19 October 2007

“The Social Democracy” and the Social-Democrats

At our last session, Kimani Ndungu, twice quoting the title, but not the contents, of Lenin’s “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution” voiced some doubts about Lenin’s antagonism towards reformists (see today’s “codification” links, below). Our discussion was related to the 52nd National Conference of the ANC that is scheduled to take place on 15 December 2007 in Polokwane.

This book-title has been misused elsewhere and in the past to imply that Lenin was at the time a gradualist, or in some way similar in outlook to the parties of the present-day “Socialist International” like the British Labour Party or the German Social Democrats. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lenin wrote the work in 1905 in particular circumstances which are given in brief in the “Notes on reading Lenin’s ‘Two Tactics’”, also linked below. The party to which he belonged was at that point split, and Lenin had played a major role in that split. The two factions were called the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks (“majority” and “minority”). Lenin was an unapologetic revolutionary Bolshevik, and the leader of the Bolsheviks up until, and beyond, the glorious October Revolution twelve years later, the 90th anniversary of which we will celebrate on Wednesday, 7 November 2007.

At the time Lenin’s party as a whole was called the Russian Social-Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP). The movement in general, especially in Germany where it was strongest at the time, was sometimes referred to as “The Social Democracy” (notably by Rosa Luxemburg in her work “
Reform or Revolution?”). This term had a similar, but more genuine, sense of being a formal institution of the masses, to what the current term “Civil Society” aspires to. “The Social Democracy” was democratically structured, both locally and internationally (as the Second International); whereas today’s so-called “Civil Society” tends to consist of funded voluntarist NGOs, academics, and other professional self-appointed intermediaries, charitably substituting themselves as representatives of the poor.

In 1914 most of the national constituents of the Second International opted to support their national governments in the terrible inter-Imperialist slaughter called the First World War. The Bolsheviks and some others, notably some comrades in South Africa, refused, and opposed the war totally. Only after that time did the permanent distinction grow up between the class-collaborator “Social-Democrat” parties on the one hand, and the Communist Parties on the other.

At no time was Lenin ever attached either to the Mensheviks or to the (new style, gradualist) “Social Democrats”. The book “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution” is actually a sustained blast against the vacillating sellout liberals of his day, and in favour of decisive revolution led by the proletariat, finishing up with the resounding rhetorical question: “Dare We Win?”

By the way, what is a “class collaborator”? Is class collaboration the same as “class alliance”? Absolutely not! Class collaboration is a servile abdication whereby the representatives of the working class subordinate themselves to the interests of the ruling (capitalist) class. The working class is very familiar with such collaborators. In South Africa they may be called “indunas”, elsewhere “bosses’ men”, etc.

Class alliance, on the other hand, is the necessary politics of revolution. The working class must be independent and it must be autonomous, but it must also have allies from outside of its ranks. In South Africa such allies can be peasants and small business people, professionals and intellectuals, but not the principal oppressor, which is monopoly capitalism. Class alliance serves to prevent the isolation of the working class, and to split the forces available to the dominant part of the bourgeoisie. Class alliance, as unity-in-action, can secure vital material gains and tactical victories for the working class.

The question of whether we should be in a class alliance, or in the kind of corporatist class-collaboration advocated by the writers of the draft Strategy and Tactics (
now revised) which was hotly debated at the ANC National Policy Conference in June, is exactly what needs to be decided in Polokwane. This, in a nutshell, is what Polokwane is all about.

It is quite likely that there will be a few text-jugglers in Polokwane who will want to use Lenin’s book-title once again to confuse those who have never actually read the book. So read it, and be forearmed, because we must expect that the classics will continue to be abused in this way. And thanks, Cde Kimani, for bringing up this important matter.

Click on these codification links:

Notes on reading Lenin's 'Two Tactics', Tweedie, 2005 (461 words)

Two Tactics of Social Democracy, selected chapters, Lenin, 1905, (10805 words)

The entire book, on Marxists Internet Archive

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