Intellectuals and the Working Class 24 September 1979

Intellectuals and the Working Class
24 September 1979

Explanatory note: Use of the term working class. In this article the term working class is used generally to mean industrial proletariat or blue-collar workers. While this lack of concise definition is unsatisfactory, I still believe that one of the arguments that follows – that we should be doing more political work amongst the blue-collar workers – is still valid.

It has been said over the years that the working class should be the overall centre of gravity of our political work. This proposition is correct for Australia. There will be no Australian revolution without the active and conscious political leadership of the Australian working class. In Australia, the working class is both the leading class and the main revolutionary force (unlike China where it was leading but the peasantry was the main force).

But the simple fact is that over the years the ’should be’ has not become the reality. The quality, regularity and effectiveness of our political work among the working class has been inadequate over at least the last 10 years. [now 55+years]

If we are Marxist-Leninists then one of our most important tasks is to bring Marxism-Leninism to the working class. This requires an understanding of 2 things: (1) Marxism-Leninism, and (2) the Australian working class. Only by understanding both will we correctly solve the problem of our relationship with the working class.

There is a problem in that not enough workers are embracing Marxism-Leninism. Some workers have come forward but not enough. If more workers became Marxist-Leninists then we would be so much closer to making the working class our centre of gravity.

Realisation of this as a problem has caused quite a few intellectuals to go into the factories and other labouring jobs over the last 10 years. This has certainly helped those intellectuals understand the working class better. It has helped those intellectuals to get rid of subjective ideas about the working class (eg. romantic ideas) and it has helped them to make worker friends and to struggle in the workplace. For all intellectuals integration with the working class is a pre-condition for doing good political work amongst the working class. By this we do not intend to say that all intellectuals must work full time in the factories. Integration can take many forms.

Mao Tse-tung put this forward as a fundamental principle:

“In the final analysis the dividing line between revolutionary intellectuals and non-revolutionary or counter-revolutionary intellectuals is whether or not they are willing to integrate themselves with the workers and peasants and actually do so.” (“Orientation of the Youth Movement,” Selected Works, Vol. 2, p.246)

Intellectuals are trained mental workers. They are trained to talk well, write well and analyse deeply etc. These are very valuable and essential skills for the revolutionary movement. Simultaneously, an important task of the revolutionary movement is to train workers to master these skills, to become working class intellectuals.

In ’what is to be Done?’, Lenin repeatedly stressed the idea that the communists must take revolutionary ideas to the workers from the outside and that the working class by its own efforts only develops trade union politics:

“The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, ie., 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. 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 (communism) 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.” (Lenin, Ch. IIA ’What is to be Done?’)

The years that Marx, Lenin and Mao together spent working in factories would have been minute. But together the time they would have spent working on “pet projects” would have been enormous (eg, Lenin was criticised for working on ’Materialism and Empirio-Criticism’ abroad, allegedly at the neglect of the day-to-day struggle in Russia). What they had in common was a system of scientific and revolutionary ideas, based on a deep analysis of reality, which they put into practice and tested in practice.

Right now, the initiative of intellectuals must be encouraged and stimulated. The international communist movement is in a terrible mess, Australia and the world urgently needs a contingent of Marxist-Leninist theorists. Even the role played by intellectuals like the late Malcolm Caldwell was a valuable one.

The role that intellectuals who serve the people and use their initiative can play should be promoted as something very positive. Just as the role that communists struggling in the workplace can play should be promoted as something very positive too.

Intellectuals are needed, to do investigation into all sorts of questions. For example, political economy, class analysis, uranium, aborigines, Australian culture, medicine and health, international questions etc. Marxist-Leninist intellectuals are needed in all these areas to combat the anti-Marxist, views propagated by bourgeois intellectuals.

There exists an anti-Marxist-Leninist counter-current that says: “Worker is better than intellectual”. Predictably, this comes from some people who work in manual or blue-collar jobs. The origin of these ideas is spontaneous, but they are reinforced by the attitudes propagated by the leadership of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) (CPA(ML)).

