The question of Party building, especially in the United States, is at the forefront of communist strategy. The necessity of a Party is recognized by all communists barring only the most stale left communists or anarchists. Consequently, joining a Party is one of the first objectives new communists set for themselves. Those who are isolated from large urban areas with an already established Left yearn to become involved in the class struggle on a mass scale, which due to circumstances they often cannot do, or lack the knowledge of how to become involved. I’m constantly asked by others “what party should I join?”, “which party aligns with my views?”, “is there a socialist or communist group/club/party etc. in my area worth getting involved with?” My answer, and the answer the conforms to any cursory analysis of the U.S. Left, is that the current established parties are not worth joining, and in fact are significant obstacles to constructing a proper Party along Marxist-Leninist-Maoist lines.
Of course this leads one to the inevitable question of, “why build something new when there are already a plethora of parties? Why not join one of them? Sure, they might not be perfect, or even match my political orientation, but at least they provide an already established infrastructure to work within? Who knows, maybe it can be transformed from the inside?” This view stems from a variety of factors; laziness manifest in an unwillingness to uphold a Marxist line and instead to blindly follow or subsume oneself to opportunism and revisionism in the name of “being a part of something”, aversion to struggle based around the naive and bankrupt idea of “Left unity” (This implies that ideological struggle producing firm lines of demarcation is relegated to the dustbin in favor of unprincipled unity), or a confusion, or lack of a firm grasp of communist praxis. The latter is most often the case since the established parties in the U.S. (Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Workers World Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action etc.) depend on filling their ranks with new, and often inexperienced communists and socialists.
Many new communists are drawn to the established parties based on how much social media visibility the party has, how large its membership is (or is perceived to be), how often it publishes theoretical pieces and covers daily news etc. However, what makes a party both correct in orientation and “good” is not social media savvy, or even size, but its overall ideology and the mass work of its cadres. Any ernest communist must examine the existing parties under this light and must ask questions like, “what are the decisive links this party has with the masses and what concrete struggles is it involved in?”, “is it providing proletarian leadership or merely tailing a mass movement?”, “is it drawing in the advanced sections of proletarians and winning over the intermediate sections to communism?” Weight must of course be given, not just to on the ground work and orienting towards the masses, but also to the ideology of a party. In the landscape of the established parties of the U.S. Left revisionism and right-opportunism are the norm, as is to be expected in the absence of communist hegemony and a militant and organized movement of the working class and oppressed peoples under revolutionary leadership.
Regarding the question of size, as this is often a reason for clinging to the viability of the established parties while rejecting new and smaller pre-party formations like cadre collectives, one must remember that numbers and popularity are not an indicator of correctness (if that were true than the two dominant parties of the bourgeoisie in the U.S. are correct and should be followed). What is key, again, is the class outlook of the organization and their praxis. If we recognize the necessity for a Maoist Communist Party in the U.S., as every honest Maoist will admit, then we must also admit that in the beginning this party will emerge from several smaller cadre organizations that are small relative to what a party will become. But again, while some sneeringly mock the size of cadre formations initially, every communist knows that something small can transform into something big, often rapidly. On this subject Kostas Mavrakis had an insightful analysis,
“It matters little that there are only a few Maoists at the beginning. They grow stronger if they actually work to fuse with the working class, if they participate in its struggles and do not restrict their activity to setting up and distributing a journal. On the other hand, it is very important that, in the present conditions, they do not claim to be the ‘true’ Communist Party and do not launch grandiloquent appeals destined to disappear into thin air when everyone knows that they do not represent anything very much, otherwise the workers will not take them seriously. Having been ‘had’ twice by traditional workers’ organisations, the workers demand that the Maoists prove themselves before giving them their confidence. In other words, for the Maoist organisation to be able to present itself as the leading core of the people, it is necessary for it really to be such, for the conscious workers (especially they) will not allow themselves to be taken in. This presupposes that certain conditions are met.
1. proletarianisation of the organisation and its leadership;
2. roots in the working class attested by effective ability to lead its struggles;
3. roots in all the other classes and strata of the people with the ability to mobilise them and to unify their struggles into a revolutionary perspective as a criterion;
4. unification of all proletarian revolutionaries and all true Maoists, that is, of all those who can be united.” – On Trotskyism: Problems of Theory and History
In short, communists must begin by immersing themselves and their organizations (no matter how small) in the struggles of the People while providing leadership, and must seek unity on a principled basis with all genuine communists (i.e. Marxist-Leninist-Maoists). The existing parties have long since ossified internally, and are largely disconnected from what the PCR-RCP terms the “hardcore” of the proletariat, meaning, the most oppressed and exploited sections of the proletariat that any revolutionary struggle must arose and mobilize that have the deepest interests in the disappearance of capitalism and imperialism. The established parties on the U.S. Left are content with basing themselves among the students or organizing the labor aristocracy rather than doing investigation into what sections of the masses are the most receptive to revolution. Instead old assumptions, which all too often are chauvinistic, are trudged up in place of investigation as unquestionable revolutionary truisms.
