How is the proletariat going to develop class consciousness, and how are the masses broadly going to be won to a proletarian stand?
In What Is To Be Done, Lenin emphasizes that the way the masses must and do develop proletarian class consciousness is by being enabled and trained to respond to all major social questions and world events, and how these find expression among all different strata; and they have to be trained to do this from a class-conscious proletarian point of view, and no other. They have to be trained to see not only how they come into confrontation with the ruling class in the more narrow and immediate sphere of their economic relations with their employers (or with their immediate exploiters and oppressors), and so on, but in the broader sense in which the proletariat as such comes into conflict with the ruling class. And they have to learn to make what Lenin calls a "materialist analysis and a materialist estimate" of all major social questions and world events and how this finds expression among different classes and strata--and therefore to recognize and distinguish the nature and interests of all different classes and strata in society.
This is an extremely important point to emphasize, because especially in a country like the U.S. at this time it's very easy, even for us, to kind of get fuzzy about what is proletarian class consciousness as opposed to other kinds of oppositional or radical stands that find expression among the basic masses or among other strata. And it's very easy to get pulled off into those other class viewpoints if we're not really clear on this and don't continually come back to this. On the other hand, as I've also been stressing, it's relatively easy to develop a stand-offish or disdainful attitude or simply to ignore what's happening among other strata in society. And Lenin's point is that the masses will never develop proletarian class consciousness if we do that--they only will develop this class consciousness if we enable them and lead them to respond in a materialist way, with a materialist analysis and a materialist estimate, to all the major questions and events and how they affect different classes and strata.
In other words, the masses have to come to understand, if you will, the "political physiognomy" and the features of these different classes and strata--what are their characteristic attitudes and responses to different major events and how through this do you see the political and ideological characteristics of these different classes and strata? Therefore how do you learn to distinguish the different class interests--and in particular to distinguish the proletarian class interests from all others, and at the same time recognize not only the need but also the basis to unite with these other class forces, despite the differences in their class outlook and interests.
Now, obviously, this is a dynamic and complex process, and it is easy to veer off to the "left," in the sense of being too narrow and sectarian towards other strata and even toward the proletarian masses, or to go off to the right and begin to lose the sense of the essential difference between the proletarian standpoint and all others. So the crucial question is how, through all this, the masses of proletarians must and can learn to distinguish their own, proletarian, class interests from those of all other classes and strata--not only of the enemy, the ruling class, but also friends and allies or potential allies as well.
The Hidden Truth
One of the things this brings home is a point that is brought out forcefully at the end of Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism--that people need materialism. This is true in general and it's very pronounced right now--there is rampant idealism. People need materialism, in particular historical materialism. And they need it not only in a general theoretical sense--not only do they need to be made familiar with and educated and trained in this outlook and methodology in general--but they also need it in terms of its application to real life and all different kinds of social events and world developments and how they affect different classes and strata. The masses need materialism, they need historical materialism; they need it applied and they need to learn how to apply it themselves.
There's so much in common in people's experience that's actually hidden from them--I'm speaking here specifically about the basic proletarian masses--the common oppression that comes out when masses actually do get together and speak bitterness together.
You could be somebody Black in a housing project in Los Angeles, living right next door to a Mexican immigrant in the same housing project and having so many things in common in terms of what the system has done to you and the ways you've resisted it and so on, and yet have no inkling of that and only be caught up in the daily antagonisms and hassles--what the spontaneous working of the system and the conscious policy of the ruling class is fostering. So it's very important for us to bring out not only the common interests but also, concretely, common experiences and common struggle, by applying historical materialism, enabling people to see this.
