No Shortcuts: The Struggle for the Revolutionary Party


July 26, 2022

It should come as no surprise that in a moment at the long tail end of four decades of defeat for the workers’ movement, kicked into overdrive by the collapse of the Eastern bloc party-states, the question of how to build the revolutionary party is hardly fashionable. Most of those who claim fidelity to Marxism find various ways to sidestep it indefinitely. Building a revolutionary party may be a necessary task, they say, but it is one for a hazy future always just over the horizon. For now, they find themselves comfortably ensconced on the fringes of political parties which are hardly working class, let alone revolutionary. Many of them have been there for decades and we can scarcely expect them to reverse course now. For such people, it has never been and never will be the right time to begin building a revolutionary workers’ party. Entrism once a tactical maneuver in very different times has become a way of life and a point of pride.

This leaves the question of the revolutionary party to a dwindling fringe of esoteric groupings who for their part are equally disinterested in the question of building the party. If for habitual entrists building the party is always a question for tomorrow, not today, sectarians are confident that the party is already incarnate on earth in the form of the “revolutionary continuity” they and they alone bear. The only task which remains is to bring the Good News of the party’s existence to the masses, who, if they are currently indifferent, will sooner or later be brought to their senses by the “deepening of the crisis” or the “upsurge of the class struggle.” Indeed, many sectarians while away the hours until that moment of truth by indulging in entrism to the point where they keep their exclusive possession of truth a closely guarded secret from the masses who, they believe, are not yet ready for such earth-shattering information.

Finally, a third group admits that we need to begin building a revolutionary party but balks at the idea that such a party should have any ideological or programmatic line. It can include Trotskyists, Maoists, syndicalists, Brezhnevists, or indeed almost anyone who feels for the plight of the worker and is inclined to wave a red flag on May Day. We can only assume that what would make such a party revolutionary would not be its positions (after all it would not have any) but its sentiments. Unsurprisingly, this third group is almost always a throwaway disguise for the first two employed to trap the unwary with dramatic statements about “non dogmatism” and “regroupment.” A recent example of this current went so far as to ensure its quick demise by constituting its unity around “base building.” They might well have insisted on “respiration” as a condition of membership.

The Critique

What all the above positions share is a refusal to begin the work of party building. Whether it’s not the time to start, the task was already completed, or it will be finished as soon as we bring a rag-tag selection of malcontents into a rented conference room to issue a milquetoast founding statement, the crucial point of unity is skipping the struggle. All these political get-rich-quick schemes and hasty evasions do is leave nothing but a deepening cynicism and exhausted resignation in their wake. Even the best-intentioned and most resolute are left with the sinking feeling that no third way exists between clapping for Bernie at Labor Notes and gluing MS Word formatted Bordigist fliers to bus stops.

The result is a malaise that manifests in a spectrum of morbid symptoms. From the pessimistic refusal of any political militancy which perfectly assimilates to the mass apathy and private hedonism of the neoliberal Restoration to occasional outbursts of cult fanaticism. The intensity of disillusionment after thirty years in the world Deng and Reagan built makes the despair after the failure of the 1905 Revolution seem like a walk in the park. The first step out of the fog is a careful disentangling of subjective and objective factors.

Objectively, the working-class movement is just beginning to experience a halting revival after decades of historic weakness. At the same time, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the market reform of the PRC decisively closed the horizon of revolutionary expectation opened in October 1917. Until new historic moments decisi