Drew Povey, Socialist Labour

The emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself. (Lenin, 1995)

Following on from Marx and Engels, Lenin supported strikes and other forms of working class collective action. He saw these as the seeds of socialism. The confidence that strikes provided to workers made the idea of socialism appear more realistic.

The concentration of workers at the economic heart of the system creates a powerful force capable of overthrowing capitalism and creating a new socialist society based on need rather than profit. This same force can also be used to win immediate concessions.

Like Marx, Lenin argued that workers ideas change in struggle. As people try to change their conditions, their experience can challenge many of the dominant ideas in society. All strikes involve workers breaking with the routine of everyday exploitation. That process can give workers a sense of their collective strength. This enables them to win their immediate aims, but also dream and believe that another world is possible.

In “What Is To Be Done?” (1902) Lenin argued that trade union consciousness arises automatically from day to day trade union struggles. But that socialist consciousness comes from outside of this struggle. It arises from the generalisations of socialist leaders, but they learn from great events in working class history.

Marx learnt from on the experiences of workers struggling in northern English industrial towns such as Manchester, where Engels spent much of his life. Later, strikes across France, Belgium and Switzerland influenced their ideas, as did the Paris Commune. Lenin learnt that socialism was immediately on the agenda in Russia from the practical experience of the Petersburg Soviet.

In 1899 Valdimir Ilyich Lenin wrote:

“Strikes, therefore, teach the workers to unite; they show them that they can struggle against the capitalists only when they are united; strikes teach the workers to think of the struggle of the whole working class against the whole class of factory owners and against the arbitrary, police government. This is the reason that socialists call strikes “a school of war,” a school in which the workers learn to make war on their enemies for the liberation of the whole people, of all who labour, from the yoke of government officials and from the yoke of capital.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here