proletariat by making minute concessions. Escape from the crisis, the ‘economic’ solution to the crisis can only come through the intensified exploitation of the proletariat. For this reason the tactical theses of the Third Congress very rightly emphasise that “every mass strike tends to translate itself into a civil war and a direct struggle for power”.
But it only tends to do so. And the fact that this tendency has not yet become reality even though the economic and social preconditions were often fulfilled, that precisely is the ideological crisis of the proletariat. This ideological crisis manifests itself on the one hand in the fact that the objectively extremely precarious position of bourgeois society is endowed, in the minds of the workers, with all its erstwhile stability; in many respects the proletariat is still caught up in the old capitalist forms of thought and feeling. On the other hand, the bourgeoisification of the proletariat becomes institutionalised in the Menshevik workers’ parties and in the trade unions they control. These organisations now consciously labour to ensure that the merely spontaneous movements of the proletariat (with their dependence upon an immediate provocation, their fragmentation along professional and local lines, etc.) should remain on the level of pure spontaneity. They strive to prevent them from turning their attention to the totality, whether this be territorial, professional, etc., or whether it involves synthesising the economic movement with the political one. In this the unions tend to take on the task of atomising and de-politicising the movement and concealing its relation to the totality, whereas the Menshevik parties perform the task of establishing the reification in the consciousness of the proletariat both ideologically and on the level of organisation. They thus ensure that the consciousness of the proletariat will remain at a certain stage of relative bourgeoisification. They are able to achieve this only because the proletariat is in a state of ideological crisis, because even in theory the natural — ideological — development into a dictatorship and into socialism is out of the question for the proletariat, and because the crisis involves not only the economic undermining of capitalism but, equally, the ideological transformation of a proletariat that has been reared in capitalist society under the influence of the life-forms of the bourgeoisie. This ideological transformation does indeed owe its existence to the economic crisis which created the objective opportunity to seize power. The course it actually takes does not, however, run parallel in any automatic and ‘necessary’ way with that taken by the objective crisis itself. This crisis can be resolved only by the free action of the proletariat.
“It is ridiculous,” Lenin says in a statement that only caricatures the situation formally, not essentially, “to imagine an army taking up battle positions somewhere and saying: ‘We are for Socialism’ while somewhere else another army will stand and declare: ‘We are for Imperialism’ and that such a situation should constitute a social revolution."” The emergence of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary fronts is full of vicissitudes and is frequently chaotic in the extreme. Forces that work towards revolution today may very well operate in the reverse direction tomorrow. And it is vital to note that these changes of direction do not simply follow mechanically from the class situation or even from the ideology of the stratum concerned. They are determined decisively by the constantly changing relations with the totality of the historical situation and the social forces at work. So that it is no very great paradox to assert that, for instance, Kemal Pasha may represent a revolutionary constellation of forces in certain circumstances whilst a great ‘workers’ party’ may be counter-revolutionary.
Among the factors that determine the direction to be taken, the proletariat’s correct understanding of its own historical position is of the very first importance. The course of the Russian Revolution in 1917 is a classic illustration of this. For we see there how at a crucial moment, the slogans of peace, self-determination and the radical solution to the agrarian problem welded together an army that could be deployed for revolution whilst completely disorganising the whole power apparatus of counter-revolution and rendering it impotent. It is not enough to object that the agrarian revolution and the peace movement of the masses would have carried the day without or even against the Communist Party. In the first place this is absolutely unprovable: as counter-evidence we may point e.g. to Hungary where a no less spontaneous agrarian uprising was defeated in October 1918. And even in Russia it might have been possible to crush the agrarian movement or allow it to dissipate itself, by achieving a ‘coalition’ (namely a counter-revolutionary coalition) of all the ‘influential’ ‘workers’ parties’. In the second place, if the ‘same’ agrarian movement had prevailed against the urban proletariat it would have become counter-revolutionary in character in the context of the social revolution.
This example alone shows the folly of applying mechanical and fatalistic criteria to the constellation of social forces in acute crisis-situations during a social revolution. It highlights the fact that the proletariat’s correct insight and correct decision is all-important; it shows the extent to which the resolution of the crisis depends upon the proletariat itself. We should add that in comparison to the western nations the situation in Russia was relatively simple. Mass movements there were more purely spontaneous and the opposing forces possessed no organisation deeply rooted in tradition. It can be maintained without exaggeration, therefore, that our analysis would have an even greater validity for western nations. All the more as the undeveloped character of Russia, the absence of a long tradition of a legal workers’ movement — if we ignore for the moment the existence of a fully constituted Communist Party — gave the Russian proletariat the chance to resolve the ideological crisis with greater dispatch.
Thus the economic development of capitalism places the fate of society in the hands of the proletariat. Engels describes the transition accomplished by mankind after the revolution has been carried out as “the leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom”. For the dialectical materialist it is self-evident that despite the fact that this leap is a leap, or just because of it, it must represent in essence a process. Does not Engels himself say in the passage referred to that the changes that lead in this direction take place “at a constantly increasing rate” ? The only problem is to determine the starting-point of the process. It would, of course, be easiest to take Engels literally and to regard the realm of freedom simply as a state which will come into being after the completion of the social revolution. This would be simply to deny that the question had any immediate relevance. The only problem then would be to ask whether the question would really be exhausted by this formulation, which admittedly does correspond to Engels’ literal statement. The question is whether a situation is even conceivable, let alone capable of being made social reality, if it has not been prepared by a lengthy process which has contained and developed the elements of that situation, albeit in a form that is inadequate in many ways and in great need of being subjected to a series of dialectical reversals. If we separate the ‘realm of freedom’ sharply from the process which is destined to call it into being, if we thus preclude all dialectical transitions, do we not thereby lapse into a utopian outlook similar to that which has already been analysed in the case of the separation of final goal and the movement towards it?
If, however, the ‘realm of freedom’ is considered in the context of the process that leads up to it, then it cannot be doubted that even the earliest appearance of the proletariat on the stage of history indicated an aspiration towards that end — admittedly in a wholly unconscious way. However little the final goal of the proletariat is able, even in theory, to influence the initial stages of the early part of the process directly, it is a principle, a synthesising factor and so can never be completely absent from any aspect of that process. It must not be forgotten, however, that the difference between the period in which the decisive battles are fought and the foregoing period does not lie in the extent and the intensity of the battles themselves. These quantitative changes are merely symptomatic of the fundamental differences in quality which distinguish these struggles from earlier ones. At an earlier stage, in the words of the Communist Manifesto, even “the massive solidarity of the workers was not yet the consequence of their own unification but merely a consequence of the unification of the bourgeoisie”. Now, however, the process by which the proletariat becomes independent and ‘organises itself into a class’ is repeated and intensified until the time when the final crisis of capitalism has been reached, the time when the decision comes more and more within the grasp of the proletariat.
