out a revolutionary transformation of all social sciences.
He revolutionized conventional approaches to philosophy,
society, history, political economy, politics and the prospects
of human emancipation. These
transformations can be subsumed under the general formula of
‘the theory of historical materialism’.
Key to this theory, argues Ernest Mandel, is the
centrality of the revolutionary potential of the working class.
history as determined by objective laws which science could
uncover. These laws
derive from the specific structure and dynamics of each
particular mode of production.
These objective laws have to be discovered for each
particular society. Marx
simultaneously stressed the social determination of history as a
science and the historical determination of sociology (and
economics) as a science. There
are no ‘eternal’ economic laws.
There are only particular economic laws for particular
forms of social organization of the economy.
endeavouring to discover the laws of motion of each particular
mode of production, concentrating on the laws of motion of
bourgeois society dominated by the capitalist mode of
production, Marx rejected the mechanically deterministic view of
history, characteristic for the French materialists of the 18th
century (later to be largely recuperated by the vulgar
evolutionism which influenced socialist thinkers like Kautsky).
stressed the active aspect in history, so typical for human versus purely animal
behaviour (this stress can be found not only in the Theses on Feuerbach, but also in Vol. I of Capital, not to speak about the Grundrisse
and various philosophical and historical comments by Marx and
philosophy of history – like his philosophy in general – is
a philosophy of praxis.
Historical materialism does not deny that humanity makes
its own history, which is not imposed upon it through mysterious
outside forces. To
be sure, men and women don’t make it independently from the
circumstances they encounter, in the first place the material
possibilities given by the existing and potential level of
development of the productive forces, and the resulting
possibilities for the extension of enjoyment, and the
self-realisation of the producers.
But they do make their history themselves.
Their level of consciousness and awareness of their own
conditions and future, their degree of objective (scientific)
approach to reality, the degree of self-delusion they still
suffer, all strongly react upon the way in which they will shape
their own destiny. Marx
believed in the possibility
of humankind to do just that to shape its own destiny, not
only through understanding the objective laws of motion of
society, but also through its capacity to actively attain
emancipatory goals. Through
Marx’s writing, there remains the emancipatory purpose: to
abolish all social
conditions which make men and women into oppressed, exploited,
mutilated, miserable beings; to realize a society in which the
free development of each becomes a precondition for the free
development of every individual.
was not only a social scientist.
He did not limit himself to revolutionizing the sciences
of society, history, economics, and philosophy.
He also revolutionized politics and the drive towards
human emancipation (‘socialism’), which are much older than
bourgeois society, in fact, as old as class society itself.
While it is necessary to separate methodologically his
revolutions in science (which have to be judged from a purely
scientific and not a ‘class’ criterion), from his
revolutions in politics and emancipatory endeavours, these
revolutions in thought and action constantly interact upon each
other. Only if we
synthesise them can we understand and represent Marxism in its
totality, in its majestic richness, as a totality in movement, which has nothing to do with dogma or
epoch starting with the industrial revolution, the totality of
the theory and practice involved in Marxism can best be
summarized through the revolutionary potential of the working
class as the only social force objectively and subjectively
capable of replacing bourgeois society (the capitalist mode of
production) with a higher form of civilization and of
socio-economic organization: classless society, communism, of
which socialism is the first or ‘lower’ stage. This does not mean that for Marx and Engels the victory of
socialism was an inevitable product of the inner contradictions
of capitalism. Quite
the contrary: they often stressed that human societies can,
throughout history, either progress or regress; they can even
nothing fatalistic in Marx’s view of history, which asserts as
a result of a scientific understanding of bourgeois society, and
in light of the lessons of 3,000 years of class struggle, that
no other class than the contemporary working class, ie, wage
labour, has the potential
to replace capitalism by a socialist society.
The fate of humankind is for
that reason tied to the victory of the world working class
(from the German Ideology till
his death, Marx always viewed the possibility of socialism as an
international one, having to be realized on a world scale).
destructive potential of capitalism, flowing from its very
progressive features, in the first place its capacity to develop
the productive forces but in specific forms which cannot shed its ties to private property, commodity production,
competition and disregard for global social rationality, leads
humanity to the crossroads: either socialism or barbarism.
