Classes and Class Struggle

Class is determined by the objective position a social group occupies in the vast network of production and distribution, by its relation to the means of production (i.e., whether it owns or just works on these means) and consequently, by the share of gross social wealth it possesses. To take a simple example, industrialists occupy a privileged position in a country’s economic (and therefore also in the political) network because they own factories and amass huge wealth by usurping the surplus value produced by industrial workers. The workers on the other hand are underprivileged because they operate, but do not own, the plants and machinery and eat or starve depending on whether they find work or not.

The class configuration of society differs from country to country and time to time (basically according to the mode(s) of production), but every class society is divided into working, exploited classes and exploiting, ruling classes. Struggle between these two sections goes on uninterruptedly in different intensities and forms like wage and land struggle, agitation for political democracy and policy changes, battle for ousting dictatorial and corrupt regimes, and so on. At critical junctures it flares up into revolutions which drastically change the economic, political and cultural character of a society.

Classes carry on their struggle through their mass organisations like trade unions, chambers of commerce, etc. as well as through political parties representing them, or sections of them. In our country, for example, parties like the Congress, the BJP etc. represent and work for capitalists, landlords and kulaks.
Proletariat and Communist Party

Communist Party is the revolutionary party of the proletariat. It unites and mobilises the working class and all exploited oppressed sections of society in the struggle for their immediate interests and for putting an end to all exploitation and injustice.

The Communist Manifesto defines “the proletariat, the modern working class” as “a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The proletariat is the most revolutionary class, because it constitutes the lowest stratum, the base, of the pyramid-like class structure of a capitalist society and therefore when it stands up to liberate itself, the whole class pyramid — “the whole superincumbent strata of official society” — crumbles down. The proletariat’s great revolutionary potential, its leading role in revolution, is thus inherent in its objective location within the modern class hierarchy: in the fact that to liberate itself it has to liberate all other toiling classes. Additionally, their collective, organised, disciplined life, their live contact with modern technology, and the fact that they “have nothing to loose but their chains” make the proletarians particularly capable and consistent as the organised vanguards of revolution.

Leadership in the destruction of the old oppressive social structure makes the working class the natural leader in the construction of a new society. In Europe, it was in its own class interest that the bourgeoisie led the demolition of feudalism and, on the strength of that, also the construction of the capitalist order. So in spite of the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, it retained and perfected the system of class divisions and exploitation. But the proletariat has no subaltern classes to exploit, its interest rather lies in the abolition of private property, so it builds the new society in that image. After revolution, it thus rediscovers itself in a new role as the architect of a new society.
But the working class cannot grasp or realise this historic mission simply in course of its economic or trade union struggles. The Communist Party alone makes it conscious of, and organises it for, this role. To say the same thing in another way, the proletariat’s objective historic role gains conscious and concentrated expression in the Communist Party, in Marxism-Leninism.

Democratic and Socialist Revolutions

Historically, democratic revolution is the bridge leading from the feudal to the bourgeois order. The English and the French revolutions (mid 17th and late 18th centuries respectively) were classic examples, which abolished serfdom and monarchy and ushered in the parliamentary republic. Being anti-feudal, the democratic revolution has as its main force the broad peasant masses. In England and France it was led by the rising capitalist class.

Socialist revolution, such as the November revolution in Russia (1917), signifies the passage from capitalism to socialism. It abolishes capitalist private property, hands over to the whole people the major means of production, which are managed by the socialist state (see chapter on “the state”). The leading force of the socialist revolution is the working class allied with other working people.

