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Stalin on “aristocratic attitude towards the masses”

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Our Stalin institutionalists and anti-Stalin fanatics can quibble over the meaning-fulness or -lessness of the following, but it is definitely one of the texts which would make the Manichean officials within the radical Left uncomfortable. It is also an evidence of infinite possibilities during the course of the Russian Revolution, even in 1924. In fact, when I quizzed one of my comrades about the authorship of the text, he could even imagine Victor Serge writing it!

This is taken from Stalin’s speech on Lenin delivered at a Memorial Meeting of the Kremlin Military School January 28, 1924. It is published in volume 6 of his Collected Works, pp 54-66. In this text he deals with “a few facts to bring out certain of Lenin’s characteristics as a man and a leader.” He identifies these characteristics as: “the mountain eagle” (“who knew no fear in the struggle, and who boldly led the Party forward along the unexplored paths of the Russian revolutionary movement”), “modesty”, “force of logic”, “no whining”, “no boasting”, “fidelity to principle”, “faith in the masses”, and of course, ultimately, “the genius of revolution.” It was indeed very refreshing and even nostalgic to read the text – almost a guide to Marxist spirituality (perhaps Roland Boer will illuminate on this in his forthcoming book on Stalin).

At the time when our comrades in their ghettoised complexes boast of their every action as historical, it is of course good to see an attempt to codify “no boasting in victory” and “faith in the masses” as revolutionary values:

Theoreticians and leaders of parties, men who are acquainted with the history of nations and who have studied the history of revolutions from beginning to end, are sometimes afflicted by a shameful disease. This disease is called fear of the masses, disbelief in the creative power of the masses. This sometimes gives rise in the leaders to a kind of aristocratic attitude towards the masses, who, although not versed in the history of revolutions, are destined to destroy the old order and build the new. This kind of aristocratic attitude is due to a fear that the elements may break loose, that the masses may “destroy too much”; it is due to a desire to play the part of a mentor who tries to teach the masses from books, but who is averse to learning from the masses.

Lenin was the very antithesis of such leaders. I do not know of any other revolutionary who had so profound a faith in the creative power of the proletariat and in the revolutionary efficacy of its class instinct as Lenin. I do not know of any other revolutionary who could scourge the smug critics of the “chaos of revolution” and the “riot of unauthorised actions of the masses” so ruthlessly as Lenin. I recall that when in the course of a conversation one comrade said that “the revolution should be followed by the normal order of things,” Lenin sarcastically remarked: “It is a pity that people who want to be revolutionaries forget that the most normal order of things in history is the revolutionary order of things.”

Hence, Lenin’s contempt for all who superciliously looked down on the masses and tried to teach them from books. And hence, Lenin’s constant precept: learn from the masses, try to comprehend their actions, carefully study the practical experience of the struggle of the masses.

Faith in the creative power of the masses—this was the feature of Lenin’s activities which enabled him to comprehend the spontaneous process and to direct its movement into the channel of the proletarian revolution.

The text is available online too at Marxists.org

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 16, 2015 at 1:13 am

Notes on the Organisational Question

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This note was prepared for a workshop of workers’ organisations in Orissa (June 26 – 28, 2013)

1. Meaning of संगठन or organisation. When we talk about workers’ organisation what does it mean? It essentially means workers coming together against capital. But this togetherness is always in making, in the everydayness of workers’ lives. This संगठन or organisation can only be recognised, and strengthened or weakened, they can’t be formed in the sense that our Lilliputian vanguards generally mean – as if they are “mighty to save” and workers are waiting for deliverance by their hands.

2. When we take labour-capital relationship as forming the basis of the present socio-economic formation, it is essential to understand that this relationship is nothing but conflictual, where the victory of capital signifies the continuation of this asymmetric relationship, while the victory of labour or proletarians would signify the collapse of this relationship – and thus the negation of the class system itself. Once we understand this, we can easily comprehend the permanence of this conflict under capitalism – absolute is its existence, relative is its rhythm. The success and failure of the two ‘parties’ depend on which party is more organised – united and able to comprehend and check the designs of the other. However, in the case of workers, unity must not be understood as any aggregation of demands and interests (एकता ), as neo-Chartists envisage, rather it should be seen as how much different sections of the class relate with one another in their self-activities and in their struggle against capital (तारतम्यता/तालमेल).

