The revolutionary party is a myth of the twentieth century. It has never existed. The theory dates from the (imaginary) success of the Bolshevik Party in making the Russian Revolution, since which it has dominated Marxist thinking. As a result of (what was in practice) Lenin’s counter- revolution, the myth of Marxist Leninism has been propagated by a huge and growing university industry throughout the State Communist countries and overflowed into every university in the rest of the world. It is the subject of theses and comment as economics has replaced theology as ‘Queen of the sciences’ and capitalist economics and Marxist-Leninism are reiterated endlessly without any questioning of their main hypotheses. In examining the basic tenets of Marxist- Leninism we must first however notice that the set of events on which it is based did not happen in the way they are interpreted at all. The conclusions drawn are false and based upon false premises.
In this respect we may well compare the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ revelations of Marxism and Marxist-Leninism (they are not identical; and the surprised discovery by philosophers of the essential difference between the two) with the ‘old’ and ‘new’ testaments of Judaism and Christianity.
Judaism, like Marxism, claims to be based on an infallible and unalterable Law (in the one Divine, Scientific in the other). This Law is immutable and has very little relations to current problems. Hence it encourages a vast degree of comment and interpretation – Talmudic on the one hand, Scientific Marxist philosophy on the other.
The Talmudists will argue endlessly as to what the Divine Will is on particular subjects. They claim no direct connection with the Almighty as Christianity does, and therefore base themselves on what the Law says and how previous scholars have interpreted it. E.g. a pious Jew might be concerned if his sons can play football on Saturdays. The Lord omitted to say anything explicit. Working is prohibited which would exclude professional football (but could one see it if one did not have to pay to enter?) – and how does this affect amateur football? Is it ‘work’ or ‘innocent pleasure’? Rabbi This might argue one ‘ way and Rabbi That the other. Their arguments might be finely based on precedent and inevitably tortuous. Is not study and prayer permitted, which to some might be, in this day and climate, arduous work, and not the pleasure it was to a previous generation? It is easy to see how the subject affords endless discussion, argument, the possibility of schism, the reliance upon an educated, professional body of casuitical leaning. (Rabbi, in fact, means teacher; the teacher is not the equivalent of a priest.)
Marxism has appealed to many scholars of a Talmudical bent; Marx himself indeed came of a line of Talmudists though one need not attack too much importance to this. The arguments of Marxism follows the establishment of a Law for Marx never established a party. Marx’s law is supposed to be scientific and immutable and successive generations of Marxist scholars have tried to interpret all events – from beekeeping to trade unionism, from ping pong to war (as in China today) – in the light of the Law. The entific law proclaimed is the inevitable transition from feudalism to capitalism to monopoly capitalism to socialism. This is Marx’s own theory, his special contribution to science (and not any descriptions of what socialism is or how it can be achieved). The current trend to find ‘Marxist play and rights,” Marxist analysis of sport, of labour organisation, based on the need to reconcile these different activities with an immutable law.
This is not to say that the Law is necessarily wrong – at any rate all the time. Marx’s analysis of the development of capitalism to feudalism is sound – it was based on hindsight. It does not follow that his analysis of the development into socialism was right and history is still proving him wrong. He thought that monopoly capitalism would grow to the point where – because of increasing poverty among the proletariat —it must inevitably be taken over by the latter. This has nowhere occurred (the Leninist myth asserts it has). Nor is the Law of Moses necessarily wrong. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ What could be a grander injunction? But the adherents of the Law do not consider it means what it says. A plethora of considerations makes it practically worthless and everyone knows that in practice such an all-sweeping commandment is incapable of fulfilment though nobody admits it in principle, therefore a multitude of amendments and interpretations surround it. As for the lesser commandments – not coveting one’s neighbour’s donkeys or asses – or the bewildering variety of dos and do-nots in Deuteronomy, the authoritative tone presented and coming from God himself, swept away argument without settling anything; to create confusion and misunderstanding for a thousand years or more. (Since a man is not prohibited to marry his niece, can he do so? Yet it says plainly a woman may not marry her nephew).
Christians are not bound by the ‘Law’; the last quotation for instance is left to the priesthood, though in practice all their hang-ups and inhibitions derive from it. A practical necessity of the Jews, for instance, was to increase and multiply being a small people in the middle of a highly susceptible country surrounded by enemies, with plenty of room to expand. Hence they banned all practices likely to diminish the population — e.g. homosexuality —and increased respect for the marriage bonds —unlike the Greeks who, in a barren country, wanted to keep their numbers down and took the reverse view. This has dominated legal thinking to this very day, about 2000 years after it has ceased to matter, and is the essence of the Judeo-Christian laws that cause the reactionary laws of today (and the hyper-reaction to them too).
Similarly, in the new revelation of Lenin, Leninists are not bound by the scientific law of Marxism. Russia was the most reactionary and feudal country hence it could not be the one to have a revolution according to Marxist laws (and some sects of Marxists hold that therefore it did not happen). Leninism rejects this as Christianity rejects the mosaic Law; but at the same time utilises the law to buttress its arguments.
Lenin, as the apostle of the ‘new’ religion, like Jesus (if the comparison is not too startling) begins by rejecting the rule of the scholars and just as Christ rebukes the Pharisees so Lenin castigates the Social-Democrats with whom he shared common beginnings and a common faith. Both Christianity and Leninism are based on a set of events which are supposed to have happened. If these are historically false, then they are materially false. The discussions about whether the historical events of Christianity really happened are well known, the new myth of Leninism less so. Lenin claims to have actually carried through the revolution. He did it by means of a revolutionary party arming itself with the historical truth. In fact, was this the case?
The revolution in Russia was carried out while Lenin was sitting in a Zurich cafe. Tsarism regarded as unshakable and symptomatic of entrenched reaction was swept away long before any of the Bolsheviks saw Russia. They returned due to the astuteness and doubledealing of Alexander Parvus. Parvus was a Marxist scholar of the old-school whose connections with the Marxist social-democracy in Poland and Germany were intimate: he was the chosen associate of Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky (who picked up from him the theory of ‘permanent world revolution’), as well as of the reformist section of German social-democracy which had entered the Imperial Government service during the war. But he had previously defected to become a major capitalist entrepreneur and so a sought-after commercial adviser of the wartime German Government. With a foot in both camps he conceived a brilliant triple stroke – to rescue Germany from a Russian offensive and enable it to concentrate on fighting the West: to give a boost to State Communism to which he still owed ideological support; and to make a fortune out of speculation on the collapse of the Eastern front. This could be done by bringing Lenin back to Russia and equipping him with the money to float a major well organised party that would take over the government and bring Russia out of the war.
It succeeded brilliantly so far as two of the projects Parvus had in mind were concerned, though for the Imperial German government it proved to be only one more nail in the coffin. It is to Parvus one must give credit for the success of Lenin’s counter-revolution. It was a counter revolution not a revolution. Control was largely in the hands of workers, peasants and soldier Soviets. Lenin’s achievement was to make those Soviets subject to party discipline.
Other Marxists such as Trotsky only came to accept this party idea at the last moment. They had clung to the older party as long as possible. When they saw the well equipped new party carrying all before it —able to buy and subvert police and soldiers – they joined it and proclaimed the Bolshevik Party as in effect a new religion, that of Leninism, or as they called it misleadingly, Marxist- Leninism.
As was said of the New Testament, what wasn’t new wasn’t true; and what was true wasn’t new. To justify itself, Leninism quoted the old Laws of Marxism which they had superseded. The Party had the right to suppress all other parties because it was the party of the working-class. Capitalist parties had suppressed the workers; now through the Party the workers would suppress the capitalists, and while the state was ‘young’ and surrounded by capitalism, it had to assume dictatorial powers. The state is now ‘old’ but the new laws are seemingly eternal. The ‘scholars’ were substituted by a priesthood. It was no longer a question of interpreting the Law. Someone had come who was greater than the Law. The priesthood, or the party, had the right and duty to interpret what He would have done in any given circumstance.
As He lived in a particular time with particular historical events happening, these became the point of reference of everything. To this day the ‘Samaritans’ (through a misinterpretation of a particular parable) are assumed to be good; the Pharisees bad. To this day Leninists – basing themselves on Lenin’s attitudes to contemporary events, largely dictated by the civil war – gave the priestly replies as to how the Godhead would have reacted, and judge movements of today on his judgement of them fifty years ago.
This question of a revolutionary party was dubious. Marx never conceived the idea of a party taking over the role of salvation like a priesthood. He envisaged the scholars controlling the mass party but looked on the party itself rather as Lenin looked upon the trade unions. In the context of today the concept has become increasingly ridiculous because of the multiplicity of parties.
In the first place the Trotskyist movement broke from the Communist Party, though basing itself on the same texts. This was in one sense the split between those who clung to Marxist ‘talmudism’ with Leninist ‘priesthood,’ and those who held that the priesthood has the sole right to determine how matters should be run thereafter. But this one schism has caused others well known and highly comic to some, a major tragedy (in their ultimate result) to others. The division is threefold:
(1) Moscow line: the revised Stalinism
(2) Maoism; and its many splits and counter-splits: the old Stalinism sometimes interlaced with Bolshevik pre-revolution dynamism and sometimes with a total rejection of all Marxist dogmatism as against Leninist dogmatism
(3) Trotskyism, in its 57 varieties. It is pointless here to discuss the man divisions. But that there are divisions everyone knows, and this itself makes the revolutionary party outmoded. Lenin’s theory was based on the fact that there could only be one working class party . . . in defiance of the palpable fact that he had split from the main party (but that had sold out to the bourgeoisie). In Leninist terms, the one party had the right to suppress all the others because these were bourgeois parties. But what if there were more than one Leninist party, each able to outbid or undercut the other?
The answer to that was in Portugal, where the Communist Party was within an ace of seizing power. But it was out-flanked by its rivals, as it is nowadays at every turn. Yet not one of them can ever take power because they too will be outflanked by yet another. Another accommodating Alexander Parvus cannot be found to put one in power and then let it reason with hindsight an argument needing guns to back it.
Granted that the so-called revolutionary party has no future in any revolution, does it have any purpose at all? If it is trying to get power for itself, one can see its purpose. If it is seeking to nourish certain intellectual leaders and build an artificial leadership that may eventually hope to be taken seriously by a real following, then one can see the point: but the does not amount to more than a confidence trick. It is undoubtedly true that people of a given political (or any other) tendency have the right and the pleasure to group together in one body, but why a party?
It may well be true that the deficiencies of the anarchist movement in the past have always been in precisely the opposite direction. One writer has ingeniously argued the tyranny of structurelessness (though there is a greater danger of tyranny of tyranny). Without a party structure one can have the domination of the loudest voice, the worship of orator, demagogues or writers, reliance upon ‘militants’ as distinct from all others and so a drift into a situation where hierarchy and bureaucracy having been thrown out of the door creep in through the window. One is also wide open to penetration by other people who have a party when one has a body which has no leadership. It is unfortunately impossible to say decisively that all problems are solved if one does not have a revolutionary party. But on the positive side it has no purpose beyond domination, and it should be recognised as an evil.
Generations of ‘revolutionary parties’ in Britain have achieved only one thing: the almost total alienation of the working class from what was once the working class movement.
Printed in Black Flag Volume V, Number 7. December 1978. Full Black Flag PDF archives on Libcom.