The Revolutionary Party Is A Vital Tool For Twenty-First Century Organising

There is No Contradiction between Building a Vanguard Party and the Socialist Alliance

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Socialist Alliance is effective when it unites diverse socialists in action around specific campaigns. Divid Silcock, a non-aligned member of the North East Branch, chaired the Melbourne rally in solidarity with Colombian unionists as part of the International Day or Action to Stop Killer Coke.

When the Democratic Socialist Party first proposed to turn Socialist Alliance (SA) into a “multi-tendency party,” it commenced a process which culminated in the adoption of a resolution to do just that.  At SA’s May National Conference, the resolution was moved by a group of Socialist Alliance members known as the “Non-Aligned Caucus” (NAC).

Differences cannot be ignored. In the lead-up to the conference, the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP)  argued against the proposal, because we are opposed to the “multi-tendency” model, which we see as an organisational papering over of principled political differences. Real political unity has never been achieved without resolution of historical and other disagreements through debate. 

FSP continues to consider that the Socialist Alliance would best serve the interests of the Australian working class if it remains a united front with the broadest possible agreement in action around shared goals. These include both its core electoral work, and other interventions, for example, work in the refugee rights movement, opposition to the occupation of Iraq and to the invasion of the Solomon Islands. We see no tension between this form of organising and our advocacy of the vanguard party as the most effective way of leading the working class in the struggle for State power.

The reason that we continue to participate in the Alliance is that, resolution or not, it still has the character of a united front. We are still free to put our positions forward and openly sell our literature, and there is indeed broad agreement on many concrete issues facing working people. Unlike some organisations outside the Alliance, we do not see it as either a “waste of time” or a “reformist obstacle” to the cause of socialism. But, we believe, it is not going to lead a revolution in this country. The vanguard party is still, for us, the only means to achieve this.

Historical success. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was led by Lenin’s Bolsheviks, organised into a disciplined leadership united by an agreed set of ideas. Despite vast imperialist pressure, it took more than a decade for the democratic reforms of the Russian revolution to be overturned, and then a further fifty years for its economic gain — the socialised ownership of the means of production — to be overturned.

As a method of organising, the vanguard party is a proven winner. In Russia, it first harnessed the the most advanced revolutionary workers to overthrow feudal oppressers and then, despite overwhelming odds, organised the whole country to both create a modern economy and defend itself against attack for most of the twentieth century. It did this despite the existence of a parasitic bureaucracy slowly strangling the revolution to death.

We think this method is still relevant today. 

The Class Struggle is still the Class Struggle. The class nature of society has not fundamentally changed from when Lenin proposed that a tightly knit, committed group of revolutionists was the best means to organise. Brush aside the shiny technology of the present day and you see the ugly old structure of imperialism. As it did then, the capitalist class still uses war as a means of “trade negotiation,” police batons as a form of stifling democratic debate, and propaganda as a means of sowing divisions among the working class. The boss, for all the smooth PR, cool “web presence” and “social responsibility,” is still the boss.

Working people may have access to technology, consumer goods and relatively better standards of living, but all that stops if the boss fires us. In the end, we still have to work long hours for a fraction of the value of what we produce (our wages) — the rest ends up in the pockets of the employer and the shareholders (profits).

While that relationship continues, the need for the working class to organise a vanguard party is inescapable. In fact it can be argued that it is more vital. As capitalism more and more centralises its means of control over the global economy, it seems also inescapable that the means by which we organise also needs to be centralised. However, unlike the capitalist corporate juggernauts, our form of organising must include the broadest internal democracy, because workers’ democracy is the only means of building capable, decisive leadership among the working class. 

Need for a committed leadership. By a vanguard party, the FSP means a party of leaders, drawing from the working class in all its diversity.  Ernest Mandel, a leader of the 4th International, once made the point that: “If the workers [were] at the highest point of militancy and consciousness all the time, you would not need a vanguard organisation.”

But it is not possible to build a continuous opposition to the essence of capitalist rule out of the sporadic nature of class battles within capitalism. People have to work to eat and house themselves. The struggle within capitalism is limited by the nature of the class relationship between the bosses as owners of the means of production and the workers, who have no choice but to sell their labour-power or starve.

That is one reason for the Marxist idea of a vanguard party. Another is that a socialist revolution will not happen spontaneously. The vanguard party is comprised of committed activists who have come to the conclusion that only a socialist revolution can bring about the beginning of the end of oppression. That, of course, is a conclusion that many radicals have come to. Crucially, members of a vanguard organisation have come to one further conclusion: that the revolution has to be organised, not only in the weeks or months before the overturn, but patiently, over years and even decades. Naturally, that means that for long periods of its existence, a vanguard party may be numerically small. It also explains the reason why program — the political ideas which unite its members — is so important. It is quite a leap from calling for a strike against a particular boss to calling for a strike against all of the bosses and their institutions of power. Very few come to that conclusion until the weeks or days or hours before the overthrow of capitalism. 

The will to resist needs a method of resistance. The anarchist slogan “educate, agitate, organise” is a fine summary of how the consciousness of the working class as a whole must be raised. But it needs someone to do the educating, agitating and organising. And these are not enough. We surely need to educate, agitate and organise, but there needs to be a means to mobilise when that is necessary. That is the irreplaceable role of the vanguard party. It is thanks to the vanguard organisations, with this ability to mobilise, that the Socialist Alliance in Australia exists today. 

Every successful uprising, revolution, strike campaign or environmental blockade depends on central planning and some form of central leadership. The repressive might of the State means that we need centralised planning and a highly trained, professional leadership, capable of applying policy — decided democratically by the membership — and designing a strategy to deal with the issue at hand.

Socialist Alliance is an exciting, important step forward for the Left in Australia, and FSP is committed to building it. But we will not abandon the crucial effort to forge — through recruitment and regroupment — a vanguard party.  A broad organisation, comprised of revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries, is useful for uniting working class activists around specific agreed goals. Socialist revolution remains the role of a vanguard party.

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