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Facing Reality

James, C.L.R., Lee, Grace C., Chaulieu, Pierre
Publisher:  Bewick/Ed, Detroit, USA
Year Published:  1974   First Published:  1958
Pages:  174pp  
Dewey:  331.88
Resource Type:  Book

Inspired by the October 1956 Hungarian workers' revolution against Stalinist oppression, as well as the U.S. workers' "wild-cat" strikes (against capital and the union bureaucracies), the authors looked ahead to the rise of new mass emancipatory movements by African Americans as well as anti-colonialist/anti-imperialist currents in Africa and Asia. Virtually alone among the radical texts of the time, Facing Reality also rejected modern society's mania for "conquering nature," and welcomed women's struggles "for new relations between the sexes."


Table of Contents:
I. The Workers Councils
II. The Whole World
III. The Self-Confessed Bankruptcy of Official Society
IV. End of a Philosophy
V. New Society: New People
VI. The Marxist Organization: 1903-1958
VII. What To Do and How To Do It

Loren Goldner writes:
James et al. argue that the Bolshevik vanguard party was appropriate to the conditions of Russia from 1903 to 1923, presumably from the Bolshevik-Menshevik split to the end of Lenin's political life. But, they argue further, after the 1930's triumph of the one-party state in its welfare-statist, Stalinist and fascist forms, the transfer of this model to the new situation, in Russia and in the West, was an anachronism. Stalinism, in their view, was symptomatic of the ferocity with which the state had to suppress what the authors call the already-existing "new society", and from this they conclude that no vanguard party is any longer necessary for revolution. They see the Hungarian Revolution as confirmation of this. For them, the Hungarian workers overthrew the Stalinist state with no vanguard party in sight, and similarly fought very creatively against overwhelming odds against the subsequent Soviet invasion.

Leaving aside the accuracy of this account (and there is no doubt much truth to it), James et al. do arrive at the intriguing idea that the ferocity of state control in the post-1933 period 1) expresses the "immediacy" of revolution in our epoch, i.e. the high level of general development present in today's working class which capital must suppress and 2) is the collective experience that prepares a revolution beyond vanguardism. The authors (in contrast to many others of the libertarian current) are quite right to say there was nothing "spontaneous" about Hungary, but that it was prepared during years of discussions among workers in response to their experience of Stalinist "planning".

Another (in my view) unique aspect of the book, again in contrast to so much libertarian theory, is its affirmation of the idea of leadership, simultaneous with its rejection of reducing leadership to some formal vanguard grouping. Most libertarian anti-vanguard formulations always immediately reduce any "leaders" to "bureaucrats". What James et al. reject is the FORMAL relationship of self-appointed vanguards to the historical experience of the class, much of which the latter are incapable of recognizing. In their view (and here I fully agree with them) the leaders of different struggles are not pre-selected by formal association in a vanguard organization, but from among those with the particular talents and skills of leaders, adequate (or not) to the tasks of the real movement. A great strength of this text, in my opinion, is that it avoids both the conventional libertarian rejection of "leaders" as a swear word, and at the same time the formal understanding of leadership stemming from the conventional, incarnationist-body of Christ concept of the Trotskyist milieu (from which the authors all emerged).


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