Class Consciousness in the Proletarian Revolution


I. The nature of class consciousness and its ideological deformations

As long as it has existed and as long as it will exist, the proletariat has been and will be engaged in a violent conflict with the existing order to affirm its own existence, its social project and therefore its consciousness. When the proletariat – in its practice – proclaims its opposition to bourgeois society, whether in its first violent reactions to proletarianization in the 19th century, in the constitution of workers’ councils in course of the revolutions at the beginning of the 20th century, or in its present struggles, it begins to act as a class, to discover its own existence as a class through its solidarity and community of interests. In this way, the proletariat discovers the meaning of its struggle, the goal towards which it historically tends; in short, it begins to exist for itself, consciously. When its struggle ebbs, physically repressed by force of arms or ideologically repressed by calls for "moderation" on the part of the trade unions and left parties, when bourgeois society recovers its power, the proletariat’s unity and active existence dissolve into the atomization of capitalism. The workers then tend to again become competing individuals, losing confidence in their strength and perspectives as a class, subject to the dominant ideology which impregnates the whole of society. At that point, there only remain small revolutionary organizations as visible manifestations of the consciousness that the class has developed.

These incessant movements of advance and retreat in the action and consciousness of the working class, this permanent tension between its own movement towards its autonomous and conscious existence and the gigantic pressure of the reigning order towards the destruction of this movement, render the maintenance of a correct understanding of the nature of the proletariat and its consciousness extremely difficult, even among the clearest revolutionary elements. Although the pressure of bourgeois ideology continually tends to undermine all the revolutionary positions of the proletariat, the conception of class consciousness is by far the most vulnerable. It is less difficult for a revolutionary organization to maintain a position like the rejection of parliamentarism for example (which a quick look at the reality of parliaments supports) than to maintain a correct conception of class consciousness which affects the very essence of its own subjective activity as a part of the proletariat. It is not an accident that the problem of class consciousness and the role of the party in its development has always been a crucial point at the heart of the divergences between revolutionary tendencies in the workers’ movement, whether it was between Lenin and Luxemburg, between Bordigism and councilism, or today among the existing revolutionary groups.

The awakening of the proletariat at the end of the ‘60s, following the long night of the counter-revolution, meant the resurgence of class consciousness and gave a powerful thrust to the rise of new revolutionary forces and to their theoretical clarification. The historic importance of the International Communist Current (ICC) was its crystallization, its organization of this new revolutionary life, which manifested itself by theoretical clarification on class consciousness, the clearest expressions of which are found in the article "Class Consciousness and the Role of Revolutionaries" in International Review #7 [1976] and in the ICC’s pamphlet Communist Organisations and Class Consciousness [1982]. Since then, this thrust has exhausted itself and – though the class struggle has continued – the ever more intense political and economic pressures that the proletariat must be under, the effect of the crisis and the preparations of the bourgeoisie have sorely affected the revolutionary milieu which today finds itself in a pitiful state, notably on the question of class consciousness. The organized "councilist" current has virtually disappeared and its living fossil Daad en Gedachte (D&G) [from Holland] denies any possibility and necessity for a qualitative development of consciousness in the class struggle. A group like the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO) [from the U.K.] has melted into the remnants of the Italian left (the Internationalist Communist Party [from Italy]) to constitute the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP) and has returned to Lenin’s What is to be Done? as a reference on class consciousness. Finally, the ICC itself is foundering in its quest for the two "dimensions" of class consciousness, of which one is only … "class consciousness", that is to say, itself, and the other … "the consciousness of the class", that is to say, once again, itself. Behind these truly grotesque formulations is hidden a serious regression towards leninism, with its identification of consciousness and the communist program which the class must "assimilate".

