|Antonio Berni, "Manifestación" (1934)|
Thus, although the working class has its own special problems, the state of the nation is pushing it towards some action. Any action that it may take involves at once the national solution of the national and international problems. But history warns us that a class, forced into independent action, will think its own thoughts and act to solve its own problems. It is to me certain that if the American working class should find itself, not necessarily at the very start, but rapidly enough, forced to intervene independently in the task of national regeneration, that one of the first things it will do is to reorganize the process of production. If it will act at all – and either it will act or the degeneration of American society (and world society) will continue – its main, perhaps its first action will be to reorganize its daily life, that is to say the labor process. This, I have to repeat, is not merely nationalization or more wages in less hours. It cannot mean another mobilization for continuous fighting with the capitalist class or with a class of bureaucrats or managers (capitalist bosses under a new name). It must mean a total reorganization of the labor process, with the working class in complete charge of production and its energies and experience devoted to making production a fully human occupation. America is the country of production, and more than any other will be able to understand and accept such a transformation. American workers, more than all others, accept production as a way of life. They know that it is production which has made the American nation what it is. They have the experience of production being boldly changed to suit the necessities of production. They will not fail to change production for the necessity of a human existence and national regeneration. No one else but they themselves can do it.
But there will be bitter opposition. And it is regrettable that those intellectuals and labor leaders who have been talking most loudly about the new society will be the most dangerous opposition. Most dangerous because from their previous interest in and sympathy with the working class, they are likely to gain positions and voices of leadership. The dyed-in-the-wool capitalist reaction will recognize that for the time being they will have to accept other leadership and they will rally behind them, waiting for the time and the opportunity when these fail, as they are bound to fail, once more to take control.
This is the perspective. Without it you may do good work, but you weaken the first condition of success – the belief of the workers in themselves. The Marxist organization and above all the Marxist propaganda knows this. He knows that his great task is to work side by side with the workers on day-to-day problems, welcoming and in fact encouraging all possible allies. As a Marxist he is on guard always himself to avoid and to be in militant opposition to whoever and whatever will lessen the confidence of the working class in itself and in its own independent action. How exactly to do this is a difficult and at times apparently impossible problem. That is our daily burden, even if solved today, appearing in new forms tomorrow. But unless you know the problem and daily strengthen yourself in it, you will not only go wrong, but your best intentioned actions will do great harm to the very cause for which you are working.
Let me end with a historic weakness. As the crisis deepens numbers of the middle class and stray intellectuals become deeply perturbed and in their usual intemperate manner wish “to do something.” They may even attempt some independent actions. In America their record of recognizing the power of the working-class is very bad. Small Marxist organizations, hitherto confined to propaganda, may catch the fever, forget the special responsibilities which they have as Marxists and even find or indicate the solution of the ills of the day in the ideas and temper of these groups. Particularly they are inclined to do this if, as often happens, the working class, is watching and weighing the situation, knowing the gravity of its problems and its own heavy responsibility. Here Lenin can be, as always, a model of policy. In 1905 when Russian capitalism received a dreadful blow from its defeat by the Japanese, Lenin warned that even reactionary classes might be moved to fight against Tsarism and the disasters it had brought upon the nation. He advocated support of these. But in 1905 as in 1917 friends observed that when the party was deep in action and excitement over the revolutionary upheavals, Lenin (though leading the concrete struggle) used every spare moment to reread the classics of Marx. The great Marxist, although the leader of a mass party, was holding tight to the fundamental principles. He knew how easy it was to slip away from them.
The working class did not disappoint him. In 1905 it initiated the first general strike in history. It created the Soviet. It was in his mastery of Marxism that Lenin was able to expect and recognize these creative achievements for what they were.
Excerpt from: C.L.R. James, “Marxism and the Intellectuals,” Spheres of Existence: Selected Writings (London: Allison and Busby Ltd., 1980).