Marxism and 'the party'

Submitted by libcom on July 27, 2005

Marxism and 'the party'


Editor's Note:

As part of our commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Marx's COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, we publish Raya Dunayevskaya's 1980 critique of John Molyneux's MARXISM AND THE PARTY, a 1978 work by a British Trotskyist which largely focused on the MANIFESTO. Written as a letter to an Iranian Marxist-Humanist on Sept. 4, 1980, the critique has been slightly edited and shortened; we have also supplied headlines, footnotes, and the material in brackets. The original is in the SUPPLEMENT TO THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, microfilm no. 15235.


By Raya Dunayevskaya/Founder of Marxist-Humanism

Nothing reveals more sharply how deep into the mire a Marxist can land when he disregards the philosophy of Marx in considering organization, as when that separation of philosophy and organization occurs on the theory of permanent revolution. It is there (pp. 20-22) where John Molyneux's inglorious achievement in Marxism and the Party occurs.

In the very first chapter of his book he deals with Marx's [March] 1850 Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League. (1) There is hardly a line in his three pages on the Address that doesn't display a total deafness to Marx's new continent of thought. Just listen to a few of Molyneux's fantastic conclusions:

1) His misreading of the Communist Manifesto begins with his reference to "the main scheme set out in the Manifesto," and ends with the outright slander that Marx was "led to depart somewhat," in the actual 1848 Revolution, from that "scheme": "Instead of coming forward as a clear advocate of proletarian revolution and the representative of an independent working class party, Marx was forced to act through the Neue Rheinische Zeitung as the extreme left wing of radical democracy..." (2)

There is no point in going into the details of Marx's magnificent revolutionary journalism in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, when obviously Molyneux has not read a single issue of it and got third-hand its subtitle, "an organ of democracy." And if he ever did read a copy, he proves himself to be as deaf to it as to that greatest of all Manifesto, which, though ordered as "the program" of the Communist League, turned out to be the unfurling of so historic a challenge to capitalism and for proletarian revolution, that no one could possibly recognize the document under Molyneux's description of "its main scheme." Evidently it doesn't seem to enter his mind that both writings and the actual revolution were the very ground for Marx's famous 1850 Address onÉpermanent revolution.

2) Molyneux, to the contrary, thinks that it is the organizational question-the independent political organization of the working class-which predominates over the question of "the theory and practice of Marxism." No wonder Marx felt compelled, when he heard such Marxists in his day define Marxism, to declare, if that is what Marxism is, "I am not a Marxist."

3) Marx supposedly issued the March 1850 Address because the preoccupation with "practical realization" [of] party organization couldn't be realized in the autumn of 1849, when Marx was already in London. Since Molyneux's preoccupation is with organization, he chooses to quote two paragraphs from that Address, from its organizational part, [on the proletariat's need] to reorganize itself "if it is not to be exploited and taken in tow again by the bourgeoisie as in 1848."

One would think that at this point even a strict SWP vanguardist (3) would follow Marx in his report on the dialectics of revolution....The further continuance of revolution, Marx concludes, would be "the party of the proletariat...Their battle cry must be: The Revolution in Permanence."

4) No such logic flows from the mind of a Cliffite. Instead he concludes his analysis with something out of the blue: "Marx makes his closest approach to Lenin's concept of the vanguard party (though of course there are still major differences)" (p. 21)....Even when Molyneux makes some acknowledgment of revolution, he embellishes it with such loaded phrases as "the plan to tighten the organization" and "only then does it become an integral part of the perspective of dynamic revolutionary action."


Let us first clear up some of the misstatements that are supposed to parallel Marx's and Lenin's concepts of the vanguard party, which would certainly shock Lenin to no end.

So far as the historic periods are concerned, while Marx in 1849-50 was still thinking of an impending revolution, Lenin, in 1902, when he was working out What Is To Be Done?, was very far from expecting an impending revolution, much less a proletarian revolution. Nevertheless, at the 1903 Congress [of Russian Marxists], Lenin did apologize for his emphasis [in What Is To Be Done?] on the need to limit party membership, saying that the stick had to be "bent" in such a direction both because the party had been so loose and because without a theory of revolution there can be no revolution.

Indeed, when the 1905 Revolution burst out so spontaneously, it was just then when Lenin changed his position on "tightening" the organization, demanding that it be thrust wide open. Later he was to declare that whereas everyone attributes the split between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks to that 1903 Congress when it "technically" took place, he considered that it was 1905 where the two tendencies [became] opposites.

