On the question of the revolutionary party
November 7, 2012 Leave a comment
We are re-publishing this article written by comrade Jonas Potyguar on the question of the revolutionary party and it’s organization. The article lays bare the critical importance of organizing the party on the principles of democratic centralism and with a distinct emphasis of recruiting workers as its grassroots.
88 years without lenin: A revolutionary leninist party, or a party of affiliated sympathizers ?
– Jonas Potyguar
The topic of construction of a revolutionary party and the discussion hinging round this pivot abound among socialists. The character of a Leninist party has been attacked from all kinds of angles.
It has even been said – and not altogether wrong – that Lenin’s main contribution to Marxism has been the theory and practise of the organisation of a revolutionary party. This is so, because Lenin regarded organisation as a fundamental issue among all the other tasks, whether agitation or propaganda.
He has even stated that the task of organisation is more important than that of the use of revolutionary violence in the revolution and that is what he said in 1919, at the funeral of Sverdlov, the greatest organiser the Bolshevik party has ever had:
“Comrades, people who judge by what they see on the surface, the numerous enemies of our revolution, and those who to this day vacillate between the revolution and its opponents, consider the most striking feature of our revolution to be the determined and relentlessly firm way it has dealt with the exploiters and the enemies of the working people. There is no doubt that without this, without revolutionary violence, the proletariat could not have triumphed. Nor can there be any doubt that revolutionary violence was a necessary and legitimate weapon of the revolution only at definite stages of its development, only under definite and special conditions, and that a far more profound and permanent feature of this revolution and condition of its victory was, and remains, the organisation of the proletarian masses, the organisation of the working people.”1
And he tops this reasoning “…the main task of the proletarian revolution is precisely the task of organisation.”2
That is why, unlike reformists, Marxists wish to exert power together with the organised masses and that is not a feat of some great parliamentary “leaders”. The most serious symptom of capitulation to the apparatuses – whether reformist or bourgeois parliamentary – and the most frequent way in which this is expressed is the abandonment of the organisation of the toiling masses – or the pushing back of this task to second-best position (in their own organisations) – and of the vanguard in the revolutionary party. The most appealing task normally are those that imply audience, where is possible to test out very soon and in front of people one’s own individual aptitudes. The simple “grey” task of organising, recruiting and spreading the orientation of the party through the press, for example, is much more difficult and tedious. But pushing the task of organisation to the second-rate level means to yield to the pressure of the bourgeoisie and to capitulate to the apparatuses where a few leaders “substitute” the labour of the masses and of the advance guard.
This is so important that taking it as priority and building the revolutionary party in Russia was the reason for the victory in Russia and the opposite, considering this a secondary task, led to the defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1918.
The secret of the Bolshevik party and their most important lesson on how to build revolutionary parties all over the world was that, understanding the importance of the organisation, they leaned on a tripod that could (and can) ensure strength and invincibility to any revolutionary party: the use of Marxist theory, a close link with the International and their insertion in the workers’ movement.
“Only relying on Marxist revolutionary theory and on the experience of the international social democracy we can merge our revolutionary trend with the workers’ movement…”3
Using this tripod, Bolshevism gets organised in a new type of party, reflecting not only the specificity of the Tsarist Russia but also the new historic epoch of wars and revolutions. It is from his analysis of imperialism that Lenin draws his vision of a new type of party, fighting, for action, for the seizure of power.
“Imperialism is a stage of capitalism in which, after having done all it could have done, it now revolves towards decadence… There may be many similar wars… To fulfil this new task, the proletarian party may need organisations of a totally new type. It is difficult to foretell what the new form of organisation should be in correspondence with this phase.”4
In 1900, defending a party built around a hard core, basically by professional revolutionaries, he said,
“We must prepare men who would not dedicate only their free afternoons to the revolution, but their entire lives…” 5
He asserts that the party must have a flexible structure to define when a frontal combat is required and when it is necessary to retreat properly. He asserts that unconditional centralisation and the most severe discipline of the proletariat inside their party is one of the fundamental conditions for victory over bourgeoisie.
He draws on the norm that the grassroots of the party be active militants, where all the members, without any exception, take part in the struggle, in the movement and in the everyday life of the toiling masses.
