Marx, Lenin, and Luxemburg

Party, organization, and revolution

Capitalism is a system whose history is marked by booms and slumps. The oscillation has given rise to popular and working-class resistance since the system’s birth, though the relationship is not always synchronized. This resistance has taken on many different forms—from industrial shop-floor resistance, to the formation of trade unions, to the formation of political parties—depending on the country, its course of development, and the characteristics of the working-class movement.

Whether they were labor parties that sprang from union organization or socialist parties that arose independently or in tandem with the rise of trade unions, prior to World War I the existence of mass socialist working-class parties (and mass trade union movements) in several countries framed the discussion and debates in the movement about the relationship between the economic and political struggle, or the relationship between reform and revolution. The

phenomenon of mass working-class parties with elected socialist officials accommodating to capitalism also produced syndicalist movements that explicitly rejected political action of the working class. 

These reference points are now largely gone.

The brief period following the Russian Revolution of 1917 was one in which revolutionaries were stung by the betrayals of reformist social-democratic parties: their support for imperialism and war, and their adoption of a gradualist reformism. The revolutionaries were nevertheless heartened by the example of a successful workers’ revolution and attempted to build new parties that could combine the day-to-day practice of fighting for reforms with the final goal of revolutionary transformation—without falling into either the trap of accommodating to “what existed” or becoming isolated, simon-pure revolutionaries.

These experiments quickly ran against the rocks of the bureaucratic degeneration of the revolution in Russia, which found itself isolated and incapable of effecting a socialist transformation in an economically backward nation. What in some cases began as mass revolutionary parties, soon degenerated into servants of the new state bureaucracy emerging under Stalin.

During the period of the postwar boom following World War II, both social democracy and Stalinism experienced resurgence. Social democracy reestablished itself, especially in Europe, as working-class reform parties committed to power sharing and the stabilization of capitalism. Communist parties in Europe, ironically, played a similar role, and after Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in 1956, came increasingly to resemble the social-democratic parties they had so vilified. 

The postwar boom—and the “social contract” between capital and labor on which it rested--came crashing down by the late 1960s. A growing radicalization internationally led to the reemergence of a revolutionary Left that challenged many of the truths handed down from the Stalinist parties as well as those of social democracy. But the rebirth of the revolutionary Left was also marred by the decades of domination (and distortion) of these two political currents. The most dominant current internationally of the rebirth of this revolutionary Left was “Maoist” or “third worldist” and proved short lived—especially after the rapprochement between China and the United States.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, along with the rise of neoliberal privatization and state deregulation, has seen the collapse of Communist parties all over the world, and the evolution of social-democratic parties from parties of social reform to parties that embrace neoliberalism and have abandoned even the pretense of being socialist.

The terrain of left politics today has been totally transformed. Working-class organization, both economic and political, overall has suffered a sustained decline since the 1970s. Trade union membership in most industrial countries has declined dramatically. The traditional political parties that drew the largest working-class support—social democracy and Stalinism—are no longer seen as viable alternatives—even in terms of the struggle for reforms, let alone ending capitalism. At the same time the last “New Left,” which emerged out of the wave of struggles in the 1960s and ’70s, failed to produce viable revolutionary organizations of any size or staying power—as the wind of the conservative backlash and the employers’ offensive quickly closed the door on them.

In the wake of the last period of mass radicalization came the rise of conservative neoliberal ideology, and its mantra, “TINA” (There Is No Alternative). Hammered home by pundits and politicians at every opportunity, TINA was reinforced by the scale of the ruling-class attack and the scale of the retreat of workers’ and social movements. 

Capitalism was triumphant, so it was claimed; the alternative vanquished. Of course, this period was not one of total quiescence on the part of the working class and oppressed. The Central American revolutions, the Iranian revolution, Poland’s Solidarnosc movement, and the defeat of apartheid in South Africa all showed that the struggle continued. But these struggles came amid a period in which the traditional reference points for the Left—the Soviet Union, and a series of nationalist movements identifying in some way with “socialism”—were fast disappearing.

The conditions that can give rise to a revitalized class struggle are present everywhere. The promise of a triumphant capitalism of endless growth and prosperity has given way to the reassertion of deep economic crisis, chronic military conflict, and the threat of global climate catastrophe. New struggles and new revolutions, from the global justice movement of the early 2000s to the Arab Spring a decade later—as well as the reaction they have produced—are indicative of a new period characterized by extreme volatility. Class polarization and the extremes of wealth and poverty are at historically obscene levels. The return of deep economic instability has driven a stake through the heart of neoliberalism, at least ideologically.

A new political framework for reconstituting a new Left internationally, however, has been lost and must be regained to give shape to the new radicalism. This will be a long process. Naturally, given the past failures and retreats, the ways in which new waves of radicalization will be expressed will take many forms, including “anti-party” forms, reflecting not only past failures, but a healthy hatred and mistrust for parties in power that have presided over the attacks on working people.

The “antiglobalization” movement that emerged first with the Zapatista uprising in 1994 and the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999, and which was followed by a series of World Social Forums and mass demonstrations against summits of world leaders in various cities, for example, tended to downplay the role of political parties in its exaltation of the social movements.1

In the United States, many of the activists galvanized by the Occupy movement, which caught the national (and international) imagination in 2011, framed their movement more in terms of reclaiming social space than putting forth demands on the system, and tended to look askance at politics and political parties.2 The anti-party sentiment in the United States also has its own peculiarities, where the constraints of the two-party system limits the choice of activists to either liberal politics or staying out of politics altogether. The anti-party logic was also reinforced by the idea that capitalism could not actually be overthrown. Thus a fairly militant sense of movement radicalism could be combined with a rejection of the idea that there could be a “totalizing” revolutionary movement, centered on the working class, with a political project of overthrowing capitalism. 

The logic of radicalization, however, leads activists to question the limits of this approach, and to explore the “party” question more seriously. The limits of horizontalism (all movements produce leaders, the question is, are they accountable and what is it they are leading the movement toward?) and prefiguration (one cannot simply model a social movement that seeks to challenge the power structure on the future that lies beyond that structure) only become clear by experience. 

There are exciting new attempts at creating political parties in Europe and elsewhere that try to fill the void left by social democratic parties’ embrace of neoliberal reform and the collapse of Stalinism—for example the New Left Party in France and Syriza in Greece. Though not all have succeeded, and they face many difficulties, these developments are extremely important. And in the wake of Occupy and other social movements, a discussion is developing on the left in the United States about the limits of “spontaneity” and the need for political parties of the Left.3

In their rejection of the “social-liberal” betrayals of social democratic parties and of the Stalinized conceptions of “Leninism,” these new left parties represent a great step forward. But the reality is that the vast majority of the Left today, including those who are looking to create spaces for new left parties, reject the idea of building explicitly revolutionary organizations rooted in the struggles and experiences of the working class. 

The following article is a chapter from ISR editor Paul D’Amato’s forthcoming new edition of The Meaning of Marxism. It is a survey of the history of the working-class movement and the approach of Marx, and Marxists after Marx (including Lenin and the Bolsheviks), toward the question of organization and political parties. Much of the current discussions of party and of class are marred by a lack of historical perspective and experience from which to draw. Often, what are in fact old arguments are smuggled in as “new” revelations about the future of movements and social struggle. Hence, a sense of the history of the working class, socialist, and Marxist tradition on the question of organization should be an essential feature of this discussion. Therefore, though this article does not touch directly on the current discussions and debates, it is hoped that it can provide a backdrop for a better understanding of the Marxist case for the revolutionary party.


For Marx and Engels, socialism wasn’t something that would come automatically, that just “happens” because all the conditions within capitalism have ripened, like fruit falling from a tree. If it were that simple, capitalism would have fallen long ago. As they wrote very early on in their political development: 

History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles.’ It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.1

Capitalism creates the objective material conditions that make socialism possible: the abundance born of its mad drive to accumulate, its tendency toward periodic crises, and the existence of a class with “radical chains” whose own emancipation entails the end of all class domination.2 Capitalism itself organizes the working class, and the working class is the only oppressed class in history whose collective struggle points to a society without class oppression. For socialism to come about, this class must be organized in such a way as to effect that change. 

To change society, new ideas are necessary, but for these ideas to exert any force on society they must be embodied in real people organized to achieve them. “Ideas cannot carry out anything at all,” Marx and Engels wrote. “In order to carry out ideas men are needed who can exert a practical force.”3 With the development of modern industry and a modern wage-earning working class, Engels noted, “Communism now no longer meant the concoction, by means of the imagination, of an ideal society as perfect as possible, but insight into the nature, the conditions and the consequent general aims of the struggle waged by the proletariat.”4

But the working class is both united by the conditions of modern production and divided by competition, and by myriad oppressions within its ranks. These divisions are deliberately fostered by those at the top who benefit from the labor of the many, and are able not only to prevent revolt this way, but by pitting sections of workers and the oppressed against each other they can drive down the conditions of all. The “ruling ideas of society” that Marx mentions in the Communist Manifesto are precisely directed at those at the bottom whose rebellion might threaten the system.

