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The Inevitability
of Communism (11)



X


"Orthodox Marxism," writes Georg Lucazs in his book Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein ( and we think he is right ), "does not mean an uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx's investigations, does not mean a 'belief' in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a 'sacred book.' Orthodoxy in questions of Marxism relates rather exclusively to the method. It is the scientific conviction that it is only in the sense of its founder that this method can be expanded, extended and deepened. And this conviction rests on the observation that all attempts to overcome or 'improve' that method have led, and necessarily so, only to triteness, platitudinizing and eclecticism . . . . " But though the results obtained by means of the Marxist method can be quite differently appraised, most of the interpreters rely almost exclusively, as they themselves assert, upon dialectical materialism. The method is often subordinated to the interpretations, just as a tool can be differently employed by different persons for different ends. And thus arises an actual propensity, as illustrated by Herman Simpson, [5] to denote the dialectical method as "a tool for giants," which can be handled better by one person and worse by another, and this circumstances is taken to indicate its revolutionary greatness. But this "respectful" attitude quite overlooks the fact that the dialectical method is only the real, concrete movement taken up into and partially determined by consciousness. The process going on has been comprehended, and one intervenes in the process as a result of that comprehension.

With the advance of general human development, the role of consciousness increases. At a high point of the development, however, as the capitalistic relations of production hinder the further unfolding of the productive forces, so do they also hinder the full application of the conscious factors in the social process. And nevertheless consciousness must finally assert itself and, under such conditions, it can do so only by growing concrete. People do from necessity what they would do of their own will under relations of freedom. In the same way that the productive forces ( if restricted by the productive relations ) assert themselves eruptively, along revolutionary channels, so also does consciousness. Dialectical materialism does not set evolution and revolution over against each other, without at the same time perceiving their unity. Any evolution turns into revolution, and all revolutions have evolutionary phases. That consciousness may manifest itself in various manners is therefore to Marxism quite a matter of course. What is denoted as consciousness in periods of peaceful development has nothing to do with the class consciousness by which the masses are filled in revolutionary times, although the one conditions the other and although we can not separate the two without at the same time perceiving their unity.

Just as the exchange relations in capitalism, though only a relationship between persons and not a palpable thing, fulfills quite concrete functions, objectifies itself, so now in the revolutionary situation the alternative ( a quite realistic one for the great mass of human beings ) Communism or Barbarism becomes an active practice, as if this activity sprang directly from consciousness. If relations can become objectified ( verdinglicht ) and take on palpable form, so also, inversely, things can be transformed into relations. The realistic situation becomes a revolutionary relation, which as such fills and impels the masses, though the whole connection of events is not comprehended by them intellectually. It is only for this reason that that other saying is justified : "Im Anfang war die Tat !" ( In the beginning was the deed ). The mass uprising, without which a revolutionary overthrow is impossible, can not be developed out of the "intellect-consciousness" : the capitalist relations of life preclude this possibility, for consciousness is finally, after all, only the consciousness of existing practice. The masses can not be "educated" to become conscious revolutionists; and yet the material necessity of their existence compels them to act as if they had actually received a revolutionary education : they become "act-conscious". Their life needs must resort to the revolutionary possibility of expression, and here, to use an expression of Engel's, one day of revolution has more weight than twenty years of political education.

This is no secret to anyone who has directly participated in a revolutionary uprising. In the fields of struggle, the workers who are ideologically the most backward often become the revolutionists who fight the most bitterly, not because they have ideologically changed over night but because there was nothing else left for them to do, for otherwise they would have been mowed down merely because of the fact that they were workers. They have to defend themselves, not because they desire to fight but because they "want to live". In the case of the struggling workers of the red army of the Ruhr district, for example, it was impossible to tell from inspection which of them was a strict Catholic and which a conscious Communist. The uprising abolished these distinctions. And this is true not only of the Ruhr district. A story of revolution without the nameless mass as its "hero" is not a story of revolution.

But if the real class struggle itself takes over the function of consciousness, this is not to say that consciousness is not capable also of expressing itself as consciousness ( thought ). Quite the contrary. It grows concrete in order to be able to function as consciousness, just as, on the other hand, the real relations of life under capitalism assert themselves, to be sure, by way of the market, and yet also in their actuality. The roundabout way, conditioned through value production, explains the malfunctions of the economic mechanism and the necessity of revolution. It is only for this reason that people make their history, as Marx says, not out of whole cloth; the relations, here the capitalistic ones, compel them to actions which are devoted to the overcoming of this compulsion.

Reference must be made in this connection to the further fact that the movement of the masses is something different from what the individual is capable of comprehending as such, since his understanding is partially determined by his individual conditions. The movement of a group is likewise not the same as that of the mass. Each group, if only by reason of its size, has different laws of self-movement and reacts differently to external influence. The will and the consciousness of the individual, like those of the group, are incapable of adequately recognizing and judging the movement of the mass. The individual or the group can no more be identified with the revolutionary movement than the ocean can be compared with a glass of water. The "leader" and the "party," precisely because they are such, can grasp and seek to determine the revolutionary movement only with reference to themselves, but nevertheless this movement follows its own laws. To win influence in the movement is possible to the individual or the group only when they subject themselves to those laws. It is only when they follow, not when they strive for a following, that they can be regarded as furthering the movement. This is not to say ( to use an expression of Lenin's to denote a tendency which he combatted ) that the party is to form the "tail-end" of the revolution, but that it shall seek to operate from the standpoint of the revolution, not from that of the party, standpoints which are necessarily different. It can not, of course, succeed in doing so completely, but the extent to which it is able to approach the standpoint of the revolution can serve as a measure of its revolutionary value. If the party does not take itself as the starting point, this already implies a recognition of the fact that the dialectical method, as deduced from reality, is only the theoretical image of reality, and that it can be applied only because the person applying it is subject to it. But the most backward worker is subject to the dialectical movement in exactly the same way as Mr. Simpson's "giant"; the former has to do what the other not only has to do but also wants to do. Since the dialectical movement of the revolution is a social one, it is only the must of the many, not the will of the individuals which can be regarded as real consciousness. In fact, the present-day relations quite preclude the possibility of a social will. The social expression of will is only arrived at through the social must. So that a misconception of the dialectical method is a misconception of the real movement itself, though the movement is not at all changed thereby. It also becomes clear, however, that the Simpson "giant" may in certain circumstances serve to further the movement, but he is not decisive in it.

Notes

[5] The New Republic, Feb. 28, 1934.

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