The Purpose of Intervention: A Discussion Text
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Intervention is a word that is both deployed and derided by various communists. Its most basic definition is direct participation in manifestations of the class struggle as a communist or communist organization. At the lowest level, this can mean the terms of engaging with our co-workers at our own workplaces. At the highest levels, it’s about how we become co-participants of our fellow workers when large scale or dramatic episodes of the class struggle break out.
“On what basis do communists participate in the class struggle?” is the underlying question in discussions on the topic of intervention.
As the fraction of the working-class which has already been won to the necessity of proletarian revolution and the socialist programme, communists have had ample time and opportunity to explore different approaches to this question over the last 150+ years. If we are the lever to transform labor’s class struggles into the fight for power in the historic sense, we may also facilitate the extraction of immediate material improvements; but to what ends?
In becoming the personification of labor’s lived experience and historic memory we can be and historically have been useful in the struggle for immediate improvements—be it winning new demands or resisting deteriorations; in other words, assisting labor’s encroachments on capital or defending labor from capital’s encroachments.
Such direct participation as the proletariat’s immediate accomplices in the class struggle has two consequences: communists affecting non-communists, and non-communists affecting communists. The experience of intervention is not unilateral. It’s on this point that I think the political basis of intervention in the class struggle is grounded.
This bilateral relation can be the political basis of communist intervention insofar that the struggle for immediate improvements– labor’s demands of or resistance to capital—is the mechanism by which communists develop as communists. Communists are not, by default, the bearer of special skills or experience that can make a tangible difference in the lives of their co-workers and/or other segments of the working-class.
The fight for immediate improvements is the training ground through which those already won to the necessity of proletarian revolution and socialism develop the skills and experience that can make a tangible difference.
This is accomplished by defining roles and tasks (in other words, a function) for communists in the midst of labor’s class struggles. Ends such as contingent victory, escalation and/or increased organization of the class is accomplished on the basis of such roles and such tasks by communists carrying out their function within the terms and conditions presented in the course of any episode of the class struggle. Winning formal leadership must be secondary to acting as a constructive and creative force; practical usefulness to our co-workers and fellow workers is more important than winning a formal (and hollow) mantle of leadership.
Being practically useful, exercising an influence on any given situation and defining (and carrying out) the communist function in the class struggle necessarily means identifying with and working to win those segments of the class who emerge as organic leaders, who demonstrate a readiness to volunteer for activities connected to the class struggle and an eagerness to engage and discuss class issues: what the French syndicalists called the ‘militant minority’. Sometimes the constituents of this segment of the class formalize their role as shop stewards, committeemen or other positions in the trade union structure; sometimes they only emerge as such during one particular struggle or become galvanized and spurred to action by a single issue. We must be where they are by becoming what they are, while patiently working to win them to the socialist programme and so become us.
The struggles for higher wages, shorter hours, over grievances, against employer chiseling of working conditions, for practical unity among the various segments of the class and all other immediate issues through direct participation in the class struggle is how communists are tested and develop to become the raw materials necessary for the revolutionary organization capable of being the lever for the struggle for power by the working-class: the class political party.
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