It is correct to say that “intellectuals should learn from the workers”, But the extension of this idea to “intellectuals can systematically learn Marxism-Leninism from the workers” is quite wrong. It is correct to say that “intellectuals should integrate with the working class”. The extension of this idea to “those with factory jobs at the moment are necessarily better Marxist-Leninists” is again quite wrong. These ideas do not contribute to our understanding of the 2 essentials: Marxism-Leninism and the working class. On the contrary, they encourage a neglect of Marxist-Leninist theory amongst workers (“it is not necessary because we are workers”) and a subjective idealist (romantic) assessment of the working class.

The social pressures that operate on workers in factories (eg. the long and tiring working hours) and the division of labour in society (i.e., the division between mental and manual labour and the extraordinarily high degree of division of labour between different manual jobs in assembly line work in factories) makes it extremely difficult for revolutionary intellectuals (whether of university or working class background) to carry out deep analysis and social investigation while working in the factory.

In Chapter 4D of ’What is to be Done?’ Lenin discussed this problem in detail. The worker chauvinists amongst us don’t learn from Leninism because they take the narrow and sectarian view that as workers they know best:

“[…] we do not recognise our duty to assist every capable worker to become a professional agitator, organiser, propagandist, literature distributor, etc., etc. In this respect we waste our strength in a positively shameful manner; we lack the ability to husband that which should be tended and reared with special care. Look at the Germans: their forces are a hundred fold greater than ours. But they understand perfectly well that really capable agitators etc., are not often promoted from the ranks of the ’average’. For this reason they immediately try to place every capable working man in conditions that that will enable him to develop and apply his abilities to the fullest; he is made a professional agitator, he is encouraged to widen the field of his activity, to spread it from one factory to the whole of the industry, from a single locality to the whole country. He acquires experience and dexterity in his profession; he broadens his outlook and increases his knowledge; he observes at close quarters the prominent political leaders from other localities and of other parties; he strives to rise to their level and combine in himself the knowledge of the working class environment and the freshness of socialist convictions with professional skill, without which the proletariat cannot wage a stubborn struggle against its excellently trained enemies. We are directly to blame for doing too little to ’stimulate’ the workers to take this path, common to them and to the ’intellectuals’, of professional revolutionary training, and for all too often dragging them back by our silly speeches about what is ’accessible’ to the masses of the workers, to the ’average workers’ etc.” (from ’What is to be Done?’ Lenin, Chapter 4D)

Worker chauvinists play a backward, retrograde role because they attack and try to undermine the initiative of intellectuals. These attitudes arise spontaneously from the divisions between mental and manual labour that exist in capitalist society. They can only be broken down by conscious political education (as Lenin did in ’What is to be Done?’).

Workers influenced by these views are often “good blokes” with strong class feelings. The point is that this is not enough. As Ni Chih-fu, a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, while Mao Tse-tung was alive, put it:

“A worker-cadre like me has deep class sentiments for the Party and Chairman Mao as well as experience in my work, but simple class sentiments cannot replace consciousness in the struggle between the two lines and pure practical experience cannot replace Marxism-Leninism. If I should overlook the importance of studying Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, which is a summing up of the experience of the world revolution and the Chinese revolution, I cannot avoid committing empiricist errors.” (from ’Overcoming Empiricism’, Peking Review 43,1972, p.7)

For some time now the leadership of the CPA (ML) has pursued a campaign to undermine the initiative of intellectuals. They distort the mass line and downplay the role that has to be played by intellectuals in social research and ideological work. The anti-Leninist Economist suggestion is made that the workers, in general, can teach intellectuals communism:

“This is essentially the reason why intellectuals should integrate with the labouring people, to learn from them, because labouring people have an overall correct method of thinking whereas intellectuals don’t.” (Australian Communist, 92, p. 52)

This is wrong because neither labouring people in general nor intellectuals in general “have an overall correct method of thinking”. This can only be obtained by integrating Marxism-Leninism with Australian conditions. This is not God sent to any class or group in society but requires professional training.

In another article in the same issue the High-Priests of the CPA(ML) warn the intellectuals to beware their bourgeois university background in almost religious terms:

“They (intellectuals) learn the great never ceasing wisdom of the common people. Of course they also contribute with due and proper modesty their own teaching of Communism.” (Australian Communist 92, p.37)

In the same issue on p. 53 there is even a confession from an intellectual who learnt to become a docile tool of the CPA(ML). The CPA(ML) encourages a religious attitude to criticism and self-criticism – confessions rather than change.

