On the Character of the Working Class Struggle

In these difficult times, we need not learn on the hopelessness of the working class struggle so long as we are willing to recognize its underlying character, deficient as this character may be in almost every respect. Still in plotting our future course the working class can only unify in the face of withering attacks on all fronts, by force of law and by force  of deprivation. There exists, however, an unseen dimension to the working class struggle, a three-fold character that expresses itself along each of three lines. The working class struggle is carried out in three mutually exclusive yet inexorably related avenues: the economic struggle, the political struggle, and the armed struggle. All acts of resistance to oppression at the hands of our class enemies conduct themselves through one of these three avenues. In time, the working class can only achieve liberation and self-determination by acceding to the intellectual and rhetorical demands placed on it by these elements of the working class trinity and when this revolutionary trinity is placed under the control of a Workers’ Party at the centre. The moment when this occurs will be the exact moment when the tides of history should turn against the enemies of the working class and in so turning usher in the next stage of historical development.

Each of these amounts to a particular expression of the working class struggle. Each is of equal importance to the other. Each encompasses itself, to the exclusion of the others, even as each encompasses the others in a single entity and a single consciousness. The developed state of each of these three tends to reflect the state of the current class consciousness in the host country where the struggle takes place, though in the case of openly autocratic countries this may not be so. But regardless of the specific acts that the working class struggle should express itself through in any given country, all can be categorized as belonging to at least one of these three.

First, we consider what Lenin in his book ‘What Is To Be Done?’ referred to as the economic or trade union struggle. This constitutes the workers in their workplaces organizing and campaigning for better wages, better working conditions, and all other such issues and goals that we might consider trade unions to be concerned with. As all but the most openly autocratic countries have come to accept the economic struggle by workers as a fact of life, this is the struggle that most will be familiar with. Though an essential component of the greater working class struggle, there is a danger inherent in carrying out the economic struggle. Those members of the working class who would deign to carry out the economic struggle may become complacent, and may learn to see their role as a component of the superstructure arising from the capitalist mode of production; once this occurs, the trade unionists cease to advance the interests of the working class through the economic struggle, and instead become purveyors of capitalist oppression. Instead, those among the working class who carry out the economic struggle must comport themselves with the objectives of the working class movement writ large and never content themselves to  their place within the way of things under the capitalist order. Those who carry out the economic struggle must understand theirs is but a part of the larger working class struggle which can only succeed if it has as its ultimate objective the overthrow of the capitalist order, the taking away of the wealthy class’ power, and the institution of the socialist mode of production, and that if those who carry out the economic struggle allow themselves to lose sight of this ultimate goal they become little more than an extension of the capitalist superstructure. In so becoming, those who carry out the economic struggle become active conspirators in advancing the interests of the wealthy class and hindering the interests of the working class. But in realizing their place within the larger working class struggle and in realizing the goal of the larger working class struggle, the economic struggle can be put to its proper use.

Second, we consider the political struggle. The political struggle consists of working class parties, their allies and their sympathizers who work within the political apparatus provided by the capitalist state in order to advance the goals of the revolutionary struggle. Exactly what this entails should vary considerably according to local conditions wherein the working class parties exist, but the common thread that should run through the political struggle in capitalist countries is that it makes use of whatever apparatus that exists. The political parties that directly wage the political struggle are not and should never amount to the Workers’ Party itself; these parties should merely be inserted into the political apparatus provided by the capitalist state in order to sabotage the capitalist state from within. There should be no direct or immediately obvious connection between these political parties and the Workers’ Party writ large; to the casual observer they should be wholly independent of one another. There may even be genuinely independent parties that should seek to assist the working class parties from time to time whenever their interests should, on the face of it, align, and whenever these circumstances should arise the working class parties should make use of sympathizers to whatever extent may be necessary or possible. Whatever the local circumstances entail, it should be remembered that the working class parties and their sympathizers do not have as their task the implementation of socialism and the abolition of capitalism through the political apparatus provided by the capitalist state. No, the goal of the political struggle, as part of the wider working class struggle, is to sabotage the capitalist state from within, in response to the changing conditions the capitalist state finds itself working within. While the political struggle calls for use of the pre-existing apparatus provided by the capitalist state, those who carry out the political struggle from within this apparatus can never seek to abolish the capitalist mode of production and institute the socialist mode of production through this apparatus. As the capitalist mode of production is dependent upon the framework provided by the capitalist state, the most important parts of this framework being the state’s recognition of private property and of the legally binding contract, to attempt to amend the laws and the apparatus in place to effect these ends so as to abolish the capitalist mode of production is a logical impossibility. Those who carry out the political struggle of the working class within the capitalist state must always remember that theirs is a struggle to eliminate the need for their own existence, that theirs is a campaign aimed at inhibiting the ability of the capitalist state to fight the working class struggle writ large. In acting to inhibit this ability of the capitalist state, the political struggle should make possible the ultimate success of the working class struggle, which can only come with the maturation of the movement’s third and final component into a coherent force.

