In September 2012, we had written about the Maruti workers’ movement (https://redpolemique.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/maruti-workers-struggle-and-the-far-left-fallacy-of-the-new-philosophers-of-india/ and a slightly revised version https://redpolemique.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/maruti-workers-struggle-and-the-far-left-fallacyfantasy-of-the-new-philosophers-of-india/). These writings brought out the uncritical attitude of certain “far left” intellectuals (http://radicalnotes.com/2012/09/12/maruti-a-moment-in-workers-self-organisation-in-india/) and groups. We tried to demonstrate that the tendency of reifying and celebrating the spontaneity, indirectly belittling or rejecting the role of vanguard and ideology has actually harmed the working class movement. We were expecting to hear something in the form of criticism from these “new philosophers” of India as well as the anarcho-syndicalist groups. Finally, the wait is over! A comrade from ‘Radical Notes’ has responded at last (http://beyondcapital.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/lilliputian-leninism-a-progeric-disorder/).
We were excited about the possibility of a lively polemic as a result of this response which would not only benefit us but the working class movement as well. However, much to our disappointment, we found that there is not much to respond to this response for a variety of reasons. First, not a single criticism provided by us has been answered in the article by the comrade of Radical Notes. Secondly, instead of advancing any concrete argument, the article engages in empty rhetoric. Thirdly, the article randomly lays out quotations from different authorities ranging from Marx and Lenin to Lukacs without understanding the historical and political context in which those quotations were made. It is merely an attempt to justify its position in quite an unjustified way. Fourthly, since the author fails to answer any concrete criticism put forward by us, he finds himself obliged to misappropriate and misrepresent our positions as expounded in our article. Finally, it seems that the author in his quixotic adventure to vindicate his anarcho-syndicalist position has forgotten to read his own original article of which our articles were a critique. We will demonstrate with examples that like all such adventures this particular quixotic adventure ends tragically too.
- A Summary of Political Quixotism of “New Philosophers” and Our Critique
Before we embark upon the criticism of the latest article by the comrade of Radical Notes, we would like to summarize our critique of the original positions put forward in the article published on Radicalnotes.com about a year ago.
Our critique began with the recognition of the fact that Maruti workers’ movement is, indeed, a milestone in the working class movement of India and any revolutionary intellectual or group would undoubtedly welcome it. However, the real task starts precisely at this juncture. We argued that undue valorization of the spontaneity of the working class movement would not lead us anywhere. For example, it was claimed in the article that in their grass-root organization at the factory floor and unionization workers had succeeded in transcending boundaries of caste and regional divide, of permanent and casual/contract workers etc. It is apparent, especially now, that the writer has made fantastic claim without properly investigating the reality; this is exactly what we mean by political Quixotism: a gap between one’s imagination and reality. Interestingly, when the Maruti workers’ movement is now on its way to a complete collapse which is precisely due to the lack of an appropriate revolutionary political intervention and the role of the vanguard, the quixotic claims of the article become even more apparent. Undoubtedly, Maruti workers in the movement made some significant progress in breaking the sectional divide between the contract and permanent workers. However, as far as the regional divide is concerned, a closer scrutiny will show that the regional groupings (Haryanvi, Rajasthani etc.) among the workers, even at the level of leadership, had been active throughout the movement. Another quixotic claim was that the workers used to exercise a considerable control over the leadership of the new union (MSWU). As is apparent now the claim holds no water. One of the principal reasons for collapse of Maruti workers’ movement is precisely the lack of trade union democracy and political transparency within the union. Neither regular general body meetings were called nor were the finances of the union open and transparent. All decisions regarding the future strategy and tactics of the movement were taken behind closed doors by some members of the leading committee and the workers were informed later about this decision and their allotted responsibilities. The common workers played no role in decision-making. Again, it was implied in the article that the July 18 incident was an outcome of a coherent plan by the workers without the intervention of any political group.This fact, the article further suggested, was hard to digest, in equal measures, for the Left organizations (because they were incapable of visualizing any coherent planning on part of the workers without the divine intervention of the vanguard!) as well as the State which tried to put the responsibility of this incident on the “Maoist” party. This is the alleged reason why the dominant perception among the Left organizations is that the militancy of the Maruti workers is a case of “reactive spontaneity.” One can witness the comrade of Radical Notes tilting at the windmills. We showed in our critique with concrete facts that it was not only the perception of the Left groups but even the workers themselves that July 18 was indeed a case of reactive spontaneity. Today, if our over-enthusiastic comrade makes the claim that the July 18 incident was an outcome of coherent workers’ planning to Maruti workers, he might find himself in a precarious situation. Isn’t this what we call quixotism? Mistaking one’s imagination for reality?