3. Hence, the inversion of the politico-organisational formula that is traditionally posed.

a) Classically, issues/agenda <=> organisation => struggle; under this framework issues are recognised and posed, organisations are developed to suit the agenda and then struggles are waged. It is the model based on the manufacturing of organisations as apparatuses to organise and wage struggles. Even when self-activity is recognised in this framework, as spontaneity etc, the task highlighted is to (counter)hegemonise it so that it links with the agenda of the organisation;

b) The perspective that we defend is – Struggle…Organisation… Issues/agenda; here struggle itself is an organisation, whose “agenda” is evident in its very nature – a continuation or end of the class system. Here, the short-term agenda (Marx’s “guerrilla fights”) is to intensify the struggle or conflict.

Under a), a delivery system has to be developed – demands are what workers/people help in constructing, and an efficient organisation is that which is able to read, aggregate and average those demands and negotiate for them.

Under a) the elements of the chain are discrete, and it finishes with the struggle. Then a new segment starts. The continuity of organisation only shows that an apparatus or a machine has been objectified and is flexible – then garbage in and garbage out. Of course, this machine has to be maintained, oiled and put to use. On the other hand, an inseparation of the organisation and struggle, and its perpetuity under b) liberates the organisational question from formalism, grounds it in the dynamic of the conflict itself. Forms are formed and dissolved in the struggle itself.

4. Under b) the role of organisers is not diminished, but becomes crucial. Their integration in class struggle and organisation allocates them the role of net-workers – connectors between the diverse locations of class struggle – the role of the messenger. Of course, they are refused the role of a herdsman. A ‘Leninist’ lesson in this regard is crucial – they must become Jambavanta (जाम्बवंत) to Hanuman (हनुमान), but if they try to drag him by the tail – their Swarna-Lankas (स्वर्ण लंका) will be reduced to ashes.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

July 10, 2013 at 1:12 am

For the consciousness that would make generals redundant!

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Working class revolutionism, but beyond sectism

The trade unions and political parties cannot be reformed, ‘captured’, or converted into instruments of working class emancipation. We don’t call however for the proclamation of new unions, which in the conditions of today would suffer a similar fate to the old ones. Nor do we call for militants to tear up their union cards. Our aims are simply that the workers themselves should decide on the objectives of their struggles and that the control and organisation of these struggles should remain firmly in their own hands. The forms which this self-activity of the working class may take will vary considerably from country to country and from industry to industry (PC – from time to time). Its basic content will not.

Emphasis mine

For the consciousness that would make generals redundant

A crisis of values and an increased questioning of authority relations are, however, developing features of contemporary society. The growth of these crises is one of the preconditions for socialist revolution. Socialism will only be possible when the majority of people understand the need for -social change, become aware of their ability to transform society, decide to exert their collective power to this end, and know with what they want to replace the present system. IT FOLLOWS that we reject analyses … who define the main crisis of modern society as a ‘crisis of leadership’. They [the party leaders] are all generals in search of an army, for whom recruitment figures are the main yardstick of success. For us revolutionary change is a question of consciousness: the consciousness that would make generals redundant.

Emphasis mine

“They [the party leaders] are all generals in search of an army, for whom recruitment figures are the main yardstick of success”. This one line explains so much about the reality within the left formations in India – with their sectism and membership ((re)conversion!) drives.

Obviously, there is much to appreciate in Solidarity (UK)’s document – As We See It / Don’t See It (Maurice Brinton) quoted above. However evident at least in tenor is also (like a major section of autonomist and anarchist comrades) their refusal to apply their own understanding in AS WE SEE IT to deconstruct the existing working class organisations/parties and struggles within them (including their generation and degeneration) as representations of class self-activity “at different levels of awareness and consciousness” . Rejectionism dominating in AS WE DON’T SEE IT in effect produces a dehistoricised conception of working class consciousness and activity – a maximalist revolutionary idealism, especially when they talk about the past and existing organisations/parties and their degeneration. However, this is not to imply that they are not aware of the dynamic logic behind the generation and degeneration of party forms, as the document succinctly concludes:

we hold that organisations whose mechanisms (and their implications) are understood by all can alone provide the framework for democratic decision-making. There are no institutional guarantees against the bureaucratisation of revolutionary groups, The only guarantee is the perpetual awareness and self- mobilisation of their members. We are aware, however, of the danger of revolutionary groups becoming ‘ends in themselves’. In the past, loyalties to groups have often superseded loyalties to ideas. Our prime commitment is to the social revolution – not to any particular political group…

