People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 19

May 09, 2010

May Day 2010 & Socialist Consciousness


Sukomal Sen


MAY Day 2010 will be observed in an unprecedented international and national situation when the World Capitalist system has been engulfed in grave crisis, economically, socially and culturally. Added to this is the political turmoil and deep discontent of the suffering people which are rocking a number of governments in the world.

All these developments expose, more than ever, the unsustainability of the capitalist system itself.

The stormy eight hours struggle in America which culminated in the May Day Episode of 1886, also threw up many basic issues and tasks before the fighting working class. The heroes of that struggles many of whom bravely embraced martyrdom raised the revolutionary slogans �Down with Capitalism! Down with Wage Slavery!�

Today, when in the phase of imperialist globalisation, 8 hours work norm which was universally  accepted  after some time of 1986 episode, has been trampled under foot with vengeance by the world capitalism itself is amply  confirming the absolute correctness of the battle cry raised by the heroes of May Day Episode�the capitalist system has to be brought to an end and wage-slavery of the labour has to be abolished.

The eight hours struggle could not however throw up the issue of socialism as the only alternative to capitalism, the leaders of the movement in America were yet to fully grasp the concept of socialism. The socialist concept of Marx and Engels were  put forth before the European workers, but the message was yet to reach the labour movement on the other side of the Atlantic.

But now, at the end of the first decade of 21st century when the international working class and the entire toiling people have undergone a number of revolutionary upheavals against capitalism and success of socialist revolutions in a number of non-advanced countries and the impact of imperialist globalisation followed by grave world crisis of capitalism, it has become  the bounden duty of the working class of any country to popularise the idea of socialism and May Day celebration would be a very befitting occasion when the agenda of socialism should be brought to the fore and march forward with the goal of its realisation in practical terms.




The human race is the most important treasure in the world. And yet historically, most of humanity has developed under con�ditions of antagonistic social classes, under social relations based on exploitation. These conditions have encouraged human qualities for  heightened individualism, hyper consumerism, egotism, apathy,  alienation, greed, and cynicism and in the phase of neo-liberal globalisation and its culture, these traits have come to be further pronounced.  

William Shakespeare said in one of his plays through his hero that money is the biggest god of humankind. He said this almost 450 years back. But now in this phase of capitalism, lust for money, careerism, opportunism, utter indifference to struggles, trade unions and politics etc. have been raised to the peak. These traits are antagonistic to socialist ideals.

In multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-caste and multi-religions Indian conditions, it has created more problems against socialist ideas as all these inimical traits have dangerously come to the fore in the present political situation in India. In the name of Maoism, another killer outfit is also spreading its vicious net in different parts of India taking advantage of utter under development and misery of a big part of tribal population under the present bourgeois-landlord rule.  

The important point for understanding why individuals think and act the way they do, as Marx, Lenin, and others -- for example, Hochi Minh, Mao Tse Dong, Castro and  Che Guevara have demonstrated, is that individual thought and experience are best understood by using an objective economic analysis and historical materialist view of consciousness that does not separate the indi�vidual from social context. 

The current complex and contradictory context in many devel�oping countries reflects a fierce ideological struggle between two fundamentally different worldviews: Marxist-Leninist and bour�geois. These two opposing frameworks compete to influence the consciousness of the majority, their ideas, habits, and points of view, for example about what the main problems are today and how best to resolve them, even criteria for being "happy." Powerful imperialist forces are dedicated to producing and distributing propaganda promoting selfishness, insatiable desires for material goods, etc. Many of these pressures are sophisticated: promoting ideas that, on the surface, appear progressive, but instead are reframed so as to be reactionary. Dominant contemporary notions of "human rights," "free" assembly, individual "initiative," understanding of why certain  countries remain poor while others remain rich serve as exam�ples. 



