Mass organisations of the working-toiling classes are of great importance and carrying on work in these organisations in a revolutionary way plays a key role in class struggle. It is an essential part of the task of fulfilling revolutionary strategy and tactics to create such organisations and conduct a correct work within them. A successful organising that provides the ground for fulfilling this task can only rise above historical tradition, principled attitude and experience. The path to take in organisational area has been developed by contributions of Marx and Engels and other revolutionary leaders, but illuminated principally by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in his leadership. What happened as a result of the bureaucratic counter-revolution that altered the nature of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet power after Lenin’s death is a completely different matter.
The scientific faith in the revolutionary mission of the working class and construction of revolutionary leadership that is able to fulfil this mission constitute key elements of the Leninist conception of organisation. But stressing the importance and necessity of revolutionary leadership does not overshadow or alter well-known supreme principles of Marxism. There is no doubt that emancipation of the working class can only be its own work. And this work cannot be carried out by a handful of vanguards, but the masses plunging into struggle to create a free world where there is no exploitation and oppression. Correct understanding of the question of revolutionary leadership should totally be in accordance with these principles.
To make it clearer, revolutionary leadership is not a hanging object above the class like the cloud in the air. Such a leadership can be maintained to the extent that seeds of revolutionary consciousness and organisation spread among vanguard elements of the class. The leadership can prove its existence and strengthen itself to the extent it can draw the mass of the class to struggle in a broader and significant way. The task of building the revolutionary leadership cannot be reduced to a lifeless frozen set of principles detached from fluid reality of life. Those who take this task seriously are the ones that are able to interpret not in a mechanical but dialectical way the relation between revolutionary leadership and mass organisations of workers.
Indispensability of mass organisations
There is an important point that must be recalled and emphasized on every occasion in the course of struggle. A revolutionary leadership is to take its strength from its organisation within the class and the moral and political authority gained thanks to it. Marxist approach requires this and thus draws a clear line of demarcation with other approaches that reduce leadership to administrative command. But there are other aspects of the problem not to be ignored. Never in history the working class have spontaneously drawn revolutionary conclusions since this is not possible. As a natural outcome of this reality, revolutionary leadership cannot emerge easily and spontaneously out of the class. It is created through a correct and toilsome effort and a long term struggle.
To cope with such a task requires marching ahead in a planned and patient manner in light of the historical experience. There are, of course, certain objective circumstances determining the reach, tempo etc. of the way to be covered. And, at the end of the day, they play their role independently of subjective influences by individuals or organised groups. Approached in this angle one will see that class struggle never develops in a straight line but exhibits many ups and downs. It is quite obvious that there are facilitating as well as frustrating objective circumstances in the process of building the revolutionary leadership. What is important is to maintain determination to keep on track and not to be afraid of challenges. One of the main points of manifestation of this correct approach would be those organised vanguard elements of the class establishing ties with the mass of the class despite all hitches.
In the course of historical development of the working class there are different moments reflecting the change in the position of the class. In its progress from the position of class-in-itself to class-for-itself the proletariat has created many forms of organisation both in the sphere of economic struggle and political struggle. Workers’ unions, cooperatives, various types of national and international workers’ solidarity and culture associations etc. that take shape during the history of struggles of the class constitute important mass organisations of the class. Apart from the need for a vanguard party, which is indispensible in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, importance of such mass organisations that provide organising for workers on various levels and forms in different fields of struggle can and should never be underestimated.
Vanguard organisations and mass organisations of the class are different types of organisations on different levels, but there is surely a dialectical relationship between them. And it is also important not to ignore differences between different mass organisations of workers. For example, there are important differences in many respects between trade-unions which are economic mass organisations of the working class and those mass organisations of workers that are built for assisting the revolutionary organisation of the working class. Although it is not possible to address this subject here in detail it will be instructive to remember the most outstanding aspects of the question.
In fact, in different ways and on different levels capitalist system exerts permanent pressure on all workers’ organisations and those people who form these organisations. To protect oneself from degenerating consequences of this pressure is entirely a problem of consciousness and struggle. Therefore, there are surely profound differences between those mass organisations of workers that are waging a more militant struggle and trade-unions that are incorporated into the system and based themselves on mere collective bargaining. And when we look at the realms of concrete life and struggle we can observe different types of mass organisations of workers with different natures.