This state of affairs should not be taken to imply that the objective economic ‘laws’ cease to operate. On the contrary, they will remain in effect until long after the victory of the proletariat and they will only wither away — like the state — when the classless society wholly in the control of mankind comes into being. What is novel in the present situation is merely — merely!! — that the blind forces of capitalist economics are driving society towards the abyss. The bourgeoisie no longer has the power to help society, after a few false starts, to break the ‘deadlock’ brought about by its economic laws. And the proletariat has the opportunity to turn events in another direction by the conscious exploitation of existing trends. This other direction is the conscious regulation of the productive forces of society. To desire this consciously, is to desire the ‘realm of freedom’ and to take the first conscious step towards its realisation.
This step follows ‘necessarily’ from the class situation of the proletariat. However, this necessity has itself the character of a leap. The practical relationship to the whole, the real unity of theory and practice which hitherto appeared only unconsciously, so to speak, in the actions of the proletariat, now emerges clearly and consciously. At earlier stages, too, the actions of the proletariat were driven to a climax in a series of leaps whose continuity with the previous development could only subsequently become conscious and be understood as the necessary consequence of that development. (An instance of this is the political form of the Commune of 1871.) In this case, however, the proletariat must take this step consciously. It is no wonder, therefore, that all those who remain imprisoned within the confines of capitalist thought recoil from taking this step and with all the mental energy at their disposal they hold fast to necessity which they see as a law of nature, as a ‘law of the repetition’ of phenomena. Hence, too, they reject as impossible the emergence of anything that is radically new of which we can have no ‘experience’. It was Trotsky in his polemics against Kautsky who brought out this distinction most clearly, although it had been touched upon in the debates on the war: “For the fundamental Bolshevist prejudice consists precisely in the idea that one can only learn to ride when one is sitting firmly on a horse.” But Kautsky and his like are only significant as symptoms of the state of affairs: they symbolise the ideological crisis of the working class, they embody that moment of its development when it “once again recoils before the inchoate enormity of its own aims”, and when it jibs at a task which it must take upon itself. Unless the proletariat wishes to share the fate of the bourgeoisie and perish wretchedly and ignominiously in the death-throes of capitalism, it must accomplish this task in full consciousness.
If the Menshevik parties are the organised form of the ideological crisis of the proletariat, the Communist Party is the organised form of the conscious approach to this leap and hence the first conscious step towards the realm of freedom. We have already clarified the general notion of the realm of freedom and shown that its nearness by no means signifies that the objective necessities of the economic process suddenly cease to operate. It is essential for us to follow this up with an examination of the relationship between the realm of freedom and the Communist Party.
Above all one thing must be made clear: freedom here does not mean the freedom of the individual. This is not to say that the fully developed communist society will have no knowledge of the freedom of the individual. On the contrary, it will be the first society in the history of mankind that really takes this freedom seriously and actually makes it a reality. However, even this freedom will not be the same as the freedom that bourgeois ideologists have in mind today. In order to achieve the social preconditions necessary for real freedom battles must be fought in the course of which present-day society will disappear, together with the race of men it has produced.
“The present generation,” says Marx, “resembles the Jews whom Moses led through the wilderness. It must not only conquer a new world, it must also perish in order to make room for people who will be equal to a new world.”  For the ‘freedom’ of the men who are alive now is the freedom of the individual isolated by the fact of property which both reifies and is itself reified. It is a freedom vis-á-vis the other (no less isolated) individuals. A freedom of the egoist, of the man who cuts himself off from others, a freedom for which solidarity and community exist at best only as ineffectual ‘regulative ideas’.” To wish to breathe life into this freedom means in practice the renunciation of real freedom. This ‘freedom’ which isolated individuals may acquire thanks to their position in society or their inner constitution regardless of what happens to others means then in practice that the unfree structure of contemporary society will be perpetuated in so far as it depends on the individual.
The conscious desire for the realm of freedom can only mean consciously taking the steps that will really lead to it. And in the awareness that in contemporary bourgeois society individual freedom can only be corrupt and corrupting because it is a case of unilateral privilege based on the unfreedom of others, this desire must entail the renunciation of individual freedom. It implies the conscious subordination of the self to that collective will that is destined to bring real freedom into being and that today is earnestly taking the first arduous, uncertain and groping steps towards it. This conscious collective will is the Communist Party. And like every aspect of a dialectical process it too contains the seeds, admittedly in a primitive, abstract and undeveloped form, of the determinants appropriate to the goal it is destined to achieve: namely freedom in solidarity.
The unifying factor here is discipline. Only through discipline can the party be capable of putting the collective will into practice, whereas the introduction of the bourgeois concept of freedom prevents this collective will from forming itself and so transforms the party into a loose aggregate of individuals incapable of action. More importantly, even for the individual it is only discipline that creates the opportunity of taking that first step to the freedom that is already possible even though it is freedom, of a very primitive sort, corresponding as it does to the stage of societal development. This is the freedom that works at overcoming the present.
Every Communist Party represents a higher type of organisation than every bourgeois party or opportunist workers’ party, and this shows itself in the greater demands made by the party on its individual members. This emerged very clearly as early as the first split in Russian Social Democracy. Whereas for the Mensheviks (as for every fundamentally bourgeois party) the simple acceptance of the Party Programme was an adequate qualification for membership, for the Bolsheviks, party membership was synonymous with active personal participation in the work of revolution. This principle underlying party structure did not alter in the course of the revolution. The theses of the Third Congress that deal with organisation state: “To accept a communist programme is to announce one’s intention of becoming a Communist ... the first prerequisite for the serious implementation of the programme is that all members should be involved in constant, day-to-day collaboration.” Of course, in many cases this principle exists only on paper even to this day. But this does not in the least detract from its fundamental importance. For just as the realm of freedom cannot be given to us as a present all at once, as a gratia irresistitibilis, just as the ‘final goal’ is not simply waiting for us somewhere outside the process but inheres in every particular aspect of the process, so too the Communist Party as the revolutionary form of consciousness of the proletariat is a process by nature. Rosa Luxemburg saw very clearly that “the organisation must come into being as the product of struggle”. Her mistake was merely to overestimate the organic nature of the process while underestimating the importance of conscious organisation.
But now that the error has been seen for what it is we should not take it so far as to overlook the process element in the forms of organisation. Despite the fact that the non-Russian parties, with the Russian experiences before them, were fully aware of the principles of organisation right from the start, it would be wrong to let their organisational measures obscure the process — like nature of their birth and growth. Where the organisational measures are the right ones, they can speed up the process immeasurably and can perform the greatest service towards clarifying consciousness, and they are therefore an indispensable precondition for the existence of any organisation. A communist organisation, however, can only be created through struggle, it can only be realised if the justice and the necessity of this form of unity are accepted by every member as a result of his own experience.
