Notes for Class Tutors

In this chapter Comrade Holz stresses the need to have a clear theoretical understanding and analysis in order to map out the way forward. It is a militant defence of dialectical and historical materialism, as developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Gramsci.

To deal adequately with this chapter, two classes might be necessary.

It might be helpful to start by asking comrades what they understand by dialectics. This would serve as a revision for those who are more experienced and an introduction for those who are less so. The following are the sorts of answer to be elucidated

· the universal connectedness of interacting things/phenomena;
· internal contradictions as the motive force of development – the unity and struggle of opposites;
· the transition of quantitative changes into qualitative, and vice versa;
· the negation of the negation – development repeats stages that have already been passed, but in a different way.1

[Examples from the physical world could be added, eg heating water ultimately converts it into steam.]

Main points to bring out in the class discussions:

1 How do we characterise the current epoch? With the disappearance of the socialist countries, we lost a number of reference points. Thus we need a dialectical materialist approach even more.

2 For analysing the past or the present, we must learn to distinguish between essence and appearance, to recognise the connection of factors and to define the situation by the objective contradictions within it.

3 Capitalism is in an era of general crisis. Although it can still develop further – indeed crisis is the form of motion of capitalism – there is a greater and greater risk of catastrophic breakdown. On the basis that this can be avoided, then it is dialectically predictable that the internal contradictions within capitalism will lead to its being superseded at some point by an alternative form of society.

4 Historical alternatives arise at a situation of determinate negation – negation in a specific way. Since private production and property relations determine capitalism, then the alternative is the determinate form of their abolition – i.e. socialism. Hence we are in the era of transition from capitalism to socialism.

5 We need a balanced assessment of the experience of building socialism, and the causes for its failure. It is wrong simply to condemn individual shortcomings, assign guilt and make an anathema of accepted forms of organisation. Communist identity is central to our self-confidence. We have to understand ourselves in continuity with both the mistakes and the great achievements of the communist movement.

6 Socialism today will only be won through struggle. This requires organisation. The international communist movement must enter the fields of national class struggles, sharpening them towards international class struggle. Solutions to human rights questions must be delivered under the terms of class struggle.

7 Compared with the past, relations of exploitation under capitalism are much more concealed and the system of capitalist rule is much more abstract and anonymous. To get to grips with that, the Party needs to develop much more strongly its theoretical understanding.

8 Despite our weaknesses and setbacks, Marxism has the major advantage of offering a self-consistent philosophy. The intellectual anarchy in the guise of pluralism under capitalism is actually breaking up the basis for the hegemony of the bourgeoisie.

9 The organisational consequences of this analysis are that we need a twin-track approach: fighting for reforms within capitalism, while maintaining consciousness that capitalism must be overthrown. In a historical reform-phase, social democracy is the realistic perspective of the masses. Communists have to be able to endure the strain of small daily reform steps, without becoming reformist.

10 The struggle which we have to lead begins with developing class consciousness where social conflicts erupt. To do this, we need a theory-conscious Party – and that must be striven for in an organised, democratic centralist way. In short, we need a Marxist-Leninist Party.

Chapter 8: Some Thoughts on Defining the Political Situation

It was a great step forward in human intellectual history when Marx, Engels and Lenin worked out the fundamentals of historical materialism. For the first time, there was a scientific method for characterising the totality of the current epoch – bourgeois society – and of human history generally. For us Marxists, having such a method at our disposal is a priority. We must become conscious of it and hold fast to it, if we are to get to grips with the experience of losing – with the break-up of the socialist societies – a whole range of obvious orientation points, which were natural for us for a long time in determining the epochal situation [1].

Because of this situation, the perspective for which we are working, and which we want to fulfil politically, cannot be gained on unambiguously secure ground. Rather it must begin with a range of tentative reflections – which should certainly be directed more strongly to the future than to the past.

Obviously our self-awareness must include an analysis of the forejost causes and the profound basis for the failure of the first attempt at putting socialism into practice [2]. It must also include discussions of mistakes – although today these are pursued somewhat superficially and often very individualistically, with enormous self-recrimination. More essentially, it must include the question of whether Marxism – as the theoretical basis from which we start as scientific socialists – has not wavered and faltered at this acid test of the crisis of the socialist societies.

Central for our self-confidence – as an organisation and as individuals – is the question of communist identity, an identity which our own Party history has to include fully and totally – including the mistakes we have made. We cannot say that we distance ourselves from these mistakes and then still call ourselves communists, standing within the tradition of this communist movement. Rather we have to understand ourselves in continuity with our mistakes and above all with the great achievements of the world communist movement.

It is an understandable psychological consequence of our defeat that the search for mistakes, even self-recrimination, should right now be at the centre of discussion. But this search can all too easily turn into a post festum2 half masochistic, half self-righteous condemnation of individual shortcomings and into a structural anathematising of a form of party organisation, hitherto accepted without question. And it can end in assigning guilt – at best to a single too-demonised person, but in any case to an alleged high-handed deformation of the system.

