Continued from the October 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
When our correspondent “digresses,” to use his own term, “to discuss the class-consciousness of the Russian masses,” he does not really digress at all, but gets back to the point at issue. “I deny that ability to discuss the Marxian theory is essential to a feeling of ‘class-consciousness,'” says “A.P.L.” That one sentence makes clear the different standpoints from which we are respectively arguing. To the Socialist class-consciousness is not a “feeling” but a knowing. A hatred of the master class does not of itself make a class-conscious proletarian. To be such one must know more than that one is oppressed. To say that : “Owing to the Government opposition to workers’ organisations for self-protection the Russian industrial worker could feel his ‘oppressed’ position better than most as his wages were scandalously low,” is fatuous, since other races of workers have passed through the same stage of “oppression” and scandalous wages without exhibiting any clear knowledge of their class position and the course of action dictated by that position.
If class-consciousness were no more than a “feeling,” no more than a realisation by the workers that there is “something rotten in the State of Denmark” because they were oppressed and their wages were scandalously low, then indeed would class-consciousness be of so little use to the workers as to be unworthy of serious thought.
As to how far a proletarian must be able to “discuss the Marxian theory” before he can properly be termed class-conscious is quite beside the point. The minimum that is essential to class-consciousness is that it shall be useful in the struggle of the working class for their emancipation. It must, therefore, not only comprise a knowledge of the existence of classes in society—that is not very helpful. It must comprise a knowledge of the “Marxian theory” of the class struggle (i.e., that all written history is a history of class struggles), as only that knowledge can raise the worker’s strivings to the class struggle basis, and prevent him being trapped into fatal alliances with his inveterate and historic enemies, the master class.
Class-consciousness must also include a knowledge of that other “Marxian theory,” the Materialist Conception of History, which shows that the roots of social change lie in the development of the means and methods by which mankind gain their livelihood, and indicates that the whole social structure rests upon its economic foundation. This knowledge teaches that the basis of the social system is the private ownership of the means of living, that wage slavery must necessarily (chattel slavery being out of the question) be the life condition of those who produce the wealth, because while a section of the community own all the means of living, those who do not own must sell to the others their labour power for wages.
This theory leads logically, also, to the conclusion that, since the social system rests upon its economic foundation (which is the private ownership of the land, factories, machinery and other means of living), and since this in turn in the long run depends upon the development of the instruments of production, the present social base must, given the continued development of those instruments (which nobody doubts), give place sooner or later to another, with the result that the whole social system must undergo a change.
It is needless to go further. Let us compare the actions of A.P.L.’s Russian “peasant-labourer,” whose “class-consciousness” rests on the fact that he “saw his landlord, i.e. his immediate oppressor, every day,” with the actions of the truly class-conscious worker.
The latter, from the study which has brought him to the acceptance of the Materialist Concept, realises that the only property condition in harmony with that stage of development of the means of production wherein those means can only be operated by social labour is social ownership, proceeds to institute social ownership. The Russian “peasant-labourer,” on the other hand, “A.P.L.” tells us, elected “Maria Spirodonova
, the ‘extremist,’ chairman of this All-Russian Congress,. . . as was only natural, she being the great apostle of the communal system of land ownership, also favoured by Lenin, on the lines of the ancient Mir.”
Of course this is “only natural.” The Russian “peasant-labourer” understands nothing of Marxian theories, so he is anxious to get back to the “good old days” of the Mir—under which the land was not the propetry of the whole of society, but only of the Mir group.
But “A.P.L.” may be assured that as surely as “direct ownership” may, as he says, transfer the peasant back to his old position of landless agricultural labourer, so will the return of the land to the Mir carry him back to the semi-barbarism of that ancient system.