Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Party

Study Notes on “Letter to a Comrade On Our Organizational Tasks”

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 2, January 21, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The lessons summed up by Lenin in “A Letter to a Comrade” have especially important meaning for the Communist Workers Party today. They teach us how to boldly meet the challenge of the 80’s excellent situation. And how to avenge our five comrades’ murder by maximizing the Party’s political firing power to make sure that the bourgeoisie’s third time around is their last.

The Greater the Mass Movement The More Communists Must Exercise Leadership

Lenin wrote “A Letter To A Comrade On Our Organizational Tasks” to a party member in St. Petersburg in 1902. During the years 1900-1903 economic crisis hit Russia. Wages were slashed. 3,000 businesses closed, throwing 100,000 workers onto the streets. The workers fought back with strikes and demonstrations. The peasants rose up too, setting fire to landlords’ mansions and seizing land. Over 30,000 students participated in a general strike in the winter of 1901-1902. In response, the Tsar’s government sent in troops to break the strikes, and shoot down and arrest the workers and peasants. Universities were shut down and students sent into the army.

At this time the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party wasn’t a single, united organization, but instead made up of many local Marxist groups. At the First Congress in 1898 no party program, party rules or single leading center were established. As a result, in 1902 there was still much ideological, political and organizational confusion within the Party.

Lenin fiercely struggled against a group within the Party called the Economists who worshipped the Party’s political and organizational chaos. The Economists belittled the need for a party program, definite party rules and a single center–they denied the working class’ need for its own political party. This flowed from how the Economists saw the tasks of the Russian workers. The workers should fight the economic struggle against the capitalists and leave the political fight against the Tsar to the bourgeoisie. On the other hand Lenin summed up that the greater the mass movement, the more communists must exercise leadership and organization. Only with more consciousness – theoretically, politically and organizationally – could the mass movement aim its blows at the Tsar and be strong and broad enough to overthrow his rule.

Many revolutionary youth had come out of the mass uprisings to join the Party. Being both new to Marxism and inexperienced in revolutionary practice, this added to the already confused state of the Party. Lenin wrote in the letter on two of the shortcomings of the Party’s work at that time: 1) “the lack of serious training and revolutionary education (not only among workers, but among the intellectuals as well)” and 2) “the workers’ alienation from active revolutionary work.”

Rich Content of Working Class’ and Party’s Struggle Outstrips Cadre

Today, the U.S. working class is waking up. The temporary stabilization of capitalism that the 1950’s ushered in has ended. Today’s economic crisis is the worst ever, and people are looking for solutions. Most important, there is now a party to lead the American people out of these capitalist crises to a bright socialist future–the Communist Workers Party. Since the founding of the Party in October 1979, and especially after the murder of our five comrades in Greensboro, the 1980s places many new tasks–theoretical, political and organizational–before our young Party.

The assassination of the CWP 5 by the KKK/Nazis and the FBI has become a clarion call to revolutionary-minded people. Many new and old friends have come forward asking, “What can I do?” Our five comrades’ courage and sacrifice has made the Communist Workers Party and what we stand for concrete to the American people. This is an excellent situation to build up the Party to prepare for the seizure of state power and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

However, by leaps and bounds, the rich content of the working class’ and Party’s struggle has outstripped its cadres. Party members are “too busy” and “have no time” to talk to advanced elements. In 1902 Lenin described this situation:

... there are no people–yet there is a mass of people. There is a mass of people, because the working class and ever more diverse strata of society, year after year, advance from their ranks an increasing number of discontented people who desire to protest ... At the same time we have no people, because we have no leaders, no political leaders, no talented organizers capable of arranging extensive and at the same time uniform and harmonious work that would employ all forces, even the most inconsiderable.

... There is hardly a single practical worker who will doubt that the Social-Democrats could distribute the thousand and one minute functions of their organizational work among the different representatives of the most varied classes. Lack of specialization is one of the most serious defects of our technique . . . The smaller each separate “operation” in our common cause, the more people can we find capable of carrying out such operations (people who, in the majority of cases, are absolutely not capable of becoming professional revolutionaries) ... (Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, Chapter IV)

To take full advantage of today’s excellent situation we have to expand our thinking, and from there define the political tasks, and organize the boundless initiative and energy of these people. Either we create conditions for people’s commitment to be tapped and for them to develop into communists, or we block them. No one is born a communist–it takes a process. It is through regular study and applying this to regular, definite revolutionary activity that professional revolutionaries get trained. And the best conditions for this training to take place are inside the Party.

The path of least resistance for communists is not to see that this takes a process and not to struggle to create conditions so more people can get involved. Not allowing the broad masses to get involved leads to destroying the Party. If we don’t master to a higher degree the task of “arranging extensive and at the same time uniform and harmonious work that would employ all forces, even the most inconsiderable”, it means that the people we have now will have to take on more and more work and not be able to do it all well. New people will be afraid to join. “I agree with your goals, but I’m not as committed as you are.” The Party would become isolated from the advanced and the masses.

