Multiform and indissociable Tasks of the Class Party
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 3; October 2007)
The synthetic but effective article on the fundamental tasks of the class party which we reproduce below, was published in June ‘81 in «El Comunista», then organ of the party in Spain. Its objective was to indicate to the young elements who approached the party the traditional orientations of Marxism on this point. It is still useful to point them out today.
Right from the start Marxism defined the characteristic objectives of the Communist Party with an exemplary clarity. The Manifesto of 1848 expresses this in a synthetic way as if engraved into the soul of the wage slaves: constitution of the proletariat into a class, therefore into a party; overthrow of the domination of the bourgeoisie; conquest of political power. It is useless to recall at any great length that for Marxists this overthrow presupposes civil war and that this political power can exist only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
72 years later, reacting to the degeneration of the social democracy and to the apolitical anarcho-syndicalist attitude, the IInd Congress of the Communist International affirmed, also with crystal clarity, in its proclamation written by Trotsky: the IIIrd International is the party of violent insurrection and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Consequently, one adheres to the Communist Party to forge the political organ which proposes to lead the armed insurrection and the proletarian dictatorship. For Marxism, the revolution is not this Great Evening dreamed of by the anarchists and the revolutionary syndicalists who deny the need for the party and the proletarian State. The revolution will be a whole historical period of advances and retreats, of defeated and victorious insurrections, civil wars and revolutionary wars whose central question will be that of the conquest and the dictatorial exercise of political power.
The insurrection itself is only a moment–essential, without any doubt–in the war of the classes. Its objective conditions are provided by a deep social crisis (i.e. by an intense development of the struggle between classes) produced by a revolutionary thrust in the broadest layers of the proletariat which involves a general political crisis of bourgeois domination of such amplitude that the power starts to escape from the hands of the capitalist class. Its subjective conditions are given by the existence of a Communist Party equipped with a clear programmatic vision, strongly centralized and disciplined, which knows how to conquer a determining influence on the most combative sectors of the class; and by the firm will in the party and the decisive layers of the proletariat (and the soldiers) to launch themselves into the final fight for the conquest of power.
The preparation of the revolution is thus the preparation of the party and, by its intermediation, of the masses for the supreme tasks of the class war.
Engels wrote in a famous passage that the party has three permanent tasks: theoretical, political and practico-economic (of resistance to the capitalists). In 1926, the communist Left in the Theses of Lyon defined these three tasks in the following way:
«The activity of the party (...), always and in all situations, must develop simultaneously in these three directions:
a) To defend and specify according to new facts which arise the fundamental postulates of the program, i.e. theoretical conscience of the movement of the working class:
b) To ensure the continuity of the organization of the party, and its effectiveness, and to protect it from contrary influences external to the revolutionary interest of the proletariat;
c) To participate actively in all working class struggles, even those caused by partial and limited interests, to encourage their development, but constantly connecting them to the revolutionary final goals, by presenting the conquests of the class struggle as access roads to the essential future fights, by denouncing the danger to confine itself to partial achievements as if they were ends in themselves (...)»(1)
The theoretical activity of the party is a fundamental condition of the revolution: without revolutionary theory, there cannot be a revolutionary movement. The scientific determination of final goals; the acquisition and the defense of the principles of Communism, that is to say the general objectives it is necessary to reach in order to give birth to the new society; the comprehension of the dynamics of the class struggle in order to there insert the conscious action of the party (in other words, the tactics) able to ensure the revolutionary capacity of the class above and beyond the fluxes and refluxes of victories and defeats; all this requires the constant analysis of events in the light of the Marxism and the full possession of the Marxist theory. Theoretical combat translates the consciousness of the party which it would be anti-Marxist to wish to find in the individual consciousness of each militant, in the same way that the comprehension of military strategy is not the task carried out by all the officers and all the soldiers of an army. Theory is the compass of the revolutionary party without which there can be only the crass empiricism of opportunism which nourishes itself on the ideology of the class enemy.
The political struggle, insofar as it can be distinguished from the theoretical fight and assumes its own physiognomy, is expressed in the activity of the party which historically ascends these levels: a) the propaganda of the principles of the Communism and the conclusions of the doctrine in relation to concrete experiences, in opposition to all other parties and forces of the enemy classes and of proselytism; b) the conquest of an increasing politico-organizational influence on the combative masses of the class, tending to subordinate their struggles towards revolutionary objectives and their general requirements; c) the armed insurrection and the establishment of the new class state. It is in this specific and characteristic activity that the raison d’être of the party materializes. Without it–and, today, in the absence even of the first level–one can speak neither about party, nor of party action.
