Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Lenin, Lukacs and the actuality of the revolution

This is the fourth and final part of my series on a few key aspects of Lenin and his legacy. The previous posts are here:

Lenin's 'What is to be done?'
Lenin, democracy and freedom of criticism
Lenin: how to divide and how to combine

It is the Russian Revolution and its achievements that gives Lenin his place in history. But it is also the degradation of the original revolutionary spirit under Stalinism that largely accounts for Lenin's poor reputation, even on the left. Georg Lukacs' short book 'Lenin: a study on the unity of his thought' was written in 1924 and expresses the key ideas that guided Lenin in the years preceding 1917 and in the revolution.

Lukacs makes much of Lenin's concept of the actuality of the revolution - and the working class as the revolutionary class. What does this mean? Firstly, it doesn't mean that revolution is always lurking just around the corner. For the vast majority of the time, in a capitalist society, revolution appears a distant horizon: to most people, most of the time, it is unrealistic. But Lenin and Lukacs both recognised the potential for revolutionary transformation that is latent in society. The contradictions of our world mean there is always potential for outbursts of resistance, often very unexpectedly.

Furthermore, the working class is inherently the revolutionary class because of its social and economic position as producers of wealth and due to being able to act collectively. The working class was small and weak when Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto; by 1917, even in a relatively under-developed Russia, it had much greater collective strength. Lukacs wrote that 'the actuality of the revolution means that the bourgeoisie has ceased to be a revolutionary class.'

The era of bourgeois revolutions, which consolidated capitalist power politically, was over. The English and French revolutions of the 1640s and 1789-93 respectively had marked the strengthening of bourgeois rule in developing capitalist societies. But these ruling classes were now the established order - they were in no position to be revolutionary, even in a country like Russia (with its still semi-feudal Tsarist order). Alongside this development is another one: the working class grows. As Lukacs writes: 'Thus the outlines of the situation in which the proletariat, on its own, is called upon to play the leading role become sharper and more concrete'.

Writing about the change between Marx's time and the era of Lenin, Lukacs wrote: 'the actuality of the proletarian revolution is no longer only a world historical horizon arching above the self-liberating working class, but that revolution is already on its agenda.' The contradictions in capitalist society - and in working class consciousness - mean sudden twists and leaps are possible, however superficially stable things may seem. To make the most of new opportunities, revolutionaries require dynamism and flair in giving coherence and leadership (where possible) to the struggles that emerge.

Lenin grasped that the latent revolutionary character of his (and our) times was the framework for determining socialist strategy and tactics. Even modest tactical decisions have to be formulated in that context. He, as Lukacs writes, recognised 'the fundamental problem of our time - the approaching revolution - at the time and place of its first appearance. From then on he understood and explained all events, Russian as well as international, from this perspective - from the perspective of the actuality of the revolution.'

One of Lukacs' intellectual achievements, particularly in History and Class Consciousness, was his theoretical work on the marxist dialectic and its applications. A central element in this work is relating the specific to the whole, analysing every specific situation in relation to the bigger picture. This has, as I've indicated, implications for strategy and tactics, because tactics have to be part of a wider strategy and based on an accurate understanding of social and political conditions. Lenin did this in practice: one of his great strengths was flexibly adapting tactics within a larger strategy, while he was expert in connecting 'what is to be done' to an informed analysis of society. He was extremely adaptable, but once a course had been chosen it was necessary to implement it decisively. This was the essence of leadership - not only personal leadership of the party by Lenin, but leadership of wider struggles and movements by the party.

Lukacs puts it like this: 'Individual actions can only be considered revolutionary or counter-revolutionary when related to the central issue of revolution, which is only to be discovered by an accurate analysis of the socio-historic whole. The actuality of the revolution therefore implies study of each individual daily problem in concrete association with the socio-historic whole, as moments in the liberation of the proletariat'. Looked at in this light, even very minor victories have meaning and worth as part of a revolutionary project - they are 'moments in the liberation of the proletariat'.

A talk on Lukacs' 'Lenin' by John Rees can be viewed HERE. I also suggest looking at THIS.

