Some people think of themselves as “communists” or/and “revolutionaries”. The identity of ‘communist’/’revolutionary’ is an important and central part of their self-concepts. Yet how significant is this? What practical consequences does this have for the world at large? Being a communist is not so much a state of mind but rather a state of action. We can imagine ourselves to be all sorts of things but whether or not this has any positive impact outside of ourselves is another matter.
Certainly, a communist is a person who thoroughly embraces the world outlook of Marxism-Leninism as it has emerged from the struggles against oppression and exploitation by workers and other oppressed people during the last two centuries. It is necessary to consciously grasp and understand this revolutionary outlook and apply it to all aspects of one’s life. Being a communist is not a passive state of contemplation but a conscious, active struggle to change the world in which we live and in the course of so doing changing our own thoughts and behaviour. Being a communist is a continuous process of revolutionary praxis.
Some people who think of themselves as “communists” do regularly engage in certain political activities. They attend meetings, go on marches and demonstrations, engage in internet activity and perhaps help to produce and distribute various publications. But this sort of thing is highly routinised and usually does not pose any serious challenge to the status quo. The capitalist social order can easily contain leftist activities of these kinds. No, being a communist is something more than simply engaging in these rather conventional and pedestrian pastimes. A really dedicated communist is continually trying to challenge and undermine capitalism. He/she is not content with simply repeating the same old dead left rituals. The communist is always trying to find new, more effective ways of attacking capitalism and by doing so winning other people over to the revolutionary struggle. But one must realise that in so far as one is effective as a revolutionary then the enemy – the capitalist class and its functionaries – will strike back. Successful communists are likely to face unpleasant consequences as a result of their revolutionary activity.
Being a communist is not an individual activity but a collective one. However dedicated a person may be they will not be able to engage in effective revolutionary activity on an individual basis. The communists must get organised in an appropriate way. Long historical experience has shown that revolutionary communists only ever make any progress in the class struggle if they are organised in a highly disciplined manner. The sort of rather loose type of political organisation practised by most Trotskyist groups allows members to participate to the degree individuals decide for themselves. This sort of liberalism is no good because it seriously detracts from the ability of organisations to achieve their objectives. A truly communist organisation is one where the first commitment of the members in their lives is the pursuit of the revolution. Other parts of their lives must be secondary.
Experience has shown that the correct organisational principle is democratic centralism. This entails, as Lenin said, “freedom of discussion, unity in action”. The leadership of a communist organisation is elected by its members. The leaders are not at the head of the organisation but at its centre. The relation between the leaders and the other members is a dialectical one. From the centre, to the centre. It is the task of the leaders to initiate policy but they can only do so if they are fully informed by the other members of the course of the day-to-day class struggle. The members participate in the policy formulation process but once a decision has been made on a particular course of action the whole membership wholeheartedly endeavour to successfully implement the policy regardless of reservations some individual members may have. A communist revolutionary organisation has full internal discussion but is not a debating society. Only if practice reveals serious shortcomings in the application of a policy is it correct for members to air their criticism within the organisation and a general review of the policy is carried out.
The general orientation of a communist organisation is not inner-directed but outer-directed towards the wider society and world. The organisation engages with the people by means of practising the mass line; from the masses, to the masses. The members get to know the people, thoroughly find out what their problems are and only then formulate policies which will serve the interests of the people and struggle to get the people to take up and apply these policies. The primary target for engagement is the working class but the middle strata, especially its lower sections, should not be neglected. The primary aim of mass political activity is to raise people’s political consciousness and encourage them to engage in class struggle. The main aim is not to recruit members to the organisation. If the communists truly serve the people in their political work then some individuals will become drawn towards the organisation and thus become potential members.
MEMBERS, SUPPORTERS AND CONTACTS
Only a relatively few people will have the necessary high degree of commitment to become a full member of the communist organisation. A larger number of people will wish, to a greater or lessor extent, to participate in the activities of the organisation but not be in a position to or willing to become a full member. Such people should not be rejected but encouraged to be active supporters by participating to some extent in the organisation’s activities. The position of supporter should be formally recognised. Over time, some supporters could move towards becoming full members. The opposite could also occur. For various reasons some members may become unable or unwilling to continue as full members but would be able to take up the status of supporter. It is better that a member switches to becoming a supporter than be lost to the struggle altogether.
In the course of its activities the communist organisation will come into contact with many different sorts of people. It is important to keep in communication with such contacts because some of them may participate in some of the organisation’s activities and tell other people about them. In the age of internet communication this can happen to greater extent than in the past. In the course of time, with suitable encouragement, some contacts could become supporters and even members.
It should be recognised that a communist organisation, even if it becomes a fully developed Marxist-Leninist-Maoist party, will be fairly small within the conditions of contemporary capitalist society. This does not matter if it is continually striving to improve its revolutionary theory and practice. Provided it develops and applies a correct political line the communist organisation can exert an influence out of all proportion to its size. Then when a potentially revolutionary crisis develops the organisation is in a position to rapidly gain support and provide real revolutionary leadership for the people.
Harry Powell November 2016