Again, our autonomy enthusiasts claim that the July 18 incident shows that the Maruti workers’ movement is not just for aggregate demands of the workers but it has conceived the project of a new social order and new production relations in an embryonic form! Again, pure quixotism! These “new philosophers” do not even feel the need to substantiate their claims with concrete argument. We do not know what exactly led them to make such a phantasmagorical claim. Our spontaneity-fetishists see a “sudden radical leap…against the encroachments of capital” in the July 18 incident! One can only thank the heavens that workers do not see the July 18 incident in this manner! The writer of the article claims that the Maruti workers’ movement is not an example of unorganized spontaneity but one of political will to transcend segmentation within the workers. Clearly, the author can only visualize the non-dialectical binary of “unorganized spontaneity” and “political consciousness”. Lenin clearly showed that there are multiple levels of spontaneity and even if the political intervention of vanguard is absent, the spontaneity develops quantitatively and becomes more class conscious. Here it is noteworthy to mention that Lenin made a clear distinction between class consciousness and class political consciousness. The working class can definitely become class conscious through its spontaneous struggles. However, this consciousness cannot become political without the intervention of the vanguard. The author of the article seems incapable to understand this nuanced approach of Lenin.
Our critique was simple. It argued that the reality does not correspond to the fantastic imaginations of our quixotic “new philosophers” as the Maruti workers’ movement despite all its potential, all its positive possibilities and all the advances that it has made, does not carry the embryo of a “new social order and new production relations” as one of the victim of political quixotism (ex)claimed in a speech. It was still an example of “reactive spontaneity” as the workers themselves admit and in no way a result of any coherent planning.
Secondly, it argued that despite not rejecting the role of the vanguard formally, the standpoint of the “new philosophers” was a de facto rejection of its role. In fact, some other articles on the Radical Notes represents this very position of anarcho-syndicalism and non-party revolutionism (for instance, see http://radicalnotes.com/2012/11/21/on-the-organisational-question-of-the-working-class/).
Thirdly, what is taken as the proof of political autonomy of the workers is not something new and does not constitute the basis to make such a bizarre claim, namely, the attempt of the workers to bridge the gap between permanent and contract workers (we also reminded that this claim too needs a closer scrutiny in the case of Maruti woreks’ struggle). Such attempts have been made by the workers themselves time and again. If, according to these “new philosophers”, this is the proof of class political consciousness of the workers then we can only wonder if they know the meaning of this term. For a proper understanding of the position of the comrades of Radical Notes and our critique we would urge the readers to refer to the links of the articles given above.
Now, we can move on to our para-wise critique of the new article on the blog Beyond Capital written by a comrade of Radical Notes who also maintains the aforementioned blog.
- The Poverty of New Quixotic Adventures
For the convenience of the readers, we shall present a para-wise reply to the new article by the comrade of Radical Notes.
1. The first para does not contain anything significant to comment upon as it is full of rhetorical statements which are failed attempts at sarcasm. The author has superimposed his own habit of referring to Wikipedia on us because we have mentioned the anarcho-syndicalist tendencies which have an apparent and unmistakable influence on the author. In fact, in the present article he has shown again that he does have strong influence of these trends. We will show with examples in this article how these influences impact the political positions of our comrade from Radical Notes.
