Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Gagnon

For the Proletarian Party

Chapter 4: the proletarian party – party of the masses

Contrary to what certain opportunists, reformist nationalists or social-democrats may say, the workers’ party is not the result of an addition of groups or militants. It is not the party with the most members, even if it is the party of the masses.

The proletarian party is above all the leadership orgaisation of the class struggle of the proletariat against bourgeois power. It is an organisation of militants sharing a common proletarian political line, which recognises the fundamental contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie as the source of all the present contradictions in industrial society. Consequently, its basic objective in the more or less long term is the complete abolition of capitalist relations of exploitation.

The party, among all the working-class and people’s organisations, unions, associations, committees, etc., is that one which takes on the leadership of the struggle, which puts itself at the vanguard of the workers movement, which in turn is composed of all peoples’ organisations and their struggles. The party is thus not opposed to the numerous organisations which arise among the masses and fight for particular objectives; it doesn’t attempt to meld them together, to bring them together into a bigger single organisation, let alone to destroy them.

The proletarian party is thus fundamentally a party of the masses: its short and long-term objectives are determined by the interests of the masses, i.e. all classes, strata and fractions of classes which make up the exploited and oppressed people. As long as contradictions exist among the people, there will be people’s organisations in various forms with particular objectives. That’s why the “workers’ party”, the project based on the idealist negation of contradictions among the people, is destined to fail from the viewpoint of the revolution. The proletarian party of the masses, on the contrary, recognises these contradictions but shows that their real solution lies in solving the fundamental contradiction of capitalism. At first, the proletarian party acts in the workers’ movement with the sole aim of imparting to it a revolutionary orientation, by ever more clearly unmasking the contradictions underlying every conflict and struggle. What matters then is not so much the development of the party as an organisation, but rather the development of the whole workers movement, the penetration among the masses of the proletarian ideology through a greater clarification of the class interests of the proletariat. Such a development translates no doubt into a larger number of struggles, but especially into struggles which ever more completely unmask the contradictions of capitalism and furthermore bring out the objective interests of the proletariat and oppressed masses. This result of the people’s struggles, which causes a real and lasting weakening of the position of the bourgeoisie in the relation of forces, comes from aiming straight at the heart of the contradiction.

Thus a proletarian political line is created, and the class consciousness of the proletariat is developed. Already at this stage the proletarian party is playing its role as leader, especially on the ideological front. Only later in the process of the party’s development will it be able to take up the function of true political leadership. At this later time, it will act to directly change the relation of forces in favour of the people by constantly weakening bourgeois power until it can be overthrown.

Before being able to take on the political leadership of the struggling proletariat, the party is first called on to develop an ideological pole. In its wake, workers organisation can mark its progress, make qualitative leaps, pass from local and particular struggles to struggles which shake the system ever more strongly, because they touch the interests of the whole proletariat.

The proletarian party is the party of the masses by virtue of its relations with the masses. Right from the beginning, the proletarian party can only constitute an ideological pole in so far as its orientation – its political line – objectively expresses proletarian interests. Correct analysis of classes and of the present situation, analysis of worked-out positions on strategy and tactics, precise and coherent slogans – these are not the result of chance or... creative imagination. They presuppose close and constant links between the party and the masses, links of such a kind that the party’s line is the generalised expression, carried to a conscious and scientific level, of the objective interests of the entire proletariat.

“The role of the party, therefore, consists not only in defining sound objectives, but also in grasping what the masses are prepared to do and in leading them forward without ever resorting to coercion, and by advancing slogans and directives which the masses can make ’their own’, elaborating adequate tactics and strategy, and helping the masses to organize themselves. (...)

“Historical experience (...) illuminated by Marxist theory, makes it clear that the class character of a party’s political and ideological practice manifests itself in the structure of its relations with the masses, in its internal relations. (...)

“In brief, a ruling party can be a proletarian party only if it refrains from imposing orders on the masses and remains the instrument of their initiatives. This is possible only if it submits fully to criticism on the part of the masses, if it does not try to impose ’necessary’ tasks upon the masses (...)

