A party is not just an organizational form, a name, a banner, a collection of individuals, or an apparatus. A revolutionary party, for a Marxist, is in the first place program, methods, ideas and traditions and only in the second place, an organization and an apparatus (important as these undoubtedly are) in order to carry these ideas to the broadest layers of the working people. The Marxist party, from the very beginning, must base itself on theory and program, which is the summing up of the general historical experience of the proletariat. Without this, it is nothing. The building of a revolutionary party always begins with the slow and painstaking work of assembling and educating the cadres, which forms the backbone of the party throughout its entire lifetime.
That is the first half of the problem. But only the first half. The second half is more complicated: how to reach the mass of the workers with our ideas and program? This is not at all a simple question.
For more on the task and methods of reaching the broad layers of masses, see On the Mass Organizations, a letter to Russian Marxists from Ted Grant.
The task of a Marxist tendency is to act as the memory of the working class, generalizing the vast experience of the workers’ movement. There is no other point to our existence as a separate tendency within the movement. If we are to learn anything from history – and surely the only point in studying it is to try to learn its lessons – the lessons of both successes and defeats – it is that that if the working class is to succeed in transforming society, then it is necessary to painstakingly build such a party trained and educated in theory, in strategy and in experience in the workers’ movement in advance, over a period of years. Revolutionary opportunities do not last indefinitely. If they do not succeed in transforming society, then inevitably the ruling class will crush them in defense of their own system. That unfortunately is the history of many attempts by the working class to take power – in Chile from 1970-73 for example. A revolutionary party cannot simply be expected to spring up out of the blue, but must be consciously built, and built internationally out of the struggles of the workers movement and within their already existing organizations, parties and unions.
The presence of a revolutionary party and leadership is no less decisive for the outcome of the class struggle as is the quality of the army and its general staff in the wars between nations. The revolutionary party cannot be improvised on the spur of the moment, any more than a general staff can be improvised on the outbreak of war. It has to be systematically prepared over years and decades. This lesson has been demonstrated by the whole of history, especially the history of the twentieth century. Rosa Luxemburg, that great revolutionary and martyr of the working class, always emphasized the revolutionary initiative of the masses as the motor force of revolution. In this, she was absolutely right. In the course of a revolution the masses learn rapidly. But a revolutionary situation, by its very nature, cannot last for long. Society cannot be kept in a permanent state of ferment, nor the working class in a state of white-hot activism. Either a way out is shown in time, or the moment will be lost. There is not enough time to experiment or for the workers to learn by trial and error. In a life and death situation, errors are paid for very dearly! Therefore, it is necessary to combine the “spontaneous” movement of the masses with organization, program, perspectives, strategy and tactics – in a word, with a revolutionary party led by experienced cadres.
There will be no automatic collapse of capitalism, and each crisis will make things worse for us. Only the conscious struggle of the workers internationally and the building of a revolutionary leadership can drive the final nail into capitalism’s coffin. This of course requires not a coup, or putsch, but rather the conscious movement of the majority of society, the working class. We are all different and cannot be expected to automatically draw the same conclusions overnight, waking up simultaneously one morning and proceeding to carry out a revolution. We all learn at different times through different events. A revolutionary tendency must exist to draw these people together into the task of changing society.