Back Forward Table of Contents This Author Return to Homepage

The Inevitability
of Communism (9)


We have already pointed out the close connection between Hook's peculiar attitude to the Marxian theory of value in particular and to Marx's economic doctrines in general and his idealistic deviation from the Marxian dialectic. All these factors proceed to exercise their pernicious influence upon Hook's theory of revolution. In the chapter entitled The Class Struggle and Social Psychology he says ( page 228 ) : "The division of the surplus social product is never an automatic affair but depends upon the political struggles between the different classes engaged in production." The struggle for division of the surplus value is, however, a quite limited one : a fact which must be referred to because it is precisely this limitation which shows what true class consciousness is. Marx pointed out, for example, how the worker's wage cannot exceed a certain level for any great length of time nor in the long run sink below a certain level. The law of value is finally decisive. And even independently of these variations the collapse of capitalism is manifest from the theory of value alone. Furthermore, the class struggle does not determine in the last instance the share of the surplus value which goes to the middle strata, but this share determines their struggle. The process of concentration is stronger than the defensive tactics of the middle classes. That these classes nevertheless exist, is due to the fact that capital, while destroying the middle class elements on the one hand, continues to recreate them on the other. Certainly, the division of the surplus value is not an automatic process, certainly the class struggle in the whole dialectical process contributes to determining this share, but out of the struggle for the distribution of the surplus value arises in the course of development a struggle for the abolition of the profit system, whether we will or not.

For years now the workers throughout the world have been paid less than their value, and this fact is only another indication of the permanence of the present crisis. In the death crisis of capitalism the working population can only grow more poverty stricken; if it fights for a larger share of the surplus value, then practically it is already fighting for the abolition of surplus value production, even without being conscious of this fact and of its consequences.

The class opposition inherent in the relations of production determine the nature of the class struggle. Political parties are formed, since portions of the workers become conscious of the necessity of the class struggle more quickly than the great mass. If the party can, on the one hand, accelerate the general development and shorten the birth throes of the new society, it may also inversely delay the development and act as an obstacle in the way. Accordingly, when one speaks, as Hook does, of the necessity of the party and further commits oneself with him to the idea that without a party a successful revolution is out of the question, then in the first place he is talking about an abstraction and, secondly, he identifies the party with the revolution or class consciousness; with the Marxian ideology. As a matter of fact, whether revolutionary class consciousness, which in the party takes the form of an ideology, is obliged to manifest itself in the party, . . . that is a question which cannot be settled in the abstract but only in the practical sense. It is not only in the specific form of the party that class consciousness which has become an ideology needs to express itself. That consciousness may also assume other forms, for example, the form of factory cells, and these would be what the party still is today. The assertion that without class consciousness crystallized into a ideology a revolution is out of the question is not debatable, if only for the reason that Marxism, which does not separate being from consciousness, presupposes that in a revolutionary period the conscious elements, too, are present as a matter of course. The stronger these are, the better; but however weak they may be, class consciousness to Marxism is not an ideology but the material life needs of the masses, without regard to their ideological position. Hook's idea of the revolution as a party matter belongs to a period which is already surpassed, -- the period of reformism, for which Marxism had frozen into an ideology and whose position Hook, in spite of all his criticism, after all now approves.

Whether in the present situation the party is still to be regarded as a center for the crystallization of class consciousness can be determined, as already stated, only from the present day practice. And here, if Hook were obliged to furnish proof of the necessity of the party he would dismally fail. Today the party is nothing more than a hindrance to the unfolding of real class consciousness. Wherever real class consciousness has been expressed, in the last thirty years, it has assumed the form of committees of action and workers councils. And in this organizational form of class consciousness expressing itself in action all parties have seen a hostile power which they combatted. European revolutionary history of the 20th century will be searched in vain for a single instance in which the party, in a revolutionary situation, had the leadership of the movement; on every occasion that movement was in the hands of the spontaneously formed committees of action, the councils. Wherever parties put themselves at the head of a movement, or identified themselves with it, it was only in order to blunt its edge. Examples : the Russian -- and German revolutions.