However it seems the document does not ground party dynamics in the class processes and inter/intra class struggles.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

March 22, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Labour, Marxism, Party, Politics

A Note on Party 2

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Pratyush Chandra

In West Bengal (in fact, everywhere in India) the working class and the poor peasantry have outgrown the traditional left. This is not something new and to be lamented upon. It always happens that organisations develop according to the contemporary needs of the class struggle, and are bound to be institutionalised, and even coopted, becoming hurdles for further battles, not able to channel their forces for the new exigencies of the class dynamics and struggle. This happens so because in the process of a struggle, a major segment devoted to the needs of this struggle is caught-up in the networks it has established for their fulfillment. It is unable to detach itself from the fruits of the struggle, therefore losing its vitality and is overwhelmed by the existential needs.

In the name of consolidation of movemental gains, what is developed is a kind of ideologisation, a fetish – organisation for organisation’s sake. This leads to the organisation’s and its leadership’s cooption in the hegemonic setup (obviously not just in the formal apparatuses) which due to struggles had to concede some space to new needs. In fact, this is how capitalism reproduces itself politically. And this is how the societal hegemonies gain agencies within the radical organisations, and they are organisationally internalised – developing aristocracies and bureaucracies.

Two important points regarding the agitations in West Bengal can be fruitful for us in understanding the above mentioned dynamics:

1) As prominent Marxist historian Tanika Sarkar says, “an amazing measure of peasant self-confidence and self-esteem that we saw at Singur and at Nandigram” is a result of whatever limited land reforms the Left Front (LF) initiated and is in the “very long and rich tradition of the Left politics and culture”.

2) The price of state power that helped sustain this was the cooption of the LF in the hegemonic policy regime, which is neoliberal for now. So the vested interests that developed during these struggles and cooption led to the situation where “[b]eyond registration of sharecroppers and some land redistribution, no other forms of agrarian restructuring were imagined.” Also, “industries were allowed to die away, leaving about 50,000 dead factories and the virtual collapse of the jute industry,” as competition and the flight of capital were not challenged (which probably in the federal setup of India could not be challenged) by questioning the nature of production relations.

However, there is no fatalism in the above view – the radical vitality of an organisation/party is contingent upon the sharpening of struggle between the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic tendencies within an organisation, which in turn is embedded within the overall class struggle. I.e. it all depends on the class balance and struggle within an organisation.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 3, 2007 at 3:25 pm

A Note on Party – An Institution or in Movement?

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Pratyush Chandra

A comrade working in India recently circulated a question – “Are there no possibilities of outside party movements now?”. This question is already internationally debated, prominently within a large section of radicals, who have either been part of the party based movements or have struggled fervently against what can be called the party’s tendency to “substitute” the spirit of self-emancipatory struggles through its organisational conservatism and control. However, this question has been reframed in various ways, especially as, “Is there any possibility of party movements now?” The issue has become all the more relevant in the context of recent revolutionary upsurges in Latin America, given the rising scepticism among the traditional left and jubilation among the non-party/post-party left. In India, where the communist movement despite its splintering has been a decisive force both within state politics and radical politics, the question has become significant with the mushrooming of diverse varieties of movements independent of party influences. However, I believe, this question of party and beyond-party has always been a central concern in the socialist movement the world over. The Luxemburg-Lenin debate on party too was centred around it.

In my opinion, any “yes-no” answer to the above question is bound to be refuted by counter-examples. In fact, crucial part of the answer to that question lies in understanding movement, party and party building as processes, in their fluidity, not as fixtures imposing themselves on the spontaneity of the masses. If a party is organically linked to a movement, then it perpetually recreates itself in the moments of that movement. A revolutionary party is nothing more than an organisation of the militants of a revolutionary movement. You can have a group-structure (well-organised or loose) prior to any movement, but until and unless it refounds itself within the movement, it generally polices the popular energy.