To say, then, that the working class is a revolutionary class is to describe its potential. As Hal Draper notes, “it is a label for a social drive; it is not a description of current events. The revolutionary class begins, like everybody else, by being filled with ‘reactionary cravings’ and prejudices: otherwise the proletarian revolution would always be around the corner.”5 

The question for Marx was this: how do workers move from being a class “in itself”—that is, a class by virtue of its position in the production of society’s wealth (those who sell their labor power and upon whose labor profits depend) to becoming a class “for itself”—a class that is conscious of its historical mission to seize control of production and convert it to serve human need, and organize in such a way to achieve it?

The contradiction between workers’ own experience and the “ruling ideas” opens up the space for workers to change their consciousness—to adapt new ideas contrary to those that reinforce the prevailing order. In the tug of war between what we are told to believe and what we experience in practice—through what we observe, but especially in the struggles that the system forces upon us—some workers (but not all) begin to draw anticapitalist conclusions. Struggle promotes this burgeoning consciousness. Organization makes the struggle more effective, and in turn helps to widen the number of workers who draw the same conclusions. Organization is both a precondition and a result of struggle. 

There is no such thing as pure spontaneity. In order to act collectively, the collective (however small or large) must be organized in some way: that is, some individuals or groups must take it upon themselves to initiate action. Once in motion, more permanent and effective forms of organizing suggest themselves to the movement’s participants. As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote from a fascist prison, “every ‘spontaneous’ movement contains rudimentary elements of conscious leadership” and “of discipline.”6 In most cases, though, those who took the initiative to kick things off don’t bother to write down what they did and how they did it.

Only the most individualistic middle-class anarchist would deny the necessity of organization. The owners have their own think tanks, their managers and pundits, as well as their own public and private armies that, when consent fails, are able and ready to intervene to protect their system. Our side must also be organized if we want to change the world. The question is, what kind of organization? That question, however, is meaningless unless we also ask whom we are organizing (what social classes or forces?), and what it is we are organizing for. Obviously, a great deal more consciousness and organization is necessary to fight for socialism than to fight for a longer lunch break. 

In bourgeois revolutionary movements, the exploited classes were mobilized to achieve the goals of another class or classes. In essence, the masses in these revolutions were used as a battering ram against the old order. In playing this role, they did not need to be fully conscious of their aims and goals. Indeed, a certain degree of deliberate deception on the part of the revolution’s leaders was necessary to win mass support, by presenting the revolution ultimately benefitting a new set of exploiters as one that was in the interest of all the oppressed and downtrodden. 

The transition to capitalism, moreover, from feudal society was aided by the fact that capitalist economic relations grew up within the womb of feudalism, and the capitalists built up their economic and financial power before they won political power. “The bourgeois could use this position of strength,” writes Draper, “as a fortress from which to press further toward the acquisition of decisive political power.”7 In many instances the strong economic position of the bourgeoisie allowed it to achieve political power by the gradual transformation of the state (which could be described as a revolution “from above”). 

The working class cannot achieve power this way. By definition, it is a propertyless class that must sell its labor power piecemeal to survive. It cannot build up its economic power within the womb of capitalism and use that economic leverage to get political power. For the working class, the situation is reversed compared to that of the bourgeoisie. Only by winning political power can it implement its own program of economic and social transformation of society. Of course, it can use its collective power to bring production to a halt: but without winning political power it cannot proceed to reorganize production to suit human need.

To achieve this, it must not only be organized economically, but also politically. To be a leading class—a class capable of leading other exploited and oppressed people in society and position itself as a class around whose emancipation a new society could be constructed—it needs to do more than fight for its interests in the workplace or for economic reforms; it must take up the fight against all forms of social and political tyranny and oppression, thereby drawing around itself all sectors of society oppressed by capitalism. Marx began to develop this idea quite early on. He wrote in 1843, for example, that no class is able to play a leading revolutionary role “without arousing a moment of enthusiasm in itself and in the masses, a moment in which it fraternizes and merges with society in general, becomes confused with it and is perceived and acknowledged as its general representative.”8

Unions, for example, cannot fulfill this function, because they limit themselves to fighting the effects of capitalism rather than capitalism itself. For the working class to organize itself as a class against capitalists as a class, something more was needed—an organization aimed at combining the economic and political struggle of the working class—a political party. 

 The Communist Manifesto mentions only briefly the “organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier.”9 At the 1871 London conference of the International Workingmen’s Association, Marx and Engels drafted the following resolution that gave their idea greater shape:

[A]gainst this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes;

. . . [T]his constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end — the abolition of classes;

. . . [T]he combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists.10 

Without its own political party—one that combines both the economic and political struggles—the working class would be taken in tow by other classes and their own aims subordinated to the interests of other classes. 

That is why Marx and Engels were quite critical of the Bakuninists, for example, for urging the working class to abstain from politics. “Whether for political or social goals,” government oppression would “force the workers to concern themselves with politics, whether they like it or not,” wrote Engels. If the workers are robbed of free speech, a free press, and the right of assembly, is the working class simply to sit back and do nothing in the name of political abstention? Preaching abstention merely makes it easier, Engels argued, for bourgeois parties to capture the allegiance of the working class. How is it possible for them not to engage in politics when the only means by which workers can abolish class society is through their own “political domination”? Therefore: “Especially in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, which placed the political action of the proletariat on the agenda, abstention is quite impossible.” He continued: 

Revolution is the supreme act of politics; whoever wants it must also want the means, political action, which prepares for it, which gives the workers the education for revolution…. But the politics which are needed are working class politics; the workers’ party must be constituted not as the tail of some bourgeois party, but as an independent party with its own objectives, its own politics.11

This conception of a political party for the working class, as can be seen here, was not limited to parliamentary activity. Marx and Engels thought that elections were an effective means to reach a large number of people who otherwise could not be reached by socialist propaganda, and socialist deputies could help to organize and broaden the struggle outside the walls of parliament or congress. However, as Engels was later to argue, universal suffrage cannot be “anything more” than “the gauge of the maturity of the working class.”12 

For Marx and Engels, the question of politics was primarily one of class power—replacing the class rule of the bourgeoisie with the democratic class rule of workers. As Engels wrote in a letter in 1889, “We are agreed on this: that the proletariat cannot conquer political power, the only door to the new society, without violent revolution. For the proletariat to be strong enough to win on the decisive day it must—and Marx and I have advocated this ever since 1847—form a separate party distinct from all others and opposed to them, a conscious class party.”13

What type of organization did this imply? Marx and Engels laid out their general approach in the Communist Manifesto. The Communists, they argued, were 

the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.14 [Author’s emphasis.]

This section of the class, however, to exert influence over others and to win over the rest of the class, must engage in day-to-day struggle and find a way to connect struggles for immediate demands with the final aim. Hence, the Manifesto argues, “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” 

The job of communists isn’t only to involve themselves in workers’ struggles, moreover, but to “support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things,” including struggles for Irish and Polish independence, against feudalism, for women’s equality, and so on. But in actively supporting every manifestation of struggle, “they never cease, for a single instant, to instill into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat.” No matter what the state of development of the workers’ movement, and in all types of movements, “they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question,” that is, the question of the transformation of capitalist property relations by the common action of the working class.15

In the early stages of the development of mass workers’ movements in various countries, Marx and Engels favored the development of broad workers’ parties, no matter their state of development or the clarity of their politics. It was on these grounds that Marx stated, “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs.16 Engels, for example, criticized the German socialist émigrés in the United States who valued programmatic purity over participation in the real unfolding workers’ movement—in particular the Knights of Labor. The movement, he argued, “Ought not to be pooh-poohed from without but to be revolutionized from within.”17 This did not mean, Engels argued, dissolving into the movement. “I think all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organization.”18 

The alternative was sectarianism—staying “pure” (and therefore sterile and irrelevant) by standing outside the real movement. “The sect,” Marx wrote, “sees the justification for its existence and its ‘point of honor’—not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from it.”19

But once such workers’ parties had been formed, for example in Germany, Marx and Engels placed much more emphasis on the importance of theoretical and political clarification, debates, and splits, if necessary, to ensure the revolutionary and proletarian character of the party—that is, to “revolutionize it from within.” They were highly critical of those unity criers in the movement “who want to stir everything up together into one nondescript brew.” In an 1874 letter to German Socialist leader August Bebel, Engels explained:

A party proves itself a victorious party by the fact that it splits and can stand the split. The movement of the proletariat necessarily passes through different stages of development; at every stage one section of people lags behind and does not join in the further advance; and this alone explains why it is that actually the “solidarity of the proletariat” is everywhere realized in different party groupings which carry on life and death feuds with one another.20

They were not organizational fetishists; in fact, their view on organization changed with the circumstances, and they believed that different situations required different methods of organizing. But there are some general conclusions that can be gleaned from their writings.

