By Brian Williams
The analysis of Marxism concludes that the interests of humanity as a whole coincide with those of the working class – i.e. the advance of the working class takes forward the general interests of humanity, including all of its oppressed layers, while setbacks for the working class roll back the interests of humanity. This therefore determines the attitude to all political forces. Those who take forward the interests of the working class take humanity forward, those who set back the working class set back the general interests of humanity including its oppressed layers. Nothing more clearly illustrates this reality than the history of the 20th century, above all the victory and then defeat of the Russian revolution, and the events following this in the 21st century.
Lenin emphasised that it is a fundamental error to conceive of the class struggle as between the working class of one country and the capitalist class of that country – of the British working class against British capitalism, of the French working class against the French capitalists, etc. Instead, Lenin noted: ‘The socialist revolution will not be solely or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their own bourgeoisie – no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism’ (Lenin V. I., 22 November 1919). Lenin’s point continually needs understanding and emphasising, particularly in imperialist countries.1
The political current Counterfire, which has its origins in the SWP, has chosen to produce as one of its first publications Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukács by Chris Nineham (Nineham, 2010). Such a choice is highly interesting in placing theoretical concepts developed by Lukács in the early 1920s as a basis for the approach of Counterfire. These concepts were specifically rejected by Lenin in very strong terms – he referred to Lukács’s views as ‘purely verbal’ Marxism. As ideas of, or similar to, the early Lukács are the basis not only of Counterfire but of other currents, and as they reveal more generally a misunderstanding of Marxism, analysing why these ideas are wrong – and why Lenin so specifically rejected them – is of importance to more than simply small circles.
First published: July 1996For more than a decade the most coherent support for the process of concentration and integration of capital in western Europe has been provided by social democracy. The rise, and recent decline, of this current – ‘Euro–socialism’ – provides an object lesson in the way in which the politics of the working class movement are shaped not merely by its own immediate situation, but by its relations with all classes in society.As Lenin put it: ‘Only an objective consideration of the sum total of the relations between absolutely all the classes in a given society, and consequently a consideration of the objective stage of development reached by that society and of the relations between it and other societies, can serve as a basis for the correct tactics of an advanced class.’
First published: April 1996Theoretical underdevelopment and the false counterposing of theory to practice has critically weakened the left in Britain. This majority British tradition has historically contrasted with the emphasis on the integration of theory and practice by the most advanced working class political currents internationally. The recomposition and renewal of the socialist left in Britain poses afresh the necessity of theoretical exchange and development.
The historical attitude of the majority tradition of the British labour movement to Marxist theory was established very early in its formation. Thus Ben Tillett, a future leader of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, went out of his way to condemn ‘hare-brained chatterers and magpies of Continental Revolutionists’ at the founding conference of the Independent Labour Party in 1893.
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