The Politics of Organization, A Lenin’s perspective

The Politics of Organization, A Lenin’s perspective

Chakar Baloch

With the continuous focus on organizational matters, several analysts have portrayed Lenin as the “organization man.” The creation of a vanguard party, accomplished by the fundamental principles of Marxism itself, was Lenin’s idea. “What is to be done?” has been seen as the founding document of a party of a new type, aiming to bring together fragmented Russian social democratic groups and circles into a modern centralized party with a central organ. The politics of organization and the need for a vanguard party were burning questions during the ongoing movements in Western Europe and, especially, in Russia at that time. In this context, I’ll explain the concept of a vanguard party and the politics of organization, based on Lenin’s written works known as “What is to be done?”

Lenin’s pamphlet “What is to be done?” holds a significant place in Marxist literature, as it is considered a classic on building a revolutionary party. Published in early 1902, it received great acclaim within the Marxist circles of Russia. However, it has also faced criticism from reformists and academics who believe it planted the seeds of a totalitarian dictatorship.

In another complementary pamphlet, “Where to begin?” Lenin addresses the practical steps to be taken on the known path, rather than choosing a new one. He raises three important questions: the character and principal content of political agitation, organizational tasks, and the plan for creating a militant, all-Russian organization from various ends simultaneously.

In the pamphlet “What is to be done?”, Lenin passionately advocates for the importance of organization. He outlines a broad plan of organization, emphasizing that every individual plays a vital role, no matter how small, in the revolutionary machine.

The pamphlet serves as a direct response against the reformist and opportunistic tendencies within Russian social democracy, particularly the economists, who denied the necessity of a revolutionary party. Lenin refutes their claims that his ideas were only valid for the conditions of tsarist Russia at that time. He emphasizes that critics of “What is to be done?” often make the mistake of not considering its connection to the concrete historical situation of a specific and now long-past period in the development of their party.

Even years after its publication, some, including Mensheviks, continued to criticize the pamphlet for its alleged incorrect or exaggerated ideas about the organization of professional revolutionaries. However, Lenin maintained his position and defended the importance of a revolutionary party throughout his works. 

“Lenin” went on saying: “Many of those who judge our party are outsiders who do not know the subject, who do not realize that today the ideas of an organization of professional revolutionaries have already scored a complete victory. that victory would have been impossible if this idea had not been pushed to the fore front at the time, if we had not exaggerated so as to drive at home to people who are trying to prevent it from being realized.”

Indeed, Lenin’s writings make it clear that the development of a revolutionary party is a complex and gradual process, spanning various stages that may take shape over several years or even decades. The formation of such a party involves going through challenging phases and enduring painful birth pangs. It requires continuous crystallization, regroupings, and, at times, even splits before it can emerge as a formidable mass force.

For those who genuinely aspire to follow the principles of Leninism, it is essential to study all of Lenin’s writings, as they offer valuable insights into the revolutionary process and the importance of a well-organized and committed party. 

Dogmatism and (freedom of criticism)

Lenin’s writings indeed emphasize the evolving nature of a revolutionary party, which is a living organism adapting to each stage of its development. During the time when he wrote “What is to be done?” and “Where to begin?”, the Russian movement faced challenges due to the presence of various reformist elements, which had a negative impact and reflected the pressure of capitalism.

Lenin criticized the notion of “freedom of criticism” as used by the economists, who he considered to be opportunists attempting to introduce bourgeois elements into the socialist struggle. These economists aimed to turn social democracy into a reformist bourgeois party or focus solely on trade unionist concerns, underestimating the workers’ ability to understand theory.

He referred to this approach as “workerism,” which was a way to lower the political level to mere bread-and-butter issues, using it as a shortcut to appeal to the masses. Lenin was determined not to let his fellow comrades be led into an opportunistic direction. He posed clear questions to challenge and counter the influence of such elements within the revolutionary movement.

“We are surrounded all sides by enemies, and we have to advance under there fire. We have combined by a freely adopted decisions, for the purpose of fighting the enemy and not of retreating into the marsh, the inhabitants of which from the very outset have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and have chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation and know some among us begin to cry out; let us go into the marsh and when we begin to shame them, they retort; what backward people you are. Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road’ oh, yes gentlemen, you are free not only to invite us but free to but to go yourself wherever you will, even into the marsh in fact we think that marsh is your proper place, and we are prepare to render you every assistance to get there, only let go of our hands don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom for we to are free to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh but also against those who are turning towards the marsh.”

Type of Organization we require

‘We must speak of a single all Russia organization of revolutionaries and it will never be too late to talk of that until the real, not a paper assault begins. The time has come when Russian revolutionaries, guided by a genuinely revolutionary theory relying upon the genuinely revolutionary awakening class can at last rise to full stature in all their giant strength’ (Lenin). The revolutionary party of what Lenin argued was based on democratic centralism this was the most effective democratic form of an organization on this basis the majority would decide its policy and priorities those would then become the official policy for the all party. The reformist denies and reject Lenin’s this form of organization they believed that it is only valid for the condition of tsarist Russia at the time but it is not correct Lenin’s theory of organization was not only based upon Russian realities rather it was a party which could lead workers or working class to the power. According to Lenin in the history of mankind the ruling class has never given up its power and privileges without a struggle and the history shows that the revolutionary class requires a party and a strong leadership. Lenin argued that this organization must consist of revolutionaries that make their revolutionary activity their profession, possible socialism was possible when the revolutionary was to guarantee the theoretical, ideological, or organizational independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie. It means that the independence of the class depends on the existence of a properly oriented party Lenin emphasis by leading class struggle of the proletariat by developing organizational discipline among the workers helping them to fight over their immediate economic needs and win position after position from capital, by politically educating the workers and systematically attacking the autocracy and making life a torment for every dictator. At the same time, the reformist argued that this organizational method would ultimately lead to Stalinism but this was completely false Stalinism arose from the isolation of the revolution in a backward country not some organizational norms; (Rob Sewell)

Significance of politics 

Sheldon Wolin views Lenin as a representative of the tendency to prioritize organization theory over political thought, which he believes has contributed to the stagnation of political philosophy in the age of organization. Lenin was known for emphasizing the development of political consciousness among the working class. He believed that surface-level economic politics and activities were insufficient to foster the necessary political consciousness. Instead, workers needed to be engaged in addressing injustices in various spheres of life, linking their daily struggles to a revolutionary program and theory.

Lenin argued that social democrats should not only be trade union secretaries but rather tribunes of the people who could use any event, no matter how small, to advance socialist convictions and democratic demands and clarify the significance of the struggle for proletarian emancipation.

Rob Sewell, on the other hand, argues that Lenin was not against revolutionaries working in unions but emphasized the need for them to be revolutionary first and foremost, and trade unionists second. He warned about the dangers of opportunism and the importance of maintaining a strong theoretical foundation through party meetings and guidance.

Lenin was concerned that if social democratic politics were brought down to the level of trade unionist politics, it could compromise the working-class movement and turn it into a tool of bourgeois democracy. He also acknowledged the need to protect revolutionaries from losing prestige in Russia due to organizational shortcomings. Lenin’s focus was on the significance of maintaining revolutionary principles and ensuring the party’s guidance and theoretical development to avoid compromising the ultimate goal of proletarian emancipation.

The question of the vanguard party was not a question of class but it was a question of politics.

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