In July 16, 1984, Comrade Nahuel Moreno invited by the Socialist Youth to talk about the organization of the revolutionary party. This article is the written version of his lecture corrected by the author himself. It was originally published in Buenos Aires in Solidarity Notebooks, Political Education Reader No. 1, 1984.
The Changes in Mass Organizations
The workers’ and mass movements permanently change their organizational framework. Some changes have to do with the broad historical stages and are an expression of structural transformations of the working class. For instance, the craft unions reflected a skilled sector of the working class who was closer to craftwork than to the highly concentrated modern industrial working class, due to their social and productive life. Yet industrial unions are an expression of the latter.
On the other hand there are changes that address the concrete situation of class struggle. If the working class suffers a setback then they might take refuge in defensive organizations: trade unions. In the case of extreme defeat they might even push ahead mutual aid associations or cooperatives. However if we live a revolutionary upsurge, sooner or later, new organizations to exert power will emerge like the Russian soviets, the Chilean “industrial strips” [cordones industriales] and even the unions themselves change their character turning themselves into bodies of power as the Bolivian COB. In parallel, the working class forms militias.
We have also seen revolutions carried out by the peasantry as in China, Vietnam and Cuba, along which different mass organizations emerged: the guerrilla armies.
The same happens inside a plant. Typically the working class organizes itself through Workers’ Committees and elected delegates’ bodies (“comisiones internas y cuerpo de delegados”). However whenever repression is too strong, coming from either the bosses or the bureaucracy, the workers might organize themselves through football fans’ groups. When there are no struggles, mass meetings might not even be held. However when struggles are there or on their way, mass meetings become the main organizational tool for all workers. If the workers go on strike, there emerges a strike committee whose elected delegates, very often, are not the same ones who compose the legal and permanent leadership. Picketers might emerge as well, or “collective pans” [ollas populares], which combine a picket line with a mass meeting, as it happens in our country.
It’s not possible to list the diverse types of organization the working class and the mass movement have built along history. Therefore we can conclude that, contrary to the claims of the bureaucracies of all kinds – from the Peronist union leadership to the Communist Party – the working class is definitely not settled into a fixed organizational structure (neither the bureaucratic unions, according to Miguel, nor the bureaucratic soviets according to Andropov). On the contrary the working class changes its organization model at the pace of the stages of class struggle and the new necessities that come along.
Changing the Organization of the Revolutionary Socialist Party
The Stalinists manufactured fetishism on the revolutionary socialist organization as being one fixed and immutable: working through small cells. We, poor Trotskyists, who survived isolated for decades, noticing that our organization was still small along the years, fell victims of this fetishism. Still, we have not broken up with it. We continue to believe that it is the only model for a revolutionary socialist organization, as if they are the same.
In reality it is the opposite. The revolutionary socialist party is inflexible programmatically and on principles. However, for Marxism there is nothing rigid or eternal. Even less should it be the party that strives for the permanent revolution. The party is extremely flexible when converting the program and principles into strategies, tactics, slogans and concrete policies to address class struggle current situation. Each time there is a change in the objective reality, the party changes their slogans, their policies, their tactics and strategies… and also their organizational model. This is the true essence of the revolutionary socialist model of organization: to change, to adapt to the reality of class struggle stages and their respective tasks and goals, in accordance to the party program.
The party organization changes are determined by the combination of two key factors: class struggle situation and degree of development of the party itself.
It is clear that the organizational structure of the party cannot remain the same during a counter-revolutionary stage – under a fascist or semi-fascist regime – in comparison to a revolutionary stage. The first one should be ultra-clandestine, ultra-vanguard members meeting in small cells joined exclusively by militants proved in advance and steadily linked to the party. The latter should be open, legal, with large meetings whenever necessary gathering newcomers who would complete their enrollment process within the organizational structure of the party.
On top of these broad examples, within the same stage, the structure of the party is bound to adapt to objective social processes. The organizational structure will not be the same if sectors of the mass movement quickly move leftwards, or if, as it often happens, in the first stage of the revolution, the masses in large numbers get drunk of “democracy” and flock towards reformist parties. In the first case, the party should adopt an appropriate framework to fit these mass sectors. In the second, despite of the revolutionary situation, you should keep the structure of the “vanguard party”, i.e., composed by a membership that, to a greater or lesser extent, have already decided to devote an important part of their lives to revolutionary militancy.