After power has been seized, discipline and centralisation are even more important:
“The strictest centralisation and discipline are required within the political party of the proletariat in order to counteract this, in order that the organisational role of the proletariat (and that is its principal role) may be exercised correctly, successfully and victoriously. The dictatorship of the proletariat means a persistent struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of the old society. The force of habit in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force. Without a party of iron that has been tempered in the struggle, a party enjoying the confidence of all honest people in the class in question, a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, such a struggle cannot be waged successfully.” 6
For the Bolshevik party, right from the beginning, even when it consisted of a tiny group of intellectuals who acted in hiding, the insertion in the industrial working class was priority. This orientation is based on the Marxist vision, on the Marxist standpoint on the central character of the industrial working class and the very experience of Marx and Engels who did their best to take socialist ideas to the real movement of working class. As early as 1893, Lenin gets in contact with advanced workers of Saint Petersburg and in 1902 he said:
“Our work is aimed, first of all and above all, at factory workers of the cities. Russian social democracy must not disperse its strength, but concentrate its activity on industrial proletariat… we do not deem it wise to orient our strength towards craftsmen and farmhand…”7
Later on, when the party was no longer small, Lenin oriented it towards other sectors without, however, forsaking that priority. Having defined this priority to social advance guard sectors proved correct, for in 1917 Lenin defended the seizure of power when he achieves majority of soviets in two most important working class cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. We must add that in those days the Russian working class counted 3 millions souls densely concentrated in big factories among 150 million inhabitants. They achieved the miracle of leading dozens and dozens of millions because they were a power inside the industrial proletariat.
Lenin attached an enormous importance to the press of the party. In his famous book What to do? he spreads a vision of a party newspaper as an organizational and political centraliser for the whole party. Thus, in 1912, faced with the first signs of struggle of the working class, he launches a legal newspaper, the Pravda, whose launching was preceded by a several-month-long campaign asking factory workers for their financial support. Contributions came in tens of thousands and there was also a subscription campaign. Pravda had the backing of tens and hundreds of workers, who – with their modest contributions – ensured its publication.
Reflecting directly the situation of class struggle, the ups and downs, victories and defeats, and also the different phases of the construction of the party, there were great wavering as far as the number of militants goes. A party of a few tens of militant cadres in 1901 and of hundreds in 1903 was a founding group, as Lenin put it; “a communist nucleus whose central task was to insert themselves among the masses of workers.” In 1905, at the beginning of the revolution, an advance-guard party with 8 000 militants, most of them inserted in industrial centres, a party in “transition from communist propaganda and agitation to action”. In 1907, at the congress of reunification with the Mensheviks, 77 000 militants with a slight majority of Bolsheviks, the party was already in the period of “mass party” whose essential task was, as Lenin used to say, “take the initiative in massive actions”. At a time of a slump in the struggles, of defeats, in 1910, in most regions the party disintegrated and just a few dozen militants remained. In 1916 the new ascent began and the Bolshevik party had at most 5 000 members and a few cadres. When the revolution began, thousands and thousands of workers joined the political battle and left-wing parties and by April 1917 the party could already boast 79 000 members and by July the figure reaches 170 000, 250 000 by March 1919, 610 000 in March’20 and 730 000 in March 1921.
Bolshevism combined a great inflexibility as far as principles are concerned and a great flexibility at the time of using tactics (forms of struggle) of the most varied type. For example, the defence of using parliament and then boycott, the defence of participating in all the workers’ organisations (trade unions) but censuring the yellow trade unions; the use of terrorism (and also guerrilla) but in a compulsory manner using it only in the service of the working class and as part of the workers’ struggle.
This is absolutely essential in the building of revolutionary parties because to fall into opportunism or ultra-leftism is to give priority to an only procedure, isolate it and turn it into an absolute (for example the use of the parliament). It is just like this popular saying goes: “anything in excess is poison”.
This is how Lenin expresses this vision: “On the other hand, Bolshevism, which had arisen on this granite foundation of theory, went through fifteen years of practical history (1903-17) unequalled anywhere in the world in its wealth of experience… During those fifteen years, no other country knew anything even approximating to that revolutionary experience, that rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement—legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movements, and parliamentary and terrorist forms”. 8
If Bolshevism could triumph in the revolution it is because they knew how to expose the opportunists in Russia and in II International; this was one of the causes of victory.
A party of active militants based on professional militants made the building of a mass party for combat and seizure of power possible. This was expressed, for example, in the way Barmin, a young Bolshevik leader, recruited new members in the factories: “Join the party that does not promise advantages or privileges. If we achieve victory, we shall build a new world. If we are defeated, we shall fight to the last man.”
But in order to build a party that can resist the pressure of the bourgeoisie and the defeat it is necessary to mould a party and leaders capable of learning from their errors.