What is essential, therefore, is the interaction of spontaneity and conscious control. In itself this is nothing new in the history of organisations. On the contrary, it is typical of the way in which new organisations arise in the first place. Thus, Engels describes how certain forms of military action originated spontaneously in the instincts of the soldiers as a reaction to the objective exigencies of the situation.  This happened without any theoretical preparation, and indeed often conflicted with the prevalent theories and hence with the existing military organisations. Despite this they prevailed and only afterwards were they incorporated into the organisations concerned.
What was novel in the formation of the Communist Parties was the new relation between spontaneous action and conscious theoretical foresight, it was the permanent assault upon and the gradual disappearance of the purely post festum structure of the merely ‘contemplative’, reified consciousness of the bourgeoisie. This altered relationship has its origins in the objective possibility, available to the class consciousness of the proletariat at this stage of its development, of an insight into its own class situation which is no longer post festum in character and in which the correspondingly correct line of action is already contained. This remains true despite the fact that for each individual worker, because his own consciousness is reified, the road to achieving the objectively possible class consciousness and to acquiring that inner attitude in which he can assimilate that class consciousness must pass through the process of comprehending his own immediate experience only after he has experienced it; that is to say, in each individual the post festum character of consciousness is preserved. This conflict between individual and class consciousness in every single worker is by no means a matter of chance. For the Communist Party shows itself here to be superior to every other party organisation in two ways: firstly, for the first time in history the active and practical side of class consciousness directly influences the specific actions of every individual, and secondly, at the same time it consciously helps to determine the historical process.
This twofold meaning of activity — its simultaneous impact upon the individual who embodies proletarian class consciousness and upon the course of history, i.e. the concrete mediation between man and history — this is the decisive characteristic of the organisation now being born. In the older type of organisation, regardless of whether we include bourgeois parties or opportunist workers’ parties under this heading, the individual can only occur as ‘the masses’, as follower, as cipher. Max Weber gives an apt definition of this type of organisation: “What is common to them all is that a nucleus of people who are in active control gather around them the ‘members’ whose role is essentially more passive while the mass of the membership are mere objects.” Their role as objects is not mitigated by the fact of formal democracy, by the ‘freedom’ that obtains in these organisations; on the contrary, this freedom only fixes and perpetuates it. The ‘false consciousness’, the objective impossibility of intervening in the process of history by means of conscious action is reflected on the level of organisation in the inability to form active political units (parties) that could mediate between the action of every member and that of the whole class. As such classes and parties are not active in the objective historical sense of the word, as their ostensible activity is only a reflex of the way in which they are borne along fatalistically by historical forces they do not comprehend, they must manifest all the symptoms that arise out of the structure of the reified consciousness and from the separation between consciousness and being, between theory and practice. That is to say, as global complexes they take up a purely contemplative position towards the course of events.
Corresponding to this is the necessary appearance simultaneously of two complementary but equally false views of the course of history: the voluntaristic overestimation of the active importance of the individual (the leader) and the fatalistic underestimation of the importance of the class (the masses). The party is divided into an active and a passive group in which the latter is only occasionally brought into play and then only at the behest of the former. The ‘freedom’ possessed by the members of such parties is therefore nothing more than the freedom of more or less peripheral and never fully engaged observers to pass judgement on the fatalistically accepted course of events or the errors of individuals. Such organisations never succeed in encompassing the total personality of their members, they cannot even attempt to do so. Like all the social forms of civilisation these organisations are based on the exact mechanised division of labour, on bureaucratisation, on the precise delineation and separation of rights and duties. The members are only connected with the organisation by virtue of abstractly grasped aspects of their existence and these abstract bonds are objectivised as rights and duties.
Really active participation in every event, really practical involvement of all the members of an organisation can only be achieved by engaging the whole personality. Only when action within a community becomes the central personal concern of everyone involved will it be possible to abolish the split between rights and duties, the organisational form of man’s separation from his own socialisation and his fragmentation at the hands of the social forces that control him. Engels, in his description of the gentile constitution, lays great weight on this point: “In the realm of the internal, there was as yet no distinction between rights and duties.” According to Marx it is typical of the nature of law that “Right by its very nature can consist only in the application of an equal standard”, but that necessarily unequal individuals “are measurable only by an equal standard in so far as they are brought under an equal point of view and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored.” 
Hence every human relationship which breaks with this pattern, with this abstraction ‘from the total personality of man and with his subsumption beneath an abstract point of view, is a step in the direction of putting an end to the reification of human consciousness. Such a step, however, presupposes the active engagement of the total personality. With this it becomes completely clear that the forms of freedom in bourgeois organisations are nothing but a ‘false consciousness’ of an actual unfreedom; that is to say, a pattern of consciousness in which man contemplates from a position of formal freedom his own integration in a system of alien compulsions and confuses this formal ‘freedom’ of his contemplation with an authentic freedom.
Only when this is understood can our earlier paradox be resolved. We said then that the discipline of the Communist Party, the unconditional absorption of the total personality in the praxis of the movement, was the only possible way of bringing about an authentic freedom. And this not merely for the whole movement which only acquires a purchase on the objective societal preconditions for this freedom by means of such an organisation, but even for the single individual, for the single member of the party who by this means alone can hope to obtain freedom for himself too.
The question of discipline is then, on the one hand, an elementary practical problem for the party, an indispensable precondition for its effective functioning. On the other hand it is no mere technical and practical question: it is one of the most exalted and important intellectual problems in the history of revolution. This discipline can only come into being as the free and conscious deed of the most conscious element, of the vanguard of the revolutionary class. Without the intellectual foundations of that class it cannot be realised. Without an at least instinctive understanding of the link between total personality and party discipline on the part of every single party member this discipline must degenerate into a reified and abstract system of rights and duties and the party will relapse into a state typical of a party on the bourgeois pattern. Thus it becomes evident that objectively the organisation will react with the greatest sensitivity to the revolutionary worth or worthlessness of theoretical views and tendencies. Subjectively, the revolutionary organisation presupposes a very high degree of class consciousness.
Important though it is to clarify in theory the relation between the Communist Party organisation and its individual members, it would be disastrous to stop at the treatment of the problem of organisation from its formal, ethical side. For the relationship as we have described it between the individual and the aspirations of the whole movement to which he subordinates his whole personality is, if regarded in isolation, not the prerogative of the Communist Party alone. It has been, on the contrary, the characteristic of many utopian sects. Indeed many sects regarded this formal, ethical aspect as the sole or at least as the decisive principle and not as a mere aspect of the whole problem of organisation. In consequence of this they were often able to reveal its importance more clearly than the Communist Parties.
