This article is sort a response to the Sojorner Truth Organization’s positions on consciousness, but more a general reply to the leninist traditions utilizing complex adaptive systems stuff. It was inspired an article by Big Flame that criticized them if in a friendly way.
Leftist groups have inherited dangerous baggage from its deceased paternal figures. The state socialist tendency of workers movements specifically developed a notion of workers’ consciousness which counterposed a so-called dual consciousness within workers. Leninists have traditionally argued that the workers have bourgeious consciousness and working class consciousness within them, but without help can only develop ‘trade union consciousness’ by which they meant reformist consciousness. On this basis they argue that revolution can only come from a revolutionary party which brings its theory from the outside to workers.
Gramscian marxists agree with lenin’s general framework, but disagree about the outcome. They say that embryonic revolutionary consciousness can develop when the class acts in fusion at high points of struggle (whatever that means). Revolutionary ideas can intervene at these points and seek to break the bourgeious hegemony over the working class’ thinking.
Such traditions, which are taken hook line and sinker by most marxists groups today as well as many anarchist groups, have clearly had a negative impact on revolutionary movements. One need only look to places where State capitalism reigned to see the outcome of the division between revolutionaries and an inert working class who is its receptacle of ideas. With the death of those tragedies, their theories, and their organs we stand in a better position to reflect upon these issues and develop a more sensible approach.
In broad outline I accuse these traditions of conscieving of consciousness in a mechanistic and crudely causal framework. Consciousness like nearly all phenomena in society is an emergent property of the interactions of people, groups, and the institutions that structure them. We can neither reduce the consciousness of people to groups nor deduce their consciousness from structures. I will explore this more below.
Consciousness isn’t static, it’s determined by the social reality people live in and the history and character of the individuals that constitute it. The consciousness of workers is partly determined by this experience and constitution. Ideas crystallize through struggles and in relation to the corresponding social forces and institutions antagonistic and friendly. Social relations and actions emerge from these ideas (and yet again spur ideas and actions, etc., in a feedback loop).
For the working class this is defined by a life of struggle against domination, and attempts to make a meaningful life (as all strata do). Thus workers don’t adopt bourgeious ideas or revolutionary ideas with nothing between, but they are mediated by the workers social reality. Moreover the working class is structurally antagonistic to capital and through this forced antagonism, develop/have consciousne,ss of a class against capital but not necessarily a class against class itself or a class for its class. This allows us to see that ‘dual consciousness’ is ridiculously simplistic, as the means of forming consciousness is complex and adaptive and not binary (our heads aren’t empty vessels).
Additionally this outline demonstrates that there isn’t an ‘outside’ that a privledged revolutionary vanguard can reside in. Everyone is locked in this dynamic of our ideas responding to our environment, and trying to change our environment as we change our ideas. Ignoring this totality and butchering the concepts therein can yield the orientation of theory coming from outside the working class to be tested in practice. This relationship to workers reflects (though is not the only cause of) the practice of over 80 years of state socialism, which conclusively didn’t and couldn’t represent the perspective and needs of workers.
Correspondingly the task of organization is not to bring the revolution to the workers, but as workers to push the elements of consciousness which have revolutionary potential in that direction. The goal is to identify them within practice, to develop them, and spread them on a class basis. This conception avoids the unsavory thinking of politicizing the class which is as patronizing as ineffective (everyone knows the communist hacks who seem as lifeless as other people trying to propagandize to the poor).
In response to leninism many have overemphasized the only form of organizing, since leninists almost exclusively paid attention to the content and ideology of struggles (as it was brought from outside by the revolutionary party whose role is to fill workers with revolutionary consciousness). Libertarian communist groups likewise have focused too heavily on direct action, workers councils, anarchosyndicalist unions, and direct democracy. Simply put the form ain’t enough. Even having the form right, and an organization pushing a revolutionary line or guiding the struggles doesn’t ensure a revolutionary or effective outcome (this has occured throughout history with a record that is easily recognizable).
Indeed the form of struggle and it’s content are both necessary for building revolution, but the reality is that society is complex. The struggles that build and the tactics that develop are necessarily complex and adaptive, and require such a mentality to meet them. There is no blueprint to revolution, there is no schema to communism, and there is no one-size-fits-all to revolutionizing the proletariat.