“Is it necessary to recall that Marxism not only interprets the world but also teaches how to change it? The will is the motor force in the domain of knowledge too. The moment Marxism loses its will to transform in a revolutionary way political reality, at that moment it loses the ability to correctly understand political reality. A Marxist who, for one secondary consideration or another, does not draw his conclusions to the end betrays Marxism.”
Socialism is not only a good idea, but a stark necessity for humankind. Yet, the ideas of socialism are everywhere under attack. They are at the nadir of influence and prestige. Socialism is reduced to a vague word. Most people haven’t a clue what real socialism is about or what it would look like.
Worse. The credibility of socialism is buried under the debris of the savage and malign pseudo-socialism — Stalinism. Many who accepted Stalinism at its own Big Lie evaluation, now say not only that Stalinism was “the socialism that failed”, but the socialism that was, the only socialism that can ever be. It is the going wisdom.
In Britain, the labour movement itself has been ravaged; it bears the scars and mutilations of two decades of defeat, and of structural changes in industry forced through on the bosses' terms, in conditions of working-class weakness and defeat.
What can we do? Turn to the working class!
We live in an era when, as a consequence of the long dominance of Stalinism, of counterfeit socialism, revolutionary Marxist socialism has come to be something separate from the working class and even from the organised labour movements.
A socialism that bases itself on the working class and on working-class immediate concerns and, while advocating revolutionary socialist politics and perspectives, avoids becoming a toytown sect — that today is the property of only a minority of the socialists.
And yet despite all that, the collapse of Stalinism has, objectively, opened the road for a mass rebirth of genuine socialism. How quickly it comes depends on us.
Nothing is more obvious than that the duty of socialists now — those who are worth anything — is to go to the working class and into the working-class movement, there to plant the seeds of unfalsified socialism once more, especially amongst the youth. Yet this work is scarcely being done.
How can it be done? Here we can learn from the early Russian Marxists, and from the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky.
For that reason, this issue of Workers’ Liberty deals with a neglected and now largely forgotten aspect of the work of the early Communist Parties — the creation of factory newspapers or bulletins. It is an interesting and important part of our history. It can help us with our work now.
In that work the parties of the Communist International carried on a tradition rooted in the early history of the Russian labour movement. In the mid 1890s the Russian Marxists, who had until then made the advocacy of complex theoretical ideas to limited audiences their main activity, took up the work of agitation among the working class.
They were inspired by the example of what Jewish workers in the west of the Russian empire had done, and instructed in how to do it by a widely-circulated pamphlet written by Kramer and Martov, On Agitation.
The Russian Marxists had a tremendous success with this work of agitation — in conditions where trade unions were illegal, and the typical career of a Marxist agitator would be a few months at liberty doing political work that would have to be paid for by years in jail and Siberian exile. Lenin was heavily involved in such work in St Petersburg, and for it he was jailed and sent into exile in the Russian wilderness.
The one-sided use of agitation generated a political tendency, “Economism”, which Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky condemned and fought — as did Martov, co-author of the manual on agitation. But, as Lenin was careful to argue, it was the one-sidedness of it, the neglect of the other Marxist work needed for a rounded political and educational effort, that was at fault, not the agitational work as such. In this supplement we reproduce one of the factory leaflets Lenin wrote.
That workplace agitation is socialist work that still needs doing, and work that can be done by even a small group of socialists who have a member or a good “contact” in a workplace. It is work which the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty does and has been doing for a long time.
Work the SWP did long ago, when it took the working class and the labour movement seriously. (See the item in this supplement on the Manchester Ship Canal). In France the revolutionary socialist group Lutte Ouvrière has produced such industrial bulletins, as a core political activity, for many decades, building considerable support among workers.
In advocating a turn towards factory papers, the Communist International insisted that one of the preconditions for starting a factory bulletin was that an organised Communist Party “nucleus” should exist in the given factory. In Germany in the early 20s such a “nucleus” might number its members in the hundreds. That was a different political world from the one in which we live and in which we must do our work.
Experience in conditions other than those in which the Communist International worked has shown that such work can be done with only a few revolutionary activists, or just one, in the given workplace, or with only a sympathiser willing to work with the revolutionary socialist organisation. The experience of Lutte Ouvrière in France is the most relevant to us — but there is also, as we saw, the example of the pioneering Russian Marxists.
In Lutte Ouvrière’s bulletins the editorial is a common item. The other side carries comments, little articles, and snippets on what is going on in the workplace. Each bulletin will have a regular workers’ meeting to collect and select articles. The distribution is usually done by members and sympathisers of Lutte Ouvrière from outside the workplace going to the factory gates.
Our conclusion for today is that socialists should explore the possibility of initiating such work. They should also explore new technologies. For example, the Workers’ Liberty bulletin on the London Underground, Tubeworker, is complemented by a page on the Workers’ Liberty website — http://www.workersliberty.org/twblog — which (thanks to the distribution of Tubeworker) is becoming more widely read, and can carry comment and discussion from day to day.
The Workers’ Liberty website also has a page of reports and comments from Tesco workers. It will soon have a facility for any posting on the website to be printed off in leaflet form. With that to start from, even one or two Tesco workers in a store or depot could run a regular workplace bulletin.
The Communist International’s turn to factory bulletins took place when the early stages of the “Stalinist” reaction — that is what it was, though its chief protagonist in the Communist International then was not Stalin but his future victim Gregory Zinoviev — were establishing their sway in the International. As a result, the “turn” went together with a bureaucratisation of the Communist Parties. But that bureaucratisation was no necessary part of a turn to factory bulletins.
[This is the introduction to the pamphlet issue of Workers Liberty on the experience with factory bulletins over the last hundred years - WL Vol 3, Number 3. See right column on website page 1.]