Excerpts from the Classics: The Communists and the Communist Party

November 15, 2002

5. The Communists and the Communist Party

This section deals with the necessity of a special role for Communists and a Communist Party, according to Marx and Engels in ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and Lenin in ‘What Is To Be Done.’ Lenin deals with the need for a Communist Party and its essential qualities – the so-called ‘theory of the Party of the new type.’ Democratic centralism and the principles of organization are discussed by Lenin, as well as factionalism and inner Party democracy.

Georgi Dimitrov’s Report to the 7th World Congress of the CI, 1935 is then quoted in dealing with cadre – existing or potential leadership people at all levels. The section concludes with a number of quotations from Marx, Engels, and Lenin on criticism and self-criticism by the Communists. Lenin’s last quotation deals with what the Communists need to learn from the capitalists who had been granted business concessions if the revolution was to prove itself in the economic field and finally win out.

“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement…”

Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848, Sec.IV, p.43 of IP Ed, MESW, IP 1977, P.62

“It [Marxism] made clear the real task of a revolutionary socialist party: not to draw up plans for refashioning society, not to preach to the capitalists and their hangers-on about improving the lot of the workers, not to hatch conspiracies, but to organize the class struggle of the proletariat and to guide this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the organization of a socialist society…”

Lenin, Our Programme, Oct. 1899, CW, Vol.4, p.210-11 Lenin, What Is To Be Done? Feb. 1902 (Excerpts)

“There are no people – yet there is a mass of people. There is a mass of people because the working class and increasingly varied social strata, year after year, produce from their ranks an increasing number of discontented people who desire to protest, who are ready to render all the assistance they can in the struggle against absolutism, the intolerableness of which, though not yet recognized by all, is more and more acutely sensed by increasing masses of the people. At the same time, we have no people, because we have no leaders, no political leaders, no talented organizers capable of arranging extensive and at the same time uniform and harmonious work that would employ all forces, even the most inconsiderable.

IP, p.25; CW, Vol.5, p.468)

“‘We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals…In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social- Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia….Hence, we had both the spontaneous awakening of the working masses, their awakening to conscious life and conscious struggle, and a revolutionary youth, armed with Social-Democratic theory and straining towards the workers.

IP, p.31-32; CW, Vol.5, p.375)

“This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge. But in order that workingmen may succeed in this more often, every effort must be made to raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general..

(IP, p.40; CW, Vol.5, p.384)

“It is often said that the working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism. This is perfectly true in the sense that socialist theory reveals the causes of the misery of the working class more profoundly and more correctly than any other theory, and for that reason the workers are able to assimilate it so easily, provided, however, this theory does not itself yield to spontaneity, provided it subordinates spontaneity to itself…The working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism; nevertheless, most widespread (and continuously and diversely revived) bourgeois ideology spontaneously imposes itself upon the working class to a still greater extent.

(IP, p.42; CW, Vol.5, p.386)

“Revolutionary Social-Democracy has always included the struggle for reforms as part of its activities. But it utilizes ‘economic’ agitation for the purpose of presenting to the government, not only demands for all sorts of measures, but also (and primarily)) the demand that it cease to be an autocratic government. Moreover,it considers it its duty to present this demand to the government on the basis, not of the economic struggle alone, but of all manifestations in general of public and political life. In a word, it subordinates the struggle for reforms, as the part to the whole, to the revolutionary struggle for freedom and for socialism. Martynov, however, resuscitates the theory of stages in a new form and strives to prescribe, as it were, an exclusively economic path of development for the political struggle.

IP, p.62; CW, Vol.5, p.405)

“Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected – unless they are trained, moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic point of view and no other. The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class- consciousness, unless the workers learn, from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical, and political life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata, and groups of the population. Those who concentrate the attention, observation, and consciousness of the working class exclusively, or even mainly, upon itself alone are not Social-Democrats; for the self-knowledge of the working class is indissolubly bound up, not solely with a fully clear theoretical understanding or rather, not so much with the theoretical, as with the practical, understanding – of the relationships between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through the experience of political life. For this reason the conception of the economic struggle as the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into the political movement, which our Economists preach, is so extremely harmful and reactionary in its practical significance. In order to become a Social-Democrat, the worker must have a clear picture in his mind of the economic nature and the social and political features of the landlord and the priest, the high state official and the peasant, the student and the vagabond…

IP, p.69-70; CW, Vol.5, p.412)

“In recent years, even the enlightened workers have been ‘engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle.’ That is the first point. On the other hand, the masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help to train leaders from this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals. Such leaders can acquire training solely by systematically evaluating all the everyday aspects of our political life, all attempts at protest and struggle on the part of the various classes and on various grounds. Therefore, to talk of ‘rearing political organizations’ and at the same time to contrast the ‘paper work’ of a political newspaper to ‘live political work in the localities’ is plainly ridiculous.

