Max Shachtman

What is the role of a revolutionary organization?

Five years of the Workers Party

(April 1945)


From New International, Vol.XI No.3, April 1945.
Republished as What is the role of a revolutionary organisation? on the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


It is an axiom by now that the defeats and setbacks suffered by the working class throughout the world [in the Twentieth Century] have been due not to the vigour and stability of the existing social order, but to the absence or immaturity of the conscious revolutionary vanguard. A score of times since 1917, the people have either been ready to rise or have actually risen against the ruling classes. Each time they have sought to remove the decomposing barrier to social progress. In every case, there was enough will to struggle, aggressiveness, sacrifice. Defeat was due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership measuring up to its tasks.

The old social order cannot simply be removed. Its removal is dependent upon its replacement by socialism. The victorious struggle to substitute socialism for capitalism is unique in all history, as we have repeatedly emphasized, above all because it is and cannot but be a conscious struggle. Slavery not only could but did take the place of primitive communism without the conscious and planned efforts of the slave-owners. Capitalism could emerge triumphantly out of feudalism without the conscious revolution of the bourgeois class. Feudalism was murdered by the modern machine and the modern market. To the extent that the bourgeoisie participated as a class, it had an essentially false consciousness.

It is entirely different with socialism. The first social order in history to be based on conscious planning can be brought into existence only by conscious planning. The process of capitalist production creates directly the possibility and the necessity of socialism in the form of a vast, socially-operated machine. It creates directly a class, the working class, capable of introducing socialism. The indispensable elements of a socialist consciousness, however, it creates only indirectly and in a much more remote sense; and even these must contend with a systematically fostered bourgeois consciousness. The struggle against capitalism and social decay is at the same time necessarily a struggle of socialist against bourgeois conscioussness. Victory in the one case is impossible without victory in the other. Two generations have lived to see this demonstrated.

Consciousness of any kind cannot exist without a mind for its repository, any more than a mind can exist without a body. Socialist consciousness requires a repository where it can be accumulated and ordered, from which it can be instilled in others, and by which it can be constantly revised, checked, renewed and defended. The ingenuity of man has invented no repository which even begins to equal – much less one that is superior to – the revolutionary socialist party, the political vanguard organization of the working class. "Without revolutionary theory, no revolutionary practice” – that is only another way of saying, “Without a revolutionary party imbuing the working class with socialist consciousness and organizing its action on that basis, no proletarian victory, no socialism.” And, no socialism means the continuation of the decay and disintegration of society.

Once all this, and what follows from it, is fully grasped, the task of our time is clear. The worker who knows that capitalism is his enemy, but who cannot find time for the revolutionary party because he is “too busy” in the trade union movement has not yet grasped these fundamentals. The result is that his activity among the working class is vitiated, even nullified. The dilletante in or near the labour movement does not feel that he needs to grasp this. He acts like a political crane – now standing on his left foot, his right tucked comfortably under his wing, like a critical reservation he makes against planting himself firmly in the water; and now with his right foot down and his left in the air, where it can be daintily dried of the few drops that managed to adhere to it. Meanwhile, he writes articles with his bill, deploring the chaos in the world, the chaos in the radical movement, the choas in his own mind, which, he suggests to the reader, he will one day get around to clearing up.

Fortunately, there are those who have grasped these fundamentals. The fight for liberty, for socialism, is the moral content of their lives. They are therefore able to devote themselves singlemindedly to the building of the revolutionary party. Their success in performing this most important of all tasks must be measured by what is necessary in any given period for the attainment of the main goal – but also by what is possible and by what is accomplished by those whose course is different. WIth these ideas in mind, we are better able to pass in review the first five years of the Workers’ Party.
 

button
Max Shachtman
Archive
button
Marxist Writers’
Archives

Last updated on 3.5.2011