THE PARTICIPATION IN PARTIAL STRUGGLES
The active participation in the partial struggles of the working class, and in particular in the trade-union (syndical) struggle, constitutes one of the terrains of party activity, although one would not say that it is an activity that characterizes it. What distinguishes the Communists on this terrain, is not the act of taking part in the trade-union struggle (open in principle to any proletarian independently of their political positions), nor to take part in it in this or that way; it is the act of taking part in order to reinforce the conviction that in bourgeois society there cannot be stable conquests, and to point out the necessity of turning the permanent guerrilla skirmishing against capital into a school of war for Communism (but the school of war is not the war itself!).
By means of this participation, the party can supplement and complete the lessons of the experience through its propaganda, gain new proselytes and extend its political and organizational influence among broader masses of the class. Reciprocally, this participation is a factor of reinforcement of the immediate organizations and a guarantee of their maintenance on the line of the class struggle. But if it is true that the Communists take part in economic struggles and that historically they are able to give them their maximum potentiality by integrating them in the revolutionary struggle, the reciprocal is not true: one does not adhere to the Communist Party by the simple act of being a trade union militant, no matter how combative. The trade-union militant fights for specific objectives of an economic nature (wages, hours of work, etc). The communist militant as such enlists his struggle in that of an organization which fights for the conquest of power.
An essential aspect of the fight of communist militants is organizational work. Any waran–d in particular the class war–implies organization, from the general staff to the ranks, from communications to the means of subsistence, finances, services for information and counter-espionage etc. In the same way, the party presupposes an organization suited to combat on all terrains of the social war, with both public and clandestine structures, legal and illegal, with its information and communication networks, its administration and its administrators, with its bodies for propaganda and defense, with its territorial and sectoral organizations, vertical and horizontal, which as a whole ensemble must ensure continuity, effectiveness and safety. This is what is also meant by party work, of an aspect of its struggle as well which materially supports the work (including theoretical) of propaganda and proselytism, that the work of agitation and participation in the immediate struggles of the class and those of revolutionary leadership of the masses.
These various levels of the action of the party constitute the specific requirements for unitary action. Each one of these levels implies well determined working methods and, consequently, the specialization of militants. But the party, as a unitary collectivity, «always and in all situations must include everyone» as was stated above. To again use the words of Engels, the fight of the party «must be carried out in a methodical way in the three concentrated and reciprocally dependent directions» (“For the first time in the history of the labour movement the struggle is being so conducted that its three sides, the theoretical, the political and the practical economical (opposition to the capitalists), form one harmonious and well-planned entity”.)[cf. MWA]. Better: «the force and the invincibility of the movement lie precisely in this attack which we could say is concentric» (“In this concentric attack, as it were, lies the strength and invincibility of the German movement.”)[ibid.] (2).
The party prepares itself and prepares the class by carrying out the whole ensemble of its tasks. It does not reduce itself to just some among them. It is not by chance that the basic structure of the party, i.e. the local section, is a territorial structure within which it incorporates the work of propaganda and political proselytism as well as organizational work and that of participation in the workers struggles. It is not by chance that the communist groups (or trade-union, or factory cells), the propaganda groups (including the editorial function), like all the other articulations of the party in the various sectors of its activity, depend on its territorial organizations (local sections, regional, national, international center). The party is not the sum of its various activities, but the centralized collectivity which assumes the permanent tasks of revolutionary preparation.
The party doesn’t limit itself to theoretical work. It is not only the product of history equipped with consciousness; it is also a factor of history equipped with will. It is not a question of merely interpreting the world, but of changing it. But reciprocally, to underestimate theoretical work, is to open the door to impotence, to the disaggregating influence of the enemy, to opportunist treason.
The party does not limit itself to the work of propaganda and proselytism. Marxism constituted historically passing beyond utopianism, which claims to transform society by education. The fight against «educationism» was always inseparable from Marxism in general and the fight against opportunism in particular. One of the first manifestations of the Left itself was the fight in 1912 against the «culturalism» of the Young Socialists, against the “Right” which aimed to reduce the revolutionary activity of young people to the acquisition of «socialist culture».
The party is very much an organ for propaganda; but it is so in order to be a body of combat.