Neither the Social Democracy nor the Bolsheviks were or are able to conceive a movement which they don't control. The Bolsheviks have never been anything more than radical social democrats. In the struggle over the form of organization of the working class movement so relentlessly waged between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, history has finally decided in favor of Luxemburg. The recognition of this historical fact may no doubt be delayed by the Potemkin [4] Russian "socialism," but history itself now rises in the place of Rosa Luxemburg and with the most disgraceful defeats on record pounds it into the heads of the workers that the revolution is not a party matter but the affair of the class. Lenin's conception of the party, to which Hook is committed, is a specifically Russian one, completely meaningless for industrial Europe and America.

If the dictatorship of the party -- which necessarily leads to bureaucracy -- was a necessity for Russia, where, due to the country's backwardness the soviet system can be admitted merely as a phrase and not as a reality nevertheless the genuine soviets constitute the only form in which the proletarian dictatorship can express itself in developed countries. No longer upon the party, but upon the masses themselves must be laid the weight of the revolutionary decision. The reform party ended with the social treason of the Second International in the World War. The "revolutionary Social Democracy," the party of Lenin, the Third International, went to its ignominious end in the collision with fascism. The acts of capitalism unmasked the pseudo-struggle carried on by these organizations. The end of the Third International could be seen as early as 1920, when the revolutionists were expelled in order not to lose contact with the mongrel U.S.P.D. ( independent socialists ) and the other half reformist mass parties. The struggle against parliamentary cretinism waged with such a show of bitterness by "revolutionary parliamentarism," ended in "revolutionary parliamentary cretinism" which in its eagerness to ward off action inscribed on its banner ( 1933, ) : "Not Hitler, -- Thalmann will give you food and work ! Answer fascism on March 5 ! Elect communists !" What party does Hook mean when he speaks of the party as a necessity ? Does he have in mind the clownicalities of the Trotskyists, who in the same breath demand the permanent revolution and long term credits for Russia, or the political joke of the Brandlerites, who once believed that the dictatorship of the proletariat was possible within the framework of the Weimar Constitution ? To be sure, Hook speaks ( in his book ) of the party in the abstract, but nevertheless he always means the party of Lenin, which contains and develops everything which led to the dissolution of the labor movement as it has hitherto existed without for that reason leading to a real labor movement.

The party has still to do anything but hinder the development of mass initiative. It has not revealed itself as an instrument of revolution, but has imposed its will upon the movement. Identification of the party with the revolution has led to mass organization at any price, for the party now had to take the place of the mass movement. At best, however, the party is nothing more than an instrument of the revolution, not the revolution itself.

The mechanical conception of dialectical materialism held by Lenin, which Hook takes up in the most varied connections throughout his book, a conception which saw in consciousness nothing but the reflection of the external world; -- necessarily led also to underestimating the rôle of spontaneity in history. If Hook discards Lenin's mechanism, he does now eschew the errors to which this mechanism gives rise -- as, for example, the rejection of spontaneity. Lenin shared with Kautsky the idea that "not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia must be regarded as the exponents of science." To Kautsky, the socialist consciousness is not identical with the proletariat but is brought to the workers from the outside. This is the task of the party in the Kautskyan sense. To Marx, however, the class struggle is identical with class consciousness. Neither Kautsky nor his pupil Lenin could grasp this. In his pamphlet What Is To Be Done ? Lenin writes :

"There can be no thought of a separate ideology matured through the working masses themselves in the course of their development . . . The history of all countries bears witness that the working class, of itself, is only capable of developing a trade unionist consciousness . . . that is, the conviction of the necessity of joining together in unions, of conducting a struggle against the employer, of demanding from the Government this or that legislative measure in the interest of the workers, etc. The socialist doctrine, however, has proceeded from the philosophical, historical, and economic theories which originated with educated representatives of the owning classes the intellectuals."