It is perfectly possible to maintain a revolutionary leadership resisting the pressure of the bourgeois order in those mass organisations of workers that are organised for assisting the revolutionary struggle of the working class and that are diligent in bringing consciousness to the rank-and-file. Currently this is not the case in traditional trade-unions. Bureaucratisation of top officials in trade-unions, their integration with the bourgeois order and turning bourgeois, is almost a generalised situation. To put it in a deeper manner, the tendency toward bureaucratisation on top levels of these organisations is much more intense as they have surrendered to the order and reformism. This reality closely and deeply concerns most of the trade-unions and constitutes an actual and serious subject of struggle for militant workers.
Undoubtedly the success of the revolutionary forces of the class depends on their ability to press ahead with the awareness of these realities engendered by capitalist society. It is not justified at all to go to erroneous extremes on the pretext of hitches. For example, despite everything, it is utterly wrong to turn one’s back to trade-unions since they are still necessary with regard to mass struggle of the class. The fact presence of trade-unions cannot rule out the need for those kinds of revolutionary mass organisations of workers based on a militant understanding of struggle against capitalist order and a conscious rank-and-file organising. On the other hand, these kinds of mass organisations cannot be an alternative for trade-unions. However such organisations are very useful and necessary in order to advance the organisation of workers both quantitatively and qualitatively and bring trade-unions into line. This is exactly one of the issues where the importance of the revolutionary vanguard emerges. A correct political leadership acts in a manner to keep a balance between different mass organisations of the class so as to advance the struggle and guides the practical struggle in line with this objective.
Different times, different facets
It would not be a correct approach to make generalisations disregarding objective conditions related to the character, scope, use etc of mass organisations of workers. These organisations are not still and unchanging entities. Like living organisms they are influenced by their environment, react to these influences and are open to develop and change. Different moments of capitalist society such as economic upswing or crisis, political stagnation or revolutionary fervent, make different influences over mass organisations of workers. Periods of profound crisis of capitalism, like the present one, not only intensify the polarisation of rich and poor in capitalist society, but also create conditions of profound instability in political life. Such social conditions also make clear the differences between conformist tendencies and fighting and revolutionary tendencies in mass organisations of workers.
It is possible to observe the impact of objective conditions on mass organisations of workers from the plight of unions. The degeneration and bureaucratisation in these traditional mass organisations of workers is a product of objective conditions that marked a long historical period. During those non-revolutionary periods the working masses, particularly in Europe, relied on promised reforms within the frame of existing bourgeois order and this reality has kept workers’ unions away from a militant tendency to fight. Freed from the pressure of the rank-and-file, union leaderships have been incorporated into the order and become bureaucratised.
Trade-unions are indispensable mass organisations of the working class in economic struggle and their deterioration as a result of diverse conditions should be subjected to scientific analysis. Approached in this angle one can understand what is to be done in outlines instead of losing faith in unions. To draw unions to a more militant line cannot be accomplished by merely cursing the bureaucracy. It has never and nowhere been seen that the union bureaucracy is “condemned” by talking from outside. What is to be done is to work tirelessly in order to carry into effect a militant rank-and-file organising to break the influence of the bureaucratic top. To waste time with revolutionary talk instead of working tirelessly in a planned manner is a downright petty-bourgeois tendency. Those tendencies that hide behind the pretext of fighting with the union bureaucracy and despise unions and trade-union struggle indiscriminately are not useful but harmful tendencies for the working class.
When it comes to an area of struggle concerning the broad working masses such as trade-union struggle, we must underline that nothing can do harm to this struggle more than irresponsibility or substitutionism. What revolutionary elements must take care in mass struggle is not to fall into the error that a very limited number of vanguards should undertake the struggle in an attempt to substitute the class. The art, however, is to succeed in arousing the rank-and file as the true owners of struggle. On the other hand, it is very important not to surrender to the backward tendencies of the mass. For instance, although most of the workers express their positive feelings about getting unionised, they say that it is hard to achieve the goal because of the passivity of their fellow workers and mistrust in union leaderships. Workers should be able to be explained patiently that this way of approach is wrong. This approach leads to inaction in mobilising workers’ own potential, which in turn leads to them being deceived and crushed all along.
Changes in the situation of capitalist economy lead to serious ups and downs in the number of unionised workers and the level of militancy of unions. However this does not mean that one can establish a direct link between economic situation and social consciousness, in a manner to disregard the role of political activity and organised human effort. This is an erroneous and mechanical approach, incompatible with the active revolutionary character of Marxism. Marxism explains that great social upheavals do not come about in pure spontaneity as a simplistic derivative of economic situation. While social phenomena are affected by economic factors, they are also affected, fermented and triggered more or less by social and political organisations in various ways and degrees. Moreover, the impact of crisis periods as part of ordinary economic cycles of capitalism and that of extra-ordinary profound periods of system crises on the course of class struggle cannot be the same.