Wherever possible (conditioned by the degree of state repression), they opposed secret, conspiratorial, top-down organizations and favored open, democratic organizations. They opposed sectarianism (pooh-poohing movements from without). They always and everywhere emphasized the political independence of the working class. They emphasized mass struggle as opposed to the actions of small groups substituting themselves for the working class. And finally, they opposed hero-worship, or any idea that workers must be led by members of the “educated” classes or by a self-selected elite.

So, for example, one of the first things they did when they joined the League of the Just in Germany in 1847 was to convince their fellow members to move away from its hitherto highly secretive and conspiratorial character and to adopt democratic forms of organization and leadership. Marx later said that he and Engels joined the organization “only on conditions that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the rules.”21

The social-democratic detour
Marx and Engels, especially Engels, lived to see the formation of the first mass socialist workers’ party in Germany. However, as much as they came to consider the newly formed Socialist Workers Party of Germany their party (which became the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, in 1891), Marx and Engels were critical of what they considered its political shortcomings and always fought any attempt to dilute its working-class character.

Engels lived long enough to witness the growing electoral success of the German party—in 1884, the year after Marx’s death, the SPD got more than a half a million votes, and before Engels’s death in 1895 it won two million votes. Though impressed by this success, Engels was also alarmed by the growing opportunism brought about by that success. The more or less smooth growth of its electoral support from year to year, the expansion of the German economy, along with the slow and steady growth of trade union membership—at a time when the class struggle remained at a relatively low ebb—tended to reinforce opportunist tendencies inside the party, particularly among the upper strata of party members who were trade union leaders, parliamentary representatives, and party administrators. This had two effects. One was to encourage the practice of watering down the party’s political message, for the sake of popularity in electoral campaigns. The second was to reinforce support for peaceful gradualism in the party’s leaders, who saw in “precipitate” action the possibility of state repression that might jeopardize the organization they had so painstakingly built. “The interest of the proletariat today more than ever before demands that everything should be avoided,” warned Karl Kautsky, the party’s theoretical leader in 1893, “that would tend to provoke the ruling class to a purposeless policy of violence.”22 When the time came, this approach, justifiable at first given the party’s successes, would become an argument against strikes, mass protests, and ultimately, against insurrections.

The SPD had a “maximum program” and a “minimum program.” But increasingly the maximum program was something proclaimed in May Day speeches, while the practical work of the party focused solely on the minimum program—various social reforms compatible with the existence of capitalism.

The discovery made by Marx and Engels from the experience of the Paris Commune, that the working class cannot simply “lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes,” was gradually replaced in the social-democratic movement by the idea that socialism could be achieved by winning a majority in parliamentary institutions. In 1912, when the SPD had achieved a million members, received four million votes, and had won 110 seats in the German Reichstag (twenty-four seats in 1884), Kautsky wrote: “The objective of our political struggle remains…the conquest of state power through the conquest of a majority in parliament and the elevation of parliament to a commanding position within the state. Certainly not the destruction of state power.”23

It should be noted that prior to the Russian Revolution and the publication of Lenin’s State and Revolution in 1918 (written in 1917), which revived Marx’s and Engels’s writings on the state, almost all European revolutionary Marxists—though they rejected the idea of a parliamentary road to Socialism—held a conception of the state and state power that departed from Marx and Engels. Even for Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky, the role of revolution was to seize state control, not destroy the bourgeois state machine and replace it with a new “commune”-type state.  

The SPD’s conception of the political party followed from this: it should embrace not the “most advanced and resolute section” of the working class, but all of the organized sections of the class. In the social-democratic conception, the party and the working class are, or should be, identical. “The ideal organization,” Kautsky wrote in 1909, “is the unification of all proletarian parties, the political societies, the trade unions, the co-operatives, as equal members…of a class-conscious, all-embracing Social-Democracy.”24 This model of an all-embracing party that united all tendencies within the working class movement became the model for all the socialist parties of the Socialist International. Indeed, in direct response to the factional divisions in the Russian Socialist movement—whose revolutionary wing (Bolshevik), and moderate wing (Menshevik) had divided in 1912 into two separate and competing parties—Kautsky signed an open letter quoting the 1913 Amsterdam resolution of the Second International, which stated that “it is necessary that in every country there exists only one Socialist party, as there exists only one proletariat.”25

The SPD was as a result a very heterogeneous organization. It had its reformists like Eduard Bernstein, who remarked at the 1907 Stuttgart congress, “Socialists too should acknowledge the need for civilized peoples to act somewhat like guardians of the uncivilized.”26 But it also had its revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg, who pushed for mass strikes and was a principled opponent of imperialism. In between, it had self-proclaimed “centrists” like Kautsky, who tried to hold all the pieces together by straddling.

The SPD’s structures, in fact, institutionalized a situation where the party leadership could use the least radical members of the party to outvote the most class-conscious workers. Its conferences gave much more weight to small-town delegates than the more radical delegates from Germany’s large industrial centers. At the SDP’s 1911 national congress, smaller party units in less populated areas were given one delegate per fifty-seven members, whereas in the big industrial centers the ratio was one delegate per 5,700 members.27

The SPD did not openly proclaim its departure from revolution and internationalism. The international congress of the Second International, the gathering of all the mass socialists parties, on more than one occasion defeated the right wing on paper, passing resolutions such as one put forward by Lenin and Luxemburg, that in the event of the outbreak of world war, it was the duty of socialists everywhere to use all means to oppose the outbreak, and once war came, to utilize the crisis brought about by the war to hasten the downfall of capitalism.28 

The left wing of the German party formally defeated Bernstein’s ethical and gradualist version of socialism in 1899, but he remained a member of the party—as did many like him. The SPD may have formally rejected Bernstein’s gradualist views, but in practice it did not. 

Leftists inside the party like Rosa Luxemburg sharply attacked the growing conservatism of the SPD. In 1907, after her return to Germany from Russia and having experienced the tumultuous mass strikes and protests of the 1905 revolution, she lamented in a letter to German revolutionary Clara Zetkin the “irresolution and the pettiness” of the SPD leaders. “Whenever anything happens which transcends the limits of parliamentarism,” they “try their best to force everything back into the parliamentary mold, and they will furiously attack as an ‘enemy of the people’ anyone who wants to go beyond these limits.” She described the party’s “upper stratum” of editors, trade union leaders, and party officials as a “dead weight.”29

Despite this trenchant critique, Luxemburg never insisted on expelling the right wing, nor did she (at least before 1914) try to organize her own left faction as a counterweight to the reformists inside the SPD until after the outbreak of World War I. While there were important local groupings of the left wing, there was no identifiable, coherent national left-wing faction in the party. Luxemburg fully accepted that the party should encompass all political tendencies in the working-class movement. In a 1906 party debate, for example, she attacked the right wing for wanting to expel anarcho-syndicalists from the party by saying: “At least remain faithful to our old principle: nobody is evicted from the party for his views. Since we have never kicked out anyone on the far right, we do not now have the right to evict the far left.”30 

Luxemburg held the same position toward the Russian socialist movement. After attending a joint congress of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1907, she wrote in a letter to Clara Zetkin, that the Mensheviks leaders at the conference were “the most pathetic things the Russian revolution has to offer,” and praised the Bolsheviks for “having a sense of principled politics.”31 Yet right up to the outbreak of world war she persisted in supporting official efforts by the International to unite the two wings of the Russian socialist movement together in a single party.

Luxemburg’s chief motivation for not splitting away from the SDP was her desire to maintain contact with the German working-class movement, which she could not conceive of doing outside the party. “A split among Marxists—which is not to be confused with differences of opinion—is fatal,” she wrote to her Dutch comrade Henrietta Roland-Holst in 1908. “Your resignation from the SDAP [Holland’s social-democratic party] would mean simply that you are leaving the social-democratic movement. . . . The worst of workers’ parties is better than nothing!”32

As her alarm over the entrenched opportunism in the party’s leading bodies grew, she believed that the only possible means to overcome the party’s conservatism was through the “maximum development of mass action…which brings into play the broadest masses of the proletariat.” She wrote, “Only in this way can the clinging mists of parliamentary cretinism…be got rid of.”33 If Kautsky’s view of the incremental and inevitable, slow and steady parliamentary progress of Socialism was fatalist, Rosa Luxemburg’s idea that mass struggle would by itself force the party into revolutionary channels was also fatalist. There were for her no organizational means to combat the party’s drift toward reformism.34

It was not until the war and the capitulation of the SPD to its “own” government’s war aims (the SPD parliamentary deputies voted for German war credits), that she and others began to see the necessity of solidifying the left wing; it became obvious what the problems were with an organization that embraces all “Socialists,” regardless of where they stood on such key questions as imperialist war, revolution, colonialism, the role of mass strikes, and parliamentarianism. The revolutionaries who remained inside these parties became prisoners of organizations that backed their own governments’ war machine.