In order to not go so far, the party structure should be adapted to national characteristics and, more specifically, to the exploited classes. Of course, the party structure cannot be the same to intervene in the revolutionary process in Nicaragua and Argentina today. In Nicaragua there were virtually no unions under Somoza. The unions appeared massively after his fall. The revolutionary struggle was developed through a combination of war between armies and urban insurrections organized geographically by neighborhood. Evidently, revolutionary socialism had to adapt their organization to these national characteristics. Hence, the revolutionary party in Nicaragua, the Simon Bolivar Brigade, should have been organized around the people’s neighborhoods.
Argentina is totally different. The classical mass organization has been through the unions for nearly a century. Within them, the key body for the past 40 years is the shop stewards themselves and their internal committees [comisiones internas]. The party organizes itself on these bases: party groups on the shop floor of each company to fight for the leadership of these mass organizations.
Finally, under certain exceptional circumstances as the participation in bourgeois elections, the party sometimes must adopt a geographical-type neighborhood-centered organization leaving aside occasionally its classic structure around workplaces and educational centers.
However, the question on organization becomes qualitatively more complex because it also addresses a second factor: the party itself. Whenever we set a task or goal for a period we have to address two questions: whither class struggle? And: which is the stage of development of the party, which human material it has – leadership, cadre and membership – to intervene in this stage of class struggle?
Schematically there are three stages in the development of a revolutionary party:
- the founding core group, often a few individuals;
- the propaganda party which has already accumulated a few hundred cadre;
- the party with mass influence.
A developed revolutionary situation, along which sectors moving leftwards break with reformist and bureaucratic apparatuses, make it possible, objectively, to gather mass influence, i.e., to bring politically around the party program rank and file sectors of the mass movement.
Obviously, our organizational structure will not be the same if the party gathers a few individuals or if it has already a certain mass influence. In the latter, it is an obligation of the party to intervene and structure their groups in all sectors of the mass movement (albeit prioritizing the vanguard of the revolution, for example, the industrial working class in Argentina, mining and manufacturing workers in Bolivia, etc.).
On the other hand, if the party gathers a small group of members and they attempt to act in all sectors, it will be fatal, it will destroy the party. Rather, we have to turn all membership towards one sector in order to not disperse forces, and place all party efforts, its organization, to gain mass influence in this sector.
In this case being a small party – a “propaganda group” – does not mean not intervening in full capacity in the revolutionary struggle. It is, rather, to carry out the same task that a larger party would do over the whole mass movement but only in one sector, the most favorable for rapid organic development and political influence of the party. Although the task is the same, the party structure is totally different. Adopting the wrong party structure, even carrying out correct politics, might lead to disappearance.
At another level, the organizational structure of the party depends on something as simple as capable cadres for building and leading party groups. This was a major problem for us. We took years and years to cope with it. We tried all kinds of organizational structures – by union, by factory, by neighborhood … – nevertheless, they all collapsed every six months or in a year. A French comrade, without much theoretical knowledge, possibly reflecting Trotsky’s heritage while he lived in France, brought us the solution. This comrade asked us how many cadres capable of leading party bodies we had. He advised not to set any body – such as a cell, a union faction, a neighborhood or theater group, or whatever – if we do not have any cadre able to lead it. Without leadership a party group fails, irrespective of how perfect are our plans. The question of having cadres is a key issue – whatever the stage of the class struggle we are going through – to define the organizational structure of the party.
For example, we decided to organize the party for the electoral campaign around 600 branches to be open in the peripheral working class neighborhoods. We were able to plan it because we had a similar or greater number of cadres able to open and lead the branches. If the party had only 50 cadres, we would have to figure out another organizational structure. Possibly we would concentrate on a few municipalities with large headquarters, or some other way.
 When Moreno talks about strategy, He does not mean that statically, as all concepts are relative to something. Like this, for exmaple, taking the power in Russia was strategic for the Russian Revolution, but taking the power in Russia was tactical regarding the strategy of expanding the revolution to other countries – E.N.
Questions on Revolutionary Party Organization – Part 1: http://litci.org/en/questions-on-revolutionary-party-organization-part-1/