The catchword “Stalinism” is the index for this way of dealing with our history, which I find both theoretically false and humanly undignified. Theoretically false, because it cuts short a historical-materialist analysis of the circumstances which led, under the conditions in which the Soviet Union was built, to the crimes – politically and morally to be condemned – of the so-called Stalin Era; and because at the same time it pushes aside the huge construction achievements – somehow bound up with the Terror – of this revolutionary phase of the development of the Soviet state, laying the basis for comprehensive material security and intellectual development of the masses. Humanly undignified, because we – knowingly or unknowingly, actively or passively – as members of the Party and actors in this process, would essentially be hiding behind someone else’s back.

We have understood ourselves as bearers of a revolution. Therefore we have to consider the revolution’s outward appearances – with the hopes and fears, the successes and failures – as a totality in our self-understanding, and take responsibility for them. Only if we view our past with theoretical clarity and without moral slackness and petty-bourgeois self-pity, will we in the future be able to avoid repeating mistakes.

How we grasp the world-historical situation in which we are now find ourselves, after the defeat of the first socialist societies, is fundamental to our communist self-understanding and to determining our future political strategy and activity. I say at the outset that I have no recipé for that nor do I intend to offer one. For that reason I am calling my considerations simply and subjectively “Some thoughts on the present situation”, which may serve as the start of a discussion.

Essence and Appearance, Connection and Contradiction

Reflections on the theoretical definition of the current situation (or, philosophically speaking, on the conception of the situation in which we find ourselves) appear to me particularly necessary because of the circumstances we face in political and theoretical discussions. Here so many individual impressions, perceptions, ideas and anecdotes from the particular biography and history of our movement are advanced that it is not possible to get a genuine grasp of the situation. Feelings, experiences and anecdotes are put forward, as it were, instead of the hard effort of gaining an exact conceptualisation.

In order to get a conception of any situation, we firstly need to decide between essence and appearance. And we must know how to separate phenomena which are superficially conspicuous – and to which we may have repeatedly taken offence, under definite conditions of development of socialist society – from the great social processes and their inner contradictions, of which the phenomena were just the outward appearance. The point is to grasp those contradictions and to define them, not from the phenomena, but rather from the structure of the processes.

Secondly, I consider that the conceptualisation of a situation does not include the contemplation of this or that factor in isolation, but rather the recognition of their connections. In any case a single individual today can no longer establish the connections between all the factors – and for the definition of the world situation a great number of them must be taken into consideration. Such a definition has to be reconstructed by combining political economy, cultural theory, philosophy and the science of history.

Thirdly (if we understand ourselves as dialecticians), the conception of a situation requires us to define the situation by the objective contradictions occurring in it. A world-historical situation is not homogeneous and uniform, but rather is defined by its immanent struggle of opposites. The identity of these opposites is characteristic for an epoch; how they relate to each other is described by the motion of dialectical logic.

To conclude: only if we succeed in obtaining a conception of the current epochal situation – in this sense of distinguishing essence and appearance, of recognising the connections and of determining the objective contradictions – only then will it also be possible to work out a political strategy for wider historical development, in which we indeed intervene politically as active subjects. A political strategy should be one which is not just determined pragmatically, from decisions of expediency or on the hoof, but rather one which has a long-term objective and can be made dependent on it from the start, whatever tactical measures are taken in definite situations.

One more marginal note: at the simplest level it is a triviality that we can only sensibly develop tactics, i.e. the pragmatics of daily activity, if we have in our minds a theoretically based strategy for long-term perspectives. In the past this trivial but self-evident insight was often ignored in our movement, with the theoretical strategy being developed to legitimise earlier pragmatic-tactical decisions, so it is worth recalling that we no longer tolerate this practice. And that remark is directed towards all those who participate in active politics and who do not just reflectively speak about it in seminars.

Consciousness of Crisis

What are the fundamental defining factors from which we have to start, when we want to say, “In what world-historical epoch do we live?” [3]

The definition of this epoch as the epoch of the transition from capitalism into a form of society succeeding capitalism is fully independent of whether or not there is an existing socialist system of society as a world-political camp.

No form of society stagnates and persists unchanged in its social structures and ideologies. Capitalism has developed from its very beginning in early modern times. Outward appearances and fundamental elements of the production process have changed since Karl Marx wrote Capital, but the essential character of the capitalist system remains the same. Indeed the development of productivity has led to an historic change, without the basic epochal contradiction between capital and labour being abolished – and there is still scope within capitalism for further development. However, if we start out from the dialectical insight that the motive forces of such developments are internal contradictions in the system itself (contradictions as the form of motion of a system), then it is certainly predictable that these contradictions will lead at some sort of juncture and in some sort of way to essential structural changes of the system, and therefore to the specific formation being superseded by another.

I have deliberately put this so generally, and have not yet named socialism as the alternative, because I want to make it clear that defining the tendencies for change of the form of society in whose historical epoch we live, requires more than just the fact of change itself. Change alone does not say in what direction something is changing.