When put to the test of major events, the social-democratic parties could not stand. The right wing acted as firemen to put out revolutionary sparks in the name of gradualism; the “centrists” vacillated between the right and the left. The left wing was compelled to split away in order to uphold the revolutionary and internationalist principles of Marxism. These profound differences became most clear when revolution broke out in Germany.

When in November 1918 mass protests and strikes brought down the Kaiser, SPD leaders Ebert and Noske collaborated with the German military high command to head off further radicalization by agreeing to a democratic republic. As head of the new republic, Noske used right-wing paramilitary units to crush a mass workers’ uprising in Berlin in January 1919 and murder the leaders of the newly formed (it had only formed ten days before the uprising) German Communist Party, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, along with several hundred others.

More than mass action was necessary for revolution to succeed in Germany; what was needed was a sizable, organized nucleus of revolutionaries, rooted in various workplaces and localities, active in the day-to-day struggle, possessed of a degree of experience, sharing the confidence of their fellow workers, and capable of both learning from and exerting a concerted influence on the broader movement. Such a party, however, did not exist, and could not be created overnight. Less than a month before Germany’s November 1918 revolution, Lenin could write, “Europe’s greatest misfortune and danger is that is has no revolutionary party.”35 When the German Left finally declared themselves a party, they only had only a few thousand members—largely hotheated youth—as yet without solid contacts among the best-organized workers, sailors, and soldiers, with which to navigate in the revolutionary storms unfolding around them. 

The Russian experience
In 1916, the Russian revolutionary Lenin wrote a commentary on a German antiwar tract called The Junius Pamphlet, written by Rosa Luxemburg under a pseudonym. At the end of his analysis, Lenin observed: “Junius’ pamphlet conjures up in our mind the picture of a lone man who has no comrades in an illegal organization accustomed to thinking out revolutionary slogans to their conclusion and systematically educating the masses in their spirit.” 36

This assessment sums up the sharp difference between the experience of revolutionaries in Germany and in Russia. In Russia, Lenin and other revolutionaries maintained their own factional organization (Bolsheviks) from 1903 on, with its own newspaper, committees, and so on, independently of the moderate or reformist Socialists (Mensheviks), which finally formally split from the latter in 1912. As a result, they were “accustomed to thinking out revolutionary slogans to their conclusion and systematically educating the masses in their spirit.” 

In his 1920 pamphlet, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, written in an effort to educate Western Marxists on how the Bolsheviks were able to play a successful role leading the working class of Russia to power, Lenin remarked on the concentrated, rich, and varied history of the workers’ movement and of Marxism in Russia. Bolshevism “went through fifteen years of practical history (1903–17) unequalled anywhere in the world in its wealth of experience.” 

During those fifteen years, no other country knew anything even approximating to that revolutionary experience, that rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement—legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movements, and parliamentary and terrorist forms. In no other country has there been concentrated, in so brief a period, such a wealth of forms, shades, and methods of struggle of all classes of modern society, a struggle which, owing to the backwardness of the country and the severity of the tsarist yoke, matured with exceptional rapidity, and assimilated most eagerly and successfully the appropriate “last word” of American and European political experience.37

Lenin the elitist?
The widespread, almost completely unchallenged, view of Lenin, no matter what part of the political spectrum expresses it, is that he was a power-hungry elitist. His unique contribution to, or for some, departure from, Marxism, lay in his conception of the “vanguard” revolutionary party as consisting of a small, top-down, tightly centralist, and highly conspiratorial party of professional revolutionaries.38 Such a party was necessary because Lenin had supposedly “lost faith” in the working class. Western historians have created an echo chamber in which a few Lenin quotes, torn out of context, have become proof of all of this. The truth is quite different.

In fact, the whole Russian socialist movement was forced by illegal conditions to operate clandestinely—a fact that prevented, for example, open elections, which require publicity—and whenever more open conditions permitted, were uniformly in favor of more democratic and open forms of operation. “Any attempt to practice ‘the broad democratic principle’ will simply facilitate the work of the police in carrying out large-scale raids,” Lenin noted in his famous work, What Is To Be Done? On the other hand, when the outbreak of mass protests and strikes in 1905 opened up a larger space for free assembly and organization, Lenin called for “the full application of the democratic principle in Party organization.”39

Lenin’s emphasis on centralism was in the first instance part of an effort to create a single party uniting all the disparate local committees that were operating separately, without any central publications or central leadership. In the context of the time, his emphasis on creating a core of revolutionaries engaged full time in the difficult work of organizing (whether these “professional revolutionaries” came from the working class or the intelligentsia) in conditions of harsh police repression, was entirely necessary and practical. 

With the outbreak of the 1905 revolution he changed gears and emphasized the necessity of drawing in masses of young, radicalizing workers into the ranks of the party as quickly as possible and moving as many workers as possible into leadership roles in the party committees. He hammered away against the party “committeemen”—its dedicated professional revolutionaries, who were resistant to “diluting” the party’s ranks with inexperienced recruits—in a letter to two party leaders inside Russia. “All we have to do,” he urged, “is to recruit young people more widely and boldly, more boldly and widely, and again more widely and again more boldly, without fearing them. . . . Either you create new, young, fresh, energetic battle organizations everywhere for revolutionary Social-Democratic work of all varieties among all strata, or you will go under, wearing the aureole of ‘committee’ bureaucrats.”40 

Lenin’s argument in favor of “democratic centralism” (a term he did not coin, by the way)—not to be confused with the bureaucratic centralism of Stalinism that came later—was that a party must be able to act as one after it has had the opportunity to fully debate out a question. He wrote in 1906, for example, “The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organizations implies universal and full freedom to criticize, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticism which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of an action decided on by the Party.”41

As for the question of democracy more broadly within society, Lenin was uncompromisingly in favor of fighting for the fullest, freest democracy, and for the complete fulfillment of all democratic rights. His argument, one formulated in the early years of the Russian socialist movement by Plekhanov when Lenin was still a child, was that the Russian working class must be the spearhead of this all-round democratic struggle against tsarist oppression. He wrote, for example, in 1915:

The proletariat cannot be victorious except through democracy, i.e., by giving full effect to democracy and by linking with each step of its struggle democratic demands formulated in the most resolute terms…. We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a revolutionary program and tactics on all democratic demands: a republic, a militia, the popular election of officials, equal rights for women, the self-determination of nations, etc. While capitalism exists, these demands—all of them—can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms. Some of these reforms will be started before the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, others in the course of that overthrow, and still others after it. The social revolution is not a single battle, but a period covering a series of battles over all sorts of problems of economic and democratic reform, which are consummated only by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It is for the sake of this final aim that we must formulate every one of our democratic demands in a consistently revolutionary way.42

What about Lenin’s alleged loss of faith in the capacity of workers to become socialists? If anything, Lenin’s whole being was infused with a firm belief in the capacity of ordinary workers to change society. He wrote, for example, in 1900:

Not a single class in history has achieved power without producing its political leaders, its prominent representatives able to organize a movement and lead it. And the Russian working class has already shown that it can produce such men and women. The struggle which has developed so widely during the past five or six years has revealed the great potential revolutionary power of the working class; it has shown that the most ruthless government persecution does not diminish, but, on the contrary, increases the number of workers who strive towards Socialism, towards political consciousness, and towards the political struggle.43

There were important factors that contributed to the differences between the socialist movement in Western Europe and in Russia. The conditions of tsarist repression meant that no socialist in Russia could have illusions in parliaments or trade unions, for the simple fact that neither of these institutions existed to any significant extent. Trade unions were illegal, and the Duma, Russia’s legislative assembly formed after the 1905 revolution, was an entirely toothless body with a highly restricted electorate. Though revolutionaries in Russia looked to the German SPD as their guiding model, tsarist repression compelled them to organize clandestinely; even then, the average period of active political life for a revolutionary committee before being arrested could be counted in months. An open, public, mass working-class party simply could not exist. 

If in the West the socialist movement tended to separate trade union and political (electoral) work, in Russia conditions impelled socialists to take an active and direct interest in workers’ struggles and to link their economic struggle with political demands against the autocracy. “I did not fully appreciate how efficacious this method was,” wrote the underground activist and Lenin’s wife, Krupskaya, discussing the Russian socialists’ agitation among factory workers in the late 1890s, “until years later, when, living in France as a political emigrant, I observed how, during the great strike of the postal workers in Paris, the French Socialist Party stood completely aloof from it. It was the business of the trade unions, they said. In their opinion, the business of a party was only political struggle. They had no clear idea whatever about the necessity of combining the economic and the political struggle.”44

The Russian revolutionaries considered their methods of operation to be adaptations to the peculiarities of building a socialist movement under conditions of a repressive autocratic state, holding their ideal model to be the German SPD. Lenin “let slip no occasion to pay homage to German Social Democracy,” writes historian Pierre Broué, “the model of that ‘revolutionary social democracy’ which he wished to construct in Russia, in opposition to those he regarded as opportunists, whom he wished to exclude from the Party only because they denied the necessity for its existence and wished to ‘liquidate’ it.”45

From its inception, the Marxist movement in Russia was founded on the idea that, though workers were yet a minority of Russian society, they were the only class capable of leading a consistent revolutionary struggle against the autocracy, since the peasantry was too scattered and the capitalists feared workers’ revolt more than they hated tsarist restrictions. This guided all of Lenin’s practice. What was fundamentally different in Lenin’s approach compared to other revolutionaries of his day is that he paid much closer attention to organizational questions.

