Monday, November 10, 2008

socialist consciousness

Socialist consciousness involves understanding socialism which means talking about it, sharing ideas about it - in short educating ourselves and our fellow workers about it.But some detractors, have the mistaken idea that the Socialist Party of Great Britain thinks selling a copy of the Socialist Standard and holding meetings is the key to revolution.If that really was the case, the world would be in for a very long wait. People become socialists from their experiences; meeting socialists is part of that experience, and socialist thought is merely distilled experience from the past.

The SPGB has always guarded against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation. In fact , that nobody knows how revolutionary class consciousness is going to arise and the WSM/SPGB has the intellectual honesty to admit this.

I don't think anybody here denies that socialism will be established by the working class and that its establishment will result from an intensification/escalation of the class struggle. That follows almost by definition--obviously, if the working class are going to overthrow capitalism and capitalist class rule the class struggle is going to be stepped up. That's not the interesting question. The real question is what is it that is going to provoke the working class into intensifying/escalating the class struggle and/or acquiring socialist consciousness .
I understand that socialist consciousness comes from life experience, but that being said, why are not more people achieving this consciousness? I guess we all know the answers - everything from education, prevailing and accepted customs, the prevailing capitalist ideology and cultural hegemony .We can say that socialist consciousness comes from life experience, but then that automatically implies that every worker should achieve it, it should have happened. And I see this as a problem. It leads to a belief of the old "historical inevitability" of Socialism, that inevitably people will come around to becoming Socialists. That would indeed leave no role for a Socialist Party . We can join a Party and then watch it all unfold before our eyes .However many have not accepted this inevitability and wonder what exactly is our role? Where do we "intervene" to raise consciousness and how do we intervene? What practical measures can we take as a Party?

Workers don’t just wake up one morning and think to themselves - "Ah that’s it! Eureka! Socialism is the answer!" This is the mechanistic theory that a socialist consciousness can somehow materialise by circumventing the realm of ideology. We come to a socialist view of the world by interacting directly or indirectly with others, exchanging ideas with them. And that is perhaps the role of the revolutionary group as being - as a catalyst in the process of changing consciousness.

Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. This is where the Leninists and Trotskyists go wrong. They think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of the struggle per se circumventing the realm of ideology -the need to educate - as such. It does not. The workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy; it has to be transmogrified into a socialist consciousness.Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion; it has to link up with the practical struggle. The success of the socialist revolution would depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement:

As Marx explains it
“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness , and for the success of the cause itself , the alteration of man on a mass scale is necessary , an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement , a revolution. The revolution is necessary , therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way , but also because the class overthrowing itcan only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew” Feurbach and Materialist Outlook

Socialist consciousness on a wide scale is not going to emerge from mere abstract propagandizing or proselytizing . All we are doing in the SPGB , essentially, is trying to help the emergence of majority socialist consciousness, but even if the sort of activities we engage in can't be the main thing that will bring this consciousness about , it is still nevertheless essential. People can, and do, come to socialist conclusions without us, but they can come to this more quickly if they hear it from an organised group dedicated exclusively to putting over the case for socialism. We can't force or brainwash people into wanting to be free , they can only learn this from their own experience .We see majority socialist consciousness emerging from people's experiences of capitalism coupled with them hearing the case for socialism (not necessarily from us, though it would seem that we are the only group that takes doing this seriously).Socialist consciousness emerges through discussion and analysis. Our main task is to find better ways of expressing our message to as many workers as possible, to evolve a strategy so that we use our resources to most effect.

Some in our party have the view the problem with the SPGB's theory is NOT because it emphasises education but because it inadequately theorises the relationship between education and struggle/practice. For example, it has little or nothing positive to say about what workers are to do in the meantime. Neither do you apparently. You emphasise militant class struggle but there are clear limits to what this can achieve on its own and most workers know this full well. The working class is simply the working class, a bundle of contradictions and yet a very real thing. It is both the most conservative class because they have the most to lose AND , at the same time , the most revolutionary because they have the most to gain. Marx put it as, it is a class "in itself" and not yet a class "for itself".We don't have to lead, or intervene, or integrate into it. That was the role of the Social Democrats and the Leninists. What we have to be is the movement (as Marx said in "The Communist Manifesto") that group which points out the way, which "pushes forward".
The question comes to making Socialism an “immediacy” for the working class , something of importance and value to people's lives now , rather than a singular "end".
Socialists are not "superior to society". We understand how the class society basically works. That is the difference to the majority of the working class, which do not understand and therefore do not see the need to abolish capitalism.

We have yet to hear a convincing argument how you are supposed to become a "revolutionary" without engaging - and eventually agreeing - at some point with the IDEA of what such a revolution would entail. There is no logical imperative embedded in the material circumstances of capitalism that dictates that we must necessarily become revolutionary socialists . Our experience of these circumstances could just as easily turn us into Fascists , Tories or Liberals. In other words, our engagement with the world around us is always mediated by the ideas we hold in our heads; we cannot apprehend this world except through these ideas .

We agree the majority will not understand Socialism from the campaigning and educational effort of the SPGB , but from the potential effect of the social practice particularly of the class struggle.

