STUDY GUIDE

“The Revolutionary Party: Its Role in the Struggle for Socialism” by James P. Cannon

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“The Revolutionary Party: its role in the struggle for socialism” is published as a pamphlet available from Pathfinder Press.

What does Cannon say was the “greatest contribution to the arsenal of Marxism since the death of Engels?

In what two realities is this theory of organization based?

What characteristics made the Bolsheviks “an unsurpassed prototype of what a [party] can be and do”?

If the Bolsheviks were in fact such a prototype, why do so many radicals reject the Leninists concept of a party?

What is/are the objective factor(s) necessary for revolution? the subjective factors?
What is the relationship between them?

On what two factors in the Leninist theory of the vanguard party based? How does this relate to your answer to question #2?

What does the “heterogeneity of the working class” mean? How does this affect the consciousness and self-determination of the class?

What implication does the heterogeneity of the working class have for the role of leadership?

Why should a vanguard leadership expect to be a tiny minority?

Describe the usual origin and initial role of a vanguard party.

Explain Cannon’s statement that “quantitative indices alone cannot be taken as the decisive determinants for judging the real nature of a revolutionary grouping.” What else must be taken into account?

What, according to Trotsky, makes it possible for the proletariat to move from being only raw material for exploitation, to being an independent force? Why is a party necessary for this?

Why does Cannon say that, “It is not only foolish but fatal to take a lackadaisical attitude toward party-building or its problems?

What are some of the tasks that go into conscious party building?

What does it mean to “immunize the party against alien class influences?

What is the essential characteristic of a Leninist Party? How does this determine the character of the party? How does it determine the priority of its tasks?

Why did most of the New Left reject the need for professional revolutionary leadership?

How would you answer the charge that a Leninist party is elitist?

Describe the role of leadership within the party.

Is it possible to have unanimity on all political questions among party members? Is it desirable?

How are differences of political opinion resolved within a vanguard party?

How do the defeats of socialist forces in Germany in 1918 and in Spain in 1936-9 provide “a negative confirmation” of the necessary role of a vanguard party?

What does Cannon think was Trotsky’s greatest contribution to the world socialist movement, and why?

In writing The Transitional Program, what did Trotsky identify as “the principal strategic task for our whole epoch?

If the Stalinist parties don’t represent the true program of Marxism and genuine role of a vanguard party, how was it possible to establish workers states in China and Eastern Europe?

Give an example of problems created by the lack of a Marxist vanguard party after the seizure of power.

Does Cuba’s victory show that a vanguard party is not really needed for a successful revolution?

The collapse of the USSR was followed by a wave of increased anti-Leninism in the left. Why do you think this happened? What would you say to someone who argued this showed that Leninist parties couldn’t work?

What is the major obstacle to building vanguard parties in many industrialized countries? How does this affect the strategies of the party?

What is the prime objective for Marxists who join a labor party?

What is meant by an “entrist tactic”? What are its pitfalls? How can these pitfalls be avoided?

Explain what Cannon means by entrism that is “conducted in an impatient and inflexible way”? Can you think of an example (either real or hypothetical)?

Explain Cannon’s statement that, “Everything that has been done since October 1917 for the advancement of socialism in this citadel of world capitalism and counterrevolution has been governed by the necessity of building the vanguard party…”

Why is a vanguard party even more needed in the U.S. today than anywhere else in the world?

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