Many Black people, for example, often don't know what someone next door to them in a housing project went through that uprooted them from Mexico and landed them in that housing project. The bourgeoisie is not about teaching them what happened in Chiapas or what happened in other parts of Mexico and why people were uprooted, or why people came from El Salvador and what they went through. There are important works of culture, like the movie El Norte and other things, that bring out some of this, and this is very important. Art and culture can play an important role, but our Party has an irreplaceable, indispensable role overall, in terms of bringing this alive for the masses in a way that really paints a vivid picture for them--really enables them to see their common class interests and how different strands of experience, even internationally, all tie together in terms of a common class interest--and also how this is distinguished from other classes and strata, but at the same time what the basis is for uniting with or winning over these other strata (or at least winning them to friendly neutrality). People really need to understand this.
On the other hand, Mexican immigrants living in a housing project next to some Black people (let's say Black women on welfare in the same housing project)--these immigrants may not understand what those women have gone through that landed them in that situation of being on welfare. They need to understand this. Understanding divorced from social practice is not what I'm talking about, but understanding gained through the totality of revolutionary work and struggle.
A Strategic Realignment
In light of all this, it's very important to be clear that the unity of the proletariat is not a "coalition of oppressed peoples"; and the solid core1 of the united front is not a merging of the outlook and interests of the proletariat with other class forces, even as this finds expression among those who are, strategically speaking, the closest and firmest allies of the proletariat--or even, for that matter, as it finds spontaneous expression among the basic proletarian masses, including proletarians of the oppressed nationalities. And the united front is not some pragmatic coalition, either in the short-term or the long-term, based either on some kind of notion of the "lowest common denominator" for getting people together, or "everybody do their own thing and somehow it will all work out for everyone's benefit"; nor certainly can the united front be based on "everybody use everybody else"--"you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back." That's not what this is all about.
The United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat is an orientation and a method, a strategic approach, for the realignment of class forces-- the strategic realignment of class forces, in which the interests and outlook of the proletariat are brought to the forefront and established in the leading position through a complex and tortuous process of unity-struggle-unity.
In seeking to build such a united front, there will be strong pulls, either to tail other class forces--including in the form of tailing the outlook of other class forces as that finds expression among the basic masses--and/or to be sectarian towards these other class forces. And I say "and/or" because you can tail other forces and also be sectarian toward them--for example, in working among students, you can both tail them and be sectarian toward them at one and the same time. Among the middle strata of the oppressed nationalities, you can both tail them and be sectarian toward them at one and the same time--what we sometimes have referred to as "going from sugar to shit"--in how revolutionaries view these class forces.
If we're going to go wrong, we can go wrong in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of combinations! That's easy to do. But to do it right takes a different kind of combination, or to put it better, a correct synthesis. So in seeking to build the united front there will be strong pulls to either tail other class forces and/or to be sectarian towards them. And the struggle must be waged, within the ranks of the Party and among the advanced masses around the Party, to defeat and overcome these strong pulls, and to further strengthen and deepen our grasp and application of our ideology and line as the guide in doing this.
Here again is the question from "The Heartland of...Babylonian Madness" about where your feet are planted. We have to reach out very broadly, and if we don't do that, we're not going to win. We're going to be ultimately defeated, militarily and politically. We're just going to lose or fall short. And if you fall short in this game, you get crushed and it's demoralizing for the masses, so we don't want to do that. Our feet have to be firmly planted in the class interests and outlook of the proletariat, and no other class, and precisely from that standpoint we will see the need to unite and we will recognize and be able to forge the way to unite far more broadly than if our feet are planted among various petit bourgeois strata, even among the more alienated and radical sections of these strata.
And, precisely from the proletarian class standpoint, it can be seen that the masses--particularly advanced proletarians, but also the masses more broadly--need to understand the strategy of United Front Under the Leadership of the Proletariat. It's not just that we revolutionaries have to grasp this and apply it--we also have to popularize this among the masses: they need to know how we see going about realigning the class forces and achieving the alignment that will make it possible to win--to seize power--and to go forward from there. If we are going to carry out this revolution, the masses have to know what we're doing and they have to increasingly take this up and act according to this themselves. So, our strategy and our overall line needs to be popularized among the masses, and it needs to be contrasted with other orientations and approaches that will fall far short of uniting all who can be united--and together with that, will fall far short of the real solution.