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One of the Greats
Letter by Sabby Sagall, April 2005
I have just one point to add to Ian Birchall's excellent review of Paul Foot's The Vote (March SR).
George Orwell once wrote, 'A thousand influences constantly press a working man into a passive role.' Whichever social institution we examine - the working class family, the school, the mass media, the workplace - a sense of inferiority, of subordinate status, is constantly drummed into working class people. Unless capitalism is able to instil this image of inadequacy into them, it cannot survive as a system of exploitation run at their expense.
For this reason, they are written out of history. History becomes what the 'good and the great' have achieved. But it was working people who created trade unions, workers' democracy - as in the Paris Commune of 1871 or the Russian soviets of 1905 and 1917 - who launched reform and revolutionary movements such as Chartism, whose very activities as collective producers led them to the idea of socialism in the 1830s and 1840s.
Every few years a book appears that gives back to the working class what the capitalist process of legitimation takes away from them. Karl Marx's The Civil War in France and Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution are supreme examples, but in the post Second World War era we have had, among others, EP Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class and Raya Dunayevskaya's Marxism and Freedom.
The great Italian revolutionary Gramsci coined the phrase 'organic intellectual' to refer to the category of thinkers and activists intimately linked to the class, who help it to acquire consciousness of itself and its historical achievements, and therefore of its potential to create another world. Paul's The Vote marks him out as one of our finest organic intellectuals.
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