“The role of a proletarian party, therefore, is to help the masses to achieve themselves the tasks that correspond to their basic interests. (...)

“A proletarian party cannot claim to ’act in place of’ the masses. For the masses must transform themselves while transforming the objective world, and they can transform themselves only through their own experience of victories and defeats. This is the only way in which the masses can achieve a collective consciousness, a collective will, and a collective capacity, i.e., their freedom as a class.”[17]

This long quote taken from an article by Charles Bettelheim takes up certain essential features of the proletarian party. We thus see better how, at the stage of its formation, the party’s role is not to bring together the greatest number of groups and militants in the hope that these “Common Fronts” will lead to a strong party. Nor is it to convince the leadership of the unions to arbitrarily and authoritarianly declare that henceforth the unionised workers make up the “workers’ party”. Further, it is not to elaborate a programme sufficiently vague to accommodate all “wage-earners” and to sell them membership cards.

These bureaucratic and opportunist methods cause more division than unity, for they rest on a complete absence of analysis and of consciousness of the class interests in question. We shouldn’t negate the positive character of the “Common Fronts’’ which have occurred in the workers’ movement during recent years, and which undoubtedly bear witness to a desire for unity, to a sense of workers’ solidarity, and in many cases to their high level of militancy. But the fact remains that up till now these “Fronts” were organised by the union bureaucrats who are more interested in furthering their own petty-bourgeois interests, than to work for the progress of the workers’ movement. It’s not surprising that only rarely have these “Common Fronts” situated their struggle in terms of clear and distinct class interests.

From the viewpoint of the workers’ movement, the proliferation of the ”Common Fronts” is a major development, but they don’t change it into a revolutionary movement, something which can only come about under the leadership of a class party. The proletarian party is to the workers’ movement what the plan or structure is to a building: the materials, i.e. the workers’ and people’s organisations aren’t transformed in themselves, but all together and connected in a certain fashion, they constitute something qualitatively different. The existence of the proletarian party makes of the workers’ movement, of the totality of people’s organisations and their struggles, a revolutionary movement – a class movement of the proletariat for the seizure of power. Le Duan puts it thus, “The first crucial problem of the revolution is to correctly and fully assert the leading role of the working class. Because of its economic, political, and historical position, the working class has become the representative of the progress of human society in our epoch, the only class capable of elevating the toiling people to masterhood of their destiny.”[18]

That is what the social democrats as much as the petty-bourgeois nationalists have forgotten. Their good intentions, should they have any weren’t enough to make them take good decisions. Nonetheless, such is the foundation of the proletarian line, of revolutionary ideology in the era of imperialism. It’s in this context that we have to view the scope of Lenin’s statement that there can be “no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory”. In effect, the point of departure for the organisation of the revolutionary party is the scientific, materialist analysis of society, social classes and their relations – an analysis of the current situation.

The essential characteristics of the proletarian party – that it is an organisation of the masses, that it defines the fundamental contradiction as between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, that it leads the struggle of the proletariat and the whole people at first glance always seems like abstractions bearing no relation to the present practice and organisational forms of the workers. At this time their concrete significance is to sum up the criteria that the Quebec workers’ party would have to meet in order to be a revolutionary party.

They also allow us to judge in most cases whether one or another form of political action is in conformity with the objective of the party we want to create. They also serve as an instrument for criticising reformist and petty-bourgeois practices (forms of activity). The proletarian party does not presently exist in Quebec. In examining the present various people’s organisations we can only note the absence of the party and resolve to determine the conditions for its existence, i.e., to concretely determine what must be changed and what preserved in the present practice in order to achieve the creation of the party.


[17] Charles Bettelheim, ”Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Social Classes, and Proletarian Ideology”, in On the Transition to Socialism, New York, Monthly Review, 1971, pp. 61-63.

[18] Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution, p. 28.