On the Organization and Function
of the Revolutionary Work Group (1984)*
As capitalism abruptly moves from crisis to crisis, the struggle for human emancipation comes to the fore. The conditions of degenerating capitalism gives rise to the forces that could overthrow its rule (but also, to other forces that could salvage capitalism, and put off the future). These forces arise spontaneously out of the crisis to directly assault the rule of capital. However, up to now no crisis has ever been successfully concluded by a victorious social revolution. The reason being the mistaken organizational, and functional ideas, of those groups that the struggle gave rise to. Of course, it took the defeat of these groups, in past revolutionary situations, to show that these forms are not valid for the social revolution. History has now proven this beyond a doubt, and it is not the purpose of this article to engage in a polemic with the past. It is to offer an alternative organizational, and functional character, to those groups, which truly want to ensure the victory of our class in the present struggle against capitalism.
1. The first task is to jettison the obsolete terminology of the old workers' movement, and to demystify all of our language. The old terms obscure and mystify that which should be plain and easy to understand. Language should signify reality, and never should we distort reality to fit the mod of obsolete language, Some of the major offending words and phrases to be jettisoned are: bourgeoisie, proletariat, the dictatorship of the proletariat, workers' control, and intervention.
These French words for the capitalist class (bourgeoisie), and working classes (proletariat), abound in almost all-revolutionary literature. Yet to the average person who reads them, without an interpreter of revolutionary rhetoric on hand, as words to skip over without knowing the meaning. Words are meaningless, if the average person with an average education cannot understand them. From now on if we want to say capitalist, or workers, just say so.
The worst phrase to ever infect the workers' movement is a graft from the capitalist revolutionaries of France. "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat" was coined by August Blanqui, and taken over by Marx after the defeats of 1848. No matter how one tries to make it sound democratic, by referring to Marx's reference that the Paris Commune was an example of a proletarian dictatorship, the fact remains it was a blanquist idea. And it means what it says, a dictatorship of a revolutionary elite in the name of the working classes. And the evidence indicates that Marx used the term initially in the blanquist sense, and only later democratized it, to salvage his past from criticism. Marx was only trying to maintain some consistency (which is not our concern), and for modern revolutionaries to continue his juggling act is utterly ridiculous. We do not want a dictatorship of any kind, we want only the formation, and rise to power of the workers' councils. This is the victory of real democracy, to call this "the dictatorship of the proletariat" as some do, is to spread confusion, and give ammunition to the capitalist ideologists.
What appears at first to be a good. term to describe the goal that we want, workers' control, at closer look is found to be totally wanting. For workers' control can mean something other than the working class running the workplaces themselves democratically. As the experiences of the past teach us, workers' control can mean the rule of technocrats in the name of the workers. So instead of workers' control, we advance the idea of workers' self-management, which means what it says.
Then comes the term intervention, which is contradictory for a movement for class-consciousness. Intervention implies elitism, as the intervener comes from the outside to intervene into the movement. We are not on the outside, we are a part, of the movement, and thus we can only participate in it. And if we are participants, then why call our actions interventions?
These are only a few of the most sinister phrases, and one could cast a critical eye upon dozens more. And above all else, we must stop using theorists' names to define our politics. What defines our politics is our theory and actions, not the persons we borrow ideas from.
2. We must learn from history, so that we can go into the future consciously. The successes and the failures of past revolutionary organizations, and situations are there for us to learn from. So we must learn from them, so as to not make the same mistakes eternally (which some are want to do). So that in the next crisis socialism is the result and not the continuation of class rule, as preceding situations have resulted in.
From the uprisings of antiquity, the uprisings of the Middle Ages, the middle class revolutions of the Enlightenment and the early revolts of the working class at the beginning of industrialism, we learn that humans cannot long suffer oppression without rebelling. Any society that uses any form of oppression is doomed to destruction thru revolution. This is the only historical determined fact, what comes out of the revolution is another fact, which is not determined.
From the Paris Commune, we learn that a revolution must break out of its locale, or it will be isolated, and destroyed. Also, that even capitalist nationalist enemies will stop fighting each other, in the face of a real social revolution, to put it down. The rule of capital is international, so the destruction of the rule of capital must also be international, i.e., a world revolution.
From the 1905 Russian revolution, we learn that the revolution breaks out spontaneously, without being ordered 'by any "revolutionary" party. Also, that the forms of workers' self-rule are to be the councils, and they too were formed outside of party sponsorship.
From the start of the First World War, we learn the truth about Social Democracy, which only the radicals in the party suspected all along. That the Social-Democratic Party is a part of the capitalist political machinery, thus nationalistic. The Social Democrats by voting for war credits proved beyond a doubt, that they were a capitalist party (though a party of a rising, new capitalist class),
From the second Russian Revolution of 1917, we learn that the truth of the capitalist nature of Social Democracy again when the Bolshevik Party (a social-democratic party) seized power. The Bolsheviks rapidly defeated a working class revolution-taking place simultaneously and installed itself as a new capitalist class. It maintained its rule thru sheer terrorism, thus setting the stage for the terrorism of Italian, and German Fascism.
From the failure of the Workers' revolution in Russia of 1917-18, we learn that the socialist revolution cannot succeed in a backward unindustrialized nation (though revolutions can occur). This lesson is important, as it has been confirmed over and over again, but still the lesson has yet to be learned by some. For still some honest revolutionaries insist that the Third world revolutions are socialistic. Yet the most the Third World revolutionaries succeed in doing is throwing out one ruling class, and replacing it with their own as a new capitalist class. So every revolution in the Third Worlds duplicates the Russian one, and a rule of bureaucratic terrorism is the result. The point to be made is this: the social revolution can only succeed in the industrial countries first; from there it spreads throughout the world.