The whole labor movement up to this time has taken consciousness as identical with socialist ideology. Hence if the organization, regarded as the organized ideology, was growing, that meant that class consciousness was increasing. The party expressed the strength of class consciousness. The tempo of the revolution was the tempo of the party's success. Of course the relations were conditioned by the willingness with which the masses accepted the party's propaganda, but the masses themselves, without the propaganda, were unfit for conducting a genuine movement. The revolution depended on the correct propaganda. This in turn depended on party leadership, and this on the genius of the leader. And so, if only in a roundabout way, history was after all, in the last analysis, the work of "great men."

The extent to which the working class movement is still dominated by this bourgeois conception of "history making" is shown by the impudence of the party-communist defeat strategists, whose only answer to revolutionary criticism today is the assertion that the defeat of the German proletariat in 1933 is nothing less than a masterly move on the part of the professional revolutionists. Thus the party-communist organ Gegenangriff writes, under date of August 15, ( 1933 ) from its exile in Prague : "There are unintelligent dogs which run after the train and fancy that they are pursuing it. Meanwhile the thesis constructors sit at their tables and calculate the speed of the train in connection with its coal supply, in order to determine the precise moment at which it can most surely be derailed." No criticism, please, only patience; the central committee will do the job. Today it is still calculating, but tomorrow -- ah, tomorrow . . . ! Meanwhile the great strategists assure each other of their greatness and the working class movement is being swallowed up in the sea of party-communist stupidity, whose greatest wisdom has been well expressed in the simple words of comrade Kaganovich : "The leader of world communism, Comrade Stalin, the best pupil of Lenin, is the greatest materialist dialectician of our age." . . . That is the level of the present day labor movement, which sees in the party the revolution itself and in so doing has degenerated into the strongest bulwark of counter-revolution.

To name Marx and Lenin together as Hook does when he says : "Marx and Lenin realized that left to itself the working class would never develop a socialist philosophy," is perhaps just to Lenin, but never to Marx. For Marx, the proletariat is the actualization of philosophy; the proletariat's existence, its life needs, its struggle, without regard to the ideological triflers . . . that is the living Marxism !

However much Hook may insist that "class antagonism can develop into revolutionary consciousness only under the leadership of a revolutionary political party," thinking that in so doing he has rendered justice to the role of class consciousness in history; if he thinks he has thereby tagged the spontaneity theory with the mechanistic label, than he has done so with the mechanism of Kautsky and Lenin and shares their un dialectical view of Marxism -- a view which is best illustrated as undialectical precisely in the rejection of the spontaneity factor.

In the same undialectical and absolute manner with which Hook approaches the party question, so he approaches all other questions having to do with consciousness. Merely by way of example, let us take parliamentarism. Hook writes ( page 302 ) : "Everywhere a struggle must be waged for universal suffrage . . . not because this changes the nature of the dictatorship of capital, but because it eliminates confusing issues and permits the property question to come clearly to the fore." In reality, however, parliamentarism in a certain historical epoch eliminates not only many confusing issues, but also creates new illusions, which in other historical settings turn completely against the proletariat. If universal suffrage was once a political rallying cry of the proletariat, at the present time this demand may have -- and has -- become completely meaningless. If the struggle for the vote was once a political struggle, it is now becoming a pseudo-struggle which merely distracts attention from the real one. If the old labor movement already went down in parliamentary cretinism, the present-day demand for parliamentary activity is a crime. For the need of today is the quickening of mass initiative and the development of the direct action of the workers -- a need which is being diverted into innocuous channels through parliamentary activity. Parliamentarism -- inclusive of the "revolutionary brand" -- is class betrayal. And we need not be directed to Marx : Marxism would not be Marxism if the proper task of the labor movement in the time of Marx and Engels were still in detail its proper task today.


[4] Potemkin was the leading minister under Catherine of Russia. When the Czarina took a trip through the provinces, Potemkin had artificial village-fronts constructed along her course to make her believe that all was milk and honey in her domains. The name of the minister has in consequence become a synonym for "spurious."

Back Forward Table of Contents This Author Return to Homepage