 Despite Lenin’s strong identification with Kautsky and German social democracy, there was something different about Lenin compared to his European socialist contemporaries. What was unique was the way in which Lenin explored the organizational implications of political questions. “Lenin,” writes historian Moira Donald, “succeeded in elevating the question of party organization to the plane of Marxist theory in a way which was not understood by Kautsky or by other contemporary theoreticians.”46

We find in Lenin a desire not only to uphold politically the central ideas of Russian Marxism against its critics—something that Rosa Luxemburg also did against the moderates in the SPD. We also find in Lenin a desire to create at each moment the best organizational forms to move the struggle forward, and to organizationally demarcate the movement from trends that pulled the movement away from its goals. 

For example, in 1899 there emerged in the Russian socialist movement a new trend, heralded by a document called “The credo,” that argued that socialists should follow the “line of least resistance” and confine their activity to assisting workers’ economic struggles. The credo associated itself with Eduard Bernstein’s revisionist trend in Germany. It chastised “intolerant Marxism,” and argued that in its place must come a social democratic organization that “will recognize society” and transform “its striving to seize power” into a “striving to reform present-day society.”47

Lenin denounced this new “retrograde” trend as “an attempt to…convert the revolutionary workers’ party into a reformist party.”48 If the economists had their way, workers would become an appendage of the liberals, rather than the leader of the movement against absolutism. 

[T]he motto of Social-Democracy must be: aid to the workers, not only in their economic, but also in their political struggle; agitation, not only in connection with immediate economic needs, but also in connection with all manifestations of political oppression; propaganda, not only of the ideas of scientific Socialism, but also of democratic ideas.49

But Lenin was not content to condemn this trend, which emerged at a time when the movement consisted of scattered, isolated committees and no nationally organized party. He, along with other young revolutionaries, made a compact with the older veteran Marxists Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Zasulich to produce the newspaper Iskra and the journal Zarya in an effort to decisively defeat economism and win a majority of the Russian socialist movement to create a united national party. 

The aim was to unite the movement, but based on firm principles, sorted out by rigorous debate, not simply the effecting of a formal unity. “Before we can unite,” wrote Lenin in an article announcing the publication of Iskra, “and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity will be purely fictitious, it will conceal the prevailing confusion.”50 

Lenin’s unique views of party organization
The Russian Marxist movement’s first serious attempt, in 1903, to create a unified national political party along the lines of the social democratic parties in Europe produced a more or less permanent split into two main factions, “Bolsheviks” (majority) and “Mensheviks” (minority)—which more often than not operated as independent organizations. The result was that in Russia, unlike in Western Europe, what were in effect the reformist and revolutionary wings of the socialist movement, though nominally in the same party until 1912 when the split became permanent, operated with their own committees, newspapers, electoral candidates, programs, strategies, and tactics. It was not until after the outbreak of the world war, and even more so the success of the 1917 Revolution, that it became clear that the experience of the Bolsheviks in this regard had international significance.

The issues that brought about the split seemed quite small. One of them was a disagreement about membership. Arguing against Lenin’s definition of a party member, Pavel Axelrod (a founder of the Russian socialist movement) wanted to include in the ranks of the party “people who consciously, though perhaps not very actively, associate themselves with that party.”51 Martov followed with the remark that “The more widespread the title of party member the better. We could only rejoice if every striker, every demonstrator…could proclaim himself a party member.”52

Lenin wanted to distinguish “those who chatter from those who do the work.”53 To Axelrod’s complaint that Lenin’s concept of membership would “throw overboard” people who should be considered party members, Lenin responded:

Are we to build the Party on the basis of that already formed and welded core of Social-Democrats which brought about the Party Congress, for instance, and which should enlarge and multiply Party organizations of all kinds; or are we to content ourselves with the soothing phrase that all who help are Party members? . . . What is the meaning of the phrase “throwing over board,” which at first glance seems so terrible? [T]here can be no talk of throwing anyone overboard in the sense of preventing them from working, from taking part in the movement. On the contrary, the stronger our Party organizations, consisting of real social democrats, the less wavering and instability there is within the party, the broader, more varied, richer and more fruitful will be the party’s influence on the elements of the working-class masses surrounding it and guided by it. The party, as the vanguard of the working class, must not be confused, after all, with the entire class.54

It is clear here that Lenin’s conception of the workers’ party already departed from Kautsky’s in practice. German social democracy in fact identified the party with the class, or at least the organized parts of the class. Lenin returns to Marx’s formulation, that the party must be the working class’s most “advanced and resolute section.”

Because there are “differences in degree of consciousness and degree of activity,” Lenin insisted, “a distinction must be made in degree of proximity to the party.”55 We can only accept someone as a party member, argued Lenin, when the title corresponds to fact—that is, if that person is genuinely class-conscious and is ready to work. “We should be indulging in complacent daydreaming if we tried to assure ourselves and others that every striker can be a social democrat and a member of the Social-Democratic Party, in face of that infinite disunity, oppression, and stultification which under capitalism is bound to weigh down upon such very wide sections of the ‘untrained,’ unskilled workers,” Lenin wrote.56

The revolutionary party embraces, not the entire class—whose consciousness is mixed and divided as a result of the “infinite disunity, oppression and stultification” which weighs down upon it—but its most conscious and active minority that seeks to raise the consciousness and combativeness of the class as a whole. But this “vanguard” is constantly in flux. In a period of reaction, where the level of class struggle is low and the prospects for revolution seem remote, fewer workers are prepared to embrace socialist ideas. But in a period of radicalization and heightened class struggle, when revolutionary possibilities seem more immediate, a larger number of workers will begin to draw radical conclusions. Under these circumstances, a workers’ party can become a mass organization.

It should be clear by now that Lenin’s conception of a “vanguard,” so maligned on the left today, was not elitist. As the late British Marxist Duncan Hallas noted,

The essence of elitism is the assertion that the observable differences in abilities, consciousness and experience are rooted in unalterable genetic or social conditions and that the mass of the people are incapable of self-government now or in the future. Rejection of the elitist position implies that the observed differences are wholly or partly attributable to causes that can be changed. It does not mean denial of the differences themselves.57

And in fact it was these “observable differences in abilities, consciousness and experience” that in Lenin’s view the party should strive to overcome, by raising the consciousness of the class as a whole, by organizing and fighting alongside workers in struggle. Vanguard, in its use by Lenin and others, merely meant that part of the class that was the best organized and most politically conscious, not something standing apart and opposed to the working class. As such, it was something that had to be actively coalesced and tested in practice, not declared. “It is not enough to call ourselves the ‘vanguard,’ the advanced contingent.” Lenin wrote in What is To Be Done? “We must act in such a way that all the other contingents recognize and are obliged to admit that we are marching in the vanguard. And we ask the reader: Are the representatives of the other ‘contingents’ such fools as to take our word for it when we say that we are the ‘vanguard’?”58

Lenin emphasized the way in which during revolutionary periods the revolutionary energy of the working classes and oppressed becomes hundreds of times higher than in periods of humdrum existence; and, resulting from this struggle, their class-consciousness grows in great leaps, sometimes in a matter of weeks or even days. A week after “Bloody Sunday,” the massacre of a workers’ procession to the Tsar’s palace in 1905 that kicked off an abortive revolution, he wrote from exile:

In the history of revolutions there come to light contradictions that have ripened for decades and centuries. Life becomes unusually eventful. The masses, which have always stood in the shade and have therefore often been ignored and even despised by superficial observers, enter the political arena as active combatants. These masses are learning in practice, and before the eyes of the world are taking their first tentative steps, feeling their way, defining their objectives, testing themselves and the theories of all their ideologists. These masses are making heroic efforts to rise to the occasion and cope with the gigantic tasks of world significance imposed upon them by history; and however great individual defeats may be, however shattering to us the rivers of blood and the thousands of victims, nothing will ever compare in importance with this direct training that the masses and the classes receive in the course of the revolutionary struggle itself.59 

This profound faith in the creative capacity of oppressed peoples once moved into action wasn’t, for Lenin, a passive admiration. Revolutionary periods were schools of training not only for the masses; they also demanded more from revolutionaries:

Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx. Revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time are the masses of the people in a position to come forward so actively as creators of a new social order as at a time of revolution. At such times the people are capable of performing miracles, if judged by the narrow, philistine scale of gradual progress. But the leaders of the revolutionary parties must also make their aims more comprehensive and bold at such a time, so that their slogans shall always be in advance of the revolutionary initiative of the masses, serve as a beacon, reveal to them our democratic and Socialist ideal in all its magnitude and splendor and show them the shortest and most direct route to complete, absolute and decisive victory…. We shall be traitors to and betrayers of the revolution if we do not use this festive energy of the masses and their revolutionary ardor to wage a ruthless and self-sacrificing struggle for the direct and decisive path.60

 Revolutions put theory to the test of events. Perhaps more than any other Marxist, Lenin was concerned with the relationship between theory and practice. He took time to study the nature of Russian capitalism, the relations between classes, the nature of imperialism, and so on. And he was not in the least dogmatic. For him, theory was a guide to action. If events in the world presented him with evidence that the theory was incomplete or incorrect, he was not at all averse to reexamining the theory. “There is no better critic of an erroneous doctrine,” he wrote during 1905, “than the course of revolutionary events.”61

Moreover, even with a correct theory, there always had to be a translation of the theory into the practical question of what had to be done next in any given moment. “A line of conduct can and should be grounded in theory, in historical references, in an analysis of the entire political situation,” he wrote. “But in all these discussions the party of a class engaged in a struggle should never lose sight of the need for absolutely clear answers—which do not permit of a double interpretation—to concrete questions of our political conduct: “yes” or “no”? Should this or that be done right now, at the given moment, or should it not be done?”62 In this passage is all of Lenin the revolutionary politician. More than any other Marxist, he was the most practically and directly engaged in attempting to fuse theory and practice, and to find the precise organizational and tactical measures necessary at every moment to move the struggle to the next level.

One could have perfect theory, but if you do not have a way to translate that theory into practice—through real people, real organizations, able and willing to test those ideas in the hurdy-gurdy of everyday events, the theory becomes sterile and lifeless. On more than one occasion Lenin would shift tack, or discard an old argument he considered relevant to a given period, and adopt a new position based on new conditions. Thinking through new tasks as conditions change—the level of class struggle, the degree of repression, the confidence or lack thereof of the regime, and so on—is, Lenin argued, the most difficult task, “because it requires of people not a simple repetition of slogans learned by heart…but a certain amount of initiative, flexibility of mind, resourcefulness and independent work on a novel historical task.”63

To give one example: During the 1905 revolution, when the tsar agreed to form the Duma, the Bolsheviks called for a boycott. So long as the revolution still had momentum and it was possible to overthrow the tsar, it had been justifiable, Lenin argued, to boycott the Duma. But when it became clear that the revolutionary moment was ebbing away, Lenin changed his position (to the chagrin of many other Bolsheviks, who called him an opportunist) and argued that the Bolsheviks should run their own candidates. “We were obliged to do—and did—everything in our power to prevent the convocation of a sham representative body,” Lenin wrote. “But since it has been convened in spite of all our efforts, we cannot shirk the task of utilizing it.”64 We should not, however, “exaggerate its modest importance.” “We shall,” he emphasized, “subordinate the struggle we wage in the Duma to another form of struggle, namely strikes, uprisings, etc.”65 

While the revolutionary wave had temporarily brought the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks together, the aftermath drove them further apart. The revolution confirmed the Bolsheviks’ commitment to working-class leadership in a worker-peasant alliance directed at the overthrow of autocracy, the Mensheviks drew conservative conclusions, denouncing a December 1905 workers’ uprising in Moscow as premature, and placing emphasis on the need to moderate the militancy of the working class in order to cement alliances with the liberal bourgeoisie. 

As the Menshevik leader Alexander Martynov wrote:

The coming revolution will be a revolution of the bourgeoisie; and that means that . . . it will only, to a greater or lesser extent, secure the rule of all or some of the bourgeois classes. . . . If this is so, it is clear that the coming revolution can on no account assume political forms against the will of the whole of the bourgeoisie, as the latter will be the master of tomorrow. If so, then to follow the path of simply frightening the majority of the bourgeois elements would mean that the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat could lead to only one result—the restoration of absolutism in its original form.66

The Mensheviks believed that the liberal Russian bourgeoisie would have to lead the revolution, in the same way that the French bourgeoisie had led the revolution in 1789.67 The role of the socialists, in their view, was to mobilize the working class to put pressure on the bourgeoisie to fulfill this task. Consequently, they cautioned the working class not to do anything that might frighten the capitalist class into the arms of reaction. 

The Bolsheviks, however, argued that the Russian capitalists were far too tied up with the landowning classes to lead a revolt against the autocracy. “The bourgeoisie as a whole is incapable of waging a determined struggle against the autocracy.” Lenin continued: 

It fears to lose in this struggle its property which binds it to the existing order; it fears an all-too revolutionary action of the workers, who will not stop at the democratic revolution but will aspire to the Socialist revolution. It fears a complete break with officialdom, with the bureaucracy, whose interests are bound up by a thousand ties with the interests of the propertied classes. For this reason the bourgeois struggle for liberty is notoriously timorous, inconsistent, and half-hearted.68

As reaction set in and the radical organizations were smashed apart and driven back into a hunted, underground existence, leading Mensheviks renounced underground party work, and called for the formation of a legal organization dedicated to improving the conditions of the working class. Lenin systematically denounced this trend—which he observed had close affinities to the old “economist” trend—as “liquidationism,” which he defined as “an attempt on the part of some of the Party intelligentsia to liquidate the existing organization of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and to substitute for it an amorphous federation acting at all cost within the limits of legality, even at the cost of openly abandoning the program, tactics and traditions of the Party.”69 These socialists wanted a broad, open, “European”-style labor movement in Russia. Not only was this idea a pipe dream in conditions of police reaction, it was also tantamount to abandoning the revolution. As historian Neil Harding points out, “Insistence on the need to overthrow the autocracy was obviously incompatible with being granted a legal status by it.”70 

That didn’t meant the Bolsheviks repudiated the struggle for reforms and the utilization of legal forms of opposition. “We make use of every reform…and of every legal society,” Lenin insisted. The Bolsheviks excelled at taking advantage of the slightest legal opening—for example, working in workers’ insurance organizations, to promote their cause. “But we use them to develop the revolutionary consciousness and the revolutionary struggle of the masses.”71

Lenin not only fought the reformism of the Mensheviks. In his own Bolshevik faction, he fought against a left-wing trend known as “otzovism,” led by Alexander Bogdanov, which demanded the recall of the social-democratic deputies from the Duma and refused to work in the trade unions or other legal organizations. This faction essentially drew the conclusion that tactics appropriate to revolution were appropriate for nonrevolutionary times. New conditions, Lenin argued, required a return to more humdrum tactics—utilizing every legal opportunity to put forward the party’s views and organize its supporters. In 1908 he maneuvered to expel this faction—whose policies threatened to lead to the party’s increased isolation and irrelevance—from the Bolsheviks. 

The Bolsheviks were denounced by many on the left as sectarian hairsplitters. But in this period the Bolsheviks were able to maintain the strongest organization, and were quickest to recover and avail themselves of new opportunities for legal and illegal work in Russia when the class struggle began to revive in 1912. Their daily newspaper, Pravda, became the most widely supported, distributed, and read newspaper among Russia’s most active workers.

Like Marx, Lenin did not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to organization. Yet in all this, there is an important thread which is drawn out and developed more clearly after the collapse of the Second International, and particularly after the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917: the idea of the party not as representing the class or embracing the working class as a whole, but the party as the most advanced, most class-conscious and revolutionary section of the working class. It was not until the socialist parties in Germany and elsewhere betrayed their principles and backed their own governments’ war ambitions in World War I that Lenin drew the conclusion that what the Bolsheviks had done in Russia had international significance, i.e., that revolutionaries outside of Russia must break organizationally with reformism.

Yet that idea could not come to full fruition in the international socialist movement without Lenin’s State and Revolution, which revived the ideas of Marx and Engels that workers must dismantle the old state and replace it with a council state (that is, a state of the Paris Commune-type, with directly elected, revocable delegates) or without the Russian Revolution, which showed in practice how such a revolution could be achieved.

Lenin’s unique contribution
Rosa Luxemburg once pointed out the contradictory process facing the working class in the course of its struggle to end capitalism:

The international movement of the proletariat toward its complete emancipation is a process peculiar in the following respect. For the first time in the history of civilization, the people are expressing their will consciously and in opposition to all ruling classes. But this will can only be satisfied beyond the limits of the existing system.

Now the mass can only acquire and strengthen this will in the course of day-to-day struggle against the existing social order—that is, within the limits of capitalist society.