2. In the second para, the author has inserted a picture to help us understand how the “competing Lilliputians” tried to bind Gulliver and how, today, the “Lilliputian Leninists” are trying to bind the spontaneity of working class! The picture is really helpful and we must thank the comrade of Radical Notes for this intelligent device! His metaphorization is clear. However, the problem with the Maruti workers’ movement was not so much the competing Left organizations trying to bind the revolutionary spontaneity of the movement. It was, in fact, the near absence of any such intervention especially due to the influence of anarcho-syndicalism among workers which, in fact, was the handiwork of some anarcho-syndicalist organizations. Now, when the movement has almost collapsed, this reality has become clear in a glaring way (the interested readers may read this report about the present state of the Maruti workers’ movement: http://ahwanmag.com/A-sum-up-of-maruti-suzuki-labor-movement).
Further, the author claims that Lenin too was not consistent in his understanding of the role of the vanguard vis-à-vis the role of spontaneity and he changed his position according to the political exigencies of his time. It is true that Lenin was extremely flexible when it came to modify strategy and general tactics of the working class movement; but as far as the questions of ideology were concerned, Lenin never had, to use the phrase of the author, “spells and counter-spells.” In his attempt to prove this E.H.Carr-like representation of Lenin (a clever politician who changed his positions according to the exigencies) the author has given a quote of Lenin from ‘A Talk with Defenders of Economism.’ However, the author probably in his quest to find quotations to support his argument forgot to read the entire article and also its historical context. Let us show through quotations from the same article what Lenin meant and what the “new philosophers” are too stubborn to understand.
This article of Lenin was, in fact, written against those who belittled the importance of ideology and role of the vanguard. Lenin argues in this article that the working class is prepared for revolutionary communist political propaganda and, ironically, the vanguard is not doing it. Lenin is in no way arguing that the spontaneity of the working class (howsoever advanced) will transform automatically into consciousness or the vanguard is incapable of conceptualizing the new forms of working class spontaneity, as the comrade from Radical Notes want us to believe. He is just stating that the vanguard, though capable, is not fulfilling its duty of political propaganda amidst the working class. This article was written in response to a letter written by some comrades to Lenin expressing their disagreement with the concept of Iskra. They expressed their disappointment at the “squabbles” and schisms within the Social-Democratic movement and argued that Iskra is intensifying the tendency of disintegration (compare it with author’s metaphorization of “competing Lilliputians”). Lenin responded with vehemence and argued that the “material elements” of the movement, i.e., the spontaneous growth of the movement has reached a stage where it needs conscious revolutionary political propaganda. However, the conscious leaders (a term which clearly refers to those who are capable of performing this task) are shying away from this responsibility because they think that the working class is not ready for such political propaganda. We too, in this instance, believe that Maruti workers’ movement had immense potential for a revolutionary communist politicization but the influence of anarcho-syndicalism on certain groups involved in the struggle wasted this potential. Despite the potential that the movement possessed, it could not have been able to perform this task on its own. This has been proven by the recent developments in the Maruti workers’ struggle.
In the aforementioned article Lenin argues that an ideologist is worthy of name only when he precedes spontaneity. Only then can he view the spontaneity in a critical manner. Let us see what Lenin meant and what our “new philosophers” understood:
“The authors of the letter fall into the very same fundamental error as that made by Rabocheye Dyelo (see particularly issue No. 10). They are muddled over the question of the relations between the “material” (spontaneous, as Rabocheye Dyelo puts it) elements of the movement and the ideological (conscious, operating “according to plan”). They fail to understand that the “ideologist” is worthy of the name only when he precedes the spontaneous movement, points out the road, and is able ahead of all others to solve all the theoretical, political, tactical, and organisational questions which the “material elements” of the movement spontaneously encounter. In order truly to give “consideration to the material elements of the movement”, one must view them critically, one must be able to point out the dangers and defects of spontaneity and to elevate it to the level of consciousness.” (Lenin, “A Talk with Defenders of Economism”, 1901, emphasis added)
Again, Lenin shows that the main problem is not some theoretical and ideological incapability of the vanguard but the tendency of spontaneity-fetishism which precludes any possibility of emergence of an able vanguard party:
“The mass (spontaneous) movement lacks “ideologists” sufficiently trained theoretically to be proof against all vacillations; it lacks leaders with such a broad political outlook, such revolutionary energy, and such organisational talent as to create a militant political party on the basis of the new movement.
“All this in itself would, however, be but half the evil. Theoretical knowledge, political experience, and organising ability are things that can be acquired. If only the desire exists to study and acquire these qualities. But since the end of 1897, particularly since the autumn of 1898, there have come forward in the Russian Social-Democratic movement individuals and periodicals that not only close their eyes to this drawback, but that have declared it to be a special virtue, that have elevated the worship of, and servility towards, spontaneity to the dignity of a theory and are preaching that Social-Democrats must not march ahead of the movement, but should drag along at the tail-end. (These periodicals include not only Rabochaya Mysl, but Rabocheye Dyelo, which began with the “stages theory” and ended with the defence, as a matter of principle, of spontaneity, of the “full rights of the movement of the moment”, of “tactics-as process”, etc.) (Lenin, “A Talk with Defenders of Economism”, 1901, emphasis added)
Our comrade from Radical Notes preaches the Left groups not to compete like “Lilliputians” in attracting the attention of the working class and binding its initiative. The phenomenon of fence-sitting intellectuals preaching the active Left groups (irrespective of the particular political virus that they are carrying!) not to indulge in “squabbles”, “fervent polemics” and controversies and get ideologically well-informed, more “dialectical”, learn to historicize things and keep learning from the working class spontaneity, is not new. Even Lenin and Marx wrote about it. Lenin writes in the same article quoted by our comrade of Radical Notes:
“Nor can we refrain from protesting against the astonishing short-sightedness displayed by the authors of the letter in regard to the controversies and internecine squabbles among the political exiles. They repeat the stale nonsense about the “indecency” of devoting to Rabochaya Mysl an article on Zubatov… As for the “political exiles”…note the manner in which Lassalle, who was active among the Rhine workers in 1852, judged the controversies of the exiles in London. Writing to Marx, he said:
“…The publication of your work against the ’big men’, Kinkel, Ruge, etc., should hardly meet with any difficulties on the part of the police…. For, in my opinion, the government is not averse to the publication of such works, because it thinks that ’the revolutionaries will cut one another’s throats’. Their bureaucratic logic neither suspects nor fears the fact that it is precisely internal Party struggles that lend a party strength and vitality; that the greatest proof of a party’s weakness is its diffuseness and the blurring of clear demarcations; and that a party becomes stronger by purging itself” (letter from Lassalle to Marx, June 24, 1852).
Let the numerous complacent opponents of severity, irreconcilability, and fervent polemics, etc., take note!” (Lenin, “A Talk with Defenders of Economism”, 1901, emphasis added)
Had our comrade from Radical Notes read the complete article he would have refrained from quoting from it. And if he has actually read the complete article then we are obliged to say that he is selectively quoting out of context to prove his point in the guise of exploring the “concepts pregnant with new meanings and forms.” Consequently, he quotes Lukacs to unnecessarily emphasize that the spiral movement of history constantly create new forms and theory must keep up with this aspect of novelty. Here, we would like to point out two things. One, the author should read the whole quotation of Lukacs and inspect whether it really lends any support to his theorization of the “new.” Especially, the portion of the quotation to which our author has added emphasis is really self-defeating. Let us quote that portion: “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.” We have added our own emphasis to some portions of the already emphasized quote of Lukacs from his famous work Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought written in 1924. The reasons are obvious. The party unites the spontaneous discoveries rather than tailing them as the “new philosophers” want it to do. Secondly, all the spontaneous discoveries of the workers’ movement are not proletarian and party unites only those spontaneous discoveries of the working class which are proletarian in nature.For instance, in the case of Maruti workers’ movement, most of the spontaneous discoveries were not proletarian in nature.To cite a few examples, the workers’ movement from beginning to its present stage of collapse, did not have confidence in their own strength and leadership capabilities. This is the reason why the movement sought the revisionist central trade unions when it was located in Gurgaon-Manesar. This continuously impeded the movement and precluded any possibility of planned and radical action. When the union leadership was disillusioned with the central trade unions and moved the location of the struggle to Kaithal, it took refuge of the leadership of Khap Panchayats which deserted them as soon as the first incident of repression occurred on May 19. Subsequently, the movement began to disintegrate and few leaders of the leading committee of the union began to harbor dreams of embarking upon an electoral career in their localities. There is neither financial transparency in the union nor internal democracy. All these “discoveries” of the Maruti workers’ union leadership too are “spontaneous discoveries” but can we consider them as proletarian? Is this the way in which the Maruti workers’ movement has left the vanguard behind? Does the absence/weakness/political backwardness of the vanguard automatically imply the creative strength and class political consciousness of the workers? Third portion of the Lukacs reference that we have intentionally quoted is for the simple reason that howsoever advanced and original are the “spontaneous discoveries” of a workers’ movement they will still need to be brought to consciousness by the vanguard, which, obviously, must analyze these new things with critical wisdom. The political weakness/absence of the vanguard is precisely what we have discussed in our article along with our critique of the uncritical celebration of the spontaneity. And this uncritical celebration is even more problematic because our fence-sitter “new philosophers” have not even probed these “spontaneous discoveries” in a proper critical way!
Now, we would like to show how our comrade from Radical Notes has not read the work of Lukacs properly from which he has selectively quoted while completely disregarding the context to prove his point as he seems to be too carried away with the idea of proving himself right. We would present a few quotations from the same work of Lukacs and we would still suggest the readers to go through this very important work (http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/1924/lenin/).
“Naturally, even the biggest and best party imaginable cannot ‘make’ a revolution. But the way the proletariat reacts to a given situation largely depends on the clarity and energy which the party is able to impart to its class aims…the activity of the party in a revolutionary period means something fundamentally different. If the basic character of the times is revolutionary, an acutely revolutionary situation can break out at any moment. The actual time and circumstance are hardly ever exactly determinable. But the tendencies which lead towards it and the principal lines of the correct course of action to be taken when it begins are thereby all the more determinable. The party’s activity is based on this historical understanding. The party must prepare the revolution. In other words, it must on the one hand try to accelerate the maturing of these revolutionary tendencies by its actions (through its influence on the proletariat and other oppressed groups). On the other hand, it must prepare the proletariat for the ideological, tactical, material and organizational tasks that necessarily arise in an acutely revolutionary situation.” (Lukacs, 1924, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought)
Another important quote:
“Because it is the party’s function to prepare the revolution, it is – simultaneously and equally – both producer and product, both precondition and result of the revolutionary mass movement. For the party’s conscious activity is based on clear recognition of the objective inevitability of the economic process; it’s strict organizational exclusiveness is in constant fruitful interaction with the instinctive struggles and sufferings of the masses. Rosa Luxemburg sometimes came near an appreciation of this element of interaction, but she ignored the conscious and active element in it. That is why she was incapable of understanding the vital point of the Leninist party concept – the party’s preparatory role – and why she was bound grossly to misinterpret all the organizational principles which followed from it. The revolutionary situation itself can naturally not be a product of party activity. The party’s role is to foresee the trajectory of the objective economic forces and to forecast what the appropriate actions of the working class must be in the situation so created. In keeping with this foresight, it must do as much as possible to prepare the proletarian masses intellectually, materially, and organizationally both for what lies ahead and how their interests relate to it.” (Ibid)
“But the masses can only learn through action; they can only become aware of their interests through struggle – a struggle whose socio-economic basis is constantly changing and in which the conditions and the weapons therefore also constantly change. The vanguard party of the proletariat can only fulfill its destiny in this conflict if it is always a step in front of the struggling masses, to show them the way. But only one step in front so that it always remains leader of their struggle.” (Ibid)
It seems that our “new philosophers” are not only hundreds of steps “ahead” of the class, they are on a different path and in a different direction altogether!
