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Lenin on the Role of a Marxist Party in relation to the People

By       Message Thomas Riggins     Permalink
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Parties represent the interests of classes and even after the working class comes to power it as a class and other classes as well will remain "for years" and so will leaders. The working class cannot establish socialism by just abolishing the LANDLORDS and CAPITALISTS, these classes will be easily gotten rid of (!) after a revolution-- but the PETTY-BOURGEOISIE must also be abolished and Lenin says "they CANNOT BE OUSTED or crushed: we MUST LEARN TO LIVE WITH THEM." It will take a long era of re-education to transform this class and eventually absorb it into the class conscious working class-- a process that will be "prolonged, slow, and cautious." These unheeded words go a long way in explaining the many problems that arose in both the USSR and China with respect to the peasantry.

Lenin is referring not only to small business but basically to the peasantry. Advanced industrialized countries really don't have a peasant problem anymore (in this sense China is far from a really advanced country despite it phenomenal economic advances) but they do have small businesses and workers who own property (houses primarily) and/or are self-employed giving them a stake in the current economic system which Marxists seek to replace.

This petty-bourgeois element, especially where there is a large peasant component, "surround the proletariat on every side with a petty-bourgeois atmosphere, which permeates and corrupts the proletariat and constantly causes among the proletariat relapses into petty-bourgeois spinelessness, disunity, individualism [the Libertarian disease and Ayn Randian brain cancer are examples], and alternating moods of exaltation and dejection."

To overcome all this the workers need a party of their own with the "strictest centralisation and discipline." Without a Marxist party of this type the working class cannot carry out its PRINCIPAL ROLE  and mission which is ORGANISATIONAL -- i.e., creating the necessary structures for the creation of socialism and educating the masses to that end.

I must admit, looking at the conditions we have today it seems almost impossible to meet the requirements set by Lenin to carry on a successful revolution against capitalism. "The force of habit," he writes, " in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force. Without a party of iron that has been tempered in the struggle, a party enjoying the confidence of all honest people in the class in question [the working class] , a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, such a struggle cannot be waged successfully." Anyone who weakens such a party, or questions its "iron will" (or doesn't lead in its formation one might add) is objectively an ally of the bourgeoisie and against the working people.

Where do we find such a party today? In the entire Western Hemisphere only the Cuban party comes to mind. There are other parties, of course, earnestly strugglingto become such parties in different countries of the hemisphere and we can only hope they achieve the confidence of the workers Lenin seems to require. The Eastern Hemisphere shows mixed results and I have no wish to try and judge which ones are doing what. But it should be noted that the movement contra austerity in some European countries may excellerate the creation of such parties where they do not yet exist and reinforce already existing militant parties.
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 This pretty much concludes what Lenin has to say about the relation of the party and its leaders have to the working masses and the errors about this relationship frequently mouthed by the ultra-left. A future article will try to explicate Lenin's views concerning Marxists and "reactionary" trade unions.
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Born Lake Worth, FL 1942. Educated FSU and Graduate Center CUNY. Currently teaching philosophy in NYC. Associate editor of Political Affairs online.

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