Where Molyneux discovered "the similarity between Marx's concept of the party. . .and Lenin's 50 or more years later derives in large part from the parallels in their situation" (p. 22), Lenin and the whole Social Democracy of the time saw parallels- and dissimilarities-between the revolutions.

To grasp the total ramifications all the way to our day, one [must] however grapple with the 1907 Congress [of Russian Marxists], the only one where all tendencies-Bolshevik, Menshevik, Luxemburgist, and even the Bund (4)-argued the 1905 Revolution, [in] its relationship to and departure from 1848. Quite clearly, though that Congress was the most organizational in the sense that all tendencies were there, the battle of ideas was never separated from the organizational form. Above all, the relationship of spontaneity to organization, both in Lenin's and in Luxemburg's speeches, was never more sharply expressed. That, however, is out of the purview of Molyneux....

5) Molyneux diverts so totally from Marx that a reader would take for granted that Molyneux has no claim to Marxism. Thus, as he approaches the so-called second period of Marx, 1850 to 1864, which Molyneux calls "the years of retreat," he allows it all of two pages. Please keep in mind that this is the period in which Marx wrote a) the 1857-58 Grundrisse, b) the 1859 Critique of Political Economy, and c) the 1863 second draft of nothing short of Capital itself, not to mention all the articles against colonialism and for the Abolitionists and the Civil War in the U.S., which led him to reorganize the structure of his greatest theoretical work.

6) Even when one wants to so narrow Marxian organization as to be willing to disregard Marx's writings during the period that do not concern the party, the party, the party, one has to be careful with dates. It is not 1850 when there was no "party"; Marx's March 1850 Address was to the Central Committee of the Communist League, which he didn't leave until 1852. Secondly, in the same two years [1850-52], there were meetings with both the Chartists and the Blanquists to discuss the founding of a "World Society of Revolutionary Communists."

In 1851, when Marx was already in the British Museum developing some very great new theories, he was still attending meetings of the London Council of the Communist League. And when members of the League were arrested and the 1850 Address was found on their persons, the Cologne Trial followed. (5)

While it never dawns on Molyneux that Marx explained how important his theoretical work was to the party as Marx understood it-"a party in the eminent historical sense"-he should have at least known of the May 1861 meeting Marx organized in London to protest the arrest of Auguste Blanqui by the French police. It is doubtful, however, whether Molyneux would recognize a party "in the eminent historical sense," or in the sense that Blanqui expressed his deep gratitude for what "the German proletarian party had done," which Marx answered: "No one could be more interested than I in the fate of a man who I always held to be the head and the heart of the proletarian party in France."

In rounding out the totality of his misconceptions of Marx, Molyneux becomes arrogant enough to tell Marx all about how "the essential starting point for a theory of the revolutionary party is rooted in what we called earlier the 'optimistic evolutionism' of his (Marx's) view of the growth of working-class political consciousness." Then Molyneux kindly releases Marx from any "blame" because he lived when "reformism had not emerged as in any way a major threat." Therefore, says Molyneux, it is "understandable" if Marx bent the stick "in the direction of economic determinism" (p.35).

Molyneux's arrogance has not yet reached its apex. Here it is: "But it is also necessary to understand that in the sphere of his theory of the party, the legacy of Marx's work, whatever its positive achievements, was something that had in time to be overcome by the Marxist movement if capitalism was to be overthrown" (p. 35).

As you can see, once an SWPer has surrounded himself with quotes from Tony Cliff and other leaders, he follows Hegel's analysis of what comes after one "gains power": "In place of revolt, comes arrogance," arrogance sufficient to demand the "overcoming" of the theory of the party Molyneux attributes to Marx.


Having "overcome" that theory, Molyneux, in the final chapter, sings the glory of the Party, "the revolutionary party today," and manages to throw overboard reality itself. Thus, he forgets (it would be more correct to say never recognized) that a whole new Third World arose from the mid-1950s and that it was in that period that the historic, first time ever, revolts from under Stalinism occurred in East Europe-he mentions neither the East German 1953 revolt nor the 1956 Hungarian Revolution which brought onto the historic stage Marx's 1844 Humanist Essays.

