The Distinguishing Features of
Leninist Political Practice
We are seeking to practice the scientific approach to politics of Marx and Lenin. Thus the text which follows seeks to elaborate systematically what constitutes a Leninist political practice. Essentially, the objective of Leninism is the establishment of a communist society via socialism, the transition period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Many would agree with this objective but reject Leninist practice. This rejection manifests itself in a fixation with a particular organisational form or type of struggle. Leninist political practice does not have fetishes, but considers the likely consequences of a particular form of struggle nd opts for the form most likely to promote its objectives. It is, therefore, not "unprincipled", because the objectives to be achieved are clear, and inform the practice. Thus, it is clearly distinct from a political practice which eschews principles, ie opportunism, and also from the opposite deviation of being politically paralysed by too many "principles". Such paralysis generally arises from the error of elevating a strategy or tactic to a principle An example should clarify this.
Based on their understanding of the bourgeois state, Leninists reject attempts to achieve socialism through electoral struggle. But rejection of parliamentarianism does not rule out participation in electoral or reform struggles when they can promote short-term advances. Fundamentalists fail to make this distinction and thus reject any involvement in electoral or reform struggles "on principle". Opportunists, by contrast, are satisfied with only the short-term gains and thus will engage in reform struggles as ends in themselves-to win better wages, more party members, or whatever.
What constitutes a Leninist political practice in contradistinction
to these other tendencies is outlined in the text, which sets 6ut three
classes of conjuncture, describing in broad terms the type of party activity
appropriate to each class. Such a classification is not a substitute for
conjunctural analysis. Quite the reverse. Leninists must have a detailed
knowledge of the situation in which they are working and the possible courses
of development in order to intervene effectively using a political programme
developed primarily from their analysis. The classes of conjunctures are
specified to provide a directed research programme, just as preliminary
categories and definitions are drawn up in all scientific research. They
also enable us to analyse new situations as they arise. It must be noted,
however, that there is no necessary sequence of movement between
types of conjuncture: history is not a straight path but a route which
zig zags. and turns back on itself. When Leninists suffer a reverse
they need not necessarily advance over the same ground or by the route
by which they retreated.
Looking at the particular types of conjuncture outlined some points should be noted. Revolution is not possible in all social, political and economic conditions. Contrary to the belief of many on the Left that the manifestations of contradictions at the economic level inevitably imply a revolutionary situation, reality is much more complex. Economic crises do not necessarily develop into political crises, let alone into a military crisis, a necessary feature of revolutionary situations. In a revolutionary conjuncture, the choice is between a reestablished capitalism and a defeated working class, or socialism-the dictatorship of the proletariat and the erosion of the capitalist mode of production. The choice is never between capitalism or communism, let alone socialism or barbarism. As Lenin said, those who expect a revolution in which the bourgeoisie are all lined up on one side and the proletariat on the other will never live to see it. In non-revolutionary conjunctures the options appear even less distinctly. In particular, in a restructuring conjuncture it may appear that Leninists are faced with the choice of supporting capitalism by opting for a particular form of restructuring, or supporting the proletariat by calling for all manner of resistance to all forms of restructuring, but this is a bogus choice. In a situation where the conditions for a revolution do not exist, as in Britain at present, it is inevitable that capitalism is going to restructure itself, the form of restructuring being determined by political struggle. Leninists, then, have two choices.
The first option is to try to affect the course of that restructuring for the benefit of the working class: for example the development of greater class polarisation, with increased class cohesion and strengthened working class ideology; the weakening of the material bases of ideologies which divide the working class, eg racism, sexism, nationalism; the increased self-confidence of the working class in its collective ability to take charge of society. If a crisis is not revolutionary, restructuring must take place under the existing state power. If the working class is to influence the restructuring, it must make demands on the state. However, in fighting for reforms, communists never lose sight of their eventual aim or permit the belief that the existing state apparatus can serve as an instrument of proletarian state power: reformism must be strenuously opposed. Reformism is the idea that socialism can be achieved through a gradual accretion of reforms won by constitutional means and without the overthrow of bougeois state power. Our view is that the struggle for reforms can only prepare more favourable conditions for the future overthrow of bourgeois state power.
The other option is confinement to propaganda work, disregarding changes in material conditions, whether on the grounds that the restructuring cannot be influenced or that involvement in reform struggles will only foster illusions in the working class.