On the one hand, we have the mass; on the other, its historic goal, located outside of existing society. On one hand, we have the day-to-day struggle; on the other, the social revolution. Such are the terms of the dialectic contradiction through which the Socialist movement makes its way.

It follows that this movement can best advance by tacking betwixt and between the two dangers by which it is constantly being threatened. One is the loss of its mass character; the other, the abandonment of its goal. One is the danger of sinking back to the condition of a sect; the other, the danger of becoming a movement of bourgeois social reform.72 

In the fight for reforms, socialists can either adapt to “what exists,” merging into movements and disappearing in them; or on the other hand they can separate themselves and become an isolated sect. Before the Russian Revolution and the outbreak of revolution in Germany convinced her of the need to make an organizational break with reformism, Luxemburg was unable to conceive of the separate organization of revolutionaries as anything but an isolated sect. Observing the German experience, she could only see rising class struggle as a corrective against the organizational conservatism of social democracy. Lenin, on the other hand, showed practically how organizational forms could be adapted that allowed revolutionaries to tack “betwixt and between the twin dangers” to which Luxemburg so eloquently referred.

Lenin’s conception of a “vanguard” is best understood simply as a “leading body.” To really be a leading body, it cannot be proclaimed or imposed from above, and it cannot be built by standing apart from the working class and holding up revolutionary ideas to which it expects the working class, at the right moment, to suddenly flock. It has to be built in practice, in the course of struggles over “partial” economic and political demands, and in alliance with organizations and forces that are not revolutionary.

We are a long way away from building mass revolutionary parties in the world today. But on the way toward creating them—whatever tactical and organizational twists and turns we may go through—the theoretical and practical legacy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, as much as Marx and Engels, is indispensable. Sadly, these lessons and insights were quickly appropriated and distorted beyond recognition by the Stalinists in the 1920s, who portrayed the “Leninist vanguard party” as a top-down, bureaucratic, commandist organization that seeks one-party rule and stratification of the economy. This conception has little to do with the actual experience of the Bolsheviks.

The Bolshevik experience should teach us that socialists should operate as comrades in struggle who, in participating in today’s movements, try to move the struggle as far as it can go, introducing to wider layers of workers the need for the socialist alternative along the way. It doesn’t offer utopian blueprints of the socialist future, but rather gathers together and distills the most important historical lessons of past struggles, in order that those experiences can provide lessons for future struggles. In that sense, the revolutionary party also serves as the memory of the working class in a world where such lessons are rarely preserved in any other way. 

The dreaded “democratic centralism” is a concept whose meaning should be clear to anyone in any democratically run activist organization that is attempting to implement a decision—first debate, then vote, and then act in unison to put that decision into effect. Democracy is necessary, as Lenin explained, because “the success of mass action requires the conscious and voluntary participation of every individual worker.” A strike, for example, “cannot be conducted with the necessary solidarity . . . unless every worker consciously and voluntarily decides for himself the question: to strike or not to strike?” Lenin insisted that “firm and intelligent” decisions, not those based on “clannishness, friendship, or force of habit,” could be made only on the basis of open debate and discussion.73 But socialist organizations are not talk shops that value discussion for its own sake. Once debate is had, a decision must be made that the collective is disciplined enough to act on. That is the “centralism” part of democratic centralism.

If all workers moved to socialism uniformly and simultaneously, organization and leadership would not be necessary. But they do not. As Trotsky wrote in 1932, “The class itself is not homogeneous. Its different sections arrive at class-consciousness by different paths and at different times. The bourgeoisie participates actively in this process. Within the working class it creates its own institutions, or utilizes those already existing, in order to oppose certain strata of workers against others.”74 The differences in degrees of consciousness and activism means that all social struggles produce some kind of leadership—that is, groups of people who exert influence over the movement. In reality, even those anarchists who are “anti-leadership” are in fact promoting their own politics about how the movement should be formed, that is, attempting to assert their leadership. 

Workers do not exist in a vacuum, but are in fact influenced, and deliberately so, by bourgeois, procapitalist ideas that seek to divide them and convince them that they are powerless. With these facts in mind it becomes clear how necessary it is to organize the best elements, the most conscious, the most self-sacrificing, the most committed to changing the world, into a common organization so as to be able to exert a counterinfluence. The question, then, is not leadership vs. no leadership, but what kind of leadership, fighting for what purposes, will emerge and will predominate. In denying the need for leaders, anarchist forms of organization often produce unaccountable leaders, not leaderless movements. 

Every mass movement gives rise to debates about the way forward. The trade union officialdom, the old reformist leaders, and liberal organizations step to the fore and attempt to corral the movement, to lead it and to contain it. In such a situation, a distinction always needs to be made between the reformism of the masses being drawn into activism for the first time—ordinary people who do not yet believe they have the power to run society and therefore look to better rulers than the old ones, or look for improvements that benefit them without thinking of going beyond the framework of capitalism—as opposed to more entrenched political forces that are consciously committed to reforming capitalism in order to save it. In every revolutionary movement, the need for an organization of revolutionaries that can fight inside the movement to break past the constraints of reformism, and win the majority of workers to the idea that they must pose a new alternative to capitalism, becomes pressing. 

Such an organization has to be built up before the outbreak of revolutionary developments, or it will not have sufficient influence and experience to help guide the struggle. “[D]uring a revolution, i.e., when events move more swiftly, a weak party can quickly grow into a mighty one provided it lucidly understands the course of the revolution and possesses staunch cadres that do not become intoxicated with phrases and are not terrorized by persecution,” wrote Trotsky. “But such a party must be available prior to the revolution inasmuch as the process of educating the cadres requires a considerable period of time and the revolution does not afford this time.”75 

This is certainly the lesson of the German Revolution. All the conditions existed, as in Russia, for a successful workers’ revolution. The missing ingredient was a revolutionary party of sufficient size and depth of experience to play the kind of leading role played by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

In periods of mass struggles, the barrier between economic and political struggle breaks down. Workers who not long before believed they had no power suddenly find themselves engaging in mass action, finding confidence and demanding respect. Every manifestation of injustice becomes a target of action. Each struggle inspires the next, and no issue or grievance is beyond action. For example, a strike wave in the summer of 1981 in Poland, during the heyday of Solidarnosc (the mass democratic independent trade union movement that emerged in Poland in 1980), involved a strike by airline workers demanding the right to choose their own manager, a dock strike to stop the export of food (people were starving in Poland), a protest by newspaper print shop workers against anti-Solidarnosc propaganda in the news, a strike of transport workers against corruption, a strike of workers in one town demanding those responsible for repression against an earlier strike movement be fired, and hunger marches by thousands of women demanding food.

In a mass upsurge of struggle, an increasing number of militants begin to grasp the possibility that the movement, if it is to move forward, must seize power. Things must either go forward or backward, but can’t stagnate. If these militants are not organized and united around a common campaign to win over the rest of the class to a program of revolutionary action, their sentiments, ideas, and partial insights will dissipate without real effect. Reformist leaders will retain dominance in the movement, and, in the name of unity and realism, will encourage the working class to curb its enthusiasm. 

In Poland many of the leaders of Solidarnosc, such as Lech Walesa, accepted the idea of a “self-limiting revolution.”76 Though many militants were aware of the fact that Solidarnosca mass movement of almost ten million workers that sprang from mass strikes—had the potential to be far more than a trade union fighting for reforms, there was no organized or coherent attempt to challenge its leaders from the left. The fact that the Polish state capitalist regime had claimed the mantle of socialism, and had appropriated phrases like “class struggle” did not help; the working class was reinventing workers’ power against a ruling class that had appropriated their traditional symbols and terms of revolt. 

But this experience highlights the key role a genuine socialist organization of militants could have played in Poland at the time. “Solidarnosc’s ‘self-limitation,’” writes Colin Barker in his account, “was a disastrous strategy. . . . Time and time again, the leaders of Solidarnosc found themselves urging their members not to ‘go too far,’ not to ‘frighten the authorities.’ Time and time again, they reined the movement in, rather than encouraging it forward. Their members’ militancy was a ‘problem’ for them, rather than the key to a solution.”77

The alternative was a revolutionary strategy aimed at seizing control of workplaces, winning over the rank and file of the armed forces, and replacing the bureaucratic state apparatus with workers’ democracy. Only a strong organization united around such a program could have even posed this alternative as a possibility in Poland. Sadly, none existed.

