We know that the working class is not a monolithic body that thinks alike on all topics. Just look at the conflict between Yankees fans and, well, any other fan.
Let’s look at racism. There is a wide swath of the working class that opposes racism to one extent or another. Some understand the systemic nature of racism. Some think it’s just treating individuals well regardless of race. But they are all allies of people who are oppressed because of their race. Then there are those who are racist. They dislike and fear people of other races and want to discriminate against them. They both treat individuals badly and promote systemic discrimination. And then there are those who aren’t focused or aware of racism one way or the other. This may be a larger segment of the population than is recognized.
Or unions. Some people love them, some people oppose them, some are indifferent. Not talking about bosses here, fellow workers.
So let’s think about socialism. Since Marx’s time there have been workers who are in favor of it, those who oppose it, and those who are indifferent. There have been times when the pros outnumbered the cons, and times when the cons outnumbered the pros. The indifferent will waver one way or the other, depending on which one is in the ascendant. Sometimes this is a real change, and sometimes it’s just following a fad.
We are in a time when socialism is gaining ground again. From the mid-70s until very recent years, the anti’s and the indifferents have held sway. For three or four years, socialism has been gaining ground, jump-started by Bernie Sanders’ run for the Presidency in the 2016 election.
This growth in support for socialism breaks down into several distinct varieties.
First is social democracy. Strictly speaking, this isn’t socialism at all; like social security or Medicare, it’s doing things that are good for the working class while not changing the foundation of capitalism. It involves higher taxes on the rich – income redistribution in its mildest form – but no change in the fundamental relationship of workers to the means of production. This might be called the “left-wing of liberalism.”
Second is that tendency called democratic socialism. Democratic socialists have some idea of changing the ownership of the means of production, while thinking that they can maintain bourgeois ideals of “rights and freedoms.” Some democratic socialists have a fair-to-middling understanding of Marxism and use it to buttress their arguments in favor of socialism. A much smaller number of this group may have some understanding of Leninism. Consider them the left-wing of democratic socialism. They all still favor the retention of bourgeois values. For instance, they practice democracy in their organizations (most notably, at present, the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA) but not democratic centralism. They tend to be righteous about this, and hold anti-communist ideas, because “dictatorship.”
The third main tendency within the socialist camp are the Marxist-Leninists, or communists. This is a smaller group by far than either of the previous groups. Marxist-Leninists are socialists who understand that the bourgeoisie are not going to give up their power, wealth and prestige because of elections or legislation. They will have to be forced out of power, and they will have to be kept out of power for two or three generations, maybe more.
When historical and material conditions come together to make socialism possible, everyone takes a shift towards Marxist-Leninism. Liberals will become social democrats. Social democrats will become socialists. Democratic socialists will be willing to accept leadership from Marxist-Leninists, and some of them will actually become communists. Communists won’t change; they are already right where they belong.
These historical and material conditions form the basis for what is called a revolution. A revolution may or may not be bloody, depending on how the bourgeoisie chooses to resist. If they accept the seizure of finances, factories, businesses, offices, and governmental functions without violent resistance, the revolution will not be violent. Understand this: the revolution is never violent because the socialists want it that way; it is violent when the oligarchy initiates violence. There is no doubt that they will resist in some way.
Within the communist camp, there are sectarians and non-sectarians. Non-sectarians apply the teaching of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Not slavishly, as though it was a recipe in a cookbook. The writings of these great thinkers teach us how to apply the same system of thought they used, but not what to think in every situation. That would be dogmatism, and Marxist-Leninism is not a dogmatic school of thought. Non-sectarians learn from the successes and failures of every socialist society, whether led by Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Thomas Sankara, etc.
Sectarians follow the teachings of a particular socialist above all. Whether they are Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, or Hoxhaist, they take those teachings as a dogma to be followed, not as a method to be applied.
At no time in the history of socialism have the sectarians represented the major political tendency of the working class. Never. There are many examples of non-sectarian Marxist revolutions, from Russia to China to Vietnam to Cuba. You don’t hear about Castroists. Fidel didn’t found a sect. He was a Marxist-Leninist.
There are still sects of various kinds. In the US, Trotskyism is the most common, with several different Trotskyist organizations vying for the approval of the working class. They will never receive it. The working class isn’t looking for a savior to follow.