First Published: The Forge, Vol. 4, No. 38, November 2, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Many progressive people are in a quandary about what kind of party is needed to attain socialism in Canada. They see that the social-democracy and reformism of the NDP leads to a dead-end.But at the same time they question the Leninist concept of a vanguard party of the working class.
Some political commentators, including people at Canadian Dimension (CD), a magazine put out by a group of writers in Winnipeg, have openly criticized the idea of a vanguard party. In a special issue on Eurocommunism, (Vol. 13, No. 4, p. 20) a CD commentator writes, “we see the need for a party that has shucked romantic ideas of heroic proletarian vanguards, leading rebellions with street barricades. We doubt that this type of strategy has much relevance in advanced capitalist societies.”
But is the vanguard party a thing of the past? Or is this just the party we must build to lead the daily struggles of the working class and advance the struggle for socialism in Canada?
The type of party we need, of course, is determined by the ultimate aims of the working-class movement. Since our aim is to put an end to the capitalist system in Canada and to build socialism, it is going to take a strong, committed party.
One of Lenin’s great contributions to the working-class cause and Marxism was his summing up of the need for a party of militants, a vanguard party, as the “principal weapon of the proletariat, without which the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannon be won.”
What bothers many people is that not just anyone can become a member of such a party. An editorial statement last summer in Canadian Dimension (Vol. 13. No. 8, p. 40) states: “We cannot accept closed, elitist parties that proclaim their independence from other parties, but blindly follow their lead and act according to their priorities...”
Lenin showed that the communist party could not be a loose association of leftists, but must be made up of working people committed to making revolution, the most advanced fighters for the emancipation of the working class.
He showed that in capitalist society workers do not spontaneously come to understand the need to do away with capitalism and to build socialism and their level of consciousness is unequal.
It is the duty of the most class-conscious members of the working class to unite and build the revolutionary party. Then the members of this militant core can win over their class brothers and sisters to socialism through their patient education and their leadership in the practical struggle.
During the epoch of capitalism, when the working masses are subjected to endless exploitation and are incapable of developing their human abilities, the most characteristic feature of the political labour parties is the fact that they embrace only a minority of their class. The really class-conscious workers represent a minority of the workers in capitalist society... Only this class-conscious minority is capable of leading the working masses.” (Speech at the Second Congress of the Comintern, 1920)
This class-conscious minority does not, as the CD editorialist claims, use Marx and Lenin as “biblical texts” (Vol 13, No. 8, p. 40). Instead, these commuists are armed with the most thorough science for revolution, Marxism-Leninism, which they use not as a bible, but as a practical tool to guide their actions.
Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought was developed by summing up the rich revolutionary experience of the international working-class movement over the past century.
The communist party must have a political program, which charts the way forward for socialist revolution. It is based on a concrete application of Marxism-Leninism to the situation existing in our country and not on the priorities established by parties in other countries.
Many people are also concerned by the amount of organization and discipline that is demanded in a vanguard party. The same CD editorialist writes, “this kind of organizational tyranny has no place in the party we envision.” (p. 40)
But it is not a question of “organizational tyranny.” If the working class is to overthrow the capitalists, it must have a highly organized centralized party. The enemy is not afraid of organizing its army, police, courts, judicial system and pressinto highly efficient tools to maintain its domination.
Look at how the capitalists pull out all the stops to attack even the workers’ economic struggles. Repressive laws against strikers and riot-squad attacks on picketers are commonplace across the country, most recently used against the Common Front in Quebec.
If it is willing to go this far in an econmic struggle, what is the capitalist state going to do when the workers try to overthrow it? Are the capitalists going to sit there and say, go ahead, take it?
As soon as the once-revolutionary Communist Party of Canada began to mobilize thousands of workers in the 1930s, it was declared illegal and its leaders were arrested.
Our party must be tightly disciplined in order to withstand these inevitable attacks. Of course it must be democratic, but it must also be centralized with a conscious unity of will, and unity of action, if it is to succeed in making revolution.
But the CD editorialist’s rejection of a tightly organized vanguard party is closely linked to his waffling on other questions. He feebly states: “We have grave doubts about the final possibility of a non-violent revolution. At some point,or some points, there will surely be confrontations, since ruling classes are not generally known to charitably relinquish their power without struggle.” (p. 39, our emphasis)
But on such a fundamental question there can be no room for doubts. The working class has never won power without a violent revolution. And thus it needs a party capable of leading such a struggle.
We can only have “grave doubts” about what the loose, unorganized and undisciplined party the CD writer has in mind could accomplish.
The CD editorialists also attack the vanguard party as being cut off from the masses. Supposedly it is “made up of experts of the revolution, who are forever bringing down the ’correct line’ to the masses... Working people are not the real foundations of their activities.”
In fact, far from being cut off, since the communist party stands at the head of its class, it is linked to and draws its strength from the working class. The basic organization within the party, the factory cell, provides a direct link between the party and the daily struggles of the working class.
Just because the party is small to begin with, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. Practice shows that if the party builds a solid core of militants who are committed to the revolution, this allows it to do the best education and to mobilize the largest number of working people.
As Lenin said in 1903, “The stronger our party organizations consisting of real social-democrats are, and the less wavering and instability there is within the party, the broader, the more varied, the richer and more fertile will be the influence of the party on the elements of the working class masses surrounding it and guided by it. After all, the party, as the vanguard of the working class, must not be confused with the entire class.” (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back)
It is understandable how confusion around the need for a vanguard party has arisen. Many of the misconceptions have come from viewing the work of the Communist Party of Canada. The problem with the CP, however, comes not because it is a vanguard party. For it is not a vanguard party since it abandoned the revolutionary road more than 25 years ago and began preaching the “peaceful road to socialism.” When the CP was a true communist party during the 1920s and ’30s it had tremendous influence and respect.
Now it has degenerated into a clique of revisionists who follow instructions from Moscow and mislead workers’ struggles. It has also lost most of its support.
But it is an error to conclude, as Canadian Dimension commentators do, that vanguard parties area thing of the past and that what we need in Canada is something like the Eurocommunist parties in France, Italy and Spain. “Eurocommunism has some very obvious attractions for us, despite the obvious weaknesses we are not slow to admit.” (Vol. 13, No. 8, p. 38)
The attractions are difficult to imagine. These once-revolutionary parties are now huge election machines which pose no threat to the capitalist class. On the top of this they are agents – even if sometimes critical ones – of the Soviet superpower. This is not the type of party that can lead the working class to socialism.
In the final analysis, the only successful socialist revolutions, like those in Russia in 1917 and in China, have been led by vanguard parties. If we want to bring the majority of people to support socialism in Canada, Lenin’s type of party, far from being outdated, is a pressing necessity.
Building a non-vanguard, vague socialist party, or one along the lines of the Eurocommunists, would only serve to hold back the revolution by leading into an inevitable dead-end.
The way forward is to take up the task of building our communist party. The WCP may be small, especially outside of Quebec, but it is a growing party and full of potential. For any worker or other person who is willing to fight to end wage slavery and to build a socialist Canada, the door to the WCP is always open.