'A revolutionary party is an instrument for making a revolution. If it is blunted or broken another must be built.'
Such a statement is only half-correct from the standpoint of classical Bolshevism. If a revolutionary party is 'broken' then it is indeed the duty of revolutionaries inside such an organisation to try and join with whatever healthy elements still exist inside that organisation and try and build another such organisation. But how to judge when an allegedly revolutionary organisation is broken? Let us take perhaps the most extreme but also one of the clearest cases from revolutionary history - Leon Trotsky's 1933 break with the Communist International after the rise of Hitler's Nazis to power in Germany and his declaration of the need the need 'To Build Communist Parties and an International Anew'
. Trotsky broke with the Communist International as it had been taken over by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia and first created and then continued with its disastrous strategy of equivocating the 'social fascist' German Social Democratic Party with Hitler's Nazis, and so failed to build a united front against fascism in the run-up to the fateful year of 1933. In July 1933, after Hitler had come to power, Trotsky noted that:
The Moscow leadership has not only proclaimed as infallible the policy which guaranteed victory to Hitler, but has also prohibited all discussion of what had occurred. And this shameful interdiction was not violated, nor overthrown. No national congresses; no international congress; no discussions at party meetings; no discussion in the press! An organization which was not roused by the thunder of fascism and which submits docilely to such outrageous acts of the bureaucracy demonstrates thereby that it is dead and that nothing can ever revive it. To say this openly and publicly is our direct duty toward the proletariat and its future. In all our subsequent work it is necessary to take as our point of departure the historical collapse of the official Communist International.
This is, as I say, an extreme case of a revolutionary party being 'broken' as it had shown no sign of changing course or direction after the rise of fascism to power in a country that hitherto had the strongest working class movement in history. There are other, less extreme examples, of course. As I wrote on this blog
just over a year ago, it would be 'absolutely justified' for a revolutionary to leave one's party 'if one's party had made a betrayal of the principles of socialism and the class struggle itself (eg supported an imperialist war/not supported a strike by workers, etc etc)'.
'If the party had made such a betrayal - and showed no signs of correction after one had put the opposing arguments in the democratic forums of the party - then one would have a duty to form a faction within the party to fight for the correct position - and if that did not work - then to resign from the party, form a new revolutionary Marxist grouping and call on the members of your old party to join your new organisation because the old was irredeemably bankrupt and had become 'social-imperialist/class collaborationist/ etc etc'
The failure to break organisationally with the formally 'Marxist' but actually social-imperialist and class-collorationist German Social Democratic Party before the First World War (which the SPD supported) and form a new revolutionary organisation then was perhaps the most serious failing of Rosa Luxemburg
, an otherwise outstanding revolutionary, for example.
Yet what if a revolutionary party is not 'broken' but is only 'blunted'? Is it correct for a revolutionary to leave their revolutionary organisation if they think it is 'blunted' as an instrument for making a revolution? Here again, for those who stand in the tradition of classical Bolshevism, matters are very clear - and once again it is worth quoting Trotsky
, this time from 1923:
A Bolshevik is not merely a disciplined person; he is a person who in each case and on each question forges a firm opinion of his own and defends it courageously and independently, not only against his enemies, but inside his own party. Today, perhaps, he will be in the minority in his organization. He will submit, because it is his party. But this does not always signify that he is in the wrong. Perhaps he saw or understood before the others did a new task or the necessity of a turn. He will persistently raise the question a second, a third, a tenth time, if need be. Thereby he will render his party a service, helping it to meet the new task fully armed or to carry out the necessary turn without organic upheavals, without fractional convulsions.
For Trotsky, the Communist International in 1923 was not yet the Communist International in 1933, and while it was perhaps distinctly blunted as a revolutionary instrument - hence the German Communist Party's failure to follow the example of the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917 and lead a successful revolution in the 'German October' of 1923 - see Trotsky's The Lessons of October
- it was clear that he therefore had a revolutionary duty to try and win the Communist International back for revolutionary politics. As I put it before:
In other words, were one say a revolutionary socialist inside a revolutionary socialist organisation who disagreed with the strategy and tactics of that organisation, one would have a revolutionary duty to persistently raise one's opinion inside of that organisation, even if one was still in a minority. One would critically defend one's independent position within the framework of democratic centralism - within the democratic frameworks of the party - e.g. a national conference - and then 'submit, because it is your party' outside of such times to what was agreed by the majority of the party at that conference - even if one did not agree with the majority. What one does not do, if one is serious about revolutionary politics, is to resign with a whimper from one's revolutionary socialist organisation just because one has lost an argument over strategy and tactics and is in a minority.
The question is one of revolutionary discipline. To quote from Chris Harman's
excellent article on 'Party and Class':
"Discipline” means acceptance of the need to relate individual experience to the total theory and practice of the party. As such it is not opposed to, but a necessary prerequisite of the ability to make independent evaluations of concrete situations. That is also why “discipline” for Lenin does not mean hiding differences that exist within the party, but rather exposing them to the full light of day so as to argue them out. Only in this way can the mass of members make scientific evaluations.
Yet what of the argument that allowing such disagreement means the revolutionary party will be 'afflicted by factionalism'? It is true that it is a problem if 'factionalism' and internal arguments over strategy and tactics become preponderant and mean that a revolutionary organisation spends most of its time looking inwards rather than outwards to the wider working class movement. This is, for example, what happened to the International Marxist Group around Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn in Britain during the 1970s. Yet the idea that therefore in order to avoid the danger of 'factionalism' a revolutionary who thinks that their own organisation is 'blunted' would just resign from that organisation without arguing for their position is even more problematic from the perspective of classical Bolshevism. As Tony Cliff noted in the first volume of his biography of Lenin, Building the Party
'Once while walking, Leo Tolstoy spotted in the distance the figure of a man squatting and gesturing strangely; a madman, he thought – but on drawing nearer he was satisfied that the man was attending to necessary work, sharpening a knife on a stone. Lenin was fond of citing this example.’
In other words, if one thinks a revolutionary party is 'blunt' - and no revolutionary would ever be so complacent to think that there are not areas where a revolutionary party could be 'sharper', then one does not just go and 'build another organisation' - one devotes themselves to 'sharpening' up that organisation. It may look 'mad' or 'factional' to do this to outsiders - but in fact as anyone who has as much as glanced at the Collected Works
of Lenin knows, internal disagreement and argument is central to Bolshevism (which is why internal party democracy
is so fundamental). All this should not really need stating - but it is worth re-stating here and now quite simply because it is critical if 'Leninism in the 21st century' is to have any meaning whatsoever.
Labels: Marxism, socialism