One conceivable change is annihilation. What we call with particular urgency the global problem – the environmental question, population explosion, mass poverty in the Third World, the impoverishment of whole regions of the planet – these problems include the catastrophic possibility of the ruin of humanity or at least of human civilisation.

That means that it is not self-evident that this disastrously rampant capitalist system will go over into a succeeding form of society which will then solve its contradictions. The contradictions can also lead to a historical catastrophe for our species. I believe that consciousness of this sort of catastrophe is one of the essential consciousness factors of our current period, shared even by those who do not have a theoretical understanding of it. The general uneasiness at our historical situation is not restricted to us socialists and is indeed a social-psychological factor in the developed capitalist countries, pointing out that the threat of a catastrophe is felt by people more or less strongly, confused or clearly, and perceived as a reflection of the historical situation.

For a long time this consciousness of threat, this consciousness of catastrophe, stood as a sign of the danger of extermination of humanity from a great war between the two world-political camps, i.e. of a nuclear inferno. Given that, after the break-up of the socialist camp, there is no longer a great powerful alternative to the capitalist world system, then I consider that the question of a nuclear world war is no longer in the foreground. However the peace question remains acute at a quite different level, insofar as contradictions and problems of conflict are displaced into regional and – as seen from the metropolitan centres – peripheral conflicts, where they no longer threaten the human race. I leave open the extent to which the environmental damage from such conflicts poses long-term general-species threats. However it appears to me that the current-day consciousness of catastrophe is nourished in much stronger measure by such problems as those of the environment, of population explosion and also – certainly just now in narrower measure – of the highly volatile explosion in commodity production.

The way in which – in Hegelian terms – the “system of needs”3 has developed in our time and has grown exuberantly in the capitalist metropolitan centres, contains within itself the tendency of a catastrophic break-down – since the satisfaction of these expanding needs requires an ever more senseless widening of commodity production, as a result of which the relationship of society and nature is falling out of balance.

Determinate Negation

Hence there are questions of crisis at many points in the modern era – and indeed not just of a “modern era” which can be narrowed down to the short duration of a decade, because these critical problems have their origin in the fundamental tendencies of motion of society. On this basis I believe that it is correct to say that we are living in a time of historical transition, in which capitalism is pressing more and more at the boundaries of its immanent possibilities as a “civilising development factor” and is falling into unbreakable contradictions with the collective historical process of humanity.

If that means that we are standing at the transition point to a new situation, be it one in which humanity comes to grief or one in which it develops an alternative – if we hold firm to the methodological perceptions of dialectics – then the alternative cannot just be of any kind. Indeed, historical alternatives do not arise from the free expanse of any old possibilities, from which one can take, or not take, the one or other. Rather they arise at an historical situation called, since the time of Hegel, the “determinate negation”.4 A situation is not simply negated, rather it is negated in a definite way.

The form of determinate negation to the laws of motion and the structures of capitalist society has been worked out by the theory of historical materialism. If the production relations and – as their explicit expression – the property relations determine the form of society, then the alternative to capitalism is the determinate form of abolition of the capital relations. Thus the passing over of private property in the means of production into social property is to be understood as the determinate negation of the specific formation giving structure to capitalism.

Hence I consider that socialism, however it appears – and certainly the material form of its first attempt at realisation, from the October Revolution, is not the sole paradigm by which conceptions of socialism can be developed – is by methodologically and logically rigorous principles the single determinate alternative and determinate negation to capitalist society.

Corresponding to this formation-specific insight, we may speak of our epoch as that of the transition from capitalism to socialism, despite the fact that socialism appears to have failed at the moment. The transition to socialism is the single thing which may be shown to be the determinate negation, in distinction to other possible negations, namely to total negation, to catastrophe of the human race. These considerations are of logical nature, because they concern the general determination of the form of history. They still do not include any analyses of special factors of the formation of society; rather they should in the first place just elucidate the general direction of their motion.

The General Crisis of Capitalism and the October Revolution

I therefore consider that, while we may say with authority that we are in the epoch of transition from capitalism to its determinate negation, we cannot exclude the possibility that humanity may founder. That is always the other alternative. If however we define the character of the epoch in this sense, as the transition from capitalism to socialism, then this also entitles us to speak today of the “general crisis of capitalism”. Capitalism is in fact in a fundamental crisis, on account of those phenomena which I have just named.5

On the other hand, in expounding the correct determination of the general crisis of capitalism, we have hitherto made the mistake of concluding that capitalism would be on the point of collapse now or quite soon. It is not quite so simple. After all, we know – and this is fully justified by Marx – that crisis is precisely the form of motion of capitalism, so that the general crisis of capitalism first of all demonstrates, as its form of motion, the basis of capitalism’s existence and persistence. That means that the general crisis of capitalism does not necessarily and of its own accord lead to a collapse for which the socialist states would only have had to wait. On the contrary, capitalism is ubiquitously an apparently flourishing system (at least in its metropolitan centres, which settle it for the assessment of the system). Apparently flourishing, since it produces a whole mass of social wealth, it has contributed a great deal to advancing and continuing the scientific-technological revolution, and has in no way already entered the phase of final decline.

