What Kind of Organization Do We Need?
September 21, 2009
Below we reprint excerpts from a talk given by Michael Thorburn at a New Year's Day gathering of members and friends of the Workers Party in Chicago in 1998.
Today I want to talk about the need to bring the level of our Party's organization up to the mark, up to the level of our political tasks.
Without organization it is impossible to translate the Party's program into practice; in fact, without organization it is impossible to do anything. Organization is that thing between theory and practice which enables human beings to put their ideas into effect and change the situation. One of the defining human qualities is that humans organize themselves as the means to transform - to humanize - their natural and social environment.
And it is not just organization per se that we need to put the politics of the Workers Party into practice. We need organization which is based on the collective needs of the working class and people; we need organization which is built on the principles of collective life.
Our Party's political program is based on recognizing that all the objective conditions demand the transformation of society from the stage of capitalism to the stage of socialism. What is missing is the organization of the new social force which can carry out this transformation.
The entire politics of the bourgeoisie is devoted to suppressing the organization of this new social force, to preventing it from coming into being. The bourgeoisie insist that there are no collective problems and certainly no collective solutions. They insist that it is impossible to organize a society in which the people, as the sovereign power, consciously organize themselves to humanize their environment.
The bourgeois ideology of individualism is an ideology which places the aggrandizement of private property in the means of the production ahead of the individual and collective rights of all humanity. It is nothing but an ideology to justify a social system in which a few individuals have usurped the economic lifelines of society and wield the political power in order to exploit and oppress the vast majority of the population. The bourgeoisie get frantic and scream that "law and order" is being undermined when collectives of workers or youth or oppressed minorities get together on the basis of their common interests and for the common good of society as a whole.
To make a long story short, the point is that our Workers Party is a voluntary union of people who have come together to take up work and struggle for collective solutions, for the emancipation of the working class.
Our Party knows that there can be no individual salvation for the workers and broad masses of the people. We recognize that in today's world, human rights, the sovereignty and emancipation of the people as well as the progress of society require collective solutions - require the workers and people to come out together to claim their rights and humanity and, as a collective build the new society. In tactical terms, our Party pays constant attention to zeroing in and taking up the immediate tasks which face various collectives such as the workers, the youth and so forth as well as the collective tasks which face the people as a whole. We go far and wide calling on people to join with us in weighing up these collective tasks and in carrying them out. We demand of ourselves that we take the lead, no matter how many or few, in carrying forward these tasks even while we call on others to join in.
Thus building the kind of organization we need begins with all the comrades and friends having conviction in the politics and program of the Party. It begins with the conviction that the need is to assist - on the widest and deepest basis possible - the politicalization of the people. It begins from the drive to bring the pro-social agenda to center stage. It begins from the recognition that bringing the ideology and program of the working class to the forefront is decisive in terms of clearing the path for the pro-social agenda. It begins with the recognition that only by building the collective organizations of the people, organization which unites and empowers people to advance their collective and individual interests, can the situation be changed. Comrades and friends must see all the possibilities that exist for advancing the pro-social agenda and that the need is to continually build and strengthen the Party collectives which take responsibility for the work and step-by-step develop their initiative.
The comrades organizing at various workplaces have had a great deal of discussion to evaluate the position already occupied by the Party - the fact that it has initiated and led many political and economic struggles, that it has a high profile, that it is looked to for leadership. These comrades recognize that the Party has all the possibilities as well as the duty to resolutely bring the pro-social agenda to center stage. Those taking up the student work must see not only that the profound polarization going on across the country is more and more forcing the youth and students to the fronts of struggle but also that the Party has already created a number of favorable subjective conditions - that our work has helped create a real pro-social and pro-communist trend and that the need is to galvanize this trend and set it in motion. The Party collective responsible for "The Worker" must remind itself everyday that "The Worker" carries the responsibility of being a focal point and organizing center for the pro-social agenda as well as the forum for unfolding the ideological work which arises from the present conditions and is necessary to open the path. Comrades working in the Campaign for Economic Rights must see that all the conditions exist for developing the Campaign on a broad basis, that the CER has a big role to play in terms of going against the atmosphere of pessimism and defeatism as well as in strengthening a conscious, pro-social trend amongst those forces already resisting the anti-social agenda.
In a nutshell, we have to organize ourselves to get this politics out as broadly and deeply as possible. Why, for example, are we insisting that it is an elementary duty of the Party comrades to write written reports of various mass activities they take part in? Because such actions are part of the experience of the working class and people, the experience which the capitalists are silent about and because in order for the movement to advance the people need to gain a real picture of their real movement, grasp the stage of the movement and learn from real life how to advance the class struggle. Why have we set up groups to investigate the economic, political and social situation? Because the Party needs to be ahead of the game so that it is able, in a timely manner, to provide the movement with needed information as well as a grasp of the balance of forces. Why do we insist on the units summing up work - because it is a vital means to focus the ideological work and bring forward for solution the concrete problems that arise in organizing for the pro-social agenda.
