J. R. Campbell
Source: Workers’ Weekly, January 16, 1925
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
One of the most important features of Lenin’s teaching is that concerning the role of a revolutionary party in the struggles of the workers. Lenin’s theory, based upon a long experience of the Labour Movement, comes up against not only the principles advocated by the Social-Democracy, but also those advocated by certain Marxian (?) schools in Great Britain.
The existing moderate Socialist parties attained their greatest development in the years before the war, when capitalism was expanding and the profits of colonial robbery were flowing in a steady stream into the hands of the big capitalists in the leading capitalist countries. Those capitalists were able to grant a number of social reforms to the workers and to spread amongst them the illusion of a steady progress, under capitalism, to a greater state of well-being.
As a consequence of this development there arose in the Socialist Movement the “Revisionist” school who contended that the Marxian analysis was wrong, that capitalism was not moving to a crisis, and that the class struggle so far from intensifying was softening down.
This Revisionist doctrine was never fully accepted by the Continental Socialist parties in theory. In their programmes Marxist doctrine continued to have a place of honour allotted to them. Marxist phrases were widely used in speeches and in the press. The practice of these parties, however, were completely revisionist. Thus there was in the Social-Democratic Parties a complete disharmony between theory and practice.
As the parties were mainly concerned with getting electoral majorities, the question of discipline was naturally a secondary one. Groups with the most diverse views of Socialist theory and policy sheltered under the same expansive Social-Democratic umbrella. The result was that the Social-Democratic parties contained groups and schools waging continuous war against each other. There was no ideological unity.
Against this method of party organisation Lenin waged unrelenting war. The conditions in Russia were such that only a disciplined party, ideologically united under strong central direction, harmonising theory with practice, could lead the workers in the struggle.
This idea of the role of a party was naturally more acceptable in Russia, where the workers were organising and struggling illegally, than in the countries of Western Europe, in which Liberal ideas had infected the Labour Movement.
Since the war, however, the expansion of Western European capitalism has stopped. It is no longer able to throw sops at the workers, but it can only live by intensifying their exploitation and their misery.
We are therefore in Western Europe also entering upon a period of mass struggle leading up to the conquest of power.
One only requires to envisage the problem of bringing large masses into the struggle effectively to realise that unless those masses are under the influence of a trained and disciplined leadership their efforts will be sporadic, chaotic, and aimless.
A Communist Party is a party, embracing or aspiring to embrace all the advanced members of the working class. It incarnates the collective experience of the working class gained in the struggle against capitalism. Such a party must be closely linked up with the workers, understanding their problems, sensing their moods, and assisting, them in the every-day struggle. It is fatal for a workers’ party to pursue a policy which does not take into consideration the state of mind of the masses.
It must be in contact not with the more active workers in the trade union branches and the Local Labour Parties, but must also be in contact with the masses of workers in the workshop. (Hence factory groups.)
A revolutionary party must, however, lead the workers. It must not allow itself to be dragged along by the masses, but must understand the development of events, give its lead to the workers in order that their struggle can be waged in the most effective and revolutionary fashion. It must become the political leader of the working class.
It is worth mentioning that Lenin had, in building the Bolshevik party, to combat a theory similar to one which has been widely spread in Marxist circles in Britain, though it has never been given a name. It was called by Lenin the theory of “spontaneity” and its essence is that it neglects or despises the role that a revolutionary party plays in the struggles of the workers. We have all met its British protagonists.
“Conditions,” they tell us “are becoming more acute; they will force the workers to act as a class; the workers will spontaneously throw up the necessary organisation and leadership to enable them to conduct the struggles.” Often the protagonists of this theory (who include, all sorts of people from anti-parliamentarians to left wing members of the Labour Party) assert that the theoretical divergences in the movement do not matter much, because they will be sorted out and tested “when the crisis comes.”
This theory is widely held by people who look at the Labour Movement from outside. Movements that appear to them to be spontaneous are often actually movements which have been carefully prepared and organised by active groups.
It should be plain to any worker that mass movements have to be capably prepared and carefully handled. This can only be done by a party which combines a correct theory of society with the utmost ability and experience in applying its theory to the everyday struggle of the masses, and the utmost willingness to recast its tactics in the light of experience.
Leninism is the application of Marxism to the problems confronting the workers in the period of Imperialist capitalism, and to the problems of socialist reconstruction where the capitalists have been overthrown. It is not a final theory, but a theory capable of amplification in the light of knowledge gained in the struggle of the workers.
The Communist parties move in the light of Leninism. Unlike the parties of the Second International they are ideologically united.
A revolutionary party must also be organised itself. It must learn to move sharply in response to a Communist lead, and to move as a united body.
This necessitates an iron discipline and a capable centralized leadership
It is this feature of organisation of Communist Parties which provokes unrestrained Menshevik merriment. The Communist is represented as an individual with no mind of his own. The Presidium of the Comintern is supposed to give out the most detailed orders. These orders are accepted by E.C. of the Communist Parties in the various countries who do not criticise but pass them humbly to the membership, and the membership being “slaves of Moscow” duly carry them out.
Now as a matter of plain fact there is more political discussion in a Communist Party in a week than there, is in a Menshevik organisation in a year. The membership are entitled to express their opinion and do express it upon the policy of the International. Have not the same Mensheviks constantly sneered at the Communists for continually discussing theses? And are not our theses simply documents laying down views of the political line of the party and the International?
There is the fullest discussion on the main lines of policy in a Communist Party, but when these lines have been determined, there is no need to discuss every detail of tactical application while one is engaged in the heat of the struggle. Tactics have to be applied quickly, but after a certain line of tactics has been applied the question of whether it was correct or not can be opened.
That then is the Communist theory of the role of the party in the struggles of the workers, and it follows from it as clearly as night follows day that there are no Communists outside the Communist Party, because adherence to Communism means not only acceptance of a theory which gives the party a role of tremendous importance in the workers’ struggle, but it also means the application of that theory in daily life.
Such a being as an “unorganised revolutionary” is a political monstrosity.
Without the training of work within the ranks of a Communist Party, one may be a sympathiser (and then there is hope) or a political dilettante (and in this there is damnation), but one is not a revolutionist.
That is the teaching of Leninism. Can any left winger or non-party Marxist dispute it?