This is the second part of a series of posts on the nature of the proletarian class party, of which the first part can be found here. There was something of a big time gap between this post and the first one, but the debate on the subject (which I took part in, if you care enough to check) kind of clogged up the blog with similar posts so I decided to wait a while until the next post. This post has been followed with a third post (and more!), with the same level of quality which you gracious readers have come to not expect from me.
Now, we have gone over the abstract development of the party from the class struggle. To refresh: in the class struggle, only a minority of the proletariat is able to connect and reflect upon the various instances in the class struggle and come to recognize that this struggle exists and the bourgeoisie must be overthrown; various elements exist within this minority, which we know as the proletarian vanguard, which each have their own program distilled from the class struggle and exist as “parties” in name but exist in actuality as sects; that as objective conditions more and more intensify the class struggle, these various sects tend to come more and more to the program and theory which best expresses the interests of the proletariat in the struggle against the bourgeoisie at the particular stage in the struggle (we must remember that this is dynamic, and that the vanguard and the program itself have a role in furthering this struggle) and therefore come together organizationally; that this culminates in the communist program and the proletarian class party.
From this question, the question of the nature of the class party, we must go into its functions.
In our conception of the party and the movement, however, we must not be trapped into voluntarist notions. There are historically favorable and unfavorable periods for the party, dictated not by whim but by objective forces; indeed, after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848 we see mass delusion among socialists that revolution would break out again any minute, when in fact the revolutionary period had been brought to a decisive close. Among the minority who were able to recognize this were Marx and Engels, with Marx writing in 1850:
Given this general prosperity, wherein the productive forces of bourgeois society are developing as luxuriantly as it is possible for them to do within bourgeois relationships, a real revolution is out of the question. Such a revolution is possible only in periods when both of these factors — the modern forces of production and the bourgeois forms of production — come into opposition with each other. The various bickerings in which representatives of the individual factions of the continental party of Order presently engage and compromise each other, far from providing an occasion for revolution, are, on the contrary, possible only because the bases of relationships are momentarily so secure and — what the reactionaries do not know — so bourgeois. On this all the reactionary attempts to hold back bourgeois development will rebound just as much as will all the ethical indignation and all the enraptured proclamations of the democrats. A new revolution is only a consequence of a new crisis. The one, however, is as sure to come as the other.
Therefore we must look at the tasks of the party as they are constrained by objective conditions: in unfavorable periods, the party must strive to keep as many links to the class as is feasible and try to stay organizationally solid and programmatically sound. Too often it has been that the end of a revolutionary wave corresponds to a breakdown in the party and the re-formation of sects and insular sectarian politics — and indeed with the breakdown of the last revolutionary wave (1917-1926) we have seen precisely this.
In a historically favorable period, the party must strive to be the nucleus, so to speak, of a revolutionary movement. Its ultimate aim is the overthrow of bourgeois society and the carrying out of the communist program. To do this, there must be a proletarian revolution. Therefore, the task of the communist party is to win over the masses of the class over to the side of the revolution and group them around itself and the communist program to form a revolutionary movement. To do so means not only to work within existing mass proletarian organizations (the unions, etc.) but also to organize the (unfortunately vast) unorganized sections of the class.
In fact, without a proletarian party, a party that is able to organize and lead the proletariat towards the destruction of the whole bourgeois edifice, we are not even capable of speaking of the proletariat as an independent political force, as a class for itself. This much is summed up nicely by Engels when he states:
As long as the oppressed class – in our case, therefore, the proletariat – is not yet ripe for its self-liberation, so long will it, in its majority, recognize the existing order of society as the only possible one and remain politically the tail of the capitalist class, its extreme left wing. But in the measure in which it matures towards its self-emancipation, in the same measure it constitutes itself as its own party and votes for its own representatives, not those of the capitalists.
This distinction between favorable and unfavorable periods also allows us to examine tactics from each angle. However, we will examine this next aspect of the party in another post.