Forwarded from Anthony (organization)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Jan 20 07:10:54 MST 2001

Hi Lou:

Please post this.

Lou wrote that we should study successes like the Bolshevik Party and the
Cuban Communist Party, not failures like the Fourth International.

I think Louis is definitely wrong - I think we SHOULD study failures like
the First, Second, and Fourth Internationals - and like the
semi-international the Bukharinists and other centrists set up in the
1930’s - which included the Independent Labor Party of Great Britain and
the POUM of Spain - two of the outstanding failures of loosely organized
centrist parties.

We should study them to see why they failed - and not simply attribue their
failure to some universal cause - for example not having found the secret
to the organizational structure needed for a revolutionary party - or
network if you prefer.

I would say that the truth is that organizational form was AT MOST a
secondary cause of all the failures listed above.

The two primary causes of those failures were 1) unfavorable social and
political conditions. 2) Poor party strategy and tactics, including totally
unprincipled actions like joining bourgeois coalition governments, e.g. the

If you look at the left in the United States since the Civil War you will
find a huge selection of organizational forms that were tried and ALL FAILED.

For example, not only did the SWP fail, but the Cochran group failed as well.

Conversely you can look at Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos,
Yugoslavia, Mexico, Albania, North Korea and Cuba and see that VASTLY
different organizational structures SUCCEEDED - at least they succeeded in
leading social revolutions.

Revolutionary parties succeed or fail based on

* whether or not they succeed in accumulating enough intelligent,
dedicated, principled people to act together as a political
faction/tendency/party with enough social and political weight to have an
impact on national politics.

*whether or not they win the confidence of the working class, and/or
peasantry and other oppressed.

*whether or not the right social and political conditions come into
existence for revolutionary upheaval at a time when a revolutionary party
has already achieved the previous two points.

* whether or not the revolutionary leadership has the courage and wisdom to
recognize and seize the revolutionary opportunity when it arises.

Such parties can be internally democratic or internally despotic. Such
parties can have a good theory, or an inadequate one. Such parties often
start off as tightly knit groups of conspirators.

Their internal organization and theory matter - but not as much as many
people think. Fidel’s theory and organization were both very weak even as
they began to lead a revolution. Enver Hoxha’s theory and organization
sucked from beginning to end.

Of course organizational form and party theory both matter. A good
structure, and good theory increase the chances of success - in leading a
revolution, and in what happens afterwards.

Intelligent leaders learn that different conditions demand different forms
of organization

- clandestine conditions under fascism required different kinds of
structures than working under conditions of parliamentary democracy.

- little organizations have different organizational needs than big

- organizations without mass influence have different organizational needs
than those with mass influence.

The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party had a very complicated set of
constantly changing organizational tasks - combining legal and illegal
work, underground activities in Russia, emigre activities - complicated and
dangerous financial tasks, smuggling newspapers, organizing armed groups,
trade union activities, participating in parliamentary elections -
organizing the work of a parliamentary fraction, etc.

The real organizational form of Lenin’s party wasn’t always the same. Party
Congresses had to be held outside of the country in secret - or not held
for years. "What is to be done" is a valuable document - but it only
expresses a factional position at a given moment in history. That factional
position has a lot of enduring wisdom - but it never described the sensuous
reality of what the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, or what the
Boslshevik Party was.

In some parts of Russia - especially smaller cities and towns and in rural
areas - Lenin’s party always operated in clandestine cells, but in Vyborg
especially during times of intense class struggle, Lenin’s party combined
cells with frequent large neighborhood and factory meetings often open to
party sympathizers as well as party members.

Similarly, Fidel’s organization went through many different organizational
phases. It is a lot different in organizational form now, than when they
were up in the Sierra Madre with a handful of fighters.

All of this is by way of backing up my assertion that the proper
organizational form for a revolutionary organization depends on the time,
place, social and political conditions, and size of the organization. There
are no timeless formulas that will unlock the secret of how to succeed in
first building a revolutionary party, and then leading a revolution.


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list