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The Party of a New Type

The Revolutionary Masses

Because Lenin believed that proletarian revolution was at hand, he took it seriously and prepared for it carefully. Lenin understood that in tsarism Russian Marxists had a formidable opponent, the struggle against which required a high level of unity and discipline. He therefore attached great importance to organizational problems and to the preparation of organizational structures of a future Marxist party. 

V. Lenin 

Lenin also saw more clearly than most that a working-class party would need the leadership skills of radical intellectuals like himself. This was partly because in imperial Russia, in contrast to, for example, Germany, Marxism never acquired a legal standing or a mass following, remaining essentially a conspiracy of intellectuals.  If Lenin wanted results, he had to depend on the intellectuals steeped in Marxist teaching and united in a small dedicated party of professional revolutionaries.

This places the Bolshevik leader firmly in the tradition of Russian radicalism, the tradition of Chernyshevsky and Tkachev, and even, broadly speaking of such Narodniks as Lavrov, who emphasized the role of the ‘critically-thinking individuals’ as the makers of history. Though he rejected the ideology of Narodnichestvo and their tactics of terror, Lenin admired the organizational cohesion of the ‘People’s Will’, the populist group that had assassinated Alexander II.

Lenin. "What Is to Be Done?" 

In 1902 Lenin produced What Is To Be Done? The title of this seminal work on the party’s organization directly echoed the name of Chernyshevsky’s novel. In the book Lenin laid down his detailed plan for the building of the party of  the working-class. Lenin subjected to severe criticism those within Russian Social-Democracy who argued that the party should concentrate the workers’ attention on the economic  struggle against capitalism as the means of raising proletarian political consciousness.  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. To Lenin, trade-unionism meant the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. In his view, only a strong organization of revolutionaries could provide leadership to the spontaneous movement of the proletariat, free it from its subordination to bourgeois ideology and transform its struggle into a genuine ‘class struggle’. It was the party’s task ‘to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy’. This meant that the party’s chief mission was to mobilize and direct the workers towards the goal of overturning the existing political and economic order.

What the proletariat needed then was ‘a party of a new type’ that 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’, capable of elevating the workers above their momentary economic interests to the level of the strategic class interests. In practice, this meant that in the particular circumstances of Russia, where the working class was only beginning to form, the Marxist Party 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. It would be the Party of a New Type in the vital sense that it would not be deterred by the quantitative and qualitative inadequacy of the Russian proletariat but would substitute itself for the working-class. The Russian revolution would be made not by a class, but by a party proclaiming itself to be the representative and vanguard of a class.

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The Birth of Bolshevism


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