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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Workers’ Consciousness Revisited

Sunday 29 December 2013



A leading member and ideologue of the CPI, Anil Rajimwale (AR for short), has honoured us by his important critique (Mainstream, vol. LI, number 27, June 22) of our position on the question of workers’ (revolutionary) consciousness, published earlier in the same weekly.

As Lenin’s idea on this question was the object of our critique, AR naturally starts with a defence of Lenin with the opening salvo: “Among the great figures of the world revolutionary movement Lenin was the one who really mastered Hegel’s dialectic as none else.” A tall claim indeed! First of all, the author has not made clear how this question of philosophy is relevant for workers’ revolutionary consciousnesss. Secondly this claim (pre)supposes the claimer’s own complete ‘mastery’ of Hegel’s dialectic as well as the claimer’s complete information on the philosophical writings of “all the great figures of the world revolutionary movement”. Indeed, this is the first time that we come across such a learned and well-informed individual to his credit.

AR has faulted us for having “gone to wrong places in Marx and Engels” in our critique of Lenin. Presumably, the ‘right places’ would be those which support Lenin’s position. We have not found any such place in Marx and Engels, and AR has not provided us with any. The Engels text to which Lenin refers in his 1901-02 What is to be done, speaks not of workers’ (revolutionary) consciousness—least of all its export to the workers by foreign bodies, that is, non-proletarian intelligentsia—but of the importance of acquiring scientific theory by the workers. Theory is neither identical with nor equivalent to consciousness. And naturally there is no reference to any text by Marx in this sense.

Unable to develop revolutionary consciousness on their own, the workers will be incapacitated to make their own revolution and emancipate themselves from the existing social order. It is a process of their self-emancipation (“the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves,” as Marx told the International in 1864). Indeed the historical record of workers’ movement in the 20th century shows, without exception, that consciousness exported to the workers, in the name of revolution, by the elements foreign to them and forming no integral part of them, has really meant that the consciousness-givers ended up by being power-takers and power-monopolisers, the workers being reduced to simple followers of their commands. Capitalism cannot be defeated and socialism in the sense of association of free individuals established without the independent revolutionary action of the workers, even when proper objective conditions exist.

And this independent revolutionary action depends on the workers’ revolutionary consciousness which they gain through their own daily class struggles, through their own life experience. Indeed, as Marx and Engels under-lined (1845), “the consciousness of the necessity of revolution, communist consciousness emanates from the (working) class itself”. Years later Engels, in his 1890 Preface to the Communist Manifesto, stressing the workers’ own action to liberate themselves, referred to Marx and wrote: ”For the ultimate triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto Marx relied solely and uniquely on the intellectual development of the working class as it necessarily had to ensue from the united action and discussion.” Indeed, the non-proletarian intelligentsia can help the movement principally by imparting general scientific education .to the workers.

We conclude the piece by going to another ‘wrong place in Marx and Engels’. In a jointly drafted letter (September 1879), the two friends, referring particularly to the German intellectuals who, while professing solidarity with the workers, did not believe that the workers could emancipate themselves, wrote that while what they had in the 1848 Manifesto spoken about the possibility of the elements from the ruling class coming over to the workers’ movement, they had simultaneously emphasised that the latter had to bring the elements of ‘enlightenment’ to the workers. So this is the first demand. Secondly, though this outside crowd is “a falsifying element” in the workers’ party, if a situation arises where a workers’ party had to tolerate momentarily these elements they must in no case “be allowed to influence the working class leadership”. The letter added: “At the foundation of the International we had formulated explicitly the battle cry that the ‘emancipation of the working class must be the task of the working class itself’. Therefore we cannot be in the company of those who openly hold that the workers are too uneducated to be able to free themselves, and had to be freed from above.”

Montreal Paresh Chattopadhyay

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