We have to start from what people can do and what the Party needs, instead of judging people by comparing them to the Party members we have now. We have to give them the larger perspective and explain the importance and significance of these tasks no matter how small it may seem. The Party’s core is strong. We must have confidence in the Party’s ability to train new fighters and confidence that new friends will learn. It is failure to link broad political scope and tight organization on a higher level which leads to blocking people out.

As we work with people and strive to win them to the cause of communism, we must distinguish between reformists and inexperienced revolutionaries who are not as bold or who can’t devote as much time because of family responsibilities or health reasons. They should be given tasks that are realistic and practically realizable. Then we should struggle with and guide them to carry these out to the end. An essential part of guidance is to do propaganda to fire them with perspective and political scope entailed in their tasks in order to unleash their initiative even more. This is better than giving them too much and then being liberal by letting it slide by when the tasks are not accomplished. We should guard especially against impatience and rationalism when tasks are not fulfilled. Impatience can most often come from the leadership not appreciating the significance and implications of various tasks and what it takes to get them done. We must give regular guidance, and at the beginning, the leadership must lead by example, by making a breakthrough at a point after a new political task is defined and assigned.

Organization – Part Of The Correct Line

The centralized leadership of the party is essentially the leadership of a correct ideological and political line. All the work of our comrades and friends has to be guided by the Party’s political principles. You can’t have a deep and profound grasp of correct ideological and political line of the Party, without a correct organizational line to implement it. It is metaphysical to speak of one without the other. Political lines and organizational line coexist together in practice. Chairman Mao calls this the dialectical unity of opposites. Without one or the other or an appropriate level to clothe its opposite, you canít change the world. In other words, politics with low organization can’t define and carry out political tasks.

This brings us to a highly important principle of all Party organization and all Party activity: while the greatest possible centralization is necessary with regard to the ideological and practical leadership of the movement and the greatest possible decentralization is necessary with regard to keeping the Party centre ( therefore the Party as a whole) informed about the movement, and with regard to responsibility to the Party.

...We must centralize the leadership of the movement. We must also (and for that very reason, since without information centralization is impossible) as far as possible decentralize responsibility to the Party on the part of its individual members, of every participant in its work, and every circle belonging to or associated with the Party. The decentralization is an essential prerequisite of revolutionary centralization and an essential corrective to it. (Lenin, “Letter To Comrade On Our Organizational Tasks”).

A System Of Collective Leadership And Individual Responsibility

One important aspect of the organizational line is a system of collective leadership and individual responsibility. This system, which involves a strict division of labor and allocation of forces, is part of the Party’s overall correct ideological and political line. It is necessary for the Party to exercise its centralized leadership.

A “system” of collective leadership and individual responsibility represents a unity of opposites. Important matters should be discussed collectively to struggle out the correct orientation, but it is individuals who have to carry out the plans. The Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Chairman Mao developed this organizational principle to a high level:

Only if we practice collective leadership, if the members of the Party committees reflect the opinions of the Party members and the masses in their aspects, if they study and discuss questions from every point of view and in depth, will we be able to concentrate the wisdom of the masses to arrive at correct ideas, make decisions that conform to objective reality and avoid or diminish the risk of error. At the same time, this enables the leading members of the Party organization to learn from each other and to move forward together.

Collective leadership must also be combined with individual responsibility. To adhere to collects leadership does not mean to deny the role of the individual. On the contrary, under collective leadership it is necessary that individuals fully play their role. Practising the system of individual responsibility and fully bringing into play the role of individuals concretizes and ensures the realisation of the collective leadership. At the regional level, as at the unit level, it is the Party that leads everything–it has an enormous amount of work. If the questions discussed and collectively resolved by the Party organizations are not divided up among individuals who take charge of them, we run the risk of finding ourselves in a situation in which nobody is responsible for the work, an impossible situation for the Party to exercise its leadership.

This is why “we must take care that neither collective leadership nor personal responsibility is over-emphasized to the neglect of the other.”(1) We must not only oppose important questions being decided on an individual basis, we must also oppose the tendency to avoid responsibility, the tendency to discuss everything–large matters and small–in meetings. (A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China, pp. 88-89) (1) Mao, “On Strengthening the Party Committee System.”

Within the unity of opposites, there is both unity and struggle between them. Either a revisionist “system of responsibilities” advocated by Teng Hsiao Ping (one-man management) or an ultra-democratic “collective leadership” with no central command, no strict division of labor, guideposts, and check-up, will compromise the Party’s political line.

By grasping the dialectical relationship between the Party’s political line and the necessary organizational tasks, and between collective leadership and individual responsibility, we can see that there must be both time for meetings, collective discussion and study, time to discuss division of labor and check-up, and also time for the individual party members to carry out their particular tasks. We should strive to integrate the two to take advantage of today’s excellent situation.