The awareness of the potential self-destruction of
humankind (ecological disaster, nuclear world war, etc.) is
today growing. But Marx and Engels were conscious of that danger nearly one
and a half centuries ago. For
them, the dilemma ‘socialism or barbarism’ (the formula was
first shaped in that precise way by Rosa Luxemburg) meant:
either the victory in the real class struggle of the existing
world working class, i.e., world socialist revolution, or the
decline and fall of human civilization, if not the disappearance
of the human race. What
Lenin, the Communist International, Trotsky and later
revolutionary Marxists would write on that
subject is already present in the basic economic and political
works of Marx, even if he was not able to include the imperialist
stage of capitalism in his analysis, as it had not started
before his death. For
him this dilemma was not
a result of a given historically limited phase of capitalism.
It was a result of bourgeois society, of the capitalist
mode of production as such.
socialism, i.e., the revolutionizing of politics and
humanity’s emancipatory endeavours, involves a series of
transformations of traditional social and political practices
which are as radical and as fundamental as Marx’s revolutions
in the social sciences:
The reintroduction of consciousness, i.e., of science,
into the determination of political action at least for the
social class which is not inhibited by peculiar social-material interests
(and Marx viewed the working class as the only potentially
revolutionary class capable of just that!) and for all those individuals
capable or reaching the same level of lucidity, through shedding
as far as humanly possible, all influences of bourgeois and
petty bourgeois (or semi-feudal) ideologies which hinder that
scientific awareness of social problems.
implies, for Marx, that these individuals as least objectively
strive to identify with the historical interests and the
concrete struggles of the working class.
Before Marx, political activity was seen as a product
either of blind passions and greed or abstract Reason.
Marx made an enormous leap forward in understanding that
as political action is tied to the class struggle in a given
society, and as that society can be scientifically analysed in
its structure and dynamics, political action should therefore
first be seen in the framework of the laws governing the destiny
of that society and the dynamics of that class struggle.
The lifting of the emancipatory purpose to a higher
level, through its fusion with scientific knowledge and
what the Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer said (‘Politics is the
science of prediction’), Marxists do not limit themselves to
‘foreseeing’ what is going to happen. Or, to state it more correctly: they do not fatalistically
think that the outcome of history, at each decisive stage, is completely preordained. The
outcome of history in class society is the outcome of the class
struggle. And the
outcome of the class struggle depends itself, at least in part,
upon the conscious action
of the revolutionary (and of the counter-revolutionary) social
class, its average level of class consciousness, its vanguard
and revolutionary leadership, its active intervention, the
quickness and scope of the class’s reactions, its
self-confidence, its experience, etc. All these factors are not the fatal and inevitable result of
a given set of circumstances, of material conditions. They depend also upon the actual, concrete course of the
class struggle now and during the preceding years and decades,
i.e., they reintroduce the subjective
factor into the shaping of history.
concept of politics is not limited to discovering the laws of
motion of a given society and ‘adapting’ to them.
Marxist politics means the understanding of these laws of
motion in order to make
the struggle for a given goal (the building of a classless
society, and the necessary preconditions for this: the overthrow
of capitalism, the emancipation of the working class and the
establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the
sense of the conscious effort of the working class to rebuild
society according to a conscious plan) more efficient and more likely to succeed globally.
The reunification of emancipatory endeavour
(‘socialism’) and the real historical movement (the real
class struggle) of a really existing and struggling social
class: the proletariat, the class of wage labour, as an
objective social category regardless
of its (varying) level of self-consciousness.
This was not
at all self-evident for socialists till far into the second half
of the nineteenth century. It
began to be partially rejected again at the beginning of the
twentieth century. The
‘Goodbye to the Proletariat’ of Andre Gorz is not at all a
new discovery; it is the day before yesterday’s pseudo-wisdom.
You can already find it in Sorel, Michels and many
anti-Marxist ‘socialists’ of pre-first world war vintage.
