THESES ON THE ROLE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION
The international proletariat faces decisive struggles. The epoch in which we now live is the epoch of open civil war. The decisive hour is approaching. In almost every country in which there is a workers’ movement of any importance, the working class faces a series of bitter struggles, arms in hand. More than ever before the working class requires strict organization. It must prepare itself untiringly for this struggle now, without wasting a single hour of valuable time.
If the working class had possessed a disciplined Communist Party, even a small one, at the time of the Paris Commune of 1871, the first heroic uprising of the French proletariat would have been much more powerful and many mistakes and weaknesses could have been avoided. The struggles which the proletariat is now facing in a different historical situation will be far more fateful than those of 1871.
The Second Congress of the Communist International therefore draws the attention of the revolutionary working class throughout the world to the following:
1. The Communist Party is a part [in french edition: fraction] of the working class, and moreover its most advanced, most class-conscious and therefore its most revolutionary part. The Communist Party is created by the method of the natural selection of the best, the most class-conscious, the most self-sacrificing, and the most far-sighted workers. The Communist Party has no interests that differ from the interests of the whole working class. The Communist Party differs from the whole working class because it has an overall view of the whole historical road of the working class in its totality and because at every turn in this road it strives to defend not just the interests of a single group or a single trade, but the interests of the working class in its totality. The Communist Party is the organizational and political lever with whose help the advanced part of the working class can steer the whole mass of the proletariat and the semi-proletariat on to the correct road.
2. Until the time when state power has been conquered by the proletariat, and the proletariat has established its rule once and for all and secured it from bourgeois restoration, until that time the Communist Party will only have the minority of the working class organized in its ranks. Until the seizure of power and during the period of transition the Communist Party is able, under favourable conditions, to exercise undivided mental and political influence over all the proletarian and half-proletarian layers of the population, but is not able to unite them organizationally in its ranks. Only after the proletarian dictatorship has wrested out of the hands of the bourgeoisie such powerful media of influence as the press, education, parliament, the church, the administrative machine and so on, only after the defeat of the bourgeois order has become clear for all to see, only then will all or almost all workers start to enter the ranks of the Communist Party.
3. The concept of the party and that of the class must
be kept strictly separate. The members of the ’Christian’ and liberal trades
unions of Germany, England and other countries are undoubtedly part of
the working class. The more or less significant sections of workers who
still stand behind Scheidemann, Gompers and company are undoubtedly part
of the working class. It is very possible that, under certain historical
circumstances, the working class can become interspersed with numerous
reactionary layers. The task of communism does not lie in accommodating
to these backward parts of the working class, but in raising the whole
of the working class to the level of the communist vanguard. The confusion
of these two concepts – party and class – can lead to the greatest mistakes
and confusion. Thus it is clear, for example, that during the imperialist
war, despite the moods and prejudices of a certain section of the working
class, the workers’ party had to oppose these moods and prejudices at any
cost and represent the historical interests of the working class, which
demanded that the proletarian party declared war on war.
Thus, at the beginning of the imperialist war in 1914, the parties of the social traitors in every country, in supporting their ’own’ bourgeoisie, could point to corresponding expressions of the will of the working class. But in the process they forgot that, even if that was the case, the duty of the proletarian party in such a state of affairs would have to be to oppose the mood of the majority and to represent, despite everything, the historical interests of the proletariat. In the same way at the beginning of the twentieth century the Russian Mensheviks of the day (the so-called Economists) rejected the open political struggle against Tsarism with the argument that the working class as a whole had not yet ripened to an understanding of the political struggle.
And in the same way the right-wing Independents in Germany in all their half-measures point to the fact that ’the masses wish it’, without understanding that the party is there for the purpose of going in advance of the masses and showing them the way.
4. The Communist International remains firmly convinced that the collapse of the old ’social democratic’ parties of the Second International can under no circumstances be portrayed as the collapse of the proletarian party type of organization in general. The epoch of the direct struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat brings a new party of the proletariat into the world: the Communist Party.
