Monday, May 04, 2009

Is The Consciousness Of The Masses Too Low? Or Is The Problem One Of Leadership?

By Josef Falkinger Monday, 04 May 2009

It is fashionable among some layers on the left to blame the workers' "low consciousness" for the lack of a genuine left alternative emerging within the labour movement internationally. This is utterly false and represents a lack of understanding of how the working class moves historically. The working class is fully aware of the situation it is in. What it requires is a leadership up to task of leading the class in its struggle to change society.

"Der Feind, den wir am meisten hassen,
der uns umlagert schwarz und dicht,
das ist der Unverstand der Massen,
den nur des Geistes Schwert durchbricht."

"The enemy, that we hate most,
Who besieges us black and densely,
It is the masses' stupidity
broken only by the sword of the ghost."

(Ferdinand Freiligrath, German poet and friend of Marx)

Like the poet Freiligrath in the 19th century, many on the left today are of the opinion that the so-called "low consciousness of the masses" is the reason why we have not seen successful revolutions, or major movements of the working class in recent years. These people constantly complain about how deeply people are indoctrinated and manipulated by so-called "neoliberal" ideology. This actually reflects the "low consciousness" of these "lefts", and their total lack of understanding of the working class and its organisations.

Revolutionary Marxism has a completely different approach to this question. It is the leadership of the traditional mass organisations of the working class and the Left, not the masses, that is in an unprecedented crisis. Revolutionary Marxists distinguish themselves from all other tendencies on the left with their approach to the question of political mass consciousness and its inner dynamics.

Read the rest of the article



Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I only read 1/2 of it and scanned the last half, but the author is operating upon a mistaken premise, one which Marcuse and the New Left have correctly avoided. And that premise is that the "workers" are "angry". The unionized workers (ala - UAW)aren't "angry"... they've got their boats, RV's, motorcycles, vacation homes, etc. Yes, their incomes may have "stagnated" recently, but these workers are amongst the priveledged few who have protected jobs and great benefits. And they see the "youngsters" being hired in at at different benefit and wage "tiers" for the same work and so recognized that they're priveledged and are thankful for it. They're willing "collaborators" with the capitalists who control "the system."

Marcuse, "Eros and Civilization" (Political Preface to 1966 edition)

Eros and Civilization: the title expressed an optimistic, euphemistic, even positive thought, namely, that the achievements of advanced industrial society would enable man to reverse the direction of progress, to break the fatal union of productivity and destruction, liberty and repression — in other words, to learn the gay science (gaya sciencia) of how to use the social wealth for shaping man’s world in accordance with his Life Instincts, in the concerted struggle against the purveyors of Death. This optimism was based on the assumption that the rationale for the continued acceptance of domination no longer prevailed, that scarcity and the need for toil were only "artificially" perpetuated — in the interest of preserving the system of domination I neglected or minimized the fact that this "obsolescent rationale had been vastly strengthened (if not replaced), by even more efficient forms of social control. The very forces which rendered society capable of pacifying the struggle for existence served to repress in the individuals the need for such a liberation. Where the high standard of living does not suffice for reconciling the people with their life and their rulers, the "social engineering" of the soul and the "science of human relations" provide the necessary libidinal cathexis. In the affluent society, the authorities are hardly forced to justify their dominion. They deliver the goods; they satisfy the sexual and the aggressive energy of their subjects. Like the unconscious, the destructive power of which they so successfully represent, they are this side of good and evil, and the principle of contradiction has no place in their logic.

As the affluence of society depends increasingly on the uninterrupted production and consumption of waste, gadgets, planned obsolescence, and means of destruction, the individuals have to be adapted to these requirements in more than the traditional ways. The "economic whip," even in its most refined forms, seems no longer adequate to insure the continuation of the struggle for existence in today’s outdated organization, nor do the laws and patriotism seem adequate to insure active popular support for the ever more dangerous expansion of the system. Scientific management of instinctual needs has long since become a vital factor in the reproduction of the system: merchandise which has to be bought and used is made into objects of the libido; and the national Enemy who has to be fought and hated is distorted and inflated to such an extent that he can activate and satisfy aggressiveness in the depth dimension of the unconscious. Mass democracy provides the political paraphernalia for effectuating this introjection of the Reality Principle; it not only permits the people (up to a point) to chose their own masters and to participate (up to a point) in the government which governs them — it also allows the masters to disappear behind the technological veil of the productive and destructive apparatus which they control, and it conceals the human (and material) costs of the benefits and comforts which it bestows upon those who collaborate. The people, efficiently manipulated and organized, are free; ignorance and impotence, introjected heteronomy is the price of their freedom.It makes no sense to talk about liberation to free men and we are free if we do not belong to the oppressed minority. And it makes no sense to talk about surplus repression when men and women enjoy more sexual liberty than ever before. But the truth is that this freedom and satisfaction are transforming the earth into hell. The inferno is still concentrated in certain far away places: Vietnam, the Congo, South Africa, and in the ghettos of the "affluent society": in Mississippi and Alabama, in Harlem. These infernal places illuminate the whole. It is easy and sensible to see in them only pockets of poverty and misery in a growing society capable of eliminating them gradually and without a catastrophe. This interpretation may even be realistic and correct. The question is: eliminated at what cost — not in dollars and cents, but in human lives and in human freedom?

ravin said...

first, i want to say...I LOVE YOUR PIC...

workers haven't been able to organize because the answer or leadership to the answer hasn't been there...

back in oct of 2008 i finally wrote out what has been wrong for 20 years or more in the united states in regards to the GAAP rules...and how they are applied...

i say 20 years because alan greenspan is where i start because it was in my mid twenties when he started and i learned accounting...

i've been busy and need a, i will try to post the pieces on mzravinblack by the end of the week...(unedited...i have wanted to clean them up but haven't had the time and have a crippling disease which has put those articles last in line to be edited)

take care

Frank Partisan said...

FJ: Does the right talk about what this subject? The article is written for the left. Your opinion is interesting in that light.

The points made by Marcuse, are the points where he differs from Marx, and became at one time the golden boy of academia.

While he was writing about workers being bought off, the largest general strike in all of history was taking place. That was France May/June68.

Ravin:I'll check out your blog later this week.

The comments part on your blog, won't open with my browser. I'll be at another computer and comment.

Anonymous said...

The right does NOT talk about "workers" as a political force except in conjunction with the role of unions within the Democratic Party, and the role of Union bosses/ leaders primarily as "agitators".

And yes, many on the right see the masses as being too stupid, and union bosses too corrupt, to know what's good for them, and therefore would not likely sympathize with the author's premise. There's far too much money involved for the leaders.

SecondComingOfBast said...

The working class has a political consciousness, just not the kind the left or for that matter the right wants them to have. It's usually exercised in a negative "throw the rascals out" fashion. The American working class will never mass as one behind a political movement, and its crazy to ever think they will.

I would say more, as to how and why the working class will just as quickly throw the leftist bums out as the rightest bums, but why take the chance of ruining a good thing? I want the left to keep fucking up, not give them ideas how to do better.

tony said...

In England a lot of The Working Class dont know they are Working Class .........Given that so many aspire to being "Middle Class".
Marx never had to compete with DayTime TV!

Larry Gambone said...

Being working class, having to work for a living, etc. I have never swallowed the notion that the working class totally lacked consciousness. On the other hand I do feel that the "only problem is the leadership" is too facile an explanation. The truth lies somewhere in between. A significant minority of the working class has a developed consciousness, also but significant numbers do not. Also workers are not passive victims and the organs of the working class - trade unions, coops, mutual aid societies etc are not undemocratic. The leadership could be changed if the majority wanted it. But in most cases, the majority is willing to go along with the existing leaders.
However, once the class is in motion, much of this changes, significant sectors become radicalized through action, but there is always a significant portion of the class - not nec. a majority, however, which will side with the rulers. They will do so because of ignorance and prejudice - racism, sexism, authoritarianism, nationalism, religious extremism etc.

Larry Gambone said...