However, where the formal, ethical principle is given such a one-sided emphasis it annuls itself: its truth is not achieved, consummate being but only the correct pointer towards the goal to be reached. It ceases to be correct when that relationship to the whole of the historical process is dissolved. It was for this reason that we placed such emphasis upon the party as the concrete principle of mediation between man and history when we elaborated the relationship between the organisation and the individual. It is essential that the collective will embodied in the party should intervene actively and consciously in the course of history and that it should exist in a state of constant, vital interaction with the process of social revolution. Its individual components should likewise interact with the process and its repository, the revolutionary class. And only if this takes place can the demands made on the individual lose their formal and ethical dimension. This is why Lenin, when discussing how to maintain the revolutionary discipline of the Communist Party, stressed the importance not only of the dedication of its members but also of the relation of the party to the masses and the correctness of its political leadership.
However, these three factors cannot be conceived in isolation from each other. The formal, ethical view of the sects breaks down precisely because it cannot understand that these factors are unified, that there is a vital interaction between the party organisation and the unorganised masses. However hostile a sect may be towards bourgeois society, however deeply it may be convinced the size of the gulf that separates it from the bourgeoisie, it yet reveals at this very point that its view of history coincides with that of the bourgeoisie and that, in consequence, the structure of its own consciousness is closely related to that of the bourgeoisie.
This affinity can ultimately be traced back to a similar view of the duality of existence and consciousness, viz. to the failure to comprehend their unity as a dialectical process, as the process of history. From this point of view it is a matter of indifference whether this unity appears in the distorting mirror of the sects as existence frozen into immobility, or as less immobile non-existence. It makes no difference whether, by a process of mythologising, a correct flair for revolutionary action is unreservedly attributed to the masses or whether it is argued that the ‘conscious’ minority has to take action on behalf of the ‘unconscious’ masses. Both these extremes are offered here only as illustrations, as even the most cursory attempt to give a typology of the sects would be well beyond the scope of this study.
But it can be seen that they resemble each other and the consciousness of the bourgeoisie in that they all regard the real process of history as something separate from the growth of the consciousness of the ‘masses’. If the sect acts as the representative of the ‘unconscious’ masses, instead of them and on their behalf, it causes the historically necessary and hence dialectical separation of the party organisation from the masses to freeze into permanence.
If, on the other hand, it attempts to merge entirely with the spontaneous instinctive movement of the masses, it is forced into making a simple equation between the class consciousness of the proletariat and the momentary thoughts and feelings, etc., of the masses. In consequence it sacrifices every criterion by which to judge correct action objectively. It succumbs to the bourgeois dilemma of voluntarism and fatalism. It adopts a vantage-point from which neither the objective nor the subjective stages of the course of history can be effectively judged. Hence it is led to the extravagant overestimation of organisation, or else to the no less extravagant underestimation of it. It is forced to treat the problem of organisation in isolation from the general questions of historical praxis and equally from the problems of strategy and tactics.
The criterion for and the guide to the correct relationship between class and the party can be found nowhere but in the class consciousness of the proletariat. On the one hand, the real, objective unity of class consciousness forms the basis of a dialectical alliance despite the organisational separation of class from the party. On the other hand, the prevailing disunity, the differing degrees of clarity and depth to be found in the consciousness of the different individuals, groups and strata of the proletariat make the organisational separation of the party from the class inevitable.
Bukharin rightly points out that if a class were inwardly unified the formation of a party would be superfluous. It only remains to ask: does the organisational independence of the party, the freeing of this part from the whole class correspond to an objective stratification within the class? Or is the party separated from the class only as the result of the development of its consciousness, i.e. as the result of its conditioning by and its reaction upon the growth of the consciousness of its members?
Of course, it would be foolish wholly to overlook the existence of objective economic stratifications within the proletariat. But it must not be forgotten that these stratifications are by no means based upon objective differences even remotely similar to those which determine the division into classes. Indeed, in many respects they cannot even be regarded as sub-sections within the general context of the principles governing that division. When, for instance, Bukharin points out that “a peasant who has just entered a factory is quite different from a worker who has worked in a factory from childhood”, this is without a doubt an ‘ontological’ distinction. But it exists on quite a different plane from the other distinction which Bukharin also makes between a worker m modern large-scale industry and one in a small workshop. _For in the latter case we find an objectively different position within the process of production.
In the first case there is merely a change (however typical) in the place of an individual within the production process. The problem therefore turns on the speed with which the consciousness of the individual (or the stratum) becomes adapted to its new situation and on the length of time during which the psychological inheritance from his previous class situation has a retarding effect on the formation of his class consciousness. In the second example, however, the question is raised whether the class interests arising from the objective economic situations of the differing strata within the proletariat are sufficiently distinct to bring about divergencies within the objective interests of the whole class. What is at issue, therefore, in this later case is whether the objective, imputed class consciousness must itself be thought of as differentiated and stratified. By contrast, in the first instance the question is only which particular — or even typical — life situations, will act as obstacles to the successful development of this, objective class consciousness.
It is clear that only the second case presents an important problem in, theory. For, since Bernstein, the opportunists have striven constantly to portray the objective economic stratifications in the proletariat as going so deep and to lay such emphasis on the similarity in the ‘life situations’ of the various proletarian, semi-proletarian and petty-bourgeois strata that in consequence the unity and the autonomy of the class was lost. (The Görlitz Programme of the S.P.D. was the last formulation of this trend and there it had already acquired a clear. implication for organisation.)
Of course, the Bolsheviks will be the last to overlook the existence of such divergences. The only point at issue is what is their ontological status, what is their function within the totality of the socio-historical process? How far should an understanding of them lead to (predominantly) tactical and how far to (predominantly) organisational analyses and measures? Such questions seem at first to lead to a sterile debate about concepts. It must be remembered, however, that an organisation — in the sense of the Communist Party — presupposes unity of consciousness, the unity of the underlying social reality. A tactical union, by contrast, can be achieved and can even be inevitable between different classes whose social existence is objectively different.
This occurs when historical circumstances conjure up movements that are determined by a variety of causes but which from the point of view of the revolution move for a time in the same direction. If, however, their social existence is really different, then the direction of these movements cannot be attended by the same degree of necessity as in the case of movements with a unified class basis. That is to say, the fact of a unified direction is the determining element only in the first kind of organisation. Its emergence into empirical reality can be delayed by various circumstances but in the long run it will prevail. In the second type of organisation, however, the convergence of a number of different trends occurs, as the result of the combination of a variety of historical circumstances. Fortune smiles and her favours must be tactically exploited or else they will be lost, perhaps irretrievably.
