There is a tradition of mechanical materialism which claims the mantle of Marxism and which argues that technological change and reforms will eventually bring about socialism without revolution. Marx and Engels vehemently opposed this determinism. They argued that the ideas which dominate capitalist society are the ideas of the ruling class. Workers can only in a revolutionary struggle become class conscious on a mass scale and develop new ideas appropriate for a free socialist society they will have to build.
This session will look at the uneven and contradictory ways class consciousness develops (see
readings by Lenin, Lukacs and about Gramsci).
How do we assess the relationship between social, economic and political structures and the ideas
people hold in a society that is constantly undergoing rapid changes, and in which “all that is solid
melts into air”? (the readings on who is responsible for racism and the impact of women in the
workforce are relevant).
Why does this matter? Understanding these questions can be vital if socialists are to intervene in
ways which maximise the possibility of victory and convince others of socialist politics.
This is important for interpreting history from which we can learn valuable lessons. Historians who lack empathy for and understanding of how material circumstances circumscribe ideas tend to judge historical struggles by the benchmarks of today. This leads them to diminish the richness, the meanings, potential and lessons of past struggles (see Bloodworth, “militant Spirits” in the reading list).
These challenging questions make for a stimulating and thought provoking discussion.