Third, we consider the armed struggle. In brief, the armed struggle consists of those who bear armaments and carry out direct attacks against chosen targets. Although sporadic resistance can occur without the coordination or support of a larger revolutionary force, the success of the greater working class struggle can only succeed with the armed struggle; without the armed struggle, the working class struggle is condemned to forever assail itself against the capitalist state in a permanent futility. Naturally, the working class struggle cannot succeed in its ultimate aims without any of the three elements of resistance to the capitalist mode of production; the armed struggle does not differ in this respect. It bears pointing out, though, that the armed struggle is essential precisely because we are taught in the capitalist period on the forbidden nature of armed resistance. The armed struggle should not consist of a conventional army engaged in a tactical campaign against the armed forces of the capitalist state, nor should it have as its objective the seizing and holding of territory against enemy counter-attacks, but neither should it be confused with simple terrorism nor should it take the form of criminal and barbaric mass murder which we are altogether too familiar with in this day and age. The armed struggle must be disciplined, it must be coherent, and it must have as its ultimate goal the liberation of the working class and the institution of an industrial-democratic way of life, as with the other elements of the working class struggle. After all, let us remember that the territory of the working class is not delineated by the restrictive dimensions imposed by spatial considerations; rather, the territory of the working class consists of the ground contested by working class resistance to oppression at the hands of the capitalist state, its agents and its apparatchiks. For this reason, the armed struggle should consist of acts of irregular warfare, meant to destroy the capitalist state and in so destroying to overthrow the capitalist mode of production wherever it exists. It is only when the armed struggle, in concert with the economic and the political struggle, reaches an advanced stage of development and nears the moment of its revolutionary actualization that it can take to seizing and holding geographical territory as would an ordinary army. This essay does not advocate for any specific violent acts, nor does it advocate for the overthrow of any currently-existing government or other legal or political entity; this essay merely describes the theoretical framework through which the capitalist mode of production can be abolished and the socialist mode can be instituted.

Although all acts of resistance perpetrated by the working class against the working class, none can amount to a force which can compel the capitalist mode of production to give way to the socialist mode of production. At the centre of this revolutionary trinity lies the Workers’ Party, which should consist of educated, professional revolutionaries who devote themselves full-time to the task of overthrowing the capitalist state and replacing it with the socialist state. Each of the three elements of the revolutionary trinity, the economic, political, and armed struggles amount to a particular expression of the overall revolutionary struggle, itself embodied within and by the Workers’ Party. This Workers’ Party fulfills the role of the ‘vanguard party’ described by Lenin in his book ‘What Is To Be Done?’ prior to the Russian revolution of 1905. Under the leadership of the Workers’ Party, the working class struggle can amount to a force capable of bringing about the inevitability of historical development. Furthermore, after the overthrow of the capitalist state and the abolition of the capitalist mode of production the Workers’ Party can form, out of its pre-existing structure, a new apparatus, the basis for the socialist state. Once the capitalist state has been overthrown, the pre-existing apparatus for governing the working class struggle can be used for governing the workers’ state, at least in its infancy, moving from the shadows and into the light of day. Lacking as we are in this critical central element, the working class struggle can only express itself as a force reactionary against capitalist oppression. But we must be careful to recognize that the working class struggle is both the means to an end and the end unto itself; in ascribing these seemingly mutually exclusive characteristics to our struggle, we recognize a tension within the struggle that can only be resolved by bringing the struggle to its logical conclusion. This is a topic I intend to address in a future essay.

This is the basic outline for the disciplined structure which the revolutionary struggle should follow, but it is not a complete design. The concept of the revolutionary trinity will be explored in greater depth in a series of articles to be written in the weeks and months to come, as well as in a short book-length project to be published sometime in the coming year. Arguably, all acts of resistance to capitalist oppression are carried out, in one way or another, in this present stage of advanced, post-industrial capitalist development we are living under. But acts of resistance, by themselves, can never amount to a force that can channel the inevitability of history and bring about the abolition of the capitalist mode of production to make way for the socialist mode of production. Those who carry out acts in each form must subordinate themselves to the greater working class struggle, and in so subordinating themselves realize their true purpose as expressions of the working class’ will to power. On the formation of the Workers’ Party at the centre of this revolutionary trinity, each expression can be put to good use.