5. The Communist International rejects most decisively the view that
the proletariat can carry out its revolution without having an independent
political party. Every class struggle is a political struggle. The aim
of this struggle, which inevitably turns into civil war, is the conquest
of political power. Political power can only be seized, organized and led
by a political party, and in no other way. Only when the proletariat has
as a leader an organized and tested party with well marked aims and with
a tangible, worked-out programme for the next measures to be taken not
only at home but also in foreign policy, will the conquest of political
power not appear as an accidental episode but serve as the starting point
for the permanent communist construction of society by the proletariat.
The same class struggle demands in the same way the centralization and common leadership of the different forms of the proletarian movement (trades unions, co-operatives, works committees, cultural work, elections and so forth).
Only a political party can be such a unifying and leading centre. To renounce the creation and strengthening of such a party, to renounce subordinating oneself to it, is to renounce unity in the leadership of the individual battle units of the proletariat who are advancing on the different battlefields. The class struggle of the proletariat demands a concerted agitation that illuminates the different stages of the struggle from a uniform point of view and at every given moment directs the attention of the proletariat towards specific tasks common to the whole class. That cannot be done without a centralized political apparatus, that is to say outside of a political party.
The propaganda carried out by the revolutionary syndicalists and the Industrial Workers of the World against the necessity of such a party therefore contributes and has contributed objectively only to the support of the bourgeoisie and the counterrevolutionary ’social democrats’. In their propaganda against a Communist Party, which they wish to replace exclusively by trades unions or some formless ’general’ workers’ unions, the syndicalists and industrialists rub shoulders with open opportunists.
For several years after the defeat of the 1905 revolution the Russian Mensheviks preached the idea of the so-called Workers’ Congress, which was supposed to replace the revolutionary party of the working class. The ’yellow Labourites’ of every kind in Britain and America preach to the workers the creation of formless workers’ organizations or vague, merely parliamentary associations instead of the political party and at the same time put completely bourgeois policies into deeds. The revolutionary syndicalists and industrialists want to fight against the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, but do not know how. They do not see that without an independent political party the working class is a rump without a head.
Revolutionary syndicalism and industrialism mean a step forward only in comparison with the old, musty, counter-revolutionary ideology of the Second International. In comparison however with revolutionary Marxism, that is to say with communism, syndicalism and industrialism mean a step backwards. The declaration by the ’left’ Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD) at its founding conference in April, that it is founding a party, but ’not a party in the traditional sense’ means an ideological capitulation to those views of syndicalism and industrialism that are reactionary.
With the general strike alone, with the tactic of folded arms, the working class cannot achieve victory over the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must take on the armed uprising. Whoever understands that will also have to grasp that an organized political party is necessary and that formless workers’ unions are not sufficient.
The revolutionary syndicalists often talk about the great role of the determined revolutionary minority. Well, a truly determined minority of the working class, a minority that is Communist, that wishes to act, that has a programme and wishes to organize the struggle of the masses, is precisely the Communist Party.
6. The most important task of a truly Communist Party consists in always
remaining in the closest contact with the broadest layers of the proletariat.
In order to achieve this, the Communists can and should work in those associations that are non-party but nonetheless embrace big layers of the proletariat, such as for example the organizations of war invalids in the various countries, the ’Hands off Russia’ Committees in Britain, proletarian tenants’ associations, etc. The Russian example of conferences of so-called ’non-party’ workers and peasants is particularly important. Such conferences are organized in almost every town, in every workers’ district and also in the countryside. The broadest masses even of the backward workers take part in the elections to these conferences. The most important current questions are placed on the agenda: the food question, the housing question, military questions, education, the political tasks of the day, etc. The Communists influence these ’non-party’ conferences most zealously – and with great success for the party.
The Communists think that one of their most important tasks is the work of organization and education within these broad workers’ organizations. But precisely in order to organize this work successfully, to prevent the enemies of the revolutionary proletariat from taking over these broad workers’ movements, the advanced Communist workers must form their own, independent, closed Communist Party, which always proceeds in an organized fashion and is able to perceive the general interests of communism at every turn of events and in all forms of the movement.
7. Communists by no means avoid non-party mass organizations of workers. Under certain conditions they do not hold back from participating in them and using them even if they are of an emphatically reactionary character (yellow unions, Christian unions, etc.). The Communist Party constantly carries out its propaganda within these organizations and tirelessly convinces the workers that the idea of not joining a party on principle is consciously encouraged among the workers by the bourgeoisie and their assistants to divert the proletarians from the organized struggle for socialism.
