The Function Of The Communist Party

The Function Of The Communist Party

Whether the breakdown of the capitalist system is to be followed by an evolutionary development of full communism or by chaos depends, in Marxian theory, almost entirely on the ability and willingness of the proletariat to grasp power at the opportune time and to choose tactics suitable to the situation and the task to be performed. Marx hints that these tactics are not to be discovered by fine theorizing. "A class in which the revolutionary interests of society are concentrated, so soon as it has risen up, finds directly in its own situation the content and the material of its revolutionary activity: foes to be laid low; measures, dictated by the needs of the struggle, to be taken; the consequences of its own deeds to drive it on. It makes no theoretical inquiries into its own task."

Nevertheless, as Marx looked about him he found the proletariat unorganized, unconscious of its common interests, politically ignorant, and mentally subservient to prevailing bourgeois ideology. Should it remain so, the breakdown of capitalism would merely bring chaos. Exploitation in itself would not necessarily create class consciousness; understanding and emotional arousal were needed. In short, the proletariat had to have leadership.

To Provide Leadership

In such terms Marx conceived of the functions of the Communist Party— a new, thoroughly revolutionary party to lead the proletariat. Stalin must have precisely paraphrased Marx's thoughts when he remarked that "a working class without a revolutionary party is like an army without a general staff. The party is the military staff of the proletariat."

The communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: (1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. (2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. [The communists are to form the] most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country [since] they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The Aim of the Communist Party

"The immediate aim of the communists is . . . the formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat." Forming the proletariat into a "class" means, in Marxian terms, the development of class consciousness—that is, a full realization that the capitalist employers are exploiting the workers and that this exploitation is an inherent part of the capitalist system. Educated economically and politically so that they understood this in all its ramifications, and with the Communist Party as the center of a class solidarity, the proletariat would rise up (with the advent of the necessary objective conditions) and seize possession of the political machinery and the ownership of capital. Once this was accomplished, the Communist Party would dominate the governmental machinery of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the establishment of socialism, the first stage of communism. The party would direct the strategy of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the complete liquidation of capitalists and capitalist ideology, the fusion of all classes into one, the withering away of the state, and finally, complete communism. When this mission had been fulfilled, the Communist Party presumably either would cease to exist or would experience a substantial change in nature and function, since the repressive state whose pilot the Communist Party had been would no longer exist. Certain educational, cultural, and cooperative economic activities would, no doubt, then be centered in the Communist Party.

The Union Of Inevitability and Purpose Action


The revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism and then communism were in no sense an automatic, inevitable procedure to Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Certain objective conditions causing capitalism to fall would be created by capitalist production itself, but aside from this there were no predestined consequences. The seizure of power by the proletariat—the only alternative to complete chaos—and the development to full communism could occur only if the proletariat were prepared to play its role effectively. To this end, Marx was intensely interested in and gave much energy to the creation of a revolutionary Communist Party. In this sense Marx the revolutionist was in the end dominant over Marx the theorist.