About a year back, we had written an editorial for Radical Notes about workers’ struggle in Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant. And other videos and commentaries were posted too, which critically analysed the dominant perception among pro-worker forces regarding the pre-and-post July 18 struggle of Maruti workers. A comrade associated with Bigul Mazdoor Dasta came heavily against our position, and wrote a 7500-word essay to rebut the dangerous anti-“Leninist” strand that seemed to emerge from our position. To demonstrate the need to combat “new philosophers”, he found anarcho-virus, that we were carrying, in other organisations and groups too, so presumably he saw some kind of ‘anarchist’/’libertarian’ consolidation (alas!) happening in India. The urgency of the polemic is furthermore emphasised by the conclusion that he makes:
“All the energies of the revolutionary intelligentsia today must be directed towards building … a revolutionary party. Lest, the moment of Socialism will pass, the “new philosophers” will continue to remain prisoners of their seductive philosophical ruminations, and our punishment will be fascism.”
What is most interesting about this piece is the ability of the author to spend so many words to assert one single point – that the “new philosophers” in their fling with Maruti workers are rejecting the role of the vanguard (and thus, Leninism), and how could they? And he is forcing his readers to refer to wikipedia back and forth, to know the influence of real devils behind such rejection – Rosa Luxemburg, Tronti, Negri, Holloway, Castoriadis, Operaismo, Autonome, Johnson-Forrest Tendency… Oh, I forgot to add, Paul Mattick and Pannekoek. Tch…I missed two more, Badiou and Zizek. This new trend that he finds is “a childish mixture” of all these and has eventually congealed into “one single tendency of anti-party revolutionism”. For the convenience of his readers (and to demonstrate that The Vanguard is already aware of all of them), he has put them in bold black letters. We are really grateful to him for providing us a reading list that will help us in understanding and articulating our own position well.
Well, comrade, we don’t reject the vanguards (anyway, do we really need to do that, and more importantly, who are we to do that?), we are simply saying that they must cease to behave like competing Lilliputians – daring to bind and pull the working class in spite of their own progressively constipated constitution, and doing all sorts of gymnastics to draw its attention towards them.
In your passion to exorcise the devils, you have forgotten that Lenin had spells and counter-spells too, depending on his immediate polemical and rhetorical needs. Some of these devils have understood that aspect of Lenin better than the Lilliputian Leninists. Let me start with an example that uses the words that you abhor:
“…it is a fact that the spontaneous awakening of the masses of the workers … has been taking place with astonishing rapidity during the past few years. The “material elements” of the movement have grown enormously…, but the conscious leaders … lag behind this growth.” (Lenin, “A talk with Defenders of Economism”, 1901, emphases added)
That great and very creative exponent of Leninism, whom we all admire, too has something for a devilish use. He has time and again warned against the Leninist tendency of making the party-form and vanguardism into “an immutable fetish”.
“For it is of the essence of history always to create the new, which cannot be forecast by any infallible theory. It is through struggle that the new element must be recognized and consciously brought to light from its first embryonic appearance. In no sense is it the party’s role to impose any kind of abstract, cleverly devised tactics upon the masses. On the contrary, it must continuously learn from their struggle and their conduct of it. But it must remain active while it learns, preparing the next revolutionary undertaking. It must unite the spontaneous discoveries of the masses, which originate in their correct class instincts, with the totality of the revolutionary struggle, and bring them to consciousness. In Marx’s words, it must explain their own actions to the masses, so as not only to preserve the continuity of the proletariat’s revolutionary experiences, but also consciously and actively to contribute to their further development. The party organization must adapt itself to become an instrument both of this totality and of the actions which result from it. If it fails to do this it will sabotage developments which it has not understood and therefore not mastered. Therefore, all dogmatism in theory and all sclerosis in organization are disastrous for the party. For as Lenin said: ‘Every new form of struggle which brings new perils and sacrifices inevitably “disorganizes” an organization ill-prepared for the new form of struggle. It is the party’s task to pursue its necessary path openly and consciously – above all in relation to itself – so that it may transform itself before the danger of disorganization becomes acute, and by this transformation promote the transformation and advance of the masses.’” (Lukacs, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought, 1924)
We are simply pleading, nothing more and nothing less, that workers can and do discover something new through their class instincts, in both political and organisational terms. For both Lenin and Lukacs, more urgent was the “party’s” task of recognising the new, bringing it to light and preparing itself for “new perils and sacrifices”, so that it catches up with and does not “lag behind” the growth of the “material elements of the movement.”