Obviously we have undertaken too little theoretical work up to now to distinguish more exactly the difference between the concept of general crisis and its living form in the frame of this general crisis, and as a result arrived at a mistaken assessment of the strength of the capitalist system. For the record, however, it must be added that the DKP did not maintain that the collapse of capitalism was imminent.

Though capitalism is proving itself still viable, even in its general crisis, and despite the downfall of the socialist states, I nonetheless adhere to this point, from developed basic principles: that we are in the epoch of transition from capitalism to its determinate negation, to socialism and that capitalism has been in the phase of general crisis since the First World War.

In connection with this characterisation of the historical epoch, we also need to assess and evaluate the appearance of the first socialist society, i.e. the historical experience of the October Revolution. Certainly the state form by which socialism was built, firstly in the Soviet Union after the October Revolution and then in the whole socialist camp, has collapsed. The achievements of socialism, namely changes in property relations, are being sweepingly turned back in these former socialist countries – and not only in the five new Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany where, by annexation, one social and legal system is simply being superimposed over another. Capitalist property relations are also being restored in those countries which as independent states could continue their own social direction in one or another way.

Nonetheless I believe that capitalist submersion of the state-political outcome of the October Revolution, i.e. the creation of the Soviet Union and later the socialist camp, has not at all diminished the world-historical position and meaning of the Revolution for the characterisation of our epoch-historical situation. Through the October Revolution and the changes which occurred in its train, in mass consciousness and in the social and political structures of capitalism itself, the Revolution has acted up to the present day as a huge impulse of social and political development of our century.

An abundance of social advances have been wrung from capitalism under the conditions of competition of social systems. That a strong socialist camp lasted for 80 years with alternative conceptions – howsoever well or badly they were realised – signified in capitalism itself and inside its social contradictions a massive strengthening of those powers working for reformist social improvements and structural changes. The great successes of the trade union movement, in the struggle for workers’ interests in the capitalist metropolitan centres between 1917 and today, were carried through and maintained against the backdrop of alternative system possibilities, to which the power of capital had to take, and did take, consideration. In order to stay ahead in the competition between systems, capitalism had to build into itself a whole mass of attractive social features. We express it in philosophical terms orientated towards Lenin and Gramsci [4]: for the bourgeoisie to be able to maintain its hegemony, i.e. to make its own system of values obligatory on those it ruled, it had to make a whole range of concessions under the conditions of continuing competition of social systems.

This belongs to real dialectics of the historical process. And thus far I think that the October Revolution was in fact an epoch-defining experience of the twentieth century, and that we should not and do not need to assail it. And that is indeed quite independent of the fact that the developing socialist societies were built up under the burden of very many contradictions and initial weaknesses.

In addition to these material points the significance of the October Revolution also has had an impact in the realm of ideas. It was an event which led to a great philosophical and intellectual upheaval. To see this one just has to study the cultural developments of the 20 years directly after the October Revolution. The effects of this upheaval have defined the culture of the following century up to the present day.

To that extent the October Revolution was also, independently of its historical-material effects, a central event as an incision into the structure of consciousness of the twentieth century and as setting the norms for social and historical systems of values.

Changes in the World Movement

What does the example of the October Revolution signify now for the world communist movement, in relation to the collapse of the socialist societies? – since, after all, a world communist movement remains, and not only and precisely not only in our metropolitan centres of capitalism.

The world communist movement after the October Revolution – and that is also one of its great historical consequences – faced the unavoidable task of supporting the first ever socialist society in construction, the Soviet Union, and standing up for its survival and its external and internal stability alike. With the victory of fascism in several European countries, this task took precedence. The struggle against fascism became a struggle for survival of humanity against barbarism, reaching out beyond the labour movement, and the communists stood at the head of that struggle as fighters prepared to make sacrifices. Struggles against fascism and for the continuation and strengthening of the Soviet Union formed a unity. The international communist movement had to become a factor in this world-historical situation, and in a certain sense also an appendage of the strategy for survival of the first socialist state.

One can say that this introduced deformations in the international movement; one can say that thereby national interests in the class struggle were put back in favour of the foreign policy and internal stability of the Soviet Union; one can point out the contradictions which have arisen from this situation. But one cannot say that this orientation of the international movement was due to the diktat of some Soviet ruler, whether Stalin or anyone else, who put Soviet power interests before the interests of the international movement.

At the instant of the October Revolution and of the founding of the first socialist state it was a logical necessity that the terms for survival of this state had to be the central question for the international communist movement. And that remained the case for the whole period of confrontation of two antagonistic social systems, and caused us all sorts of difficulties; since naturally the socialist camp in construction took many outward manifestations under the conditions of its own contradictions and developed constitutional definitions of its own existence, which neither were thought out in advance in the ideal typical programme of socialism nor had to be necessary conditions of socialist development in other countries. But the camp existed and we were self-evidently in solidarity with it. It is also a fact, that that line was correct. It was logically and politically unavoidable.