It is an erroneous and superficial approach to mechanically link conditions of political crisis the course of which is accompanied by revolutionary upsurges to periodic crises of capitalism. When the past examples are examined with a view to drawing a general conclusion, one would see that in general great changes in economic situation –from recession to upswing and vice versa- cause profound upheavals in political climate. What is needed from the standpoint of the revolutionary vanguard is to understand the nature of the long waves of capitalist economy and practically analyse what sort of a historical period is being passed through. It is especially important to identify those periods when capitalism is enmeshed in a system crisis creating a profound instability and uncertainty such as today. Since such periods are special historical periods not only pregnant with reactionary attacks of capital but also with revolutionary situations. Therefore such periods require a lot more energy and awareness from the standpoint of the revolutionary vanguard forces of the working class. In these periods which contain both capitalist threats and revolutionary opportunities the importance of conducting work in the mass of the working class in a revolutionary manner and the importance of mass organisations of the class is greater.
Spread of discontent with capitalism as an objective factor draws a lot more workers into struggle and causes enormous increases in the number of conscious and militant workers. The masses that display inertia in periods of retrogression despite long-term efforts can quickly learn and leap forward. In such periods, life flows in the opposite direction of what the petty-bourgeois say. Those workers who are once called “worthless,” leap forward all of a sudden to organise in the field of both economic and political struggle and embrace their own organisations. Rank-and-file organisation and initiatives develop showing that not only the vanguard elements but also the mass of workers make progress in the ranks of struggle. Their struggle against union bureaucracy also acquires a broader, more serious, militant and determined character.
In consequence, when the history of capitalism is examined one would easily observe that there is not a monotonous rise or fall in any field of class struggle but the struggle exhibits a curved line with highs and lows. In stationary periods, not only revolutionary political struggle but also union struggle regresses considerably. Rank-and-file pressure and revolutionary pressure on the high echelons of union bureaucracy falls almost to the ground level. Under these conditions the bureaucracy which has turned bourgeois in the full sense of the word coil itself up to the helm of the unions. But any change in the objective conditions that would even slightly lift the struggle up, with favourable developments in subjective conditions coinciding, the vanguard and mass of the class quickly rise up to higher levels of struggle. In a sense this situation can be considered the historical match of objective and subjective conditions, which is to make the struggle of the working class leap forward. When various examples are examined it can easily be understood that the chances of a successful proletarian revolution depend on such historical matches.
Reaching the mass
The concept of mass cannot be taken as a rigid quality or quantity. That what content this concept is given depends on conditions. While in periods of calm even a hundred workers can mean the mass, in periods of social surge the concept of mass begin to mean thousands and millions. On the other hand, the relation of the revolutionary party of the class and the mass changes all the time. However, there are certain important things that remain essentially unchanging in regard to the revolutionary struggle in capitalist society.
Without a revolutionary party capable of adapting to changing conditions, assessing the flow and rhythm of the events and winning the trust of the masses, a workers revolution cannot be successful. And the revolutionary party of the class is essentially the organisation of vanguard elements armed with revolutionary consciousness and determination for struggle. However, this minority of organised vanguard deserve to be called the leading party only when it achieves to lead the mass of the class.
A permanent relationship and exchange between the vanguard and the mass of the class is a must in order to advance organised struggle. If the vanguard elements create an entirely self-styled, introvert organisational behaviour and be content with this in the name of revolutionism, then this will mean a dangerous sectarianism. Just as the content of the concept of mass narrows and widens depending on the social conditions of struggle, the meaning of revolutionary mass work changes according to concrete conditions. In certain situations it can be necessary to consider and take mass work in a micro scale. For example this is the situation in general in periods of social retrogression or dark reaction. The effort of a handful of organised communist people to make their revolutionary ideas and understanding of struggle reach relatively small circles of workers is in a sense a realisation of revolutionary mass work.
With time organised elements with determination to meet the needs imposed by a diversity of objective conditions can make their efforts deeper, more common and significant. On the basis of this correct conception, one can move forward along the way towards building an organisation of revolutionaries and get into the work of creating certain types of mass organisations of workers. The duty of revolutionaries is already not to be satisfied with only carrying on a systematic work in mass organisations on the basis of revolutionary objectives and principles, but to succeed in creating a diversity of organisational forms that can move the struggle forward. In fact, regardless of the level from which you approach problems, it is these kinds of efforts that will set the ground for one to deserve the label of vanguard.
