A vanguardist writes
With reference to the February 1998 issue of your journal, most modestly I want to raise a few questions on the articles published on “The Communist Manifesto” written by Lew Higgins and Gwynn Thomas respectively.
The article by Higgins
(1) fails to trace the historical background of the Communist Manifesto and at the time of the Communist League. Both were mainly the product of the Chartist movement. It is implicit in Marx’s realisation that “the proletarian movement is the independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of immense majority” which has been expressed in the manifesto.
(2) Based on this false premise, Higgins has arrived at a false hypothesis that “the Manifesto was written with Germany in mind”. Whereas the Manifesto has been working as guideline for Communist Parties of the World for the last 150 years, he further writes that it was written for a particular organisation with particular purpose. This is not only unjustifiable, but also it is a biased opinion that tends to misinterpret the Manifesto.
(3) In the concluding part, Higgins has found out six ideas of the Manifesto valid for the 21st century. But in the second point he appears to make one believe that Marx wants to replace the class society through democracy. This idea has also been expressed in another place of the article. But, if one looks at the fourth point, one will find that the change must be brought about by revolutionary political action of the working class. Both the points put together may lead to the idea that Marx’s views were contradictory. But the fact is that Higgins’s views are rather contradictory.
(4) That communism must be world-wide as the system it replaces, i.e. capitalism, is world-wide is a fact, as maintained in the third point; but simultaneously it is also true that the proletariat of one country can not wait for their unprepared counterparts outside their own territorial limit and postpone their struggle even if the conditions in their country are favourable for them. That is why the Manifesto rightly states that proletariat of one country must battle against the bourgeoisie of their own country. The line can not be ignored.
(5) In the penultimate point, Higgins observes that the revolution must be brought about by the majority of the working class, not a minority. The idea is not merely contrary to the science of dialectics that the forces of progress or development, though minority at present, must emerge as the winner, it is also subjective. In order to negate the fact that the November Revolution of 1917 was a socialist revolution and, that though a minority, the working class was in a position to lead the revolution, the notion has been placed. That there may be different phases of Socialist Revolution, as happened in China, has also been deliberately ignored by the author. The attempt is highly condemnable.
(6) The last point as it is written appears to be contradictory in itself. It is beyond my knowledge, if the Communists are being the most organised and political section of the proletariat, why they cannot be the vanguard of the working class. It is almost like the views of anarchist Bakunin.
The less said about the article by G. Thomas, the better. In the very beginning of para 2 under the sub-heading “From Capitalism to Socialism” he writes “. . . Socialist Revolution must be world-wide and cannot be achieved in one country alone”. Marx, while expressing such a view in the Manifesto, also observes, as I wrote earlier that the proletariat of a country has to win the battle with the bourgeoisie of that country at first. Thus the view observed by Thomas is misleading, such view is that of Trotsky, who whatever may he be, was not a Marxist.
In the penultimate sentence of the same paragraph he writes “The Bolsheviks had no possibility of introducing Socialism.” I personally do not agree with the view because I think, though a minority, the proletariat can be and had become the vanguard. The basis of my views is the science of dialectics (as mentioned earlier) which, I suppose, has been ignored in this respect.
From the two articles, it has appeared in my mind that, in the name of Socialism, the World Socialist Party, if it represents the views expressed in them, is a mere petty bourgeois party. It preaches the petty-bourgeois view in the name of Socialism. And that’s why the Socialist Standard does not deserve any attraction for me.
Prof SAKIRANJAN BASU, Bishnupur, India
1. The article did give a paragraph on the historical background to the Manifesto. The Chartist movement did have an influence on the Communist League, though it is an exaggeration to say the League and Manifesto were both “mainly the product of the Chartist movement”.
2. The article did say that the Manifesto was written with Germany in mind, “though not exclusively”. The article also did say that in the final section of the Manifesto we can read that in 1848 “Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution”. So the Manifesto was written for a particular organisation with particular purposes, such as the measures for a bourgeois-democratic revolution at the end of the second section. You offer no evidence for your claim that this is unjustifiable, biased and a misinterpretation. But if necessary we can provide plenty of evidence that the so-called Communist Parties of the world have consistently misinterpreted the Manifesto.
3. In the concluding part of the article, the second point refers to the replacement of class society with a democratic society. Nevertheless, it is true that this must be brought about democratically, for as the Manifesto pointed out “the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, which is the struggle of democracy”. You appear to think that democratic political action cannot be revolutionary. Or perhaps you think revolution is synonymous with minority violence and so cannot be democratic? Marx thought a socialist revolution must involve the working class in a democratic struggle. So do we, and the force of numbers means the revolution can be peaceful. We and our comrades in India and elsewhere are living proof of democratic revolutionary political action for socialism.
4. You are right that the Manifesto says the working class must defeat the capitalist class of their own country. That is why we are organised as a political party. It is why we and our companion parties around the world are working for the democratic capture of state power and the replacement of international capitalism with world socialism. However, you would be wrong in supposing that one country alone could throw off capitalism under a global capitalist system of society. The Manifesto does not suggest it and the 150 years since have shown that it was right not to.
5. The working class struggle for socialism, as you note in (1), “is the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority” (Communist Manifesto). You now say this is contrary to “the science of dialectics” and subjective because the minority must emerge as the winner. You offer the experiences of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, where the working class was a minority of the population in both cases. But this is the dialectical opposite of what Marx argued. Socialism is not possible in one country, especially a semi-feudal country with an overwhelmingly peasant population, where only a minority of the working class supported those who falsely called themselves Communists.
6. There can be no socialism without socialists. Socialism, which can only be democratic world, must be brought about democratically. This point should become obvious if you think about it. Democracy rules out leadership and self-appointed vanguards. Socialists who know what they want and how to get it do not need leaders to tell them what to do.
The capture of power has to be done on a state-by-state basis because this is the way political power is structured in the world today. As the Manifesto pointed out, it will first be necessary for the working class of a country to win the struggle of democracy over the capitalists in that country. But this does not mean that there can be socialism in one country. Nor does it mean that we can expect the workers of one country to be ready for socialism while the rest of the world lags behind. The idea of world socialism cannot be confined to one country.
You disagree with our argument that the Bolsheviks could not introduce socialism because it is your personal view that the working class had become the vanguard. Again you base this on “the science of dialectics”, whatever you may mean by this.—Editors.