In this text from 1911, published in Vpered, Bogdanov outlines his conception of a socialist proletarian culture, providing the theoretical background for the project of Proletkult.
A socialist society is one in which all social production is organised on consciously comradely principles. All the other features of socialism stem from this fact: social ownership of the means of production, abolition of class, and wealth distribution which allows everyone to fully use their productive energy according to their ability. These conditions can only be realised when there is a basis for their existence – comradely organisation of all production, i.e. only when the working class achieves victory and gains the ability to organise society on its own terms. Until that moment, the gradual disappearance of class, the gradual move towards a social ownership of the means of production, and a planned distribution of the social product, will not be possible. Any socialism in the property relations between people is not possible until labour relations become fully socialist relations.
Opportunists are mistaken when they search for the origins of a socialist economy in trade unions, cooperatives, in the enterprises of a democratic state and territorial self-government. The increase of the worker’s wage, forced on capitalists by the trade unions, has nothing to do with socialist distribution, if only because it does not provide the guarantee of being able to earn that wage. The property of a cooperative remains capitalist property if only because it is subject to buying and selling, takes the form of money, is stored in a bank, is dependent on the economic cycle and changing prices, etc. The enterprises of even the most democratic state or the equally democratic self-government, in which socialists constitute a majority, do not stop being capitalist enterprises, as they are organised on the basis of employment of workers, are subservient to the conditions on the labour market, on the market of tools and objects of labour, on the money and credit market, etc. As long as the the power of money and capital – the master of world production, are upheld, there is no way we can speak of a socialist economy.
However, socialism is not only about the future, but also about the present, it is not only an idea but also a reality. Socialism grows and develops, exists among us. Only not where our opportunist comrades search for it. Socialism lies deeper. It is the comradely bond of the working class, its conscious organisation of labour and its social struggle. We should not search for socialism in the economic activity of worker’s organisations, trade unions, parties, or others, but in actual class cooperation. This is not the socialist prototype, but it is its real foundation as it lies within comradely bonds of labour. The more this cooperation grows and develops, the tighter the frames of old society become, and the contradiction between the two becomes clearer. The time when these frames start to fall apart under the powerful pressure of a new power, which requires new forms, is not far off. Everything indicates that a series of dangerous revolutions will begin under our own eyes. This epoch of the last struggle will surely be incredibly difficult, and revolutionary crises – incredibly cruel. But eventually the rotten shell will be cast aside. Socialism will cease to be just the class cooperation of the proletariat and will take over production as a whole. New organisation of property and distribution, a new social economy, will then become reality.
Someday socialism will become everything, for now it is already a powerful tendency, paving its way in reality with a concrete social force antithetical to other social forces, a specific method of organisation of people antithetical to other methods. Of course, the contemporary conscious socialist combatant is not a selfless protagonist, sacrificing himself for future generations, but a worker taking part in the creation of contemporary life. It is completely obvious and understandable that a large and powerful social class wants to live its own way, and not how the old society dictates; that it develops its own forms of interpersonal relationships and expresses them in its own social ideal. This ideal arises from a proletarian spirit, not from pure dreams of fraternity or as a result of protest against a cruel social order. It is the reflection of the actual development of labour relations within the working class, remaining in deep contradiction with the existing system. The conscious comradely organisation of the working class today, and the socialist organisation of the whole society in the future – these are only the different instances of the same process, different stages of the development of the same phenomenon.
If so, then the struggles for socialism cannot be reduced only to the war against capitalism, to the simple accumulation of forces necessary to wage that war. This struggle is simultaneously a positive, creative effort – the building of ever new socialist elements in the proletariat itself, in its internal relations, under conditions of everyday life. It is the construction of a socialist proletarian culture.
The field of this work are the various areas of life. It is not enough to unite proletarians in organisations, it is not even enough to put forward the slogan of economic and political struggle, just as it is not enough to enlist soldiers in an army and announce the military campaign. The main strength of an army lies in what they call “morale”, i.e. in its internal ties and interrelations, in unity of thought and feeling, which penetrate and transform it into a living unified organism. The same concerns the working class. Only its task is immeasurably broader and more complex compared to the tasks of an ordinary army. This means the internal ties of the proletariat, its spirit of unity, needs to be even tighter and deeper.
Socialists should aim at developing the truly comradely relations in the practice of the proletariat. Meanwhile, even in organisations we can observe a mass of holdover relations, which have nothing to do with socialism: conflicts of ambitions, authoritarian temptations of various “leaders”, and the unconscious subordination of some supporters to them, aversion of anarchistically inclined individuals to comradely discipline, involvement of personal interests and motives into the collective cause, etc. All of these matters are unavoidable, since the proletariat did not come into this world in the form of an already shaped class. It arose from the ruined burghers and peasants, from small property owners used to living in accord with their own individual interests and susceptible to subordination to influential authorities. It is understandable that it cannot quickly and easily get rid of the useless spiritual characteristics of these classes. Apart from that, worker’s organisations attract some non-proletarian elements from the revolutionary intelligentsia, and from the still gradually poorer petty-bourgeoisie; elements to which it is even harder to adopt the spirit and sense of comradely cooperation. Manifestations of individualism, ideological enslavement, ideological rule, should be constantly and incessantly combatted, explaining their incompatibility with proletarian socialism and the total impossibility of reconciliation.