But reciprocally, to underestimate propaganda and proselytism means to void the action of the party, to deprive it of its raison d’être. The army of the revolution is an army of volunteers, both on the level of the party (which is its military leadership) or on the level of the masses joined together in the immediate organizations of the class. Adhesion to the party, the orientation and the direction of its organizations and its militants, presupposes a permanent political propaganda against that of adversarial forces.
The work of the party is not limited to organizational work. Although it recognizes in Blanquism the appropriate accuracy of the requirement of centralized organization of insurrectionary action and the conquest of the power, Marxism demonstrated the limits of this purely organizational conception of revolutionary action. The revolution implies the fight of the masses lead by the party, and consequently the conquest of a decisive influence of the one on the other. But reciprocally to underestimate organizational work implies a pacifist and fatalistic vision of class struggle.
Pacifist, insofar as the class struggle is a war to the death for power: the bourgeoisie has already produced the demonstration of its capacities of resistance in defense of its dictatorship; the staff of the proletariat must prepare methodically and systematically with a war which is not only of ideas, but must be carried out with the material means of any civil war. Fatalist, insofar as it leaves to others the resolution of problems which come back again to the party and to it alone to ensure the continuity and the effectiveness of the political action of the revolutionary avant-garde. (Do you use “vanguard” or avoid its use so as not to suggest trotskyist connotations?)
The party does not limit itself to the participation in immediate struggles. The prospects for the party are not limited to the horizon of the trade-union guerrilla skirmish. Its struggle does not confound it with any partial struggle and it is not the sum of its participation in them. Marx recognizes as the precursor of the communist movement, not the spontaneous movement of a trade-union (syndicalist) nature, but the utopianism which contributed a programmatic anticipation of the future society, and the Conspiracy of Equals of Babeuf which, at the same time as the intuition of Communism, contributed the proletarian struggle for the conquest of power. The genesis and the development of the communist movement does not coincide with, nor can it be superimposed on the trade-union (syndicalist) movement of the working class. This movement is immersed from its roots in the antagonism which opposes profit and wages and which does not leave nor can it leave the limits of bourgeois society. Whereas the communist movement situates itself on the terrain of the struggle for a new mode of production, on the political ground of the conquest of power. The trade-union (syndicalist) movement fights the effects of wage exploitation; the revolutionary political movement tends to extirpate their causes.
The revolutionary energies of the class are not crystallized in the trade-union movement, but in the political movement. Adhesion to the party implies going beyond the inherent limits in any trade-union movement, to raise oneself to the level of the consciousness and will of communists. This is why it was and remains opportunist the claim of the economism of yesterday and of today “to give to the economic struggle a political character» (3). The function of reformism is precisely to reduce the horizon of the proletarian struggle to the fight for a more favorable division between wages and profit. This is why, neither communist consciousness nor will can result from the trade-union movement; this is why revolutionary consciousness must be brought from outside the spontaneous movement, thanks to the action of the party, in order to integrate the action of the masses in a struggle which exceeds the limits of the economic situation and of immediate interests. To make the birth, the directives and the action of the party depend on partial struggles with their highs and lows, i.e. on the spontaneous curve of the trade-union movement, means to sacrifice final objectives to contingent results, which is even the definition of opportunism; that means to take up again on its account the eternal reformist formula according to which «the movement is everything, the goal is nothing».
The party is not a selected organization of propagandists (a party of professors), nor a party of trade unionists, however combative they are: it is the organization of the proletarians who unite themselves with the consciousness of communist principles, who decide to devote all their forces to the cause of the revolution.
But reciprocally, to underestimate the participation in immediate struggles means abandoning the proletariat which defends its living conditions to adverse influences; that means preventing the apprenticeship in the difficult art of the struggle and preventing the possibility of extending the influence of the party in the masses; all things considered that means making the essential conditions of the preparation revolutionary of the party and the class impossible.
There is no particular way which would make it possible to forge the revolutionary party concretely and to extend its influence; the party is reinforced and acquires the capacity to direct the class on the revolutionary road by developing the whole ensemble of its tasks during the course of a struggle which is inscribed in the iron continuity between its programmatic positions and its instructions of propaganda and combat.
There are no «shorter ways» because there is no other way.
(1) cf «Lyon Theses» presented at the 3rd Congress of the PC of Italy, held in Lyon in 1926 because of fascistic repression in Italy. Texts of PCInt n°7, p. 112. (2) cf Engel’s foreword in 1874 of «The Peasant War in Germany”.
(3) cf Lenin, «What Is To Be Done?», chapter III