Of course, it is no accident that it should be possible for the proletariat to collaborate with semi-proletarian strata. But such collaboration has a necessary foundation only in the class situation of the proletariat. For, as the proletariat can liberate itself only by destroying class society, it is forced to conduct its war of liberation on behalf of every suppressed and exploited sector of ‘the population. But whether the latter find themselves fighting on the side of the proletariat or in the camp of its opponents is more or less ‘fortuitous’ when judged from the standpoint of strata with an ill-defined class consciousness. It depends, as has been shown, very much upon whether the revolutionary party of the proletariat has chosen the correct tactics. In this case, then, where the active classes have a different existence in society, where they are linked only by the universal mission of the proletariat, collaboration on the level of tactics (which is never more than haphazard in terms of concepts, though often of long duration in practice) can only serve the interests of revolution if the different organisations are kept separate. For the process by which semi-proletarian strata become aware that their own emancipation depends on the victory of the proletariat is so lengthy and is subject to so many setbacks that anything more than a tactical collaboration might jeopardise the fate of the revolution.
It is now clear why we had to formulate our question so sharply: Is there a comparable (if weaker) stratification of society, i.e. of the class structure, and hence also of the objective, imputed class consciousness, that corresponds to the strata within the proletariat? Or do these stratifications owe their existence merely to the relative ease or difficulty with which this true class consciousness is able to penetrate the individual strata, groups and individuals in the proletariat? That is to say, do the undeniably very real stratifications within the proletariat determine only the perspectives from which to judge the momentary interests — where these interests appear no doubt to diverge considerably but in fact coincide objectively? And do they determine these perspectives not only from a world-historical point of view but actually and immediately, even if not every worker can recognise them? Or can these interests themselves diverge as the consequence of objective differences in society?
If the question is put thus,. there can be no doubt as to the answer. The words of the Communist Manifesto which are repeated almost word for word in the Theses of the Second Congress concerning “the role of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution” can be understood meaningfully only if the proletariat’s objective economic existence is acknowledged to be a unity. “The Communist Party has no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole, it is distinguished from the rest of the proletariat by the fact that it has a clear understanding of the historical path to be taken by the proletariat as a whole. It is concerned through all the turns that path may take to defend the interests not of isolated groups or professions but of the proletariat in its entirety.”
In that case, however, the stratifications within the proletariat that lead to the formation of the various labour parties and of the Communist Party are no objective, economic stratifications in the proletariat but simply stages in the development of its class consciousness. Individual proletarian strata are no more predestined to become Communists by virtue of their economic existence than the individual worker is born a Communist. Every worker who is born into capitalist society and grows up under its influence has to acquire by a more or less arduous process of experience a correct understanding of his own class situation.
The struggle of the Communist Party is focused upon the class consciousness of the proletariat. Its organisational separation from the class does not mean in this case that it wishes to do battle for its interests on its behalf and in its place. (This is what the Blanquists did, to take but one instance.) Should it do this, as occasionally happens in the course of revolution, then it is not in the first instance an attempt to fight for the objective goals of the struggle in question (for in the long run these can only be won or retained by the class itself), but only an attempt to advance or accelerate the development of class consciousness. The process of revolution is — on a historical scale — synonymous with the process of the development of proletarian class consciousness. The fact that the organisation of the Communist Party becomes detached from the broad mass of the class is itself a function of the stratification of consciousness within the class, but at the same time the party exists in order to hasten the process by which these distinctions are smoothed out — at the highest level of consciousness attainable.
The Communist Party must exist as an independent organisation so that the proletariat may be able to see its own class consciousness given historical shape. And likewise, so that in every event of daily life the point of view demanded by the interests of the class as a whole may receive a clear formulation that every worker can understand. And, finally, so that the whole class may become fully aware of its own existence as a class. While the organisations of the sects artificially separate ‘true’ class consciousness (if this can survive at all in such abstract isolation) from the life and development of the class, the organisations of the opportunists achieve a compromise between these strata of consciousness on the lowest possible level, or at best, at the level of the average man. It is self-evident that the actions of the class are largely determined by its average members. But as the average is not static and cannot be determined statistically, but is itself the product of the revolutionary process, it is no less self-evident that an organisation that bases itself on an existing average is doomed to hinder development and even to reduce the general level. Conversely, the clear establishing of the highest possibility objectively available at a given point in time, as represented by the autonomous organisation of the conscious vanguard, is itself a means by which to relieve the tension between this objective possibility and the actual state of consciousness of the average members in a manner advantageous to the revolution.
Organisational independence is senseless and leads straight back to sectarianism if it does not at the same time constantly pay heed tactically to the level of consciousness of the largest and most retrograde sections of the masses. We see here the importance of a correct theory for the organisation of the Communist Party. It must represent the highest objective possibility of proletarian action. But the indispensable prerequisite for this is to have correct theoretical insight. An opportunistic organisation is less sensitive to the consequences of a false theory than is a Communist organisation because it consists of heterogeneous elements more or less loosely combined for the purpose of taking occasional action, because it is not given true leadership by the party but rather finds itself pushed by the uncontrollable movements of the masses and because the party is held together by a fixed hierarchy of leaders and functionaries in a rigid division of labour. (The fact that the constant misapplication of false theories must lead inevitably to the collapse of the party is a separate issue.)
The pre-eminently practical nature of the Communist Party, the fact that it is a fighting party presupposes its possession of a correct theory, for otherwise the consequences of a false theory would soon destroy it. Moreover, it is a form of organisation that produces and reproduces correct theoretical insights by consciously ensuring that the organisation has built into it ways of adapting with increased sensitivity to the effects of a theoretical posture. Thus the ability to act, the faculty of self-criticism, of self-correction and of theoretical development all co-exist in a state of constant interaction. The Communist Party does not function as a stand-in for the proletariat even in theory. If the class consciousness of the proletariat viewed as a function of the thought and action of the class as a whole is something organic and in a state of constant flux, then this must be reflected in the organised form of that class consciousness, namely in the Communist Party. With the single reservation that what has become objectivised here is a higher stage of consciousness. The more or less chaotic ups and downs in the evolution of consciousness, the alternation of outbreaks which reveal a maturity of class consciousness far superior to anything foreseen by theory with half-lethargic conditions of stasis, of passivity, of a merely subterranean progress finds itself opposed by a conscious effort to relate the ‘final goal’ to the immediate exigencies of the moment. Thus in the theory of the party the process, the dialectic of class consciousness becomes a dialectic that is consciously deployed.
In consequence, this uninterrupted dialectical interaction between theory, party and class, this concentration of theory upon the immediate needs of the class does not by any means imply that the party is absorbed into the mass of the proletariat. The debates about a United Front demonstrated that almost all the opponents of such a tactical manoeuvre suffered from a lack of dialectical grasp, of appreciation of the true function of the party in developing the consciousness of the proletariat. To say nothing of those misunderstandings that led to the United Front being thought of as leading to the immediate reunification of the proletariat at the level of organisation.