In the face of such a situation, it would be easy to scoff at the revolutionary milieu, to abandon D&G to its contemplation of economic strikes, the IBRP to its leninist bible, and the ICC to its tape measure for measuring chimerical dimensions, and to get on with more concrete things, as none of them are doing. But the overcoming of the present state of the revolutionary milieu is only possible through the greatest clarity. Any regression on the part of a revolutionary organization means that weak points existed through which bourgeois ideology could take hold in order to invade and subdue it. In particular, the new situation [this was written in 1986] of slow and uneven development of the class struggle and class consciousness in the face of an economic crisis in the present period, necessitates a much clearer understanding of its development as a pre-requisite to any adequate revolutionary intervention. It is with this goal in mind that we turn to the problem of class consciousness. Our goal is not to make an exhaustive or academic study of the problem but to reaffirm the bases of a proletarian conception of class consciousness against the errors of the present revolutionary milieu, and to deepen certain points which have been unclear and have contributed to the regression of the ICC. For a more complete treatment of this question we can only encourage the reader to turn to the article in IR #7 and the ICC pamphlet which moreover already constitute an antidote to that organization’s present incoherences. We must also say that we have already made a first critique of these incoherences when we formed a tendency in the ICC (see Internationalisme [ICC publication in French, in Belgium] #100).

How to Pose the Problem

It is a very general phenomenon that the root of errors, of the unresolved contradictions in human thought and that of revolutionaries in particular, resides in the very way of posing the question at the outset; and this latter is only the expression of the primitive social mode of existence which has generated it. This is certainly the case with the question of consciousness. When the real life of the working class does not clarify the nature of its activity and its consciousness in a sharp enough way, communists unconsciously tend to pose the problem of class consciousness according to the canons of bourgeois ideology, because it is the one that corresponds to the mode of existence of the capitalist society in which they live. From that moment, the answer to the question can only be false. The councilism of D&G, for example, conceives of class consciousness as a reflection of the of the immediate situation in the heads of the workers, thereby reproducing the schema of the strictest vulgar materialism. The IBRP, which represents the leninist wing and which has recently devoted a long text to the question of class consciousness (in response to the ICC pamphlet) in Revolutionary Perspectives #21 ("Class Consciousness in the Marxist Perspective"), significantly enough begins its study by defining consciousness "in general" before applying it to the proletariat. And inasmuch as consciousness until now only existed in the alienated form of ideology, this "consciousness in general" is only a pastiche of the ideological vision:

"Whereas bourgeois materialists saw individual man as passively receiving sensory imprints, which were then physiologically translated into consciousness, Marx argued that the raw material of experience was actively restructured by its recipients by thought (since thought has a historical dimension, no one comes into the world a tabula rasa in historical materialism), and transformed into consciousness, which in turn reacted back on experience." (RP 21, p.15)

Any contemporary psychologist would be in agreement with such a mechanistic description, and as we shall see further on, the IBRP is completely mistaken when it tries to base its theory of consciousness on Marx.

With respect to the ICC, here is how it today defines class consciousness:

"For the proletariat, consciousness means self-knowledge, not only of its immediate existence as a class exploited by capital, but above all of its historical existence as the class which is the bearer of communism. That is why class consciousness is not the simple understanding of what the proletariat is, but at the same time a comprehension of its general situation, past, present and above all future." (Internationalisme #95, p.4)

In defiance of its previous positions, the ICC more and more conceives of class consciousness as an ensemble of knowledge, of ideas, concerning the past, present and above all future of the proletariat, thereby regressing towards an ideological vision that all the later precisions on the active, historical, political and collective character of consciousness cannot make up for.

In different forms and to different degrees, often against the explicit will of their authors, what is hidden behind all of these visions is the acceptance a priori of an abstract notion of "consciousness in general" – to use the term of the IBRP – as an immanent property of mankind, which can indeed undergo a development, but which still retains the same essential nature. The point of departure for a Marxist, proletarian understanding of consciousness, on the contrary, must be to fully conceive this latter as a material product of the historical development of society, just like any other, which must be analysed as such, as a material reality in transformation. This is the method that Marx follows:

"The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men – and the language of real life …. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious being, and the being of men is their actual life-process." ( The German Ideology, Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 36)

Man was not created conscious, as in the religious conception. Like man himself, consciousness asserts itself, develops and differentiates itself from animality only in the course of a whole historical process of development, of socialization and of control of the productive forces of society. As Marx has shown, in this process man is still in his pre-history, communism marking the leap into history, the leap from the "reign of necessity" to the "reign of liberty":

