Excerpts from the Classics: Class and Social Forces for Progress

November 15, 2002

4. Class and Social Forces for Progress

This section and its subsections deal with the objective position in society and therefore the potential role of, various class and social forces in the struggle for progress and socialism. It begins with the working class, the most important force for Marxists and continues with the nationally oppressed, among whom in Russia the Jewish people played a special role and in the United States the African American people are of special significance. The causes of oppression of the working class, the nationally oppressed, women and youth are discussed, as well as what is required for radical improvement and solution of the oppression.

The Working Class & the Class Struggle

This subsection begins with the laying out of the objective position of the working class in production, the resulting class struggle and leading role of the working class in the struggle for progress and socialism through quotations from “The Communist Manifesto.” In a succeeding quotation from Lenin, the inevitability of this role of the working class is argued. There is additional material on the role of the working class and class struggle and material conditions of existence in the prior section on the Political Economy of Capitalism.

Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848 (Excerpts)

“Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product. “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lower stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.

(IP ed, p.20; MESW, p.45; MECW, p.495)

“The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

IP ed, p.21; MESW, p.46; MECW, p.496)

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!”

IP ed, p.44; MESW, p.63; MECW, P.519) Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848, IP, p.19; MESW, IP 1977, p.44, MECW, Vol.6

“Even the most favorable situation for the working class, no matter how it improves the material conditions of the worker, does not eliminate the contradictions between his interests and those of the bourgeois, the capitalist.”

Marx, Wage Labor & Capital, April 8, 1949, MECW, Vol.9, p.220

“The organization of the workers and their constantly growing resistance will possibly check the increase of misery to a certain extent. However, what certainly does increase is the insecurity of existence.”

Engels, A Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Programme of 1891, June 1891, MECW, Vol.27, p.223

“The fundamental criterion by which classes are distinguished is the place they occupy in social production and, consequently, the relation in which they stand to the means of production.”

Lenin, Vulgar Socialism & Narodism As Resurrected by the Socialist Revolutionaries, Nov.1, 1902, CW, Vol.6, p.264-265

“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labor, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labor of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy.”

Lenin, A Great Beginning, July 1913, CW, Vol. 29, p.421

“The overthrow of bourgeois rule can be accomplished only by the proletariat, the particular class whose economic conditions of existence prepare it for this task and provide it with the possibility and the power to perform it. While the bourgeoisie break up and disintegrate the peasantry and all the petty-bourgeois groups, they weld together, unite and organize the proletariat. Only the proletariat – by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production – is capable of being the leader of all the working and exploited people, whom the bourgeoisie exploit, oppress and crush, often not less but more than they do the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation”

Lenin, The State & Revolution, Aug.-Sept.1917, CW,Vol.25, pp.403-04

Trade Unions

This is a subpart of The Working Class in which Engels and Lenin discuss the role, importance of and limitations of trade unions. “Nothing is said [in the Gotha Programme], about the organization of the working class as a class, by means of trade unions. This is a very important point, because these, as a matter of fact are the real class organizations of the proletariat, in which the latter wages its day-to-day struggle against capital; in which it schools itself.”

Engels, Letter to August Bebel, 1875, MESC, IP 1977, p.336; MECW, Vol.45, p.63

“And precisely because the unions direct themselves against the vital nerve of the present social order, however one-sidedly, in however a narrow way, are they so dangerous to this social order. The working class cannot attack the bourgeoisie and with it, the whole existing order of society, at any sorer point than this.”

Engels, Conditions of Working Class in England, 1844. 1892 edited, MECW, Vol.4, p.507

“The trade union struggle is one of the constant forms of the whole workers’ movement, one always needed under capitalism and essential at all times.”

Lenin, Letter to S.I. Gusev, 1905, CW, Vol.34, p.355

“Let every worker who understands the need to unite for the struggle against the employers and the government join the trade unions. The very aim of the trade unions would be impossible of achievement, if they did not unite all who have attained at least this elementary degree of understanding, if they were not very broad organizations.”

Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 1902, CW Vol.5, p.454

“…under capitalism even the trade union organizations… are incapable of embracing the entire, or almost the entire working class.”

Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 1904, CW, Vol.7, p.260

“(1)The Social Democratic Party has always regarded the economic struggle as a component of the proletarian class struggle. “(2) The experience of all capitalist countries shows that the most advisable form of organization of the working class for the economic struggle is that of broad trade unions… “(3) That the party must exert every effort to educate the workers who belong to trade unions in the spirit of a broad understanding of the class struggle and the socialist aims of the proletariat;”

Lenin, Resolution on the Trade Unions, 1906, CW, Vol.10, p.160

“The trade unions were a tremendous step forward for the working class in the early days of capitalist development, in as much as they marked a transition from the workers’ disunity and helplessness to the rudiments of class organization…the development of the proletariat did not, and could not, proceed anywhere in the world otherwise than through the trade unions, through reciprocal action between them and the party of the working class.”

Lenin, Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder, 1920, CW, Vol. 31, p.50

National Oppression

This subsection begins with quotations illustrating the attitude of Marx and Engels toward national oppression from “The Communist Manifesto” on. Also shown is their view that the working class of the oppressor nation needed to oppose such oppression if it was to emancipate itself. Then quotations from major works of Lenin on national oppression deal with it within the boundaries of a single state, Russia, and similar states, in terms of its sources, role, solution, and relation to working class emancipation. This includes the famous “right of nations to self-determination.” Stalin’s well-known definition of a nation is included, followed by the definition of a nation by a Soviet expert on the subject, Pyotr Fedoseyev in 1977 for comparison purposes, including with Lenin’s view on the subject.

“1. In the national struggles of the proletariat of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

IP Ed, p.22; MESW, p.46; MECW, p.497)

“In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.

(IP Ed, p.28; MESW, p.51; MECW, p.503)

“In Poland they (the Communists) support the party that insists on an agrarian revolution as the prime condition for national emancipation, that party which fomented the insurrection of Cracow in 1846.

(IP Ed, p.43; MESW, p.62; MECW, p.518)

“In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements they bring to the front, as the leading question in each case, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.”

(IP Ed, p.44; MESW, p.63; MECW, p.519)
Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848, IP Ed, MESW, MECW, Vol.6

“The English bourgeoisie has not only exploited Irish poverty to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen, but it has also divided the proletariat into two hostile camps…This antagonism among the proletarians [English and Irish] of England is artificially nourished and kept up by the bourgeoisie. It knows that this scission is the true secret of maintaining its power.”

Marx, The General Council of the First International to the Federal Council of Romance Switzerland, Jan. 1870, MECW, Vol.21, p.88

“..to hasten the social revolution in England is the most important object of the International Working Men’s Association. The sole means of hastening it is to make Ireland independent. “Hence the task of the ‘International’ is everywhere to put the conflict between England and Ireland in the foreground and everywhere to side openly with Ireland. The special task of the Central Council in London is to awaken a consciousness in the English workers that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is no question of abstract justice or human sympathy but the first condition of their own social emancipation…

“It is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite their organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And of this that class is well aware.”

Marx, Letter to Siegfried Meyer & Karl Vogt, London, April 9, 1870, MESC, p.290; MECW, Vol.43, p.475

“A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”

Stalin, J.V., Marxism & the National Question, Jan. 1913, IP Ed, p.12

“The nation is a lasting historical community of people constituting a form of social development based on the community of economic life in combination with the community of language, territory, culture, consciousness and psychology.”

Fedoseyev, Pyotr, Leninism & the National Question, Prog 1977, p.27

“Working class democracy contraposes…the demand for the unconditional unity and complete amalgamation of workers of all nationalities in all working class organizations – trade union, co- operative, consumers’, educational and all others – in contradistinction to any kind of bourgeois nationalism…

“Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc.

“Both tendencies are a universal law of capitalism. The former predominates in the beginning of its development, the latter characterizes a mature capitalism that is moving towards its transformation into socialist society. The Marxists’ national programme takes both tendencies into account, and advocates, firstly the equality of nations and languages and the impermissibility of all privileges in this respect (and also the right of nations to self-determination, with which we shall deal separately later); secondly, the principle of internationalism and uncompromising struggle against contamination of the proletariat with bourgeois nationalism, even of the most refined kind.”

Lenin, Critical Remarks on the National Question, Oct.-Dec. 1913, IP Ed, p. 15, CW, Vol.20, p.22

“The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle.” (p.60)

“Marx had no doubt as to the subordinate position of the national question as compared with the ‘labor question.’ But his theory is as far from ignoring national movements as heaven is from earth.”

Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Feb.-March 1914, IP Ed, p.86, CW, Vol.20, p.410
Lenin, The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up, July 1916 (Excerpts)

“It is impossible to abolish national (or any other political) oppression under capitalism, since this requires the abolition of classes, i.e., the introduction of socialism. But while being based on economics, socialism cannot be reduced to economics alone. A foundation – socialist production – is essential for the abolition of national oppression, but this foundation must also carry a democratically organized state, a democratic army, etc. By transforming capitalism into socialism the proletariat creates the possibility of abolishing national oppression; the possibility becomes reality ‘only’ – ‘only’! – with establishment of full democracy in all spheres, including the delineation of state frontiers in accordance with the ‘sympathies’ of the population,including complete freedom to secede. And this, in turn, will serve as a basis for developing the practical elimination of even the slightest national friction and the least national mistrust, for an accelerated drawing together and fusion of nations that will be completed when the state withers away.”

(IP, p.130; CW, p.325)

“In order that we may have the strength to accomplish the socialist revolution and overthrow the bourgeoisie, the workers must unite more closely and this close union is promoted by the struggle for self-determination, i.e., the struggle against annexations.”

(IP, p.141; CW, p.336)

“The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general- democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial- monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement, but it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy on these grounds.”

(IP, p.146; CW, p.341)

“A reformist change is one which leaves intact the foundations of the power of the ruling class and is merely a concession leaving its power unimpaired. A revolutionary change undermines the foundations of power.” “…(the essence of reformism lies in mitigating an evil and not in destroying it)…” “But as everyone knows, in practice a reform is often merely a step towards revolution. It is autonomy that enables a nation forcibly retained within the boundaries of a given state to crystallize into a nation, to gather, assess and organize its forces, and to select the most opportune moment for a declaration …” (of secession)

(IP, p.149; CW, p.344)

“The way to the common goal – complete equality, the closest association and the eventual amalgamation of all nations – obviously runs along different routes in each concrete case…” (for great oppressor nations and small oppressed nations)

(IP, p.151; CW, p.346,)
Lenin, The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up, July 1916 IP Ed, CW, Vol.22

“So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism,’ and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a ‘putsch.’ Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”

(p.160 IP, p.355-56 CW)
Lenin, The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up IP Ed July 1916, CW, Vol.22

“The interests of the working class demand that the workers of all nationalities in Russia should have common proletarian organizations: political, trade union, co-operative, education institutions, and so forth. Only the merging of the workers of the various nationalities into such common organizations will make it possible for the proletariat to wage a successful struggle against international Capital and bourgeois nationalism.”

Lenin, Resolution on the National Question, 7th April All-Russia Conference, published May 16, 1917, CW, Vol.24, p.302-303
Lenin, The Question of Nationalities Or “Autonomization”, Dec. 31,1922, Letter to 12th Congress, CPSU, part of the “last testament”

“A distinction must necessarily be made between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that of an oppressed nation, the nationalism of a big nation and that of a small nation. “In respect of the second kind of nationalism we, nationals of a big nation, have nearly always been guilty, in historic practice, of an infinite number of cases of violence; furthermore, we commit violence and insult an infinite number of times without noticing it…

“That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or ‘great’ nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.

“What is important for the proletarian? For the proletarian it is not only important,it is absolutely essential that he should be assured that the non-Russian place the greatest possible trust in the proletarian class struggle. What is needed to ensure this? Not merely formal equality. In one way or another, by one’s attitude or by concessions [special measures], it is necessary to compensate the non-Russians for the lack of trust, for the suspicion and the insults to which the government of the ‘dominant’ nation subjected them in the past…

“The Georgian (referring to Stalin and Orgonikidze) who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of ‘nationalist-socialism’ (whereas he himself is a real and true ‘nationalist-socialist’, and even a vulgar Great- Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; ‘offended’ nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and the violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest – to the violation of that equality by their proletarian comrades. That is why, in this case, the fundamental interest of proletarian solidarity, and consequently of the proletarian class struggle, requires that we never adopt a formal attitude to the national question, but always take into account the specific attitude of the proletarian of the oppressed (or small) nation towards the oppressor (or great) nation.”

Lenin, The Question of Nationalities Or “Autonomization”, Dec. 31, 1922, Letter to 12th Congress, CPSU, part of the “last testament” IP Ed, p.168-69, CW, Vol.36, p.608-09

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