For an in-depth elaboration of the dialectic - including chapters on Lenin and Lukacs - I strongly recommend The Algebra of Revolution: the dialectic and the classic marxist tradition by John Rees. Volume 1 - Building the Party - of Tony Cliff's Lenin biography is a superb exploration of Lenin's own practice as a revolutionary.


  1. Interesting stuff. I am at present looking over some of Gramsci's comments on the same. I'll definitely link you in when I get round to it.

  2. Thanks, Dave. Regarding Lukacs, it's worth looking at the lengthy series of posts on him at A Very Public Sociologist, which I forgot to link to above.

  3. That's alright, Alex (coincidentally I'm working on a Gramsci post too Dave - should go up tomorrow if I'm not feeling lazy).

    I think this is an interesting piece thoughtful piece but it does leave you open to the sorts of critiques others have been making elsewhere about you and your comrades' ideas of leadership.

    I also think Lukacs's Lenin (and for that matter, Cliff's) downplays the importance of the party as a collective. Lukacs's essay on the party (my take here) has less to say about revolutionary elan and more about the necessity for a collegial and critical internal regime, in which there are no barriers between leaders and lay comrades. As I noted:

    "The expectation that members should become involved in all aspects of party work requires members have a critical attitude toward all the actions the party undertakes, up to and including the leadership. The closer the relationship between leaders and other full-time cadres is with lay members, the better the dialectic between individual and class consciousness, and party and class, operates."

    Also my overall view of History and Class Consciousness is here.

    I'd be interested to hear what you think of this aspect of Lukacs, which is often overlooked in discussions of H&CC.

    Also on a slightly related topic, I'd be interested in your thoughts on other British Trotskyist traditions - what you think their positives are, where you think the IS tradition is superior, etc. Mind you, that's pretty much a mammoth task ...

  4. "The contradictions in Capitalist society- and in working class consciousness- mean sudden twists and leaps are possible, however superficially stable things may seem"-

    This sentence about how the prospect of reveolution can suddenly take a huge leap forward, and become much more of a concrete possibility made me hink of Gramsci too Dave, particularly his following quote where he talks about the impact of the start of the mass factory occupations at the height of the Biennio Roso:

    "One day like this is worth ten years of normal activity, normal propoganda and normal absorption of revolutionary notions and ideas" (Gramsci, quoted from Bamberry's Rebels guide to him p37- yes I am still a light weight Marxist, lol!)

  5. utter drivel, as if no-one before lukacs had has foresight to look at the 'totality' of society before working out a political strategy. I think that lukacs' just substituted 'working class' for 'absolute spirit' in his much overpraised hegelian nonsense to solve his pre marxist phase philosophal problem, i mean who actually understands hegel - a seriously fucking smart profeesor, philospher of science and student of lakatos, once told me he couldnt even make head nor tail of it!
    Not to mention lines like 'Individual actions can only be considered revolutionary or counter-revolutionary when related to the central issue of revolution' are almost proto-stalinist in their justify anything demagogery.

  6. Phil BC
    I agree, of course, with your quote about the relationship between leadership and other members in the party (and need for critical thinking). I'm not convinced, however, that it's something downplayed in either Lukacs' Lenin or Cliff's Lenin. Both perhaps focus to a large extent on the role of Lenin personally, as a political leader, which is the brief those writers set themselves. But both also give a powerful sense of the role played by the revolutionary party, not just its leaders.

    Yes, I think the IS tradition has had distinct strengths historically over other Trotskyist traditions, although it is arguable how relevant these are in 2010. The most important is the analysis of the world developed principally by Cliff in the years following World War Two, i.e. the combination of theorising state capitalism in the 'Communist' world, the theory of deflected permanent revolution in Third World countries and the analysis of Western capitalism's long boom.

    How much difference this makes today is questionable - these should NOT be vital markers of difference between us now - but they were indispensable to the IS tradition, laying the groundwork for building IS/SWP. I also think Cliff's rediscovery of many lessons from the Bolsheviks was important.

