Last updated: December 26, 2004
Proletarism is anti-revisionist Marxism
for the 21st century

Factory strike in Samara, Russia (1997) organized
by Isayev's Stachkom (ie: strike committee)
From the Russian workers' movement (with experience in underground organizing under the rule of Brezhnev's "communists" and militant strikes under the rule of Yeltsin's "democrats") has come a proposal to recognize, with a new name, a decisive break with the treachery of the "communist" leadership -- which enslaved the working class and betrayed the revolutionary movement in a way comparable to the great betrayal of 1914.

The great betrayal of 1914

A rare photo captures death by artillery
during the first world war.
The original name of the communist movement (in the late 1800's and early 1900's) was "social-democracy". The first social-democratic parties were created with the help and advice of Marx and Engels. But these parties were corrupted by reformism -- and when World War I erupted in 1914, these parties betrayed the working class, sided with their bourgeois governments and urged workers to "defend the fatherland" and shoot workers from other countries.

At that time, Lenin argued that the name "social-democracy" had been hopelessly and permanently compromised -- and should be abandoned

Diagram shows the trench system used on the battlefield
in order to avoid confusing workers. Lenin proposed that the revolutionary movement should make use of the name "communism" (which had been used earlier, in the mid 1800's). The name "social-democracy" was left to the traitors who had become obedient bourgeois lap dogs -- and today this term has become synonymous with "reformism" (ie: the idea that the bourgeoisie will allow the working class to come to power through a series of gradual reforms).

Suffocation of the revolution
led to the rule of a new exploiting class

The degeneration of the Soviet Revolution took place in such a way that great unclarity was created concerning what had happened and why.   At the time of Lenin's incapacitation in 1922-23, the Civil War and imperialist intervention (1918-1920) had shattered the Soviet economy -- famine was widespread -- and martial law prevailed.   A series of painful emergency measures had been taken which included:
(1) the merger of the communist party and the state and
(2) the suppression of nearly all criticism of the ruling party/state.

A former prisoner is removed from a work camp
These emergency measures were necessary at the time but were intended to be temporary. However events were to lead in a different direction.   At this time the rule of society by the working class was more of a goal (10 or 20 years distant) than an existing reality.

In order for the working class to effectively rule society as a class it needs to have a political life which is independent from the ruling state.   In practice this means that the workers need the fundamental democratic rights of speech and independent organization.   More than this, the rule of society by the working class requires a clear distinction in principle between:
(a) workers' organizations (which have influence based on voluntary compliance) and
(b) the state apparatus (which has the power of coercion -- ie: force).

These necessary conditions for the class rule of the workers could not be met in the extreme conditions of early 1920's Soviet Russia without setting in motion a train of event which would have quickly led to the restoration of bourgeois rule.   With a functioning economy, running factories and electricity it would have been possible for the Soviet revolution to lessen the intense dissatisfaction of the peasantry and create conditions for the rule of society by the working class.   But these things would take 10 or 20 years to achieve.   And this much time did not exist.   Under the considerable pressure which existed the ruling party/state degenerated (probably in the late 1920's).

Without workers having the right to organize independently -- there was no powerful and effective force to oppose the degeneration of the ruling party/state -- and a new exploiting class emerged which ruled over the workers like feudal lords over serfs.

The suffocation of the Soviet revolution resulted in a crisis of theory which has persisted for many decades as working class activists in all countries have struggled to confront the nature of working class rule in the modern world.

The crisis of theory has paralysed
the revolutionary workers' movement

What has remained of progressive movement
has been dominated by a mixture of craven
reformism and squabbling sectarian cults.
In the many decades since the suffocation of the Soviet revolution there have been countless attempts by working class activists and revolutionary leaders to sort out how it was that Lenin's October 1917 revolution, once the shinning hope of all oppressed humankind, degenerated into a permanent police state.   Without a clear understanding that the goal of the workers' movement was something better than the emergence of a new ruling class -- the revolutionary workers' movement was crippled -- and has fallen into complete paralysis. What has remained of the progressive movement has been dominated by a mixture of craven reformism and squabbling sectarian cults.

Innumerable social-democratic (ie: reformist) trends have taken advantage of this degeneration to urge activists to give up on the idea of fundamental change -- and to instead enter into demoralizing alliances with liberal institutions or with a corrupt, bourgeois-controlled strata of trade union bureaucrats, religious leaders, poverty pimps and progressive media personalities.   Also popular has been an assortment of third world nationalist political trends in which activists pin their hopes on various third world dictators who have come into conflict with western imperialism.

Many revolutionary (or would-be revolutionary) trends have also attempted to confront the crisis created by the suffocation of the October revolution.   Many Trotskyist trends emerged in the late 1920's to offer their alternative to Stalinism.   The 1960's witnessed the emergence of the Albanian-Maoist critique of Krushevite revisionism.   And all along a number of anarchist or left syndicalist trends have argued that everything would have been fine if only the Bolsheviks had not suppressed their enemies.

Many of these trends still exist today, often doing useful revolutionary work -- but also often falling into the reformist swamp or isolating themselves as sectarian cults (or both).   None of these trends have created the solid theoretical basis (ie: breaking from the root of problem: the merger of the party/state and lack of workers' democratic rights of speech and organization) that would overcome the crisis of theory and allow the revolutionary movement to unite around the clear goal of the rule of the working class, as a class, in the context of modern conditions.