IP, p.157; CW, Vol.5, p.500)

“And the revolution itself must not by any means be regarded as a single act…, but a series of more or less powerful outbreaks rapidly alternating with periods of more or less complete calm. For that reason, the principal content of the activity of our Party organization, the focus of this activity, should be work that is both possible and essential in the period of a most powerful outbreak as well as in the period of complete calm, namely, work, of political agitation, connected throughout Russia, illuminating all aspects of life, and conducted among the broadest possible strata of the masses. But this work is unthinkable in present-day Russia without an All-Russian newspaper, issued very frequently. The organization, which will form around this newspaper, the organization of its collaborators (in the broad sense of the word, i.e., all those working for it), will be ready for everything, from upholding the honor, the prestige, and the continuity of the Party in periods of acute revolutionary ‘depression’ to preparing for, appointing the time for, and carrying out the nation-wide armed uprising.”

IP, p.172; CW, Vol. 5, p.514) Lenin, What Is To Be Done? Feb. 1902, IP, pp.25-172, ,CW, Vol.5, pp.375-514

“In its struggle for power, the proletariat has no other weapon but organization… the proletariat can, and inevitably will, become an invincible force only when its ideological unification by the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organization welding millions of toilers into an army of the working class. Neither the decrepit role of Russian tsarism, nor the ageing rule of international capital will be able to withstand this army.”

Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 1904, CW, Vol.7, p.383

“We see in the independent, uncompromisingly Marxist party of the revolutionary proletariat the sole pledge of socialism’s victory and the road to victory that is most free from vacillations.”

Lenin, A Militant Agreement for the Uprising, Feb. 21, 1905, CW, Vol.8, p.159

“The wider the new streams of the social movement become the greater becomes the importance of a strong Social Democratic organization capable of creating new channels for these streams. The more the democratic propaganda and agitation conducted independently of us works to our advantage, the greater becomes the importance of an organized Social-Democratic leadership to safeguard the independence of the working class from the bourgeois democrats.”

Lenin, New Tasks & New Forces, March 8, 1905, CW, Vol.8, p.216

“Parties belonging to the Communist International must be organized on the principle of democratic centralism. In this period of acute civil war, the Communist parties, can perform their duty only if they are organized in a most centralized manner, are marked by an iron discipline bordering on military discipline, and have strong and authoritative party centres invested with wide powers and enjoying the unanimous confidence of the membership.”

Lenin, Theses for the 2nd Congress of the Communist International, June 1920, CW, Vol..31, pp.209-10
Lenin, Preliminary Draft Resolution of the Tenth Congress of the R.C.P. on Party Unity, March 1921 (Excerpts)

“1. The Congress calls the attention of all members of the Party to the fact that the unity and cohesion of the ranks of the Party, the guarantee of complete mutual confidence among Party members and genuine team-work that really embodies the unanimity of will of the vanguard of the proletariat, are particularly essential at the present time, when a number of circumstances are increasing the vacillation among the petty-bourgeois population of the country.”

2. Notwithstanding this, even before the general Party discussion on the trade unions, certain signs of factionalism had been apparent in the Party – the formation of groups with separate platforms, striving to a certain degree to segregate and create their own group discipline… “All class-conscious workers must clearly realize that factionalism of any kind is harmful and impermissible, for no matter how members of individual groups may desire to safeguard Party unity, factionalism in practice inevitably leads to the weakening of team- work and to intensified and repeated attempts by the enemies of the governing Party, who have wormed their way into it, to widen the cleavage and to use it for counter-revolutionary purposes…

“3. In this question, propaganda should consist, on the one hand, in a comprehensive explanation of the harmfulness and danger of factionalism from the standpoint of Party unity and of achieving unanimity of will among the vanguard of the proletariat as the fundamental condition for the success of the dictatorship of the proletariat; and, on the other hand, in an explanation of the peculiar features of the latest tactical devices of the enemies of the Soviet power…