    Gramsci provides extremely useful ideas about how consciousness develops and changes. I think it helped him, in this respect, to have personally experienced such changes, most obviously in the 'red years' after the end of World War One which you refer to. In his chapter on Lukacs (in The Algebra of Revolution), John Rees devotes a few pages to Gramsci. Including his brief commentary within a chapter on Lukacs helps show the connections between them and how they complement each other. Well worth reading.

  7. Anon
    Your response is strangely bad-tempered, but I'll just make two basic points. I never suggested that nobody prior to Lukacs (or Lenin) had never considered the totality of society before formulating political strategy. This is a straw man argument. What is true, however, is that analysing the contradictory totality of society as the basis for strategy is a revolutionary approach. It runs counter to the tendency for bourgeois thought - and reformist politics - to compartmentalise everything, e.g. between economics and politics, and to separate means and ends.

    Chris Harman, while noting the dangers in Lukacs of being overly abstract, has interesting comments on this in his posthumously published essay which appears in the new ISJ (see Harman contrasts Lukacs and Althusser - the latter was rather keen on separating analysis into a number of different levels. (Harman also comments briefly on the relevance of Gramsci, and locates the rediscovery of both Lukacs and Gramsci historically).

    Your repetition of the old myth about Hegel being impenetrable is in my view way off the mark. Once transformed by Marx, the dialectic is indispensable as a tool of analysis. I see no other way of doing two crucial things: successfully explaining the relationship of the parts to the whole, and giving an account of how social transformation is possible despite superficial stability. The dialectic - if applied properly, as it isn't some magic wand to miraculously bring insight - provides the ability to examine contradictions in society, and how they underpin change. The marxist (and Lukacsian) dialectic is no irrelevant abstract totality.

  8. Lukacs maintained that what he meant by 'imputed class consciousness' was what Lenin said in 'What is to be Done?' - namely that workers cannot achieve proper class consciousness of their own accord but must have it injected from without. In a later Preface to HCC he says:

    "My intention, then, was to chart the correct and authentic class consciousness of the proletariat, distinguishing it from ‘public opinion surveys’ (a term not yet in currency) and to confer upon it an indisputably practical objectivity. I was unable, however, to progress beyond the notion of an ‘imputed’ class consciousness. By this I meant the same thing as Lenin in What is to be done? when he maintained that socialist class consciousness would differ from the spontaneously emerging trade-union consciousness in that it would be implanted in the workers ‘from outside’, i.e. “from outside the economic struggle and the sphere of the relations between workers and employers”. Hence, what I had intended subjectively, and what Lenin had arrived at as the result of an authentic Marxist analysis of a practical movement, was transformed in my account into a purely intellectual result and thus into something contemplative. In my presentation it would indeed be a miracle if this ‘imputed’, consciousness could turn into revolutionary praxis."

    It does not surprise me one whit that supporters of the Left Platform cling to this outmoded and long superseded idea of how class consciousness develops. In lukacs's schema it turns out that what he means by 'imputed class consciousness' is the Bolshevik party... the party really *is* already the embodiment of objective class consciousness. He is absolutely explicit about this. It was this concept of class consciousness that the IS of old broke with, but which John Rees has tried over the years to reintroduce.

    I may be bending the stick here, but I propose this alternative formulation as a corrective to this self-serving bureaucratism being proposed by Rees's acolytes: "The history of all countries shows that Leninists can only achieve a vanguardist consciousness. Socialist understanding will have to be brought to them from without, by the working class."

    There is a great deal of value in Lukacs, but to use it you first have to thoroughly innoculate yourself against this fatal flaw in his thinking.

  9. It seems both Lenin and Lukacs are being attacked in Andy Wilson's criticism. By extension, Cliff's 'Building the Party' is cast in a very suspect light, and this in turn is used as a stick with which to beat SWP Left Platform supporters. Lenin's WITBD is far more interesting than Andy's caricature would suggest.

    It's true that a couple of passages (but that's all) seem to suggest workers can only attain limited reformist consciousness without the external input of a revolutionary party, which can lead to a view of Leninism as elitist. But these passages are nonetheless open to more favourable interpretations, especially as there are passages elsewhere in WITBD (and in the wider Lenin canon) that point in a different direction.

