Red Theory: The party of a new type
In order to have a successful revolution that can overthrow the capitalist ruling class, put the working class into power, and build socialism, we need to be organized in the way that is best suited to that task. The great leader of the Bolshevik revolution, V.I. Lenin, took up this question of Marxist revolutionary organization in 1902 in his book, What is to be Done? In this book, Lenin for the first time gives us the theory of the “Party of a new type.”
In this early period of the revolutionary movement in Russia, much like in the U.S. today, there were many groups and organizations contending for leadership of the working-class movement. No organization had been able to assume leadership and merge itself with the advanced fighters of the entire workers’ movement. But Lenin saw this as the critical task of the day. He saw the need for the workers to form a party, but not a party of the old type, that based itself on contesting parliamentary elections, but a new type of party that could lead a revolutionary, life-or-death battle against the ruling class.
One such group was known as the “Economists,” because they argued that the working class should limit itself to the economic struggle, leaving aside the political struggle. They argued that the working class would organize itself and its economic battles spontaneously, without conscious leadership. Lenin, on the other hand, argued that the working class must engage with politics outside of their immediate economic struggle, and that they could not achieve emancipation from economic exploitation without a political struggle against tsarism. Lenin also argued that the Economists tailed behind the spontaneity of the masses, leaving the working class unarmed against an enemy that was armed to the teeth. He argued that without fusing socialist consciousness and Marxist theory with the workers’ movement, the working class would be groping blindly in the dark. All in all, Lenin summed up the Economists as propagating a reformist trend in the workers’ movement and as being opposed to revolution.
In the process of the struggle against the Economists, Lenin explained what features were necessary for a revolutionary party. Stalin, in his Foundations of Leninism, lists six distinguishing features of this new, Leninist type of party.
First, the party must be the advanced detachment of the working class. This means that the party must be large enough that it comes to contain the best leaders of the entire workers’ movement. By merging itself with the most advanced leaders of the workers’ movement, the party fuses Marxist-Leninist theory with the working class. The party is therefore the political leader of the class, and its general staff. In this way, the party can use what Mao Zedong would later refer to as the “Mass Line” to lead revolutionary struggle, uniting with the advanced fighters in order to mobilize the broad intermediate and win over or isolate the backward elements. It does this by taking up the immediate demands of the masses, using Marxist theory to analyze the contradictions at work, and then bringing that back to the masses in a concentrated, strategic, and revolutionary form. With the mass line, the party and the masses together can win all that can be won in these struggles, while further developing consciousness and building revolutionary organization.
Second, the party must be the organized detachment of the working class. This means not everyone is in the party, and one cannot simply declare oneself a member. The members must be organized and disciplined. This means the party is organized according to “democratic centralism.” This means that the party is democratically organized, but centrally guided. Lower bodies, in which all members must participate, must submit to higher bodies. The members of the party, while able to debate the party’s general line and determine it democratically, must carry out that line once it is decided. Criticism and self-criticism must be practiced by all of the party cadres at all levels to overcome shortcomings.
Third, the party must be the highest form of class organization of the working class. The party is one of the organizations of the working class, but not the only one. These other organizations include trade unions, mass organizations, civic and cultural groups, and other parts of the broad united front against monopoly capitalism. These are organizations with a broad base of unity organized around immediate demands, particular tasks, campaigns and struggles. They require less discipline and less unity to participate in than the party itself, and can therefore include a much broader section of the masses. But the party must strive to give leadership to all of these groups, by means of persuasion and by example, so that the revolution can move forward in a strategic and unified way.
Fourth, the party must be an instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Every state is a dictatorship of one class over the other. Capitalist society is a democracy for the rich, and dictatorship for the rest of us. It is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Socialist society will be true democracy for the working and oppressed masses, orders of magnitude more democratic than the capitalist “democracies,” but it will also exercise dictatorship against the defeated bourgeoisie and their agents who want to restore capitalism. The party must be an instrument both for overthrowing the bourgeoisie and for keeping them from organizing counter-revolution, and for maintaining and expanding the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Stalin puts it, this means
“imbuing the millions of proletarians with the spirit of discipline and organization; it means creating among the proletarian masses a cementing force and a bulwark against the corrosive influence of the petty-bourgeois elemental forces and petty-bourgeois habits; it means enhancing the organizing work of the proletarians in re-educating and remolding the petty-bourgeois strata; it means helping the masses of the proletarians to educate themselves as a force capable of abolishing classes and of preparing the conditions for the organization of socialist production. But it is impossible to accomplish all this without a party which is strong by reason of its solidarity and discipline.”
Fifth, the party must embody unity of will. In other words, factionalism goes against the purpose of the party. Once a decision is reached and democratically agreed upon, the cadres of the party must do their best to carry it out to the fullest. The minority submits to the majority.
Sixth, and finally, the party must strengthen itself by purging itself of opportunist elements. Factionalism forms out of opportunism. This doesn’t mean people cannot disagree, but those who would form factions, break the unity of the will of the party, shamelessly break its discipline, or act as enemy agents, thereby hindering it from carrying on with its work, have to be removed from the ranks of the party membership for it to be able to act effectively.
Lenin drafted the “Theses on the Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties and the Methods and Content of their Work,” which were adopted at the 3rd Congress of the Communist International in 1921. These theses further elaborated the function and tasks of the Marxist-Leninist party and deserve careful study.
As Mao Zedong once put it, “If there is to be revolution, there must be a revolutionary party.” Today, there is no party like this in the United States, no revolutionary vanguard, no advanced, organized detachment and general staff of the proletariat. The Communist Party USA, despite its many great achievements and proud history, had entirely abandoned its role as revolutionary vanguard by the end of the 1950s. It is up to the Marxist-Leninists in this country to build a new communist party. The FRSO Program goes into depth on this task and its importance:
“In our view, it is the central task of revolutionaries to create a new communist party – a political party that is serious about revolution in this country. Such a party cannot be proclaimed or declared into being. It will be the product of bringing together or fusing Marxism with the workers movement. In a practical sense this means that a substantial section of the activists, organizers, and leaders need to take up the science of revolution, Marxism-Leninism, in order to build a communist party that is, in fact, the advanced and organized detachment of the multi-national working class. This process will be the result of an organized effort, and it cannot come about spontaneously.”
Essential to this task is building the united front against monopoly capitalism, with the strategic alliance of the workers’ movement and the oppressed nationalities at its core.
Contradictions are sharpening every day, and the world cries out for things to be done. U.S. imperialism is in decline, and its laws of motion will push it into deeper and deeper crises. This will create the objective conditions necessary for revolution in this country. But in order to seize the time, subjective conditions are also necessary: we must have the organization that is required to contend for power. We must build it.