In Defense of the Leninist Party
by Taimur Rahman
How does a weak, poor, destitute, illiterate oppressed force win over a better-educated, better-armed, better-equipped, and better-financed oppressor?
In all respects of social, political, or economic life, the individual proletariat is infinitely inferior to the individual bourgeois. The individual bourgeois swallows up hundreds of families. In their factories, mines, and fields the ‘fortunate’ proletarians works for starvation wages. The ‘unfortunate’ starve to death begging on the street or silently in their homes from easily curable diseases. They die of malnourishment, over-work, exhaustion, ill-treatment, and side effects from industrial pollutants. They die of their own ignorance, their misery, apathy and degradation. In all respects, the proletariat is the modern day slave of the bourgeoisie.
A small bunch of intellectuals essentially from non-proletarian backgrounds raise their voices and argue that these proletariats, who cannot make ends meet and cannot prevent themselves or their children from dying of starvation, will rise up and inherit the earth. This depraved proletariat will not only learn to read and write but will master that awfully difficult theory of dialectical materialism and overthrow the power of the ruling class that is superior in every respect. Moreover, they claim that they will build a society without exploitation that will be more just and will out-produce current society. In fact, they even claim that they will open up a new chapter in history; they call it the end of the realm of necessity and the beginning of the realm of freedom.
Judged from the sober eye of a “realist” it would appear that these communist intellectuals have had a little too much to eat, a little too much time to think and that their idealistic youthful fantasies have got the better of their rational selves.
Is it not a miracle then that more people do not laugh at communists for such claims? How curious then that every year more books are produced by the bourgeois claiming to have once more disproved the theory of surplus-value and dialectical materialism (which the majority of the world’s peoples have not even heard about, let alone digested or understood). Is it not a curious then that every year more and more books are produced supposedly chronicling the atrocious, misogynist, Eurocentric, intellectualist, despotic, dictatorial, autocratic practice of communists? I can only conclude from the viciousness with which our detractors attack us that we continue to send an eerie chill down their bourgeois spines.
No friends, communism is not dead. It is not only not dead, it is alive and kicking and much to the chagrin of all those who would like to relax to enjoy their spoils of exploitation, it is making a comeback all across the world and especially in the Third World.
Coming back to our initial question, how did the communists manage to organize people trampled by exploitation into a force so strong that they became the greatest challenge to imperialism and capitalism in the 20th century? The answer quite simply is, they built a Marxist-Leninist organization that they called the Communist Party.
The communists realized the one characteristic that the oppressed possessed that was entirely lacking in the class of oppressors: The vast numerical superiority of the oppressed. For every one bourgeois there are thousands if not tens of thousands of proletariats.
The communists build organizations that taps into this “comparative advantage” (to borrow a term from Ricardo) of the proletariat. They called this organization “The Communist Party” and its principles are understood as “Marxism-Leninism”. Under the banner of Marxism-Leninism the first proletariat revolution was carried out. Rapidly the Soviet Union became a socialist super-power and defeated the largest army ever assembled in the history of the world (the fascist army). Soon revolutions began to erupt in every part of the world. A third of the countries in the world followed the states that were led by Marxist-Leninist parties. For a certain time, the victory of socialism over capitalism seemed an inevitable forgone conclusion.
Under a worldwide campaign against “Stalinism”, all the essential principles of Marxism-Leninism were progressively rolled back. In their place stepped forward various opportunist theories of class collaboration. The ideological foundations of socialist states and parties were drained and became hollow. The progressively hollow power of the USSR and the state of euphoria of all those who lived with that illusion burst asunder with the implosion of the Soviet Union. And it has taken an entire historical epoch recovering from that debacle.
The sum lesson from this period of history is that the instrument that converts the doctrine of Marxism and the mass of proletarians into an unstoppable material force is none other than the Leninist party.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that contempt, hatred, and loathing for the principle of the Leninist party, and for the individuals or organizations that attempt to concretize this principle into an actual living force, is the cardinal faith of all reactionaries in our current historical epoch.
