I just read George Novack’s incredible short piece ‘From Lenin To Castro: The Importance Of The Individual In History-Making‘. His application of dialectical materialism is spot on in its suppleness, but what struck me the most was this passage:
In the first place, the social phenomena divided into opposing categories are only relatively objective or subjective. Their status changes according to the relevant connections. If the world environment is objective to the nation which is part of it, the nation in turn is objective to the classes which constitute its social structure. The ruling class is objective to the working class. The party is subjective to the class whose interests it represents and aims it promotes while groups, tendencies, factions and their combinations are subjective to the movement or party which contains them. Finally, the individual has a subjective status relative to all these other factors, although he has an objective existence in relation to other individuals.
So this dividing into subjective and objective happens at various levels of the whole (the world-historical process), and one division doesn’t necessarily totally supersede the other. They relate to each other, these different subject-object divisions. The subjective is always on the side of the progressive aspect of the development of the whole: it is the part that comprehends this development and acts on it to bring it to being. The objective is the element that retards it. The necessary outgrowth of Novack’s point is that there are always objective (that is, retarding) elements in the party and in the progressive subject as a whole, there are even objective aspects in the smallest subject categories: the faction and perhaps we could say even the individual (Badiou? ‘The one divides into two’?).
This is a nice formation helping me understand the role of decisive leadership. Of course the subject can’t fully split from the object – that would be an idealist disaster leading to this subject becoming entirely objective (insofar as its wayward ultraleftism would be detrimental to the development of the whole) – however, within the party, it is the duty of the conscious forces to galvanise into a powerful subjective force within the party (which is itself the subjective force with regard to the working class, which is the subjective force with regard to the class struggle) and lead the developmental process. But the importance and decisiveness of this will change depending on changing contexts that arise through the struggle – it’s important to know when to emphasise this subject within the subject, and when not to.
I think this could be the starting point for an individual ethics for socialists. It allows for the recognition of the the subjective factor of the individual relative to the various other subject-object divisions – though importantly not with regard to any other individual, so the individual-subject has no grounds to dominate any other individual and nor is the individual in itself subjective. And it allows for the attribution of the category of ‘subject’ to all the relevant forces, and so stops the individual from thinking that because he or she may represent the conscious force with regard to the party (for example), this party has therefore in itself become object. No, the party retains its status as subject in relation to the class – despite having become object for the individual. Likewise the fact that the party represents the subjective factor with regard to the class relies on the fact that the class remains the subject vis-a-vis the bourgeoisie – and thus the party cannot substitute for the class, even though it must offer decisive leadership.