It is interesting to note that nearly all the proponents
of ‘really existing socialism’ (an absurd formula, if ever
there was one) reject that basic tenet of Marxism, too. For if you have to start from the working class, from the
wage earners as they are
and as they struggle concretely in real life, then of course
many of the theoretical and political assumptions of the various
‘ruling’ trends and bureaucracies inside the organized labor
movement get undermined.
How can the
role of the ruling Communist Parties in the so-called socialist
countries be ‘explained’ as representing and leading the
working class, when, periodically, the overwhelming majority of
that working class, of the really existing workers, rebel and
revolt against that rule, as did more than 80 per cent recently
in Poland? How can
the Western working class be seen as ‘bourgeoisified and
integrated in existing society’ (the basic theoretical and
political axiom of all reformist and neo-reformist tendencies,
including the so-called Eurocommunist ones) when, periodically,
that same working class, through huge mass actions, by the
millions, challenges capitalist relations of production, as it
did in Spain in 1936-7, in Italy in July 1948, in Belgium in
December 1960, in France in May 1968, in Italy in autumn 1969,
in Portugal in 1974-75, etc., not to mention the period of
reunification Marx gave socialism and socialists a potential
lever of action of gigantic dimensions.
His answer to the question, ‘is socialism possible?’
was affirmative but at the
same time conditional.
Yes, socialism is possible, provided in
practice, in real life, a fusion is accomplished between the
concrete, unavoidable, elementary class struggle of a real
social class, encompassing hundreds of millions of people (the
modern proletariat) and the socialist project of emancipation,
of building a classless society.
The reunification of the revolutionary organization with
the self-organization of the working class.
organizations trying to seize power in order to accomplish a
given set of emancipatory tasks are again much older than
bourgeois society and the capitalist mode of production.
The revolt against the injustice of class oppression and
class exploitation is as old as these social evils themselves.
Revolutionary organizations trying to overthrow capitalism are as
old as capitalism itself. The
most outstanding pre-Marxist ones were possibly those of Babeuf
and of Auguste Blanqui in France.
Mass organizations of the working class are also much
older than Marxism: trade unions and the Chartists in Britain
just to name these two, existed before the Communist
Manifesto was drafted.
revolutionary transformation of politics which Marx achieved was
to try and reunify the self-organization of the working class
and the revolutionary activity of individuals.
This implied simultaneously a separate organization of communists (of the
vanguard, those who are permanently
active at the highest level of scientific understanding and
class consciousness, different from the masses, which under
capitalism can be active only
periodically and at a level of consciousness influenced more
strongly by the ideology of the ruling class) and their
integration in the mass organization of the class as it is.
Trade-unions and independent political mass parties of
the working class are useful and necessary stepping stones of
that self-organization. But
since 1850, and especially since the experience of the Paris
Commune, Marx and Engels understood that the highest forms of
self-organization of the class are those of the ‘workers
councils’ (soviets), as analyzed in detail by Lenin in State and Revolution and in many writings of the Italian Marxist
Antonio Gramsci (Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Bukharin, Korsch and
to a lesser extent the left Austro-Marxist Max Adler, also made
valuable contributions to that same understanding).
can only come about through a successful overthrow of capitalism
by a self-organized working class, i.e., through universal
workers’ councils (soviet power), because only
through that form of self-organization of the producers, can
a postcapitalist, transitional society become a society in which
the state starts to wither
away from the very inception of the dictatorship of the
proletariat, in which the crystallization of new material social
privileges by a special
group of people ‘in power’ can be made impossible.
Marx and Engels’ writings on the Paris Commune,
Lenin’s in State and
Revolution, were lucid and explicit on these preconditions
in which the variants of basic economic options can be
democratically decided by the masses themselves.
All of these
revolutions in Marx’s concept of politics and emancipation not
only involve a radical transformation of the existing doctrines.