    It is particularly worth recalling that Lenin, justifiably, adapted his arguments at different times to emphasise salient points. It should be obvious from Lenin's own political practice (and indeed that of Lukacs between roughly 1918 and the mid-1920s) that his conception of a revolutionary party - or of leadership within it - was far from elitist or undemocratic.

    Lenin, Lukacs and Cliff all had a more subtle view of the relationship between party and class than simply saying 'the party is already the embodiment of objective class consciousness'. It is also simply untrue that 'the old IS' (who is he talking about here?) broke from Lukacs, and John R is responsible for 'reintroducing' him.

    As Chris Harman wrote in one of his last articles (on Althusser - see the new ISJ), IS activists including himself championed Lukacs vigorously in the 1960s. The Althusser article written shortly before Harman's death indicates that he maintained his view of Lukacs until the end. Prof Callinicos, of course, is a somewhat different matter - while John Molyneux has, like Andy W, made dismissive remarks on Lukacs theory of leadership and claimed this is the theoretical origins of John R's supposed errors.

  10. Just to be completely clear: yes, I am criticising Lenin for that formulation, as the IS tradition has always done, and I am criticisng Lukacs for attempting to provide a philosophical rationale for that mistaken formulation in HCC via his concept of 'imputed class consciousness'.

    I didn't say that the IS broke with Lukacs, I said that they broke with the concept of class consciousness which sees the revolutionary party embodying the correct consciousness and injecting it, one way or another, into the class. Cliff and the IS explicitly rejected precisely that formulation, albeit that Cliff's later books on Lenin retreat in many ways to a more orthodox view.

    The problem with the way the debate about Lukacs was conducted in the SWP in the past is that it was turned into a rather tedious argument about whether Lukacs was essentially a good or a bad guy.

    Lenin, Lukacs and Cliff may well have had "a more subtle view" of these issues than is implied by Lukacs' formula - they would have had to, naturally, to avoid complete schematicism. I would argue, though, that John Rees's interpretation of Lukacs has hinged precisely around the weakest point in Lukacs's work - ie. precisely the way that he introduces objectivity to his concept of class consciousness via an abstraction ('imputed class consciousness'). In practice such an abstraction cannot be played out meaningfully, and instead becomes a cipher for bureaucratic leadership.

    Consider: how could we possibly interpret Lukacs's statement that the party is "the actually existing embodiment of imputed class consciousness"? The actually existing party cannot embody that unitary consciousness, since the actually existing party necessarily reflects different ideas and contains contradictions (as you are discovering at the moment). Therefore, in practice this claim inevitably is translated into an idea that the party's decisions embody the correct class consciousness. Again, usually in practice this means that our leaders are always right. In practice, the concept of imputed class consciousness is.... abstract and impractical.

    To say this is clearly not to reject Lenin or Lukacs tout court, but to identify an extremely problematic aspect of his philosophical system. The point is that it is *this aspect* of Lukacs that is given form in Cliff's practice of 'stick bending' (ie. the leadership know best, and have to overemphasise in order to successfully direct a recalcitrant rank and file) and in John Rees's various proclamations on the need for 'decisive leadership'. The latter formulation, in my opinion, was never intended simply as an abstract demand for the party leadership to show some gumption but - a very different idea - to justify the leadership being able to make all the decision and not be held to account.

    My point is that this particular aspect of Lukacs' early system is dangerous.

    "Cliff's 'Building the Party' is cast in a very suspect light"

    it is indeed - it's a very poor book, which served only to recast Lenin in the image of Cliff. Certainly Lenin himself never fetishised the notion of 'stick bending' in the way Cliff did - in that sense, Lenin broke more thoroughly with the mistaken aspect of What is to be Done? than did Cliff. As you yourself have said in a different post, Lenin, in his attitude to party democracy, is a much misunderstood man. One reason that this is true among a layer of SWP members is that they read Lenin through the lens of Cliff's biography.

  11. I rather liked some of the things Alan Shandro had to say about the nature of leading a proletarian movement - some of my thoughts are here, in the context of a short critique of 'post-Marxism' -

  12. "giving an account of how social transformation is possible despite superficial stability"

    well from the standpoint of the 21st century, capitalism does indeed seem to have been rather less superficially stable than marx or Lukacs would have believed.

    there is something quasi-religious in the concept of the "actuality of the revolution", since it posits a teleological necessity and assumes an ideal class consciousness based not upn a materialist analysis of what exists, but upon inate potential.