The reason I write these lines is because in my academic pursuits I recently came across a relatively new argument against the Leninist party. It is alleged by certain modern day “Marxists” (or perhaps I should refer to them as ‘neo-Marxists’) that in the age of neo-liberalism the very structure of the proletariat has changed. The period of “Fordist production” is over (this being characterized by large factories and machine line production with a certain degree of job security and collective bargaining) and a new era of post-Fordism has begun. This new era is one of “flexible relations” (these being characterized by outsourcing, computerized production, no job security and few channels for collective bargaining). While there can be no doubt that labour has gone through a massive defeat after the breakup of the Soviet Union, this new theory alleges that flexible relations of
neo-liberalism have fundamentally changed the “structure” of the proletariat and calls into question “traditional” methods of organizing the proletariat.
Underneath all the big words and academic jargon, they are saying that previously a large number of proletariats used to work under the same roof but with flexible relations a sizable number of proletariats no longer work under the same roof. From this they draw the conclusion that the “socialisation of production” has been reversed and the proletariat has become more “atomised”. Their conclusion is that the old Leninist party structure or even trade union that were ideally suited for a 19th or 20th century “Fordist” proletariat is no longer suitable for the 21st century “flexible” proletariat.
Thus, the slogans of the new radical chic, especially in the Western academy, are, “away with traditional trade union and archaic Leninist party structures. Welcome ‘new social movements’.” In sum, it is alleged that the nebulous concept of “social movements” with amorphous organizational structures are more in line with the realities of neo-liberalism and flexible relations. This has not only been the basis of the World Social Forum (WSF) and the multitude of NGOs that spot the globe, there has been a concerted academic and popular ideological campaign to recast all spontaneous outbursts of the working class into the clothes of “new social movements.” From the MST in Brazil, to the Chipko movement or Narmada Bacho Andolan in India, this new radical chic is laying claim to the leadership of popular movements while edging out Leninist parties and trade unions.
Let us analyse the theoretical basis of this new radical chic. (I wish I could go into more detail with names, places dates, and quotations. But this essay is a popular outline on the subject and is deliberately kept broad. More academic papers will follow soon).
First of all, it cannot be denied that labour has been set back. There can be no doubt that the organized power of labour from the 1960s is no longer present in the same shape and has given way to “flexible relations”. But does it follow from this that the proletariat is more objectively more “atomised” today than before?
The new radical chic argues that in the era of neo-liberalism labour has not been “socialised” but “atomised”. The proof of this atomisation is in the increasing dominance of “flexible relations” over “fordist production.” Thus, the outsourcing and informalization of labour are considered to be process that are working counter to the socialisation of labour. “Factories are thinning out,” they say. “The giant factories of the Fordist era are a thing of the past,” they argue. Labour cannot organize under traditional trade unions because the working class is being atomized.
Those who have read Marxism know that Marx regarded the socialisation of labour as the great lever that would lay the objective foundation for socialism. But it is a complete distortion of Marx’s views to think that by the term “socialisation of labour” Marx implied that more and more workers would be working under the same roof. This ridiculous misunderstanding is not new. In fact, Lenin addressed this when destroyed the Narodniks. For instance when Postoronny and Mikhailovsky argued that,
the social form of labour under capitalism amounts to this, that several hundreds or thousands of workers grind, hammer, turn, place on, place under, pull and perform numerous other operations under one roof. As to the general character of this regime it is excellently expressed by the saying: Every man for himself, and God for all. Where does the social form of labour come in?
Lenin wrote back scathingly saying,
The socialisation of labour by capitalist production does not at all consist in people working under one roof (that is only a small part of the process), but in the concentration of capital being accompanied by the specialisation of social labour, by a decrease in the number of capitalists in each given branch of industry and an increase in the number of separate branches of industry—in many separate production processes being merged into one social production process.