To the first objection one can say: "Suck it and see!"; at the very least the analysis and experience of political struggle gained will be valuable. To the second, the obvious retort is that there is no inevitability about the outcome of political struggle. The outcome depends on the relative strengths of the forces involved. Leninists cannot intervene and lead the struggle in a revolutionary crisis without having already developed their political, ideological and organisational practices. These practices cannot be developed in a political vacuum. If Leninists have always waited immobile or stood aside for fear of being contaminated with reformism, when all the conditions for a revolutionary situation exist they will be unable to influence its outcome. Communists must be aware of the possibility of deviations, but must not become paralysed and impotent in the face of these dangers. As Lenin pointed out:
"The greatest, perhaps the only danger to the genuine revolutionary is that of exaggerated revolutionism, ignoring the limits and conditions in which revolutionary methods are appropriate and can be successfully employed."
FEATURES OF LENINIST
Leninist politics are the practice of a specific organization: a communist party. This has as its professed aim the introduction of a communist society. This aim is not unique to Leninism. A number of non-Leninist political organizations profess the same aim. What distinguishes a Leninist party is the way that it combines and systematizes a number of distinct practices of intervention. It combines theoretical practice, ideological practice, intervention in economic struggles, organizational work, and in some cases military leadership, in order to intervene in the process of political class struggle. What makes its intervention scientific is the dominant position held, within this combination, by theoretical practice.
At each moment, each specific practice is guided and controlled by a party line which itself grows out of the party's partisan standpoint and theoretical analysis of the current moment.
THEORETICAL PRACTICE OF THE PARTY
The specific objective of party theoretical work is to analyse economic and political conditions sufficiently concretely to provide the basis for an effective political line. Since political class struggle always takes place within the confines of a given state, and since forces external to the state can only operate through internal agencies this analysis must be directed initially at conditions in the party's home state. The ability to carry out concrete analysis is the fundamental precondition for a Leninist political practice. If inflexible organisational and political formulae are substituted for conclusions arrived at by concrete analysis, then the practice of the party is reduced to just one more random element within a political process which is not understood by those acting in it.
The level of sophistication and precision of the party's analysis will vary with a number of factors, among which are: the sources of information available to it, the rapidity with which the situation is changing, and the party's past experience. No one unvarying sequence can be laid down for party theoretical practice, only certain general problems whose resolution greatly aids concrete analysis.
Marxism-Leninism holds that the forces which enter into the process of political struggle and the issues over which they struggle arise on the basis of class contradictions defined prima4ly at the level of the relations of production. Therefore, if the party is not to accept as given the ideological representation assumed by these forces, it must have its own analysis of the dominant system of production relations.
Using the theory of historical materialism it is possible to derive certain general laws and tendencies associated with the reproduction of these relations of production, and also the characteristic range of technologies of forms of appropriation of nature. Under capitalist relations of production we may find manufacture, machine industry, and automated production.
Each system of production relations may be conceptualised as a basic invariant system of real economic property relations which make possible a given mode of exploitation (extraction of surplus labour). For example in capitalism the core economic property relations involve the separation of the direct producers from the means of production (class of pro pertyless proletarians), the commodity form of the products of social labour (including labour power) and the ownership of the means of production by capitalist enterprises. But to these invariant property relations there corresponds a certain field of variation of specific property forms. For example, the degree of capital concentration may vary, as may the degree of state ownership, and the degree to which workers have subsidiary sources of income.
It is not enough just to identify the dominant production relations; the concrete combinations of forms of property and material production within dominant relations must also be
identified. Most important of all it is necessary to identify the conditions of reproduction. What forms of production and property have an extended and which a contracted reproduction? What contradictions are developed in the general process of economic reproduction? What are the long run tendencies in the reproduction process, and what stage have they reached, eg, exhaustion of the latent reserve army, rising organic composition of capital?
Having identified the contradictions arising from the reproduction process and their hierarchical articulation, it becomes possible to understand both the objective causes of current political struggles, and the probable trajectory of future social development.
GENERAL CLASSES OF CONJUNCTURES
It must be recognised that every conjuncture within which a party acts is unique and has to be analysed separately. Communists must assimilate the lessons to be learned from class struggle at other times and in other countries but these must be tested for their relevance against the concrete analysis of the concrete situation in which the party is operating. It is, however, possible to divide conjunctures into certain general classes according to broadly defined states of the class struggle, to each of which there corresponds a general orientation of party work. These general classes are Prawn up to aid recognition of the courses of action most likely to be fruitful. It is not however sufficient to recognize the class of conjuncture-the conjunctural analysis must first be carried out.
