This is somewhat of a response to A Cynical Comrade’s earlier piece – The Wrong Road To Progress. I think that, justifiably, there is a cynicism and estrangement among the broad revolutionary/progressive movement towards political parties. I sympathize with this view to an extent but I do think there are different types of political parties. I don’t agree with the analysis that they’re all a shower of bastards, although most are. Fundamentally, it is the form and objectives of a party that determine its integrity. If a party seeks reforms and a nicer, better Capitalism without rocking the boat too much it will inevitably capitulate and become a part of the apparatus it seeks to reform. However, I do think if a party seeks to transform society and bring the apparatus crashing down upon itself, then it assumes a different role within the struggle.
To make things more transparent, I’ll lay out my stall as a member of a political party along the Leninist model of organization. I believe in the party as a vanguard of the struggle. In other words, the party must not assume the same form as the parties who support the status quo – It must seek to destroy it and its apparatus. A party can not wish to take charge of the parliament, police, army, media of the capitalist class. It must seek to destroy and shatter them, consign them to the scrap heap of history. Nothing more than a bad memory. Of course, within parliament there are political parties who engage in debating and criticism of each other and very seldom make a direct challenge to the system itself. Ultimately, even if their rhetoric sounds radical, they are serving the system. At best, they just might annoy it.
However, I am open to the idea a few TDs and so on stirring things up and agitating against the system from inside. Using their seat as a platform for their revolutionary proposals they can utilize it as a means of propaganda. This can only work if it is a tactic, a party that uses elections and so on as its sole measure of success is deluding itself if it thinks it is performing a revolutionary service. Strength needs to be built primarily on the streets. Not just attending demos and protests for photo ops and publicity but acting as a proper representative of the people. A lot of these appointees seem to have a Messiah-complex and think that whatever they do or say is in the interests of the ordinary man and women. It’s easy to go on Vincent Browne or sit up in the Kildare Street Debating Society and play politics while earning a nice wage. It’s a different thing altogether to give away all your wages and live a regular existence without all the publicity and security a public persona provides. I would use this as a test for a lot of our self-appointed saviors in Leinster House!
Parliament isn’t the only way of agitation. Agitation takes place within the party itself as well. This shouldn’t take the form of various blocs or factions vieing for control of the upper echelons of the party but rather substantial democracy within the party. If the party is to assume power later on in a revolutionary situation then this is something that must be sorted out beforehand or will cause serious problems. Rather than a vertical approach whereby the top issue orders to be obeyed to the bottom or even the bottom pressurizing the top there must be a vertical structure. The party leadership must perform certain roles but these roles must be able to be performed by any party member should the need arise. This cuts down on opportunism and the select clique at the top who are believed infallible. There must be no committee at the top of every meeting issuing diktats and giving people the run down on every thing. The same person chairing a meeting on one topic has the ability to be in the audience and scribbling down notes on the next topic. That is the model of organization for Leninist parties and a blueprint for any revolutionary party.
Of course, the question arises can we perform the same tasks without a party? To an extent we can, to an extent we can’t. We can agitate and organize on an individual basis but we all know our cause can be best served by engaging and networking with other like-minded individuals in the community and nation-wide. However, how do we tackle other issues and broaden our scope? We must collectively come together and organize – The result of this organization being a political party.
Political parties already exist here and you’d be quite correct in saying those that aren’t opportunist or reformist in content are tiny and insignificant. Thing is, the potential for change is huge. I don’t think any one party will itself accomplish the tasks needed or lead us to victory. A revolutionary broad front of anti-imperialist organizations, revolutionary parties, social organizations, community groups, women’s groups, anti-racist groups and the ever expanding strata of pissed off individuals can lead us to victory. It can, after the destruction of the currently existing system, then ossify into a single mass-party where all debate and decision-making power is exercised vertically among the non-party members and the party organs. The party leads the state and the people lead the party. It is their apparatus, much like our parliament is the apparatus of the bourgeoisie.
This is my answer to the question of political parties. If asked would I prefer a small party with little significance but maintains its revolutionary principles and strategy or a large party which has a lot of prestige and security for its dedicated members I would go for the former anyday. We might be small now but the opportunities for expansion are growing. When the time for revolution comes, there will be a need for revolutionary organizations and we should not be found wanting. It might not be practical to remain small and principled now but when the time for revolution strikes, it will be the only thing that is practical and those who criticised us from their ivory towers and cushy pedestals will become the minority of society.