Saturday, February 27, 2010

Raising consciousness

A study of history shows that from the earliest recorded times to the present , human society has had a process of change, now slow and gradual, now violent and dramatic, during which the existence of classes with opposing interests has been revealed. These classes struggle for the control of society, i.e., for the power to govern society in their own interests. These warring classes can be shown to be the representatives of particular mode of wealth production. A class struggle develops and is fought out. The present class struggle is between property owners and the propertyless (“property” being the right to appropriate the productive labor of others). On the stock exchange, by means of wheeling and dealing in stocks and shares , the identities of who actually has the ownership may be continually changing, but it remains in the hands of the capitalist class as a whole. This ownership is international and interlocking. Therefore, the wealth produced by the workers of the world belongs to an international capitalist class by virtue of its ownership of the means by which it is produced.The remedy is obvious. It is to transfer the ownership back to those who alone were the created and produced that wealth . The ownership must be wholly social. Society as a whole must own and operate the means whereby society exists. With the co-operative and social character of wealth production being recognised by society as a whole in assuming ownership, no class will be able to exploit another class by means of ownership. Classes and all the social relationships out of which they arise will disappear.

For this task the workers must acquire the consciousness which can enable them to do so. This consciousness must comprise, first of all, a knowledge of their class position. They must realise that, while they produce all wealth, their share of it will not, under the present system, be more than sufficient to enable them to reproduce their efficiency as wealth producers. They must realise that also, under the system they will remain subject to all the misery of unemployment, the anxiety of the threat of unemployment, and the deprivations of poverty. They must understand the implications of their position – that the only hope of any real betterment lies in abolishing the social system which reduces them to mere sellers of their labor power, exploited by the capitalists. A class which understands all this is class-conscious. It has only to find the means and methods by which to proceed, in order to become the instrument of revolution and of change .

Class consciousness was never more needed than now.To the socialist, class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding. Without it, militancy means nothing. The conflict between the classes is more than a struggle for each to gain from the other. The class-conscious worker knows where s/he stands in society. Their interests are opposed at every point to those of the capitalist class. Their cause can only be the cause of revolution for the abolishing of classes. Without that understanding, militancy can mean little. Class-conscious people need no leaders. The single, simple fact which all working people have to learn is that capitalism causes capitalism's problems, so that the remedy – the only remedy – is to abolish capitalism. In that knowledge they must take hold of the powers of government – for one purpose only: that the rule of class by class shall end. Socialism is not a benevolently-administered capitalism: it is a different social system. Reform is no answer, even though at times – rare times – it benefits working people.The reformer has agreed that capitalism shall continue, and is merely trying to alleviate its worst effects. Has poverty been abolished by the reformers? Ask the old, ask the unemployed or the homeless , or the sick. Has life been made more satisfying by the Welfare State?

Although it’s now clear that trade unions are not the “schools of socialism” they were once seen to be, they should not be written off . Without them, the workers have no economic weapon to defend themselves against the encroachments of capital. Capitalists would be able to consistently obtain labour-power below its value, instead of being made to pay something nearer its full price. The importance of the unions is therefore clear - a worker in a trade union will generally be closer to class consciousness than any other. They have realised their position in the world as a creator of wealth, and that some form of exploitation is going on that needs to be checked. The workers' failing is simply not bringing this realisation to its logical conclusion and organising for the complete restructuring of society to end this exploitation of which they strive against.This is where socialist action on the political field becomes an objective - action that does not simply seek to hold off some of the exploitation inherent in capitalist society, but that seeks to abolish it . Unions are economic weapons on the battlefield of class war, but unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of reformist or right wing union leaders, they remain committed to simply striving for economic gains within the system.Trade union action on its own is unable to bring about socialism was stated several times by Marx, and remains valid to this day:
“They [the unions] ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the cause of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady.”

Not curing the malady? Only too true. Trade union action alone has failed to remove the class antagonisms present in the capitalist world we live in. It has made some excellent gains, certainly saving large sections of the working class from even greater abuse, but the fundamentals of exploitation and class antagonisms remain. Marx expected the working class to develop from a mere economic category (a "class in itself" ) into a revolutionary political actor ("class for itself")—but at least the process started even if it did get stuck on route as it were. A "class consciousness" did develop among particular sections of the working class but this did not develop into a revolutionary socialist consciousness. It stopped at trade-unionism and Labourism, the idea and practice of the working class as a class within capitalism but which wanted a better deal within this system, not to replace it with a classless and exploitation-free society. So, even if a working class "for itself" has never developed, a class consciousness of a lesser sort did.
Marx believed as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves. The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be “spontaneous” in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about (not that such people could not take part in this process, but their participation was not essential or crucial). Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would come to be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto:-
“the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”.

This in fact was Marx’s conception of the workers’ party - a mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing socialism.The self-emancipation of the working class, as advocated by Marx, remains the agenda .

Working class action must be revolutionary. The workers of Britain have common cause with the workers of every other country. They are members of an international class, faced with the same problems, holding the same interests once they are conscious of them. As class consciousness grows amongst the workers in all lands, co-operative action will be planned. It will not stop at the organisation of marches and demonstrations . It will be co-operation to speed the abolition of capitalism.

The Socialist Party does not minimise the necessity and importance of the worker keeping up the struggle to maintain the wage-scale, resisting cuts, etc. If he always laid down to the demands of his exploiters without resistance he would not be worth his salt as a man, or fit for waging the class struggle to put an end to exploitation. More and more of the workers are forced to realise that their interests are opposed to those of the owning and ruling class, in fact that the continuation of this rule spells disaster to society generally. The class war is far from over. It can only end with the dispossession of the owning minority and the consequent disappearance of classes and class-divided society.

Success through striking may well encourage other workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace more. A group of workers' strength, however, will continue to be determined by their position within the capitalist economy, and their victory a partial one within the market system. Only by looking to the political situation, the reality of class ownership and power within capitalism, and organising to make themselves a party to the political battle in the name of common ownership for their mutual needs, will a general gain come to workers, and an end to these sectional battles. Otherwise, the ultimate result of the strikes will be the need to strike again in the future. Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. This is where the Leninist parties go wrong. They think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of "the struggle" thus circumventing the realm of ideology - the need to educate . It doesn't . The workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy; it has to be transformed 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 will depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement.

Our interest lies in pursuing the class struggle and forging our own class agenda - world socialism.The battle between capitalism and socialism is by no means off the agenda. The class war is not yet over. Only by recognising the struggle between capital and labour, and acting to bring about the victory of labour, of the working class , can classes once and for all be abolished, common ownership be established, and real human interests and relationships begin.

To bring about 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.The SPGB have 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 SPGB has the intellectual honesty to admit this. Socialism will be established by the working class and that its establishment will result from an intensification and 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 .

Socialist consciousness comes from life experience, but that being said, why are not more people achieving this consciousness? Everything from education, 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! 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 converted 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:
Socialist consciousness on a wide scale is not going to emerge from mere abstract propagandising or proselytising . 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.

There are clear limits to what militancy 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 members . Nevertheless , we do 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 ?

And here we also stated :-

“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
We can quote from Paul Mattick with his understanding to his own political experiences :
“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

Also from Sidney Hook in his From Hegel to Marx who said
“…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"
Another insightful comment upon the non-commital and non-involvement of many workers in creating socialism comes from Hegel in his Philosophy of the Mind
“If , therefore man does not want to perish he must recognise 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 recognised , 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 realise his personal aims , passions and interests only within the framework of the world in which he is a part”
Anton Pannekoek describes in The Workers Council that
“[class consciousness ] is not learned from books or through courses on theory and political formation , but through real life practice of the class struggle”
While Wilhelm Reich in Sex-Pol describes class consciousness ande explains:
“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 , we have from Murray Bookchin's contribution in his article 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”
The search for why socialist consciousness arises is The Holy Grail of every sincere socialist and no one has the answer as yet . We hold only generalisations - and possess a political approach that when exercised will not be counter-productive or have a negative effect .One of the great principles of the SPGB is our opposition to leadership , so whatever weaknesses or mistaken views we hold or that it is accused of , they cannot be imposed upon others with possible worse consequences . The validity of the SPGB's ideas will either be accepted or rejected by discussion and debate , plus by actual concrete developments on the ground . The SPGB are not going to become entryists or a vanguard who proclaim that as possessors of the Holy Grail , all must follow and then take the workers to where they do not want to go ( even if they know where they are going , in the first place , that is )

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