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Corbyn and the “Actuality of the Revolution” – Counterfire on Georg Lukács and Labour.

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Image result for IPswich workers militia

Ipswich Workers’ Militia: Ready for the ‘Actuality of the Revolution’. 

“The actuality of the revolution: this is the core of Lenin’s thought and his decisive link with Marx. For historical materialism as the conceptual expression of the proletariat’s struggle for liberation could only be conceived and formulated theoretically when revolution was already on the historical agenda as a practical reality; when, in the misery of the proletariat, in Marx’s words, was to be seen not only the misery itself but also the revolutionary element ‘which will bring down the old order’.”

Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought. Georg Lukács.  1924. (1)

Counterfire publishes this:

While thousands across the country have been attending rallies for Corbyn, and while the Labour establishment is in unprecedented disarray, some “thoughtful” and prominent former supporters of Corbyn have succumbed to self doubt and pessimism. This article will argue that the arguments they use reflect a way of thinking that has – throughout the last century – meant that many movements with the objective strength to defeat the right have floundered and failed. We will call this way of thinking vertigo and we will show how the great Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs identified the cure for vertigo at the heart of Lenin’s thought.

In  Corbyn: momentum meets vertigo Counterfire’s Dave Moyles has no doubt that the main problem of the left is those infected by “doubt and pessimism”.

Standing on the ledge of a great peak, they look at the abyss beneath and not upwards to the heavens.

The fears driving them can be easily summarised:

The waverers typically make two key points. First that when they backed Corbyn for leader last year they never expected him to win, but rather to “shift the terms of debate”.

Second, now that he has won, they argue, we are teetering on the edge of a precipice. The wave of enthusiasm could easily turn to despair. Just as defeat of Michael Foot laid the groundwork for Tony Blair (in a very telescoped, teleological view of history) so will this success be followed by defeat that could see the whole left destroyed. And the cliff on which we are standing is crumbling in the face of attacks from the media, the PLP and the Tories. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Take courage comrades! Look, he asks us, at the Russian Revolution! Or just The Revolution.

The Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs identified the cure to vertigo as the core uniting principle behind Lenin’s thought: the actuality of the revolution.


…seen from the perspective of the actuality of the revolution, the question is how do we maximise the level of political organisation, confidence and radicalism across the mass of ordinary people; how do we turn what has traditionally been the second party of British capitalism into a transformative force; how do we weaken the power of the British state to resist this movement. Then the answer is very clearly Corbyn – and the mass rallies, mass membership, organisation of resistance to the PLP that is going on as part of the Corbyn movement. Then a question like Scotland is easy to answer – don’t be so blinkered as to worry about numbers in Westminster – the Scottish question is about fundamentally weakening the British state.

No need to worry about the bourgeois SNP….nationalism…

It’s all about the ‘state’.

Where to to now?

Counterfire is there to help sort things out..

Counterfire today argues for its members to be at the heart of the movements at the same time as focusing on the big picture – and we ask our members to discuss and debate the best strategy for these movements. Our website and our paper connect the struggle and point to a socialist strategy within them. But it is clear an organisation of the sort Lenin envisaged would have to be far bigger and incorporate many activists who today are part of no organisation – as well as some who are currently part of other organisations. We will need this if the energy and desire for change captured by the Corbyn movement is going to be able to keep rising and achieve real transformative change.

Lukacs and Lenin teach us to be more ambitious – we should be storming the gates of heaven.

Counterfire’s long-standing strategic faults are laid bare in this lyrical article.

They have a common source, Lenin as read through Lukács.

Not just Moyles but their leader Rees has written that we need to grasp “the laws of historical development; to detect the part in the whole and the whole in the part; to find in historical necessity the moment of activity and in activity the connection with historical necessity.” (1)

This approach means that in every “concrete analysis of the concrete situation” one can trace the operation of an inexorable dialectic. Inside of which a revolution is about to burst reality asunder. 

Rees has something in common with John Holloway’s views in Crack Capitalism (2010), that capitalism produces an endless series of ‘cracks’ in which revolutionary sparks fly.

The major difference is while Holloway is only too glad to let every sparkle shed its own light, Rees considers that it is the task of the Revolutionary Party/Network to gather them up. It is a kind of filter that collects together all the rational elements of revolt, binds them together, and hurls them against capitalism. It is the fuse that once lit enables the working class to become the ” absolute subject-object of history.”

It is, in short, a practical-theoretical embodiment of class consciousness.

Behind this is a  fundamentally awry take on Marxism.

Whatever the merits of Rees’s magnum opus on dialectics, and his analysis of Lukács, from Lenin to History and Class Consciousness, the application of the ‘dialectic’  is not only barely ‘mediated’ by politics, (or more crudely, reality) it is “expressive” at every moment.

Moyles expresses this to the point of caricature: from Corbyn Rally to Revolution it is but a step.