    It is also window dressing to cover bureaucratic and unaccountable leadership, since the decisions of the leadership cannot be judged by the actually existing situation visible to us mere mortals, but only judged by its utility towards a future revolution; and is thhe party is thhe embodyment of class consciousnes, this is the embodyment not of the class consciousness of the actually existing working class, but only of the ideal cnsciousness of the working class that is assumed in Lukasc's schema of being capable of transcending its current atomisation and alienation to achieve self awareness of a revolutionary role.

    In the meantime, while we are waiting, the party knows what that future consciousness will be; and sadly because the party is uneven, and infleuinced by the actually existing scontradictioons of the real working class, we do not mean the whole epparty, but only those whose elevated detatchment at the centre brings them this special vision.

    thank goodness for Lenin, thank goodness for Cliff, thank goodness for JOhn Rees, those who see further and with greater wisdom.

    Thank goodness the SWP seems to be turning away from this.

  13. I'm slightly baffled as to why Andy Wilson would quote Lukacs' 1967 preface in support of his position: as is well-known, this was written after Lukacs had made his peace with Stalinism, and penned largely as an attempt to distance himself from his earlier, 'erroneous' line. It is one reading of H&CC; it cannot be considered definitive.

    Of far more interest is Lukacs' essay in defence of History and Class Consciousness, 'Tailism and the Dialectic', written in the mid-1920s against what we can now recognise as a brewing Stalinist opposition to H&CC's position. Tailism and the Dialectic remained unpublished for decades after Lukacs' death, but is absolutely invaluable as a guide to H&CC itself.

    Much of that Stalinist opposition, from now-forgotten figures like Deborin and Rudas, also fixated on 'imputed' consciousness, describing it precisely as the unwarranted intrusion of idealism - the subjective thoughts of the philosopher being imposed on the objectively existing working class.

    Lukacs' defence is forthright and, I believe, convincing. First, the claim that no 'imputed' consciousness exists - that consciousness is not contradictory - collapses the problem of ideology and contradictory consciousness: working class consciousness is simply whatever the working class actually believes at the time. Progress towards socialism is reduced, deterministically, to the problem of economic growth - as capitalism develops, working class consciousness develops alongside it. This is classic Second International Marxism, given a 'revolutionary' gloss in supporting the Communist Parties and the USSR, rather than Labour and Parliament.

    Second, the issue of 'imputed' consciousness arises precisely as a result of Lukacs' other key concept (taken from Marx), commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism means it is not possible to 'read off' the nature of social life from direct observation: we are imprisoned in a 'commodity veil' that prevents us seeing society as a totality made up of classes with conflicting interests. Bourgeois ideology, in whatever form, rests on precisely that fundamental division between our observation of reality, and reality itself.

    On one level, this is elementary: the chemical structure of water is not instantly knowable to the scientist. A structure of scientific practice and accepted scientific beliefs is necessary to derive it. For social facts, as Marx and Engels themselves noted, it is necessary also to establish a theoretical structure to derive them.

    The particular issue Lukacs confronts is that the passive observation of social life - unlike the natural sciences - is not enough to gain an understanding of it. We are all trapped by commodity fetishism, unable to perceive the social world properly; but the proletariat's unique position within that social world, as the conscious, self-aware provider of capitalism's central commodity, labour-power, provides it with the potential to tear through the commodity veil and see society as a whole.

  14. (cont.)

    The potential, but not the guaranteed fact. Lukacs' innovation is to locate the creation of the revolutionary organisation - the revolutionary party - as the point at which the potential can be realised,

    Unlike the natural sciences, the commodity fetishim we are all bound by means we cannot use theory alone to observe the world and so gain an understanding of it; commodity fetishism, and the proletariat's privileged position as a result of this, means that an understanding of the world can only be gained through an active, disciplined engagement with it. Active engagement requires an organisation of the most active; disciplined engagement requires a prior theoretical understanding of the world, and knowledge of history. The combination of the two is a revolutionary organisation, the vanguard party.