The author has contended that we have turned the principle of party into a dogma. However, he is unable to produce a single quotation from our article to support his charge. We too believe that theory must keep up with new developments. However, this logic too should not be used in a reckless fashion or should not be turned into a dogma. All revisionists made this very claim of novelty in order to target the revolutionary core of Marxism. A dialectical materialist is always open to the new forms of resistance, new strategies of struggle and new tactics while at the same time they are firm in their ideology. One must understand the dynamic of development of any theory and principle according to changing conditions otherwise he/she might end up becoming an unintentional revisionist and opportunist.
In the last section of this paragraph the author makes a claim which does not hold. He says that they are just pleading that workers can discover something new and party’s task is to recognize it so that it does not lag behind the development of “material elements.” If one reads the original article in Radical Notes (the link is given in the first paragraph of this article) and listens to what the “new philosophers” have claimed in their speeches they would not have any difficulty in understanding that the vanguard is being preached to tail the class which, in effect, means the rejection of the theory of vanguard. The vanguard is not suggested to establish a critical relation with the working class spontaneity, but is preached only to “learn” and also not to hinder this “pure and pristine spontaneity”. We believe that though the overall political standpoint of the author stays the same, however, we can see a feeble and half-hearted attempt to discreetly change his position. We would only urge the readers to go through the article and also the links of the speeches given in our first critique.
3. In the third para, comrade from Radical Notes has again showed how to misappropriate the Leninist position in an exemplary anarcho-syndicalist way. He quotes the footnote that Lenin has added to Kautsky’s quote in What is to be done? Lenin says categorically that the argument of Kautsky, that the evolution of modern socialism is a dual process of emergence of a working class movement against the tyranny of capital and at the same time the development of modern scientific understanding of the modus operandi of capitalism and its alternative, does not mean that a worker cannot be theoretician of revolutionary working class politics. However, he/she takes part in this ideological development not as a worker but as socialist theoreticians, (as Proudhons and Weitlings. Here some basic things must be understood. The working class as a class, does not comprehend the capitalist totality by itself i.e. without the intervention of the vanguard, as our “radical” comrade wants us to believe. Even when a particular worker does contribute in developing the socialist ideology, he/she does so not as a worker but as a theoretician (organic intellectual, in Gramsci’s words). However, to borrow from Lenin, “they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge.” And even for this, the role of the vanguard is imperative. This is the reason why he says, “every effort must be made to raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general.”
Now, lets see how our “new philosophers” misappropriate Lenin’s understanding, “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.” The psuedo-intellectual play of words, invoking Brecht’s theory of epic theatre and alienation, for misappropriation of the Leninist theory of vanguard is apparent here. Right now, we cannot dwell on what are the relative positions of spectators and dramatician in the epic theatre, who is the principal agent in the process of this alienation (distanciation), what is the objective of the agent in using this device and why this metaphorization does not quite apply in this case of the relation between the vanguard and the class. However, this much is clear: Lenin’s statement certainly does not say what our comrade from Radical Notes is trying put into it.
Consequently, the author claims that we are behaving like “bourgeois outsiders” to the movement and we have “reduced the experience of the workers to subalternity.” However, once again the author does not feel the need to substantiate his claims with any evidence. Firstly, the author is not being sincere when he claims that we are making comments and criticisms from the outside.We believe that he does know that Bigul Mazdoor Dasta has been an intrinsic part of the Maruti workers’ movement since November 2012, despite our critical stand on the leadership and tactics of the movement, which we have also conveyed to the MSWU leadership. Secondly, the author and other “new philosophers” themselves have been fence-sitting intellectuals vis-à-vis the Maruti workers’ movement and the title of “bourgeois outsiders” is much more suited to them. Thirdly, there is not a single instance when we have reduced the initiative of Maruti workers to subalternity. We have given suggestions to the leadership of the movement and have also made criticism of the alien tendencies prevalent in the movement. If comrade from Radical Notes thinks that making criticism of the policies and leadership of a workers’ movement amounts to reducing it to ‘subalternity’ then he is only justifying our criticism that he is a victim of tailism and spontaneity-fetishism.