Can we dismiss the weight of right-wing ideology, nationalism, the views of the general public, the rightward drift across the whole of our Continent, the decades long hegemony of conservative ‘neo-liberal’ ideas affecting social democracy itself , the present Tory Government,  the lack of actually existing  successful example of  economic alternatives to capitalism, not to mention the Fall of Official Communism,   the failure of ‘anti-imperialism’, the power of Capital? 

Are they all about the vanish faced with the cunning of Proletarian Reason?

That the revolution is both actual (in the English sense, real) and ‘actuel’, in the sense used in many European languages, present?

Does anybody else seriously believe that the present disputes in the Labour Party will end with Jeremy Corbyn heralding the Revolution?

That “an organisation of the sort Lenin envisaged” is about to emerge?

People involved with the, the People’s Assembly, the anti-austerity alliance dominated by Counterfire leadership, not to mention the Stop the War Coalition in which the same group is heavily involved, should perhaps be informed of how Rees, German and Moyles consider their role in creating this “organisation”.

And no doubt the ‘Corbyn movement’ as well.

Although given that Rees and mates, echoed in the dwindling People’s Assembly, have claimed that the Tories threatened a “coup” during the last General Election, that the Brexit vote was a great “opportunity” for the ‘left”, it’s unlikely that there are many people around who take this lot seriously.



(1) Counterfire’s Jon Rees outlines his highly individual account of Lukacs in The Algebra of Revolution. The Dialectics and the Classical Marxist Tradition. John Rees. Routledge 1998. See the indulgent review by  Alex Callinicos The Secret of the Dialectic (1998).

(2) John Rees (Extracts) Strategy and Tactics: how the left can organise to transform society. Counterfire’s Site). 2010.



Written by Andrew Coates

August 28, 2016 at 12:45 pm

6 Responses

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  1. On Lukacs – I tend to agree with Adorno’s assessment that he was actually quite a regressive theorist (contrary to Counterfire’s view) who looked backwards in a rather nostalgic fashion to forms of social solidarity that predated capitalism and the alienated individual.

    I used to argue about this with John Holloway – who I collaborated with on “Common Sense” – Journal of the Edinburgh Conference of Socialist Economists – which didn’t exactly fly of the shelves!! John is a very affable human being – if not slightly obsessed by the Zapatistas – but I think he tends to gloss-over certain theoretical problems in Lukacs’ work…and also his dodgy capitulation to the Hungarian Communist Party.

    alex ross

    August 28, 2016 at 1:55 pm

  2. I’m sure John is a great person, in fact I know people who worked with him

    It’s just that I disagree with him.

    Capitalism cracked. Andrew Coates reviews John Holloway’s ‘Crack capitalism’ Pluto Press, 2010, pp320, £16


    Affability is not a word normally associated with Rees….

    On Lukacs I was most affected by the critique made by Gareth Stedman Jones.

    You make an interesting point about his nostalgic tastes. Very obvious, perhaps, in view of his literary criticism. But this has other flaws as well. Just to take one example, he has a very false picture of Balzac – who far from being an easy-to-define conservative realist was profoundly affected by Swedenborg – see Louis Lambert and this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Lambert_%28novel%29

    This is not just one novel; a lot of Balzac is a kind of ‘magical realism’, La Peau de chagrin, Jésus-Christ en Flandre, L’Envers de l’histoire contemporaine (with a kind of secret mystical society righting wrongs) Melmoth réconcilié (a pact with the Devil, Melmoth, the wanderer)..

    I could go on.

    Gareth Stedman Jone. The Marxism of the Early Lukács: an Evaluation: https://newleftreview.org/I/70/gareth-stedman-jones-the-marxism-of-the-early-lukacs-an-evaluation.

    He attacks the “expressive totality” (to put it in Althussarain terms) at the centre of the theory, amongst other things.

    It’s from 1971, which even I am not old enough to have read at the time: it’s in a New Left Reader which I have.

    Andrew Coates

    August 28, 2016 at 3:27 pm

  3. The use of Lukács by Tony Cliff’s acolytes (Callinicos, Rees, others) simply proves how “substitutionist” and “vanguardist” his views were, or came to be — as illustrated by the last chapter of History and Class Consciousness and his Lenin book from 1924. That stuff is useless at best. Stick to the early chapters of H&CC and leave it at that, I say.


    August 28, 2016 at 5:36 pm

  4. thank God that Lukacs supported Stalin and did not join the Trotskyites.

    Lukacs is not to blame for these Trots.
    Counterfire need an ‘actuality of revolution’ as otherwise their pathetic little group has no reason to exist.

    is it a party? Is it a blog? whatever happened to their cafe?
    Counterfire couldn’t even run a bloody caff!!


    August 28, 2016 at 6:29 pm

  5. ^:D Yeah what did happen to their cafe?


    August 29, 2016 at 2:57 pm

  6. The caff went the way of the whelk stall: broke.

    Andrew Coates

    August 30, 2016 at 10:13 am

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