A response to Castoriadis’s ‘Socialism or Barbarism’ (Dunayevskaya, 1955)

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Article de Raya Dunayevskaya de 1955 repris dans News and letters d’octobre-novembre 2007

I have received the July-September [1955] issue of the French magazine SOCIALISME OU BARBARIE (Socialism or Barbarism), and see that it is largely devoted to the problem of establishing a workers’ paper. The article by D. Mothe on the question deals with the experience of some French workers who published a shop paper, in Renault, which is like Ford here, and the experience we have had in America in publishing a workers’ paper.

All this is new. Heretofore socialists and other radicals have been content with publishing a paper “for” workers rather than by them. The fact that some now pose the latter question, and pose it with the seriousness characteristic of the theoretical journal, is a beginning in the direction in which we have worked for some years before the actual publication of NEWS & LETTERS.

The conditions in France, however, are radically different from those here. We do not have a mass Communist Party to plague us. The Communist Party of France (and even more so of Italy, it must not be forgotten) is a strong force. It controls the largest trade union–the CGT–which is like the CIO here.

No socialist grouping like Socialisme ou Barbarie can disregard such a mass force as the Communist Party represents there. It cannot speak to workers on any subject as if the problem were only of workers against capitalists. It is a struggle within the working class; the counter-revolutionary force is right within the revolutionary movement. The problem of establishing a workers’ paper in France is a question only the French can decide.

OUR EXPERIENCE

But, insofar as the struggle the world over today is a struggle against bureaucratic domination, and the fundamental problem of workers the world over, in this age of bureaucratization, is to tackle this problem not the day after but today, our experience can illuminate the problem.

The working class stamp in the overall editing and the decentralization in the editing of the individual sections–Labor, Negro, Women, Youth–did not come about accidentally. They were the results of the decisions of a unique combination of worker and intellectual, in its own small way to be sure, the practice of the breakdown of the most monstrous division of all–the division between mental and manual labor which has reached its apex in this epoch.

This brand of any class society also stamps many people who align themselves with the working class, but have no conception of how total the opposition to the old order must be not alone in theory but in practice. This characteristic is not limited to intellectuals, but permeates a stratum of the working class. For the classic example of that we must consider not the comparatively small problem of a workers’ paper, but the historic problem of workers’ power itself, for it was in the period of the workers’ state in Russia (1917-1923) when all the problems of today were seen as if in a blinding flash, and grasped at once by Lenin.

WHAT HISTORY TEACHES US

Before 1917 all radicals saw the problem of a new society as the problem of achieving political power. What the Russian experiences showed was that the problem first then began.

Shlyapnikov was a worker who had joined the Bolshevik (Communist) Party long before the Russian Revolution of which he was a leader. Nevertheless, once power was achieved, he refused to see the problem of worker and intellectual–which is another way of saying the role of the party.

Lenin, on the other hand, saw precisely this division as the barrier–the last barrier–that the old decrepit society was setting up in the path of the new workers’ state that had won power but was nevertheless heading back to capitalism. He insisted on two seemingly contradictory policies:

1) He said they must define the term, worker, “in such a way as to include only those who could have acquired a proletarian mentality from their very position in life.” By which he meant that they were workers all their life; that they had worked in heavy industry at least 10 years; that they were factory workers not through choice but because they had no other way of earning a living.

2) Nevertheless he showed that the proletarian policy of the party was the result of “the enormous undivided prestige enjoyed by the thin stratum which may be called the old guard of the Party. Only a very slight internal struggle within this stratum would be sufficient, if not to destroy this prestige, then at all events to weaken it to such an extent that it would lose the power to determine policy.” And so it was and the workers’ state crumbled altogether.[*]

ON PUBLISHING A WORKERS’ PAPER

To return from the historic height to the problem raised by our French friends, I cannot see how theoreticians can continue to theorize in the old way while the workers in their various activities break through old patterns to new theory. Just as it is true that the workers, in a workers’ paper, do not speak only of their relations at the point of production, but all of their ideas on life, labor and the new society, so it is true that the intellectual’s role cannot be just to generalize the experience, but must be to discipline himself to hear all the workers say instead of hearing only what fits into his previous theoretic patterns.

Workers’ actions speak for them without equivocation. The intellectual must be attuned to hear that movement from practice to theory. That is the nub.

I would say that the tendency to say: “A workers’ paper, yes, but in that case it must come from the workers themselves, and not from us the theoreticians” is an evasion of the task at hand. Theoreticians cannot be bystanders to a paper that mirrors the workers’ thoughts and activities as they happen. We would like to hear more from our West European friends.

* * *

Note

[*] For Dunayevskaya’s subsequent discussions and criticisms of Lenin, see her ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN’S LIBERATION , AND MARX’S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION (University of Illinois Press, 1991 [original edition, 1981]) and PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, FROM HEGEL TO SARTRE AND FROM MARX TO MAO [original edition, 1973]–especially the expanded edition of 1991, which includes as a new Introduction “New Thoughts on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy” (Lexington Books, 2003).

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