As we’ve seen this year, mass strikes, demonstrations and occupations have the ability to transform the consciousness of workers in a tremendous way. Workers can begin to use the energy that was once wasted on generating profit to build a new society, one where resources are harnessed to fulfil people’s needs. In a revolutionary situation workers can develop new ideas at an amazing pace. Lenin noted that “months of revolution sometimes educate citizens more quickly and fully than decades of political stagnation”.
However, most workers will not usually be won to the idea that we need a radical upheaval of society. On every picket line during a strike there will be workers who are very militant and ready to fight, but at the same time there will be others who won’t want to take any action at all because it upsets the “natural order of things”.
In the middle will be the majority of the workers who are pulled by both sides of the argument at different times. These workers need to be won to a socialist understanding by the conscious intervention of revolutionaries, otherwise they may continue to accept the ideology of existing society, that of the ruling class.
Even within radical movements there are competing ideas and strategies about how to win. Some will look for an accommodation with the system. Some will put arguments that try to expand the movement while others will want to keep it small and “pure”. That’s why revolutionary socialists have to organise themselves into a party to put their arguments successfully within movements.
The party tries to draw together the most class-conscious workers who can attempt to give direction to the rest of the class. Our rulers have vast media empires which can be used to denounce workers. If necessary they can call upon the army and police to attack us. Our enemy is centralised and organised, so we must be too.
We need a revolutionary organisation of socialists on the side of workers that can draw on knowledge of past class struggle and Marxist theory and relate this knowledge and experience to the current situation.
In times of revolution a revolutionary party can play a crucial role in helping workers organise for a decisive confrontation with the system. To be successful the party must be democratic, so that it can understand the nature of the class struggle and the mood of workers at any given time. This means that democracy cannot just be a question of voting but must involve constant debate between activists within the party. The party is able to teach the class, but must also learn from it.
A revolutionary party acts as the memory of the working class. It can warn against making the same mistakes again and remind us of what succeeded in previous struggles. Understanding society isn’t enough though – such an organisation has to fight to change society as well.
Workers will gain the confidence to do this by applying their understanding to class struggle on a day to day basis, at picket lines, on demonstrations and in campaigns. The party also ties together numerous struggles. Many movements are based around a single issue such as anti-fascism or opposition to an imperialist war. Socialists have to fight on all of these fronts, but we also have to connect the dots so that we challenge the system which produces all of these problems.
A revolutionary party has to be a party of leaders. This doesn’t mean that rank and file activists are expected to unquestioningly follow the instructions of an unaccountable elite. Unlike in parties such as Labour, there is no division a between a rank and file and the leadership in a revolutionary party. Instead every socialist tries to be a leader in their own workplace, university or campaign, seeking to build workers’ self-confidence and their ability to fight back.
The “99%” is quickly awakening once again. We have to organise ourselves now to build a revolutionary party to unite our struggles and push forward to a complete reshaping of society.
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