Some Notes on an All-Inclusive Party

Haim Kantorovitch

Published: American Socialist Monthly, vol. 5, no. 8. December 1936. Pages 14-16.
Transcription/Markup: Micah Muer, 2022.

These notes were the beginning of an unfinished article on an All-Inclusive Party.

On the eve of the Detroit Convention, May, 1934, the most widely discussed problem in the Socialist Party was "The Road to Power." Whoever could hold pen in hand, wrote articles, theses, or resolutions on "The Road to Power." In branches, the heated discussions on the "Road to Power" were never ending.

Of course many naive, foolish, and often utopian plans were proposed. Some of the endless discussions consisted of "hot air," etc. Yet, there was a healthy element in all of these discussions. Socialists wanted to make their own ideas clear to themselves. They wanted to know for themselves: How are we going to attain power? A socialist who takes his Socialism seriously must have an answer to this question. It is true, no blue print of the future revolution can be made, but the question does not demand a blue print for an answer. What is necessary in order to answer the question, is merely to rephrase it. Instead of asking how we are going to answer it, we should ask:--In view of past experiences, and in view of the tendencies of capitalist development, what will we, in all probability, be compelled to do in order to achieve Socialism?

Those socialists,--and their number in the Socialist Party is considerable,--who consider themselves very practical and advise us to "first build a Socialist Party, and then speculate on the future;" those who tell us "we will cross the bridge when we reach it" are really very impractical, Imagine some one consulting an architect and ordering him to build a house. "What kind of house?" the architect asks. "Never mind. That is a question for the future. You just build the house. Later we will decide such details as kind, size, material, plan, etc." People would think such a man crazy. But that is exactly what our practical people advise us to do. First build a Socialist Party, and later you will decide the kind of party. The question of what kind of a party depends on what we expect it to accomplish and how. If, for instance, we believe that Socialism will come as a result of a gradual, peaceful, quantitative accumulation of social reforms, we will have one type of Socialist Party, a type in which there is ample place for every soft-hearted liberal, reformer, pacifist, even though he is not a socialist. Any one who subscribes to the immediate demands we put forward today is welcome. Let's get this support. Tomorrow he may not agree with our tomorrow's immediate demands and leave the party. But what of it. There will always be other good people who will join us in our fight for a constitutional amendment, or unemployment insurance, or other such reforms. That these people are not socialists is of no consequence so long as they help us increase the volume of accomplished reforms, because volume is everything. When "quantity" will reach sufficient volume of development, it will turn into a new quality without our doing anything about it.

If, however, we believe that Socialism can come only as a result of a revolution, we will have a different type of party. We will have to organize a party that will prepare for a revolution. Good people who are ready to support our fight for a constitutional amendment, will still be welcome to do so, but there will be no place for them in the party. A reformist party can, and should, be an all-inclusive party. There is no reason to reject one from party membership merely because he does not share our "dream of the future" so long as he accepts and is willing to fight for our demands of today.

The slogan "all-inclusive" party is, of course, no invention of Comrade Thomas'. Every Socialist Party in Europe, as well as the American Socialist Party, prior to the war and the Russian revolution were all-inclusive. There was room enough in the German Social-Democratic Party for both Rosa Luxemburg and Eduard Bernstein; in the French party for Jules Guesde as well as Renaudel; for Bill Haywood and Victor Berger in the American party.

The legend is diligently spread that the Russian Bolshevik Party was a united, monolithic party. But it is not true. Philsophic [sic] revisionism of Marxism first sprang up among the Bolsheviki. Machism, which Lenin considered reactionary and counter-revolutionary, was for a time practically limited to the Bolshevik circles. The foremost representatives of Machism, Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Bazarov, were all active members of the Bolshevik party. Lenin knew well that philosophic revisionism could not stop at philosophy, that it was bound to lead to revisionist practice. Knowing full well that he was incompetent in matters of philosophy, he appealed to his political enemies, but still his philosophic teachers, Plekhanov and "Orthodox" (Luba Axelrod) that they undertake a fundamental criticism of the new revisionism. Only after they had refused did he decide to do the job himself. Because of his incompetency in philosophy, he produced a very inferior book on philosophy. Little did he dream that his inferior creation would become the Koran of the communist philosophy and effectively block the way for all future philosophic developments within the communist movement.

This, however, is a digression. What is important is the fact that the Bolshevik party, before the October Revolution was far from the united, monolithic party it is said to have been. Just before the outbreak of the war, the tendency grew very strong among both Bolsheviki and Mensheviki to unite into one party. If not for the outbreak of the war, this union would certainly have been accomplished. Even after the first revolution (1917) Stalin and other Bolshevik leaders were for uniting with the Mensheviki.

But, what happened to these all-inclusive parties? They all split, broke up into more than two parts as soon as they faced the first crisis. An all-inclusive party can exist only during times of peace and prosperity. Noske and Rosa Luxemburg could belong to the same party so long as all real problems that divided them were Zukunftsmusik. But, once the future became the present, as it is bound to become sometime, the constituent elements of the inclusive party had to part company. Yesterday's friends became today's enemies, and were often compelled to settle their differences behind opposing sides of barricades. This is the fate of every inclusive party. It can not survive a crisis.

The value of a Socialist Party for the social reformer is in what it can achieve today. For the revolutionary socialist its value is determined by what it is destined to achieve tomorrow. Hoping to achieve its ideal within the framework of existing social and political institutions it is natural for social reformists to declare that "the Socialist Party firmly believes in the strengthening and maintainance [sic] of existing democratic institutions" (quoted from the resolution on armed insurrection adopted by the Cleveland Convention of the Socialist Party). Revolutionary socialists do not share this view. They believe that in order to achieve Socialism they will have to destroy and replace the existing democratic institutions. They are therefore not interested in maintaining and strengthening, but in showing up these institutions for what they are: Tools of capitalism, maintained by capitalism for its own purposes, and as future weapons to be used against the victorious revolutionary armies.

Only fools and charlatans will read into this a repetition of the now discarded Stalinist theory that between bourgeois democracy and fascism we have nothing to choose. Of course, every revolutionary socialist is ready to defend the existing democratic institutions against fascism. Yet, it is not the same as an abstract and general pledge to maintain and strengthen existing democratic institutions. A general declaration like the one quoted from the Cleveland resolution is a blanket endorsement of the existing democratic institutions. We will maintain and strengthen them because they are good per se.[01] The revolutionary socialist is ready to defend bourgeois democracy not because it is good per se, but because he does not want to exchange it for a fascist dictatorship. He wants to exchange it for a workers' democracy.

To the advice of the practical people: First build a party and then discuss plans for the future, -- there is one answer. We cannot build a party before we decide on the type of party we want. And we cannot decide on the type of party we want unless we know what we expect the party to accomplish and how we believe it may accomplish it. In other words, theoretic and programmatic clarity must come first. This is both the foundation and cement of the party.


[01]. Of course, this contradicts the part added to the Detroit Declaration according to which no real democracy is possible in a class society.