But the fear that the party might sacrifice its communist character because of too close a familiarity with the — seemingly — ‘reformist’ slogans of the day and because of the occasional tactical collaboration with the opportunists, shows that even now there are large numbers of Communists who do not place sufficient trust in correct theory, in the view that the self-knowledge of the proletariat is a knowledge of its objective situation at a given stage of historical development, and in the ‘final goal’ as present dialectically in every slogan of the day when seen from a true revolutionary point of view. It shows that they still frequently follow the sects by acting for the proletariat instead of letting their actions advance the real process by which class consciousness evolves.
To adapt the tactics of the Communist Party to those facets of the life of the class where — even though in a false form — a genuine class consciousness appears to be fighting its way to the surface, does not at all imply an unconditional willingness to implement the momentary desires of the masses. On the contrary, just because the party aspires to the highest point that is objectively and revolutionarily attainable — and the momentary desires of the masses are often the most important aspect, the most vital symptom of this — it is sometimes forced to adopt a stance opposed to that of the masses; it must show them the way by rejecting their immediate wishes. It is forced to rely upon the fact that only post festum, only after many bitter experiences will the masses understand the correctness of the party’s view.
But such opportunities for collaborating with the masses must not be erected into a general tactical scheme. The growth of proletarian class consciousness (i.e. the growth of the proletarian revolution) and that of the Communist Party are indeed one and the same process — seen from a world-historical standpoint. Therefore in everyday praxis they condition each other in the most intimate way. But despite this their concrete growth does not appear as one and the same process. Indeed there is not even a consistent parallel. For the way in which the process develops, the changes undergone by certain objective-economic developments in the consciousness of the proletariat and, above all, the shape assumed within this process by the interaction between party and class, cannot be reduced to any schematic ‘laws’.
The party’s process of maturation, its inner and outer consolidation does not, of course, take place in the vacuum we find in the case of the sects; it takes place within the bounds of historical reality, in an unbroken, dialectical interaction with the objective economic crisis and the masses which the latter has revolutionised. It can happen — as in Russia between the two revolutions — that the course of events gives the party the chance to work its way to complete inner clarity before the decisive battles are joined. But it can also be the case — as in some countries in Central and Western Europe — that the crisis revolutionises the masses so widely and so quickly that sections of them even become organised Communists before they have achieved the stage of consciousness which is the indispensable precondition of organisation. With the result that communist mass parties come into existence that only become true Communist Parties in the course of their struggles. However complex the typology of the birth of parties may be, however much it may appear in certain extreme cases that a Communist Party grows organically from an economic crisis in obedience to ‘laws’, it nevertheless remains true that the decisive steps, the conscious welding together of the revolutionary vanguard into a coherent whole, i.e. the emergence of an authentic Communist Party always remains the conscious, free action of the conscious vanguard itself.
To take two extreme instances, the position is no different where a relatively small, inwardly coherent party develops into a great mass party through interaction with the broad mass of the proletariat, nor where, after many internal crises, a mass party that has arisen spontaneously develops into a communist mass party. The theoretical basis of all these alternatives remains the same: the overcoming of the ideological crisis, the struggle to acquire the correct proletarian class consciousness. From this point of view it is dangerous for the revolution to overestimate the element of inevitability and to assume that the choice of any particular tactic might unleash even a series of actions (to say nothing of determining the course of the revolution itself), and trigger off a chain reaction leading to even more distant goals by some ineluctable process. And it would be no less fatal to believe that the most successful action of the largest and best-organised Communist Party could do more than lead the proletariat correctly into battle in pursuit of a goal to which it itself aspires — if not with full awareness of the fact. It would likewise be folly to regard the concept of the proletariat purely in static and statistical terms; “the concept of the masses changes in the course of the struggle,” Lenin observes. The Communist Party is an autonomous form of proletarian class consciousness serving the interests of the revolution. It is essential to gain a correct theoretical understanding of it in its twofold dialectical relation: as both the form of this consciousness and the form of this consciousness, i.e. as both an independent and a subordinate phenomenon.
The separation of tactics and organisation in the party and the class is, then, precise, even though it is constantly changing and adapting itself to changed circumstances. The separation gives rise within the party to the problem of the form that the attempt to harmonise tactical and organisational questions might take. For our experience of the internal life of the party we have to rely, of course, even more strongly than in the issues already discussed, on the Russian Party with its real and conscious measures to create a genuine communist organisation.
In the period of their ‘infantile disorders’ the non-Russian parties often tended towards a sectarian view of the party. And similarly later on they combined ‘external’ activity, i.e. the party’s propagandistic and organisational efforts with regard to the masses, with the neglect of their ‘internal’ life. Evidently, this too is an ‘infantile disorder’ brought about in part by the swift growth of the great mass parties, by the almost continuous succession of vital decisions and actions and by the need for the party to direct its energies ‘outwards’. But to understand the chain of causes that led to an error does not mean that one should become reconciled to it. Especially when the correct way to direct one’s actions ‘outwards’ makes it perfectly plain how senseless it is to make a sharp distinction between tactics and organisation in the internal life of the party, and when it is obvious how powerfully this internal unity informs the intimate bonds between the ‘inner-directed’ life of the party and its ‘outer-directed’ activities. (This holds good even though at present the empirical separation that every Communist Party has inherited from the environment from which it sprang appears almost insuperable.)
Thus everyone must learn from his immediate experience of day-to-day praxis that the centralisation of the party organisation (with all the problems of discipline that follow from it and are no more than its other aspect) and the capacity to take tactical initiatives are concepts that mutually modify each other. On the one hand, the fact that it is possible for tactics desired by the party to have an effect on the masses presupposes that they can impose themselves within the party. And not merely mechanically, through having resort to discipline to ensure that the individual parts of the party should be firmly controlled by the central authority and that they should function vis-á-vis the outside world as real limbs of the collective will. But rather it should mean that the party would be such a homogeneous formation that every change of direction would mean the regrouping of all one’s forces, every change of attitude would be reflected in every party member. In short, the organisation’s sensitivity to changes in direction, increases in the pressure of the active struggle and to the need to retreat, etc., would be raised to its highest pitch. I trust that it is not necessary to argue the case that this does not imply a demand for ‘mechanical obedience’ [Kadavergehorsam]. For it is plain that this sensitivity on the part of the organisation will be the very best method by which to expose the falsities of individual slogans as they work out in practice, and will do most to bring about a situation where a healthy and productive self-criticism will be possible.
On the other hand, it goes without saying that the firm organisational cohesion of the party not only gives it the objective capacity for action. It also creates the inner atmosphere within the party essential for vigorous intervention in practical matters and the exploitation of the opportunities they present. So that when all the resources of the party are thoroughly centralised they must by virtue of their own dynamics urge the party forward in the direction of action and initiatives. Conversely, the feeling that the organisation is insufficiently cohesive must necessarily have an inhibiting and crippling effect on the tactical decisions and even on the basic theoretical positions of the party. (As was the case, e.g. in the German Communist Party at the time of the Kapp Putsch.)
