The Class Struggle in Theory

  • Author / Creator
    Pabst, Kurt
  • This study considers the relation between the intellectual character of labour’s political leadership and the phenomenon of authoritarianism in Marxism’s political history. It focuses on the European labour movement in the period between the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864 and the Bolshevik revolution in 1917-22. The need to critically engage this history comes from an awareness of the negative impact it continues to have on global labour’s contemporary efforts to construct a coherent class identity and organize itself politically as a revolutionary social force.
    The aim of the study is to imagine, following a critique of Marxism’s political experience, what the framework of a revitalized Marxist political imaginary might look like. To arrive at such a perspective, the study has deliberately avoided the temptation to excuse Marxism of its culpability in this history adopting instead the spirit of ruthless criticism espoused by a young Marx. Therefore, the study relies on the premises of Marx’s method of immanent critique: a process of theorizing which identities the presence of unexamined givens by means of which an uncritical attitude can be shown defining the relation of the knower (i.e., the Marxist) to the social conditions (i.e., the class interests of the proletariat) from which comes their knowledge (i.e., the politically revolutionary agency of the working class).

    The results of this research argue Marxist authoritarianism is a phenomenon of the fetish character of labour’s intellectual and political (i.e., Marxist) leadership, which is ultimately rooted in a postulate of the capitalist social division of labour. To be more specific, it argues the authoritarian dénouement of the European labour movement is the consequence of a contradiction inherent in Marxism’s conception of politics between the character and form of relations established on the basis of a didactic principle and those established on the basis of a principle of self-emancipation.
    Once the didactic principle inscribed itself into the institutional form of labour’s political organizations, the intellectual character of labour’s political leadership acquired its fetish character. The relations presupposed by the principle of self-emancipation, therefore, never acquired a material existence beyond their articulation in knowledge as Marxist theory, which was then used to ground the authority of labour’s political leadership over the class as a whole. As a result, rather than provide the framework in which labour could model for itself the emancipated relations its revolutionary agency sought to realize, labour’s political organizations replicated politically the same relations of domination defining its socio-economic experience.
    By tracing the development of this contradiction through the succession of institutional forms taken by Marxism in its efforts to establish its hegemony over the European labour movement—beginning with the International Workingmen’s Association, followed by the German Social Democratic Party, and ending with the Russian Communist Party—a picture of Marxism’s revitalized political imaginary begins to emerge. For contained in the emancipatory class interests Marxism deduced from the proofs of labour’s structural subordination to capital are the two principles of communist social-economic organization: collective ownership of the means of production and a production/distribution process socialized by practices of democratic decision-making. Should these principles form the basis of Marxism political organization, no longer will it simply offer the working class the conditions of its emancipated relations in knowledge: it will provide them with a concrete example of these relations in reality.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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