When, in the days of handicraft weaving, for example, the small producers themselves spun the yarn and made it into cloth, we had a few branches of industry (spinning and weaving were merged). But when production becomes socialised by capitalism, the number of separate branches of industry increases: cotton spinning is done separately and so is weaving; this very division and the concentration of production give rise to new branches—machine building, coal mining, and so forth. In each branch of industry, which has now become more specialised, the number of capitalists steadily decreases. This means that the social tie between the producers becomes increasingly stronger, the producers become welded into a single whole. The isolated small producers each performed several operations simultaneously, and were therefore relatively independent of each other: when, for instance, the handicraftsman himself sowed flax, and himself spun and wove, he was almost independent of others. It was this (and only this) regime of small, dispersed commodity producers that justified the saying: “Every man for himself, and God for all,” that is, an anarchy of market fluctuations. The case is entirely different under the socialisation of labour that has been achieved due to capitalism. The manufacturer who produces fabrics depends on the cotton-yarn manufacturer; the latter depends on the capitalist planter who grows the cotton, on the owner of the engineering works, the coal mine, and so on and so forth. The result is that no capitalist can get along without others. It is clear that the saying “every man for himself” is quite inapplicable to such a regime: here each works for all and all for each (and no room is left for God—either as a super-mundane fantasy or as a mundane “golden calf”). The character of the regime changes completely. When, during the regime of small, isolated enterprises, work came to a
standstill in any one of them, this affected only a few members of society, it did not cause any general confusion, and therefore did not attract general attention and did not provoke public interference. But when work comes to a standstill in a large enterprise, one engaged in a highly specialised branch of industry and therefore working almost for the whole of society and, in its turn, dependent on the whole of society (for the sake of simplicity I take a case where socialisation has reached the culminating point), work is bound to come to a standstill in all the other enterprises of society, because they can only obtain the products they need from this enterprise, they can only dispose of all their own commodities if its commodities are available. All production processes thus merge into a single social production process; yet each branch is conducted by a separate capitalist, it depends on him and the social products are his private property. Is it not clear that the form of production comes into irreconcilable contradiction with the form of appropriation? Is it
not evident that the latter must adapt itself to the former and must become social, that is, socialist?
But the smart philistine of Otechestvenniye Zapiski reduces the whole thing to work under one roof. Could anything be wider of the mark! (I have described only the material process, only the change in production
relations, without touching on the social aspect of the process, the fact that the workers become united, welded together and organised, since that is a derivative and secondary phenomenon.)
Thus, according to Lenin the socialisation of labour consists of the following:
- Concentration of capital
- Increasing specialisation of labour
- Decrease in the number of capitalists in each give branch of industry
- Increase in the number of separate branches of industry
- Many separate production processes being merged into one social production process
Can any sane person argue that in the last twenty years the concentration of capital, specialization of labour, the number of separate branches of industries has decreased? Can anyone argue with any degree of credibility that in the era of globalization separate
production processes from around the world have not merged into one social production process, or that the numbers of capitalists in a given branch of industry have increased? Such a person would be laughed out of any economic conference. Even those who continue to harp on about the “atomization” of the working class and the end of the socialization of production cannot deny the global commodity chains that have been created around the world. These global commodity chains, the existence of which only an idiot would deny, are nothing else but the socialization of labour that Marx spoke about.
In the final analysis the socialization of labour means only that the separate production processes of society merge into one giant single social production process. Thus, whether the number of workers under one roof has gone up or down is completely irrelevant as far as the socialization of the working class is concerned from a Marxian point of view. Marx and Lenin spoke about the socialization of production in one society. In the era of globalization we are witnessing the socialization of production on the global scale. And yet these idiots see in this giant process not the proof of Marx’s prophetic words but their negation. And they manage this Herculean intellectual feat only by mutilating Marx’s concept of the socialization of labour to mean that more workers will work under one roof.
My detractors may argue that although global commodity chains demonstrate that separate production processes are merging into one giant single social production process, nonetheless, the fact remains that workers are no longer united under one roof. The unity of the
workers under one roof was one of the reasons for the easy victory of trade unions of that period because it gave access to shop floor stewards to organize their co-workers.