They are also ‘negations of the negation,’ i.e., they
imply the conservation of the ‘rational kernel’ in what is being
transcended: utopian socialists, conspiratorial revolutionists,
organizations limited to the elementary massive proletarian
class struggle. All
these revolutions turn around the revolutionary potential of the modern working class.
deliberately use the word ‘potential’ instead of the word
‘class struggle.’ It
is obvious that the real
class struggle of the working class is not always revolutionary.
Even less does it lead automatically to an overthrow of
the bourgeois state or of bourgeois society.
Elsewhere we have explained the reasons for this
meant was that in the modern proletariat a class was born which could
periodically reach a point in its struggles, coinciding with a
deep social, economical and political crisis of bourgeois
society and its state, where capitalism could
be overthrown and power conquered, under conditions which
allowed the building of a classless society objectively and
As Marx did
not believe that a victorious socialist revolution, not to speak
of a victorious building of world socialism, would be the
unavoidable outcome of the proletarian class struggle, he never
allowed scientific socialism to be completely
subsumed by that class struggle.
Science continues for Marx and Engels to occupy an
autonomous place in history.
It is meaningless, irrational and criminal to suppress
certain scientific truths under the pretext that they would
‘discourage’ the proletariat.
Without the maximum of scientific insight, the maximum of
truth attainable (‘absolute’ truth is of course unrealizable
for human beings; the ‘total identify’ of being and
consciousness is a utopian daydream), the proletarian struggle
for emancipation is hindered, not helped.
That is not to mention the immediate effects of such an
approach which usually results in one-sided and mechanical
interpretations of the possible variants open for working class
action and consciousness.
One of the
greatest wisdoms humanity has ever formulated is part of
Marx’s famous Thesis on Feurbach: ‘the
educators need themselves to be educated.’
Only is one assumes absurdly the existence of a person,
or of a group of persons (‘the central committee,’ ‘the
party’) who are ‘always right,’ can one seriously
challenge the wisdom of that statement.
furthermore, not only an epistemological but also a social
concentrated expression of class exploitation is the division of
the social product into a ‘necessary product,’ and a
‘social surplus product’ appropriated by the rulers of
control of the social surplus product, these rulers impose a
frozen social division of labor between those who exercise the
functions of production and those who exercise the function of
accumulation. A key
precondition for the building of socialism is the transcendence
of that social division of labor through the gradual
generalization of real self-management, conditioned by a
high level of development of the productive forces, a radical
shortening of the workday, and a growing fusion of manual and
intellectual labor. But
this is a gigantic process of self-organization and
self-education by huge masses of producers.
You cannot ‘order’ or ‘command’ people to… lead
themselves. You can
only help them to do
that. And you
don’t know exactly how this can best be done before the
historical balance-sheet of all socialist revolutions since 1917
should lead revolutionists to modesty on that account.
We know more today than Lenin and Trotsky did in 1917,
not because we are wiser or more intelligent, but because we
have had the advantage of much richer concrete historical
experiences than those on which they could base themselves.
But even what we do know today on the basis of that
concrete historical experience is still pretty limited, be it
only because the process of world revolution is far from having
matured. It has not
yet involved victories in the key countries, those where the
proletariat has already become the absolute majority of the
population before revolutionary victory. So the ‘educators need to be educated’ not only because
they know too little, but also because they have to be involved
themselves in a process of gigantic self-education by the
masses, which has already started.
that the relation between a revolutionary vanguard organization,
which is absolutely necessary for the victory of the socialist
revolution and the building of socialism, and the
self-organization of the mass of workers, which is likewise
indispensable to achieve these goals, is a dialectical one, in
which no part can achieve anything durable without the other.
very same reason, while the elementary class struggle of the
wage earners is insufficient for the overthrow of capitalism, it
is absolutely indispensable for achieving the level of
self-organization without which a real social revolution in an
industrially developed country is unrealizable.
