Without grasping the meaning and significance of the objective and subjective conditions of the revolution, together with their dialectical interaction, it is impossible to develop a revolutionary strategy that will lead the working class to victory. The distortions that have emerged, and will continue to emerge, from this question can be lumped into two opposite categories. On one end lies the one dimensional interpretation of the objective condition of revolution, and hence an overestimation of the capacity of the working class for a spontaneous revolt. On the other end stand attaching extravagant importance to subjective factor alone and glorifying voluntarism. As a matter of fact, an appropriate concept of revolutionary leadership capable of leading the proletariat to victory has to base itself on a proper understanding of the dialectical relationship between these two fundamental factors.
Considered carefully, one can easily realize that the political currents that are unable to grasp this dialectical relationship, both left-wing and right-wing variants, end up in the same place: revolutionary verbalism. Let us put aside those who openly advocate reformism. There are political circles that do not reject the revolutionary solution nominally, but avoid carrying on organising work among the working class, which is necessary to put that solution into practice. They generally tend to glorify each spontaneous upsurge of the working class. In order to mask their lack of a revolutionary understanding and resoluteness in terms of organisation, they use a revolutionary verbiage, going so far as to worship spontaneity. Likewise, there are also groups that have neither the capacity to grasp the objective conditions of class struggle, nor the patience to conduct a systematic activity among the working class. In order to disguise their shortcomings, they resort to a revolutionary rhetoric, based on a one-sided exaggeration of voluntarism. Yet, as demonstrated by the Bolshevik line of the working class movement, created under Lenin’s leadership, a proper revolutionary preparation has never been, nor ever will be conducted on the basis of revolutionary verbalism and pompous phrases.
It calls for resoluteness, systematic activity and patience to achieve the revolutionary organisation of the proletariat. True Bolsheviks are those who show revolutionary tenacity in undertaking arduous tasks, which would seem extremely tiresome to verbalists. Lenin criticised German “Lefts” for their infantile disorder, who maintained that the revolutionaries must not work in reactionary trade unions. He pointed out that, despite all adversities awaiting them, true revolutionaries must find ways to wage struggle in trade unions in order to serve the task of organising the working class. He said: “We must be able to stand up to all this, agree to make any sacrifice, and even—if need be—to resort to various stratagems, artifices and illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges, as long as we get into the trade unions, remain in them, and carry on communist work within them at all costs.”[*]
Aside from reactionary trade unions, the trade unions are, in general, much more limited and conciliatory in many respects compared to the revolutionary political organisation of the working class. Indeed, Lenin listed these points while underlining the importance of working in trade unions and remarked on the fact that proletariat could not develop anywhere in the world without reciprocal action between the trade unions and the party of the working class. As a revolutionary leader, Lenin was imbued with a clear understanding of how to put into practice the Marxist principle which emphasizes that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself. When the vanguard revolutionary forces overlook trade unions and refrain from working in the existing mass organisations of the class in the name of a so-called sharper revolutionism, this will produce only one outcome: handing the mass of the class to reactionary, unreliable, conciliatory union bureaucrats.
That the revolutionary verbalism has reached the level of irresponsibility is by no means compatible with the colossal tasks that will face us in the upcoming period. Having been able to make certain concessions to the working class throughout the long period of upswing following the Second World War, capitalism is now suffering from a profound crisis that is characterised by austerity measures, cuts in social benefits and attacks on the vested rights of workers. In advanced capitalist countries, the ground upon which reformism has flourished for a long time is now sliding away. This phenomenon finds its expression in the consciousness of the working class and reflects itself through the relative upsurge in the mass movements across the world. However, it would be naive to hope that the change in the objective conditions would easily lead to a change in subjective conditions in the short term.
Everywhere, but particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, reformist and class-conciliatory notions have sunk so deep into the working-class organisations that they fall far short of the tasks that lie ahead. Although this creates a mood of discontent among the vanguard sections of the working class, an unorganised discontent can by no means change everything at one stroke. It is possible to launch an organisational revival through a leap forward by the advanced sections of the class. But even the success of such an attempt will depend on organised cadres with revolutionary merits, who will wage a determined and planful struggle to this end. Only on the basis of such an organised mobilisation can a sound upsurge in the workers’ movement be achieved. Otherwise, mass movements, which can occasionally make leaps forward out of motives such as anti-war sentiments, would inevitably subside with the same ease.