“6. In the practical struggle against factionalism, every organization of the Party must take strict measures to prevent all factional actions. Criticism of the Party’s shortcomings, which is absolutely necessary, must be conducted in such a way that every practical proposal shall be submitted immediately, without any delay, in the most precise form possible, for consideration and decision to the leading local and central bodies of the Party. Moreover, every critic must see to it that the form of his criticism takes account of the position of the Party, surrounded as it is by a ring of enemies, and that the content of his criticism is such that, by directly participating in Soviet and Party work, he can test the rectification of the errors of the Party or of individual Party members in practice. Analyses of the Party’s general line, estimates of its practical experience, check-ups of the fulfilment of its decisions, studies of methods of rectifying errors, etc. must under no circumstances be submitted for preliminary discussion to groups formed on the basis of ‘platforms’, etc., but must in all cases be submitted for discussion directly to all the members of the Party. For this purpose, the Congress orders a more regular publication of Diskussionny Listok and special symposiums to promote unceasing efforts to ensure that criticism shall be concentrated on essentials and shall not assume a form capable of assisting the class enemies of the proletariat.

“5. Rejecting in principle the deviation towards syndicalism and anarchism, which is examined in a special resolution, and instructing the Central Committee to secure the complete elimination of all factionalism, the Congress at the same time declares that every practical proposal concerning questions to which the so-called Workers’ Opposition group, for example, has devoted special attention, such as purging the Party of non- proletarian and unreliable elements, combating bureaucratic practices, developing democracy and workers’ initiative, etc., must be examined with the greatest care and tested in practice. The Party must know that we have not taken all the necessary measures in regard to these questions because of various obstacles, but that, while ruthlessly rejecting impractical and factional pseudo- criticism, the Party will unceasingly continue – trying out new methods – to fight with all the means at its disposal against the evils of bureaucracy, for the extension of democracy and initiative, for detecting, exposing and expelling from the Party elements that have wormed their way into its ranks, etc.

“7. In order to ensure strict discipline within the Party and in all Soviet work and to secure the maximum unanimity in eliminating all factionalism, the Congress authorizes the Central Committee, in cases of breach of discipline or of a revival or toleration of factionalism, to apply all Party penalties, including expulsion, and in regard to members of the Central Committee, reduction to the status of alternate members and, as an extreme measure, expulsion from the Party. A necessary condition for the application of such an extreme measure to members of the Central Committee, alternate members.. and members of the Control Commission is the convocation of a Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee, to which all alternate members… and all members of the Control Commission shall be invited. If such a general assembly of the most responsible leaders of the Party deems it necessary by a two-thirds majority to reduce a member of the Central Committee to the status of alternate member or to expel him from the Party, this measure shall be put into effect immediately.”

Lenin, Preliminary Draft Resolution of the Tenth Congress of the R.C.P. on Party Unity, March 1921, CW, Vol.32, p.241-244 Dimitrov, George, “United Front Against Fascism”, Speech in Reply to Discussion, 7th World Congress, Communist International, 1935 (Excerpts)


“…The problem of what shall be the correct policy with regard to cadres is a very serious one for our Parties, as well as for the Young Communist Leagues and for all other mass organizations – for the entire revolutionary labor movement.

“What does a correct policy with regard to cadres imply? “First, knowing one’s people. As a rule there is no systematic study of cadres in our Parties… The experience of these Parties has shown that as soon as they began to study their people, Party workers were discovered who had remained unnoticed before. On the other hand, the Parties began to be purged of alien elements who were ideologically and politically harmful…

“Second, proper promotion of cadres. Promotion should not be something casual but one of the normal functions of the Party. It is bad when promotion is made exclusively on the basis of narrow Party considerations, without regard to whether the Communist promoted has contact with the masses or not. Promotion should take place on the basis of the ability of the various Party workers to discharge particular functions, and of their popularity among the masses…

“…in the majority of cases promotions are made in an unorganized and haphazard manner, and therefore are not always fortunate. Sometimes moralizers, phrasemongers and chatterboxes who actually harm the cause are promoted to leading positions.

