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Workers Party: No Simple Formula for Success

June 5, 2016

By Todd Chretien. Many thanks to Eric Blanc for translating this very useful piece by Kautsky (“Sects or Class Parties”) and providing a provocative introduction.

I find myself agreeing with his broadest generalizations; namely, that

“Experience over the past decades would seem to demonstrate that while non-Marxist broad parties cannot effectively transcend capitalism, projects of building Marxist parties will likely flounder if they are divorced from wider efforts to promote a mass political representation of and for the working-class majority.”

This is a useful starting point even if “seem to demonstrate” and “will likely flounder” leave a lot of wiggle room.

Be that as it may, there is little doubt that he is right to say that the counterposition between “small resolute” and “big class party,” as Kautsky put it, is indeed today “hegemonic;” even if, as Eric notes, it’s a particularly impoverished hegemony in terms of the scale of forces involved. Yet, accounting for all of our global left’s weaknesses, hegemonic is not the same as universal. And it seems to me that we are beginning to see the broad outlines of a “return to organization” question (with a nod to Bensaïd’s “return of strategy” challenge).

The experiences of revolutionaries in formations and movements as diverse as (in Europe) Syriza, Podemos, the Left Bloc, Die Linke, the NPA (and others in France) and (in Latin America) the FIT and the PT/PSOL/PSTU spectrum (not to mention Venezuela) and perhaps (in North America) the Quebecois left (even if the U.S. class struggle remains in arrears) and (let’s not forget) Egypt all demonstrate that we can begin to move beyond the sterile broad/narrow contrast that Eric rightly criticizes here.

(I’ve offered a few initial thoughts here among other places:

With respect to this, one of the more interesting aspects of Kautsky’s article is his insistence that the devil is in the details, from timing, to the balance of forces, to the experiences of national working classes, to the level of political education attained by the vanguard (in the broad social sense).

If that’s right, then history can inform our perspectives and practices, but not provide a simple formula for success, a truism with which I have no doubt Eric agrees wholeheartedly. This then should lead us to finding ways to pair our historical studies with a special focus on sharing translations of contemporary events (of which there is both already a lot and not enough) and a commitment to building up a useful base of knowledge that precedes sharp political judgment.

Finally, although I am not certain that Eric has reached this conclusion, his scare quotes around “Leninist” imply a rejection. Certainly there is much to reject in what many have described as “Leninism,” but I continue to believe, as a good Oaklander, that there is, in fact, “a there there.” Moreover, this “there” clearly distinguished Lenin from Kautsky, and not only on the question of mass action.


One Comment
  1. Several readers pointed out that the URL for this article sent our to website subscribers was incorrect. The error was entirely mine. The damage is done now, but I do offer my apologies to readers and hope that they managed to locate the article off the website home page.

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