"… then the liberation of each single individual will be accomplished in the measure in which history becomes transformed into world history …. All-round dependence, this primary natural form of the world-historical co-operation of individuals, will be transformed by this communist revolution into the control and conscious mastery of these powers, which, born of the actions of men on one another, have till now overawed and ruled men as powers completely alien to them." (Ibid, p. 51-52)

Consequently, historical materialism can envisage human consciousness and relations such as they have existed up until now, only as pre-historic consciousness and relations which will fully bloom only in the passage to communism, through a total, qualitative transformation. If communists want to fulfill their role in this passage to communism, they must adopt the point of view of the higher stage of consciousness that their class – the proletariat – bears within it, and not the point of view of existing consciousness, profoundly rooted in the millennia of class society which must be overturned.

THE NATURE AND ROOTS OF IDEOLOGY

To turn aside from ideology, and to grasp the antagonism between ideology and the consciousness of the proletariat, it is not enough to change a word, and to modify this or that feature (its active, historical character, etc.). Rather it is necessary to grasp the nature and roots of ideology which is nothing other than the nature and roots of class society itself.1 Class society arose from the dislocation of the primitive community as a result of the elementary development of the productive forces, making possible the production of a surplus of the means of existence – but without the surplus being sufficient to satisfy the needs of the whole of society. In this framework of relative scarcity, only a minority is capable of satisfying its needs by taking advantage of the surplus of production. This minority imposes itself on the rest of society at first on the basis of natural disposition, then more and more on the basis of its previously acquired social position, in order to finally wind up in the formation of a class. The division of labour is the essential characteristic of class society and its formation, on which is grounded the division into antagonistic classes according to their relation to the means of production:

"The division of labour as we already saw above as one of the chief forces of history up till now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and manual labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the illusions of the class about itself its chief source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive because they are in reality the active members of the class and have less time to make up ideas and illusions about themselves." (Ibid, p. 59-60)

The production of consciousness is only one aspect of the material production of society and – in class society – this production is the property of a minority imposing itself on the rest of society. This mode of the production of consciousness does not only determine the object, the destination and the form of activity of consciousness, but also its essential nature. That is to say, not only "are the ideas of the ruling class the dominant ideas in every epoch" (ibid, p.59), but in addition, consciousness tends to reduce itself to ideas and thereby take on its nature as ideology. Because the conscious being of society is divided between those who produce and those who own the production, between those who act and those who think, consciousness is broken into thought and action, theory and practice; and because it is produced by precisely by those who do the thinking, it is identified with the first aspect of the dichotomy – with thought, with theory, with knowledge:

"From this moment onwards, consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of ‘pure’ theory, theology, philosophy, morality, etc…. Out of all this we get only one inference that these three moments, the productive forces, the state of society and consciousness, can and must come into contradiction with one another because the division of labour implies the possibility, nay the fact, that intellectual and material activity, that enjoyment and labour, production and consumption, devolve on different individuals, and that the only possibility of their not coming into contradiction lies in negating in its turn the division of labour." (Ibid, p. 45)

The separation of being and consciousness, of the "material world" and the "world of ideas" that ideological thought brings about is only a reflection of its own existence separated from practical activity. From this point of view, pre-capitalist idealism and bourgeois materialism do not differ; their opposition resides in the meaning of the relation that they establish between the two "worlds", the former raising consciousness, the latter being, to the rank of causal agent. It is this nature of ideology as consciousness separated from its concrete practical essence, which determines all of its characteristics, in particular the fact that it is always – in the last instance – a reflection of the existing order because its separation from practical activity condemns it to contemplation of the real world, whatever may be its pretensions to play the active and causal role in history.

THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE PROLETARIAT: NEGATION OF IDEOLOGY

Just as the proletariat is the living negation of the bourgeoisie and announces the advent of a real human community, its consciousness is the negation of ideology and announces the advent of a real human consciousness. Unlike all the ruling classes of the past, the proletariat does not bring about merely a different distribution of the surplus of production and administration of scarcity, but avails itself of the development of the productive forces bequeathed by capitalism to bring about abundance for all. The proletariat doesn’t maintain the domination of one class but abolishes classes; it doesn’t perfect the division of labour, it abolishes it. The direct and fundamental implication of this is that the society the proletariat bears within itself must be fully conscious as a totality, because only the conscious control of the whole of social activity can replace all the blind mechanisms based on the division of labour and competition which have insured the regulation of social activity up to the present time. Up till now, consciousness has only played a secondary role in history, because the division of labour subjected the individual to economic relations over which he had no control, and his consciousness could not transcend his individual act of production to encompass the whole of social reality. Fundamentally, communism is the passage of society to consciousness. That is why when revolutionaries (and we are here speaking of the majority of groups in the milieu) accuse us of overemphasizing the aspect of consciousness in the class struggle, they are only manifesting their ignorance of the very nature of the communism the proletariat bears. This historic task is not given to the proletariat by divine decree, but by its very conditions of existence. In this sense, when the IBRP finds no other argument with which to criticize the ICC’s pamphlet on class consciousness than "Hegelian teleology", that is to say, seeing the final goal as determining the movement and not the reverse, it only uncovers its own idealist vision of communism, because:

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality (will) have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things." (Ibid, p. 49)

The communist goal is nothing other than the movement of the proletariat such as it unfolds before our very eyes. When the proletariat struggles and affirms itself as a class, its first need is that of solidarity and the unification of its struggles, because as an exploited class, it has no other strength than its numbers against bourgeois domination – and this solidarity, this unity, is the foretaste of the unity of the future communist society. When the proletariat succeeds in organizing itself in struggle, transforming its numbers into a superior force, its organization is based on the activity of all and shatters the brutalizing separation of the division of intellectual and practical labour: everyone participates in making decisions as in all the practical tasks of the struggle, and this organization is again a foretaste of the organization of the future communist society. The foretaste only, because communism supposes a gigantic qualitative transformation with respect to these expressions of class struggle (in the first place, the disappearance of the proletariat itself as a class), but the foretaste nonetheless, which shows that communism is not an ideal outside the class struggle, contrary to the leninist conception.

If the proletariat bears within itself the abolition of the division of labour and class divisions, then it also bears within it the abolition of the conflict between "the productive forces, the state of society and consciousness", to use Marx’s terms, the abolition of the separation of theory and practice, and a consciousness which is really "conscious being" in the full sense of the term. With the proletariat, consciousness ceases to be ideology, an ensemble of ideas elaborated outside of the sphere of practical activity, and acquires the capacity to take in hand the transformation of the world, of the proletariat’s own conditions of existence, and therefore of itself:

"… the unity of theory and practice is only the reverse side of the social and historical position of the proletariat. From its own point of view, self-knowledge coincides with knowledge of the whole so that the proletariat is at one and the same time the subject and the object of its own knowledge." (Georg Lucaks, ,History and Class Consciousness, p. 20)

"… since consciousness here is not the knowledge of an opposed object but is the self-consciousness of an object, the act of consciousness overthrows the objective form of its object." (Ibid, p. 178)

This conception of consciousness coinciding with being can appear incomprehensible, ungraspable, when for millennia man has borne the weight of ideology, when each individual has been educated since childhood with the notion of theoretical consciousness which is inculcated from without so as to repress his most profound desires. Nonetheless, this conception will certainly appear as natural in communism, as today it appears natural for us to conceive of life as the mode of existence of matter at a certain degree of complexity (which was not at all the case just a few centuries ago). Moreover, this is not a question of some philosophical profession of faith, but of the theoretical expression of the historical tendency of the real proletarian movement. Because the proletariat is an exploited class which disposes of no economic power or institutions in capitalist society, it is incapable of developing its consciousness according to the processes of ideology, of establishing knowledge independent of its practical activity. The workers begin their struggles with all the trappings of bourgeois ideology in their heads, only developing their consciousness in their collective action; and when the collective consciousness manifests itself, it is in, and for, action. When we establish the difference between bourgeois ideology and the consciousness of the proletarian class:

