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Rajni Lallah on the role of a party in the revolution


The revolutionary socialist party is very different from parties operating within a capitalist framework. The present by-election campaign and atmosphere of impending general elections reminds us constantly of this fact. The bourgeois parties put emphasis on political scandals, and on which party can best administrate the capitalist state. The aim of a revolutionary party, by contrast, is to work towards a socialist revolution.

Without such a party, the Russian Revolution would not have been possible. And there was a socialist revolution in Russia, so we have a lot to learn from it on how to build a revolutionary party.

How does revolutionary socialist change come about?

Revolutionary socialist change does not come by itself: the capitalist system when it goes into crisis, does not just disintegrate, leaving space for the working class to suddenly take power into its own hands. And even as it rots, worse forms, like fascism, could take over.

Revolution does not just come from the masses simply “taking to the streets”. Without a revolutionary program, without transitional demands, without a revolutionary strategy to guide us to where we want to go, taking to the streets could, and often does, lead nowhere.

There have been and will be revolts.

The last one here in Mauritius was in the first phase of the riots of February 1999. That was when the renowned singer Kaya was found dead in high-security police cells with 30 injury marks found on him. Working people all over were furious. There were barricades on the streets all over the country for two or three days. But there was no revolutionary program, not even demands. Revolts on their own, do not bring socialist revolutionary change. In fact, in this case, there were two other stages: looting, and then communally-charged State vengeance and repression, in quick succession.

 Revolutionary socialist change does not come out of a one-off workers’ strike either. Strikes bring the realisation that the working class has an extraordinary strength – that of economic production. A strike or even a series of strikes on their own, however, do not bring revolutionary socialist change.

The Bolshevik party

So what is needed to build a socialist revolution? It is obvious that political organisation is necessary. How else is it possible to co-ordinate mass action, to keep together and transmit memory of past and present collective experience? How else to devlop a shared revolutionary program and strategy? But what kind of revolutionary party? What does the Bolshevik party have to teach us about what kind of organisation is needed to work towards socialist revolution?      

The Bolshevik Party was not invented on the spot – it grew out of other experiences of revolutionary organisation in history, especially from the times of the Manifesto of Marx and Engels. And the Bolshevik Party developed the capacity to work towards a socialist revolution. Lenin in particular, contributed immensely in building a party capable of this. It is an impossible task to summarise this in 10 minutes, but I would like to talk about two aspects of the Bolshevik party that might be useful for us in LALIT in this present political context i.e. what kind of unity is needed, and the importance of a party publication.

 What kind of unity needed?

Firstly, we should remember that it is through their own action that the masses learn, develop experience, a political vision and a revolutionary consciousness necessary to forge socialist revolution. Sometimes this happens quicker than one thinks, bringing a situation where the masses are more advanced than revolutionary parties.

Secondly, experience of past struggles, experiences on the work-site and of working class life itself, are what nurtures revolutionary consciousness of the working class vanguard – that then takes body in grassroots working class leaders on the work-site, leaders in the neighbourhood. This is a totally different concept of “leadership” from the US Embassies top-down and imperialistic idea of what “leadership training”, as they call it. And this revolutionary consciousness amongst the grassroots leaders is what makes the working class vanguard work, in times when it is possible, towards revolutionary action taking a conscious political form. In other times, the vanguard will be warning that action is not yet possible, and will take a back “seat” despite its name. The experienced grassroots leaders are a constant link between the revolutionary party and the broad masses of working people in the working class, in its widest form.

Thirdly, revolutionary militants/cadres learn from political theory as well as from the experienced workers and from direct experience of mass action. Allthis prompts us, as socialists, towards more action, more commitment and more careful analysis. These three processes (working class action, the vaguards embodiment of experience of past actions, and political theory and strategy) come together to bring the possibility, when times are right, of socialist revolution.

One of the biggest tasks of a revolutionary party is to bring this unification: unify people with revolutionary consciousness with the working class vanguard within a political program and a strategy that aims at a socialist revolution. It is most times impossible to predict exactly where and when the masses will decide to start a revolt, but it is when all three: the masses, the working class vanguard and revolutionary militants are unified that conditions for socialist revolution are ripe.

So even in times of downturn, as we are in at present, there is a lot of work to be done by a revolutionary party: analysing the present situation, developing transitional demands that the masses find entirely reasonable, but that the capitalist system cannot bring about, but that a socialist system can, and popularising these demands on the work-site, in the neighbourhood. All this is what prepares us, and forms part of conditions for a socialist revolution exist.

The importance of a regular party publication

It is in this context that we learn the importance of a regular party publication – like Revi LALIT, our bi-monthly magazine, or a regular newspaper when we are strong enough to run one. The Bolshevik party grew out of the experience of running a socialist publication called Iskra. We, in a revolutionary party cannot sit around and wait for the masses to act, then start organising a socialist revolution. When running a regular publication like our Revi LALIT, this makes us analyse the political situation, think about the political significance of what is currently happening, transmit collective experiences of past and present struggles, makes us think out political transitional demands that can respond to the situation where we are now. Running a regular publication means our militants have to forge networks of contacts who want to read our publication, and this is how we link up with the individuals who are the potential vanguard, who we draw in as contributers of articles, or the material for articles for the publication. A socialist publication forms a good basis for political discussion on work-sites, in our neighbourhoods, as well as in the party. It means we recruit people on a rational, programatic basis. It means our program is constantly in line with changes in society. And all this helps us gain a shared understanding of the political task towards socialist revolution. This in turn, strengthens the publication, strengthens the revolutionary party. It also helps us recognise when we have to change gear, when for example, conditions become ripe for socialist revolution, much as the Bolshevik party learnt to recognise and acted on accordingly.

 [This article by Rajni Lallah is based on her notes for a short speech at the LALIT Celebration of the Russian Revolution Centenary on 8 October. There were six other short speeches on different aspects of the Revolution. Her actual speech is shorter and not identical with these notes; it is available in Kreol. The order of the speeches was:

Introduction – by Rada

What is the Russian Revolution? - Tony

The Build Up to the Revolution, especially from February to October, 1917 - Ragini

The role of a Party in the Revolution - Rajni

The importance of the Soviets in the Revolution - Alain

On the Civil War - Ram

The Stalinist counter-revolution, including as opposed to internationalism – Lindsey