The second Counterforum is lined up for 19 June (following the inaugural event a few weeks ago). The focus is on Lenin and Lukacs, who amongst other things are the marxist tradition's two great theorists of revolutionary organisation and strategy.
Counterfire has posted chapter 3 (on the vanguard party) of Lukacs' wonderful little book about Lenin, with a brief introduction by yours truly. Here are a three brief excerpts from this chapter, highlighting the importance of an organised core of revolutionary socialists.
Lukacs addresses a common objection to a revolutionary party: the notion that such a party will inevitably become sectarian and aloof, isolated from the wider working class. He writes:
'The Bolshevik concept of party organization involved the selection of a group of single-minded revolutionaries, prepared to make any sacrifice, from the more or less chaotic mass of the class as a whole. But does not the danger then exist that these ‘professional revolutionaries’ will divorce themselves from their actual class environment and, by thus separating themselves, degenerate into a sect? Is this concept of the party not just a practical result of that Blanquism which ‘intelligent’ Revisionists claim to have discovered even in Marx?
This is not the place to examine how far this criticism misses its mark even in relation to Blanqui himself. It misses the core of Lenin’s concept of party organization simply because, as Lenin said, the group of professional revolutionaries does not for one moment have the task of either ‘making’ the revolution, or – by their own independent, bold actions – of sweeping the inactive masses along to confront them with a revolutionary fait accompli. Lenin’s concept of party organization presupposes the fact – the actuality – of the revolution...'
Blanquism referred to an elitist substitutionism, whereby a self-selecting 'vanguard' takes action in place of broader movements. Lenin and Lukacs, by contrast, both stood in the authentic tradition of Marx, who insisted the working class can only achieve liberation through its own self-activity. A revolutionary party, of whatever size, cannot substitute for the mass action of the working class. Later he writes:
'Lenin’s idea of party organization therefore contains as fixed poles: the strictest selection of party members on the basis of their proletarian class-consciousness, and total solidarity with and support for all the oppressed and exploited within capitalist society. Thus he dialectically united exclusive singleness of purpose, and universality – the leadership of the revolution in strictly proletarian terms and its general national (and international) character.
The Menshevik concept of party organization weakened both these poles, confused them, reduced them to compromises, and united them within the party itself. The Mensheviks shut themselves off from broad strata of the exploited masses (for example, from the peasants), but united in the party the most diverse interest groups, thus preventing any homogeneity of thought and action...'
This is a superb summary of the dialectical unity that is the heart of revolutionary strategy. It is the basis for the united front strategy articulated by Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci in the years following the Russian Revolution of 1917: the combination of a core of organised revolutionaries with systematic work in broader struggles and movements.
Lukacs later explains why it is so vital to get this relationship right, with reference to Lenin's struggle against 'ultra-Left' sectarianism in the early 1920s:
'We have already emphasized that the strictest selection of party members according to clarity of class-consciousness and unconditional devotion to the cause of the revolution must be combined with their equal ability to merge themselves totally in the lives of the struggling and suffering masses.
All efforts to fulfill the first of these demands without its corollary are bound, even where groups of good revolutionaries are concerned, to be paralyzed by sectarianism. (This is the basis of the struggle Lenin led against ‘the Left’, from Otzovism to the KAP and beyond.) For the stringency of the demands made on party members is only a way of making clear to the whole proletariat (and all strata exploited by capitalism) where their true interests lie, and of making them conscious of the true basis of their hitherto unconscious actions, vague ideology and confused feelings.
But the masses can only learn through action; they can only become aware of their interests through struggle – a struggle whose socio-economic basis is constantly changing and in which the conditions and the weapons therefore also constantly change. The vanguard party of the proletariat can only fulfill its destiny in this conflict if it is always a step in front of the struggling masses, to show them the way.
But only one step in front so that it always remains leader of their struggle.'