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"Revolutionary Workerism"? December 25, 2004 by RedStar2000


When social democracy "crashed and burned" during World War I, Lenin thought it necessary for revolutionaries to adopt a new name -- communists.

Now we are in a period in which the name of "communism" has been widely discredited...nearly all of the western working class thinks of it as an oppressive and poverty-stricken "alternative" to capitalism.

Which raises the question: is it time for a new name?


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"Proletarism" has come up a couple of times previously in this forum...

http://www.revolutionaryleft.com/index.php?s...&hl=proletarism

http://www.revolutionaryleft.com/index.php?s...&hl=proletarism

I think in English-speaking countries, the term would be workerism -- since there's no reason to confuse people with a Latin derivative.

It would symbolize our commitment to a future society where all political and economic power would be directly in the hands of the working class itself...and not mediated through a "vanguard party" or "great leader".

I confess this idea is not without appeal to me...even though, as has been correctly pointed out, the ruling class will not be "fooled" and will start throwing shit at the word and the ideas behind it instantly.

There's no way to advocate a classless society and not be maliciously slandered by the ruling class.

Nevertheless, the word "workerism", "workerist", "a workers' society", etc. might have an unanticipated appeal to people who've been taught to believe that "communism = Stalin = baby-eaters" and such. It might gain us some listeners who won't listen now.

The phrase "revolutionary workerist movement" sounds kind of "strange"...but that's just because it would be something new.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 14, 2004
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quote:

How about the term Populism instead of workerism/Proletarism?


It carries some rather unsavory historical baggage of its own -- including racism and religious fundamentalism.

Of course, you could argue that "no one remembers" -- but the ruling class has a good memory and many historians on its payroll. A "neo-populist" group would be hammered with accounts of the first populists at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Pat Robertson is very much a kind of neo-populist, though I don't believe he uses the label.

quote:

The only problem with "workerism" is that workers in some countries, the U.S. for instance, only equate worker or union rights with those who are currently working, and of those, those who are skilled craftsman due to the past attentions of the AFL/CIO.

Also due to unions' past dismissal (not the IWW of course) of immigrants and low wage workers as insignificant for representation, most jobs are not, and were not unionized in the U.S., rather the unions became associated with a sense of male hierarchy and elitism which women and immigrants, or even persons of color felt they were not a part of and had little rights to apply to.


A not unreasonable objection -- though I imagine Latin immigrants would recognize "Trabajorismo Revolucionario" (spelling?) as something potentially appealing.

As always, practice would be the key: if revolutionary workerists were found to be consistently on the side of women, gays, immigrants, minimum-wage and temp workers, etc. who were resisting in some fashion the existing rulers, then I think, over time, the fog and smoke of the AFL-CIO would be dispersed.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 16, 2004
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quote:

First: our movement has a name "communist" because our goal is communism -- classless, liberated society.


That was what we were told, anyway. But you know as well as I that what was "achieved" under the banner of communism was, however progressive, very far from a "classless, liberated society".

That's the historical record...and "everybody" knows it.

Just as "everyone" was conscious of the record of Social Democracy in 1919 when Lenin proposed changing the Russian party's name. He didn't want to be identified with the corruption and treason of social democracy...and properly so!

Do we want to be identified with 20th century communism as a whole?

Considered in an all-around way, was/is 20th century communism "something to build on" or has it become "a stinking corpse"? You recognize that phrase, of course...it's what Lenin himself used to describe social democracy -- he didn't think social democracy was "something to build on".

It strikes me (and others) that all the Leninist variants have no future -- they don't appeal to workers in the "west", they are perceived as dogmatic and oppressive, etc. And I see no reason why that perception should change...since it is historically true.

If what we actually want is a "classless, liberated society", then we need to do some things very different from what is known by most people as "communism".

And if we're going to do things differently, why shouldn't we have a name that reflects that?

quote:

Second: you can change your name all you want, but our enemies (the oppressors and reactionaries of the world) will heap it with slander and shit.


The same point was made in an earlier post...and I agreed then as I do now. The ruling class has a keen perception of its real enemies...and their shit would come flying at us before the ink was dry on the new name.

But how much would stick? How much "extra shit" sticks to us now because of the track record of 20th century communism?

quote:

Third: some people who want to give up "communism" as a name should give it up, since they aren't really communist.