8. The old ’classical’ division of the workers’ movement into three
forms – the party, the trades unions and the co-operatives – has obviously
been overtaken. The proletarian revolution in Russia has created the basic
form of the proletarian dictatorship – the soviets. The new division that
we are everywhere encountering is (1) the party, (2) the soviet, (3) the
productive association (the trade union).
But the workers’ councils too, as well as the revolutionary production associations, must constantly and systematically be led by the party of the proletariat, that is to say by the Communist Party. The organized vanguard of the working class, the Communist Party, which must lead the struggle of the whole working class to the same extent in the economic and political and also in the cultural field, must be the guiding spirit not only of the producers’ associations and of the workers’ councils, but also in all the other forms of proletarian organization.
The rise of the soviets as the basic historical form of the dictatorship by no means decreases the leading role of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution. If the ’left’ Communists of Germany (cf. their appeal to the German proletariat of April 14, 1920 signed ’Communist Workers’ Party of Germany’) declare: ’That the Party too adapts more and more to the idea of Soviets, and takes on a proletarian character’ (Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung, no. 54), then this is a confused expression of the idea that the Communist Party must dissolve itself into the soviets, that the soviets can replace the Communist Party.
This idea is fundamentally false and reactionary.
In the history of the Russian revolution we experienced a whole period in which the soviets marched against the proletarian party and supported the policies of the agents of the bourgeoisie. The same thing could be observed in Germany. The same thing is also possible in other countries.
On the contrary, the existence of a powerful Communist Party is necessary in order to enable the soviets to do justice to their historic tasks, a party that does not simply ’adapt itself’ to the soviets, but is in a position to make them renounce ’adaptations’ of their own to the bourgeoisie and White Guard social democracy, a party which, by means of the Communist factions in the soviets, is in a position to take the soviets under the leadership of the Communist Party.
Whoever suggests to the Communist Party that it should ’adapt’ to the soviets, whoever sees a strengthening of the Party’s ’proletarian character’ in such an adaptation, is doing the Party and the soviets a highly questionable favour, and understands the significance neither of the soviets nor of the Party. The ’soviet idea’ will be all the sooner victorious, the stronger are the parties that we create in every country. Many ’Independents’ and even right-wing socialists announce their support for the ’soviet idea’ in words now. We will only be able to prevent these elements from distorting the soviet idea if we have a strong Communist Party that is in a position to influence decisively the policies of the soviets.
9. The working class does not only need the Communist Party before and during the conquest of power, but also after the transfer of power into the hands of the working class. The history of the Communist Party of Russia, which has been in power for almost three years shows that the importance of the Communist Party does not diminish after the conquest of power by the working class, but on the contrary grows extraordinarily.
10. On the day the working class conquers power its party nevertheless
remains as before only a part of the working class. It is precisely that
part of the working class that organized the victory. For two decades in
Russia and for a number of years in Germany the Communist Party has carried
out its fight not only against the bourgeoisie but also against those ’socialists’
who are the bearers of the bourgeois influence in the working class. It
took into its ranks the most steadfast, far-sighted and advanced fighters
in the working class. Only the existence of such a close organization of
the élite of the working class makes it possible to overcome all
the difficulties that place themselves in the path of the workers’ dictatorship
on the day following the victory.
In the organization of a new proletarian Red Army, in the actual liquidation of the bourgeois state apparatus and its replacement by the nucleus of a new proletarian state apparatus, in the fight against the craft tendencies of individual groups of workers, in the fight against local and regional ’patriotism’ and in opening up paths to the creation of a new work discipline – in all of these areas the decisive word of the Communist Party belongs. Its members must fire and lead the majority of the working class by their own example.
11. The need for a political party of the proletariat will only disappear with the complete dissolution of the classes. On the way to the final victory of communism it is possible that the historical significance of the three fundamental forms of proletarian organization of the present (party, soviets, production associations) will change, and that the uniform type of the workers’ organization will gradually crystallize out. The Communist Party will not however completely dissolve into the working class until communism has ceased to be an object of struggle and the whole of the working class has become communist.