"These distinctions are by no means academic. Quite apart from problems of culture where such fissures and dissonances are crucial, in all practical matters too the fate of a class depends on its ability to elucidate and solve the problems with which history confronts it. And here it becomes transparently obvious that class consciousness is concerned neither with the thoughts of individuals, however advanced, nor with the state of scientific knowledge." (Ibid, p. 53)

CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS AS A TOTALITY

Another characteristic of the consciousness of the proletariat immediately flows from what we just said. For the proletariat, consciousness is a class consciousness in the full sense of the term, and not an individual consciousness:

"Action, praxis – which Marx demanded before all else in his Theses on Feurebach – is in essence, the penetration and transformation of reality. But reality can only be understood and penetrated as a totality and only a subject that is itself a totality is capable of this penetration." (Ibid, p. 39)

This subject is the class:

"… only the class can actively penetrate the reality of society and transform it in its entirety. For this reason, ‘criticism’ advanced from the standpoint of class is criticism from a total point of view and hence it provides the dialectical unity of theory and practice." (ibid.)

The class nature of consciousness is already clearly present in the bourgeoisie as in all the classes which have preceded it. Bourgeois ideology is a process which unfolds independently of the will of this or that individual and which transcends the consciousness of the individual. However, because the bourgeoisie only exists in the divided form of competing individuals, capitals, nations, imperialist blocs, its consciousness necessarily presents itself in this divided form, appearing as individual consciousness. By contrast, for the proletariat, which only affirms itself as a class collectively, in unifying itself beyond all the divisions of bourgeois society and which bears within it the world human community, consciousness manifests itself as a totality. Moreover, we are not speaking of an abstract possibility or of a moral imperative, but of an unavoidable constraint inscribed in the proletariat’s very conditions of existence. Because the proletariat is an exploited class, as long as it remains in its initial state as a mass of competing individuals, submitting to the mode of existence of capitalism, these individuals remain subject to the dominant bourgeois ideology. The proletariat does not have a "false consciousness", contrary to the conception advanced by Lucaks and developed by the modernists; it does not yet have consciousness. The proletariat’s consciousness only begins to develop when it affirms itself as an autonomous being, as a collective class engaged in struggle and, at that moment, it develops in opposition to all the ideological prejudices which subsist in the heads of individual workers. In every workers’ struggle which succeeds in being organized, the consciousness expressed at the level of the struggle as a whole is qualitatively higher than that of the individual workers who are often surprised by what they are capable of doing together and yet who retain a whole gamut of prejudices which will resurface when the struggle ebbs and capitalism resumes its "normal" course. Therefore, it is its condition as an exploited class which produces the consciousness of the proletariat directly as a totality. As Lucaks emphasizes:

"… class consciousness is identical with neither the psychological consciousness of individuals of the proletariat nor with the (mass-psychological) consciousness of the proletariat as a whole." (Ibid, p.73)

"This consciousness is, therefore, neither the sum nor the average of what is thought or felt by the single individuals who make up the class." (ibid, p.51)

CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS DENATURED: COUNCILISM AND LENINISM

Both councilism and leninism reproduce an ideological conception of class consciousness which is seen as a collection of knowledge that the proletariat must acquire. For councilism, this consciousness is only a reflection of the immediate situation of the workers; for leninism, it is produced outside the sphere of immediate experience, in the sphere of intellectual reflection, which in its turn is given the leading role. In both cases, the separation between the "material world" and the "world of ideas" of bourgeois materialism is preserved, councilism taking up bourgeois materialism in its strictly determinist, vulgar form and leninism taking up bourgeois materialism in its voluntarist form, which adds to it idealism in the "world of ideas" by proclaiming the pre-eminence of spirit over matter in human practice. Leninism indeed defends the dialectic because it recognizes the interaction between the sphere of experience and the sphere of thought, between class and party, between practice and theory; but these interactions remain relations between separate spheres and leninism’s dialectic does not go beyond the bourgeois dialectic of the natural sciences.