From the failure of the German revolution 1918-23, we learn that parties must not be allowed into the councils. There the councils were subverted by the political parties, which handed power back to the capitalist state. The parties were able to do this because of their constant propaganda that the parties were the only way that the workers' could rule. Of course, not a party made of workers, but a party made up of middle-class professional revolutionaries. And thru the parties' previous battle for consciousness, they convinced the working class of this. The result was the defeat of the revolution. And the rise to power of the fascist reign of terror.
From the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, we learn two distinct lessons. The first being that a social revolution can succeed against a hostile national army, and that it will fail, if you ally with any political party. The defeat of the revolution came years before the defeat of the Republic. It was defeated, not by the Nationalist army, but by the Stalinist, secret police, and the Communist Army units destroying the collectives, while the real revolutionaries were fighting at the front.
From the 1953, 1956, 1970, workers' uprisings in Eastern Europe we learn that socialist revolution is still possible, even in countries suffering under state-capitalist dictatorships. These rebellions show that the state-capitalist system rests upon an even shakier foundation, than private-property capitalism. For these states are unable to maintain themselves, in the face of working class revolution, without the intervention or threat of intervention of the Soviet Army. If the USSR suffers soon from growing workers' unrest, then Eastern Europe may explode in a real socialist revolution.
And lastly, from the abortive French revolution of 1968, we learn that revolution is still possible in the West. Also, we have relearned the bitter lessons of the opportunism of the left-wing capitalist parties.
This is, and can only be, a brief glance at the history of revolution, and the lessons we can learn from it. Many more important points can be derived from (these situation, but these are the more important ones: that revolutions break out spontaneously, political parties that work within the framework defined by the capitalist state are capitalist parties no matter how "revolutionary" their slogans be, these parties if followed will destroy any revolution that seeks socialism, that the forms of workers' self-management take the form of councils, and that the socialist revolution is still possible in both private property capitalism, and state-capitalism.
3. Since our goal is socialism, thru workers' self-management and the power of the councils, our organization, and, actions should be as pre-figurative to our goal as possible. The basic revolutionary organization id tile autonomous work group, which is a part of the working class, working within it, instead of outside of it. It doesn't direct the revolution; rather it offers a vision of the future, so that spontaneity evolves into planned action by the class to reach it.
These groups are composed up of workers who have achieved a consciousness of the future, ahead of the rest of the class (who will become revolutionary spontaneously). They work to ensure that the revolution doesn't derail itself after the revolution has broken out. But primarily, they wage a battle for consciousness, for capitalist ideology is the dominant mode of thought, before a. revolutionary situation could succeed, the battle for the consciousness must be won. It is towards these tasks that the work group must orient itself towards.
Capitalist ideology is the blinder that hides the reality before our very noses. The work group must work towards the exposure of reality, thru a critique of capitalism that could be confirmed, by appealing to locale reality. Exposure of locale oppressions will have a far greater effect upon changing consciousness, than the exposure of the crimes of capitalism in the Horn of Africa.
A vision of the socialist future is needed, to invoke as a comparison against the present conditions. It would. serve as a guide in our daily struggles, so that we do not engage in any actions that might be counter to our goal. It has been said that anyone can criticize anything, but few can build. We must do both! Our critique must be linked to a vision of the socialist future that is realizable in the now, if we only act.
The work group is composed of revolutionaries, who are class-conscious members of the working classes. It is not a mass organization; rather it is a small group of practical theorists. There is no room for passive members; all should contribute towards the functioning of the group (either in production or distribution). Internal democracy must prevail, the at this level consensus may be an option. Later, if the situation warrants it, the work groups that are autonomous may federate with each other to work on a larger project. When they do, each group would send delegates to a council of revolutionary work groups. Thus our organizational structure would reflect upon the type of society we wish to contribute in the building of.
The work group should work towards the forming of a regular press. Our ideas must go beyond the sphere of our personal contacts, if we are to succeed in the battle against capitalist ideology. And in this battle we must in particular fight the ideology of the Left-wing capitalists, the Communist Party, the Social Democrats, the Trotskyites, the Maoists, the Third Worldists, etc. Some way must be found to distribute literature free of charge; otherwise you are only going to be read by those who are already politicized. Large printings of tracts, placed just about everywhere, dealing with specific critiques, is one option,
And finally, we must discuss our ideas with our co-workers. This does not mean we I bombard them daily with the complete corpus of revolutionary theory. Rather, it means that whenever an opportunity comes up to talk politics/economics, at your co-workers initiative, then present your views, and take it from there. Never ignore a co-worker for their reactionary views, but don't pander to them either. Don't talk down to them or up to them, just state your ideas in the most understandable manner, in the shortest form possible. The aim of all of this is not to recruit, but to discredit the ideology of capitalism. To create a situation amongst your co-workers in which they no longer trust the official capitalist line. This in of itself is enough until a revolutionary situation breaks out which can then find fertile ground that you have prepared.
These thoughts on the organization and function of the work group are not meant to be exhaustive, or definitive. They are meant to be a theoretical contribution to the start of an even larger project: the dialectical transcendence of our theory, by object reality.
Jim Davis, November 1984
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