More Division Of Labor and Marxist Education Will Win and Train More Communists, Better and Faster

Lack of division of labor leads to everyone being responsible for everything–in reality nobody responsible for anything. The Party would be crippled–able to do only one thing at a time and other tasks would be liquidated. For example, in the African Liberation Day campaign of 1978, the Party made a right swing by neglecting the base work (work with the masses) and the Party’s basic line when the leadership focused on united front work with politicians. In the Zimbabwe Liberation Day 1977 the Party did only base work because no one was assigned to follow up politicians and church leaders. These swings were made despite a correct political line that comprehensively pointed out the need for both. Amateurishness and lack of a correct organizational line objectively compromised and weakened our Party’s political line. Swings could definitely be minimized with comprehensive planning and a strict division of labor and allocation of forces.

In our plans if we can break down the tasks into smaller and simpler parts, we’ll be able to involve many more people. And through this revolutionary work and constant political education, many more class fighters will be trained and recruited to the Party.

... The committee should endeavor to achieve the greatest possible division of labor, bearing in mind that the various aspects of revolutionary work require various abilities, and that sometimes a person who is absolutely useless as an organizer may be invaluable as an agitator, or that a person who is not good at strictly secret work may be an excellent propagandist, etc. (Lenin, “Letter To A Comrade On Our Organizational Tasks”, p. 240)

Through more division of labor, the needs of the Party will be served better and training can be improved. Running around doing a little of everything, weakens training. There is no such thing as a “renaissance man” who can do everything well. The Party as a whole has to master all forms of struggle, and this requires division of labor. In this way comrades can become both “red” and “expert”.

As the Party and working class movement grows, specialization will increase. Party members and leadership have to step up their study and propaganda to ensure consolidation and centralization of the line. Otherwise, people will get caught up in their day-to-day tasks and lose sight of the overall orientation and larger perspective. We have to fight to raise to a higher level people’s grasp of the dialectical relationship between learning the specific laws of specific tasks and learning the general laws of Marxism.

The whole art of running a secret organization should consist in making use of everything possible, in “giving everyone something to do,” at the same time retaining leadership of the whole movement, not by virtue of having the power of course, but by virtue of authority, energy, greater experience, greater versatility, and greater talent. (Lenin, “Letter To A Comrade ...,” p. 240)

Correctly Defining Tasks Flows From Strategic Thinking

Today’s excellent situation demands both revolutionary sweep in thinking and organizational tightness and discipline. Strategic thinking comes from a long term regular study of Marxism and its application to the concrete situation. We have to proceed from the concretes and look ahead, constantly size up, and come forth with bold plans based on linking of the actual situation and Marxist orientation. And then we have to put these plans into action by defining tasks and finding people to carry them out. It is through finding new comrades to implement these plans, “giving everyone something to do”, at the same time ensuring regular study, that the Party grows.

To be able to size up and come forth with bold plans is not a precondition for being in the Party. It takes time to acquire this ability. However, that’s different from saying we don’t have to constantly struggle to size up and redefine the tasks. For example, it’s incorrect to just look at how many people we’ve got first and then limit the tasks based on that. Lenin criticized this revisionist thinking:

That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is the one that is going on at the given moment. This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adapts itself to spontaneity. ... It means belittling the initiative and energy of class-conscious fighters, whereas Marxism, on the contrary, gives a gigantic impetus to the initiative and energy of the Social-Democrat, opens up for him the widest perspectives and (if one may so express it) places at his disposal the mighty force of millions and millions of workers “spontaneously” rising for the struggle! (Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, Chapter II).

This would narrow the scope of the Party’s tasks and refuse to allow more people to get involved. It is the lag on our part as leaders behind the spontaneous upsurge of the masses and our organizational amateurishness which limits the party’s growth.

Lack of practical training, lack of ability to carry on organizational work is certainly common to us all.. . And, of course, were it only lack of practical training, no one could blame the practical workers. But the term “amateurishness” embraces something else: it denotes a narrow scope of revolutionary work generally [our emphasis] failure to understand that a good organization of revolutionaries cannot be built up on the basis of such narrow activity, and lastly – and most important – it denotes attempts to justify this narrowness and to elevate it to a special “theory,” i.e., bowing in worship to spontaneity on this question, too. (Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, Chapter IV)

The U.S. capitalist system is seriously sick. But it will not die by itself. For over 80 years now since the birth of imperialism the system has been rotting and decaying. The U.S. working class and oppressed peoples are more than ready. The Party’s role is decisive. We have to assume leadership and deal capitalism its final deathblow. There are two lines on this question. We either move ahead to become more professional revolutionaries in all spheres, including the organizational, and overthrow the system, or we allow the bourgeoisie to continue its murderous rule for several more decades.



Lenin, “Letter To A Comrade On Our Organizational Tasks,”
Collected Works, Vol. 6.
Lenin, What Is To Be Done? Chapter IV.
A Basic Understanding of the Communist Party of China, Chapter 6, 7, esp. pp. 87-89.
Mao, “On Contradiction.”