I note that the author criticizes a rather foolish version of the Gramscian strategy. I hope he is not against the concept in general as one of the things that has worked in our favor has been the fact that the post WW2 generations are less authoritarian and less prejudiced than the previous generations. This has been the fruit of a more libertarian child-rearing, lessened sexual repression, etc since then.

troutsky said...

The squeeky wheel ,such as joe the Plumber, gets the grease. Lots of workers, on assembly lines and post-industrial, are getting tired of the bullshit but they are nor surveyed. And hopefully they will put their faith in themselves and not leaders.

while its true a mortgage payment makes workers less militant, if they lose the house to healthcare costs they will be royaly pissed.

Frank Partisan said...

FJ: That atitude is similar on the left. That is why liberals depend so much on people like Obama.

Pagan: The article is long, but it does explain why workers throw out liberal as well as conservative leaders.

Tony: Liverpool was the home of The Militant Tendency. Radicalism was there once.

Larry G: I'm not sure what the writer is saying about Gramsci. His writing could be used to say workers are passive.

Ideas as racism, sexism etc. are used to divide the working class. Today it needs to be more sophisticated than generations before. The numbers are showing, in general workers are more radical today, than say the 1970s. The working class is more multiracial than ever.

Troutsky: Action follows events. I personally think we'll see militantcy, when we hear talk of recovery.

Jobove - Reus said...

a fraternal greeting to all
I want to report that I have started a new blog picadors of their beauty and craftsmanship door name:
hope your visit
a hug from your friend from Reus Catalonia

Larry Gambone said...

Ren, I think it would be a complete mis-reading of Gramsci, if anyone used his writings to claim workers were passive. I have never gotten that impression from reading him, and of course, in practice, he was involved in the Italian workers councils, the direct opposite of worker passivity. Grasmsci has always, ie since abt 1970, been one of the cornerstones of my analysis.

celticfire said...

I love the new design at but I remain unsurprised at their choice of yet another white dude to represent them in their header graphic.

I like this article too because it asks relevant and important questions. I like that it correctly refutes the idea of blaming the workers for their "lacking"...blah blah. Mao talks about the same thing, in fact a principle of the Mass Line is that communists should not blame the masses for their conditions, but instead examine how we lead.

Of course there is a dialectical fact as well that we can not simply conjure up revolutionary situations with a correct line.

However, there are instances and moments where the potential to markedly advance the cosciousness of the working masses is presented, and it does require leadership to carry it forward.

A point of deviation however, as a "neo-gramscian" myself, is that we do have to promote public opinon and win over intellectual superiority over bourgeois hegemony.

Another point of departure is the issue of orthodox Trotskyists casually dismissing revolutions in the 20th century as "Stalinist" despite serious efforts to move away from Stalinism. In fact, this is how I see Maoism, as attempt to break with the Stalinist model that eventually balked.

I reccomend Toward a Critical Reassessment of Maoism by Khalil Hassan.

All that aside, I think this a valuable and thought provoking article and I look forward to more discussion about consciousness.

My interpretation is that people do go through such incremental development prior to a leap in consciousness. It seems like dialectics 101 to me.

And in fact, I believe people don't revolt because they're necesarilly most or brutally oppressed but because there is hope for something better.

The pararaph about the 1905 reovlution and its role in breaking the oppressed people's faith in the monarchy is good point. I wonder if a similar situation might develop under the Obama administration.

tony said...

I Lived in Liverpool for 4 years & was a Member of Militant!(1975-79)But I was a student so i dont know if this counts!

Frank Partisan said...

Té la mà Maria - Reus: I linked to your beautiful new blog. I never thought before about door knockers as art.

Larry G: The remark about Gramsci was so in passing, I'm not sure what is meant.

Celticfire: The graphics are from Bolshevik posters.

I think Hassan's article is well intentioned but misguided. Maoism is an extreme form of Stalinism, from concepts as self reliance (code for socialism in one country), bureaucracy, two stage theory etc. Mao even said he was Stalinist. My most recent experience with Maoism is with FRSO, a group that is similar to the old CP, only louder and shriller.