Great masses learn above all from experience, not through
literary or oral education (which does not mean that such
education is not vital for obtaining class independence on the
ideological field). The
only way in which they can assemble such experience is through
the actual class
struggle. So how
they act currently
will strongly influence how they think in the next ten or twenty
years. That is why specific forms of current class struggles (large
strikes, even ‘only’ for democratic demands, and so on) have
so much importance for the development of revolutionary potential,
i.e., for the capacity to react in a special way when
circumstances are ripe for a revolutionary crisis.
revolutionists do not know how to intervene efficiently in these
actual struggles (e.g., under the pretext that they are
‘economistic’ or ‘reformist,’ or that the consciousness
of the masses is inadequate or ‘wrong’): if they do not
conquer credibility through this intervention, they will not
succeed in fusing with the real movement of the class.
But if they see their intervention as limited only to
adapting to the given level of the class struggle, if they do not strive to elevate
the level of class consciousness and self-organization through
their interventions, they will not succeed in building a revolutionary
vanguard party; they will not only become one of the innumerable
factors in bourgeois society tending to prevent
the working class from transcending the level of its elementary
while breaking with utopian socialism, Marx and Engels also
stuck to its ‘rational kernel’ (they never stopped from
having the greatest respect and admiration for Charles Fourier,
who formulated one of the greatest and most radical critiques of
class society of all times).
They never narrowed down the purpose of the overthrow of
capitalism and building of socialism to a simply ‘workerite’
the emancipation of humanity had to be total and global.
A relentless struggle had to be conducted against all
forms of oppression and exploitation of men by men (in the
anthropological and not the ‘sexist’ sense of the word).
That is why the emancipation of oppressed races and
nationalities, the emancipation of over-exploited colonial and
semi-colonial nations, the emancipation of women, the
emancipation of youth, all have such an important weight in
their political project – even if they themselves were limited
by the social conditions under which they lived to understand all the dimensions of these struggles. The overthrow of capitalism, of private property, commodity
production, and wage labour, is a necessary precondition for the
successful achievement of these various forms of human
it is not a sufficient one.
struggles of women, of oppressed nationalities and races, of
oppressed youth, against innumerable prejudices, will continue
long after the victory of the international socialist revolution
in order to assist the birth of a really classless society,
which roots out all forms of social inequality.
the radical revolutionary potential of the working class flows
from its specific place in the capitalist mode of production and
from the consequences of the latter’s laws of motion for that
relentless drive to accumulate more capital leads to efforts to
constantly expand the production of surplus-value.
For there is no other final source of capital
accumulation than the production of surplus-value in
the process of production, e.g. through ‘unequal
exchange,’ can only redistribute what has been previously produced.
Therefore, the self-expansion of capital implies the
constant expansion of wage labour.
The modern proletariat is the only class in contemporary
society which has the tendency to grow absolutely and relatively
as a function of the very laws of motion of capitalism.
to understand this one has to define the proletariat in a
correct way. It is
by no means limited to manual labour in industry.
That segment of
the proletariat has long stopped growing and will tend to become
or political militants who narrowly limit the definition of the
proletariat to that segment of the class will sooner or later
conclude that the possibilities for the proletariat to change
society will tend to decline rather than to grow.
For Marx, however, the proletariat was the Gesamtarbeiter,
the ‘total worker,’ thus including white collar workers,
technicians and even some managers, certainly also state
employees, except the top managerial and functionary layers: in
other words all those who remain under
the economic compulsion to sell their labour power, whose
income does not allow them on an individual basis normally to
accumulate capital or to emancipate themselves from that
proletariat thus defined has not stopped growing throughout the
history of capitalism. Today it encompasses half or more than half of the active
population in practically every large country of the world (with
the exception of Indonesia and possibly Pakistan).
Even in India, this is already the case, for there is a
tremendous agrarian proletariat or semi-proletariat of landless
labourers (peasants) in the Indian village, besides the urban
proletariat. In most of the developed industrial countries (including the
so-called socialist ones) it has passed 75 per cent of the
active population. In
at least three countries – the USA, Great Britain and Sweden
– it has passed the threshold of 90 per cent.
is clearly a case of quantity turning into a new quality, it is
by no means only that. The
development of capitalism creates in the modern proletariat not
only a numerically predominant social force.