Another thing to note is that our “new philosophers” take it for granted that we are witnessing the process of emergence of “our Proudhons and Weitlings” in the Maruti workers’ movement which by all accounts is a ridiculous claim to make! Absolute quixotism! The author’s claim that we need not tell the workers that “do not confine yourself to literature for workers” because “they are not confined to it”, is an overstatement. In fact, the workers in the Maruti workers’ movement were not even getting the “literature for workers.” The entire politics of the working class was reduced to tacticizing and making plans for demonstrations. Politics came something as an addenda not as an organic part of the movement. And this apolitical character was precisely the reason for the fall of the leadership of the movement into opportunism. Had there been a proper politicizing on the part of the vanguard, the scene might have been different. It is not about the failure or success of the movement. It is about the ability of the movement to establish a critical relationship with itself, to retain the ability for redemptive activity. The movement lost this ability due to the influence of the anarcho-syndicalist organizations and intellectuals. Such forces foiled any attempt to politicize the movement from a proletarian perspective.
4. Fourth para begins with the admission that the author agrees that spontaneity should not be celebrated as it reduces spontaneity to subalternity and makes us blind to the rich political potential inherent in it. Then he moves on to his project of anarcho-syndicalist misappropriation of Leninist positions.
He argues that we denigrate the factor of spontaneity (“material elements”). Again, the author does not refer to a single quotation from our critique. In fact, since the author has failed miserably to respond to any of our concrete criticisms he has found himself obliged to erect an effigy and rain it with his arrows!
Now, let us see how the author views the relationship between the spontaneous and the conscious. According to him, there is no qualitative difference between them just a quantitative difference of degree: “…the difference between the spontaneous and the conscious “is a ‘quantitative’ difference of degree, not one of quality.” Here the ideological anarcho-syndicalism and Menshevism of the author is completely laid bare. It is precisely this argument that Lenin was criticizing. According to this understanding, spontaneity develops into consciousness through quantitative development. We, of course, know that spontaneity does have an element of consciousness. However, we are here not talking about this “spontaneous” consciousness but proletarian political consciousness which must be introduced by the vanguard. The quantitative development of spontaneity can never automatically result in class political consciousness without the agency of the vanguard. Let us see what Lenin says about this: “Let us recall the example of Germany. What was the historic service Lassalle rendered to the German working-class movement? It was that he diverted that movement from the path of progressionist trade-unionism and co-operativism towards which it had been spontaneously moving (with the benign assistance of Schulze-Delitzsch and his like). To fulfil such a task it was necessary to do something quite different from talking of underrating the spontaneous element, of tactics-as-process, of the interaction between elements and environment, etc. A fierce struggle against spontaneity was necessary, and only after such a struggle, extending over many years, was it possible, for instance, to convert the working population of Berlin from a bulwark of the progressionist party into one of the finest strongholds of Social-Democracy.” (Lenin, What is to be done?).
Elsewhere, in the same work, Lenin says that sometimes spontaneous movements do turn political. However, the maximum limit that this politicization will achieve is trade union politics.The spontaneous element can develop quantitatively only into trade unionist political consciousness. Lenin states categorically that Social-Democratic (read communist) consciousness cannot result from the quantitative development of spontaneous element. Proletarian socialist consciousness is a qualitative leap from the stage of spontaneity and this leap is not possible without the agency of the vanguard.