All this appears clearly in the text of the IBRP which we have already cited, which develops its leninist position on class consciousness. From the fist page of this text, when the IBRP defines "consciousness in general", it shows that this latter is only "consciousness in general" such as it has existed until now, that is to say, ideological consciousness:

"The basic assumption of bourgeois materialism was that there existed a material universe independent of ourselves, and that contact with this universe is the source of consciousness. This much historical materialism shares with bourgeois materialism." (RP #21, p.15)

Nothing is more false. The IBRP directly copies the errors of Lenin more than 80 years later as though nothing had changed, as though Pannekoek, for example, had not brilliantly refuted this whole conception in his Lenin as Philosopher (independently of the fact that his conclusions on the nature of the party in Lenin and on the Russian Revolution are completely wrong). In reality, the postulate of bourgeois materialism that the IBRP makes its own, is only "the highest point attained by intuitive materialism", that is to say, "the intuition of isolated individuals in civil society" as Marx says in his Theses on Feuerbach, which the IBRP also cites, but without understanding the first thing about them. From the point of view of the isolated individual, the world necessarily appears as a world independent of himself:

"The individual can never become the measure of all things. For when the individual confirms objective reality he is faced by a complex of ready-made and unalterable objects which allow him only the subjective responses of recognition or rejection. Only the class can relate to the whole of reality in a practical revolutionary way. (The ‘species’ cannot do this as it is no more than an individual that has been mythologized and stylized in a spirit of contemplation.) And the class, too, can only manage it when it can see through the reified objectivity of the given world to the process that is also its own fate." (Lucaks, History and Class Consciousness, p.193)

From the point of view of the class or of society, the world is in no way independent, inasmuch as it is the world such as it has been transformed by society:

"The relation of the scientist to the world, despite his experiments, remains observational. To him, the world is an external thing to look at. But in reality, man deals with nature in his practical life by acting upon it and making it a part of his existence. Man does not stand against nature as to an external, alien world. By the toil of his hands, man transforms the world to such an extent that the original natural substance is hardly discernible, and in this process transforms himself too. Thus man himself builds his new world: human society embedded in nature transformed into a technical apparatus." (Anton Pannekoek, Lenin as Philosopher, p.18)

This is exactly the thesis of Marx cited by the IBRP, which, however, seeks to make it demonstrate the opposite:

"The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sense activity, practice, not subjectively …."<.p>

It must be clear that this in no way implies the idealist postulate of the absence of any form of existence of nature independent of man. Even if the IBRP considers man’s relation to external nature (nature not transformed by man), it will see that this is not "contact with this universe" which is the "source of our consciousness", without which consciousness would be a property of all matter, since all matter is in contact with nature. No! The source of consciousness is the social activity of the transformation of nature by man.

It is not a question here of a philosophical dispute, because this postulate of the IBRP constitutes the basis of its whole conception of class consciousness and of its own relation to the class. Because, from the outset, it defines the relation of consciousness to the world as that of a scientific observer, as that of an ideologue to external nature, it conceives the production of consciousness according to the mechanism of ideology. As we have already quoted at the beginning of this text, the secret of this production is that "the raw material of experience was actively restructured by its recipients by thought … and transformed into consciousness, which in turn reacted back on experience."(RP #21, p.15) It is this purely mechanistic, psychological description which the IBRP presents as the foundation of the dialectic and the principal contribution of Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach! All the rest follows logically. It is evident that from the moment class consciousness is no longer the living process through which the proletariat transforms the world, it is frozen into a collection of scientific knowledge, into an ideology, elaborated outside the "raw material of experience", that is to say, outside the class struggle, by the individuals best equipped to accomplish this task; in short, by the intellectuals; that the revolutionary party – the "brain" of the proletariat – is where this occurs and that its function is to lead the working class.

