Science and Society 59 (3):268 - 297 (1995)

A close textual and contextual analysis of Lenin's claim, in What Is to Be Done? t that socialist consciousness must be imported into the spontaneous working-class movement from without shows that it does not, contrary to the conventional wisdom of non-Marxist and most Marxist scholarship on this question, contradict the basic Marxist thesis of proletarian selfemancipation. Sense can be made of Lenin's claim only in light of the distinctive logic of his mode of political analysis and, once seen in this light, this claim can be understood as a necessary prerequisite for Marxist political actors to theorize their situation within the complexity of the class struggle and hence to learn from the struggles of the working class. The thesis of "consciousness from without" thus expresses, not only a scientific concern with grasping the realities of the process of the formation of working-class consciousness, but also, paradoxically, a theoretical commitment to the political autonomy of the working class.
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