We do understand Lenin’s conjunctural compulsion to use Kautsky’s quote in What is to be done? about the relevance of bourgeois intellectuals to point out that workers need to educate themselves, to understand capitalism and capitalist strategies, to understand their own potentiality, and not just react to their immediate experience (in fact, grasping the richness of this experience requires a science). But we are suspicious of the use of Kautsky’s quote by Lilliputian leftists to defend their own bourgeois outsidedness and the practice of sermonising the proletarians – reducing their experience to subalternity and confusing this revolutionary class to another sack of potatoes aggregated externally and waiting for deliverance. In fact, Lenin’s footnote to Kautsky’s quote transforms the recognition of the “outside” into the Brechtian process of distanciation whereby the revolutionary class can comprehend the capitalist totality and critique its everyday life that would help it in designing its self-activities beyond the evolutionary guerrilla battles – and in the process create its own theoreticians – Weitlings and Proudhons. As Lukacs says, “‘from the outside’, that is, theoretically” – that’s all.
Lenin makes himself furthermore clear, when he says (in the footnote that the Vanguard seemed to have memorised, without understanding its real import):
“it is necessary that the workers do not confine themselves to the artificially restricted limits of “literature for workers” but that they learn to an increasing degree to master general literature. It would be even truer to say “are not confined”, instead of “do not confine themselves”, because the workers themselves wish to read and do read all that is written for the intelligentsia, and only a few (bad) intellectuals believe that it is enough “for workers” to be told a few things about factory conditions and to have repeated to them over and over again what has long been known.” (emphasis added)
Yes, we are stressing exactly the same – instead of going on telling the workers that they “do not confine themselves” (and since we are your “outside”, we will tell you what to do), we have been telling our vanguards that the workers “are not confined”, and they must not dare to confine them to their consciousness-raising sermons and “cleverly designed tactics”.
The other related charge that our vanguard makes on us is that of celebrating spontaneity. We do agree with him that celebrating spontaneity is really bad, but we must add, denigrating it is worse. Celebration is bad because it reduces spontaneity to pristine purity and subalternity, making it incomprehensible, aborting the pregnant possibilities and squeezing away the radical political vigour inherent in it– its anti-systemic contentiousness. But its denigration is fascistic – since it takes away the agency of the working class and puts it in the hands of a few “comedians of the vanguard party”, as CLR James used to characterise his erstwhile Trotskyist comrades. In fact, celebration and denigration go together in fascism – it is like a bandar-madari game – the instinct of the monkeys and the duce‘s manipulation.
The issue for us is to understand spontaneity and its richness, its potentialities. They are, in the words of (y)our Lenin, the “material elements”. However, there is no pure spontaneity. In fact, as Gramsci would say, such spontaneity “does not exist in history”, and the difference between the spontaneous and the conscious “is a ‘quantitative’ difference of degree, not one of quality.” The recognition of spontaneity helps us in understanding the movement – its historical necessity. This recognition shields us against its disparagement as a cooked-up venture and against the charge of voluntarism, and establishes the matter-of-factness of the revolutionism of the working class.
Lenin very aptly described word-chasing “comedians” in his own party (60-70% of the Bolsheviks).
“Comedians! They chase words, without thinking about how devilishly complicated and subtle life is, producing entirely new forms, which we only partly “catch on” to. People for the most part (99 per cent of the bourgeoisie, 98 per cent of the liquidators, about 60–70 per cent of the Bolsheviks) don’t know how to think, they only learn words by heart. They’ve learnt the word “underground”. Firmly. They can repeat it. They know it by heart. But how to change its forms in a new situation, how to learn and think anew for this purpose, this we do not understand.” (Lenin to Inessa Armand, 1913)
The same has happened with “vanguard”, “party”, “outside”, “spontaneity” etc., whose particular meanings or forms were removed from the contextual and conceptual matrices in which Lenin used them, and were then essentialised. Our neo-“Bolsheviks” have learnt them firmly, and keep on repeating them, without understanding that these words or concepts are pregnant with meanings or forms which could help in developing a language of revolutionary praxis in the changing dynamics of class struggle. They have reduced Leninism to a language which is a mere routinised expression of their organisational existentialism. It has become a vehicle to justify their own bureaucratic congealment – existential outsidedness, voluntarist symbolism and competitive sectarian stinginess.
However, Marx has already given us a mechanism to measure the worth of Lilliputian acrobatic contests vis-a-vis “the real workers’ movement”.
“The development of the system of Socialist sects and that of the real workers’ movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. As soon as it has attained this maturity all sects are essentially reactionary. Nevertheless what history has shown everywhere was repeated within the International. The antiquated makes an attempt to re-establish and maintain itself within the newly achieved form.” (Marx to Friedrich Bolte in New York, 1871)
Our “vanguards” should do some reality check, whether they are already in Marx’s list of “the antiquated”. It might be that they suffer from premature senility or some variety of progeria – hence, when they compare themselves with others, they find the world full of childishness and infantile disorder.