Clearly, our “new philosophers” have not understood the Leninist concept of the difference between the spontaneous and the conscious and have unnecessarily become paranoid about the “denigration of spontaneity”! Lenin has something to say on this paranoia too:
“And the faint smile of our constitutionalist will turn into Homeric laughter when he learns that the Social-Democrats who talk of Social-Democracy as the vanguard, today, when spontaneity almost completely dominates our movement, fear nothing so much as “belittling the spontaneous element”, as “underestimating the significance of the forward movement of the drab everyday struggle, as compared with the propaganda of brilliant and completed ideas”, etc., etc.! A “vanguard” which fears that consciousness will outstrip spontaneity, which fears to put forward a bold “plan” that would compel general recognition even among those who differ with us. Are they not confusing “vanguard” with “rearguard”?” (Ibid).
Here we can understand the infatuation of our “new philosophers” to CLR James. That is why we had mentioned the influence of Johnson-Forest tendency. Johnson was the pseudonym used by CLR James. Forest was the pseudnym of Raya Dunayevskaya. Later, the two split. James (Johnson) believed that the concept of a vanguard party has become irrelevant, while Dunayevskaya continued to believe that some kind of vanguard organization is necessary, but she too believed that the Leninist vanguard party has become a thing of the past. We cannot go in detailed analysis of this autonomist trend here.
5. In the Fifth and last paragraph the author has finally given his mitzvah to us ignorant vanguardists! He gives a quote of Lenin which ironically does much more damage to the positions of the “new philosophers”! In this quotation Lenin criticizes those Bolsheviks who mug up words and do not understand their meaning. We have shown how our comrade from Radical Notes has quoted from different works of Lenin, Lukacs, etc. to prove his point without reading the lines before and after his selected quotation. If this is not word-chasing, what is? What we have here is nothing else but passive-radical phrase mongering and pseudo-intellectualist pleas to understand the “contextual and conceptual matrices” in which Lenin said what he said!
In the end, the author gives us a quote from Marx to vindicate his anarcho-syndicalist position. However, if one reads this quote, it can be seen that our “new philosopher” friend has once again created a self-defeating instrument. Moreover, once again, the author has probably not read the entire letter and is unaware of the context of the letter. First of all, let us see what Marx says in this quotation:
“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.”
Firstly, we would like to draw the attention of our “new philosopher” friend to the fact that this letter was written against the conspiratorial activities of anarchists under the leadership of Bakunin within the International and not against some vangaurdist! Here, Marx has given a political metaphor for the entire process of party building: “so long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement.” However, this independence is not independence from party! At the end of the letter Marx says, “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…every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement…If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organization, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organization…Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organisation to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against and a hostile attitude towards the policy of the ruling classes. Otherwise it will remain a plaything in their hands…” (Marx to Friedrich Bolte in New York, 1871)
We have written about the concept of Party in the time of Marx when a continental proletarian revolution was expected and how this concept of Party developed in the time of Imperialism when the storm-centre of revolution was shifting from West to East (refer to the fifth para of this article: https://redpolemique.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/maruti-workers-struggle-and-the-far-left-fallacyfantasy-of-the-new-philosophers-of-india/). However, even Marx clearly understood the need for party.
Moreover, the term “sect” is not used by Marx in this quotation for vanguard party but for the anarchist (Bakunin), mutualist (Proudhon), and sectarian (Lassalle) groups active within the International. It was used to describe how these sects had caused harm to the development of the International and how the General Council of International was fighting against these “sects” and factions. This is the beginning of the letter which has been omitted by our comrade from Radical Notes because it makes clear what Marx intends to say here:
“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 original Statutes and the Inaugural Address show this at the first glance. On the other hand 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 ail 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.” (Ibid)
Besides, Marx also argues that until the stage of a historic independent movement (obviously, under a strong, unified working class political organization, i.e., the Party) the sects are actually historically relevant. Even if our position still constitutes a political “sect” at the present moment it does have historical relevance and justification because, apparently, the moment of “a historic independent movement of the working class” has not arrived yet.
It is apparent that the “new philosophers” have nothing to say in a manner of critique. Since they have failed to respond to our criticism they have resorted to empty rhetoric and passive-radical phrase-mongering. Despite all this, at the end we have been sermonized on the need to “do some reality check”! In any case, on the evidence of the intellectual quality of the first article of our “new philosophers”, what else could we expect?