The proletarian class party, part 4


The organ of the SPD from 1891 to 1933.

After a short break from dealing with the subject (during which I wrote a post on identity politics) I have gotten around to writing part four on my series on the issue of the proletarian class party. Here are parts one, two, and three. In my opinion, however, this post has been the hardest to write, and I fear many of the most crucial points I have made are unclear and will be interpreted as monstrous and be taken to mean something completely different. Nevertheless, it is also among the most important. You beloved readers will be pleased to hear that the ordeal of having to see my posts on the class party is nearly over, as after this post there will only be one more. After that I may go back and edit the other posts some more to make them flow better.

Prior to now we examined the role and nature of the party leading up to the revolutionary seizure of power: that is, the formation of socialist sects through class struggle: the driving of struggle by various sects within the class; the unity of these sects into a class party as the struggle expands; and the winning over of the class to the party’s revolutionary orientation. Now, we must deal with the role of the party after the insurrectionary act and the revolutionary seizure of power by the proletarian class. This is a sensitive topic and yet one that is of utmost importance to the proletariat.

The proletarian state represents and consists of the armed proletariat organized as the ruling class through organs of workers’ power, historically having taken the form of soviets1. They encompass the broad masses of the class. However, we must recognize that the revolution is not a question of forms but of content. In history we have seen examples of non- or even counter-revolutionary soviets. In Germany the SPD won majorities in the workers’ councils and ultimately put down the revolution entirely. To understand the proper relation of the class party to the class state we must understand the relation of the party to the class; the party is an organ of the class which directs the movement of the class in a revolutionary manner. Therefore the party must set itself at the head of the class organized into workers’ councils and, likewise, lead the proletariat to revolutionary assault against the capitalist order  much as it had done in the past, except now with the proletariat in a position of power relative to the remaining capitalists.

We must therefore admit that we are for a state dominated by the communist party.  However we must also admit that we oppose substitutionism in both its Stalinist and Blanquist forms. The communist party rules by having behind it the support and sympathy of the mass of the proletariat; without this, it must rule by terror and in a way antithetical to the principles of proletarian dictatorship. Moreover, isolated from the workers, it runs the very big risk of losing a proletarian outlook and falling into theoretical degeneration and influence from other classes. To ensure the links between the class and the party, and to prevent isolation, several measures must be in place: first of all, the open election of all delegates and the ability to instantly recall them; the right to factions within the communist party; and the incessant work within the broad proletarian organizations by the party in order to maintain support among the class. We advocate not a proletarian state run by a detached party but by a party that has the backing of the revolutionary class; conversely, since the class backs the party, proletarian power can only be exercised through the election of the party that the class has placed its trust in, i.e. the communist party. Thus we reject the dichotomy, popular in some circles, between “workers’ power” and “party power,” and hold that the party must have power through the class and that the class must hold power through the party. We seek a state dominated by the communist party by virtue of having the backing of the proletariat, and a proletariat which expresses its rule by electing communist party delegates2

Likewise, however, we reject the (mainly) Trotskyist slogan of competing workers’ parties within a proletarian dictatorship as harmful to the revolutionary unity of the proletariat in its struggle against the former ruling class. The communist party must have the backing of the proletariat: internal differences within the class need not be expressed as different parties competing against each other but as different factions within the united class party. Different factions acting within the communist party is no more or less democratic than a system of multiple “workers’ parties,” while preserving the unity of the class party. The question of whether to allow parties representative of other classes or of different strata of other classes ties into the question of whether or not these other classes should be allowed participation in the proletarian apparatus of power at all, which is an issue outside the scope of this post.

Throughout our examination of the class party’s relation to the class state, however, we have mentioned several times the right to faction within the party both as a means of preventing bureaucratism and isolation from the class and as a means of ensuring party unity: therefore, our next article of investigation must be directed to the internal organization of the class party. However, this must be reserved for the next post.

  1. I know that among the contributors to this blog I am probably in a minority for my support of soviets. Nonetheless, in light of their historical significance as organs of proletarian power, the investigation of the relationship between party and state has taken place within the paradigm of soviets. However I want to emphasize that the precise form is not terribly important here, and the argument would still hold if we considered other political forms  
  2. It is conceivable — and has indeed been the case in the past — that proletarian dictatorship may be carried out by the communist party without the majority of the class behind it. This does not alter the proletarian nature of the regime because its class nature is determined not by what statistical percentage of the class supports it, but by whose class interests it represents. Naturally, in keeping with the rest of this post, it must be said that this is a precarious situation and one that is not ideal — however, history has not always been so kind as to provide us with ideal conditions, under which I am examining the question. (Added 28/10/2012)  

About Maximilien Robespierre

I am an American comrade and a founder of the ##marxism IRC channel on freenode. I have been accused of, among other things, ultraleftism, impossibilism, Bakuninism, totalitarianism, Blanquism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, anarchism, insurrectionism, Bordigism, minoritarianism, intransigence, and hopeless incoherence. I am also rather silly.
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4 Responses to The proletarian class party, part 4

  1. modulus says:


    Thank you for that post. Though it may pertain more to the aspects of “internal organisation”, as you put it, I’ll make a few questions here related to the party form you suggest.

    1. Given you state what matters is content, and not form, is there a significant difference between multiplicity of parties and of fractions, and if so, which?
    2. If the party is proletarian in the narrow sense of only admitting proletarian members, what criteria can be used to distinguish class members from the edge cases of the petty bourgeoisie? What about the role of supervisory workers, bureaucrats, special bodies of armed men, etc?
    3. Given the technical defects of workers’ councils, and though you state this is not a fundamental matter, why should they be the preferred means to organise the class?
    4. Wouldn’t faction strife cause the same problems, including the risks of political degeneration, with the added difficulty that by virtue of being the communist party such a degeneration would carry the imprimatur of the class?
    5. Finally, are you or have you ever been a member of the Bordigist party? 🙂

    Sorry to present more questions than answers, but it seems to me that single party dominance, even when provided with reasonable freedom of fraction, has bought us little but trouble, and has rarely if ever prevented capitalist restoration. China is a case in point. The added difficulties of making the case for this form of democracy seem to preclude this course as practical.