    Does this mean that any actually existing 'Party' is the sole repository of correct knowledge about the social world? No, quite clearly not; it is central to Lukacs' Lenin (and his essay in HC&C, 'Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Proletarian Organisation' that largely prefigures it) that a dialectical relationship of party and class is necessary to establish the truth of the party's claims about the world: the party must be engaged with a constant dialogue and debate with the wider class to itself gain a better, more correct understanding of the world.

    All of this may be flawed reasoning, for many reasons; but it is a long way from the Stalinist caricature of his thought that the early Lukacs fought against, and the later, sadly, succumbed to.

  15. Andy Newman is talking rot, I think, not in his diatribe about the need for accountability, but in his grafting it on to the remarks of Lukacs in his assertion that there is 'something religious' in the concept of the actuality of the revolution.

    Or in his imputation that this concept assumes a teleological progression. I'd also dispute his use of the phrase 'inate [sic] potential'.

    To begin with, to recognize an innate potential - which Marxism clearly does - is not inherently teleological. It is merely to sketch out the possibilities through a materialist analysis of the life processes of capitalism. It is not to suggest what 'must' happen.

    Not to say that we can't have aims and objectives. To dismiss these as 'teleological' is plainly nonsensical from the point of view of a rational, materialist political movement. And the 'actuality of the revolution' is just that; a directive to bear in mind our objective. In the case of Gramsci, Lukacs and Lenin, this is the proletarian dictatorship.

    One can dispute the aim on tactical grounds, by suggesting some other means of uniting the working class and removing capitalism. But to dismiss the aim itself as teleological is a nonsense, since the aim is only realised by the individual activity of many thousands and millions of individuals working to achieve the innate revolutionary potential of their class. It is not handed down as though from above.

    Thus this notion about the 'actuality of the revolution' being quasi religious is also nonsense.

    On a side note, Andy, I just read your article over at Socialist Unity. A 'cod reading' of Lukacs? You and Alex may have a history I'm unaware of but that just screamed "cheap shot" to me.

  16. Faithful: I agree that the 1967 Preface is generally dubious for the reasons you give. Despite this I see no reason to doubt his claim there that the concept of imputed class consciousness in HCC was intended to bolster Lenin's idea in What is to be Done? that the correct consciousness cannot arise spontaneously from workers struggles. I am not supporting the arguments of the Preface more generally. I don't mind if you want to claim that Lukacs for some reason is being misleading about this particular point, but you need to address that point specifically rather than dismiss the Preface out of hand.

    The problem isn't that Lukacs makes a distinction between actual and objective consciousness, but that (ironically) he reifies the distinction, making actual and imputed consciousness not merely antithetical but abstractly opposed and irreconcilable.

    "Does this mean that any actually existing 'Party' is the sole repository of correct knowledge about the social world?"

    But therein lies the problem. Lukacs believes that the party is the actually existing embodiment of the correct class consciousness. He is perfectly explicit about that. In that way he precisely cuts short the dialectical relationship between party and class.

    This is the aspect of Lukacs's early work that I dispute. Much of what you say I agree with. If one accepts the broad outlines of Lukacs's critique of reification (as I do) then there is an obvious need to be able to explain how the objectivity of thought nevertheless arises, and this will require something like a distinction between actual and objective consciousness, and an explanation of the relation between them. The thing is, I think that Lukacs's explanation - his particular treatment of the concept of imputed class consciousness - is mistaken. Not only that, but it is formulated by him in such a way to bolster an idea from Lenin (which Lenin himself later rejected, and which Marx had already explicitly rejected) that the working class must have the correct consciousness injected from without.

    I assume that we could agree that such consciousness could only ultimately arise as a result of interaction between party and class, in a process of subject formation. But Lukacs stalls this process when he argues that the party already embodies such objectivity. You cannot insist on the one hand that correct consciousness is the result of a dialectical process and, on the other, that the party already embodies the correct consciousness unless you believe that the process has ended. Obviously, it has not.

