Forwarded from Anthony #2 (more on organization)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Jan 20 07:13:49 MST 2001

Hi Lou:

Please post this.

Why study failures? Because even the most successful of us - the Bosheviks,

In the ongoing discussion of the SSP, CWI, Tommy Sheridan etc. Lou wrote,
probably in a fit of sarcastic hyperbole,

" The point is how to build vanguard parties. I advocate studying successes
like the Bolshevik Party or the Cuban CP, not failures like the Fourth

Sarcastic overstatement or not, 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.

And we should frankly admit to ourselves that the Soviet Union is history -
the Bolsheviks' success was short term.

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 list 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,courageous, 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 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.

Knowing when and how to change party structure when conditions change is an
art that very few revolutionary leaders ever mastered.

Maintaining organizational forms best suited for legal trade union and
parliamentary activities under conditions of political repression for
example, is a formula best suited to destroying an organization. (Cannon I
think, was a little bit guilty of this in his ideas about building a "small
mass party" as the USA entered McCarthyism.)

A good structure, and good theory increase the chances of success - in
getting to the point where a party has a chance to lead a revolution, then
in leading a revolution, and just as importantly in what happens afterwards.

What happened in Cuba after the revolution was a lot different than what
happened in Albania, or for that matter what happened in Cambodia - and a
very important  reason was the form of party organization, and the party
theory was developed in the three different examples. (The other reasons
being the differences in political contexts.) Intelligent leaders learn
that different conditions demand different forms of organization

- clandestine conditions under fascism or military dictatorship require
different kinds of structures than working under conditions of
parliamentary democracy and legal trade unions.

- 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, people, arms, money),
organizing armed groups, trade union activities, participating in
parliamentary elections - organizing the work of a parliamentary fraction,

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 was, or what the
Boslshevik Party was.

In some parts of Russia - especially smaller cities and towns and in rural
areas - Lenin’s party almost 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, social composition, and
maturity 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.

What holds true for a revolutionary party in one country, also holds true -
in general - for a revolutionary international organization. There is no
time tested, sure fire formula to be used in advance to determine what
organizational form will always be the best.

What such an organization might look like when it arises - again, is an
interesting point.

However, whatever it looks like, I would bet that many of its cadre will be
drawn from the remnants of failed efforts to build a Trotskyist
international - including the CWI. And they will have drawn lessons from
their failures.

So, I think its worth studying past failures, and discussing ongoing ones,


Louis Proyect
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