16 November 2007

Plug-in Revolution

The main common characteristic as between reformism (gradualism) and what Lenin called “Economism” (which is what we in South Africa have called "workerism"), is that they both fail to recognise the need for, and the indispensable special role of, the revolutionary party.

Whatever may have been discussed outside of its ranks, the revolutionary movement has always found its origins and its cohesion in arguments about the practical means to be used to achieve freedom and people’s power, the line of march towards this strategic goal, and therefore the immediate way forward and medium-term vision. These arguments arise at the beginning, and they return at crucial moments. Nothing but revolution itself will finally settle them.

In the case of Karl Marx, his opponent was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and their polemic produced what Lenin later called “the first mature work of Marxism”. This was “The Poverty of Philosophy”, published in 1847, one year before the Communist Manifesto. Marx co-founded many vanguard organisations.

Forward to 1899, when Eduard Bernstein published “Evolutionary Socialism” in Germany. Bernstein was not a pirate from outside the movement’s ranks. Like Proudhon before him, he was a respected leader.

Bernstein’s “Evolutionary Socialism” denied the need for the overthrowing of the bourgeoisie by an organised revolutionary agent. It said that Trade Union organisation was sufficient for the workers in the present time, and for the rest, history would take its course and provide solutions.

Rosa Luxemburg (pictured above) was the first to respond to Bernstein (with “Reform or Revolution?” - 1st edition: 1900). Leaving nothing to chance, Luxemburg demolished Bernstein comprehensively and wrote that he had done everybody a favour: He had written the last word on reformism and so provided the opportunity of dealing with the matter in completely and with finality. In the century that followed, Luxemburg’s words proved to be true. For all the many times that the flag of reformism and economism has been raised, no theoretical improvement of Bernstein’s position has been achieved, because none is possible.

Then in 1902 Lenin wrote “What Is to Be Done?” (see the link below). This book is regarded as the genesis of the Communist Parties as we know them. It tackles the question given to Silumko Nondwangu this week (see the link below): “Can trade unions lead the struggle for socialism?” Lenin’s answer was a resounding: No! The working class needs a dedicated political party. Trade Unions are not sufficient for the revolutionary task. And he gives his reasons. But this is not the end of the story!

In 1904 Lenin published “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (The crisis in our party)” and Rosa Luxemburg responded immediately in the work known as “Leninism or Marxism”. Lenin replied to her in September of the same year. Space will not allow much more of this history here. Suffice it to say that the first Russian Revolution followed in January 1905. Let us give the last word for now to Rosa, from “Leninism or Marxism”:

One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward, written by Lenin, an outstanding member of the Iskra group, is a methodical exposition of the ideas of the ultra-centralist tendency in the Russian movement. The viewpoint presented with incomparable vigor and logic in this book, is that of pitiless centralism. Laid down as principles are: 1. The necessity of selecting, and constituting as a separate corps, all the active revolutionists, as distinguished from the unorganized, though revolutionary, mass surrounding this elite.”

Comrade Silumko quoted many books but he skirted round this exchange of Bernstein and Luxemburg, and brings in Lenin three revolutions later, in 1921. He also managed to discuss the relationship between COSATU and the SACP at length without ever mentioning the SACP by name. Well, fine, that’s his privilege. He has already done us a favour by raising this matter in public at all.

The Bolsheviks, those “pitiless centralists” (according to Rosa Luxemburg), were nevertheless flexible enough to see the value of Dual Power (which is not the same thing, by the way, as “Two Centres of Power”!) in the form of the Soviets, and that is how they made the October 1917 Revolution. Is the Communist University centralist? Or not? See the draft CU “Plug-in City” flyer, below.

Click on these links:

Organisation of Workers, Organisation of Revolutionaries, from WITB, Lenin, 1902 (5767 words)

Can TUs lead the struggle for socialism?, Wolpe lecture, Silumko Nondwangu, 2007 (3648 words)

Communist University, Plug-in City, draft flyer-mailer (366 words)


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