And few of these trends have understood the immense potential of the emerging revolution in communications which will allow revolutionary activists to create electronic news services (and other mass channels) that could effectively leverage the contributions, comments, questions and criticisms of hundreds of thousands of activists. Many of these trends are unable to make effective use of elists and web-based forums because their bankruptcy on the theoretical front has left them unable to answer simple questions or reply to criticisms (ie: these trends are afraid of political transparency).

We need to work together for a decisive break
with the treachery of the past

Gregory Isayev, arrested for organizing workers
under the rule of both Brezhnev and Yeltsin, is
known outside of Russia because of the internet.
The workers' revolutionary movement today is without effective leadership. There are, today, no revolutionary leaders with the clarity of mind of Lenin. But revolutionary activists are making use of the emerging revolution in communications to collaborate and to coordinate our actions -- and to gradually overcome our ignorance. And a number of us believe that the time has come to make use of a new name to signal a clear and decisive break with the treachery of the "communist" leaders who have betrayed the working class -- just as a decisive break was made in 1914.

Many key events in the last few years (the collapse of Soviet revisionism, the emergence of email and the web, the politicization of hundreds of thousands as a result of US imperialism's latest adventures in the Middle East) are creating conditions for the re-emergence of a revolutionary mass movement that commands the respect of serious militant activists everywhere and is deserving of the attention and loyalty of the working class.

The movement to liberate the working class and all humanity
from bourgeois rule will once again stand at the center
of the hearts and consciousness of progressive activists.
There is a need for a decisive break both from the treachery of the "communist" leaders and the cluelessness of those trends on the left that are mired in reformism and sectarianism. In order for this break to serve the revolutionary movement it must be a break, not from the right (as urged by craven reformists) but from the left (to declare war on the bourgeoisie and all their flunkies) -- in order to once again put the overthrow of bourgeois rule on the agenda of hundreds of thousands of activists worldwide.

The proposal from the workers' movement in Russia, where the revolution was first and most decisively betrayed, for a new name for the revolutionary workers' movement appears to me to be consistent with the demands of our time.

The term "proletarism" helps to emphasize that the goal of the revolutionary workers' movement is the rule of society by the working class as a class -- rather than the rule of an organization which claims to represent the interests of the workers. Only this can lead to the transition to the ultimate goal of a classless society with no state whatsoever.
Ben Seattle -- Aug 11, 2004

More info and links

Discuss this article on the POF-200 email list

More about
the life of Gregory Isayev
(an interview)

See also: A. B. Razlatsky and "The Second Communist Manifesto" (below)

Gregory Isayev's organization:
The Party of the Proletarian Dictatorship in: English Russian French Spanish German Finnish

Ben Seattle has discussed the Proletarism proposal on the POF-200 list on: June 7, June 13, June 20 and July 20

Related theoretical material can be found at the Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State including the articles: The World for which We Fight, Finding the Confidence to Build the Future, The Future Transparent Workers' State and Politics, Economics and the Mass Media when the working class runs the show

Ben Seattle's website

More about the History of the Universe and Communism

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A. B. Razlatsky and "The Second Communist Manifesto" (1979)

In the 1970's a Russian intellectual, A. B. Razlatsky, influenced perhaps by the cultural revolution in China (as were many at the time) concluded that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" that supposedly existed in his country was a fiction disguising the rule of a parasitic strata that was exploiting the working class and suppressing its revolutionary energies.

Razlatsky responded by creating an underground communist organization that aimed to restore a genuine proletarian dictatorship to the then Soviet Union. Razlatsky's underground group organized workers for strikes and similar work stoppages in defense of their basic rights. The authorities eventually discovered the existence of this group and in December 1981 Razlatsky and one of his collaborators, Grigorii Isaev, were arrested and sent to the Gulag. Eventually, under Gorbachev, they were released. Razlatsky died in 1989. Isaev went on to lead a very militant strike (in 1997?) of five thousand workers (which included a factory occupation and the months' long blockage of the main avenue in Samara, a city of 1.5 million). Isaev was arrested twice in the course of this struggle and each time released under international pressure.

Razlatsky's theoretical work includes "The Second Communist Manifesto" (1979), "Notes in the Margins of History" (1989) and many other works. He is most well known for two theses:

The political economy of the Soviet Union had more similarities to feudalism than either capitalism or socialism. In a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat the workers' party would be completely distinct from the state (so much so that party members would be required to resign from the party before taking a position within the workers' state).

Grigorii Isaev has continued with Razlatsky's work, founding the Samara Stachkom (ie: strike committee) and the Party of the Proletarian Dictatorship (PDP). On the theoretical front, Isaev has advanced the thesis that the term communism should be abandoned as the name of the movement aimed at the overthrow of bourgeois rule--and replaced by the term "proletarism". The precedent for this is Lenin's advocacy, following the great betrayal of 1914, that the term "social democracy" be abandoned in favor of the term "communism". The revisionist betrayal of Lenin's 1917 revolution by a corrupt strata of self-serving feudal lords, argues Isaev, is fully comparable to the 1914 betrayal by the workers' parties which abandoned the interests of the working class and sided with their own bourgeois rulers at the outbreak of the first world war.

(from "proletarism" section of Proletarian Democracy, by Ben Seattle)