Against consciousness, unconsciousness

The Communism blog’s 28 Theses on Class Society tackle an old dichotomy:

For Leninism, the limits of everyday struggle serve as a legitimization of the vanguard party. As a revolutionary theory, it is essentially a theory of the coup d‘état, the assumption of leadership over the unconscious masses. If consciousness has dawned upon the masses at all, then it is according to Lenin at most a mere trade-unionist consciousness, and not the sparkling revolutionary kind. But the social revolution cannot be a matter of leadership or central direction. It has no management. Otherwise, it would be no different than the usual coup d‘états or controlled revolutions that end in renewed oppression. The genius of subversion must be present among the great mass of those who execute it; otherwise it is not worth a toss. How should a revolution with the goal of abolishing the domination of humans over other humans and with taking life into one’s own hands succeed, if at the first step it requires leadership, direction, and management? It would simply once again tread the path of passivity and repeat all the old shit. In the history of the Marxist-Leninist sects since the end of the 1960s, it was often enough vanity, if not excessive self-estimation, that brought ambitious people to the idea that one only needs a disciplined organization in order to give the signal for revolt and then direct it. A thousand times, the party was founded, likewise by thousands who wanted to be the new Trotsky or Lenin, by people whose historical greatness contended with the diminutiveness of their little groups. Immune to historical experience, they attempted to apply to the present a concept that had already been condemned by history. The emancipation of the proletariat can only be the task of the proletariat itself.

Yet at the same time

there is a critique of Leninism which in a workerist manner discards altogether the problem of class consciousness. Consciousness is insignificant, since according to a favorite quotation from Marx, it is not a question of what this or that proletarian thinks, but rather of what the proletariat will be compelled to do historically. This optimistic historical determinism skirts the fact that the proletariat will never be compelled to make a revolution, since in the act of revolution, people begin to make their own history consciously. It is precisely this “voluntarism” which is the correct moment of Leninism, a truth which is snuffed out by the elitist conception of the party.

Put otherwise, the dichotomy of the thinking and unthinking, the illuminati and the blind, is an endless, unproductive dialectic that lacks a tertium quid. Neither Party member nor Worker is outside of historical determination, nor is consciousness true in one and not in the other. But consciousness of what? The spectre of realism haunts this language, and ‘consciousness’ only invites duality. ‘Self-consciousness’ would take us further – it finds knowledge constructed out of relation to more than object, more than a supposed ‘Real’. It avoids the false Kantian choice: spontaneity or receptivity? Another alternative: ‘practical-critical activity’. Such activity does not coincide with individuals or groups, groups one could – sociologically – demarcate, and then epistemologically hierarchise. It is not a capacity. Neither is it switched on and off, such that we are wholly determined one day then – by some Munchhausen leap – wholly self-determining the next (yes, you Herr Engels). Alienation, and the self-consciousness of it, the latter never pure nor capable of being ‘imputed’, divides each of us, determines each of us in different, and differently contradictory ways. Alienation and dis-alienation, knowledge and ignorance, freedom and unfreedom, must be conceived integrally if their connection is not to remain mysterious or miraculous. This much was known to the theorist of practical-critical activity, who was always already beyond the dualism of thinking versus unthinking, elite versus led, that emerged in his name, though the lifeless remains of this destructive dichotomy still lie twitching.