Especially hard and long persist the old habits in family life. The commanding relationship of husband to wife, the compulsion of blind obedience of children to parents – this is the basis of the current family. Capitalism destroys these habits, forcing women, youth and even children to labour in factories and – thanks to private earnings – giving them the ability for partial economic independence. But if in this situation old relations between family members are retained, then the head of the family often becomes the exploiter of his own wife and children. Generally, the enslavement of women prevents the working class from growing in strength, diminishing comradely ranks, making the woman a brake and a burden for the worker in his revolutionary efforts. Whereas the enslavement of children harms the socialist upbringing of future combatants. This is why socialists should energetically fight, in both word and by example, against any remnants of family enslavement, not regarding it as a private or unimportant matter. Too often it is the case that the worker propagandising in the workplace neglects to do so in his family, hand waving the backwardness of his own wife. Even today, cases of barbarism occur within working class families. Meanwhile, the working class family should already be permeated by the spirit of socialism, transformed by the power of comradely relations of labour.
Socialism also requires a new science and a new philosophy. We know that the point of science and philosophy is to unite the experience of people as a whole, and the organisation of this experience into a harmonious order. But the experiences of the proletariat are different from the experiences of the old classes, which is why previous forms of learning are insufficient. Marx initiated a new social science and a new historical philosophy. We can imagine that the whole of science and philosophy will take a new character in the hands of the proletariat, because different conditions induce different ways of perception and understanding of nature.
Contemporary science and philosophy possess a particular character: learning is divided into separate specialisations, each one weighted down by a mass of trivialities and subtleties, which require nearly a whole human life time to comprehend. Scholars themselves poorly understand each other, as each one does not see beyond their own specialisation. For the proletariat, in its life and struggle, science is needed. But not one which is only available to people in pieces and leads to mutual incomprehension, because in conscious comradely relations it is mutual understanding that is most important. The creation of socialist knowledge should aim towards the simplification and unification of science, the restoration of these general research methods which could constitute the key to the various specialisations and allow for their quick mastery. The same as a worker in machine production who, knowing from experience the general features and methods of technology, can relatively easily move from one specialisation to another. It is understandable that it will require much effort to bring the different sciences and philosophies to this state, but then they will permeate into the masses and receive an incomparably stronger and wider basis for their development. Science, the powerful tool of the labour process, will be in that manner socialised, as socialism requires in relation to all tools of labour.
Similarly to science, art also serves in uniting human experience into a whole; only art does not organise it into abstract concepts but in living images. Thanks to this character, art is more democratic than science, it is closer to the masses and more widespread within it. The proletariat needs its own socialist art, permeated with its own feelings, aspirations, ideals. We can already indicate the first steps leading to its formation. True, these are only the first, but extremely difficult steps. Some artists and poets of non-proletarian origin have allied with socialism and with their talents want to serve the great cause. On the other side, in the working class environment one can meet more and more beginner writers, who with the power of art want to express the spirit of the proletariat. The former are in large part unable to take the point of view of the proletariat, to see life through its eyes, to feel with its heart. The latter lack artistic education, the skill of clearly expressing their experience, their deepest thoughts and feelings, in images. But they will achieve all of this with time through their work and talent. Then new art will suddenly spread among the masses, will incite to struggle and teach, will lead forwards to a bright future.
It would of course be naive to suggest that already today, in a capitalist system, the proletariat would be able to formulate its own socialist culture. No, it is too large a task to be completed so quickly, too large are the obstacles standing on its way. The constant need for struggle against other classes alone imprints a specific trace on the emerging culture, forces it to reflect the contradictions of social life, prevents it from achieving the arrangement and harmony that will be possible only when, in a unified society free from class struggle, there will be socialism. Even so, there will not be a time when culture would prove to be finally shaped and could stop its development. The aim of human life is not fulfilment, but creativity and constant forward motion.
This aim is closer to the proletariat than any other class, previous or contemporary. Creating, in an unparalleled struggle with old society, its own forms in all areas of life – in everyday labour, in social activity, within the family, in scientific and philosophical knowledge, in art – the proletariat will increasingly live its own way. It will socialistically transform itself, to then socialistically transform all of humanity.
Originally published in Vpered(1911), under the title 'Sotsializm v nastoiashchem'. This translation is adopted from the Polish version, published in: Aleksandr Bogdanow, ‘Socjalizm w dniu dzisiejszym’, trans. Włodzimierz Marciniak and Cezary Sikorski, Colloquia Communia, 5-6 : 16-17 (1984), pp. 263-267