Those reformist and centrist forces which condemned the August Uprising naturally didn’t provide any tactics to win the struggle. But even those centrists who refused to condemn the uprising failed in this.
As we already said the SWP positively differentiated itself from other centrists by relating the riots to the perspective of revolution. However such associations in slogans are hardly sufficient as a compass in such days. In fact if one looks at the SWP statement which was also distributed in these days as a leaflet it didn’t contain any tactics for the Uprising.
In their statement the paragraphs which relate to the perspectives said only this:
“We need more protests like the huge demonstration on 26 March and the strike by 750,000 workers on 30 June. Such struggles can unite desperate young people and workers who face job cuts, attacks on pensions, huge wage reductions and worse conditions. We call for the TUC, trade unions, and campaign groups to hurl themselves into the fight against the cuts, poverty and racism. We call for building events such as the demonstration against the English Defence League in east London on 3 September, the protest at the Tory conference in Manchester on 2 October, and the coordinated strike by more than a million workers planned for November. A real solution to the despair that creates riots will need a different sort of society, where the needs of the vast majority, rather than a tiny elite, come first.” (36)
So while the SWP leadership flirts with the link of riots and revolution when it come to the concrete proposals they refer to the routine menu of the British left – they already pre-planned demonstrations in one, two or three month time. Not a single proposal on how to fight now, how to organise, which demands to raise etc.! “From Riots to Revolution” sounds good but the SWP leadership did not even call for organised self-defence against the police! No, comrades of the SWP, despite the best intentions this is useless as a perspective for an uprising of the masses and it doesn’t help the activists which are now suffering from the massive wave of repression.
The historic – meanwhile deceased – SWP/IST leader Tony Cliff used to joke about the Marxist method of developing programmes and making propaganda for them. He used to say: “You don't need the blueprint for a gun you need the gun itself” Well, the August Uprising is an excellent example that if you don’t have a blueprint you will never be able to build a gun, not even to understand how to build a gun correctly. The SWP refused to develop a method of how to intervene in such struggles, to develop a programme from which one can derive slogans and tactics. As a result it was completely overwhelmed by the Uprising and lacked any perspective. It could not play the role of a vanguard but rather could only applaud what the masses already did and invite them to their next routine demonstrations and meetings.
Behind this failure is – on a theoretical level – the refusal of the Marxist theory of class consciousness. Marx explained at the beginning of Volume I of “Capital” that the dual nature of commodities as exchange value and use value creates a so-called “commodity fetishism”. (37) Indeed this fetishism is reproduced in all areas of the complex social formation of capitalism. It is doubled and tripled by the huge ideological apparatus of the ruling class (media, School, university etc.). This ideological fog makes it impossible for the workers (and of course even less for other layers) to spontaneously understand the inner mechanism of capitalism and to develop a programme how to smash it. For this – in addition to the collective practice of the proletariat – a scientific analysis is necessary. That’s why Marx noted at the end of Vol. III of “Capital”: “But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.” (38)
The organisational vehicle for this – the fusion of theory and practice – is the collective of the revolutionary party which consists of the most class consciousness workers and those non-workers who dedicate themselves to the proletarian liberation struggle. The revolutionary party develops the socialist Weltanschauung and the programme for the liberation struggle based on the experience of the past class struggles and transmits this understanding to the mass of the working class. In that sense it brings the socialist class consciousness into the proletariat.
It is not by accident that all the major groups of centrism (SWP/IST, SP/CWI, SA/IMT, the Mandelite Fourth International) explicitly reject Lenin’s theory of the relationship of consciousness and spontaneity and the role of the party in it which he developed it in his major work “What is to be done?”. Lenin explained that the working class cannot achieve a socialist consciousness spontaneously since it does not arise automatically from the economic sphere of the relationship between workers and capitalists in the enterprise. It is the task of the revolutionary working class organisation to develop a revolutionary outlook from studying all spheres and the relationship between all classes and layers in the capitalist society and to transmit this outlook to the working class. The revolutionaries must do everything possible “to elevate the spontaneity to the level of consciousness” (39)
Lenin therefore summarised the task of Marxists as follows:
„Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the state and the government, the sphere of the interrelations between all classes. For that reason, the reply to the question as to what must be done to bring political knowledge to the workers cannot be merely the answer with which, in the majority of cases, the practical workers, especially those inclined towards Economism, mostly content themselves, namely: ”To go among the workers.“ To bring political knowledge to the workers the Social Democrats must go among all classes of the population; they must dispatch units of their army in all directions.“ (40)
Contrary to the claims of the centrists he defended this fundamental understanding until the end of his life:
„On the other hand, the idea, common among the old parties and the old leaders of the Second International, that the majority of the exploited toilers can achieve complete clarity of socialist consciousness and firm socialist convictions and character under capitalist slavery, under the yoke of the bourgeoisie (which assumes an indefinite variety of forms that become more subtle and at the same time more brutal and ruthless the higher the cultural level in a given capitalist country) is also idealisation of capitalism and of bourgeois democracy, as well as deception of the workers. In fact, it is only after the vanguard of the proletariat, supported by the whole or the majority of this, the only revolutionary class, overthrows the exploiters, suppresses them, emancipates the exploited from their state of slavery and-immediately improves their conditions of life at the expense of the expropriated capitalists—it is only after this, and only in the actual process of an acute class struggle, that the masses of the toilers and exploited can be educated, trained and organised around the proletariat under whose influence and guidance, they can get rid of the selfishness, disunity, vices and weaknesses engendered by private property; only then will they be converted into a free union of free workers.“ (41)
This is important to understand since in it are all these mistakes of spontaneism, tailism and opportunism where socialists fail to support the working class by advancing their insight, by explaining what are the conditions of the struggle and what is the way forward to win. But a revolutionary organisation only has legitimacy if it strives to educate, organise and lead the vanguard of the proletariat.
Fighting for the revolutionary program and helping the working class to overcome illusions is not an exercise which can be undertaken from outside the struggle. Quite the contrary it necessitates that revolutionaries fight inside the masses, that they participate in the struggle and do not just comment from outside. This again shows how criminal the failure of the so-called revolutionaries was to abstain from joining the Uprising.
The mistakes of the other forces who expressed their solidarity, like the pan-African black nationalists or the Stalinists, are similar. The only answer they had for the struggle was to create a self-reliant black community or build socialism and “join the party” - but no program for the struggle, no tactics how to organise. Again even the most sincere in solidarity with the Uprising failed to advance a set of revolutionary tactics.
The August Uprising and its failure are indeed a tragic and powerful verification of the correctness of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s understanding of the central role of the revolutionary party. Because a revolutionary party was lacking the masses rose up spontaneously but in an unorganised way and without a clear programme, i.e. clear perspectives for its struggle. That’s why they could be defeated after a few days. The bureaucratic leadership of the organised workers movement nearly completely denounced the uprising and as a result the workers movement didn’t raise a finger in support of it.
This demonstrates the multiple challenges for the future class struggle: Bolshevik-Communists must both support workers and oppressed to overcome the limits of their spontaneous consciousness and to raise it to a socialist class consciousness. They must do this not only by arguing verbally and in writings but by participating actively in actions of class struggle like the uprisings, and by trying to get strong enough to lead at least a part of the vanguard in these actions. They also have to wage a bitter struggle inside the organised workers movement against the treacherous bureaucracy and to rally them behind a revolutionary leadership. Only a strong revolutionary party can achieve this and this is therefore the central task of the coming period.
(36) Socialist Workers Party: Statement on the riots, http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=25645
(37) As a side note we want to remark that it is astonishing to hear these middle-class leftists and intellectuals who sneer about youth who looted shops to take a computer or a TV-screen. Often this complaint about the “mindlessness” and “consumerism” of the youth comes from people who already have their laptops and TV-screens. Why on earth does the “rabble” desire to have the same?! May be they just take a little back what this system robbed them in their whole life!?
(38) Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Band III, MEW 25, S. 825; in English on www.marxists.org
(39) W. I. Lenin: Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Verteidigern des Ökonomismus (1901), in: Lenin Werke (LW) Band 5, S.322; English: A Talk With Defenders of Economism
(40) W. I. Lenin: Was tun? (1902), LW 5, S. 436; in English: What is to be done?, www.marxists.org
(41) W. I. Lenin: Thesen über die Hauptaufgaben des Zweiten Kongresses der Kommunistischen Internationale (1920); in: LW 31, S. 175; in English: Theses on Fundamental Tasks of The Second Congress Of The Communist International (1920), http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/04.htm