This situation has now certainly changed fundamentally. And that is in fact a new determination of our epoch situation. The international communist movement stands again so-to-speak in a world situation whose analogue is that before the October Revolution. And we have seen the clear expression of that in the UN vote over the Gulf War.6 There the opposition of the direct interests of capital to the interests of the world community and to human rights was expressed in high style. (By the way: I am not well inclined to exalt the role of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He was not a champion for Third World freedom, quite the opposite.) The fact that the UN, by its charter a world peace organisation, could unanimously (and indeed amazingly with Soviet agreement) find itself ready to decide such a thing as this Iraq war and to let it be carried out by the USA – that shows how strong the particular interests of capital are in the situation today, for them to gain such acceptance.

The international communist movement today has to cope with a system of capitalist metropolitan centres ruling the world – the USA, the EU, Japan. We have in these metropolitan centres very different business strategies, which are in part co-ordinated but in part however also run sharply against one another. The world is subjugated to the total rule of these capitalist metropolitan centres, but the victims of this rule also stand in opposition to it and are offering resistance. The alternative, of which I have spoken, the determinate negation of capitalism, must today again be won with a struggle, and therefore organised movements are needed, which the masses of people in their respective countries must develop out of their own particular problems.

The fact that, at the moment, we do not move masses of people in our own country, is another question. Internationally, however, the situation is defining itself in such a way that the international communist movement today must again enter the fields of national or regional class struggles; and, as wider consequences of this, the mass popular movement can be sharpened towards a movement of the international class struggle.

Human Rights Questions as Class Questions

I say “class struggle” and with that I am at the next point of my reflections. It was so often argued, in the unspeakable Perestroika book of Mikhail Gorbachov, that human rights questions are questions which are independent of, and unspecific to, class. In fact the great human rights questions – world peace, preservation of the natural conditions of life of the human race and generally of the ecological whole of nature, development of the Third World and elimination of poverty, bringing about the jost general human rights etc. -, arise essentially from the class structure of capitalist society; and, as a consequence of the inner contradictions of capitalism, they remain unresolved and are characteristic for the epoch-historical determination of the political situation. Furthermore, in capitalism the basic questions of the form of society have always been questions which have concerned all people; and thus far human rights questions have always been class-specific in the structure which they had, and in the form in which they have had to be delivered.

That means: if we face human rights questions which must be solved today, if the continued existence of the human race is to be secured, then the solution cannot be provided by a class-unspecific generally humanitarian programme. The claim of moral correctness signifies little and effects little politically. Solutions to human rights questions must be delivered under the terms of the class struggle.

Here the essential role of communists in this struggle for the solution of human rights problems may be defined. If I speak of class struggle and class questions, then I start from the general definition of the concept of class, as it is familiarly expressed in the Marxist tradition: “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 jost cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, 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 labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy.”7 And the Dictionary of Philosophy (Klaus/Buhr) adds “The essential differentiating characteristic of classes is their place in a historically determined system of social production and the relationship given thereby to the means of production.” [5]

Classes are defined by the appropriation of surplus value; capitalists are those who skim off the surplus value as private profit while the working class creates the surplus value by its labour. This jost general class definition is a theoretical abstraction. The class situation is experienced in the definite modes of existence, under which people find themselves in the labour process and in the process of utilisation of capital. In this regard some things in fact have changed.

The external conditions, under which the members of the working class, and that is the great mass of the people, create surplus value, are no longer the same as the forms of exploitation experienced in the nineteenth century. The class concept is no longer so easy to convey directly in experience and perception as at the times of the beginning of the labour movement and of the great trade union struggles at the end of the nineteenth century. The relations of exploitation are – at least in the metropolitan centres – more concealed and no longer enter into the consciousness in stark openness. As a consequence of this, the class consciousness which used to permeate a large part of the working class is no longer being reproduced in the working class as a whole.8

Even though the great mass of people belong to the working class, they have no consciousness of their place in it, that they belong to the working class. It is a question for our future theoretical and agitational work and primarily a question of the objective processes of development at the workplace itself, of how new consciousness structures arise here. We shall in any case have to replenish the class concept with different contents of experience and perception than were the case for workers in the year 1920. Here we face tasks. But I believe that the class concept is not redundant; only that the outward appearances, under which it must be specified, have become different and must be explored.

Problems of Rule

In any case the system of domination of capitalism today is much less transparent for the dominated than in earlier times. The mechanisms of rule to which we are subjected have become abstract and anonymous. We are no longer face-to-face with the oppressing employer in the works. Also, for us the policeman on the street is not for us a beadle or club-wielder, as long as we don’t clash with him at demonstrations.

Experiences are different from those of the time of the Anti-Socialist Laws.9 Mechanisms of rule have become opaque. When all is said and done the manager of a business, who disposes of and carries out the interests of capital, is only a small wheel in an anonymous process of capital utilisation. He is jostly not the owner of capital, who would shovel his immediate profit into his own pocket.