“A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfils in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people. Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification – that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class, and then the masses. By failing to fulfil this duty and give the utmost attention and consideration to the study of their patent error, the “Lefts” in Germany (and in Holland) have proved that they are not a party of a class, but a circle, not a party of the masses, but a group of intellectualists and of a few workers who ape the worst features of intellectualism.” 9
But he was not satisfied with just identifying the error but reasoned in a Marxist way that is to say, with the understanding that the pressures inside the party reflected the pressures existing in the bourgeois society and he always tried to propose concrete measures within the scope of the organisation of the party to correct the existing deviation or problem.
That is how in the early 1905, in the middle of the revolution, as he saw a lot of hesitations among the leaders of his faction, he proposed clear steps: that the committees of the party should have a majority of workers. (“eight workers for every two intellectuals, for workers have class instinct) He lost when the votes were taken. But in November 1905 in the middle of the revolutionary crisis, he was requesting one intellectual for several hundreds of workers.
After the seizure of power and by the end of the civil war, climbers were flooding the party. Lenin proposed:
“…I should advise the most rigorous admission to the party: a three-year period as candidate for workers (considering a worker one who has worked at least 10 years in the great industry as a simple salaried worker and has now been working for at least 2 or 3 years); for peasants and combatants of the Red Army, 4 years and for everybody else, 5 years.”10
When the danger of bureaucratisation of the USSR emerges, in his last writings he insists that:
“Inclusion of many workers to the CC will help workers to improve our administrative body… The workers who will become part of the CC should be mainly not those who have been acting for a long time in the Soviets… for they have been soaked in with certain traditions and prejudices that we wish to fight against.”11
What a difference between this party and the German party! The latter, held on to legal (parliamentary) intervention, with affiliates who did not have an everyday active participation in the life of the party and workers’ struggles. This “giant” party had, on the eve of the war, a million members, 90 daily papers and had reached 4 million votes in the elections to the parliament. It had magazines, schools, universities, 2.5 million workers were organised in trade unions led by social democrats. When the war broke out it split to pieces like crystal receiving the first bullet. But this routine in the form of organisation was so deep that this lax and rusty structure affected also the Spartaquists, whose leader was Rose Luxemburg, who in 1914 publicly split away from the reformists but did not split away, or took a long time to do so, with their forms of organisation. And that proved deadly for the German revolution. Rose Luxemburg failed to understand that the new epoch required a new type of party. Her organisation had to form itself in the middle of the war and in totally clandestine conditions, had no time to grow up: its members had no discipline and most militants, reacting in an ultra-leftist fashion to the opportunist capitulation of the social democrats, refused to take part in elections or trade unions. Later on Lenin reflected that the main error of German communists was that they did not split away from the social democrats early enough, even before the war.
In 1921 he was to say:
“it is necessary to expose in full details what is it that does not exist in most of the legal parties in the West. There is no everyday work (revolutionary work) done by each and every one member of the party.”12
Nowadays, there is a great discussion in the workers’ movement about the characteristics and the structure of a revolutionary party. Most people point blank refuse to have “Leninist” Democratic Centralism which is regarded as antidemocratic and the form of “affiliated” members, a lax form that admits “ample democracy” for the grassroots, is regarded as preferable.
The discussion on centralisation or non-centralisation of a revolutionary party depends on the purpose it is being built for.
If it is for the seizure of power and to install the dictatorship of the proletariat and overcome the resistance of imperialism by force, the organisation of the party will necessarily have to be centralised, where the 100% of the militants are active and committed militants of workers’ cause. History has proved that without such a type of party victory is always in jeopardy.
On the other hand, if we want to have a party centred hinging round parliamentary activity, elections, a trade union activity now and again (strictly legal) so as to achieve more votes and reach power through elections, there is no need for any democratic centralism. The structure of social democratic parties is good enough for that.
But it is deceitful to tell simple people who do not understand politics that the structure of “affiliates” is more democratic: this is simply a lie! In this type of parties, it is the opportunist leadership who decide everything, and more often than not they are members of parliament, governors, presidents, trade union bureaucrats and the affiliates are simply informed via TV about the guideline of the party, just the way it keeps on happening in Brazilian PT: it turned neoliberal without consulting the hundreds of thousand of affiliated workers.
On the contrary, the Leninist structure of democratic centralism, with the active militants, who participate in the everyday struggle of the workers and party life, discuss everything freely inside the party with the most absolute democracy and then, in a centralised way, everybody, from the freshest to the oldest, have to defend the guideline voted by majority.
This is the only way in which workers can impede that their leader be corrupted by the bourgeoisie.