Taking into account these solid realities, we must state that the world workers’ movement is faced with a real parting of ways. It is apparent that the working class cannot make any advance with conciliatory, reformist and supine leaderships and mentalities that took root in mass organisations in the previous period. As Marx pointed out, the task of the proletariat is not only to resist capitalism but also to overthrow it. Escalating in almost every country, the ongoing capitalist economic offensive is threatening the working class in general. It is clearly apparent that all these developments will exacerbate the class struggle. Developing countries, where economic crises affect politics in a more immediate and profound way as compared to developed capitalist countries, have already witnessed unrests that provide a foretaste of future developments.
The recent revolutionary crises in Latin America clearly reveal, on the one hand, that a victorious revolution cannot be achieved spontaneously. And on the other hand, they dramatically lay bare the fact that revolution is not something to play with. In an exacerbated class conflict, the power struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat cannot proceed in the same way for a long time. This fact has been proven time and again throughout history. The class that fails to win this battle is doomed to be defeated in the end. Economic crisis and massive unemployment are plunging the poor masses into the abyss of misery, making conditions ripe for a revolt. On the basis of a correct leadership and organisation, such conditions can set the stage for a revolutionary seizure of power. However, it is also plain that the same conditions can pave the way for capitalist reaction and rise of fascism if the working class lacks sufficient level of organisation and guidance.
Today, world capitalist system is going through a profound crisis. The imperialist aggression, displayed by the USA, the hegemonic power of the system, explains the current state of affairs clearly, rendering it unnecessary to cite statistics. In developed capitalist countries, political scandals unfolding one after another and the brewing political crisis indicate that these countries are no longer able to avoid political tensions created by the deterioration of economic conditions. Grounding on the conditions of the previous period, generalisations to the effect that Europe will not experience political reaction again do not correspond with today’s realities. As it becomes less and less possible to deceive masses with certain concessions and honeyed words, the capitalist system would find ways to introduce political forms that would suppress and crush mass movements. The reactionary offensive of the bourgeoisie does not necessarily have to unfold as a replica of an historical case such as the rise of Nazism in Germany. Yet, one point is clear: the more its impasse intensifies, the more ferocious capitalism will become, showing no hesitation in introducing any kind of reactionary political measure.
As expressed by the concrete situation of the USA, the hegemonic power of the system, capitalism has now left behind its best years which covered a long period. However, we should never overlook the fact that capitalism will not collapse spontaneously no matter how severe crises become. Never before has the destiny of humanity been so bound up with the revolutionary struggle of the working class. Let us not forget Marx’s famous 11th thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” This must be our focal point today.
The workers’ organisations that are totally adapted to the conditions of the previous period and unable to adjust themselves to new conditions will be confronted with serious crises under conditions of political turmoil. During such a process, only political structures that can offer revolutionary guidance to workers’ movement will be those who are equipped with Marxist understanding and Bolshevik style of organisation in the struggle against capitalism. We will be confronted with important developments in the period ahead, during which the necessity and gravity of mounting the struggle worldwide on the basis of proletarian internationalism will become a burning issue. As seen in previous periods of turmoil, only those organisations that possess the necessary capacity and preparation can adjust themselves to such dramatic changes and come forward to fulfil the tasks necessitated by the internationalist revolutionary struggle of the working class.
And another lesson that was taught by the Great October Revolution and that should never be forgotten is that the proletarian internationalism cannot be reduced to an abstract wish. Without striving to heighten the struggle on a Bolshevik basis upon the concrete soil where one lives and thus giving these true ideas flesh and blood, the international struggle of the working class cannot be strengthened. Internationalist communist tendency has never become a power centre in a spontaneous fashion merely because it has based itself upon correct ideas. It is the task of communist vanguards to foster these correct ideas within the working-class movement and to turn them into an organised centre of attraction. While fulfilling this task under Lenin’s guidance, the Bolsheviks, at the same time, waged a relentless struggle against those tendencies that worshipped spontaneous upsurges in workers’ movement and those that adopted revolutionary voluntarism disconnected from workers’ movement. Despite the decades that have passed since then, the task set before today’s revolutionary generations is more or less the same. Today, the only way to strengthen the proletarian internationalist struggle within the working class is to take up the banner of struggle that was held aloft by the Bolsheviks when they spearheaded the October Revolution.
2 November 2003
[*] Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder, p.23