However, as Lenin remarked in Our Revolution, “while the development of world history follows general laws ... certain periods of development may display peculiarities in either the form or sequence of this development.” What happened is that with the growing strength of the working class movement, particularly after the Paris Commune (1871), the bourgeoisie took fright, entered into a historic compromise with feudal forces against the toiling people, and abandoned the task of democratic revolution, which therefore had to be taken up by the new revolutionary class, the modern proletariat. This adds a whole new dimension to the character of democratic revolution, for unlike the bourgeoisie, the working class cannot stop with the democratic revolution but carries it uninterruptedly to the socialist stage. Lenin expressed this very succinctly in Two Tactics of Social

Democracy in the Democratic Revolution:

“The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the autocracy’s resistance by force and paralyse the bourgeoisie’s instability. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, allying to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population, so as to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance by force and paralyse the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie.” (emphasis in the original)

Although the above statement pertained in particular to Russia in the early 20th century and summed up the Bolshevik position on the steady advance from democratic (attempted in 1905 and successfully accomplished in February 1917) to socialist (November 1917) revolutions, it opened up new vistas for the progress of revolutionary theory and practice. On this basis Mao Zedong developed his theory of new (or people’s) democratic revolution, which provided broad guidelines for revolutions in the backward countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America in the era of imperialism. The Indian revolution today is in the stage of people’s democratic revolution, with agrarian revolution as the axis and feudal remnants, imperialism and big capital as main targets. As the general programme of the CPI(ML) proclaims:

“Though the primary aim of this democratic revolution will be to abolish all feudal remnants and the concomitant autocratic and bureaucratic distortions in the polity, it will necessarily have several socialist aspects as well. More than creating conditions for a decisive victory of democratic revolution, the struggle against big capital will also pave the way for an uninterrupted transition from the democratic to the socialist stage of revolution.”

Socialism and Communism

The real negation of capitalism is communism, which abolishes all forms of exploitation of man by man. But this cannot be achieved by one stroke. Socialism came to be conceptualised as the first decisive step of transition towards communism.

Initially socialism carries many imperfections (economic, political, cultural, etc.), many birth-marks of the bourgeois order from whose womb it emerges. Vestiges of classes and class struggle remain, and at times the latter grows very sharp. People work wholeheartedly for the common good, for the society as a whole, and are paid according to the quantity and quality of work done. This is expressed in the motto: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

The imperfections of the first stage, or stage of transition, are gradually overcome under the leadership of the victorious Communist Party. Classes and class struggle, and with these the state machinery, become a thing of the past. The second stage of socialism or communism, arrives. Thanks to material abundance, ideological progress and the cultural revolution, society can now inscribe on its banner the motto: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” That is to say, society takes from everyone whatever s/he can contribute by way of work and gives away whatever s/ he needs.

Communists and Social Democrats

Communism means a classless society evolved on the ruins of capitalism (which is based on capitalist exploitation of wage labour). This is to be achieved by intensification of class struggle to the point of abolition of the two poles of the antagonism — capital and wage labour. Whenever communists participate in institutions of bourgeois democracy — e.g., the parliament —they do it exclusively for this end and never for harmonising (the interests of the opposing classes.
By contrast social democrats take such institutions “as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty-bourgeoisie”. (From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx)

In a word, communism is essentially revolutionary: its adherents value reforms basically as stepping stones to revolution. Social democrats are essentially class collaborationist and reformist: they advocate and work for reforms to prevent revolution.

They thus work for preserving the capitalist social order, albeit in a more democratic, more civilised shape. This is where their petty-bourgeois outlook converges with that of the more intelligent sections of the big bourgeoisie.

Thanks to this outlook and their stubborn struggle against revolutionary communists, social democrats earn the trust of the ruling bourgeoisie. In the face of crisis, the latter sometimes allows or even supports social democratic parties to form governments in the existing parliamentary system and act as crisis managers on their behalf. Such governments play this role through state welfarism (providing relief to the poor) and by persuading the exploiters and the exploited to agree to a set of compromises (in the name of industrial peace and development, national interest etc.) so that class conflicts are kept within bounds and a revolutionary conflagration is avoided. In the process, however, they get thoroughly embroiled in bourgeois parliamentarism and thus assimilated in the capitalist system itself, and acquire all the vices of this system such as corruption, anti-people bureaucratic attitude and so on. Such cases have been experienced in many a country; and also in our country at the state level.

To avoid confusion, it should be remembered that owing to peculiar historical circumstances, Russian communists used to call themselves Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. It was only after the revolution that the name of communist party was formally adopted. So in most writings of Lenin, “social democracy” is used in a positive sense, meaning communists.