Mass line seems as bowing to spontanaety. Who has more to offer a revolutionary; Alan Woods or the restaraunt dishwasher? There is value to listening to someone with decades of political experience.

Instead of mass line, transitional demands are clearer path.

I like this topic. It is lacking in discussion on the left.

Tony: Funny how one can be involved with something of historical significance, and not realize it.

Ducky's here said...

Been a long time since there was anything like an organized workers movement.

Unions have been looking out for small groups of senior membership with no thought of any wider implications for some time. Organized labor as it is commonly known is dead.

Something may emerge from immigrant communities and the waves of crapped on Wal-Mart workers but there isn't any indication.

celticfire said...

You’re beating the crap out of an argument I am not making.

There are some assumptions we should look into.

1. Good or “correct” leadership does not equal a flowering revolutionary movement.

2. Leadership is in fact necessary. History has proven this true over and over.

3. Communists everywhere need to rectify the paternalism that plagued the 20th century, including its manifestation in the cult of personality. This is not limited to “Stalinism” but I would throw in the Trotsky cult too.

4. In it’s place we need to “learn from many, idolize none” kind of scientific attitude.

5. Marxism is a science, yes – but just repeating doesn’t make it so. Engaging in the science makes it a science.

I do good solid mass work with Trotskyists in the ISO and Solidarity. On the ground we get along (mostly.) This I feel is the correct attitude. We work together for example right now on a Transit Union in Portland.

Even though Trotskyism as a trend seems mystified and obsessed with the role of the urban white union guy (ahem, back to every single IMT header…) I still intellectually engage in this conversations as part of what this article seems to be raising.

My point isn’t praising eclecticism – the opposite, actually. But that none of the ideologies that have been codified in the 20th century have been effective in solving making revolution in modern post-industrial neo-liberal societies. Including Maoism.

The Falkinger asserts that we learn as we experience, but there is also indirect knowledge – Marx never set foot in Paris during the days of the Commune and yet he was able to scientifically and profoundly sum up the lessons from it. So there is that as well.

Lenin says the following "to be successful, armed insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class."

So my friend, how do we make revolution in this country?

Lenin’s formula I think still applies where he says a revolutionary situation is one in which the ruling classes are unable to rule in the old way and the masses are unwilling to live in the old way and there is a conscious and an organized revolutionary expression in order to carry things through.

So we know we are not yet in a revolutionary situation: the ruling class is still able to rule in the old way (for the immediate moment), and the masses still have some kind of misguided faith in Obama and the system, and we do not yet have a genuine revolutionary party (imho).

This isn’t to say conditions could not change rapidly, because I think they will.

As a personal note I suggest you start a thread on the Mass Line vs. Transitional Demands. It might be an interesting conversation.

SecondComingOfBast said...

If anybody ever had any doubts as to Obama's socialist nature, I point you in the direction of Chrysler, where workers now, indeed, control the means of production.

Well, or the UAW does, anyway.

Frank Partisan said...

Ducky: Consciousness always follows events. An example was The Great Depression. It started 1929, and radicalization of workers took place some 4 or 5 years later, with the great strikes.

Celticfire: I think it's good idea to have the discussion. Many readers of this blog won't have a clue as what we're talking about. Ted Grant wrote brilliantly about China. I will print one of his articles soon.

I was thinking about that Freedom Road link. It would drive the FRSO nuts. I don't agree with it, but can answer it. I doubt if FRSO even would debate the point that Maoism is a critique of Stalinism.

When we discuss mass line, try to define it.

I din't have much argument with your points. I think I have a direction to go.

Pagan: It looks like the debt was given to the UAW to deal with. Nationalization isn't socialist or capitalist per se. A socialist nationalization would have a board of one third from the union movement, one third workers from Chrysler, and one third outside workers. They could build mass transit, green cars etc.

SecondComingOfBast said...