Without a revolutionary party, the revolutionary moment is lost and the movement either goes into decline or is defeated. Either way, society begins to flow back into its old channels and “order” is restored once again. “Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box,” wrote Trotsky. “But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”78

The type of organization socialists should strive to build was described perfectly by the late British Socialist Duncan Hallas in 1971,

The events of the last 40 years largely isolated the revolutionary socialist tradition from the working classes of the West. The first problem is to reintegrate them. The many partial and localized struggles on wages, conditions, housing, rents, education, health and so on have to be coordinated and unified into a coherent forward movement based on a strategy for the transformation of society. In human terms, an organized layer of thousands of workers, by hand and by brain, firmly rooted amongst their fellow workers and with a shared consciousness of the necessity for Socialism and the way to achieve it, has to be created.79 

A number of factors that there isn’t space here to explore—the rise of Stalinism and the bureaucratic degeneration of “actually existing socialism,” the unprecedented revival of capitalist growth after World War II, and the repression against the Left during the Cold War—largely severed socialism from the working class. The connection, under new conditions, has to be reestablished. That is the chief tasks of socialists today.


  1. See, for example, Atilio Boron, “Strategy and Tactics in Popular Struggles in Latin America,” in Leo Panitch, Greg Albo, and Viveck Chibber, eds., Socialist Register 2013: The Question of Strategy (Pontypool, Wales: Merlin Press, 2012): 243.
  2. See Jen Roesch, “The Life and Times of Occupy Wall Street,” International Socialism 135 (UK), June 28, 2012, (accessed January 28, 2014).
  3. See, for example, Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon (Verso, 2012).

Marx, Lenin, and Luxemburg: Party, organization, and revolution

  1. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Holy Family, in Marx and Engels Collected Works (referred to hereafter as MECW) vol. 4 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 93.
  2. Karl Marx, “Introduction,” Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, in MECW vol. 3 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 186.
  3. Marx and Engels, The Holy Family, 119.
  4. Frederick Engels, “On the History of the Communist League,” MECW vol. 26 (New York: International Publishers, 1990), 318.
  5. Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. Volume 1: The Politics of Social Classes (New York: Monthly Review, 1978), 53.
  6. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1980), 197.
  7. Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, 29
  8. Marx, “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Introduction,” 184.
  9. Communist Manifesto, 53.
  10. Marx and Engels, “Resolutions of the Conference of Delegates of the International Working Men’s Association,” MECW vol. 22 (New York: International Publishers, 1986), 427.
  11. Engels, “On the Political Action of the Working Class,” MECW vol. 22 (New York: International Publishers, 1986), 417.
  12. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: Progress Publishers, 1985), 232.
  13. Engels to Gherson Trier (draft), December 1889, in MECW vol. 48 (New York: International Publishers, 2001), 423.
  14. Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 58–59.
  15. Ibid., 87-89.
  16. Marx to Bracke, May 5, 1875, in MECW vol. 45 (New York: International Publishers, 1991), 70.
  17. Engels to Florence Kelley-Wischnewetzky, MECW vol. 47 (New York: International Publishers, 1995), 541.
  18. Engels to Florence Kelley-Wischnewetzky, Marx and Engels on the United States, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1979), 317.
  19. Letter from Marx to Schweitzer (October 13, 1868), (accessed November 2, 2012). 
  20. Engels to August Bebel in Hubertsburg, London, June 20, 1873;
  21. Marx quoted in August H. Nimtz, Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (New York: State University of New York Press, 2000), 46.
  22. Karl Kautsky, The Road to Power (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996), 38.
  23. Quoted in Massimo Salvadori, Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution, 1880-1938 (London: New Left Books, 1979), 162.
  24. Kautsky, “Sects or class parties,” in Neue Zeit, July 1909, vol. 13, no.7, 316–28, (accessed November 17, 2012).
  25. “Resolution on unification and statements at the London conference of the International Socialist Bureau, December 14, 1913,” in Olga Hess Gankin and H. H. Fisher, eds., The Bolsheviks and World War (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1940), 94.
  26. “Congress Debate on Colonial Policy,” John Riddell, ed., Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International: Documents, 1907–1916, the Preparatory Years (New York: Monad Press, 1984), 10.
  27. Pierre Broué, The German Revolution, 1917–1923 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006), 21, 23.
  28. The antiwar resolutions at the Second International’s 1907 Stuttgart and 1910 Copenhagen conference can be found in John Riddell, ed., Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International, 33 and 70.
  29. Quoted in J. P. Nettle, Rosa Luxemburg, vol. 1 (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 375.
  30. Ibid., 368.
  31. Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, Annelies Laschitza, eds., The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (New York: Verso Press, 2011), 242.
  32. Quoted in Broué, German Revolution, 35.
  33. J. P. Nettle, Rosa Luxemburg, 430–31.
  34. The irony of this is that in Luxemberg’s native Poland the socialist movement (which she was also active in) was split into different factions and organizations.
  35. Lenin, “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,” in Collected Works, vol. 28, (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1981), 112.
  36. Lenin, “The Junius Pamphlet,” in Collected Works, vol. 22 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 319.
  37. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, in Collected Works, vol. 31 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), 25–26.
  38. “The academic historians who laid the basis of the textbook interpretation constituted the first generation in postwar Soviet studies: Leopold Haimson, Alfred G. Meyer, Adam Ulam, Leonard Schapiro, John Keep, Samuel Baron, Allan Wildman, Israel Getzler, Abraham Ascher, Richard Pipes, Jonathan Frankel.” Lars T. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? in Context (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008), 14. Lih also performs a useful exegesis of the genesis of the “Lenin as elitist” formula in his article, “How a founding document was found, or one hundred years of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done?,” in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4, no. 1 (2003): 5–49.
  39. Lenin, “The Reorganization of the Party,” in Collected Works vol. 10 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), 33.
  40. Lenin, “Letter to A. A. Bogdanov and S. I. Gusev,” in Collected Works vol. 8, 147.
  41. Lenin, “Freedom to Criticize and Unity of Action,” Collected Works vol. 10, 443.
  42. Lenin, “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” Collected Works vol. 21 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980), 408.
  43. Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement,” Collected Works vol. 4, 370.
  44. N.K. Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin (New York: International Publishers, 1979), 19.
  45. Broué, The German Revolution, 12.
  46. Moira Donald, Marxism and Revolution: Karl Kautsky and the Russia Marxists, 1900–1924 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 39.
  47. Quoted in Lenin, “A Protest by Russian Social Democrats,” in Collected Works, vol. 4, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977) 173–74.
  48. Ibid., 176.
  49. Ibid., 180.
  50. Lenin, “Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra,”
  51. Translated and annotated by Brian Pearce, 1903: Second Ordinary Congress of the RSDLP. Complete text of the minutes (London: New Park Publications, 1978), 311. 
  52. Ibid., 313.
  53. Ibid., 327.
  54. Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Collected Works vol. 7 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 258.
  55. Ibid., 258–59.
  56. Ibid., 260.
  57. Duncan Hallas, “Toward a Revolutionary Socialist Party,” Party and Class (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2003), 45.
  58. Lenin, What Is to Be Done? Collected Works vol. 5 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), 426.
  59. Lenin, “Revolutionary Days,” Collected Works vol. 8 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1962), 101.
  60. Lenin, “The Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,” CW vol. 9 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 113. 
  61. Lenin, “Revolution Teaches,” Collected Works vol. 9 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 148.
  62. Lenin, “Argue about Tactics, But Give Clear Slogans!” Collected Works vol. 9 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 262.
  63. Lenin, “The Faction of Supporters of Otzovism and God-Building,” Collected Works vol. 16 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 36–37.
  64. Quoted in Tony Cliff, Lenin: Building the Party (London: Bookmarks, 1994), 250.
  65. Ibid., 251.
  66. Martynov, Two Dictatorships, quoted in Tony Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution, International Socialism 12, (1st series) Spring 1963, (accessed December 17, 2012.)
  67. The irony is that the French Revolution was actually led by the radical petty bourgeoisie, pushed from below by the sans-culottes, even though the bourgeoisie was the main beneficiary of the revolution. Neil Davidson’s recent articles in Historical Materialism are good on this question: “How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?” Historical Materialism 13, nos. 3 and 4 (2005). In fact there may never have been a bourgeois revolution actually led by the bourgeoisie.
  68. Lenin, “The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat,” Collected Works vol. 8 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), 511.
  69. Lenin, “Report of the C.C. of the R.S.D.L.P. to the Brussels Conference and Instructions to the C.C. Delegation,” Collected Works vol. 20 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 498–99.
  70. Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought, Volume 1: Theory and Practice of the Democracy Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009), 263. 
  71. Ibid., 501.
  72. Rosa Luxemburg, “Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy,” in The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? (Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1961), 105.
  73. Lenin, “The Social Democrats and the Elections in St. Petersburg,” in Collected Works, vol. 11 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 434–35.
  74. Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat,
  75. Leon Trotsky, “The Class, the Party, and the Leadership,” (1940),
  76. Colin Barker, “Solidarnosc: From Gdansk to Military Repression,” International Socialism 15 (Winter 1982), 93.
  77. Colin Barker, Festival of the Oppressed: Solidarity, Reform and Revolution in Poland 1980–81 (London: Bookmarks, 1986), 150.
  78. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008), XVI.
  79. Hallas, “Toward a Revolutionary Socialist Party,” 38.

Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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