The emphasis between what an intellectual has to offer and what they have to learn is weighted extraordinarily heavily on the learning side, Such ideas, if accepted, are a recipe for destroying the initiative of intellectuals.

At the same time the CPA(ML) leadership distorts the mass line in such a way as to restrict the initiative of communists in general. They talk endlessly about the need for “merging with the people” (’Fundamental question is detailed mass work’ in Australian Communist 92. strokes this arrow 11 times in a mere 6 pages! as the method of breaking out of the “left bloc” (also see Australian Communist 90, p. 92). In fact, the main correct method of breaking out of the left bloc is to overcome dogmatism and fight for correct ideas where-ever you are, not by a passive “merging”. For all its talk about “merging” the CPA (ML) remains one of the worst left blocs in Australia. Why? Because you can’t “merge” your way out of a left bloc, you can only fight your way out.

This distortion of Leninism in the CPA(ML)’s publications (i.e., the negation of Lenin’s idea that communist ideas develop from outside the spontaneous working class movement) has probably arisen from the desire of the CPA(ML) leaders to protect their leading positions. Another article reveals this fear:

“A few continually thrust themselves forward, resent being ’left out’, ’passed by’ etc. It is not a question of being ’left out’ or ’passed by’. This is sheer personal individualism. It has no place in a genuine Communist Party or Communist. The fundamental question is not self-importance but mass work and if need be (and the need is great) taking pains to do minute and detailed work among the masses.” (Australian Communist 92, p. 31)

These nice sounding words would appear to mean in reality: Don’t question Party policy, keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t rock the boat. The same appeal that the ALP leadership makes to its own rank and file.

Suppressing the initiative of intellectuals has played an important role in producing the sterile and unimaginative propaganda now churned out by the CPA(ML).

There exists another anti-Marxist-Leninist counter-current that says “intellectual is better than worker”. These people do not do enough to remold their world outlook and do not have a basic understanding of the Australian working class.

Worker chauvinists are often quite open about their dislike for intellectuals. The unmolded intellectuals are generally not so direct. They pay lip service to “working class leadership” but do little in practice to come to grips with it.

The organised Marxist-Leninists in Australia do lag far behind the needs of the industrial workers. Workers express deep feelings of frustration at the futility of their jobs and lives (e.g., “All we do is build cars all day. It is useless and frustrating. All that is happening is that we get older”).

There is no Marxist-Leninist Party that gives a lead. But the workers are looking round for an organisation that fights, tells the truth and that they can trust. But there is nothing there to fill the gap. ’Vanguard.’ does not fill the gap. REM has done very little to fill the gap.

The question of how we should go about doing more systematic and organised political work amongst the working class must be tackled seriously.

These ideas are related to two articles that were published in “Discussion Bulletin” 4 (13th July, 1979) discussing the nature of the Australian revolution. The first one (“Working Class leadership vital to win socialism!!”) asserted that the struggle for independence was “bullshit”. The second article (“Rejection of the independence struggle?”) defended the independence struggle and advanced the demand for independence and socialism.

I feel that the line – independence is bullshit – is wrong and adequately answered in the article “Rejection of the Independence Struggle?” (refer DB 4) Nevertheless, the first article does raise some valid points about the need for more active agitation in the workplace and the need to extend contacts with workers. We can only agree with the following sentiments:

“It is not enough to hail strike struggles etc. from the sidelines after they have occurred but get in there and establish contacts and give real support to people who are already agitating in their workplace situations. A militant MIS (’Movement for Independence and Socialism’) should be seen to be out in the thick of things and should consciously be working to extend contacts with fellow workers and be promoting younger people to come forward to positions of leadership and responsibility as a matter of extreme importance.” (from ’Working class leadership vital to win socialism!!’ DB 4).

Unfortunately, the author of the second article does not comment in a concrete way to these proposals. All that is said in this regard is:

“The author correctly points out that independence without socialism is nonsense (a point which I thought was a fundamental agreement upon which the establishment of MIS was based). S/he also correctly points out that the working class must be firmly in control of any revolutionary movement for it to be successful in moving along the path to socialism (again in basic agreement with MIS).” (from “Rejection of the Independence Struggle?” DB 4)

Of course, it is true in theory that MIS (and many other organisations including REM) are in “basic agreement” with working class leadership of the revolution. Ones reputation as a communist is not enhanced by overtly denying this. The point is – what is done in practice???

