16 March 2008

Unity At The Base

The texts (or “codifications”) that we distribute, read and discuss at the Communist University are not intended to be “learnt” as if for an examination. They are meant to provide the basis for dialogue that socialises our understanding of present realities. For that reason, the texts need to be as close as possible to experience. In our current set ending on Tuesday, the texts are mostly from V I Lenin and from Rosa Luxemburg, both writing more than 100 years ago. These texts were selected in November, 2007, yet they have become even more relevant as time has passed, and never more so than today.

Last week we found Lenin in difficulties. The Iskra group had won a bolshinstvo (majority) at the 1903 Second Congress of the RSDLP. Lenin and his comrades became know as Bolsheviks from that time onwards (the picture is “The Bolshevik”, by Boris Kustodiev, 1920). But after the congress they lost control of all the RSDLP’s structures, and even the Iskra, to the Mensheviks, in bureaucratic inner-party coups d’etat. We discussed majorities and minorities, bolsheviks and mensheviks, in relation to the 2007 ANC 52nd National Conference (Polokwane).

Lenin was writing in 1904. By early 1905 Russia was in the throes of a great revolution, the first of three. It checked the autocracy and gave birth to the bourgeois-democratic Duma (parliament). In 1906, Rosa Luxemburg wrote about the lessons of that revolution in “The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions”, which we will discuss next Tuesday. The work concentrates on the relationship of party to trade unions, and the relationship of the organised to the unorganised proletariat.

In the mean time, events have delivered to us a real live test case on the relationship of party and trade unions. In a forthright and frank statement, Gwede Mantashe, in his capacity of Secretary-General of the ANC (he is also Chairperson of the SACP) “shot down [COSATU’s] request to have some of its members sit in on ANC national executive committee (NEC)”. Mantashe describes COSATU's request as “bordering on an ultra-left approach” See the first two links below for full details.

Rosa Luxemburg describes the analogous 1906 problematic, thus: “The German labour movement… assumes the peculiar form of a double pyramid whose base and body consist of one solid mass but whose apexes are wide apart… To desire the unity of these through the union of the party executive and the general commission is to desire to build a bridge at the very spot where the distance is greater and the crossing more difficult. Not above, amongst the heads of the leading directing organisations and in their federative alliance, but below, amongst the organised proletarian masses, lies the guarantee of the real unity of the labour movement.” Read more from the last page of “The Mass Strike”, linked below.

The relationship of the party and the class, or in Luxemburg’s particular terms “the social democracy” and "the trade-unions", opens up in Chapter 6 of The Mass Strike to a vision of a revolutionary ensemble that must necessarily go far beyond the structures of its previously-organised components, which are bound to be a minority of the whole. Luxemburg writes:

“The plan of undertaking mass strikes as a serious political class action with organised workers only is absolutely hopeless. If the mass strike, or rather, mass strikes, and the mass struggle are to be successful they must become a real people’s movement, that is, the widest sections of the proletariat must be drawn into the fight… Here the organisation does not supply the troops of the struggle, but the struggle, in an ever growing degree, supplies recruits for the organisation.

“… it is not permissible to visualise the class movement of the proletariat as a movement of the organised minority.

“…the sections which are today unorganised and backward will, in the struggle, prove themselves the most radical, the most impetuous element, and not one that will have to be dragged along…

“If we now leave the pedantic scheme of demonstrative mass strikes artificially brought about by order of parties and trade unions, and turn to the living picture of a peoples’ movement arising with elementary energy, from the culmination of class antagonisms and the political situation—a movement which passes, politically as well as economically, into mass struggles and mass strikes—it becomes obvious that the task of social democracy does not consist in the technical preparation and direction of mass strikes, but, first and foremost, in the political leadership of the whole movement.”

Luxemburg is saying that the political structure must lead. The trade union movement cannot lead the revolution. Please read Chapter 6 of The Mass Strike, linked below, and especially the concluding words.

The final item (from Free State Province) is a product of the Alliance working in close practical co-ordination at the University there. The powerful text of demands was backed by a united march on Friday 14 March 2008.

Click on these links:

ANC tells COSATU to back off, Rossouw, Letsoalo, Mail and Guardian (1234 words)

ANC’s alliance headache, Karima Brown, Weekender (975 words)

Rosa Luxemburg, last page of The Mass Strike (847 words)

Luxemburg, Mass Strike, C6, Organised and Unorganised Workers (2319 words)

Alliance on Lack of Transformation of University of the Free State (2376 words)

Events Diary (there have been technical problems with this feature)


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