It also creates a social force of tremendous potential
proletariat is the only substantial human creator of wealth
(independent peasants and handicraftsmen do create wealth, too,
but on a world scale this is probably not more than 15 – 20
per cent of the totally annually created new product). The impressive material infrastructure of humankind – the
mines, the factories, the railways, the airports, the airplanes,
the road network, the machines, the automobiles, the power
stations, the other sources of energy, the canals, the harbours,
the cities, domestic equipment, the shops, storehouses and the
huge mountains of commodities they contain, have all or nearly
all, been created by yesterday’s and today’s wage labour. Inasmuch as intellectual labour becomes more and more
proletarianised, an increasing segment of humankind’s
knowledge, blueprints, patents, inventions, are likewise the
product of the proletariat.
If workers in that global sense of the word stop working
through collective action, no power on earth can substitute for
them and prevent all economic and social life coming to a
from ‘emancipating’ society from the proletariat, the higher
and higher mechanization and semi-automisation prevalent today
makes more and not less vulnerable to real successful mass
strikes, as we witnessed in France and Italy in 1968-69 and in
Poland in 1980-81.
of course not be true in a ‘completely robotised’ society.
But a ‘completely robotised’ society would be a
society without surplus value production and without commodity
could never be approached, let alone reached, under capitalism.
classes in society, independent farmers, including in the Third
World, independent handicraftsmen, independent professional
people, ‘free-floating’ (freischwebende)
intelligentsia, independent entrepreneurs, are condemned to see
their relative and absolute weight in production and society
tendencially and historically to decline and not grow, as the
result of the operation of the very laws of motion of
course, this is not a mechanical, linear movement; there are
medium-term conjunctural ups and downs; there are big
differences between countries and even continents.
But the basic secular historical trend is clear and
law of concentration and centralization of capital has been
operating too long and with too clear an outcome for this thesis
of the central weight of the proletariat in bourgeois society to
be scientifically questioned (unscientific, impressionistic
prejudices and straightforward ‘false consciousness,’ are,
of course, another matter altogether).
through the very development of capitalism, the working class
gradually acquires a revolutionary potential in the positive
economic sense of the word.
In the beginning of the ‘purely’ capitalistic
production of surplus-value, the production of relative surplus
value, i.e., mechanization, the worker is nearly completely
subsumed under the machine: a slave of the machine as a slave of
capital; and capital develops a peculiar type of machinery oriented
towards the maximum extraction of surplus-value (quite other
forms of technology and of machinery are possible, and were
indeed experimented with but not widely applied, because they
did not serve the capitalist’s goal of separate firms’
But the very
development of capitalist technology, after having reached a
certain point, starts to operate in the opposite direction.
Fragmentation of labour cannot continue infinitely,
without beginning to decrease rather than increasing profits.
In a highly technicised economic system, the human
producers, as the least perfected ‘pieces of the mechanism,’
make the operation of the whole system more vulnerable.
Capitalism itself cannot rely on more and more unskilled,
brutalized, indifferent labour, operating with more and more
sophisticated and expensive machinery.
The costs of maintaining
the value of existing fixed capital becomes outrageous, if
everything is sacrificed to the production of new surplus-value
capitalism itself, especially late capitalism, has to start
overcoming the fragmentation and atomization of labour.
New labour skills are sought after more than unskilled
reunification of intellectual labour and manual labour is not
only the result of the massive reintroduction of intellectual
labour into the direct process of production.
It is also the result of the higher and higher training
of a section of the working class.
While the number of ‘drop-outs’ constantly grows
(they constitute the new layer of the sub-proletariat) the
number of highly skilled workers, of worker technicians, grows
parallel to the first phenomenon.
transformation is accompanied by a succession of political,
social and economic crises of the system.
So the basic attitude of the working class towards the
ruling class starts to change as
a result of the very operation of the long term laws of motion
of the given mode of production.
Till the post-first world war period, and to a large
extent throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the workers respected the
employers, even when they hated them.
They thought, by and large, that you couldn’t run
factories and the economy without bosses and ‘experts.’
But now, seeing the mess into which the employers and
‘experts’ have worked themselves (and all of us), they
increasingly challenge the capacity and the right of ‘those on
top’ to make things work.