Not only is the orientation and practice of the established parties on the U.S. Left severely mired in the bog of opportunism and revisionism, but many of the justifications for the practice and organization of several of these parties/groups (Socialist Alternative, Democratic Socialists of America, Solidarity etc.) are derived from old and long since discredited ideas dressed up in trendy new garb. In our era, when any talk of vanguard parties, Leninism (let alone Maoism), or communist discipline is banished to the fringes of the Left by academics, professional organizers, and political hucksters it is no surprise that old ideas are smuggled in in the name of combatting the “failures” of Leninism.
The idea of the mass party is just the latest relic to be given new wind in recent decades. The idea itself comes from a good place, (i.e. the desire to link the party with the masses and a critique of the “de-linking” that occurred between the masses and Marxist-Leninist parties in past socialist states) but refuses to acknowledge the historical failures of mass parties in making revolution, and their role as incubators of reformism and opportunism. It also comes from a misunderstanding of organizational methods and historical realities. Historically speaking the failures, and successes, of past revolutionary experiments were not solely the result of the correct or incorrect implementation of revolutionary organizational principles. Nor was the paternalistic nature of past Marxist-Leninist parties in socialist states the result of Leninism as an organizational principle but of real historical processes that go beyond simplistic analyses of organizational formalities. The Leninist party being the dominant form of revolutionary party organization of the past 100 years does not imply that all failures can be pinned to the “original sin” of democratic centralism, Leninism, Bolshevization etc. and that if only those parties were mass parties then all would have been right. Nor does a party being a mass party correlate with actually being embedded in the masses, in the same sense that a party organized along Leninist lines does not automatically mean it is “elitist” and divorced from the masses. Organizational methods are but a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves, a point lost on many on the Left. Immersion in the masses comes from praxis not organizational methods.
What makes a party a vanguard (a dirty word amongst today’s Left) is its ability to identify with the masses and their struggles, to fight for the interests of the proletariat as a class, to actively transform people into communists, and to have the confidence of the masses as their leading organization, but not separate from them. A mass party of the type that exists on the landscape of the U.S. Left can never be a vanguard (and rejects becoming one), and can therefore never make revolution, as revolution requires leadership and discipline. It cannot be because its very basis of being a mass party allows those who are careerists, opportunists, non-communists, or in other words, the intermediate and even backwards sections of the masses, into the party and thus into leadership. This is why so many mass parties oscillate in orientation and why many are led around by the nose by populist politicians. Proletarian ideology is not hegemonic in such parties, and petty bourgeois ideology prevails, and with no recognition of two-line struggle and varying levels of political development among members, such a party inevitably descends into a reformist trajectory. While the vanguard party of the type we Marxist-Leninist-Maoists speak of is not a mass party, it does have a mass character.
Concerning the Party, Chairman Mao teaches us, as did Marx, Lenin and all the great Marxists, that the Party is not a mass party, though the Party has a mass character. It has a mass character in the sense that while being a select organization–a selection of the best, of the proven, of those, as Stalin said, who have what it takes–being numerically small in proportion to the broad masses, the Party defends the interests of the proletariat, and takes responsibility for the class interests of the proletariat in taking responsibility for its emancipation, which can only come with communism. But since other classes that make up the people also participate in the revolution, the Party defends their interests as well, in accordance with the fact that the proletariat can only emancipate itself by emancipating all the oppressed. There is no other way it can emancipate itself. Because of this, the Party has a mass character, but it isn’t a mass party. The mass party, of which so much is said today, is nothing but an expression, once again, of rotten revisionist positions. Such parties are parties of followers, of officials, organizational machines. – Interview With Chairman Gonzalo
In the absence of a truly revolutionary party capable of becoming a vanguard is there any other choice but to build something new, something that will lead to the foundation of such a party? The answer is not to join the existing parties with their misguided, misapplied, and misunderstood politics and hope in vain for some form of a backdoor Trotskyist entryism to transform them from within, but to build for revolution. This process will of course be protracted and will not be met with immediate rewards, but it is a necessity. There is no revolution through Socialist Alternative, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Workers World Party, Democratic Socialists of America etc. All genuine communists must be united on a principled basis at this point and organizations that engage and involve the masses, as well as transforming them into communists, must be constructed across the country. Only in this way can reformism, opportunism, and revisionism be broken with resolutely, and thereby break the illusion that the current parties are worth their salt, and only through such a process can a new Maoist Communist Party be built. A party that takes the question of revolution and how to make it seriously as a political and not abstract point. A party that doesn’t piddle about with electoral campaigns, tailing social democratic politicians, or holding hermetically sealed discussions on 20th century Russian history is what we need. A real fighting organization of the proletariat. Let the existing parties shrivel on the vine or peter themselves out running to and fro from short-sighted reform to short-sighted reform, let us build something new and powerful today to capture tomorrow.