We cannot achieve freedom by merely wishing for it. And to see what is wrong with capitalism and what is right with socialism is still not to see how to pass from one to the other. About this I want to make simply two last points. The first is that because our society is unfree in certain specific ways, the working class will not and cannot find the road to freedom spontaneously. And, since the participation of every worker in the decision-making which governs his life is a condition of freedom as I have discussed it, it follows that, until the working class finds this way, no one else can find it for them. So the free society cannot be a goal for the politically conscious individual, except by way of moving with the working class into conscious political action. Thus the path to freedom must be by means of some organization which is dedicated not to building freedom but to moving the working class to build it. The necessity for this is the necessity for the revolutionary party. Moreover, such a party will have to fi nd some form of existence which will enable its members to withstand all the pressures of other classes and to act effectively against the ruling class. To escape these pressures two other things will be necessary.
First, it will have to keep alive in its members a continual awareness of the kind of society in which they live and of the need to change it and of the way to change it. It will have to be a party of continuous education. And, in being this, it will have to vindicate freedom in yet another way. Bourgeois democrats and Stalinists have often argued as to whether art or science ought to be controlled by state authority or not. The point which this discussion misses is that such control is impossible, logically impossible. You can stop people creating works of art, or elaborating and testing scientific theories; you can force them instead to do propaganda for the state. But you cannot make them do art as you bid them or science as you bid them; for art and science move by their own laws of development. They cannot be themselves and be unfree. To rescue and maintain genuinely free inquiry is in a class society itself a partisan activity. But a revolutionary party has nothing to lose by the truth, everything to gain from intellectual freedom.
Secondly, one can only preserve oneself from alien class pressures in a revolutionary party by maintaining discipline. Those who do not act closely together, who have no overall strategy for changing society, will have neither need for nor understanding of discipline. Party discipline is essentially not something negative, but something positive. It frees party members for activity by ensuring that they have specific tasks, duties and rights. This is why all the constitutional apparatus is necessary. Nonetheless there are many socialists who feel that any form of party discipline is an alien and constraining force which they ought to resist in the name of freedom. The error here arises from the illusion that one can as an isolated individual escape from the moulding and the subtle enslavements of the status quo. Behind this there lies the illusion that one can be an isolated individual. Whether we like it or not every one of us inescapably plays a social role, and a social role which is determined for us by the workings of bourgeois society. Or rather this is inescapable so long as we remain unaware of what is happening to us. As our awareness and understanding increase we become able to change the part we play. But here yet another trap awaits us. The saying that freedom is the knowledge of necessity does not mean that a merely passive and theoretical knowledge can liberate us. The knowledge which liberates us is that which enables us to change our social relations. And this knowledge, knowledge which Marxism puts at our disposal, is not a private possession, something which the individual can get out of books and then keep for himself; it is rather a continually growing consciousness, which can only be the work of a group bound together by a common political and educational discipline. So the individual who tries most of live as an individual, to have a mind entirely his own, will in fact make himself more and more likely to become in his thinking a passive rejection of the socially dominant ideas; while the individual who recognizes his dependence on others has taken a path which can lead to an authentic independence of mind. (In neither direction is there anything automatic or inevitable about the process).
Someone will object here that what I have posed as the two necessities for a party of revolutionary freedom are incompatible. How can intellectual freedom and party discipline be combined? The answer to this is not just the obvious one that a certain stock of shared intellectual conviction is necessary for a person to be in a Marxist party at all. But more than this that where there is sharp disagreement it is necessary that discipline provides for this by allowing minority views to have their say inside the party on all appropriate occasions. If this is provided for, then disagreements can remain on the level of intellectual principle without on the one hand hindering action or on the other hand degenerating into mock battles between "the individual" and "the collective".
The thread of arguments leads on to the conclusion that, not only are socialism and substantial democracy inseparable, but that the road to socialism and democratic centralism are equally inseparable. Those among socialists who have written most about freedom have tended most often to reject democratic centralism. But, if I am right on the main points of this argument, this rejection must necessarily injure our understanding of freedom itself.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
From his excellent 1961 essay "Freedom and Revolution":