The Spontaneity and Revolutionary Vanguard!

By Umar Shahid

The recent meteoric rise of Pushtoon Tahfaz Movement (PTM) has captured the attention of youth and deprived masses of Pakistan. In a short span of time it attracted sympathies of revolutionaries and progressive forces from all over the world. Despite media blackout and backlash of Pakistani State, it is growing and pulling a large number of people belonging to different nationalities and sections of society. In fact, this movement has a certain leadership as the driving force behind this is so-called “spontaneity of masses”. In past decades we have witnessed sporadic mass eruptions. In Pakistan, we witnessed countrywide protests against the heinous murder of Mashal Khan.

These students and moss movements on real issues have shown enormous potential for uprooting this system. In the last decades from the #OccupyWallStreet movement to Arab spring, the masses have shown their courage and power to change society. These mass upheavals represent a decisive new stage in the class struggle. Rosa Luxemburg explained, “The unconscious comes before the conscious.” These movements mark the beginning of a process by which the majority of working-class people can become conscious of their situation, of the whole range of forces arrayed against them, of their collective power, and can achieve the fighting unity of their ranks and the collective discipline which makes their conquest of power possible. This is the process in Marx’s words is the change of the proletariat, “from a class in itself to a class for itself”. As Lenin put it, spontaneity is “essentially nothing other than the germinal form of consciousness.”

History has proved that masses don’t enter the arena of revolution with years of planning rather these crucial moments happen when the longstanding order becomes no longer tolerable to the masses, thus they break over all barriers and rejects all old norms. The question of the spontaneity of masses has been much-debated in Marxist circles. Marxists always stress the significance of mass action by the majority, especially of working class. The working class is only class in society that can bring true emancipation. Marx stressed that emancipation of working class is the task of workers themselves. If we look at the whole spectrum then it is clear that masses don’t revolt with exact blueprints of future society rather they react against their sufferings. These crucial movements are exceptions of history when people fully realize the nature of their exploitation and get conscious of their living conditions. As Lenin often said, “Life teaches.” The masses learn most through their own experiences. During strikes workers consciousness multiplies within moments. When they see Police being used to suppress their movements, the true nature of the bosses, the state, and even capitalism gets exposed to them. It raises their morale and uplifts their spirits. Lenin wrote, “Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx. Revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time are the masses of the people in a position to come forward as actively as creators of a new social order as at a time of the revolution. At such times the people are capable of performing miracles”.

However, unlike Anarchists, Marxists don’t just see spontaneity as single and isolated phenomena to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism. It must be understood that there is also no such movement, which is entirely spontaneous and completely lacks the conscious elements. Dialectically, these two things are inseparable and enrich each other. It always blends spontaneity and consciousness in any mass upsurge. Spontaneity has been a driving force that gives the movement a mammoth advantage. It provides insurrection as an unpredictable character, thus making it harder to be suppressed or vanish. It also forcibly brings millions of people into the political activity that had never been expressed or performed before. Spontaneity in action opens minds of masses, removes their fears, and pushes them into the realm of history. The masses realize their true power and all prejudices of the past evaporate like a drop of water on hot iron.  Those who had been neglected, suppressed and bogged down, get a new lease of life and enter the arena of history where they perform such actions which were not predicted even by their own leadership. Thus, Lenin calls spontaneity as “consciousness in embryonic form”. In words of Trotsky, “The history of a revolution is, for us, first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”