To carry on revolutionary work among the working masses is an indispensable part of communist work. Therefore this is included in the conditions of joining the Communist International. In that historical document it is emphasized that every communist party should conduct a systematic and persistent communist work in unions, workers’ and workplace councils, consumers’ cooperatives and other mass organisations of workers. Communists do not act in an elitist conception, confining themselves merely in a selected minority of the working class. As stated in the Communist Manifesto, which is one of the chief historic documents of the revolutionary movement of the working class, communists do not have separate interests from the proletariat’s interests as a whole. Those who really deserve the label communist have always pointed to and put forward the general interests of the proletariat in the national struggles of the proletariats of different countries.
For the good and success of the revolutionary workers struggle, Lenin made many important contributions on organisational questions, which remain valid even today. For example, it is clear that a political activity that does not try to bring revolutionary consciousness to the mass of the working class would degenerate into a game. Communist activity can only have a real importance for the proletariat as long as it makes a certain section of the class stir, captures its attention, and moves it into action on the forefront of the struggle. But, of course, in order to win the mass, one must, in the first place, know how and in what language to reach it. To bring revolutionary consciousness to workers it is essential to learn how to approach them without reducing the Marxist worldview to the level of a lifeless dogma. Masses do not learn in a bookish way. Teaching them is possible in a mutual interaction with them and joining their daily life struggle.
Masses do not learn on the basis of theoretical explanations regarding the deep truths of life and revolutionary struggle in particular. Therefore they must be approached with a clear, unsophisticated language away from intellectual arrogance in explaining the political truths to them. This approach means to have flexibility and agility in form without compromising the revolutionary essence. Carrying revolutionary ideas to the mass of workers and making them absorb these ideas in a patient effort and on the basis of their own experiences is not only the hardest part of the task but it is important as well. And this is exactly the point where the question of importance and necessity of mass organisations of the class come up. To overcome this problem it is essential to be able to produce proper responses and create proper means depending on the times, place and objective conditions. And this is the point that puts to test through the complexities of life the claims of leadership made by revolutionary groups.
The power of struggle
Tactics mean organisation. Revolutionary tactics can only be produced and put into practice by a revolutionary organisation. No idea, no slogan, no tactics can be spread among the masses and embraced by them unless there is an organisation and cadres working in a correct way to make them live and effective. History of socialist movement in different countries abounds with errors of petty-bourgeois left tendencies that do not understand such basic issues.
It is imperative to analyse scientifically the weight and role of objective and subjective factors in class struggle in regard to maintaining a revolutionary organisation and strengthening it. For example, it is not serious to put forward abstract tactics in the hope of winning the broad working masses as if there already is a build-up of cadres when in fact the indispensable task of the day was to focus on a build-up of revolutionary cadres. This is simply not to take the necessary toilsome tasks of the day seriously. Talking without substance missing the main link in the chain does not move one a single step forward from the level of revolutionary phraseology.
Those who cannot understand natural ups and downs of class struggle in a dialectical way tend to worship ideas in the shape of formulas or organisational recipes, and look for a remedy in such approaches. In fact, for instance, there is no magic formula to turn the masses all of a sudden back into their militant days under conditions where they are objectively regressed, numbed and driven into despair. The turn of that pumpkin into the splendid carriage of Cinderella can only happen in tales.
It is obvious that under conditions where the masses have retreated and fallen into despair, the task of the day is to focus on educating revolutionary cadres without losing historical optimism. The tendential behaviour of the revolutionary vanguard and the mass on a historical-social level cannot be the same. Revolutionary vanguards are those who succeed in preparing for the future despite hitches in the objective circumstances, and swimming against the current. Only those who can make way along this path will be able to contact with the wider mass in a revolutionary manner when objective conditions begin to change and first stirrings begin to appear in the workers’ movement. When historical examples are examined in this perspective, it can easily be seen that a faithful and determined organised struggle has an enormous creative and transforming power.
There are undoubtedly certain universal rules for the proletarian revolutionary struggle to advance based on sound foundations and be victorious. Comintern congresses in Lenin’s lifetime shed light on the rules that are important in order to help maintain a revolutionary leadership and on revolutionary mass struggle, drew lessons that warn communists of the world of mistakes, and passed resolutions. Among them the Second Congress that addressed the question of left childhood disorder is of particular importance. A fundamental principle that had been laid out in the Communist Manifesto many years ago was stressed once again in the manifesto of this congress penned by Trotsky. It is thus underlined that communists could have no different objectives and duties than that of the working class. The Manifesto of the Second Congress declared that the claims of small factions who allege that they would save the working class on the basis of their self-style manner are alien and hostile to the spirit of the Communist International.