SOCIALLY STABLE CONJUNCTURES
Contrary to the catastrophist views which have often held sway among Marxists, capitalism often sustains periods of relative social stability. There are certain invariant contradictions of capitalism-social production vs private appropriation, capital vs wage labour-but when exploitation and the accumulation of capital are proceeding "smoothly" class antagonisms remain latent rather than explosive. The capitalist system develops on the basis of its contradictions but these contradictions are not manifest as open social conflict. For instance, there is an inbuilt economic contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat under capitalism. From these there arises a struggle over the distribution of the social product. But at most times only a tiny minority of workers participate in such economic struggles as strikes, work-to-rules, boycotts etc. The economic struggles themselves in no way threaten the capitalist social order.
During periods of stability the existing state superstructure and juridical forms of private property suffice to ensure the continued reproduction of the economic base. When this base is predominantly capitalist, this stability implies the absence of antagonistic contradictions blocking the process of capital accumulation. Stability implies that the social relations as a whole constantly reproduce the preconditions of a certain trajectory of economic development. The classic example of such a period is Britain in the second half of the 19th century when an expanding world market, free trade, and a growing labour force allowed for a long period of stable capitalist development.
Conditions of long term economic and social stability in which no serious
crisis is as yet forsecable, set severe restrictions on the political actions
of a revolutionary party. In the absence of a serious social crisis, resulting
either from the accumulation of economic contradictions, or from some external
shock like war or invasion, opportunities do not exist for a communist
party to effectively intervene in the political life of the nation. As
Bordiga put it, describing the European scene in 1965, the situation is
generally unfavourable and the party's work must take this into account.
Though unable to intervene in the national political process, the party
must still engage in practical political activity.
The CP may not be able to wield any mass influence, but it can prepare theoretically, ideologically and organisationally for the occasion when it could have such influence.
Theoretical preparation takes the form of the development of marxist theory. Fundamental concepts must be elaborated and refined, lessons of previous history must be assimilated, and above all, understanding of the present situation deepened. Critiques and refutations of the dominant themes of contemporary bourgeois ideology must be developed. Theoretical work produces new knowledges. Ideological work produces a transformation of 'consciousness' among either individuals or social classes. The precondition for the effectiveness of ideological work on a mass scale, on the scale of classes rather than a few individuals, is that it be accompanied by transformations in the practical activity of the masses. In conditions of social stability these transformations do not take place and the scope of ideological work is correspondingly limited to the propagation of communist ideology among relatively small numbers of individuals. Communist ideology formulates, in a particular context, the scientifically derived propositions of communism in the language of popular ideology. The result is neither fully scientific nor comprehensive, but creates within the listeners'/readers' ideology contradictions between their previous ideology and the raw communist notions being presented. Communist ideological work, whether educafion, propaganda or agitation, forces a choice: maintain the old ideas or break with them.
In periods of social stability, ideological work is the key link of party activity. It is directed towards advanced workers and individuals with a serious commitment to communism from other social classes and carried out in three general forms.
In addition to the party organisation proper, with its full members, the party develops a periphery of working associates and sympathisers in various front organisation within which it has a dominant influence.
"Smooth" capital accumulation can sustain periods of social stability, but accumulation is an inherently contradictory process and these inherent contradictions (private appropriation vs social production, wage labour vs capital) make periodic crisis inevitable. These basic contradictions do not, however, appear as the immediate causes of particular crises. Instead a conjunctural crisis is necessarily the result of contradictions at the level of the superstructure, since it is this which normally ensures the continued reproduction of the economic base, in the face of its inherent contradictions.
If the party is well prepared theoretically, i.e. has appropriated and developed marxist theory in relation to the
analysis of the conjuncture, it will be able to detect antagonistic tendencies maturing the socially stable period before they come to a head in an open crisis. In these circumstances, although we are still Pealing with a socially stable conjuncture, the orientation of party work will change. As a priority the party must analyse the situation and identify the hierarchy of contradictions produced by antagonistic tendencies within the base and superstructure. This involves specifying which of the various contradictions is the most acute, which is the most chronic, and how the various contradictions articulate. This enables a prediction to be made regarding the general issues which will be at stake in the crisis when it finally breaks. By examining the contradictions it is possible to determine various ways in which they could be resolved. It is around the precise form of resolution that non-revolutionary class struggle will revolve.
The economic issues at stake in a class struggle never amount to a clear opposition or choice between capitalism and communism. What is at stake in any particular struggle is not this general historical opposition, but specific changes in either the existing property relations or political superstructure. The party must draw up analyses of the spectrums of possible superstructural and basic changes that correspond to the resolution of specific contradictions in the conjuncture.