This argument assumes that the basis of the unity of the working class is personal communication and not their united economic interests. But this is quite frankly a ridiculous argument. If we accept this than
organizations such as the World Federation of Trade Unions, that enjoyed the loyalty, and still enjoys the loyalty, of millions of workers from around the world could simply not exist. Clearly those millions of
workers were not working under one roof. Ordinary rank and file workers probably didn’t even know the names of all the countries in which they had members. Despite this lack of direct communication, this organization existed. How can this be explained?
Such international federations exist because there is a consciousness about their united economic interests against capital. They exist because workers are brought together by the process of capitalist
production that leads to the formation of global integrated commodity production. They exist because the recognition of a united struggle of workers against capital exists.
Can workers not read leaflets, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, or books? Can workers not watch television or satellite channels? Can workers not have mobile phones (in Pakistan even bonded brick kiln workers now have mobile phones), or gain access to the internet (everywhere in the world this is increasing rapidly)?
Can workers not listen to the radio, watch films, DVDs, and listen to CDs?
If workers have been separated into smaller units of factories, does it imply that the means available to them to communicate to each other have thereby become impossible? Even if “flexible relations” have
decreased the average size of the factory (a fact which has yet to established), globalization has created infinitely greater means of communication for everyone including the working class.
Even if “flexible relations” have decreased the average size of the factory (a fact which has yet to established) and in the worst-case scenarios workers cannot even scratch their head because the bosses watch them all the time on the shop floor, workers still come home to a working class neighborhood where they are concentrated in millions especially in third world countries. Can they not talk to each other on the way home, shopping on Sunday, walking to and from work, at the tea stall, the cafeteria, the neighborhood?
For instance take Pakistan. In the last twenty years Pakistan has witnessed a massive demographic transition from a rural to an urban society. When I was growing up we were always told in class that
Pakistan is 70% rural and 30% urban. Today officially 45% of the Pakistan is in urban areas. And a network of roads, telephone lines, and mobile phone booster stations is increasingly covering rural areas. Today the latest Bollywood films are available in rural areas in a flash on cheaply produced CDs that are watched on cheaply rented TV’s and CD players. Karachi is 14 million people and Lahore is another 8 million
people and the vast majority of these people are wageworkers. In the context of such fantastic centralization of production and population, only an idiot would argue that the working class has been atomized?
Apparently these neo-Marxists imagine that just because workers are now separated under different roofs they would not be able to see their common interests as workers. A lower opinion of the ability of workers to understand their circumstances would have to be hunted-down by specialists to be discovered.
In conclusion, the view that the working class has been “atomized” objectively is simply rubbish. The fact is that the last two or three decades of neo-liberal globalization and flexible relations have
enormously increased the socialization of labour and brought separate processes of production, not only in one society, but around the globe into a unified social process of production.
The real “atomization” of the working class is subjective. This was the product of the breakup of the Soviet Union and its impact on the labour movement as a whole. But in this regard, it is the detractors of Marxism-Leninism who have played a role in obscuring, rather than exposing, the objective basis of the socialization of labour.
Now let us look at the second line of reasoning of the new radical chic. They argue that the Leninist party structure is outdated in the context of a proletariat that is defined by flexible relations. That new forms of organization must be discovered, forms of organization that accord to the new economic realities of flexible relations.
What is the essence of the Leninist party structure?
Ask any one this question and the response will invariably be “democratic centralism”. But this is, quite frankly, incorrect or at best a partial answer. The principle of democratic centralism is a derivative
principle and not the essence of the Leninism.
All Marxist-Leninists will agree that Lenin’s views on the party are contained in what is now considered his seminal work “What is to be Done?” Everyone will also agree that in this pamphlet Lenin called for the creation of a centralized organization of revolutionaries (that was only subsequently labelled “democratic centralism”). But why does he call for a centralized organization?