  2. Maximilien Robespierre says:

    You really must be a lawyer, modulus; this feels an awful lot like an interrogation!

    Well first of all I should like to clear up some concerns relating to multiple parties and the question of factions. I am by no means suggesting we legally enshrine a single party into law as the party. What I am saying is that we should strive for a proletarian state dominated by the communist party (because the fundamental class/party relation remains: the party seeks to mobilize the body of the class, now organized as the ruling class, against remaining capitalist property relations), but domination through the fact that it has the mass of the workers behind it and its delegates are regularly elected (not because of any fetishism of democracy but because we as communists must acknowledge that only the working-class can emancipate itself, and not a detached strata with no connections to the class). If we presume that other classes are not allowed participation in this state then this will come off pretty much as a “one-party state,” insofar as the proletariat backs a single party within the state. Your concern that this leads to “trouble” is justified considering some awful things in the past, but I would like to point out some important differences: (1) If we are to be materialists at all we must realize that the detachment of the CPSU, CPC, etc., from the proletariat can be linked to growing bureaucratism within the state attributable to definite material causes. In China I don’t know if the Communist Party ever had a significant base among the workers at all. (2) These parties did not, in fact, have freedom of faction: the CPSU (back when it was still the RCP(b)) banned internal factions back in 1921 and, as far as I know, was never reversed. I suspect a similar thing was done with the CPC, although in practice the bloody practice of eliminating one’s political opponents within the party hasn’t made the process very democratic regardless. Such bans have never been able to actually stop de facto factions from forming, but the bans do make it far more dangerous to do so and also restrict the ability to express oneself within the party because of the aforementioned danger. (3) These parties have been legally made into the party and rule regardless of whatever support they have, which definitely contributes to a drift away from the class, although in China the government is officially a “united front” which is nonetheless completely dominated by the Communist Party.

    Speaking of factions, this brings us to point (1): a multi-workers’ party system where there is a broad agreement is, in governmental terms, not terribly different from a system controlled mainly or entirely by a single party with, however, the right to form factions and express opinions within said party. So, as I said, no “more or less” democratic. However, the communist party is not merely a “parliamentary” or “governmental” party but a living organization, and breaking it up into tiny pieces destroys the unity it fought so hard to achieve and, moreover, makes party work (for each party) significantly harder among the masses. A multi-factional system is basically a de facto multi-workers’ party system. If, however, we presuppose a plain multi-party system that allows capitalist or other parties representing different classes or fractions of classes then differences emerge; however, if you have significant numbers of workers voting for other parties, especially reactionary ones, then you have clearly done something wrong as you are now losing the support of the class which backed you in the revolution not too long ago. In principle I don’t see why socialist workers’ sects who refuse to work within the party for some reason cannot run candidates, though. The issue of other classes and their parties is something that, like I said, is outside the scope of this article.

    (2) Well the party isn’t proletarian in that narrow sense: certainly we can expect the majority of the party’s membership to be proletarian, but it is proletarian in the sense that it defends proletarian interests and fights on the side of the proletariat in the class struggle (cf. part 1, where I quote Marx on the topic of other classes). It constitutes a “part” or an organ of the proletariat nonetheless.

    (3) Because they reach out to the broadest masses of the class and have them participate in government in a way that stuffy old parliamentary systems don’t. Moreover, I don’t think proletarian dictatorship is a question of ideal forms: we deal with the form that manifests itself in the struggle, not the form we dream up. If soviets have “democratic” defects then so be it: their ability to group and represent the proletariat is what matters.

    No offense, but the concern with perfect representation and proportionality, as well as “ideal” forms of government, has always struck me as sort of a parliamentarian and bourgeois-democratic concern regarding its claim to be representative of “the whole people.” I’m not particularly concerned with democracy as such, but democratic mechanisms as a means of furthering proletarian class dictatorship.

    (4) This is a good question, but one that I answered above: to reiterate, the answer is no, because factions operate within the same organization, parties split up this organization and each one has to go it alone. Moreover the “multi-workers’ party” system doesn’t lead so much to theoretical degeneration as it does to organizational degeneration (or, rather, abolition).

    (5) The formal or the historic one?

    Sorry if this reply was absolutely massive.

  3. modulus says:

    Well, I’m all about vigorous debate 🙂

    Thanks for clarifying you didn’t suggest a legal exclusivity for the CP. That does deal with some of the issues I was wondering about.

    On the matter of party unity and how it may be preferable to have many fractions than many parties, I’ll keep pondering. You’ve given me something to think about.

    Regarding the problems for workers’ councils, I’m afraid I can’t agree: if there are means of representation which lead to a more accurate reflection of the corporate desires of the class, they ought to be used. While there may be reasons to use councils as part of the system of workers’ democracy, I’m unconvinced they’re sufficient, or even necessary.

    I don’t think wanting to accurately represent the desires of the class is at all a bourgeois or parlamentarian concern. On the contrary, if the society of freely associated producers isn’t to be directed to fulfilling the actual desires of the aforesaid producers, something is going deeply wrong somewhere. I could say your position smells of substitutionism, but I won’t, since I don’t think you’d quite go there.

    Thank you for your replies. I look forward to your notions on internal organisation.

  4. Pingback: The proletarian class party, part 5 (final) | Spirit of ContradictionSpirit of Contradiction

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