The party is then in a position to draw up a strategic line. This line aims to force that set of resolutions to the contradictions that is most favourable to the long term interests of the proletariat. It aims to make the ensuing crisis the opportunity for a restructuring of social relations that is to the benefit of the working class. Just how radical the restructuring will turn out to be, which contradictions will be resolved, and on just what terms, only the actual playing out of the crisis can reveal. But this element of unpredictability does not reduce the party's strategy to the status of an arbitrary list of demands picked at random out of thin air.
Immediate party objectives propose certain forms of resolution of various contradictions. What distinguishes these from a "shopping list" of reforms, is that the resolution of these contradictions is historically necessary. In other words if not resolved, they are reproduced with increased acuteness until so resolved. But the fact that certain contradictions must be resolved does not necessarily mean that there is only one way in which this can happen. The party seeks not merely their resolution, but their resolution on working class rather than ruling class terms. In this case, the extent of the restructuring and its degree of radicalness will turn on the balance of forces during the crisis. The problems posed here are thus tactical rather than strategic. In advance, all the party can do is aim for a particular alliance of class forces in the crisis. Once the crisis breaks, new tactical lines have to be developed to handle the actually existing balance of forces.
Such practical interventions as the party now embarks upon over and above the activities that it would normally engage in when no developing crisis is apparent, are guided by its strategic line. At the minimum it engages in propaganda centred on this line, exposing the contradictions that are leading towards crisis and pointing out how the party advocates resolving them in the working class interest. Organisational work extends from attempts to build campaigns around specific items of strategy to exploratory attempts to see the possibilities of constructing a broad front organisation around the programme of restructuring envisaged in the strategic line.
economic recession might provoke a general social and thus political crisis. Alternatively, political events like a parliamentary crisis, a war, or a sudden spontaneous upsurge of mass protest against the government as in France in '68, may be the detonator. If such a crisis occurs, it is crucial to the orientation of party work to decide if it is potentially revolutionary.
The fundamental question in any revolution is the question of state power. In a revolution, the state power of one class is replaced by that of another. In a revolution which involves the replacement of one kind of exploitation by another, (e.g. the bourgeois revolution which overthrew feudalism) the existing apparatus may, to a large extent, survive the transfer of state power from one class to another, or at least changes in the institutions which constitute the state apparatus may be slow and piecemeal. A proletarian revolution, on the other hand, which aims at the ending of all exploitation, must involve the smashing of the existing state apparatus. The bourgeois state apparatus is the structural embodiment of:
The minimum preconditions for a state apparatus to exercise state power are:
In a restructuring crisis, the following factors may induce the state to make compromises with the working class, or other subordinate classes.
A CP that has done its analysis in the preceding period will be aware of the issues that will figure in the crisis, and will thus have fulfilled the first prerequisite for a scientific intervention in the political life of the nation. For some time now, it should have been cairying out propaganda on and around the main issues of the crisis. With the upsurge in political interest and participation on the part of the masses that is induced by a social crisis, it becomes possible to switch from propaganda-which necessarily only reaches advanced elements on the periphery of the party-to agitation which affects the masses in large numbers. This requires the identification of tactical objectives derived from an analysis of the short term aspects of the conjunctural situation and the party's immediate restructuring objective. These tactical objectives can then be expressed in the form of slogans which take into account the current stage of development of popular consciousness. The promulgation of such slogans constitutes the key link in the ideological aspect of the party's political intervention.
At this stage, the party's organisational work consists in:
The success or otherwise of the party's strategy during the restructuring crisis will have a crucial influence upon the ensuing period. The contradictions resolved, and the mode of their resolution will determine:
A proletarian party that has played a leading role in. fighting over the terms of the restructuring, and has been seen to take the initiative and force the pace, is likely to experience a growth in influence and support as a result. A more radical restructuring will also be in the immediate interest of many sections of the working class and its allies (and also inevitably sections of the bourgeoisie), so victories won here rebound to the credit of those who fought for them. To oppose restructuring on the grounds that it benefits leading sectors of the bourgeoisie, would ideologically tie the working class to the petty bourgeoisie and to the ideological structures within which the bourgeoisie has previously accommodated working class interests: an example of this is the left's opposition to EEC entry, which tied the working class to the petty bourgeoisie and to chauvinist labour ideology.