There are innumerable examples of movements throughout the world that can claim to be partyless – prominent among them are the Venezuelan, Argentine and Zapatistas in Mexico. However, there are numerous groups, even traditional party structures operating within these movements – but none of them individually can claim these movements to be ‘theirs’. What is a movement which is not more than a party? But in the very “organisation” of all these movements, we find a continuous party building process or rather processes going on in the attempts to give definite expressions to the goals and visions of the movements.

So, in my opinion, to put it rather schematically, what we witness in the formative processes of a movement is that groups or group-structures (it is immaterial whether they call themselves parties or not), with their own prior movemental experiences come into contact with mass spontaneity – where they are either reborn as groups of “militants” trying to give expression to the movemental needs and goals or they come as predefined structures shaping the movement according to their own fixed needs and goals (for example, to win elections etc).

However, when I say they “come”, it does not mean that these groups are not there. But their there-ness is defined by the consolidation and institutionalisation of their prior experiences, gains and failures. During these latter processes, these groups either congeal as having interests which are now accommodated within the system or they are ready to unlearn and relearn during the course of the new struggles of the oppressed and the exploited. In the first case, they are there as part of the hegemony or as its agencies (conscious or subconscious), and in the second case, they are “reborn” as groups or parties of militants, of organic intellectuals – intellectuals organically linked to the working class, as Gramsci would put.

On this perpetual making and remaking of the organisation and party within and with relation to movements, Marx makes a very interesting observation in his letter to Friedrich Bolte (November 23, 1871), where he recapitulates the role and problems of the First International:

“The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point… [O]ut of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.”

It is important to remember and grasp the dialectics of Marx’s dual assertion about the need of a communist party, on the one hand, and what, as Engels asserts in his 1888 preface of the English edition of the Communist Manifesto, “‘the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself”. The latter was already there in the General Rules of the First International (“That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”). In his Critique of Gotha Programme too, while criticising the Lasalleans, Marx says, “The international activity of the working classes does not in any way depend on the existence of the International Working Men’s Association.” Marx clearly rejects here any substitutionist tendency, which has been rampant within the workers and peasants’ movements in India and elsewhere, as the ‘vanguard’ organisations attempt to “possess” movements. A striking example is the following quote from the party programme of probably the most organised constituent of the Indian left:

“The people’s democratic front cannot successfully be built and the revolution cannot attain victory except under the leadership of the working class and its political party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).”

In the above-quoted letter to Bolte, Marx makes a very illuminating remark on the function of sectism within the working class movement, which can be a lesson for all of us today:

“The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle. …The Internationalists could not have maintained themselves if the course of history had not already smashed up the sectarian system. 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.”

As the most recent and clear example of “the antiquated” making an “attempt to re-establish and maintain itself within the newly achieved form” are, what Michael Lebowitz calls, the “glum faces” in reaction to Chavez’s call for a unified party in Venezuela. To resist the replacement of “the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle” at the time when the working class has attained maturity is “essentially reactionary”.

In India, too, at the grassroots level the labouring classes have time and again come together and demonstrated their will and energy to move beyond the systemic logic, but the presence of the “antiquated” becomes a hurdle in transforming this solidarity into a decisive challenge to the system. This hurdle is perpetuated by schematically subordinating the working class consciousness (dubbed “economistic”) to the “politics” of parties. The party becomes an organisation above class rather than “the organisation of what already exists within the class” (Tronti), in other words, as the organisation of class capacity. Hence the issue of class seizure and control of production apparatuses and means of production as a challenge to the capitalist hegemony transforming the social relations is relegated to the secondary level, while the issue of ensuring formal political consolidation and stability in a competitive setup becomes the end of the party politics. The issue of posing class alternatives to capitalist regime of accumulation is sidelined in the process of “accumulation of power”.

However, this “antiquated” cannot be fought by wishing away the notion of “party”, it can only be done by viewing party building as a process with all its contradictions and as a continuous class struggle, including against internalised hegemonies – against labour aristocrats and party bureaucrats.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 1, 2007 at 1:33 am

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