We know from direct experience how badly revolutionary party building has fared over the last several decades. Indeed, the steadfast endeavour to build one over the last 70 years has never amounted to more than a precarious and often temporary existence for one or more of the numerous, relatively small and competing sects. It could be argued quite fairly that the record of Party building, even during the fierce class-struggles of the post-second World War period, has been dismal. Not even the Thatcherite demolition job on the working class in Britain, perhaps the severest in 1970’s recession hit Europe, produced a healthy non-sectarian re-orientation of ‘the party’ builders. Nor for that matter, did this period witness the expressed desire for the formation of one, or the augmentation of an existing one, by workers in their various struggles. A similar case could be presented for the rest of Europe, North America and elsewhere. But if the recent record of revolutionary party building is somewhat desultory, how good was it when it was allegedly at its very best? The lack of a critical appraisal of the record of ‘the party’ (past and present) among many revolutionary anti-capitalists, I suggest, is a crucially important omission.
For this reason, it continues to be a common assumption among many on the anti-capitalist left, that a disciplined revolutionary party is a vital and sooner or later a necessary ingredient in the anti-capitalist struggle. An allied assumption is that without such an organisation any struggle against the forces of oppression gathered around the capitalist system will not succeed in overthrowing it or achieving success afterwards. These two assumptions, often articulated as indisputable facts, are a central part of the inherited Bolshevik tradition handed down by the splintered post-second World War veterans of the Stalinist, Leninist and Trotskyist schools of anti-capitalist thought.
The origin of these assumptions, which I once uncritically accepted, are based upon written testimony handed down through many books and articles written by the above three authors and reiterated by their 20th century literary followers. But it is manifestly true that there is really no history ‘as it actually happened’ only historical interpretation. Therefore in any such historical legacy it is to be expected that what was selected for transmission has had a particular, sectarian and variable bias. This is also the case for subsequent interpretations of events and opinions. It is the intention of this article to present some of the overlooked and neglected evidence, drawn from the writings of Lenin, Trotsky and other senior figures of the Russian revolution, which cast a different, more sober light, on the concept and practice of ‘the party’.
The same internal sources will also reveal a truer picture of the often uncertain and frequently negative role of ‘the party’ in the actual revolutionary events of 1905, 1917 and later in Russia. I should make clear before going further that I write this from a committed anti-capitalist perspective, one not opposed to forms of organisation and one guided by the revolutionary-humanist insights of Karl Marx. In particular I shall attempt to keep with the spirit of revolutionary criticism and self-criticism which Marx consistently advocated. Eg.
“I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing….The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of the conflict with the powers that be.” (Marx to Ruge 1843.)
In my experience, very few, if any, Leninist acolytes and Trotskyist imitators have ever applied such ruthless form of criticism to Bolshevism as Marx advocated in 1843 and which in practice he applied to the Gotha Programme thirty-two years later in 1875. Instead ’The Party’ has generally been viewed through a form of rationalisation of which a Doctor Panglos would be eminently proud. As a working class activist, devouring the works of Lenin, Trotsky and their interpreters, I gradually became aware, amid the differing Leninist and Trotskyist pronouncements, of a glaring neglect. It was the complete absence of a critical perspective from the standpoint of the oppressed. This was a perspective which was central to Marx. I previously attempted to supply at least part of that critical deficiency, in a book entitled ‘Revolutionary-Humanism and the Anti-Capitalist Struggle‘. In this article I will add a few additional indicators as to why I think it is necessary, from a working-class perspective, to re-evaluate of the concept of ‘the party’ as the only effective and essential form of organisation for revolutionary anti-capitalists.
For the full text of this post and the evidence taken from the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, click on the following title: THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY.
R. Ratcliffe (February 2012)