“A period of revolution begins not because life has become physically impossible but because growing numbers of workers have their eyes suddenly opened to the fact that problems hitherto accepted as part of man’s unavoidable heritage has become capable of solution…No crisis of capitalism , however desperate it may be , can ever by itself give us socialism ” Will Capitalism Collapse ? Socialist Standard April 1927

If we hoped to achieve Socialism ONLY by our propaganda , the outlook would indeed be bad .But it is Capitalism itself unable to solve crises , unemployment , and poverty, engaging in horrifying wars , which is digging its own grave . Workers are learning by bitter experience and bloody sacrifice for interests not their own . They are learning slowly. Our job is to shorten the time , to speed up the process” Socialism or Chaos ,Socialist Party of Australia

We can quote from Paul Mattick who too can lay the roots of his understanding to his own political experiences of the 20s and 30s to 70s and 80s

“There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labour strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system…In times of depression no less in than these of prosperity , the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to an political radicalization of the working class , but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system…No matter how much he [ the worker ] may emancipate himself ideologically ,for all practical purposes he must proceed as if he were still under the sway of bourgeois ideology .He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions , but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual .It is this situation , rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalism. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions , but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual .It is this situation , rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalist ideology, that makes the workers reluctant to express and to act upon their anti- capitalist attitudes ” Marxism, Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie

Sidney Hook in his From Hegel to Marx said--( perhaps not the best scholar to quote but also see the later Pannekoek quote)
“…the struggle to achieve institutional change produces changes in those who participate in the struggles .The Praxis of trying to bring about a new order , no abstract doctrine , educates the workers ..Marx‘s great insights that human beings cannot change the world without changing themselves , and that social struggles , under certain conditions, are the best school for acquiring an education in social realities are not isolated thoughts but organically connected with his materialistic theory of history .… The class struggle is not a doctrine , but the school in which doctrines arise Are tested and used or discarded . The working class not only becomes conscious of itself in these struggles , but it changes and re-educates itself by its revolutionary practice"

From Hegel -----Philosophy of the Mind ( another perhaps unwise choice of quote and i'm not pretending to have read him , just came across this apt extract , thats all)
“If , therefore man does not want to perish he must recognize the world as a self-dependent world which in its essential nature is already complete , must accept the conditions set for him by the world and wrest from it what he wants for himself .As a rule ,the man believes that this submission is only forced on him by necessity .But ,in truth , this unity with the world must be recognized , not as a relation imposed by necessity , but as the rational ...therefore the man behaves quite rationally in abandoning his plan for completely transforming the world and in striving to realize his personal aims , passions and interests only within the framework of the world in which he is a part”

And from the pen of Anton Pannekoek ------The Workers Council

“[class consciousness ] is not learned from books or through courses on theory and political formation , but through real life practice of the class struggle”

Lets not forget Wilhelm Reich --------Some quotes from Sex-Pol---

“Everything that contradicts the bourgeois order, everything that contains a germ of rebellion , can be regarded as an element of class - consciousness ; everything that creates or maintains a bond with the bourgeois order , that supports and reinforces it , is an impediment to class consciousness”

and again

“Against the principle of self-denial preached by political reaction , we must set the principle of happiness and abundance …Any socialist political economist can prove that sufficient wealth exists in the world to provide a happy life for all workers .But we must prove this more thoroughly , more consistently , in greater detail than we generally do”

and again

“Question : If two human beings , A and B , are starving , one of them may accept his fate , refuse to steal , and take to begging or die from hunger , while the other may take the law into his own hands in order to obtain food. A large part of the proletariat , often called the lumpenproletariat, live according to the principles of B .Which of the two types has more elements of class consciousness in him ? Stealing is not yet a sign of class consciousness but a brief moment of reflection shows , despite our inner moral resistance , that the man who refuses to submit to law and steals when he is hungry, that’s to say , the man who manifests a will to live , has more energy and fight in him than the one who lies down unprotesting on the butchers slab ..we have said that stealing is not yet class consciousness .A brick is not yet a house , but you use bricks to build a house”

Finally From Murray Bookchin -------Listen Marxist !

“ The Marxian doctrinaire would have us approach the worker , better still - enter the factory - and proselytize him in preference to anyone else . The purpose ? to make the worker class conscious . In the end , the worker is shrewd enough to know that he can get better results in the day-to-day class struggle through his union bureaucracy than through a Marxian party bureaucracy …the worker becomes revolutionary not by becoming more of a worker but by undoing his ‘workerness‘. His ‘workerness’ is the disease he is suffering from , the worker begins to become revolutionary when he undoes his ‘workerness‘ , when he begins to shed exactly those features Marxists most prize him - his work ethic, his character-structure derived from industrial discipline , his respect for hierarchy, his obedience to leaders , his consumerism, his vestiges of Puritanism . In this sense , the worker becomes a revolutionary to the degree that he sheds his class status and achieves an un-class- consciousness .He degenerates and he degenerates magnificently .What he is shedding are precisely those class shackles that bind him to all systems of domination .He abandons those class interests that enslaves him to consumerism , suburbia and a book-keeping conception of life”

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