This level of abstraction in social processes demands, in much higher measure than ever before, a theoretical analysis of the situation. That means that a communist movement can less than ever avoid pressing on with scientific socialism, understanding science as a factor of its politics, because the illumination of these anonymous relations of exploitation and domination can generally only be undertaken at a high level of abstraction. I mean in that context not only scientific research, but rather the level of abstract thinking, which can only be guaranteed by theoretical understanding, and in our organisation by highly developed education and training.

Generally, thereby, we are in a much more difficult situation than earlier generations were. Education of workers and party training in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century found masses eager for education and knowledge, who wanted to acquire the intellectual instrument for their liberation. Today the masses are exposed to an aljost unbroken system of influences from the ruling class-directed media. Disinformation and an excessive supply of disparate and many-sided meaningless facts, false information, diversion, thwarting of consciousness-building reflections are what we have to struggle against, with vanishingly narrow means.

The struggle in this field has become more difficult, because it is no longer directed against a single recognisable enemy. “Expropriate Springer!” was already an outdated demand in 1968.10 Personalisation of issues no longer bothers those responsible for intellectual incapacitation of the people, since it is not this or that representative of capital who rules the media. Rather it is an anonymous co-ordination process which is in control, in consequence of which “capital” is able to lay a smoke-screen in front of the exploited and to erode their consciousness. This perfect strategy of manipulation embraces not only media politics, but also a fully opaque practice of domination, made possible in jost recent times by information technology.

Cultural Disintegration

I have already said something about the problems developing in capitalism due to its its own social contradictions. I have spoken about the impoverishment of huge regions of the world, which is a contradiction inside capitalism – since capitalism is actually supposed to work towards the production of social wealth. After all, capital accumulation requires ever more social wealth to be provided for commodity consumers. Here an evident contradiction arises.

There is one contradiction of which I have not yet spoken, but which I want at least to mention because it is important for our own scientific world-outlook. It is displayed in the inability of late-bourgeois society any longer to offer a philosophically integrated culture. Instead there is just a vast pluralism of small divergent cultural activities. This looks like an apparent cultural richness, but in reality it destroys the function of culture, i.e. to fulfil people’s orientation in the world, because such orientation is impossible when the plural offers are of equal value. Therefore we need to add, to all the contradictions I have mentioned, this decomposition of cultural activity in capitalism – which exercises under the appearance of great cultural activity and in a concealed manner a totally and quite disorientating effect, disintegrating every philosophy. The irrationalism which is undermining every reasonable policy is becoming a sign of the times [6].

Against that, Marxists have a self-consistent philosophy to offer, which is the prerequisite for the mobilisation of political will. (That could also be addressed to those reformist socialist politicians, who think they can build up and lead a party to change society without a philosophical orientation. Self-evidently, a party which wants to become the political instrument of changes in society needs a common philosophical basis for its orientation and cannot simply be a pluralist discussion club).

No society can exist without a definite degree of philosophical agreement, of converging expectations from life – otherwise it disintegrates into anarchy. In every social epoch, it is the ruling class which is able to impart its values, norms and thought patterns to the ruled; and it is a part of the ruling structure that the ruled accept this world-view of the ruling class as their own. We call this “hegemony”. Ideological values however do not gain acceptance by force, they rest on consent, even if this is illusionary and therefore manipulated. Should the contradictions between the ideological values and the social reality enter too clearly into the consciousness of the masses, then the hegemonic order will disintegrate.

We have said that bourgeois society – because of its real and obvious contradictions – is no longer capable of offering a unifying world-view. It seeks a way out in offering intellectual anarchy under the title of “pluralism” as a substitute. That is a jost wonderful position in the ruling class’s system: it breaks asunder the structural prerequisite of hegemony, the inner agreement.

In contrast to this we Marxists have a world-view to offer, which outlines a total picture of natural processes, social processes, value notions, a total picture of life purposes. That is our strength. And we are so much the stronger, the less we engage in ideological concessions and compromises with the feeble philosophical products of late-bourgeois thought (even if that appears to bring us temporarily into a minority- or peripheral-position in the intellectual life of the time). Precisely because people seek clear orientation in the world, the coherence of the scientific philosophy of Marxism is a political power, and theoretical work is a decisive factor for our future success.

The Question of Organisation

With that I have now arrived at my last point, and one that I can deal with relatively concisely: the question of the organisational consequences of our reflections. We are not interested in sitting down in a seminar discussion, smugly determining the world-political situation and saying, “Now we know how it is”. Rather we want to obtain guides for action. We are not just contemplatively but politically interested in our theoretical reflections. We hold fast to the idea of the unity of theory and practice.

What organisational consequences arise for a socialist, communist movement, from this general characterisation of the situation? As Hans Luft11 has said, we need a twin-track approach.

