In 1914 after the collapse of the 2nd International and the start of WWI, Lenin spent a year studying Hegel. His notes are published in his Abstract of Hegel’s Science of Logic.
Among other things he emphasized the importance of the subjective and its relation to material conditions that contradicted his earlier formulations of materialism. He essentially discovered for himself Hegle’s dialectic.
This had to have an impact on the way he viewed the organizational question as he was trying to make some sense of what German Social Democracy did to the global communist movement.
What attracted me to the “Forest” side of the old Johnson-Forest tendency was the effort made to go beyond “workerism” that Don saw in that tendency.
The formulation was roughly that the drive by the working class for self development through liberation became a movement from practice that was a form of theory. But there also needed to be a simultaneous movement from theory that was a form of philosophy that met this movement from practice. The movement from theory that addresses the movement from practice was seen as the job of the revolutionary organization who viewed the working class as not simply the object of the organizing project but its subject. The synthesis of these two movements should produce a second negation that articulates what the revolution is for – concretely the new society. All of this drew on Marx’s insights that man is not only determined by history but is its creator.
Unfortunately saying all of this is one thing. Making it concrete through revolutionary practice is another. And no one including Raya could really figure it out. She was working on a piece called “the philosophy of organization” when she died – very unfinished. And N&L degenerated into something that bore no relation to the lofty formulation that had attracted me.
But in this context I believe that many of the issues you point to that historically distorted or defeated Lenin’s intentions can be discussed in relation to the dual rhythm – one from practice and the other from theory. Also important is clarity about the goal of the revolutionary project as human self development rather than simply state power let alone “party building.” (I think this is a key revelation that is reflected in Lenin’s notes on Hegel but abandoned in the heat of the post 1917 onslaught). The tension between democratic participation and centralism can be transcended if there is clarity of this sort. The same can be said about the insertion of retrogressive subjective conditions (ruling ideas) and objective conditions that threaten the entire revolutionary project. (Which is what happened to Lenin).
Regarding objective conditions, I think it important to realize that the concept of “the point of production” changed drastically during the 1980s and most of us missed this. Now the point of production is scattered all over the place to the extent that a single workplace loses its strategic significance for capitalism as a whole.
Also, changes in the organization of capitalism have also obscured the point of production as a place where the contradictions of capitalism are the clearest. For example, the cubicle with a computer is similar in some ways to your machine station at SW but it carries with it the illusion that you are not really working class (I am currently enjoying the book by Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft that elaborates on this point).
All this is to say that organizing action groups at the point of production is not as clear to me when your product is produced in many different locations at the same time or when there is no tangible product (a credit default swap produced in a series of cubicles).
These developments suggest to me the importance of international coalitions and of neighborhood-workplace alliances (like Jobs With Justice without the union domination and with a revolutionary agenda or organizing the unemployed at this moment).
Regarding subjective conditions I think that the dominance of ruling ideas is being strengthened especially in the U.S. by complicated divisions that obscure class. Identity politics, for example, which we are feeling with a vengeance these days substitutes race for class as does the division among immigrants based on legal status and language skills. The formulation of the IWW which was recently brought up in another context by Noel that “the working class has no nation” seems particularly important in developing immigration work perspectives.
Given the current form of global capital, we need to focus generally on class trumping nationalism so that revolutionary organization needs to be organized on a global basis – a return to some sort of International Communist Movement.
Finally, I believe that we are about to see changes in the organization of global capitalism at least as momentous as occurred with the Bretton Woods Agreement in the 1940’s and the rise of neo liberalism, global finance capital, and the global assembly line in the 1980s. It means to me that a revolutionary organization needs to be in a position (as we were not in the 1980s) to see and analyze these developments and adjust strategic perspectives accordingly.
Dave Ranney 9-17-09