In order for socialism to be constructed and maintained indi�viduals who understand the value of cooperation for universal aims, who demonstrate genuine concern for the common good and solidarity with working people throughout the  world are essential. At the same time, the transformation of society into a mature socialist society requires individuals with these per�spectives. Revolutionary consciousness is both required for fighting and construction of socialism. Marx, Engels, and later Lenin demonstrated the relationship between change in social conditions and change in people themselves � through socialist education and socialist practice, guided by scientific socialist theory.

Still, it is not uncommon to hear some people professing to be socialists and Marxists argue that ever-expanding economic development will, by itself, result in the establishment of socialist relations of production and therefore socialism. The achievement of socialism is, from this perspective, largely a technical Issue. From this viewpoint, revolutionary consciousness, if considered at all, is presumed to result once a certain level of economic development has been attained. The assumption is that if the proper political party is in power, thereby guiding the building of a socialist society, then the destructive contradictions of bourgeois society will be overcome. This perspective also typically maintains that (a) developing consciousness is secondary to expanding the forces of production, and (b) mobilising people in support of State policies is sufficient for developing socialist consciousness.

History has demonstrated, however, that economic development can continue to evolve and expand, using highly advanced science and technology, without either the establishment of socialist relations of production or socialist consciousness. Even as the material foundation for socialism exists in the United States, for example, socialist ideological development is far from prevalent. It is true that social life creates consciousness and not the reverse. It is also true that we cannot will social relations of production into being. The notion that socialist consciousness automatically results from advances in production, however, is mistaken. New relations of production create only the possibility, not the inevitability, of socialist consciousness.

A  transition from capitalism to socialism occurs  not automatically but by conscious efforts that is, by people who understand what they are creating  and why. People with particular perspectives, habits, customs, beliefs,  criteria, attitudes, relationships with others-in addition to specific abilities and knowledge-are crucial in order for socialism to advance. In What Is to Be Done, Lenin addressed how the working class becomes conscious as a class, for itself. Such understanding was necessary for him in order to argue and develop revolutionary strategy. Lenin argued that the widespread development of revolutionary, scientific consciousness was necessary in order to transform the existing socio-economic system into one that functioned in the interests of the majority of the population, enabling individuals to fully realise their human potential. While attaining socialist consciousness is a long-term process, postponing systematic attention to this process until a certain level of economic development has been attained undermines the ability of the masses to learn to plan and manage society in all its aspects. It also fails to increase the number of individuals who identify with socialist aims. Thus while developing the economy is essential to building socialism, those who treat economic growth as the sole objective of socialism via developing productive forces fail to grasp the essential role of ideo1ogy in the class struggle and its critical importance during all stages of economic development and social transformation.

While the Communist Party aims to represent the interests of the working class and to be the primary vehicle that enables and supports the working class to fulfill its political functions, at the same time, the workers� dictatorship is not something that can be carried out by any group other than the working class itself. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a dynamic process effectively exercised by the working class. Indeed, a Marxist view of democracy is when the vast majority of the population exercises state power by itself and for itself, assuming its role and rights in directing and managing society.  Structuring broad popular participation into political, eco�nomic, cultural,  and social decision- making at local, regional, and national levels of society is essential to ensure that the State indeed functions in the interests of the majority of ordinary people. State power therefore poses the question of participation. Popular struggles around concrete issues, especially when guided by communists and their allies, also help ensure that the interests of the majority are protected by confronting abuses of power and by demanding justice, grassroots self-organisation, promoting the interests of the working classes, where leaders are held accountable to those common aims, help raise consciousness, may result in real victories, and can help lay the groundwork for broader, long-lasting changes. The issue is also how to get ever closer to the popular masses, in order to under�stand their issues, their dreams, their forms of resistance, and to work with them towards common goals. The ideological battle is won in practical work, not at the level of ideas. 




It is important for people to contribute to socialist ideology and the corresponding policies and programmes and not simply "receive" them. At the same time, the better people understand existing con�ditions, the more effectively they can confront the diverse array of problems that do and will exist. In this way people can come to better understand the dimensions of any particular problem that go beyond direct experience. The goal is to continually deepen and broaden peoples' knowledge, imagination, and skills. Thus, in order for the dictatorship of the working class to be a reality, the masses must be able to lead and rule. This means using Marxism-Leninism in a practical and systematic way, not spontaneously or erratically. The application of Marxist methodology must become part of day�-to-day practice in appraising and addressing social phenomena.

