Last week, a discussion of Bourdieu in my doctoral seminar led me to recall something I must have learned as a spectator in the French politics of the 1960s. I remembered rather vaguely as concerning the leadership position of the Communist Party in the struggles of the working class and, particularly the position of intellectuals in the Communist Party. I am not much of a scholar of Marxism, but I remembers something about the “leading edge,” but could not come up with a citation or an author. Later in the week one of the students, Laura Bunting, challenged me and I turned, as we intellectuals now do, sometimes with some shame, to Google. In three or four steps ‘“leading edge”’, ‘communism’, ‘proletariat’ led me to a discussion of the following passage from Lenin:
“We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia. In the period under discussion, the middle nineties, this doctrine not only represented the completely formulated programme of the Emancipation of Labour group, but had
already won over to its side the majority of the revolutionary youth in Russia.”
(Vladimir Ilyich Lenin What Is To Be Done? 1901)
I suspect that Bourdieu’s readers could be assumed to be so well versed in Marxist scholarship that he did not have to quote Marx or Lenin when he started writing about “méconnaissance,” and the role of the sociologist. For another systematic critique of the stance, look at Rancière’s The philosopher and his poor (2004 ).