THE ICC ON THE SAME ROAD

For its part, the ICC has a past characterized by clarity on the question of class consciousness which did not allow it to share the extreme positions of leninism. But its recent [this was written in 1986] turnaround has, slowly but surely, led it along the same road. It is significant that in its polemic with the CWO over the very article that we have been criticizing (the one that bears the imprimatur of the IBRP), the ICC has nothing to add to the general conception of the CWO on consciousness; on the contrary:

"In a long article … the CWO makes a perfectly correct critique of the councilist ideology which reduces class consciousness (and therefore the revolutionary organization which expresses it most clearly) to an automatic and mechanical product of the immediate struggles of the class. It points out that Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach … first of all constitutes a rejection of this ‘automatic’ vision, which deprives consciousness of its active, dynamic aspect and which is characteristic of the vulgar materialism of the bourgeoisie." (International Review #43, p. )

We have already seen the real nature of this "active, dynamic aspect" that the IBRP speaks of, and how it is distinguished from bourgeois materialism!

Although the ICC continues to defend a number of correct statements on class consciousness, these cannot hide the regressions into which it has plunged. The fact that both coexist in an eclectic amalgam in the service of purely polemical ends making any debate practically impossible, only makes it even more necessary to shed some light on these regressions and their implications. The quotation from the ICC given at the beginning of this text, together with innumerable formulations advanced in external and internal texts in the course of the "debates" which ended with our exclusion from the ICC, shows that more and more the ICC conceives of class consciousness as a collection of knowledge, as an equivalent to the communist program, and to the political positions of the proletariat which the class must assimilate, the "extent" of this "assimilation" being the "consciousness of the class". (IR, #42) International Review #40, for example, specifies that "class consciousness necessarily has a form and a content", like any fixed thing, and that this "content" is the "program and theory". In one of the texts which marked the opening of the hunt for "centrism" in the ICC, the present was characterized as "fleeting and in this sense the most ephemeral, the least stable moment of reality by definition" and as such, associated with "centrism", while the future, the goal to be attained, was characterized as "fundamentally the conscious element of action", "the compass in the process of the development of class consciousness", "the yardstick used to measure the path already traveled", the "reference point", and as such, associated with Marxism. All these elements reveal the process of ideologization under way in the ICC, which faced with its incapacity to understand and dynamize the present, seeks to freeze consciousness into a theoretical knowledge of the future, a compass for the sailor lost in the storm. The dualism of consciousness expressed in the distinction between "class consciousness" and "consciousness of the class" is the reflection of this process of ideologization. This is so because the separation of an abstract class consciousness form the consciousness of the concrete class is in essence that of ideology which abstracts itself from concrete activity. This dualism is established by classical leninism in the most consequent way in its separation between "socialist consciousness" contained in the party and the "spontaneously trade-unionist consciousness" of the class – a conception which reduces the class to a mass of individuals and its consciousness to a psychological average of individuals, while its revolutionary essence is alienated from it under the form of an ideal historical consciousness incarnated in the party. It is, therefore, quite logical when we find similar formulations today in the ICC. In an internal text, the idea that the "consciousness of the class" is not revolutionary, not even "implicitly or embryonically", was itself explicitly defended. But if it is not revolutionary, what is it then, if not "trade-unionist", or rather, in its modern version, "councilist", "centrist", "hesitant"? With respect to the assignment of class consciousness to the party, it is implicit, and even explicit in several texts: "communists have as specific responsibility the permanent elaboration of consciousness". (Internationalisme, #95, p.7) In practice, this relation of communists to their class is translated into the classic relation of "direction", that one finds in World Revolution #92, where the ICC bemoans the fact of not having been capable of acting "as the pole of regroupment for the workers, as a centre for coordination and direction", in its intervention in Great Britain.

To fall into leninist ideology it is not necessary to share its most caricatural aspects such as consciousness being brought from outside the class. Others have fallen into leninist ideology while recognizing the origin of consciousness within the class struggle, including Lucaks whom we have already cited several times for his theoretical clarity on certain points. To fall into leninist ideology it is sufficient to reproduce within the class the mechanism and the relations of ideology.


M. Lazare

NOTE: In a second part of this text, we will take up the concrete process of the development of class consciousness in capitalist society, specifying the role of communists in this process.


Internationalist Perspective, 4, autumn 198


Home Issues of IP Texts Discussion IP's French site Links