As Lenin explained, �The consciousness of the working masses cannot be gen�uine class-consciousness, unless the workers learn, from con�crete, and above all from topical, political facts and events, to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical, and political life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata, and groups of the population� (V I Lenin, What Is to Be Done; in vol 5 of Collected Works [Moscow: Progress Press, 1973], 412).

  Clearly, a purposeful, systematic, and ongoing process of education, broadly defined, is necessary in order to achieve advanced   ideological development. Thus the role of the subjective, of consciousness, of motivations, of initiative, of ideology, of explicitly communist education, is of prime importance in the class struggle and in progressing towards socialism. 

The study of theory without learning how best to apply it will not build socialism. Being able to quote or recite passages from classic works does not mean that one can apply Marxist methodol�ogy, or content, to contemporary problems. Having faith that the classics hold answers to contemporary problems does not further Marxism, socialism, or scientific development. Individuals, organizations and institutions must be able to use theory, creatively, to understand and reconstruct the world. Scientific development itself implies and demands the application of theory. 




Younger generations must be politically and ideologically prepared for the many situations in which they find themselves, including their work and their workplace, viewing films, listening to music, reading literature, their relationships with others, includ�ing nonsocialists. The challenges of the twenty-first century require that young and old understand the nature of the problems they are facing, the roots of the problems they are encountering. Party lead�ers and intellectuals at all levels must deepen their understanding of opportunism and revisionism and understand the importance of the analysis of everyday life. In their day-to-day life, ordinary people must see that the common goal is for the wealth they create to be used primarily to satisfy human needs, not to profit others. Ideology is a concrete thing. Its power resides in the fact that it is contained within our everyday activities.  

Education in any and all societies intends to influence both thinking and social behavior; it cannot be a neutral endeavor. Education aims to imbue others with particular qualities and instill a particular world outlook, even guidelines for human conduct. Similarly, socioeconomic development requires building strategically on current conditions. The same holds true for ideological work.

In a society with a preponderance of capitalist relations of production, socialist consciousness must be acquired in the midst of an opposing mentality. It has to transform an existing ideological structure and further, be accomplished by people who may be products of another kind of society or, who, for other reasons, posses many of those traits. Ideological limits therefore typically exist among teachers and leaders as well within pupils. For these as well as other reasons, a process of education, reeducation and self-education will be a long-term undertaking. The customs and habits people have acquired over time are not easily changed. Marx once said, �The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living� (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; in vol 11 of MECW [New York: International Publishers, 1979] 103)

Then, anticipation of socialism derives from the contradictions within capitalism, irrespective of whether these have evolved into embryonic socialist forms. Most notable is the revolutionary role to be played by the working class � with capitalism creating, expanding, strengthening and organising labour for the purposes of production, but necessarily exploiting the working majority and failing to meet its broader economic and social aspirations. In a telling phrase of the Communist Manifesto, �what the bourgeoisie ... produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.�

Such prognoses stand shoulder to shoulder with the slogan that marks Marx�s epitaph, the eleventh thesis on Fuerbach: �The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.� As with much of Marx�s writings, this call to nineteenth-century socialists should be interpreted both as a means of gaining understanding as well as an imperative to act. It remains fully valid into the twenty-first century and today�s world further confirms the definition of trade unions as an organised force for superseding the very system of wage-labour and capital rule itself?

Marx predicted the onset of Globalisation. Marx could not see, but the present generation has experienced the rise of capitalism to its peak, what is called neo-liberal globalisation of economy.  

We would only repeat, come what may, the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. Working men of All Countries Unite!

Let the revolutionary goal of socialism be the battle cry of May Day 2010 and that will be the fittest tribute to the supreme sacrifices made by the heroes of May Day episode of 1886.