  17. Andy W - my point is simply that Lukacs is, at that point in the Preface, attacking his earlier work by reproducing arguments he had been at pains to refute in the past.

    It's not that he's necessarily actually right either way. His arguments could be flawed, incorrect, illogical, regardless of the interpretation we want to place on them.

    But you can't claim that what Lukacs definitively meant, when he was writing HC&C, was the explanation he offers in the '67 Preface, given the existence of an earlier, contradictory essay, written by him shortly after HC&C was first published.


    Lukacs did not believe that any particular Party was the expression of actually existing revolutionary working class consciousness. The qualification is important: in HC&C, at least, he is detailing the conditions under which such a party could exist. It's an argument conducted at a very high level of abstraction - you may or may not consider this a fault. Gramsci, for instance, was far more concrete on the same question, whilst reaching broadly similar conclusions. (Lukacs' later, shorter work, Lenin, following on from the 'Towards a Methodology...' referred to above, is much more explicit on the issue.)

    In any case, I'm glad we agree that the '67 Preface is a deeply problematical text.

  18. "Lukacs did not believe that any particular Party was the expression of actually existing revolutionary working class consciousness."

    What do you reckon he was thinking of in the following quotes from HCC:

    "The form taken by the class consciousness of the proletariat is the party" (p41)

    "... the party is assigned the sublime role of the bearer of the class consciousness of the proletariat" (p41)

    "The Communist Party must exist as an independent organisation so that the proletariat may be able to see its own class consciousness given historical shape." (p326)

    "... the Communinst party is an autonomous form of proletarian class consciousness" (p330)


  19. It strikes me that much of the commentary about Lukacs, including that regarding 'imputed class consciousness', misses the lynch pin of the analysis - the notion of the revolutionary party. At which point in history is a party to be designated the historical or philosophical agent called 'the revolutionary party'? Is it from programme, inception, long years of accummulation of members, upturn, downturn, pre revolutionary crisis, seizure of power or post revolutionary construction of a new order?
    Were the Bolsheviks an actuality of a revolutioanry party or were they trying to build one? If one looks at Lukacs or Lenin, one finds that a differing definition leads to radically different results.

    It also affects how you view democratic centralism as a concept and as an organizational method. After all, if your central committee is the actuality of the revolutionary consciousness embodied, then the democratic element is only relevant as a means of information gathering to discuss tactics. If it is not, then democracy becomes a major necessity as the central committee cannot lay claim to being right but must learn from the workers movement.

    Then, there is the awfully big assumption that the very notion of the revolutionary party (even if we assume the Bolshevik party of November 1917 embodied this category) is transferable to 21st century British society with its historically strong civil society that is weakening but not destroyed.

    Further, there is a series of mighty assumptions in Lukacs and Cliff about democratic centralist organization as the means by which the vanguard relates to the working class trade union consciousness. Their reading of the actuality of Bolshevik practice is questionable, not least in the relationship between the notion of revolutionary democracy and the broader party of which the Bolsheviks were a part (still united on most areas of Russia until after the seizure of power in Petrograd).

  20. Just to clarify - here is Cliff from his Lenin: Building the Party, talking about Lenin's claim that "socialist consciousness is brought to the workers from without":

    "There is no doubt that this formulation overemphasized the difference between spontaneity and consciousness. For in fact the complete separation of spontaneity from consciousness is mechanical and non-dialectical. Lenin, as we shall see later, admitted this. Pure spontaneity does not exist in life....

    "The logic of the mechanical juxtaposition of spontaneity and consciousness was the complete separation of the party from the actual elements of working-class leadership that had already risen in the struggle. It assumed that the party had answers to all the questions that spontaneous struggle might bring forth. The blindness of the embattled many is the obverse of the omniscience of the few."

    My claim is that Lukacs' treatment of imputed class consciousness is intended to bolster the distinction between spontaneous and 'correct' class consciousness, creating an insuperable wall between them, and that the IS tradition rejected such a schematic way of viewing the development of class consciousness.

  21. Luna, you recommend John's book on dialectics. May I bring your attention to my demolition of this book (and dialectical materialism in general), from a Marxist angle, at my site: