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Real Parties as Real Movements and Vice Versa

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Real Parties as Real Movements and Vice Versa: Alternative Culture and Bureaucracy Revisited

"Social Democracy is the party of the militant proletariat; it seeks to enlighten it, to educate it, to organise it, to expand its political and economic power by every available means, to conquer every position that can possibly be conquered, and thus to provide it with the strength and maturity that will finally enable it to conquer political power and to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie." (Karl Kautsky)

In my earlier work, I revisited Lenin the activist’s emphasis on national newspapers replacing the newspapers produced by the Marxist circle-sects that preceded the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. I also wrote that, with the Internet and the proliferation of blogs and atomized Internet news services but with an Internet “market” of millions of working-class people (and not just a few thousand within the emerging Russian working class), it is crucial to have a singular revolutionary news service encompassing news coverage, analysis, and both bulletin and video discussions. This media singularity indicates an anti-sectarian commitment to work with others on the class-strugglist left like class-strugglist pareconists, class-strugglist market socialists, and similar tendencies within an overall organization with party ambitions, not just within some “workers’ united front.”

Precisely because Lenin was inspired by the then-Marxist Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), a singular revolutionary news service might not be enough. As noted by historian Lars Lih:

The single most impressive feature of this agitation machine was the party press. In 1895 there were 75 socialist newspapers, of which 39 were issued six times a week. These newspapers catered to a broad variety of workers. There were newspapers for worker cyclists and worker gymnasts, for teetotaling workers and even for inkeepers. By 1909 the total circulation was over one million, a figure that implies a great many more actual readers. But the printed word was embedded in an even wider context of the face-to-face spoken. Social-Democratic agitation was carried on by public meetings, smaller conferences for the party militants and agitation by individual members.

Granted, the singular revolutionary news service with news coverage, analysis, bulletin discussions, and video discussions could be customizable to tailor the interests of such segmented audiences, but the bigger question posed by this historic agitation machine and more was the bureaucracy involved. Continued:

Nor did the SPD confine itself to political propaganda and agitation. The Social-Democratic movement in Germany consisted of a wide range of institutions that attempt to cover every facet of life. Party or Party-associated institutions included trade unions, clubs dedicated to activities ranging from cycling to hiking to choral singing, theatres and celebratory festivals. The broad scope of the movement's ambitions justifies the title of Vernon Lidtke's classic study The Alternative Culture. Looking just at Lidtke's index under the letter 'W', we find the following: workers' athletic clubs, workers' chess societies, workers' consumer societies, workers' cycling clubs, workers' educational societies, workers' gymnastic clubs, workers' libraries, workers' rowing clubs, workers' samaritan associations, workers' singing societies, workers' swimming clubs, workers' temperance [anti-alcohol] associations, workers' theatrical clubs, workers' youth clubs.

The reader will have noticed the repetition of the word 'worker'. This observation leads us to the central importance of the word Arbeiter, ‘worker’, as the symbolic core of the SPD model.

I wrote in my earlier work that historically influential worker-class movements have always gone beyond mere “labour movements” (“yellow” trade unions) in their organization. Politically they also went beyond electoral gimmicks, in which the “parties” became little more than electoral machines complemented by protest activism. At their disposal were all the impressive organizations mentioned above, workplace committees, humanitarian organizations such as the International Red Aid, poetry clubs, child care centers, and even funeral homes – all of which provided both an alternative social network and an alternative culture, thus culminating in a state within a state. I also made reference to Hezbollah – and its four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools, two agricultural and training centers, and even garbage collection services as reported in 2006 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – along with one-time support for the organization’s social development by Massachusetts ex-governor Mitt Romney. The Black Panthers too made an attempt at an alternative culture, but on a much smaller scale. Ultimately, given recent declines in both the “welfare state” and the “charity state” (state aid for charities aside from tax exemptions and donor tax deductibility) across many bourgeois states, alternative culture as a strategic means of political-ideological independence for the working class should be reconsidered.

[Note: For-profit cooperatives were also organized, but were many times organized in the wrong sectors of the economy, such as in financial services. Cooperative banking and mutual insurance still extracted economic rent in the classical sense from society as a whole, but more on this in later commentary. The point is that the inclusion of cooperatives in organizing an alternative culture is debatable.]

Of course, with this reconsideration comes the question of bureaucracy and its relation to the state. According to traditional thinking, massive bureaucracies breed opportunism, contentment with the status quo, and so on. On the one hand, being in a position to enact legislation is nothing without support from the bureaucratic organs of state administration that execute them, and trying to get enough support from such established organs to enact the kind of change described in this work is pointless. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks themselves found out that smashing those organs – in the manner of “all power to the soviets” – without a preexisting organized alternative (albeit due to czarist repression and not a rejection of the SPD model) only freed the “scientific management” coordinator class that was emerging from the czarist shackles on the technical and managerial intelligentsia (the more so if the smashing is done out of mass spontaneism, like in France during the May 1968 wildcat strikes or as expressed by fetishes for workers’ councils). If the existing bureaucratic organs of state administration are a dead end, and inevitable spontaneist reliance upon specific coordinator individuals from smashed state bureaucracies another dead end, what is the realistic alternative other than to establish an in-house bureaucracy as a means of preparatory organization?

Grigory Zinoviev and the rest of the increasingly sectarian Communist International lot offered a nutty answer, promoting the notion that working-class emancipation could be the act of a tiny minority (also known as substitutionism) which did not rely on the participation of a highly class-conscious working class, much less one that is highly organized and especially independent in both political and ideological respects:

Only after the proletarian dictatorship has wrested out of the hands of the bourgeoisie such powerful media of influence as the press, education, parliament, the church, the administrative machine and so on, only after the defeat of the bourgeois order has become clear for all to see, only then will all or almost all workers start to enter the ranks of the Communist Party.

If one were to go down the nutty road of Blanquist elitism, there should at least be organized funerals and other services for the poor like what the Blanquists of the Paris Commune organized! In going beyond such nutty amateurism, Lih concluded on the “vanguard party” concept that:

As we set about the task of rediscovering Lenin's actual outlook, the terms 'party of a new type' and 'vanguard party' are actually helpful – but only if they are applied to the SPD as well as the Bolsheviks. The SPD was a vanguard party, first because it defined its own mission as 'filling up' the proletariat with the awareness and skills needed to fulfill its own world-historical mission, and second because the SPD developed an innovative panoply of methods for spreading enlightenment and 'combination.'

In short, real parties are real movements and vice versa! The spontaneous outbreak in France during May 1968 was no real movement at all, and neither today’s electoral machines nor self-proclaimed “vanguard parties” are real parties.

On a practical note, the singular revolutionary news service with news coverage, analysis, bulletin discussions, and video discussions – even when customizable to tailor the interests of segmented audiences – is definitely not enough. One Mike Macnair made a profoundly true and important video remark regarding his book Revolutionary Strategy: Marxism and the Challenge of Left Unity when he declared:

You have to be a Kautskyan on the question of organizing in “Educate, Agitate, Organize!" as opposed to "Agitate, Agitate, Agitate!" to get to the point of having a mass workers' party which can possibly pose the question of power.

Complementing and parallel to the singular revolutionary news service as an educating and agitating embryo should be organized food banks and pantries, as well as clothing banks, as an embryo of alternative culture and as a general organizing embryo. The food pantries and the food banks as distributors to those pantries are not the same as soup kitchens feeding beggars and other lumpen elements, since food pantries are for primarily the working poor to get groceries and ingredients to prepare food on their own. A “non-profit business model” – with strategic conclusions from appropriate strategic analysis frameworks for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and multiple competitive forces (like suppliers, new entrants, and substitute services) – needs to be drafted for an alternative culture that can counter all threats like bourgeois and petit-bourgeois philanthropy, yet also thrive despite lack of donor tax deductibility and attached controversies with political donations, despite potential lack of tax exemptions, and despite other means of bourgeois co-option or intimidation for the sake of “manufactured dissent.”


Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context by Lars Lih []

How to Build the Party of the Working Class by Ben Seattle []

The Alternative Culture: Socialist Labor in Imperial Germany by Vernon Lidtke []

Lebanon: The many hands and faces of Hezbollah by the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs []

Romney: U.S. Can Learn from Hezbollah by Teddy Davis and Matt Stuart, ABC News []

The PCF's role in May 1968 []

Theses on the Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution by Grigory Zinoviev []

Revolutionary Strategy (video) by Mike Macnair []

"Manufacturing Dissent": the Anti-globalization Movement is Funded by the Corporate Elites by Michel Chossudovsky []


  1. BLACKPLATES's Avatar
    I have a problem with this description of the "Lumpen", which seems to be common to many American Communists.

    "The food pantries and the food banks as distributors to those pantries are not the same as soup kitchens feeding beggars and other lumpen elements,"

    Is it not an error to view "the lumpen" as a separate class? Is not the full correct term Lumpen Proletariat? Which implies they are a subset of the Proletariat? Is there not a Lumpen Borgeousie? I have always understood the Lumpen (in the modern post industrial capitalist states) Proletariat to be not very well defined subset of the Proletariat populated by reactionary poor and working poor, as well as full time and part time street criminals, and welfare state wards both rural and urban. "Beggars" may be reactionary or not. Is an unemployed Communist Union
  2. BLACKPLATES's Avatar
    sorry hit the "post now". button i guess"

    continuing: member "Lumpen" because he has become unemployed? In a Capitalist society which deliberately maintains a relatively high level of unelmployment,(for example) how can being extremley poor (homeless a "beggar") automatically make one "lumpen". And this dosent address the Lumpen Bourgeouise at all.
  3. Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
    ^^^You can edit your comments.


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