O.W. Kuusinen

The Avant-guard

(24 November 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 102, 24 November 1922, pp. 823–824.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

What were the principal dangers that threatened to strangle the first Proletarian Revolution in Russia during the first years of its existence?

First of all, the external and internal enemies of the Proletarian Revolution were at the door. The second danger lay in the fear that the revolutionary forces might be dissolved and dissipated in chaos.

The external enemies at the beginning were divided into two hostile camps, and the Soviet government at that time succeeded in tying the offensive force of its nearest principal enemy – German imperialism – by means of the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk. To the other enemies of the Proletarian Revolution who were continually cropping up in fresh legions like the notorious Czecho-Slovakian legion, an insurmountable barrier was erected through the formation of the Red Army. The latter task in itself necessitated everywhere the guiding activity of the politically conscious elements. The same thing applies to the other branches of Soviet activity. The entire Soviet organization was originally a loosely connected elemental force which necessitated tremendous efforts to transform it gradually into the mighty Soviet system. Who was capable of giving uniform guidance to this work?

This was accomplished by the Russian Communist Party. The saving of the Proletarian Revolution was the work of millions of proletarians. The victorious leadership of these millions was the task of the Russian Communist Party.

A retrospective glance at the task and difficulties of the young Soviet Power in its gigantic scope is sufficient to give an inkling of the danger of disintegration of the revolutionary forces. When now, in little Austria the great masters of the 2½ International and the foremost experts of social-treachery are continually whining: “we could any day take power into our hands, but the thousand and one difficulties of governing that would immediately arise would cause us to relinquish the power ”, one cannot help reflecting: “Well, what ought our Russian comrades to say about their difficulties?”

Our Russian comrades threw themselves into the immense Soviet activity without even having a moment’s time to talk about their difficulties. towards the middle of 1918 this slogan was recognized in all its scope and poignancy, and the slogan of: “Back into the Party” was the rallying call to the political vanguard. The Party organization had for a long time been relegated to the background by the stress of excessive Soviet work. But it became evident that only the work of the Party could bring uniformity into the revolutionary activity. The Party was confronted with the dilemma of either being driven by the elemental process of the revolutionary forces. Without reliable guidance the revolution was heading for failure, and only a strongly welded party organization could effectively assume the leadership.

The role of the revolutionary workers’ party as the leader of the class struggle is on the whole one of the most important facts brought home to us by the example of the Russian Communist Party. At the same time the Russian Communist Party carried forward the development of Marxian theory and practice. It is true that the Communist Manifesto in its day gave a theoretical outline of the essential tasks of the Communists, by describing them as “ the most resolute and constant force for progress in all countries”, who “fight for the achievement of the immediate aims and interests of the working class, yet at the same time see in the present phase of the movement also its future”. Yet Marx could not lay down any fixed lines of party organization. At the time of the Communist Manifesto and the First International, the labor parties were as yet either little sects or loosely connected groupings and currents, not one of which represented – the Party in the larger historical sense”.

In the period of capitalist development which followed, there sprang up in most countries the big Parliamentary Labor parties which pursued a reformist policy and were opposed by a narrow-minded, non-political or politically indifferent, trade-unionist movement. The onward march from this embryonic stage to that of a revolutionary workers’ party was effected only through the Russian Bolshevik Party.

The Russian comrades affectionately described their party as a vanguard. Indeed this mental picture describes both sides of the role of the party: marching forward at the head of the fighting masses without loosing contact with the masses, – standing in the first firing line of the masses fighting for their vital interests, without merging themselves in the masses.

This conception of the role of the party, thanks to the efforts of the Russian Communist Party, has become the dominant viewpoint of the revolutionary labor movement in most countries. It is true that in the ranks of revolutionary (and semi-revolutionary) Syndicalism a struggle is still going on against the principle that the party should play a leading role in the revolutionary class struggle. Yet at bottom it is not so much a struggle against the actual leadership of the party, but rather a wrestling, within the minds of the undeveloped revolutionaries against their old prejudices. Within the ranks of the Communist Party the viewpoint introduced by the Russian Communist Party is no longer questioned in debate (except perhaps for a few individual and stubborn opponents).

Yet it is one thing to recognize the correctness of a principle, and quite another thing to carry it out. It can hardly be claimed that all sections of the Comintern have adopted this principle in practice. On the contrary, in most countries there is keen discussion on this question, and partly even on the question whether “under present circumstances” there should be any innovations at all introduced in our old working methods. Properly speaking this was the cause of much of the factional strife in many sections of our Party, and the differences of opinion which have arisen temporarily between Parties and the Executive of the Comintern. This strife and clash of opinion is mostly a stimulus to the party on the forward march towards becoming a truly revolutionary Workers’ Party.

Thinking of the important lessons the other Communist parties (without exception) have already learned in this regard from the activity of the Russian Communist Party, one comes back to the idea of the urgent necessity of making the most important experiences of the Russian Communist Party widely known through popularly written publications.

This of course, does not mean, that the Russian Communist Party in its development as the vanguard of the proletarian revolution has reached the point of perfection. It is no secret that the Russian comrades themselves are of an altogether different opinion, as can be seen from the frank self-criticism in all their party discussions. No other party reveals such courage in its self-criticism and this of course is a sign of the political maturity of the Party.

The development of the Russian Communist Party is far from complete, yet the way and the manner of its development are to us extremely edifying. “Through work and struggle” – Oh yes, it is quite a simple matter to write this down on paper, but how uncommonly complex in practice. The Russian Communist Party has proved capable of asserting its authority through went and struggle, without any considerable friction of conflicts in the ranks. This is one lesson. It took its leading role in all seriousness, moulding the formal relations of Party members to their tasks and to the masses as an organised whole and substituting technical guidance for bureaucratic interference. This is another lesson. It has constantly striven to bring about the proper division of labor between the Party and the Soviet organs, finding the fitting work for party members in every field of activity, finding the suitable forces for any new and difficult tasks, and so on. finally there is much to be learned from the way in which the leading organs of the party have always been anxious to make timely discovery of any mistakes that may have been committed, constantly revising, and improving, and if need be, altering their form of activity.

The most weakly developed part of Russian politics was the ability to make judicious use of the forces available. Comrade Lenin twenty years ago, in his Notes on the Consolidation and Development of Revolutionary Activity gave prominent place to the importance of a proper division of labor and proper use of all available forces. In the course of the last twenty years, Lenin has done more than anyone else in the matter of organizing the leadership of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat. Everyone is aware of the enormous experience he has gained, particularly since 1917. And yet, after all his experiences, what was the main watchword at the last Congress of the Russian Communist Party?

Proper choice of men and control over the execution of the work!

Speaking of the lessons to be learned from the Russian Communist Party, it would be altogether inadequate to limit oneself to the one subject of the role of the Communist Party, indeed, there are equally valuable lessons to be learned in many other directions, it is instructive to know how the Russian Communist Party has found the happy way of uniting revolutionary figthing ardour with revolutionary adaptability: how it made this happy combination effective whenever and wherever it was put to the test. Then comes perhaps the most important lesson: the Marxian strategy of the revolutionary class struggle. Mention should be made of the manner in which the Russian Communist Party adopted the Marxian method and developed it further in the practice of the greater proletarian revolution.

Last updated on 3 January 2021