Third, the ability to use people to the best advantage. We must be able to ascertain and utilize the valuable qualities of every single active member. There are no ideal people; we must take them as they are and correct their weaknesses and shortcomings. We know of glaring examples in our Parties of the wrong utilization of good, honest Communists who might have been very useful had they been given work that they were better fit to do.

“Fourth, proper distribution of cadres. First of all, we must see to it that the main links of the movement are in the charge of strong people who have contacts with the masses, have sprung from the very depths of the masses, who have initiative and are staunch. The more important districts should have an appropriate number of such activists. In capitalist countries it is not an easy matter to transfer cadres from one place to another. Such a task encounters a number of obstacles and difficulties, including lack of funds, family considerations, etc., difficulties which must be taken into account and properly overcome. But usually we neglect to do this altogether.

“Fifth, systematic assistance to cadres. This assistance should take the form of careful instruction, comradely control, rectification of shortcomings and mistakes and concrete, everyday guidance.

“Sixth, proper care for the preservation of cadres. We must learn promptly to withdraw Party workers to the rear whenever circumstances so require, and replace them by others. We must demand that the Party leadership, particularly in countries where the Parties are illegal, assume paramount responsibility for the preservation of cadres…

“Only a correct policy in regard to cadres will enable our Parties to develop and utilize all available forces to the utmost, and obtain from the enormous reservoir of the mass movement ever fresh reinforcements of new and better active workers.

“What should be our main criteria in selecting cadres? First, absolute devotion to the cause of the working class, loyalty to the Party, tested in face of the enemy – in battle, in prison, in court.

“Second, the closest possible contact with the masses. The comrades concerned must be wholly absorbed in the interests of the masses, feel the life pulse of the masses, know their sentiments and requirements. The prestige of the leaders of our Party organization should be based, first of all, on the fact that the masses regard them as their leaders, and are convinced through their own experience of their ability as leaders, and of their determination and self-sacrifice in struggle.

“Third, ability independently to find one’s bearings and not to be afraid of assuming responsibility in taking decisions…Cadres develop and grow best when they are placed in the position of having to solve concrete problems of the struggle independently, and are aware that they are fully responsible for their decisions. “Fourth, discipline and Bolshevik hardening in the struggle against the class enemy as well as in their irreconcilable opposition to all deviations from the Bolshevik line.

“We must place all the more emphasis on these conditions which determine the correct selection of cadres, because in practice preference is very often given to a comrade who, for example, may be able to write well and be a good speaker but is not a man or woman of action, is not as suited for the struggle as some other comrade who perhaps may not be able to write or speak so well, but is a staunch comrade, possessing initiative and contacts with the masses, and is capable of going into battle and leading others into battle. Have there not been ever so many cases of sectarians, doctrinaires or moralizers crowding out loyal mass workers, genuine working-class leaders?

“Our leading cadres should combine the knowledge of what they must do – with Bolshevik stamina, revolutionary strength of character and the will power to carry it through.”

Dimitrov, George, “United Front Against Fascism”, New Century 1950, pp.119-123, Speech in Reply to Discussion, 7th World Congress, Communist International, 1935

“Working class revolutions … criticize themselves, constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin afresh, deride with merciless thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses, and meagerness of their first attempts.”

Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852, p.17, IP Ed, MESW, P.100; MECW, Vol.11, p.106-07

“If, then, we have been beaten, we have nothing else to do but to begin again from the beginning. And, fortunately, the probably very short interval of rest which is allowed us between the close of the first and the beginning of the second act of the movement, gives us time for a very necessary piece of work: the study of the causes that necessitated both the late outbreak, and its defeat; causes that are not to be sought for in the accidental efforts, talents, faults, errors or treacheries of some of the leaders, but in the general social state and conditions of existence of each of the convulsed nations.. That the sudden movements of February and March, 1848, were not the work of single individuals, but spontaneous, irresistible manifestations of national wants and necessities, more or less clearly understood, but very distinctly felt by numerous classes in every country, is a fact recognized everywhere; but when you inquire into the causes of the counter- revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready reply that it was Mr. This or Citizen That, who ‘betrayed’ the people. Which reply may be very true, or not, according to circumstances, but under no circumstances does it explain anything – not even show how it came to pass that the ‘people’ allowed themselves to be thus betrayed. And what a poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock-in-trade consists in a knowledge of the solitary fact, that Citizen So-and-so is not to be trusted…All these petty personal quarrels and recriminations – all these contradictory assertions, that it was Marrast, or Ledru- Rollin, or Louis Blanc, or any other member of the Provisional Government, or the whole of them, that steered the revolution amidst the rocks upon which it foundered…No man in his senses will ever believe that eleven men, mostly of very indifferent capacity, either for good or evil, were able in three months to ruin a nation of thirty-six millions, unless those thirty-six millions saw as little of their way before them as the eleven did.”

