This pithy gem was drafted by Marx in July, 1872 and passed at The Hague Conference of the First International as an article of the International’s statutes in September of that year. It was a time of conflict in the International between Marx and his supporters and Bakunin’s anarchists which might go some way in explaining the sharpness of tone.
On the Establishment of Working Class Parties
Against the collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes.
This constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to insure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end — the abolition of classes.
The combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists.
The lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defense and perpetuation of their economical monopolies and for enslaving labor. To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working classes.
As the European elections are coming up this week and the left is is figuring out its orientation to the institutions of the European Union I thought I’d share. One thing I’ve always appreciated about Marx is his insistence on “the working class” rather than “the people” as his audience. “The people” are, after all, divided by class and the class oppressed, the vast majority of “the people” is the working class.
It is also the working class which alone possesses the means (their collective labor) of a genuine- revolutionary and global- alternative to the rule of capital and of capitalists. Organizing itself politically has been the essential element in the working class transforming from a “class of itself” into a “class for itself”. Let’s ask Karl since he says it better than I could (his remarks about the value of association goes some way in illuminating the support among too many UAW workers for wretched contracts) –
“Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance — combination. Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist. If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in the face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages. This is so true that English economists are amazed to see the workers sacrifice a good part of their wages in favor of associations, which, in the eyes of these economists, are established solely in favor of wages. In this struggle — a veritable civil war — all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character.
Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends becomes class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle”
From Chapter 2.5: Strikes and Combinations of Workers Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy