09 February 2010

Lenin against Syndicalism

Lenin against Syndicalism

"Demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class" - Lenin

This channel of communication is the combined SADTU Political Education Blog and Forum. It carries a planned programme of political education texts, as well as occasional current articles from the press and the Internet.

The programme of political education texts is presently following the “Basics” course, which is the first of eight “Generic Courses” that are all accessible from this group’s home page.

These Generic Courses are designed for self-organised Freirean study circles, meeting on a regular and presumably weekly basis without an outside lecturer. So, there is a main text for each week. This week, our main text has been “Worker Solidarity and Unions” from MIA, combined with "Procedure of Meetings", based on Wal Hannington’s “Mr Chairman”. An introduction to these texts was sent out for yesterday, under the heading “Vanguard”.

As well as a main text each week, there is usually one or more than one supporting text, which may be regarded as supplementary, alternative, or additional reading. This week the supporting text to this discussion of the workers’ mass organisations and their necessary counterpart, the revolutionary Party, is made up of extracts from Lenin’s “What is to be Done?


In this book Lenin was concerned to oppose what he called “economism”, which is also called “syndicalism” and in South Africa in the past and still up to now, “workerism”.

Lenin was concerned to show (following the publication of Eduard Bernstein’s gradualist “Evolutionary Socialism” and Rosa Luxemburg’s counterblast to Bernstein, “Reform or Revolution?”) that a revolutionary transformation of bourgeois society is not possible without a revolutionary political party of the working class. Trade union organisation of the working class was never going to be sufficient.

In the process Lenin was moved to denounce demagogy, in the severest terms. See for example the quote above, which is taken from the text that we are using today. One reason that Lenin denounced demagogues so emphatically is because they misrepresent themselves as being “left” or revolutionary, when in fact they are “right”, and in particular are gradualist, reformist and class-collaborationist.

Worker’s Control?

Sometimes syndicalism arrives at a point where it proposes, demagogically, “worker’s control” under capitalism. Marx and Lenin both denounced such tomfoolery – see, for example, Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme

Lenin showed that the worker’s political party, the communist party, remains a “must-have”. To achieve its revolutionary goals the working class must combine in a vast association of the whole nation, not for trade union purposes, but for revolutionary purposes.

Whereas the syndicalism of individual factories or of isolated mines is nothing more than a reversion to petty-bourgeois consciousness, in conditions where such petty-bourgeois behaviour is hopelessly subordinated to a bourgeois market that it cannot possibly control.

How will they sell their products, unless on the terms of the Imperialists? This is why we say that demagogy is nothing but the class enemy’s message, dressed up and re-sold in fake-super-revolutionary clothes. Demagogues will even be found denouncing the real revolutionaries as fakes.

When in doubt about such things, it helps to study. Lenin is a good person to study, because he was good at telling the difference between genuine things, and fakes. Especially, Lenin opposed syndicalism, workerism, gradualism and economism, all of which still exist today.


Main text for the week: