The following is a reply provided to questions that have been put to us by a friendly reader.
Thanks for your questions. They are incisive and strike at the heart of the matter – that is, what is our agency in social change, and what is meant by ‘scientific socialism’.
You use the term ‘necessary catalyst’. Taking the word ‘catalyst’ alone: we can assume to begin with that, while revolution may be inevitable with or without Communist involvement, our involvement may bring the revolution closer, and make it easier and cleaner. If this is the case, then a suitable analogy would be with a group of researchers working on a cure for a disease. They may be convinced that a cure will be found eventually, with or without their input, but why shouldn’t they work to do it themselves, and to do it as quickly as possible for the benefit of everyone?
We would put this in even stronger terms, however – with emphasis on the word ‘necessary’. The following arguments flow from Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach.
Dialectical materialism considers reality as “a connected and integral whole, in which things, phenomena are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other”. It is therefore a science which by necessity takes account of the role of observer not as a passive describer of an external reality (a mechanical and antiquated conception of science) but as an active participant in a reality which it co-creates. Equivalently, social change is not something alienated from its participants, acting upon them as an impersonal external force, but emerges from their consciousness of themselves as historical subjects. This is what Ranjeet is getting at when he talks about the way in which idealist ideology puts a ‘Chinese wall’ between the material and human worlds – the purpose of that wall is to deny the proletariat the apparatus with which to perceive their own subjectivity. Our goal, and the purpose of proletarian science, is to break this wall.
Communist parties as such, then, are not just catalysts for proletarian revolution, they are the crystallization of the political leadership that emerges from and is required by the proletariat to conduct that revolution: “the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat does not become its genuine ‘class struggle’ until this struggle is guided by a strong organisation of revolutionaries.” The inevitability of revolution and the necessity of communist organisation are in this sense one and the same – revolution is not inevitable no matter whether we get involved, it is inevitable because we must and will be involved. The analogy in this case would be with an overwhelmingly strong army – its victory is inevitable, but only if it shows up to the fight!
Finally, to press this one step further: Communist parties contain – in their very name of course, but moreover in their forms of internal discipline and collective organisation – the future society in embryo. They are therefore not just catalysts of social change, not merely the gravediggers of the present state of things, but the crucibles in which the values of the new society must be forged.
Ranjeet states that the ‘role of Marxism, ideology, Communist parties, in order to reach a final more stable societal state – is to give the necessary excitation, to lower the overall amount of chaos necessary to rearrange and reach a better society’ – this role is performed by organisations which can bring to bear on the present state of affairs the weight of Marxist analysis, the lessons learned from historic victories and defeats, the skills of agitation and propaganda, and the strength of disciplined collective organisation. When times are lean and we are on the retreat, we must keep these flames alive. When times are right – as we believe they are now – our responsibility is to carry this fire forwards.
The short-term profit, short-term gains mindset nurtured by the capitalist mode of production will not be shifted easily, or at all, in some cases. Some will be reluctant to join us while victory does not appear imminent. Some will join, expecting (or needing to see) victories around every corner. Of course, we have seen historically that even the most unimaginable of victories can ultimately be rolled back. But we will continue to impress upon all – as humanity increasingly worries about its own future, as we attempt to make a better world not just for ourselves but our future generations – that communism must be understood and felt as an existential necessity.
The scientific understanding of the moving contradictions of capital (and our historical interventions within that movement) in theory inform a scientific practice that is experimental, open-ended, necessarily incomplete, subject to failure, and ongoing. This conception of ‘science’ and our methodology should go some way to answering your questions regarding the ebb and flow (and ebb) of socialism around the world. We must demonstrate our truth thru our practice – how we unlock the shackles of capitalism is the research program. This is the second thesis on Feuerbach: “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice.”
To deal with other points very briefly: uneven capitalist development means that, at any given time, different nations or regions will be positioned differently for revolutionary social change. We in the developed nations, the imperial heartlands, absolutely have the responsibility. But not every nation needs to flip at once, and we must not try to wait for such a situation to arrive.