“And if the workers’ party is really revolutionary, if it is really workers’ (that is to say: linked to the masses, to most workers, to the grassroots of the proletariat and not only to the upper crust sector), if it is really a party, that is: if it is the organisation of the revolutionary advance guard, strong and consistent, capable of doing the revolutionary task among the masses by any possible means, then there is no doubt that this party will be able to hold its members of parliament back…” 13
“The more outstanding the scabs are (meaning Kamenev and Zinoviev) the more compulsory it is to punish them at once with expulsion. The only way to heal a workers’ party is to purge a dozen pusillanimous petty intellectuals, to huddle together the revolutionary rank and file, march together with revolutionary workers.” 14
By means of thousands of negative examples, history has proved the absolute necessity of a Leninist party and today the loss of many revolutions happens just because proletariat does not have a tool of this type and is trapped by the demagogic socialist and “democratic” leaders.
The United Secretariat of the IV International has long forsaken the democratic centralist structure of the organisation of their parties and of the International. But now they take another step forward and make a call to unite all the anticapitalist left, a call that has been passed at the XV Congress of the LCR (France) to:
“… build a new political force, ample and pluralist, radically anticapitalist and resolutely democratic. This grouping in a united party is necessary and urgent to act together along the major guidelines that may, in our opinion, be summed up in a few points: opposition to imperialism, to the war, to the capitalist globalisation… the perspective of a breach with capitalism.”15
This resolution is a “jewel” of opportunism in every field. It would be necessary to write an entire book to expose the venom it contains.
To begin with the expression “opposition to imperialism”. “Opposition” is a parliamentary term. Anybody, down to the blind man in the doorway of a church is “opposition to imperialism”. “Opposition to the war”, yes, of course we are all against the war and the imperialist invasion of Iraq. But are we for the anticolonial war that the Iraqi resistance is carrying out now, and even if necessary, for sending them weapons?
Let us go on to the “perspective” of breach with the capitalism. This just does not commit anybody to anything and left for the future it is something that even Rosseto (Minister of Land Reform in Lula administration) might sign. And the break away from capitalism is to replace it with…. what? That is not said. In this way, anyone can fit into the party, any anti-neoliberal democrat, like the ones who head the World Social Forum and claim that “another world is possible” even in the imperialist system or claim for “unlimited” democracy – and this is something everybody likes – especially imperialism and their companies that exploit and govern the world in an “unlimited way”.
To enter the kingdom of democracy it is not necessary to have a disciplined party of determined and toughened proletarians, ready to die for their class; all you need for that is “to be ample and pluralist”. That is so, because obviously what is needed here is not a party to lead an insurrection and a revolution but to form “potential socialist ministers” for the parliament who would dedicate themselves to diminish the poverty of the “excluded” by means of “compensatory measures” and to guarantee a “law” that would demand from the capital that it should share out its profit and to yell from the parliamentary tribunal against capitalism. What is the use of a centralised party, organised and educated for the seizure of power if it is all about civilised “opposition” to her majesty the bourgeoisie? It is far more convenient to make an “ample and plural” party with members of parliament, consultants, trade union leaders, where liberty would prevail so far that it would even be possible to become a minister in a capitalist government!
Whether to be part of an “anticapitalist” party or not is not a point of principles. Very often revolutionaries are compelled to be there in order to fight reformists who are there. But USec defends the dissolution of their organisations in such parties making the frontiers between revolutionaries and reformists blurred.
Be that as it may, what matters is not what is said but what is done, for words are often gone with the wind and what stays are the bourgeois laws defending the large Brazilian estates applied against the poor of the countryside by a “Trotskyist” minister (in reference to minister Rosseto, member of the USec). It is a disgrace for the IV International. Those who accept such treason are accomplices in the blemishing of the banner of the IV International, of Leninism and revolutionary Marxism.
1 Lenin, C.W. tome 38, page 158
2 Lenin, C.W. tome 7, page 59
3 Lenin, C.W. tome 26, page 30
4 Lenin, C.W. tome 4 page 396
5 Lenin, Lef-wing communism, an infantile disorder
6 Lenin, C.W. tome 2, page 486
7 Lenin, Lef-wing communism, an infantile disorder
8 Lenin, Lef-wing communism, an infantile disorder
9 Lenin, C.W. tome 45, page 7
10 Lenin, C.W. tome 45, page 363
11 Lenin, C.W. tome 44, page 14
12 Lenin, C.W. tome 39, page 173
13 Lenin, C.W. tome 34, page 439
14 Lenin, C.W. tome 34, page 439
15 Rouge, 21/11/2003