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The Party of a New Type

"Gorbachev Factor"

From the start of his career as a professional revolutionary, Lenin believed that proletarian revolution was at hand and prepared for it carefully. He understood that in tsarism Russian Marxists had a formidable opponent, and for that reason he attached great importance to the preparation of organizational structures of a future Marxist party.  

In 1902 Lenin produced What Is to Be Done? In this seminal work on the party’s organization he laid down a detailed plan for the building of the party of the working class. Lenin severely criticized those within Russian social-democracy who argued that the party should concentrate the workers’ attention on the economic struggle against capitalism. Lenin believed that this trend of “economism” within Marxism would encourage the workers to develop merely a “trade-union consciousness” and distract them from the vital political task of overthrowing tsarism.

In other words, Lenin believed that the workers, left to their own instincts, would choose reforms in wages and working conditions over political revolution. In his view, only a strong organization of revolutionaries could provide leadership to the spontaneous movement of the proletariat and transform its struggle into a genuine “class struggle.” What the proletariat needed then was “a party of a new type.” It would not simply drag at the tail of the labor movement, passively registering what the masses of the working class feel and think. On the contrary, the party would stand at the head of the movement, forming the “vanguard of the proletariat.” It would be the party of a new type in the vital sense that it would not wait for the Russian proletariat to evolve into a fully fledged political class, but would assume an active and decisive role in shaping the working class itself and spearheading the proletarian revolution.

As far as the structure and composition of the party were concerned, Lenin insisted on a monolithic and militant underground organization of professional revolutionaries submitting to strict party discipline. It would operate as a revolutionary headquarters with a military-style commitment to subordination, unity, and secrecy. In short, the very organization of the party, centralized in the extreme, was a dictatorship on a small scale.

History of the Party's Name

1898 - 1917 Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party
1917 - 1918 Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks)
1918 - 1925 Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)
1925 - 1952 All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)
1952 - 1991 Communist Party of the Soviet Union
1993 - Communist Party of the Russian Federation

Following the Bolshevik takeover, the Communist Party quickly ceased to be a political party in any conventional sense of the word because it no longer expressed the interests of any social group as such. The party evolved into an administrative, military, and industrial machine. It recruited its members from many social groups. Former workers, soldiers, peasants, or officers, once they became Communists, were initiated into a new social category in its own right. Their status in society, material position, access to privilege, and even food rations set them apart from the rest of society. Party membership conferred on them the new identity of the “vanguard of society.” In effect, they were a new privileged elite.

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