One track runs within the framework of this existing capitalist society. On it travels a party like the PDS, which has a parliamentary presence and is subject to the constraints of activity within capitalism – by which we can leave out of consideration the question of how much space the ruling powers will allow it for activity and effectiveness. Naturally, a party operating inside the existing social order and its ongoing social processes (“within the system”) must fight for the interests of the people it represents, and which it wants to achieve, and must gain for them as many positive outcomes as possible. It must become active at a level which we describe as that of “trade union” struggles, and which one could in general-political terms call reformist. That is absolutely clear. In a non-revolutionary situation the path of reforms within society, i.e. within capitalism, is the line of activity of communists – an indispensable deepening in the detailed daily political work, which does not however directly lead to where the target of our activity lies. That is self-evident.

What is not self-evidently indispensable is our simultaneous adherence to the second track – the one on which our revolutionary aspirations run. Behind all reform-activity in this society, behind all corrective activity vis-à-vis the encroachments of the ruling class and the anti-human practices of capital, it is essential to maintain consciousness that it is not just a matter of improving one thing or another in this society, and then everything will be alright – rather that this society as such must be overthrown. We should not let ourselves be deluded, by the appearance of success of capitalism, from the fact that we are living in the age of its being overcome and superseded. That is to say: behind the internal process of small continuous changes, which we recognise in society and for which we are working together, we have to maintain consciousness that this society as such cannot be preserved by reforms, nor is it worth preserving; that this society should be superseded by another, its determinate negation, socialism.

As long as we live in a phase of small changes and reforms, and have to fight for these from political necessity, the question is one of theoretical education, to keep awake in the members of a revolutionary party (whom no revolution can initiate) the consciousness of real far objectives, of fundamental changes in the type of society, and to make the contradiction between daily practice and the long-term programme easy to grasp and supportable. Let us have no illusions! In a historical reform-phase “social-democracy” is the realistic perspective of the masses. Enduring the internal strain of the politics of small steps towards the revolutionary objective, without becoming reformist, is a matter for the avant-garde. By its theoretical clarity it can become a nucleus of crystallisation, gradually drawing more and more people towards it as social conflicts become increasingly sharp. To remain as the avant-garde without compromise, at the price of temporary numerical insignificance, is the historic task of the Communist Party.

Thus a militant theoretical line for communists is an indispensable factor of their politics. The supersession of capitalism by an alternative society must in any case be the strategic aim, in terms of which the necessary changes and corrections in favour of people living and suffering under capitalism can be tactically worked out within the frame of this society.

This struggle takes place at many different levels. The experiences of bureaucratic and undemocratic structures in the former socialist countries have often led to the position in which the formal mechanisms of bourgeois parliamentary democracy are idealistically overestimated and its institutions regarded as the actual and principal level of political struggle. We must however see that bourgeois parliamentary democracy, as it has arisen, and in the form in which it changes, is a form of organisation of interest groups of the powerful in the state; that in bourgeois parliamentary democracy the universal participation of citizens in political life is not the decisive factor.

In large states, where the citizens go to the polls every 4 years to choose representatives from party-lists, the actual contribution of citizens to the outcome, and their influence on it, is narrow. In countries such as Switzerland or the Netherlands, it is a bit different. But just a bit. In Switzerland, there is still a mechanism for direct referenda, albeit under threat of being demolished due to the pressure of the EU, which many circles would like to join; nonetheless this constitutional form has hitherto given the possibility of proposing people’s initiatives. Furthermore there is in some measure a well functioning cantonal democracy, because the state has far less competence vis-à-vis the cantons than in the large centralised states, which as a rule supply the model of bourgeois democracy. However, one should not evaluate the functioning of bourgeois democracy by such exceptions. One must much the more see how it functions in large states such as the Federal Republic of Germany, Britain, France, Italy or the USA, where the decision processes take their course anonymously, and the influence of power groups is uncontrollable. There we see that the democracy is in no way a model for participation of citizens.

Moreover, parliamentary democracy is continually by-passed by ministerial bureaucracy. MPs and ministers know aljost nothing now of the complicated matter of management and legislation. It is the ministerial bureaucrats who prepare the laws and thereby have the drafting of the development of social processes under their control. At best, selected experts are still carefully drawn there, according to their political standpoints. This has little to do with participation.

I think that one overestimates the capacity of parliamentary democracy as a medium of constructing a general will (volonté générale) and therefore also as a level of political struggle for the oppressed, if one represents it as the form of motion of political freedom.

The struggle that we have to lead as communists will therefore have to begin with developing class-consciousness step by step at the boundaries where social conflicts erupt. That means not just fighting for this or that solution to the conflict, but at the same time linking such struggles to a deeper insight that they are part of a wider context, specific to the social formation, and have their place in a society-wide movement. For example, to fight here and there against a proposed nuclear power plant is not the political perspective. The struggle is correct, but it must be connected at the same time with the overall view of social relations.

In order to be able to do this, we require the fundamentals of a theoretical appraisal of our historical situation. That means: we need a theory-conscious party. And that must be striven for in an organised way. Everyone cannot, as the case may be, be permitted to elevate to political guideline their own, private opinion to this or that position, as determined by personal impressions. Naturally they should introduce their opinion into discussion, it is necessary that they do that. But for this inclination to become a political power, it must obtain an organisational form.