This isn't all out nationalization though. I've heard different figures at different times, but at one point I heard the UAW is now, or will be, majority owners of Chrysler, with the US government and Fiat becoming small minority holders. Another time I heard the government would be the majority holder. Still another time, I heard the UAW would be the largest holder, but still under fifty-percent.

The last I heard was the bit about the UAW owning something like 57 percent or thereabouts.

Which will probably be billed by both sides as workers controlling the means of production, but the only fallacy to that is the workers hardly control the UAW.

What it amounts to is the Master Obama, otherwise known as God, Jr., along with the sacred Temple of the Democratic Party, can count on significant contributions by way of the UAW, the American taxpayer, and anybody silly enough to purchase a Chrysler from here on out.

Frank Partisan said...

A socialist nationalization would be something as one third from the union movement to represent all workers, one third workers from the plant, and one third the state. I was wrong at my other post.

Obama is destroying UAW, and they are allowing it. All the UAW got, was the debt nationalized and given to them.

If they were smart, they would build mass transit and energy saving cars.

SecondComingOfBast said...

I'm fine with the workers in the plant getting a third, or even more, but giving a third, or any of it, to "the union movement to represent all workers" is a load of crap. What does that even mean? As far as government involvement, it shouldn't even be there, other than as, maybe-just maybe-low interest loans. Of course its understandable that there should be some strings attached with that. That's just something that goes with the territory.

Where is the original stockholders in this scenario? What happens if I own five hundred shares of common stock in the company? I guess I'm just shit out of luck, huh? Of course I understand the concept that the original major stockholders have probably contributed mightily to running the company into the ground, so I have not a whole lot of sympathy for them, and anybody with shares in the company should have sold them off long ago, probably.

That's another big problem with this economy that you won't hear anybody touch on but rarely, if ever. There's too many dumbasses buying stock that don't know what they're doing. That's been going on since the nineties, even the eighties to a lesser extent, but it's a real problem, every bit as much as mandates to give home mortgages to anybody pretty much that asks for them.

It's just like handing your teenager the keys to your car, without even bothering to teach him how to drive the thing, and telling him to go out and take it for a spin, and handing him a six pack to boot. It's asking for trouble.

Red Frog said...

I think there are two problems. US workers themselves, as a whole, are NOT angry or conscious enough about the cause of their problems. And two, the leadership does not exist. It is not 'either-or'.

It is no accident that Latino workers in the U.S. are in the forefront of most new union struggles. Even the events in Chicago at Republic were lead by Latino workers. That tells you that not all workers are at the same level of devlopment.

It also reflects on all the tiny Trotskyist groups - we have three "SA's" in Minneapolis, for instance, who cannot unite in one organization, or front. And I don't mean just a 'united front.' I mean there is no organizational justification for various separate Trotskyist organizations in the U.S. at this time. If the so-called "vanguard" can't unite, then how can the working class?

If Trotskyists, or ANY Marxist/anti-capitalist group in the U.S., think their little organization is going to grow unilaterally as the 'crisis' deepens, etc., well, that has been the problem for years. We need a mass, organized anti-capitalist left. I suggest Italian Refoundation as an alternative model of development.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: The nationalization I talked about is a real socialist nationalization. The point is that Obama is far from a socialist.

Red Frog: My group not only works inside Italian Refoundation, we head the union division. It's great writing a leaflet, and having it distributed to 400 factories. If you don't work inside a mass party, you re outside everything. In Italy work in Refoundation, France the Communist Party, UK the Labor Party, Venezuela the PSUV, Israel in the Histadrut and Communist party, Pakistan in the PPP, etc. When the workers move, it's a cardinal rule, that they always first go to groups they are familiar with. They don't go first to Worker's Int'l League or Socialist Action.

I'm for Trotskyist groups working together on a principled basis.

In some countries the Int'l Marxist Tendency rarely works with other groups, because we're big enough not to. In Pakistan we have thousands of members. In Mexico we have somebody full time, just to take care of finances.

The nature of the US working class is changing. It's not as white as in the late 1930s.

The US has strange development, because of the lack of a labor party. That is different than a movement party.

Leadership vs consciousness is not simple black and white. I think my post is in the right direction.

