“Marx was a Communist, and as a Communist he understood the proletariat as being the class conscious workers, possessing the revolutionary ideology necessary to carry out their task. “
The above statement is taken from an editorial in The Communist (official organ of the Australian Communist Party), dated July 1st, 1921. It is not correct.
Marx has been accused of many things by dishonest opponents and ignorant would-be supporters alike, but he never said that. Variously believed in certain quarters to have caused the war, bitten the late King of Greece, and to have produced his whiskers to sicken the sight, and his terminology to fuddle the brain of Mr. Wells; he did none of these things.
For chronological reasons he can safely be exonerated from blame for Alexander’s most unkingly exit, and his real motive for growing a beard is, as Mr. Macdonald said when asked why he supported the war, “in the hands of history.”
Mr. H. G. Wells said he could not understand the word proletariat. It was the truth, but journalism has a moral code of its own. It was intended for people not likely to be much interested in verbal accuracy, and not likely to have read other works where the word is frequently used by Mr. Wells in circumstances which make it quite clear that he attached to it the same definite meaning as it has for us. What Wells writes in the Sunday papers does not matter much, but here we have the Communist expounding tactical methods to be adopted by the workers, and as the editor rightly says about the Labour Party, those who would teach the workers should first have learned themselves; “the educator himself must be educated. “
As these Communists claim for themselves more than the average intelligence, they ought to have no difficulty :—
This work, (i.e., formulating working-class principles and policies) could only be done by those workers who by certain, force of circumstance were endowed with greater power of intellectual penetration than the average workers possessed.”
What Marx really did understand by the “proletariat” can easily, be discovered from the Communist Manifesto. I go to that for preference because of its brevity; even a Communist “in a hurry” can hardly plead “the revolutionary situation” as an excuse for not having stopped to read it.
Marx described as the proletariat in modern society the property-less wage worker. The mass of men and women, rapidly in process of becoming the most powerful numerically in every country in the world, who own nothing but their power to labour and who by reason of their being compelled to sell that power in order to live, stand face to face in an antagonistic relation to the buyers, the capitalist class.
A footnote to the 1888 edition by Engels gives: “the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live.” Nothing, you will notice about “intelligence” or “class-consciousness” !
Again in the text itself: “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority”.; and in reply to the question, “In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole,” the answer is : “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”
In these quotations, as throughout the Manifesto and other writings, it is made abundantly clear that the statement attributed to Marx is utterly false. Why then was it made?
Mr. Wells told a lie to prove a certain theory on Bolshevism, and the Communist is guilty of a similar action. By misrepresentation of Marx they wish to support a piece of special pleading in favour of an indefensible case, the case for minority revolution.
Marx taught that the development of the system would produce in the workers that outlook, that class-consciousness, which would precede their organising to overthrow capitalist domination, but he expected the workers to emancipate themselves; he certainly did not teach them to rely on self-styled intelligent minorities.
As the editor himself pertinently says, “We have seen lately in England the disaster that followed trusting men who did not understand the proletarian conception.”
Is it necessary for the Australians to follow the theoreticians of the Communist Party in order to repeat that performance?