In addition to addressing these and other problems which arise as part of building the internal life of the Party, we also have to address the problems of the external role of the Party. The political party of the working class is the decisive organizational center for the politicalization and organization of the people. The key thing that faces us in the coming period is that all the Party groups and organizations need to put themselves - as organized and conscious collectives - in the thick of the discussion and struggles of the people and with a definite program that opens a way forward. The entire work and program of the Party groups must be in broad daylight and, in that sense, under the supervision of their peers, of the broad masses of people in the area where the Party group is organizing.
Everyone should be able to find out exactly what the Party program is and how it is being carried out. This is a key to the politicalization and participation of the people. When the Party groups carry a unified program in the midst of the people, the collective force of the Party acts like a crystal in a saturated solution; it galvanizes and organizes people simply by virtue of its own activity, clarity and unity. . . .
The bottom line is that in order to get the pro-social agenda to center stage, in order to bring to the fore the leading role of proletarian ideology and politics - the units and groups of the Party must be intervening and acting on a daily basis to bring this politics to people. This work can only be consistent, organized and conscious and advance in a stepwise manner if the comrades and friends build their collectives to take responsibility to carry through the work.
What is more, the comrades must be clear about the goals of the work, about how to achieve and consolidate victories. The struggle for the pro-social agenda and even more so, the struggle for socialism, is a protracted battle between the bourgeoisie and the people. Sometimes large numbers of people join directly and actively in the movement; sometimes, the Party goes into action with only its own forces in order to clear a new path. Sometimes the people force through temporary and partial changes, sometimes not. But through the entire course of the struggle, the people politicize themselves and increase their consciousness and fighting ability. The material expression of this -the permanent victories that we seek along the path of social change -are the ever-stronger organization of the Party and the people. The constant and decisive task before us is to build a Party which is ever more consolidated theoretically and politically, which is more and more linked with the masses of people, which is continually raising its ability as a collective to sort out problems and to intervene and act on behalf of the permanent interests of the working class movement for emancipation.
Comrades and friends,
Our Party takes its activity very seriously. We take it seriously because we recognize that the political party of the working class is the material expression of the political and ideological unity of the working class in the struggle to constitute itself as a class, overthrow capitalist wage-slavery and build socialism and communism. The bourgeoisie puts tremendous pressure against our Party just as it does against the whole working class. As I mentioned, one of the chief manifestations of the bourgeois pressure is the line that the collective interests and collective struggle don't really exist, are nothing more than an impossible dream. According to the bourgeoisie, only their way of life and their demands are concrete, while the demands of humanity -the health and advance of the collective - don't really exist. When this pressure is given into, the Party's tasks, the needs of the class struggle, are relegated to a secondary or tertiary or nonexistent position. Giving way to such pressure leads to agnosticism - to forgetting or doubting the analysis of the Party, to forgetting the profound aspirations of the people and ignoring the vital role of the Party's activity in bringing these aspirations to the fore. Giving way to such pressure leads to a breach in the collective life - to acting as if only others have responsibility and must be conscious while some individuals can come and go as they please. It means not only refusing to do what is agreed upon but in the process creating an atmosphere of defeatism, pessimism and liquidation.
The comrades know that from the very beginning our Party has analyzed and alerted people to the pressures, the encirclement, which the bourgeoisie exercise against the Party and the working class. Why do we do this? Because it is a real thing, a major mine field, deployed by the bourgeoisie to prevent the collective advance of the working class and people. Whether the issue is the need for criticism and self-criticism inside the Party, or the question of being by oneself and having to organize one's life to address the collective problems or the need to take up new and perhaps unfamiliar work, the comrades must recognize that these are not individual questions, but collective ones.
We must recognize that we - the Party and the working class - are facing a common ideological assault and that the ideological struggle of the Party against the bourgeois pressure and encirclement is a constant and necessary part of the struggle for emancipation. The stand of our Party has always been and must be that nothing can be allowed to stop the execution of the collective tasks which the times and the people demand of us...
We participate inside the Workers Party because the conditions of the class struggle are reflected in our brains and we want and need the collective wisdom to help us sort out the way to advance; we participate in carrying the decisions of the collective into practice because we want to change the situation. We return again and again to build that collective because we know that there can be no human emancipation, no individual advance, without the building of such a collective. For us there is no better thing than to be able to think and act for the cause of the people and to know, with all our being, that we can build and strengthen a collective which will always fight on this path.
Comrades, just by way of summation. There are really two points that I am trying to make today on the question of organization. First is that the starting point of organization, the motivation of our Party, is politics - the politics of the working class movement for emancipation.
In concrete terms, this means that we all must see what is out there - see the objective and subjective conditions which demand that the Party and its organizations use all of their energy to assist the politicalization of the people, to bring the pro-social agenda to center stage, to externally consolidate the politics of the Party amongst new sections of the people.
And secondly that in order to do this, we must build the collective life of the Party as an organization devoted to pushing this forward. It is in the course of this work, that our Party will further overcome its limitations and advance ever more vigorously, along the high road of progress and socialism.