At least at factory level, and at the level of the
cities, they increasingly feel that they have the capacity of
making things run better (we don’t say in an ideal way, but
better) than those on top.
Again these sentiments, which were expressed very
powerfully in the big strike wave of 1968-1975 throughout the
capitalist world (and in Poland 1980-81 too!) might
conjuncturally recede a bit under the impact of the present
crisis. But if a
first wave of that crisis has reduced somewhat the
self-confidence of the working class, a second and harsher wave
will make it rise again with a vengeance.
To this objective
potential must be added a subjective
one which is as important for the building of socialism as is
the first. This
subjective potential is likewise, for Marx, the very product of
the specific place the working class occupies in the capitalist
mode of production.
not only increases the number of wage earners, their economic
potential, and later their skills and levels of culture (the
conquests of working class struggles of course contribute more
to these latter achievements). Capitalism
also concentrates these wage earners in huge work places (mines,
factories, office buildings) where they are assembled by the
thousands if not the tens of thousands.
There, after long painful experiences with the opposite
patterns of behaviour, which periodically still break towards
the surface because they are ‘pure’ products of bourgeois
society, the working class goes through a permanent practical
school of social behaviour based upon co-operation, solidarity
and collectively organized action, seeking collective as opposed
to individual solutions to the ‘social questions.’
class can systematically achieve over a long period these
patterns of behaviour as a result of its practical day-to-day
experience and its overall social interests, as does the class
of wage earners, certainly not independent peasants or
can hardly be accused of having ‘underestimated the
Lenin was clearer than any other Marxist as to the basic difference between the peasant’s and the worker’s attitude
towards competition, commodity production, and therefore social
behaviour based upon co-operation and solidarity.
is not an absolute rule, but a general historical tendency.
It can be interrupted by the results of great shocking
defeats of the working class, or huge historical
disappointments, of extremely unfavourable material conditions
(unemployment rates higher than 30, 50 or 75 per cent).
But it reappears again and again, like the Hydra’s
head, because it is rooted in the very socio-economic nature of
capital and wage labour.
preparation of the working class to base its collective
behaviour, its intervention in society, on the non-bourgeois
‘values’ of collective co-operation, solidarity and
organization – the very antithesis of bourgeois and
petty-bourgeois competition – gives it a powerful potential
for social revolution. And
gives it a powerful potential for rebuilding society on the
basis of collective ownership of the means of production, of
solidarity between all producers, of planned conscious
co-operation substituting itself to ‘market laws’ as the
basis of economic life, of the withering away of commodity
production, money, economic inequality and the state, all of
which are social preconditions for the successful achievement of
a classless society, as is a high level of development of the
The point is
not that the working class is sure to accomplish all that.
Nothing is sure in the bad world in which we live.
Socialism is a possibility, nothing more. But it happens to be the only possible alternative to a
collapse of human civilization if not to a disappearance of the
human race. The
working class is the only potential social force which could,
under a given complex set of favourable circumstances, realize
socialism. To deny
the revolutionary role of the working class means to make a
giant historical leap backward, i.e., to condemn socialism to
become utopian, to become again a nice dream which will never be
realized and which will therefore not prevent humankind from
disappearing in a nuclear holocaust.
No proof can
be offered, nor ever has been offered that other social forces
– an association of intelligent individuals, third world
peasants, marginalized sub-proletarians in the imperialist
ghettos, ‘socialist state armies’ – have the social and
economic power to take the fate of society out of the hands of
Big Capital and to reshape that society on the basis of
world-wide massive solidarity and co-operation between the
producers. For that
reason alone, it would be wise not to revise Marx’s concept of
the centrality of the revolutionary potential of the working
class for emancipating humanity as long as history has not
presented us with definite
proof of such a capacity.
It would be equally wise to devote all one’s power and
energy to helping the working class to realize that potential.
MANDEL is the author of Late
Capitalism, The Second Slump, Marxist Economic Theory, and
many other works on Marxism. He is also secretary of the Fourth International.