Engels, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Germany,1852, MECW, Vol.11, p.6

“The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes, is one of the surest tests of its seriousness, and of its ability to fulfill its duties towards its class and towards the laboring masses. Frank admission of an error, discovery of its causes, analysis of the situation in which it occurred, careful study of the ways by which the mistake can be remedied – these are the signs whereby a serious party can be recognized. That is fulfillment of duty. That is the education of the class and of the masses.”

Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder, 1920, CW, Vol. 31, p.57

“The proletariat is not afraid to admit this or that thing has succeeded splendidly in its revolution, and this or that has not succeeded. All revolutionary parties which have hitherto perished, did so because they grew conceited, failed to see where their strength lay, and feared to speak of their weaknesses. But we shall not perish, for we do not fear to speak of our weaknesses and shall learn to overcome them.”

Lenin, Reply to Discussion of Political Report to 11th Party Congress, March 28, 1922, CW, Vol.33, p.311

“We must realize that the fight against bureaucracy is an absolutely essential one, and that it is just as complicated as the fight against the petty bourgeois element. Bureaucracy in our state system has become a malady of such gravity that it is spoken of in our Party programme, and that is because it is connected with this petty bourgeois element and their wide dispersion.”

Lenin Report on Political Activity of the CC, RCP (B) at the 10th Congress, March 8, 1921, CW, Vol.32, p.191

“Communists are in duty bound, not to gloss over short-comings in their movement, but to criticize them openly so as to remedy them the more speedily and radically. For this purpose it is necessary: first, to define as concretely as possible, particularly on the basis of the practical experience already acquired, the content of the concepts “dictatorship of the proletariat” and “Soviet power”; second, to specify the precise content of the immediate and systematic preparatory work to be carried on in all countries so as to give effect to these slogans; and third, to specify the methods and means of rectifying the faults in our movement.”

Lenin, Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International, July 4, 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.185

“When you hear such criticism, criticism without any content, criticism for the sake of criticism, be on your guard; make inquiry to find out whether the criticizing comrade’s vanity has not been injured in some way; perhaps he has been offended or is irritated, which drives him towards groundless opposition, opposition for its own sake.”

Lenin, Concluding Remarks to General Meeting of Communists of Zamoskvorechye District, Moscow, Nov.29, 1920, CW, Vol.31, 436

“…But now that ordinary Russian and foreign capitalists are joining the Communists in forming mixed companies, we say ‘We can do things after all; bad as it is, meager as it is, we have got something for a start.’…Of course, they will cheat us in these companies, cheat us so that it will take several years before matters are straightened out. But that does not matter. I do not say that that is victory; it is a reconnaissance, which shows that we have an arena, we have a terrain, and can now stop the retreat….The retreat has come to an end; it is now a matter of regrouping our forces….The principal methods of operation, of how we are to work with the capitalists, are outlined. We have examples, even if an insignificant number. Stop philosophizing and arguing about NEP [the New Economic Policy – DR]… Show by your practical efforts that you can work no less efficiently than the capitalists. The capitalists create an economic link with the peasants in order to amass wealth; you must create a link with peasant economy in order to strengthen the economic power of the proletarian state….Cast off the tinsel, the festive communist garments, learn a simple thing simply, and we shall beat the private capitalist. We possess political power; we possess a host of economic weapons. If we beat capitalism and create a link with peasant farming we shall become an absolutely invincible power. Then the building of socialism will not be the task of that drop in the ocean, called the Communist Party, but the task of the entire mass of the working people. Then the rank-and-file peasants will see that we are helping them and they will follow our lead. Consequently, even if the pace is a hundred times slower,it will be a million times more certain and more sure.”

Lenin, Political Report of the Central Committee of the RCP (B) to 11th Congress, March 27, 1922, CW, Vol.33, pp.284-285

* * *

Reproduction of this booklet has been paid for by the Committees of Correspondence Education Fund, Rm. 506, 11 John St., New York, NY, 10038.

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