The causes of spontaneous mass erupts lie in dynamics of capitalism. Capitalism was a historical leap forward in human history. It has given a massive boost to productive forces thus paving the road for stunning creations. Similarly, it gave rise to the proletariat and bourgeois classes; the exploitative nature of capitalism gave rise to workers struggle. “There is spontaneity and spontaneity”, says Lenin, pointing out that compared to the early proletarian revolts that took in the form of simply smashing machinery, modern economic strikes might even be viewed as “conscious”. Even Lenin remarked the machine-smashing revolts themselves expressed an embryonic form of proletarian consciousness. Through generations of struggle, workers won many reforms for themselves. It includes organizations of working class that gave rise to collective actions. However, later on, we have seen that under enormous pressure of capitalism early formations of working-class i.e. trade Unions, mass parties etc that have sunk deeply into a swamp of reformism and bureaucratization. Trotsky explained that trade unions were organized to protect rights, uplifting material and cultural conditions of workers however they have been effectively turned into “Police of Capital.” These traditional workers’ organizations turned into great obstacles for their movements and a spanner in the wheel of history. Therefore any genuine voices for Socialism and their rights have been brutality crushed by their own traditional leaders in the present epoch. Thus spontaneous actions are regarded as a powerful weapon against these petrified reformist apparatuses. Without waiting for a signal from their leaders, working-class resorts to their own mass action thus defying not only their own leadership but also smashing the hurdles in the path to their salvation.

However, there are limitations of these spontaneous actions. Dialectically, in early stages of movement spontaneity becomes its strength but later on turns into the opposite. Once the driving force for a revolutionary movement becomes its main weaknesses at a point. The same elements that had given rise to the eruption push it backwards. Here the role of the revolutionary party, perspective and program become crucial to push it forward. At this stage of confusion and inertia in the revolutionary process, spontaneous waves shift the balance of power in favour of ruling class. In these moments, the fate of generations decided.

Secondly, under normality of bourgeois society; the spontaneous struggles of the masses usually take the form of reformist trends within the confines of the capitalist system. Even during revolutionary times, there is always the danger of reformism overtaking the movement. Due to the dominant form of a spontaneous struggle, it usually concentrates on immediate demands and seeks reforms within capitalism. If reforms are won, even the major reforms, they will eventually be lost again unless the capitalist system is overthrown. The experience of the 1968-69 revolution is clear. The reforms won during the Bhutto era were brutally crushed by the Zia dictator. The hopes of masses were dashed and they were subjected to worst oppression in the history of the country. It’s also true that spontaneous mass upsurge their own leaderships’ program in their mind is transformed by the aspiration of masses in action.

Lenin explained the problems faced by such movements;

…The spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology… for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism… and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie.

What are tasks of revolutionaries? Trotsky elaborated, “The powerful steam evaporated for lack of a piston that would have compressed at the decisive moment. Certainly, in the final analysis, the driving force is the steam, i.e., the energy of mass mobilization and mass struggle, and not the piston itself.” Hence without this steam, the piston remains empty shell, yet without this piston, even the most intense steam is wasted and accomplishes nothing. The tasks of revolutionaries are critical in this situation. Lenin always stresses on daily struggle of workers and revolutionaries must participate in them. The limitations of movement pose threat to its survival. The real emancipation of working class and deprived masses is only possible by overthrowing of capitalism. Contrary to the previous struggles against slavery and feudalism, fight for socialism required conscious efforts. Without a revolutionary organization, this task cannot be achieved. When the movement ebbs, the process of differentiation inevitably begins to take place within the opposition camp. Also, in this process, individuals’ retreat back into habits and routines of past and people go back to their normality. Hence vacuum is filled by reformist organizations such as unions, reformist parties, and so on. Capitalism’s main characteristic is to regain itself from every worst crisis. Until it is overthrown by a socialist revolution, the misery will continue. To say that the working class spontaneously gravitates toward revolutionary socialist politics is true only in the most general sense because of people’s ideas do not develop in a vacuum; they are shaped and influenced by the prevailing conditions and by the alternatives on offer. Between spontaneity, organization, and the developing consciousness there is a dialectical and reciprocal relationship, all aspects of this relationship must be grasped in their totality. Lenin expresses a similar idea in his pamphlet, What Is To Be Done?

The crux of the matter is, how is one to understand the statement that the mass working-class movement will “determine the tasks”? It may be interpreted in one of two ways. Either it means bowing to the spontaneity of this movement, or it means that the mass movement places before us new theoretical, political, and organizational tasks, far more complicated than those that might have satisfied us in the period before the rise of the mass movement.

Therefore capitalism is the system of barbarism, it only destroys lives of masses. To overthrow it there is a necessity to build an alternative – A Socialist Revolution and a revolutionary party to successfully guide and lead it— needs to be built!