12. The Second Congress of the Communist International not only confirms the historical tasks of the Communist Party in general, but tells the international proletariat, if only in general outline, what kind of Communist Party we require.
13. The Communist International is of the opinion that, particularly in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Communist Party must be built on the basis of an iron proletarian centralism. To lead the working class successfully in the long and hard civil wars that have broken out, the Communist Party must create an iron military order in its own ranks. The experiences of the Communist Party that led the working class during three years of the Russian civil war have shown that, without the strictest discipline, complete centralism and full comradely confidence of all the party organizations in the leading party centre, the victory of the workers is impossible.
14. The Communist Party must be built up on the basis of democratic centralism. The chief principle of democratic centralism is the election of the higher party cells by the lower, the unconditional and indispensable binding authority of all directives from the higher bodies to the lower, and the existence of a strong party centre whose authority cannot be contested by anybody, are generally recognized for all leading party comrades in the period from one party conference to another.
15. A series of Communist Parties in Europe and America have been forced as a result of the “state of siege” declared against the Communists by the bourgeoisie, to lead an illegal existence. It must be remembered that in such a state of affairs one is from time to time obliged to abandon the strict observance of the principle of election and to permit the leading party institutions the right of co-option, as was the case in Russia on occasion. Under a “state of siege” the Communist Party is not able to use a democratic referendum to solve every serious question, but is rather forced to give its leading centre the right whenever necessary to make important decisions which are binding on every party member.
16. The advocacy of widespread ’autonomy’ for the individual local party branches can only weakens the ranks of the Communist Party, undermines its ability to act and favours the petty-bourgeois, anarchist, and disruptive tendencies.
17. In the countries in which the bourgeoisie or counter-revolutionary
social democracy is still in power, the Communist Parties must learn to
link the illegal work with the legal in a planned manner. In the process
the legal work must constantly be under the actual control of the illegal
party. The Communist parliamentary factions, not only in the central (national),
but also in the local (regional and local council) institutions of the
state, must be subordinate to the control of the whole party – regardless
of whether the whole party is legal or illegal at any given moment. Those
members of parliament who refuse in any shape or form to subordinate themselves
to the party must be expelled from the ranks of the Communist Party.
The legal press (newspapers and publishing) must be subordinated totally and unconditionally to the whole party and its Central Committee.
18. The basis of the organizational activity of the Communist Party must everywhere be the creation of a Communist cell, however small the number of proletarians and semi-proletarians involved may be from time to time. In every soviet, in every trade union, in every factory, in every co-operative society, in every residents’ committee (tenants’ association), wherever there are even only three people who side with communism a Communist cell must be formed immediately. Only the unity of the Communists gives the vanguard of the proletariat the possibility of leading the whole working class. All Communist Party cells that work in non-party organizations are unconditionally subordinated to the whole party organization, completely irrespective of whether the Party is working legally or illegally at that given moment. The Communist cells of every kind must be subordinated the one to the other in a strictly hierarchical order of rank, according to the most precise system possible.
19. The Communist Party arises almost everywhere as an urban party,
as a party of industrial workers who for the main part live in towns. For
the easiest and quickest possible victory of the working class it is necessary
for the Communist Party to become not only the party of the towns but also
the party of the villages. The Communist Party must develop its propaganda
and its organizational activity among rural workers and the small and middle
peasants. The Communist Party must work with especial care on the organization
of Communist cells in the countryside.
1. The Communist Party is the main and fundamental weapon for the liberation
of the working class. In every country we must have not just groups or
currents, but a Communist Party.
2. In every country there should exist only one single united Communist Party. 3. The Communist Party should be built up on the principle of the strictest centralization, and in the epoch of the civil war it should have military discipline reigning in its ranks.
4. Wherever there are only a dozen proletarians or semi-proletarians the Communist Party must have an organized cell.
5. There must be in every non-party institution a Communist cell which is strictly subordinate to the whole party.
6. Firmly and persistently defending the programme and revolutionary tactics of communism, the Communist Party must constantly be linked as closely as possible with the broad workers’ organizations and avoid sectarianism as much as lack of principles.