A very important issue related to the revolutionary struggle of the class can therefore be addressed here. There is nothing wrong or awkward in starting as a tiny revolutionary nucleus in a long course of struggle and imagining that this nucleus would grow in time and reach to the level of a revolutionary organisation. Accordingly the history of the working-class struggle witnesses that there are many examples indicating that tiny revolutionary nuclei could turn into revolutionary organisations that are able to lead the working masses on the basis of a militant struggle. But those petty-bourgeois substitutionist political approaches that see their own tiny factions in a giant’s mirror and that through it they could save the working class are totally different and mistaken. Sectarian approaches that belittle mass struggle can often exchange positions with tendencies drifting towards mass tailism on the slippery basis of petty-bourgeois revolutionism. Those milieus that prove unable to save themselves from stepping on such a ground can turn their backs to the most basic principles of revolutionary struggle in the name of revolutionism.
Therefore the Second Comintern Congress too addressed the need to distinguish meticulously the rights and wrongs that are generally valid in mass struggle and in relation to the union struggle or parliamentary struggle in particular. While hiding behind the excuse of working in unions or of making use of parliamentary floor to submit to reformism, bureaucratism or careerism is unacceptable, disregarding unions or total denial of parliamentary struggle in the name of revolutionism is equally wrong. In his last period Lenin kept on insistently warning communists of other countries of left child disorder.
To reject working in unions on the excuse that they are reactionary amounts to leaving the undeveloped and unconscious working masses open to the influence of the workers’ bureaucracy or the bureaucracy that turned entirely bourgeois. Those conceptions that lead to detach advanced workers with a revolutionary consciousness from the mass of workers do serious harm to the struggle. The political tendency that sets apart vanguard workers from mass struggle is not revolutionary, but, at best, sectarian. Those who content themselves with curses they throw over to the union top officials and not serve to organise the struggle of workers against that bureaucracy cannot prevent the union bureaucracy from gaining strength.
As Lenin pointed out, those who are indeed intent on waging a revolutionary struggle within the mass do not fear from hardships and persecutions, insults and subterfuges coming from bureaucrat leaders of mass organisations, who are tied to the bourgeoisie. Brushing aside such hardships they definitely carry on working within the masses wherever they are. It is also important in this context to fight left sectarianism and not to compromise communist attitude. Communists are duty bound to carry on propaganda and agitation systematically, devotedly, continuously and patiently in institutions, communities and associations etc. wherein proletarian or semi-proletarian masses are present, including reactionary ones.
In Comintern work during Lenin’s time revolutionary tactics were worked out in order to win the working masses. The tactics of “united workers front” to win the masses over to a joint struggle against capitalism were developed in this context. To build a front between the mass organisations of the working class and other toiling layers based on unity in action against the attacks of the bourgeois order is still an important and valid revolutionary tactic and task. But one must ensure that such matters are not reduced to hollow phrases reiterated on and on. It cannot be ignored that there are certain rules to stick to at any time in order to accomplish this.
In order to be able to talk about tactics with a revolutionary impact on the mass struggle there must in the first place be a certain level of organisation that is able to carry on work within the mass. Success of tactics such as the “united workers front” depends on the existence of an organisation that sets out to build the revolutionary and independent organisation of the class. Struggle at this level requires staying separate and not mixing the different political flags but hitting together to ensure unity of the class in action.
All these tasks that we tried to address in brief are difficult but imperative. But revolutionary struggle has never been easy in any way. No one has ever seen that a working-class revolutionary has developed out of a petty-bourgeois who demoralises and gives up at the first emergence of a difficulty, who avoids paying the necessary price of carrying out revolutionary tactics. He who fails to get rid of petty-bourgeois mentality never changes for the better, even if he puts on a revolutionary label, talks a hundred times of importance of the masses.
We can now sum up by enumerating the rules proven time after time in the history of revolutionary struggle. New surges in class struggle have an enormous refreshing and awakening power for those demoralised elements. Although a certain part of cadres is brushed away by the impact of setbacks, rising class struggle can bring those elements with a potential to recover back to the track of struggle. However, in any case, it is clear that in every period of new surges the layer to focus on is the working-class youth. Those who struggle desperately among rotten and languished elements of previous periods drop away from the realm of struggle. And those who carry on a patient preparatory work among young elements that represent the future of the class succeed in keeping up, growing with time and building a firm bridge reaching out to the future. Life has proven this fact and will keep proving it.