Instead he attributes to [the mid-1960s to mid-'70s] "the appearance of a number of studies devoted to disinterring the Marxist tradition on the question of the party and indicating perspectives for the present" (p. 163). But why then forget the revolution in Portugal, which did present a revolutionary Marxist group (which as a matter of fact the SWP solidarized with) which came up with a beautiful new category: apartidarismo (non-partyism)? Is it that the SWP hardly focused on that word in its support of the PRP/BR, much less revealed that the head of the party was a woman, Isabel do Carmo? (6)

The sexism in Tony Cliff is matched by equally subtle racism in Molyneux as he characterizes the reactionary fascist 1930s as "black reaction" (p. 128). If there is any color that characterizes Hitlerism, it certainly is not black. The master race was lily white. For someone to be so insensitive as to characterize that period as "black reaction" discloses a great deal.

Peculiarly enough, even when he greatly admires and praises his leader, Tony Cliff, he does so in mere footnotes. Thus footnote 45 (p. 184) ends with a reference to Cliff, "who, in 1947, produced the first fully worked out analysis of state-capitalism in Russia." That again is incorrect. The first "worked out" analysis of state-capitalism was produced in 1941, not 1947. It was written by Raya Dunayevskaya, not Cliff. Indeed, the six-year lapse between Dunayevskaya's study and Cliff's could tell quite a story about non-cooperation with state-capitalists in the Trotskyist movement. Tony Cliff was quite adamant about making such an analysis "purely economic." (7)

* * * * *

Unless you recognize Marxism as a whole new continent of thought, you cannot but divide Marx up into economics, politics, a little bit of philosophy and -"no theory of the party." Now, it is true Marx had no theory of the party as we know it since Lenin's What Is To Be Done? What Marx thought of as "party" [was] organization as tendency, political-philosophic tendency, so that the class nature of workers can become a movement from spontaneity to a "party of their own," so that it becomes what he described Communists to be-an integral part of the working class, [which has] a view of the class struggle as a whole and not just of the immediate demands; and that they are internationalist and not nationalists.

After Marx unfurled that great historic class and international banner in the Communist Manifesto, and participated in both the 1848 revolutions and the greatest revolution of his day-the 1871 Paris Commune-he criticized unflaggingly the 1875 [German] Social-Democratic program, in the Critique of the Gotha Program, to which only Lenin measured up-and not with Party, but with State and Revolution. . . (8)

When Molyneux does get to mention Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks, he has nothing to say, excusing himself on the grounds that he'll discuss philosophy when he deals with Gramsci. And when he finally deals with Gramsci's philosophy of praxis, he does not return to Lenin, much less grapple with Lenin's statement, "Cognition not only reflects the world, but creates it"....That is exactly where the great tragedy comes in.

That is to say, whereas Lenin reorganized himself, [in] his position[s] on State and Revolution, on Imperialism, on the National Question and Colonialism, on dialectics "proper" and on the Will, he did not reorganize his concept of the Party. Had John Molyneux paid any attention to the single word, dialectic, that Lenin uses in his Will regarding Bukharin, (9) he would have gotten a great deal further in comprehension of Lenin's concepts than the whole 188 pages of his book. His full Trotskyist mentality comes out most clearly when he deals with Luxemburg: He is so happy that there he can appear to be for spontaneity that he doesn't even know how economist he is and how he steps back into vanguardism as he attributes all of Luxemburg's mistakes to a single phenomenon-her supposed lack of appreciation for the "unevenness of development."

Needless to say, he never even poses, much less tries to answer, the crucial question: does a Marxist group have a historic right to exist?


1. Marx's March 1850 Address to the Central Authority of the Communist League, in which he projected his concept of "revolution in permanence," can be found in Marx and Engels, COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 10, pp. 277-87.

2. The NEUE RHEINISCHE ZEITUNG was the principal vehicle of Marx's revolutionary journalism during the 1848 revolutions.

3. SWP stands for the British Socialist Workers Party, led by Tony Cliff. Its contemporary U.S. counterpart is the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

4. The Bund (Algemener Yiddischer Arbeter Bund) advocated the autonomous organization of the Jewish proletariat. The 1907 Congress of Russian Marxists is discussed in detail by Dunayevskaya in ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION.

5. See Marx's "Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne," in COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 11, pp. 395-457.

6. For a discussion of the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 and its concept of apartidarismo, see Dunayevskaya's WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND THE DIALECTICS OF REVOLUTION.

7. For the distinctiveness of Dunayevskaya's theory of state-capitalism, see her Marxism and Freedom and her writings published posthumously as THE MARXIST-HUMANIST THEORY OF STATE-CAPITALISM.

8. Dunayevskaya was later to argue that Lenin's State and Revolution nevertheless failed to concretize Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program when it came to the question of organization. See ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION, (1982), chapter 11.

9. In his Will, Lenin said Bukharin "never fully understood" the dialectic.