“For a communist party,” it says in the theses on organisation approved by the Third Congress, “there is no period in which the party organisation could not be politically active.” Thus revolutionary preparedness and revolutionary action itself are permanent tactical and organisational possibilities, but this can only be understood correctly if the unity of tactics and organisation is fully grasped.
If tactics are divorced from organisation and if it is not realised that both are involved in the identical process by which the class consciousness of the proletariat is evolved, then the concept of tactics will inevitably succumb to the dilemma of opportunism and Putschism. In that event ‘organised action’ will either be the isolated deed of the ‘conscious minority’ in its efforts to seize power or else it will be a ‘reformist’ measure designed to satisfy the shortsighted wishes of the masses, whereas the organisation will simply be assigned the technical role of ‘preparing’ for action. (This is true of the views both of Serrati and his supporters and also of Paul Levi.)
The revolutionary situation may be permanent but this does not mean that the proletariat could seize power at any moment. It means only that in consequence of the objective overall economic situation every change, every movement of the masses induced by the state of the economy contains a tendency that can be given a revolutionary twist which the proletariat can exploit for the advancement of its own class consciousness. In this context the inner evolution of the independent expression of that class-consciousness, viz. the Communist Party, is a factor of the very first importance. What is revolutionary in the situation is seen in the first instance and most strikingly in the constantly increasing instability of social institutions, and this is brought about in turn by the increasing imbalance in the powers and forces that create the equilibrium upon which bourgeois society rests. The fact that proletarian class consciousness becomes autonomous and assumes objective form is only meaningful for the proletariat if at every moment it really embodies for the proletariat the revolutionary meaning of precisely that moment.
In an objectively revolutionary situation, then, the correctness of revolutionary Marxism is much more than the ‘general’ correctness of its theory. Precisely because it has become wholly practical and geared to the latest developments the theory must become the guide to every day-to-day step. And this is only possible if the theory divests itself entirely of its purely theoretical characteristics and becomes purely dialectical. That is to say, it must transcend in practice every tension between the general and the particular, between the rule and the individual case ‘subsumed’ under it, between the rule and its application and hence too every tension between theory and practice. The tactics and organisation of the opportunists are based on a Realpolitik that abandons all pretension to dialectical method; they do just enough to placate the demands of the moment to sacrifice their solid basis in theory, while on the other hand, in their daily practice, they succumb to the rigid stereotypes of their reified forms of organisation and to their tactical routines.
By contrast, the Communist Party must keep exactly to the demands of the moment and thus preserve and keep alive within itself the dialectical tension between them and the ‘ultimate goal’. For individuals this would mean the possession of a ‘genius’, a thing with which a revolutionary Realpolitik can never reckon. In fact it is never forced to do so as the conscious development of the communist principle of organisation is the best way to initiate the process of education in practical dialectics in the vanguard of the revolution. The unity of tactics and organisation, the need for every application of theory and every tactical step to be given immediate organisational backing is the prophylactic, to be consciously applied as a defence against dogmatic rigidity. For this rigidity is a constant threat to every theory adopted by men with a reified consciousness who have grown up under capitalism.
This danger is all the greater as the same capitalist environment that creates the stereotyped consciousness continually assumes new forms in its present crisis-ridden state and is thus placed even more beyond the reach of any stereotyped outlook. Therefore, what was right today can be wrong tomorrow. What is medicinally curative when the right dose is taken can be fatal if the dose is too large or too small. As Lenin observes in connection with certain forms of communist dogmatism, “One need only go one small step further” a step that seems to lead in the same direction “and truth is transformed into error.”
The struggle against the effects of reified consciousness is itself a lengthy process full of stubborn battles and it would be a mistake to assume that the form of those effects or the contents of particular phenomena could be determined in advance. But the domination of reification over men living today does in fact have that kind of effect. If reification is overcome at one point the danger immediately arises that the state of consciousness that led to that victory might itself atrophy into a new form of reification. For example, the workers who live under a capitalist system have to conquer the delusion that the economic or juridical forms of bourgeois society constitute the ‘eternal’, the ‘rational’ and the ‘natural’ environment for man. They must cease to feel the excessive respect they have had for their accustomed social environment.
But after they have taken power, after they have overthrown the bourgeoisie in an open class war it may turn out that what Lenin called ‘communist arrogance’ will be just as dangerous for the workers as their Menshevist timidity when facing the bourgeoisie had been earlier on. For the very reason that historical materialism, correctly understood and in sharp contrast to opportunist theories, proceeds from the assumption that the development of society constantly produces new phenomena, i.e. new in a qualitative sense  every communist organisation must be prepared to increase as far as possible its own sensitivity and its own ability to learn from every aspect of history. It must make sure that the weapons used to gain a victory yesterday do not become an impediment in future struggles. “We must learn from the common soldiers,” Lenin remarks in the speech we have just quoted concerning the tasks of the Communists in the NEP.
Flexibility, the ability to change and adapt one’s tactics and a tightly knit organisation are just two sides of one and the same thing. The whole trajectory of this, the deepest meaning of the communist form of organisation is rarely grasped in its entirety even in communist circles. And this despite the fact that both the possibility of right action and the Communist Party’s inner capacity for development depend on it. Lenin stubbornly insists on rejecting every utopian view of the human material with which the revolution must be made and with which the victory must be won: it consists necessarily of men who have been brought up in and ruined by capitalist society.
However, to reject utopian hopes or illusions is not to imply that fatalism is the only alternative. But as it is a utopian illusion to hope that man can be inwardly transformed as long as capitalism still exists, we must discover organisational devices and guarantees that will mitigate the catastrophic effects of this situation, that can correct them as soon as they make their inevitable appearance and destroy the malignant growths they produce. Theoretical dogmatism is only a special case of those tendencies towards fossilisation to which every man and every organisation is incessantly exposed in a capitalist environment. The capitalist process of reification both over-individualises man and objectifies him mechanically. The division of labour, alien to the nature of man, makes men ossify in their activity, it makes automata of them in their jobs and turns them into the slaves of routine. As against this it simultaneously overdevelops their individual consciousness which has been turned into something empty and abstract by the impossibility of finding satisfaction and of living out their personalities in their work, and which is now transformed into a brutal egoism greedy for fame or possessions. These tendencies will necessarily persist in the Communist Party which after all has never claimed to be able to reform the inner nature of its members by means of a miracle. And this is all the truer for the fact that the requirements of purposeful action also compel the Party to introduce the division of labour to a considerable degree and this inevitably invokes the dangers of ossification, bureaucratisation and corruption.
