The Revolutionary Party versus Economist Socialism
Economism in the socialist context is a revisionism of Marxism and the path to creeping reformism. The basic doctrine of economist socialism is to restrict or limit the proletariat to, at best, trade union consciousness without the need for a revolutionary party. Lenin identified this tendency among the nascent international socialist movement in pre-Socialist revolutionary times. The Economists saw trade union demands, for instance, for better working conditions, better wages etc as a means to an end with no revolutionary political program.
We see contemporary examples of this tendency in the European social-democratic parties, Fabianism and especially the iron fist of Capitalism clothed in the metaphorical soft glove of ‘social democracy’ in the Scandinavian countries’ regimes which are used as bulwarks against real revolutionary socialist parties’ growth and during the Cold War, the best way to win workers away from the great threat to them from the USSR to the East.
Historically Eduard Bernstein was the influential chief ideologue of this counter-revolutionary tendency who used his past friendship with the co-founder of scientific socialism, Friedrich Engels, to sell his brand of pseudo-Marxism. This reformist tendency in contemporary times can be seen in the likes of the British Labour party, the SDP in Germany and other social democratic parties aligned to what is misleadingly referred to as the ‘Socialist International’ which is the rump of what was known as the ‘2nd International’ (it even includes the SDLP in it’s ‘tendency’) that revolutionary socialists left well over a century ago as hopelessly reformist.
In 1901, Lenin demolished the reformist/economism of Bernstein et al and can be read in ‘What is to be done: Burning Questions of our Movement’ in which he critiqued this revisionism of Marxism, that advocated the end to revolutionary socialist parties and their replacement by parties of mere social reform, not to mention embracing bourgeois institutions. As Lenin stated:
“This fear of criticism displayed by the advocates of freedom of criticism cannot be attributed solely to craftiness (although, on occasion, no doubt craftiness is brought into play: it would be improvident to expose the young and as yet frail shoots of the new trend. to attacks by opponents). No, the majority of the Economists look with sincere resentment (as by the very nature of Economism they must) upon all theoretical controversies, factional disagreements, broad political questions, plans for organising revolutionaries, etc. “Leave all that to the people abroad!” said a fairly consistent Economist to me one day, thereby expressing a very widespread (and again purely trade-unionist) view; our concern is the working-class movement, the workers, organisations here, in our localities; all the rest is merely the invention of doctrinaires, “the overrating of ideology”, as the authors of the letter, published in Iskra, No. 12, expressed it, in unison with Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10.”
Of course, in the contemporary context with Capitalism’s cyclic dynamic creating the most vicious, draconian offensives against the working-class, militant trade unionism is progressive and much needed as one of the only mass organisations of the proletariat. However, one must be cognisant of trade unions’ limitations for real change. For a lasting freedom from austerity, a revolutionary party with clear political aims can be the only vehicle for the creation of a Socialist Republic in Ireland and in other countries.
Workers of all lands unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!