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Thursday, 29 December 2011

What did Lenin mean when he talked of trade union contiousness and social democratic contiousness ?

As marxists we are constantly asking ourselves which state of the class struggle are we passing through. As dialectic thinkers we do not see a situation as a stationary one something has happened for us to get to where we are and something is currently happening that will impact on where we go next. We are constantly looking at the working class movements and seeing where if anywhere they are heading.

Lenin was no different in the early part of the 20th centruy when he posed in his excelent pamphlett "what is to be done ?" Lenin formulated that the spontinaity of workers when struggle arises can be bracketed into diffeernt contious and non contious thinking. Lenin explains to us that trade union contiousness is simply workers using the collective power of the trade unions to fight for better pay, conditions and a shorter working day etc. These struggles which are limited to fighting within the existing system of capitalism are key as they do raise contiousness as we well know. But lenin clearly pointed out these struggles are not social democratic as they do not look to challenge the system as yet.
In this piece below from Lenin's what is to be done he makes a excellent point taht on their own the working class cannot draw the conclusions that to fully imancipate themselves as the marxist term goes that the system of explitation and greed needs to be over thrown. Only by the intelligencia and more academic thinkers who understand marxism who can be workers too of course can influence the mass's to convince them that a change of the system is needed. As socialists we have already drawn these conclusions but convincing other workers that there is the need to change the system is our daily task. Showing the inequalities and exposing the capitalist system for what it is is a daily task of a revolutionary.

"A. The Beginning of the Spontaneous Upsurge
In the previous chapter we pointed out how universally absorbed the educated youth of Russia was in the theories of Marxism in the middle of the nineties. In the same period the strikes that followed the famous St. Petersburg industrial war of 1896 assumed a similar general character. Their spread over the whole of Russia clearly showed the depth of the newly awakening popular movement, and if we are to speak of the “spontaneous element” then, of course, it is this strike movement which, first and foremost, must be regarded as spontaneous. But there is spontaneity and spontaneity. Strikes occurred in Russia in the seventies and sixties (and even in the first half of the nineteenth century), and they were accompanied by the “spontaneous” destruction of machinery, etc. Compared with these “revolts”, the strikes of the nineties might even be described as “conscious”, to such an extent do they mark the progress which the working-class movement made in that period. This shows that the “spontaneous element”, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than. consciousness in an embryonic form. Even the primitive revolts expressed the awakening of consciousness to a certain extent. The workers were losing their age-long faith in the permanence of the system which oppressed them and began... I shall not say to understand, but to sense the necessity for collective resistance, definitely abandoning their slavish submission to the authorities. But this was, nevertheless, more in the nature of outbursts of desperation and vengeance than of struggle. The strikes of the nineties revealed far greater flashes of consciousness; definite demands were advanced, the strike was carefully timed, known cases and instances in other places were discussed, etc. The revolts were simply the resistance of the oppressed, whereas the systematic strikes represented the class struggle in embryo, but only in embryo. Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, not yet Social Democratic struggles. They marked the awakening antagonisms between workers and employers; but the workers, were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., theirs was not yet Social-Democratic consciousness. In this sense, the strikes of the nineties, despite the enormous progress they represented as compared with the “revolts”, remained a purely spontaneous movement.

We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.[2] The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia. In the period under discussion, the middle nineties, this doctrine not only represented the completely formulated programme of the Emancipation of Labour group, but had already won over to its side the majority of the revolutionary youth in Russia.

Hence, we had both the spontaneous awakening of the working masses, their awakening to conscious life and conscious struggle, and a revolutionary youth, armed with Social-Democratic theory and straining towards the workers. In this connection it is particularly important to state the oft-forgotten (and comparatively little-known) fact that, although the early Social-Democrats of that period zealously carried on economic agitation (being guided in this activity by the truly useful indications contained in the pamphlet On Agitation,"


So what i myself draw from all this is that the role of a revolutionary party involved in the day to day struggles of the workers and inside the unions fighting day to day against the boss's who look to push down their living standards to increase their own profits. We must be alongside workers to explain that that this doesnt have to be this way. There is an alternative and we can achieve this through agitation first and foremost awaking the workers to the task in hand.

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