I think that's wishful thinking...though it does happen over extended periods of time -- I think German Social Democracy finally repudiated Marx around 1958.

It would be very convenient if all political groups and ideologies called themselves by their real names...but history is rarely so kind.

quote:

For example: should our movement call itself "proletarianism" -- i.e. define itself by its class base, not its goals? No. That would be like calling us "the labor movement." Puleez! What defines us is not that there are workers in the movement, or that this class is the social base for revolution -- what defines us as a movement is our goal (communism) WHICH ALSO INVOLVES THE ABOLITION OF THE PROLETARIAT AS A CLASS. Focusing on a class, and a class nature, is a goal far short of communism -- which is the abolition of classes and class society. It is essentially a plan for replacing our lofty and radical goal, with a kind of class "identity politics" where we wallow in "being workers" and see that as our essence.


That's a cogent point...though adding the term "revolutionary" weakens your point somewhat.

That is, I think "revolutionary workerism" would not convey any connection with the traditional trade-union bureaucracies. It would have an "aura" of "identity politics" surrounding it...but I don't necessarily see anything "catastrophic" about that.

You know as well as I that bourgeois ideology will "seep" into any group no matter what it calls itself...and will have to be confronted and struggled against.

quote:

And let's not even consider backing down from our goal of communism, our international movement, our connection with the past socialist experiences, our use of the word "communist" for our ideology, our movement and our goals.


No one is advocating "backing down from our goal" of classless society (at least no one that I would bother listening to).

But, to be honest, I personally feel very little "connection" with "past socialist experiences". It seems to me that they were pretty grim -- though, of course, not anything like the "hell-holes" that the bourgeois ideologues told us they were.

Most importantly, the working class had no power in those societies...how can I or any real communist "connect" with that?

I know...you want us to accept the proposition that a "great leader" can, in some mystical sense, "be" the working class "in power".

But I'm not a Hegelian and I can't see it!

quote (Bob Avakian):

It is not enough for communism to be merely a "propaganda point"--something that is "thrown in" as an abstract goal--and if you reduce it to that, and sever the living link between the struggle at a given point and the final aim of communism, then you have gutted the final aim of all meaning and you have cut your line and actions loose from the path leading to that final aim.


But that's exactly what 20th century communism did...and is perhaps the main reason why the word "communism" is held in such disrepute today.

"The communists promised this and this and this...and delivered nothing like those things at all!" That's a response that we often receive even from working people who are friendly to us and willing to listen.

The word itself has become tainted by association with regimes that did not deliver on their promises.

Of course, that's not to rule out the possibility of rehabilitating the word.

But perhaps new words would serve us better.

Also, keep in mind that Marx and Engels themselves were not "wedded to terminology"...they freely used different words ("communism", "scientific socialism", "social democracy") according to their utility in given historical circumstances.

As long as we avoid lying, I see no reason why we shouldn't pick new names (and even new terminology) for ourselves that will make more sense to people.

---------------------------------------------------

One other point that doesn't relate to anything above -- but I wanted to mention it because it was raised and never answered in one of the older threads.

When Lenin revived the name communism, he did so at a time when both his personal prestige and the prestige of the Russian party was at "an all-time high"...people accepted this word because it was associated with a successful proletarian revolution (or so it then appeared).

We don't have that "going for us". Gaining acceptance for "revolutionary workerism" among revolutionaries themselves will be an "uphill battle". People are used to their favorite labels -- communist, anarchist, whatever-ist and probably won't give them up easily.

So that would be a serious obstacle.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 17, 2004
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quote:

Communists have led socialist revolutions. It takes a transitional period, and a growing success worldwide to approach worldwide communism.


Well, you see the problem then with the word communism. "Pie in the very distant future" but a far less palatable substance on "the day after the revolution".

Why shouldn't working people perceive this as a "bait-and-switch" con?

If words were really used with respect for their meanings, then the "Revolutionary Communist Party" would actually be called the "Revolutionary Socialist Party" -- because you want to lead a socialist revolution that will establish socialism.

The "Socialist Workers' Party" (U.S.) is better-named in this respect; they are not revolutionary and socialism is what they actually want.

The "Communist Party" is horribly named; they would piss themselves at the prospect of communism or even socialism.

