Anatomy of a Sect

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Aug 8 11:55:27 MDT 1996

Below is a section from Hal Draper's "Toward a New Beginning - On Another
Road". The full text is on
                            Anatomy of the Sect

To sum up: we have seen three approaches so far. One we can throw out: the
approach of confining oneself only to individual militants without any
political center. The real problem is whether the political center must
necessarily be a sect. It is a question of the relationship between the
vanguard and the class, not merely of two organizational forms.

The sect establishes itself on a HIGH level (far above that of the working
class) and on a thin base which is ideologically selective (usually
necessarily outside working class). Its working-class character is claimed
on the basis of its aspiration and orientation, not its composition or its
life. It then sets out to haul the working class up to its level, or calls
on the working class to climb up the grade. From behind its organizational
walls, it sends out scouting parties to contact the working class, and
missionaries to convert two here and three there. It sees itself becoming,
one day, a mass revolutionary party by a process of accretion; or by
eventual unity with two or three other sects; or perhaps by some process of

Marx, on the other, saw the vanguard elements as avoiding above all the
creation of organizational walls between themselves and the
class-in-motion. The task was not to lift up two workers here and three
there to the level of the Full Program (let alone two students here and
three intellectuals there!) but to go after the levers that could get the
class, or sections or the class, moving as a mass onto higher levels of
action and politics.

The sect mentality sees its sanctification only in its Full Program, that
is, in what separates it from the working class. If, god forbid, some
slogan it puts forth bids fair to become to popular, it gets scared.
"Something must be the matter! We must have capitulated to somebody." (This
is not a caricature: it is drawn from life.) Marx's approach was exactly
the opposite. The job of the vanguard was to work out slogans that would be
popular in the given state of the class struggle, in the sense of being
able to get broadest possible masses of workers moving. That means: moving
on an issue, in a direction, in a way that would bring them into conflict
with the capitalist class and its state, and the agents of capitalists and
state, including the "labor lieutenants of capitalism" (its own leaders).

The sect is a miniaturized version of the revolutionary party-to-be, a
"small mass party," a microscopic edition or model of the mass party that
does not yet exist. Rather, it thinks of itself this way, or tries to be
such a miniature.

Its organizational method is the method of "as if": let us act as if we
were a mass party already (to a miniscular degree, naturally, in accordance
with our resources), and this is the road to becoming a mass party. Let us
publish a "workers' newspaper," just as if we were a workers' party; and if
we cannot publish a daily like a real mass party, at least we can publish a
weekly or bi-weekly by draining all our resources -- this makes us a small
(unreal) mass party. (But such a facade is only self-deluding, since if it
ever succeeds in deluding a single worker, he finds out soon enough that
there is little behind it.) Let us build a "Bolshevik" party be being
"disciplined" like good Bolsheviks. (So, on the basis of a false notion of
"Bolshevik" discipline absorbed from the enemies of Leninism, the sect is
"Bolshevized" into a contracting, petrifying coterie, which replaces the
bonds of a political cohesion by iron hoops such as are needed to hold
together the staves of a crumbling barrel.

There is a fundamental fallacy in the notion that the road of
miniaturization (aping a mass party in miniature) is the road to a mass
revolutionary party. Science proves that the scale on which a living
organism exists cannot be arbitrarily changed: human beings cannot exist
either on the scale of the Lilliputians or of the Brobdingagians*; their
life mechanisms could not function on either scale. Ants can life 200 times
their own weight, but a six foot ant could not lift 20 tons even if it
could exist in some monstrous fashion. In organizational life too, this is
true: If you try to miniaturize a mass party, you do not get a mass party
in miniature, but only a monster.

The basic reason for this is the following: The life- principle of a
revolutionary mass party is not simply its Full Program, which can be
copied with nothing but an activist typewriter and can be expanded or
contracted like an accordion. Its life-principle is its integral
involvement as a part of the working-class movement, its immersion in the
class struggle not by a Central Committee decision but because it lives
there. It is this life-principle which cannot be aped or miniaturized; it
does not reduce like a cartoon or shrink like a woolen shirt. Like a
nuclear reaction, this phenomenon comes into existence only at critical
mass; below critical mass, it does not simply become smaller, it

Hence, what can the would-be micro-mass party ape in miniature? Only the
internal life of the mass party (some of it, in a way); but this internal
life, mechanically carried over, is now detached from the reality which
governs it in a real mass party. Detach the guts of a lion from its body,
and what you have in reality is -- tripe. This is why the internal life of
a sect has a tendency to be an exercise in unreality, in facades, in ritual

Also, since only the mass party's internal life is available for ritualized
parody, the set mentality finds only internal life congenial. For outside
of that internal life, the harsh realities of isolation and impotence are
unbuffered and unbearable, having not the slightest resemblance to the
external life of a mass party. The internal life of the sect becomes not a
necessary evil keyed to its outside activities, but rather a substitute
gratification. On the one hand, the mass-party worker chafes at the
necessity of spending much time at internal branch meetings, fraction
meetings etc., even if he is a good enough Marxist to understand that these
things are necessary. The sect mentality, in contrast, finds comfort and
zest only in such ingrown activities, where suitably revolutionary talk can
be enjoyed, whereas a trade-union meeting is just a drag.

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