3 REVOLUTIONARY CONJUNCTURES
A revolutionary conjuncture is one in which there is a real possibility of state power passing from the hands of the ruling class. In all such conjunctures the decisive element is military force. Political power is transformed at gunpoint. It is possible to usefully distinguish four types of revolutionary conjunctures in which the transfer of power is possible:
To say that the military question is decisive in revolutionary situations does not mean that the revolution reduces to a question of military organisation. The prerequisite for a favourable military balance is often the existence of widespread political support for
revolutionary objectives. Bourgeois control over the armed forces can only be broken by their political subversion. An armed insurrection would probably fail, and a revolutionary civil war certainly fail, without a large measure of political support. The party cannot sirnply carry out a military putsch regardless of the political balance of forces. Apart from the immediate military question, working class state power can be maintained only if it is possible to destroy the mass base of bourgeois state power, which depends on a mass mobilisation of the workers in support of the revolution, and also crucially on a correct policy of class alliances with respect to the other classes affected by the process of proletarianisation (in countries with a large peasantry-a worker/peasant alliance; in advanced capitalist countries alliance with sections of the salariat and petty-bourgeoisie).
On the other hand the necessity for popular support for the workers party cannot be reduced to a question of percentages. Communism does not subscribe to any simplistic majoritarian ideas, and in fact revolution is possible with the active support of only a minority of the population, provided that the majority of the popular classes in struggle do not actively oppose the communists and provided that the military situation is favourable. The revolution does not have to be legitimated according to the criteria of bourgeois democracy, and in this sense the communists have no "democratic" prejudices. Nonetheless it is a cardinal point of Leninism that the development of the dictatorship of the proletariat must involve the development of a higher form of democracy by and for the working class. In contrast to bourgeois democracy, which allows the working class a choice between rulers every few years, proletarian democracy aims at reorganising the workers as the ruling class. Communists do not make a fetish of particular democratic insititutions, and under certain circumstances it may be necessary to suspend formal democratic procedures, but these circumstances are exceptional and must be justified as such.
When the party argues that a revolutionary conjuncture is in existence or is imminent, then is the time to put forward its socialist programme as a imminent objective of the working class. What distinguishes the socialist programme is not the immediate objective it puts forward; indeed, many of these might be attained through reforms within the bourgeois regime; it is the fact that taken as a whole, at that point in time, it is economically feasible but politically incompatible with the continued rule of the bourgeoisie.
The existence of a revolutionary situation clearly presupposes a high level of militancy and combativity on the part of the working class and its allies. One of the features of such a situation is likely to be the spontaneous crystallisation of that class power in the form of alternative political structures (e.g. councils, soviets). These can be the germs of an alternative state apparatus (although a particular institutional form doesn't guarantee a correct political line), and the party should attempt to promote their development in that direction. If the military situation is favourable and if the structures have drawn large sections of the working class directly or indirectly into them then the party should agititate for them to seize power. For such agitation to succeed the party will probably have to become the dominant organisation within these structures, even if this is achieved through alliance with some other revolutionary party
If on the other hand the revolutionary situation is precipitated with such a suddenness that the party is faced with the possibility of seizing state power in advance of the crystallisation of popular organs of working class political power it must call for, and play a leading role in, the development of such organs to broaden the base of the new state power.
In addition to the ideological work of preparing the working class for the seizure of power, and the organisational work of promoting working class political structures, the party must prepare itself to rule. It must prepare to become the effective nucleus of the new state power with a clear programme of immediate tasks and priorities.
Finally, the party should have a military programme. The form that this should take is an open question, demanding both theoretical analysis and concrete examination. It is bound, however, to have two key elements: subversion of the standing army and consititution of a red army. Row a red army is to be formed cannot be laid down in advance. The mutiny of regular army regiments, the arming of the populace by the state in the event of an external threat, and the independent formation of a red army from a nucleus of workers militias and guerrilla forces seem to be the three main alternatives open. It should be borne in mind that it is rare for an irregular force to be able to defeat a well equipped, trained and disciplined regular army in an urban setting.
Leninist political practice is based upon the theory that in the course
of social development there occur certain nodal points from which the paths
of possible development diverge. At such nodal moments, relatively minor
changes in the play of class forces can have a decisive influence upon
the course of development that society subsequently takes. The existence
of such divergent courses of possible development can be derived from analysis
of the contradictions inherent in social development during relatively
stable periods. Analysis can also reveal the class forces likely to be
in play at nodal moments and the alliances necessary for a particular outcome
to be achieved. Political practice is then directed to bring about the
required alignment of forces at the crucial point in time.
COMMUNIST FORMATION November, 1977