The inner life of the party is one unceasing struggle against this, its capitalist inheritance. The only decisive weapon it possesses is its ability to draw together all the party members and to involve them in activity on behalf of the party with the whole of their personality. A man’s function in the party must not be seen as an office whose duties can be performed conscientiously and devotedly but only as official duties; on the contrary, the activity of every member must extend to every possible kind of party work. Moreover this activity must be varied in accordance with what work is available so that party members enter with their whole personalities into a living relationship with the whole of the life of the party and of the revolution so that they cease to be mere specialists necessarily exposed to the danger of ossification. Here, once again, we see the indissoluble union of tactics and organisation. Every hierarchy in the party (and while the struggle is raging it is inevitable that there should be a hierarchy), must be based on the suitability of certain talents for the objective requirements of the particular phase of the struggle. If the revolution leaves a particular phase behind, it would not be possible to adapt oneself to the exigencies of the new situation merely by changing one’s tactics, or even by changing the form of the organisation (e.g. exchanging illegal methods for legal ones). What is needed in addition is a reshuffle in the party hierarchy: the selection of personnel must be exactly suited to the new phase of the struggle. of Course , this cannot be put into practice without ‘errors’ or crises. The Communist Party would be a fantastical utopian island of the blessed reposing in the ocean of capitalism if its progress were not constantly attended by such dangers. The decisively novel aspect of its organisation is only that it struggles with a steadily growing awareness against this inner threat.
If every member of the party commits his whole personality and his whole existence to the party in this way, then the same centralising and disciplinary principle will preside over the living interaction between the will of the members and that of the party leadership, and will ensure that the will and the wishes, the proposals and the criticisms of the members are given due weight by the party leaders. Every decision of the party must result in actions by all the members of the party and every slogan leads to deeds in which the individual members risk their whole physical and moral existence. For this very reason they are not only well placed to offer criticism, they are forced to do so together with their experiences and their doubts.
If the party consists merely of a hierarchy of officials isolated from the mass of ordinary members who are normally given the role of passive onlookers, if the party only occasionally acts as a whole then this will produce in the members a certain indifference composed equally of blind trust and apathy with regard to the day-to-day actions of the leadership. Their criticism will at best be of the post festum variety (at congresses, etc.) which will seldom exert any decisive influence on future actions.
Whereas the active participation of all members in the daily life of the party, the necessity to commit oneself with one’s whole personality to all the party’s actions is the only means by which to compel the leadership to make their resolutions really comprehensible to the members and to convince members of their correctness. For where this is not done they cannot possibly be carried out satisfactorily. (The more thorough-going the organisation of the party is and the more important are the functions that devolve upon every member — e.g. as member of a trade-union delegation, etc. — the more urgent does this necessity become.) But also, even before action is taken and certainly during it, these dialogues must lead to precisely this living interaction between the will of the whole party and that of the Central Committee; they must correct and modify the actual transition from resolution to deed. (And here too the interaction increases in proportion to the degree of centralisation and discipline.)
The more deeply ingrained these tendencies become, the sooner the harsh unrelenting contrast between leader and the masses, that has survived as a vestige of bourgeois party politics, will disappear. This will be accelerated by reshuffles in the official hierarchy. And the post festum criticism — which is inevitable at the moment — will be transformed into an exchange of concrete and general, tactical and organisational experiences that will be increasingly oriented towards the future. Freedom — as the classical German philosophers realised — is something practical, it is an activity. And only by becoming a world of activity for every one of its members can the Communist Party really hope to overcome the passive role assumed by bourgeois man when he is confronted by the inevitable course of events that he cannot understand. Only then will it be able to eliminate its ideological form, the formal freedom of bourgeois democracy. The separation of rights and duties is only feasible where the leaders are divorced from the masses, and act as their representatives, i.e. where the stance adopted by the masses is one of contemplative fatalism. True democracy, the abolition of the split between rights and duties is, however, no formal freedom but the activity of the members of a collective will, closely integrated and collaborating in a spirit of solidarity.
The much vilified and slandered question of party ‘purges’ is only the negative side of the same issue. Here, as with every problem, it was necessary to progress from utopia to reality. For example, the demand contained in the 21 Conditions of the Second Congress that every legal party must initiate such purges from time to time proved to be a utopian requirement incompatible with the stage of development reached by the newly-born mass parties in the West. (The Third Congress formulated its views on this issue with much greater caution.) However, the fact that this clause was inserted was nevertheless no ‘error’. For it clearly and unmistakably points to the direction that the Communist Party must take in its internal development even though the manner in which the principle is carried out will be determined by historical circumstances. just because the question of organisation is the most profound intellectual question facing the revolution it was absolutely vital that such problems should be borne in upon the consciousness of the revolutionary vanguard even if for the time being they could not be realised in practice. The development of the Russian Party magnificently demonstrates the practical importance of this question. And as is implied by the indissoluble unity of tactics and organisation, its importance extends beyond the inner life of the party to the relation between the party and the broad mass of all workers. The purging of the party in Russia has taken many different forms according to the different phases of the revolution. In the case of the most recent one, in the autumn of last year, we witnessed the frequent application of the interesting and significant principle that the views and experiences of workers and peasants who were not party members were made use of so that these masses were drawn into the labour of purging the party. Not that the party was prepared henceforth to accept the judgement of these masses blindly. But it was willing to take their suggestions and rejections into account when eliminating corrupt, bureaucratised and revolutionarily unreliable elements estranged from the masses.
Thus, this most intimate internal problem illustrates the most intimate internal relation between party and class at a higher stage of development of the Communist Party. It shows that the sharp split in the organisation between the conscious vanguard and the broad masses is only an aspect of the homogeneous but dialectical process of development of the whole class and of its consciousness. But at the same time, it shows that the more clearly and energetically the process mediates the necessities of the moment by putting them in their historical perspective, the more clearly and energetically will it be able to absorb the individual in his isolated activity; the more it will be able to make use of him, bring him to a peak of maturity and judge him.
The party as a whole transcends the reified divisions according to nation, profession, etc., and according to modes of life (economics and politics) by virtue of its action. For this is oriented towards revolutionary unity and collaboration and aims to establish the true unity of the proletarian class. And what it does as a whole it performs likewise for its individual members. Its closely-knit organisation with its resulting iron discipline and its demand for total commitment tears away the reified veils that cloud the consciousness of the individual in capitalist society. The fact that this is a laborious process and that we are only just beginning cannot be allowed to prevent us from acknowledging as clearly as we can the principle that we perceive here and demand for the class-conscious worker: the approach of the ‘realm of freedom’. Precisely because the rise of the Communist Party can only be the conscious achievement of the class-conscious workers every step in the direction of true knowledge is at the same time a step towards converting that knowledge into practical reality.