This material is courtesy of the Northern Committee of the Communist Party of Britain. 

Leading German communist philospher Hans Heinz Holz was one of the keynote speakers at the Communist University of Britain, held at Ruskin House, Croydon, October 26-28, 2007.  His book The Downfall and Future of Socialism is available from the Communist Party of Britain website.  His more recent publication, Communists Today, is currently in the process of being translated and will provide a useful resource for self-education and branch discussion.  As chapters are ready, they will be added to this site.

In 1991, when I published The Downfall and Future of Socialism1, there was widespread discouragement and resignation among communists.  Their revolutionary self-reliance had deeply shaken by the destruction of the Soviet Union and the annexation of the GDR.  The perspective of a better, socialist, society appeared not just to have shifted into the distant future, but indeed to have become totally obstructed.  In order to grasp the causes of this downfall it was necessary to strengthen the realisation that socialism is the historical alternative to capitalism, and to fortify the self-assurance of communists.

Since then the communist movement has regained strength world-wide.  In Germany the nucleus of the Communist Party has reassembled and is engaged in political activities, and in discussion around future strategy and the form of organisation.  The dual aspect, that the crisis of capitalism is indeed sharpening, but that we must reckon with revolutionary changes taking a long time, is fertile soil for an illusion, not unknown in the history of the working class movement – both as an opposition inside capitalism, and even as a direct or indirect participant in government – the illusion being that this society can be made more humane through reforms, and that therefore one should just hope for a better capitalism rather than socialism, or even perhaps that one should regard socialism as nothing other than an improved capitalism.

Today, in a non-revolutionary phase of history, it is essential to keep revolutionary consciousness awake and to engage with those opposition strategies which are put forward inside capitalism, in order that they can lead a way out from this system.  To this end theoretical work is indispensable.  Communists do not organise themselves as some self-generated interest-group, but rather as the collective subject of political practice derived from theoretical understanding of history.  Lenin systematically worked out this understanding of the Party, and his insights are a continual stock of communist self-awareness.

A theoretically grounded attitude arises from working up recognitions into a total coherence of knowledge, and from application, modification and correction of that in practice.  Both sides belong together – as signified by the formula of the “unity of theory and practice”.  Because a politically efficacious theory originates, self-contained, from this insight, the question of communist-being is indissoluble from the question of political organisation, of the Party.  Political practice is always collectively-organised practice.  The individual always remains private, however much he or she is willing to be moved and excited by the content of the politics.  Unus homo, nullus homo – a single person is no person, said the Romans.  Communists become communists in the Party, and for that reason organisation is not just a practical-sociological question, but rather a question of essence.

Above all the point is to demonstrate, to the young generation in the coming period, routes into the alternative to capitalism, and to provide them with intellectual raw material so that they can develop their own formulations, determine their own objectives and then carry out their own activity.  For that an ideological orientation and an organisational home are essential.  Dialectical and historical materialism has such a philosophical space to offer, which corresponds as no other to the state of knowledge of our time and is in itself open and capable of development.  Robert Steigerwald has shown just that in his book Departure from Materialism?  Materialism and Modern Science2, which presents a sort of handbook of ideological positioning for political use.  We must arrange and extend the ideological house, so that those people, who want to work to change society, feel that they have their place and are at home in it.

Translator’s Footnotes

1. H H Holz, Niederlage und Zukunft des Sozialismus.  Published in English by MEP Publications, Minneapolis, 1992.

2. R Steigerwald, Abschied vom Materialismus? Materialismus und Moderne Wissenschaft, (Pahl-Rugenstein Nachfolger, 1994)