Hopefully next week I'll post the Maoism vs Trotskyism question.

SecondComingOfBast said...

Ren, you can't just say somebody is not a Marxist simply because he doesn't implement every policy you think a Marxist should implement at the drop of a hat. If Obama, or the Democrats in general, did what you would like them to do, even half of it, they would face an electoral route that would put them in Green Party territory.

Look into Obama's background, his past friendships, associations, and influences. No, he might not be a dyed-in-the-wool Stalinist, and he's definitely not a Trotskyist, but facts are facts. The man is a socialist after his own fashion. Call it socialism, American style, or socialist lite, or whatever you want to call it, but to call him a capitalist and pawn of Wall Street and bankers is really shooting and missing the broad side of the barn.

Socialist in this country-otherwise known as the liberal wing of the Democratic Party-do what they have to do to win elections and stay in power. If they did what you want it wouldn't be too long before they were gerrymandered out of existence.

Frank Partisan said...

The Democratic Party is a party of anticommunism. They cooperated with Joe McCarthy, started the Vietnam War, invaded Dominican Republic etc. It's the liberal wing of the American ruling class.

Obama is a University of Chicago disciple.

SecondComingOfBast said...

That's all true, but that changed in the late sixties and seventies. Tjhe liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which is the controlling faction of the party, are European style socialists. No, they are not going to start expropriating businesses right and left, because they know they would never get away with that with the voters, to say nothing of the fact that it would be unconstitutional.

They are still well past the taking baby steps stages when it comes to incremental socialist policies.

Frank Partisan said...

Only Reaganites oppose socialism?

SecondComingOfBast said...

No, of course not. But you are insisting on a firm and decisive definition of the term socialism. If you go by that definition alone, then no, the Democrats are not socialists. Neither are most other socialists.

Your definition is anti-bureaucratic. The standard definition of socialism as understood by most people points to a large central government bureaucracy, with central planning and social engineering. That is most people's standard understanding of socialism, and that fits the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to a "t".

For that matter, to a lesser extent it fits centrist and liberal Republicans, and even "Blue Dog" Democrats.

The kind of socialism you and others here are aiming for has never been achieved, not for any appreciable length of time at any rate. And I hate to be a wet blanket but it probably never will be. For one thing, the kind of things you aim for and advocate are the kind of things that could never be achieved and firmly maintained without such a bureaucracy.

How are you going to enforce an end to property rights, for example, without a central government and bureaucracy? How are you going to turn back wave after wave of counter-revolution? It can't be done on a wing and a prayer, or by political education, training, or by "semi-autonomous worker's councils".

Drop this nonsense about ending private property and exporting revolution, which is guaranteed to illicit a reactionary response, and you might have a shot. Instead, make your alliances with whomever you can, then draw lines in the sand and dare anyone to cross over.

Drop some of the rhetoric about the bourgeois as well. The minute the average person hears that crap, they tune you out.

Put an end to the class warfare techniques. The only class warfare going on is the one implemented by socialists, and in this regard you "proper" socialists walk hand in hand with the Democratic Party, straight to the "graveyard of progressive ideals".

The only problem with my advice is that, if you adopt it, you are no longer "real" socialists, you are more like Libertarians, though from a more liberal, or leftist-progressive if you prefer-angle.

It's a losing battle for you, my friend. Everybody can smell what the rock is cooking, and nobody is buying what you're selling. If they do, somebody somewhere down the line is going to expropriate it anyway, so why bother?

Frank Partisan said...

I think to develop tactics and strategy, you need precise language to define him. An example is calling Bush fascist. If that was true, than I'd have to support Democrats. Bush wasn't fascist.

What language I use on my blog, differs from what I usually use on the street. The ideas are the same.

McCain and Hillary Clinton tried calling Obama socialist, and it didn't help.

Marx's books are selling. Even the WSJ acknowledged that.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth are you lot wasting your time with this vile reactionary, who's only purpose is clearly to massage his ego and naw at each of you and your politics.

"The only problem with my advice"

That sums you up really doesn't it.

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