To exclude misunderstanding: I do not mean thereby an organisational form with all the bureaucratic deformations of the full-time apparatus, which we have also experienced. Rather I mean a genuine communist class-struggle party, incorporating membership-control of the apparatus, a party democracy which does not break up into pluralist discussion clubs and – from this democratic basis – a form which is tautly organised and capable of activity. As a small minority – which after all we are for the present in this society – but one which should offer itself as a nucleus of crystallisation for wider social developments, and should draw people towards itself, we cannot renounce a well-structured form of organisation for our political activity. We need a Marxist-Leninist party.

Author’s Notes

1. On this point and with regard to the changed political situation in Europe after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, see Hans Heinz Holz, Überlegungen zum Begriff der politischen Lage (Reflections on the Concept of the Political Situation) in: Marx-Engels Stiftung, Politische Theorien des Marxismus in Wandel historischer Entwicklungen (Political Theories of Marxism in the Change of Historical Developments), Bonn 1991, p. 7 ff.

2. See Hans Heinz Holz, The Downfall and Future of Socialism (MEP Publications, 1992)

3. See Wolf-Dieter Gudopp-von Behm, Anmerkungen zur Epochen-Frage (Notes on the Questions of the Epoch), in: Marxistische Blätter (Marxist Letters), 1991 part 4, p. 76 ff. And expressly: Das Maß der Epoche (The Measure of the Epoch) in Schriften des Vereins Wissenschaft und Sozialismus (Publications of the Science and Socialism Association), Frankfurt am Main, 1991.

4. See Hans Heinz Holz/Giuseppe Prestipino (editors), Antonio Gramsci – Aktuelle Perspective seiner Philosophie (Antonio Gramsci – New Perspectives on his Philosophy), Pahl-Rugenstein-Verlag Nachfolger, Bonn, 1991.

5. Georg Klaus/Manfred Buhr, Philosophisches Wörtebuch (Philosophical Dictionary), Leipzig 1974, Vol 1, p. 618.

6. See Hans Heinz Holz, Zeichen der Gegenaufklärung (Signs of Counter-Illumination) in Enzyklopädie zur bürgerlichen Philosophie in 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Encyclopedia of Bourgeois Philosophy in the 19th and 20th Centuries), Manfred Buhr (editor), Leipzig 1988, p. 44 ff.; and Wider der neuen Irrationalismus (Against the New Irrationalism) in Plädoyer für einen wissenschaftlichen Humanismus (Speech for the Defence of a Scientific Humanism), Joseph Schleifstein/Ernst Wimmer editors, Frankfurt am Main 1981, p. 19 ff.

Translator’s Footnotes

1. “Any development, whatever its substance may be, can be represented as a series of different stages of development that are connected in such a way that one forms the negation of the other…In no sphere can one undergo a development without negating one’s previous mode of existence.” K Marx, Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol.6, p.317.

2. Post festum = after the feast.

3. A reference to G W F Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, particularly § 189 ff.: he regards civil society as “The mediation of need and one man’s satisfaction through his labour and the satisfaction of the needs of all others – the System of Needs.” ( )

4. See, for example, G W Cunningham, Thought and Reality in Hegel’s System: “Hegel, on the contrary, views the process, not as one of mere negation, but as one of determinate negation; one which ‘holds fast the positive in the negative,’ includes its content within itself, and passes by means of the negative into a higher synthesis in which is preserved the truth of the mediated factors” ( Also, H Marcuse in Reason and Revolution – for all its faults – described “determinate negation” as follows: “Things attain their truth only if they negate their determinate conditions. The negation is again a determination, produced by the unfolding of previous conditions. For example, the bud of the plant is the determinate negation of the seed, and the blossom the determinate negation of the bud.” ( )

5. See Chapter 6 for a fuller discussion of the General Crisis of Capitalism.

6. A reference to the first Gulf War, i.e. 1991.

7. V I Lenin, A Great Beginning, Collected Works Vol. 29, p. 421.

8. See Chapter 4 for a fuller discussion of classes, class consciousness and Class Struggle.

9. In 1878 German Chancellor Bismarck, aware of the growing power of the working class, took the opportunity of attempts on the life of the Kaiser to push through the Anti-Socialist Law (referred to as “Laws” as it was repeatedly renewed). All Social-Democratic organisations, all working class organisations and all working class or Socialist presses were banned, and all Socialist literature confiscated. Many members of the Social-Democratic Party and other pro-working class groups were victimised. Despite this the Party adapted itself to underground tactics, strengthened its ties with the working class and succeeded in tripling its vote by 1890, when the Law was repealed. ( )

10. A reference to the 1968 campaign launched by the SDS, the German Socialist Student Federation, for the Federal Government to break up the vast reactionary publishing empire of Axel Springer.

11. DKP theoretician. Close Window