So what are people who are real communists -- who want a revolution that will result in the establishment of communism -- to do? How are we to distinguish ourselves in the popular mind from all the people who use "communism" like a radio commercial -- you know, with all that rapid mumbling at the end to explain why the purchaser is not going to get what the commercial promises.

Communism? Based on availability and dealer participation; offer not valid in all states; black-out dates excluded; taxes, title, and insurance extra; does not apply to destinations in Hawaii or Florida; certain additional fees may be required; subject to credit approval; all normal terms and conditions apply; cannot be used in combination with other discounts and promotions; list of winners on request.

We find ourselves in a very unenviable position: the word communism has been "discredited" by both capitalist ideologues and those who called themselves communists.

We cannot help what reactionaries will say -- they will hate us and try to throw shit at us no matter what we call ourselves.

But why do we have to be associated with those who make a mockery of communism? Those who can, at best, offer us "class society with a human face"?

(In some cases, we know whose face...but that doesn't help!)

I have no idea if a name like "revolutionary workerism" could "catch on" or not -- there may turn out to be new words that haven't even been thought of yet.

But I think something must be done about this...and the sooner the better.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 18, 2004
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I shall resist the temptation to poke a little fun at your notions of geography west of Manhattan...your "road to LA" is pretty "dialectical".

But your analogy isn't; it implies that the "road to communism" is literally "like a journey"...from point A to point B to point C and finally to the final destination, Point Z.

There are many such analogies in human affairs that might be called upon -- it's a common and often useful way of simplifying complex processes.

Cooking a meal, building a house, making a journey, raising a crop, etc. It's important in activities like this to proceed in an orderly fashion, doing each portion of the task in its proper place...otherwise the meal is inedible, the house collapses, you get lost, and the crop is ruined.

This is "common sense" -- linear and straight-forward.

Is revolution "like that"? Is the transition from capitalism to communism a simple matter of doing A, then B, then C, etc.?

So that socialism is "reformed" into communism by a series of linear stages?

And does it have to be like that? Is that the "only way" to "do it"?

Perhaps we should discard analogies altogether...and reason directly from the historical data that we possess.

We know from history how one form of class society changes into another; a combination of gradual reforms and great convulsive upheavals slowly or quickly replaces an old ruling class with a new one...and over the following decades the old cultural artifacts gradually fade away and are replaced by new ones that favor the new ruling class.

The Leninist paradigm proposes an analogous sequence of events for the transition to classless society -- first the old ruling class is overthrown; then the leadership of the party "restores order" only without that old ruling class (socialism); then a gradual transition begins that will ultimately result in communism.

The problem here is that no materialist explanation has ever been offered as to why the revolutionary leadership must or even should "push" in that direction or be "pulled" in that direction.

"Good intentions" is not an explanation.

Indeed, historical experience suggests that a revolutionary leadership that wins power should replace the overthrown ruling class with itself and its most loyal supporters.

It is in its own material interests to do that!

On the other hand, consider a proletarian revolution that is consciously motivated with communist ideas. It involves great masses of workers and their allies in direct participation in the whole project. Egalitarianism and "ultra-democracy" are conscious priorities -- there are no "permanent leaders" though there may be "influential militants". There's little sentiment for "restoring order" except through communist methods. When problems arise (and, of course, they will), communist solutions are sought -- anything that hints of "the old ways" is dismissed out of hand as unacceptable.

These folks are serious about communism as a working system, not simply an abstract ideal. They are motivated by the desire to find ways to make it work. Right now!

And, to be sure, that is not an "easy" task and will involve many false starts, mistakes, etc.

There will be a "transition period"...but it will not be called "socialism", will not be "orderly", or have any of the other characteristics associated with that concept; it will be a period when communist methods directly "take over" from the methods of all previous class societies.

I don't mean to imply that humans will become "angels" -- there will certainly still be reactionary ideas, people with swollen ambitions, etc. who will threaten the restoration of capitalist society. But the explicit egalitarianism of the revolution and its practice will "cut the materialist ground" from under such types. In practical terms, I don't even think such people will be able to sustain their own numbers, much less grow.

Ambition is pointless in a society which has no formal hierarchy; you may gain status but you cannot gain power or wealth. If you try to do that stuff anyway to the point of annoying people, they will kill you.

