Image: Engels’ caricature of the petty-bourgeoisie, hyper-individualistic Young Hegelians, laconically described as “die freien”.
By a commentator for Tjen Folket Media.
Orginally published July 29, 2020, last updated November 2, 2020.
This is an debate article. Analysis and viewpoints belongs to the author.
All revolutionaries grow up in the system that we stand in opposition towards. We grow up with a class background and a class position that influences our thinking. We grow up in a bourgeois society where the thoughts of the bourgeoisie are the ruling thoughts.
Therefore, we grow up strongly influenced by capitalist individualism, and where it is the bourgeois ego that is fostered. The struggle of liberalism against the old era’s collectives (ancestry, tribes, extended family, feudal relations) was waged under the banner of bourgeois individualism. Karl Marx pointed out that this was a false liberation, and that “by freedom is meant, under the present bourgeois conditions of production, free trade, free selling and buying,” and that this is not freedom for the proletariat.
The opposite of bourgeois individualism is not a “radical individualism”, as the petty-bourgeois yearns for. It is not the anarchy but the collective and the unified action that liberates the proletariat. Stalin said anarchism believes in liberating the collective through the liberation of the individual, while communists see that it is only through the liberation of the collective that the individual truly becomes free. These are not two different roads to the same goal, but both different goals and different roads.
The standpoint of the proletariat, and the standpoint of the proletarian revolutionary in particular, is the complete subjugation of the individual to the collective. The communist ideal is to unite with the class, with the masses of people, and to submit oneself to a unified discipline. We stand for democratic centralism, principally centralism. Unity is our strength. The proletariat’s only advantage is that we are the largest and strongest class, but this strength only comes to fruition if it is united in common struggle, in common action. A majority that is split is not a majority, but several splintered minorities.
All of our class’s history of struggle shows that we win when we unite ourselves under a centralized leadership that stands at the fore for revolution. And on the other hand, we can only lose when the leadership is liquidated, or is separated from the masses, and when the enemy exploits our differences and our subsequent confusion in order to split us.
To unite oneself is to submit oneself. It does not mean that you always do what you want when you want. It means discarding one’s bourgeois ego, one’s ambitions on behalf of one’s own person, and to see where the career hunting, body-image pressures, and the nagging about self-realization have their origin. Bourgeois egoism stems directly from the bourgeois mode of production, from capitalism, with its particular focus on competition, purchase and sale, supply and demand, and the bourgeois illusion of “free choice”, “free will”, and “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps”.
It is not compatible with true revolutionary and proletarian organizing to run one’s own solo projects and promoting one’s own person at the expense of collective, united and organized action. This is by no means a condemnation of individuals, the products of this society with their entire upbringing and experience, who go their own way and try to do their best for socialism and the revolution. The first step is the most important one. Setting oneself into motion is a prerequisite for being able to contribute. But the next step must be to unite oneself with the class, to organize with the class, and combating individualism and the bourgeois ego by all means, so that one can enter the conscious collective where one submits oneself to the collective, the class’s leadership, and the revolutionary leadership.
The Communist Party is a party where communists unite themselves voluntarily. But by uniting, one consciously renounce voluntarity from then on. One commits one’s life to the party and to the revolution, and giving one’s life is throwing voluntarity into the sea.
We do not foster the collective as a goal in itself. To submit oneself is not a virtue that stands above the classes. It is not an “eternal morality”. It is a concrete answer to the demands of the revolution. Our class can only liberate itself through revolution. Revolution is only possible through disciplined and united action under a firm leadership. To submit to this is to break with the bourgeois life and to discard the bourgeois ego. Not because it is good in itself, or a goal in itself, but because it is necessary in order to reach the grand goal of a communist world. A world where all states and parties wither away, along with the abolition of classes. A world where the individual is truly free, because all of humanity has been freed from class society forever.
Nor will individualism flourish under communism in the same bourgeois manner. Self-assertion and self-cultivation belong to capitalism, and will disappear along with the capitalist mode of production. Engels said that freedom is an insight into necessity. When we are familiar with all limitations and necessities, we can act in accordance with these, and it is only then that we are truly free.
On the way there, there is a true freedom in casting away the bourgeois ego itself, the bourgeois pressures and competition, and in indulging oneself in one’s entirety with the proletariat and the revolution. The oppressed have had experiences with this again and again. It is only when one stands shoulder to shoulder with one’s comrades, grasp the gun, and seize power for one’s own class that one is truly free in this world.
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