‘the Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.’
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But I bet you were waiting for the big ‘but’. As in, ‘I’m not racist, but…’ What we have instead is:
We Communists are not separate from the working class, but…
What was Marx’s own ‘but’? This:
‘The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only… they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat…’ (425)
Marx is actually saying here that Communists are not different from other working class parties, and the working class itself, except in the cases in which they are different.
That difference is that Communists ‘point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat’. That may be a nice difference. It may even be a difference which genuinely represents ‘the entire proletariat’. However, it is still a difference. Thus the Communists are different from the working class and their representative parties, regardless of how benign or malign that difference is. The benign nature of the difference doesn’t stop it from being a difference. However, I would argue that this elite nature, this vanguardism, this ‘pointing out and bringing to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat’, is at the heart of the problem that is Communism or Marxism. These quotes alone show us that Communism is not only non-democratic, but anti-democratic. The ostensibly benign nature of the Communists representing the ‘interests of the entire proletariat’ does signify a rupture with the working class.
Not only that. The Marxist analysis of class and ideology can be applied to the Communists themselves.
If class determines ideology, then class determines the ideology of Communists too. The Class of Communists represents a Vanguard or Elite Class, whether or not it attempts to ‘represent’ or ‘work for’ the working class. That very act of distinguishing themselves from the working class, as Marx acknowledges, sets the Communists up as effectively another class.
Perhaps Communists would say that you cannot set up a class, such as the Communist Vanguard Class (CVC), if it does not have an economic basis. That may true according to strict Marxist criteria, but weren’t most – or all - of the Communist Vanguard Class also joint members of the Middle Class or the Capitalist Class (as most SWP members still are today)? The Communist Vanguard Class was a subgroup of the Capitalist Class. Their economic underpinning was the same as that which underpinned the Middle Class. Thus, according to Marx’s own criteria, the economic reality which determined the Middle Class also determined the consciousness of its subgroup – the Communist Vanguard Class - even if that ideology was in fact at odds with the Capitalist Class. This being at odds with capitalism was itself determined by the socio-economic reality that was capitalism, which I think Marx would have accepted.
Despite all that, we still must try to understand what precisely Marx meant by ‘pointing out and bringing to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat’. If I have distinguished the Communist Vanguard Class from the Working Class (WC), then doesn’t it follow that the former will not completely know what are genuinely the ‘common interests of the entire proletariat’ and thus won’t be able to ‘point out and bring to the front’ these ‘common interests’? Here again I am applying Marxist ‘laws’ to the Communist Vanguard Class itself. If socio-economic conditions and class determine ideology, then the ideology of the Communist Vanguard Class will be at odds with the ideology of the Working Class. It cannot be any other way, according to Marxism itself.