They don't want to go back to being wage-slaves again.

quote:

...but it is lunacy, infantile fantasy...


For those still trapped in the mind-set of class society, it must seem that way indeed.

Much as feudal lords once anguished over the "problem" of "masterless men", our remaining Leninists anguish over the "problem" of "leaderless revolutions" and "imminent classless societies". These things simply "cannot be".

Or can they?
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 18, 2004
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quote:

It all depends on who I'm talking to.


Well and good if you're talking to another person or even a small group of like-minded individuals.

What happens when we are talking to millions?

That may sound "too far in the future" to worry about...but we don't know that.

In as short a period as five years, we could find ourselves part of a large movement opposed to U.S. imperialism in Iraq and other places...and if we want to talk about more than just imperialism, we will need a name for ourselves to distinguish us from those who want different things than we do.

To working people in the English-speaking world, "communism" means "Stalinist baby-eaters" -- and we will be compelled to spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to explain the real meaning of the word.

Anarchists have a similar problem now -- anarchism "means" chaos and gang-warfare to most people and anarchists have to explain over and over again that it means no such thing.

At this time, while the revolutionary left is very small ("beneath the radar"), may be the best time to select a more useful and attractive name for ourselves.

Then, when we are large enough to attract popular attention, people may be willing to at least listen to what we have to say instead of dismissing it as "the same old shit".
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 20, 2004
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quote:

Is renaming of the "communism" a try to go out from the crisis in which the communist movement is?


Yes and no.

Yes, it implies an escape from the dead-end of Leninism. It does not, however, guarantee such an escape.

The more practical reason is to gain us a hearing from the western working class...most of whom think that "communism = Stalinism = baby-eaters".

quote:

If revolutionaries have no scientific theory of communism (i.e. Marxism) or don't know it or interpret it falsely then they will fail without doubt each time. And renaming wouldn't help.


No doubt.

But it wouldn't hurt, either.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 22, 2004
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quote:

Assume that a new fine sounding word was thought out ... What then? You have to explain in science view what it means, haven't you? And you have step by step to explain all theory (Marxism?). But why you couldn't do the same with the "communism"? Endeavor needed not less.


Yes, the same amount of work would be required.

The difference is that more people might listen!

quote:

The "dead-end of Leninism"? Do you mean the necessity in "the dictatorship of the proletariat"? And from it you have done the conclusion that Leninism=Stalinism? I think you are deep wrong.


Fine...then there's no reason for you not to stick with the word "communism" -- it doesn't make you any worse off than you already are.

Since the word "communism" has been appropriated by people who don't actually want communism except, perhaps, "in the distant future", I think those of us who want a working class revolution that proceeds at once to the establishment of a classless society need a better name for ourselves.

Then I can stop annoying the Leninists by calling myself a "real communist" and they can stop annoying me with their suggestion that the road to liberation must pass through an indefinite period of "enlightened despotism".

We'll both be better off.
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 22, 2005
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quote:

If the communists are ashamed of their own name, what do you think that is showing the rest of the world about communism?


That we are not what they think we are, of course.

Why should we be "stuck" with the crappy reputation of 20th century "communism"...which wasn't even communist to begin with?

quote:

By being ashamed of their own name, they are showing the world that they believe in something that is bad and deserves to be ashamed of. You're doing the work of the ruling class, and they're not even paying you for that one!


You give the ruling class far too much "credit". If the so-called "communist" parties had actually made a plausible start at building communism, then there would be nothing to be "ashamed of".

You know as well as I that they did no such thing...and a good deal of what they did do was pretty rotten.

Sure, the ruling class told lots of lies about the USSR, China, etc. But many times, the plain truth would have been bad enough.

quote:

Calling it something else is not the answer, telling people what the word means IS. Mud washes off!


It's not just "mud" -- a better analogy would be a toxic waste dump.

And yes, even those can be "cleaned up"...but consider the time and energy required for that formidable task.

And how difficult it is to get people to even give us a "fair hearing".

If your menu proclaims the featured meal of the day is "SHIT", who's going to order the dish and check it out for themselves? No matter how much time you spend explaining to them that "it's not really shit -- that's just the traditional name for it".
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First posted at Che-Lives on December 23, 2004
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