REM cannot afford to become another organisation that only pays lip service to working class leadership. Clearly the problem exists and. it is difficult to solve. It must be frankly acknowledged as a problem – and we must start thinking and acting seriously to do something about it. Otherwise we will, never solve it.

I feel that the reply in the second article can only reinforce the first author’s ideas that those who advocate independence only pay lip-service to the question of working class leadership. I feel that to some degree tendencies towards the counter-currents of worker chauvinism and bourgeois intellectualism do exist within REM and that only by fighting for a political line that combats both counter-currents can we hope to achieve unity.

Simplistic solution are presented by those influenced the 2 counter currents referred to. The worker chauvinists say all the intellectuals should take working class jobs. If this was done the main effect would be the collapse of all the valuable “pet projects” that are now going on. It would lead to the liquidation of many good things that now exist. On the other hand, those influenced by bourgeois intellectualism pay lip service to working class leadership but do not take it seriously in practice.

Inadequate solutions like these will only generate a schism between the opposing sides. Each will concentrate and feed off the deficiencies in the other side’s proposals. There will not be a real dialogue that acknowledges the strengths of “both sides”, but only sniping at the “other’s” weaknesses.

It has happened before. In the Young Communist League 10 years ago an acute and bitter division developed where the “intellectuals” blasted the “workers” for “Economism”, while the “workers” blamed the “intellectuals” for “insufficient integration”.

It is divisive and wrong to play off workers v. intellectuals. A communist organisation should be consciously striving to narrow the gap, not to widen it or use it as a debating point.

“[…] the organisation of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession […] In view of this common characteristic of members of such an organisation all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories must be effaced.” (from ’What is to be Done?’ Lenin, Chapter 4C).

Not enough workers are becoming Marxist-Leninists. This puts a lot of pressure on Marxist-Leninists in the workplace who are doing their best to develop the political consciousness of their workmates. These Marxist-Leninists need some kind of back-up and support (eg, assistance in analysing their industry) from intellectuals with more time and training for analytical work. It’s a long, hard grind and if this support is not forthcoming then frustration will arise.

What is the role and responsibility of intellectuals to the working class in this situation?

On the one hand we have said that the initiative of intellectuals must be stimulated. On the other hand, we have said that some intellectuals are not sufficiently coming to grips with their responsibility to the working class.

The key is to correct the contradictions between these statements. The latter statement does imply some form of supervision over intellectuals according to our judgement of the needs of the working class. The tendency of everyone to do their own thing is a bad one. As an organization we have to ensure that we form functioning groups that do systematic and effective political work amongst the working class. These groups may do necessary backup and research on particular industries or they may send cadre into factories where needed.

If we start from the basis that all of us, whether ’intellectual’ or ’worker’ recognize that the working class should be the overall centre of gravity of our political work and to achieve this we need to understand both Marxism-Leninism and the Australian working class then that should be a good starting point to solving the problem. Can we agree on such a starting point? We need a genuine Marxist-Leninist Party in Australia.

Our responsibility to the working class would be much easier to discharge if we had a properly functioning Marxist-Leninist movement in Australia that was fighting, leading and summing up experience at different levels (both ’pet projects’ and the workplace). But we haven’t.

One of the reasons why quite a few intellectuals went into the factories is that they were under the delusion that there was an effective contingent of Marxist-Leninist theorists in the leadership of the CPA(ML).

A necessary pre-condition for branching out into new and difficult areas of work is a degree of confidence and solidity in the organisation as a whole. The frog in the well seeing only one part of the sky can also be looked at from another angle, positively, as necessary division of labour and specialisation.

But when the storm clouds fill the whole sky, as at the moment, in the Marxist-Leninist movement internationally (plus thunder, lightning and torrential downpour!) it naturally becomes very difficult to find communists willing to concentrate their vision on only one part of the sky. This is one very important reason to rebuild a solid Marxist Leninist group and eventually a Party.

In the meantime, to overcome the division between ’intellectual’ and ’worker’ within our ranks we must aspire to become professional revolutionaries, and not amateur slobs.

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