Lenin argued that the “spontaneous economic struggle” of the working class against the employer did not lead to the creation of a revolutionary consciousness—it led only the creation of trade union consciousness. Lenin also argued that the “spontaneous struggle” of
the revolutionary intelligentsia did not lead to the creation of a revolutionary consciousness—it led only to acts of excitative terrorism (such as the Narodniks had futilely engaged in). Diametrically opposed to giving in to the principle of “spontaneity” either on the part of the workers or intellectuals, Lenin argued that a revolutionary understanding could only be brought to the working class from without, that is, it could only be brought to the working class from the vanguard intelligentsia. It was this purpose of bringing the theory of Marxism to the working class and channeling all resistance into a single mortal blow against the ruling class that required the creation of a centralized organization. Lenin summed this all up by saying, “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary action”.
Thus, democratic centralism is not the essence of Leninism. It is a derivative principle from the primary principle that “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary action”. One can create a democratic-centralized organization without recognizing the significance of revolutionary theory in connection with revolutionary action. For instance, even right-wing organizations are built on the
principles of democratic centralized. But they cannot be regarded as Leninist for the obvious reason that they are not built for the purpose of bringing the theory of Marxism to the working class thereby channelling all resistance into a single blow against the ruling class. Democratic centralism is a means to an end. The end is the Marxist education of the working class and channeling all resistance into a single powerful blow against the ruling class.
Aside from this central axiomatic principle of Leninism, all other matters are in fact secondary or subject to the specific requirements of the struggle. All other principles, including the combination of
legal and illegal work, the necessity of fighting the political police, penetrating into trade union, or working in reactionary parliaments, party congresses and such matters are derived principles from this one
central view. Without revolutionary theory all the procedures of democratic-centralism, participation in parliaments or unions, combinations of legal and illegal work mean absolutely nothing.
Now let us come back to the issue at hand. The new radical chic argues that Leninist party structures are archaic and do not accord to the new economic reality of the working class defined by flexible relations.
These people have obviously not understood the essential point of Leninism. A Leninist party structure is not defined by its structure. The
Leninist party is defined by the role that it accords to revolutionary theory and the necessity of concentrating all resistance into a single blow against the ruling class. In fact, in “What is to be Done” Lenin clearly states that “Centralisation of the secret functions of the organisation by no means implies centralisation of all the functions of the movement.” Lenin was principally interested in centralizing the work of the organization of professional revolutionaries who were charged with the responsibility of evading the political police while
continuing to produce revolutionary and agitational literature for the working class. But he was open to the idea that this paper would be taken up by legal organizations and workers committees that ran autonomously or without centralization under the party.
However, Lenin’s finesse and surgical like precision in these matters has been lost on the radical chic for whom the whole struggle for the emancipation of the working class is nothing other than a glorified
version of an economic struggle.
Quite frankly, one should ask the radical chic, how it came to pass that a working class working under “flexible relations”—which according to their views would be unable to unite into basic class organizations like trade unions owing to the fact that it was no longer working under one roof—would manage to develop a revolutionary consciousness through the spontaneous struggles for its economic demands. On the one hand, they cannot even form trade unions because they are not working under one roof. On the other hand, they will spontaneously become revolutionaries through their economic struggles. One has to scratch
one’s head at the complete muddle of this new radical chic. It seems their only goal is to fight against organizations of workers and organizations of revolutionaries even though their arguments against
one contradict their arguments against the other.
In conclusion, the Leninist party is created for the purpose of bringing the theory of Marxism-Leninism to the working class and channeling all resistance into a single fatal blow against the ruling class. The Leninist party will become obsolete only under three circumstances. First, the Leninist party will become obsolete either when the theory of Marxism becomes obsolete in connection with the emancipation of the working class. Second, the Leninist party will become obsolete when there is no longer any need to channel all resistance into a single moral blow against the ruling class. Third, the Leninist party would be obsolete if the spontaneous struggle of the working class could create socialist consciousness.
Given that flexible relations have not altered any of these three factors there is no doubt that it is not the Leninist party that is archaic but its detractors who are supporting an archaic system by deliberately undermining organized resistance to imperialism and
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