[Marxism] Reflections on the “party question”

Ken Hiebert knhiebert at shaw.ca
Tue May 16 12:27:00 MDT 2017


No party is perfect. Nonetheless, in the 20th century parties played a central role in every single liberation struggle and in the revolutions that broke most with capitalism. To be sure, these revolutions became ossified; they gave rise to bureaucratic regimes and then yielded way for the revival of capitalism. This had multiple causes that I can’t go into here.

Intransigent critics of revolutionary parties would do well to consider what happened to revolutions without parties. And indeed what continues to happen to them into the present day. We have rarely seen a popular uprising as massive and covering as vast a geographic zone as what is somewhat inaccurately referred to as the “Arab springtime”. The sudden surge of the “masses” into the political realm was spectacular, and the struggle waged against a range of counter-revolutionary forces quite remarkable. It continues to deserve our full support; but it’s now the opposing camp that has the wind in its sails. The struggle often persists in appallingly difficult conditions, such as in the Iraqi-Syrian theatre of operations.

* * * * *

The debate on “Lenin’s conception of the party” (as if he only had one) has often gotten bogged down in simplistic interpretations of What is to be done? (Lenin 1902; Draper 1999). And yet one needs a careful understanding of the rapidly evolving historical context and a complex interpretation (Le Blanc 1989; Löwy 1991) of Lenin’s never concluded activist and intellectual trajectory (Vercammen 1989) – and of the role assigned to politics and the relationship between strategy and tactics (Bensaïd 1997).

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