We are seeking to practice the scientific approach to politics of Marx and Lenin. Thus the text which follows seeks to elaborate systematically what constitutes a Leninist political practice. Essentially, the objective of Leninism is the establishment of a communist society via socialism, the transition period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Many would agree with this objective but reject Leninist practice. This rejection manifests itself in a fixation with a particular organisational form or type of struggle. Leninist political practice does not have fetishes, but considers the likely consequences of a particular form of struggle and opts for the form most likely to promote its objectives. It is, therefore, not “unprincipled”, because the objectives to be achieved are clear, and inform the practice. Thus, it is clearly distinct from a political practice which eschews principles, i.e., opportunism, and also from the opposite deviation of being politically paralysed by too many “principles”. Such paralysis generally arises from the error of elevating a strategy or tactic to a principle An example should clarify this.
Based on their understanding of the bourgeois state, Leninists reject attempts to achieve socialism through electoral struggle. But rejection of parliamentarianism does not rule out participation in electoral or reform struggles when they can promote short-term advances. Fundamentalists fail to make this distinction and thus reject any involvement in electoral or reform struggles “on principle”. Opportunists, by contrast, are satisfied with only the short-term gains and thus will engage in reform struggles as ends in themselves – to win better wages, more party members, or whatever.
What constitutes a Leninist political practice in contradistinction to these other tendencies is outlined in the text, which sets out three classes of conjuncture, describing in broad terms the type of party activity appropriate to each class. Such a classification is not a substitute for conjunctural analysis. Quite the reverse. Leninists must have a detailed knowledge of the situation in which they are working and the possible courses of development in order to intervene effectively using a political programme developed primarily from their analysis. The classes of conjunctures are specified to provide a directed research programme, just as preliminary categories and definitions are drawn up in all scientific research. They also enable us to analyse new situations as they arise. It must be noted, however, that there is no necessary sequence of movement between types of conjuncture: history is not a straight path but a route which zig zags and turns back on itself. When Leninists suffer a reverse they need not necessarily advance over the same ground or by the route by which they retreated.
Looking at the particular types of conjuncture outlined some points should be noted. Revolution is not possible in all social, political and economic conditions. Contrary to the belief of many on the Left that the manifestations of contradictions at the economic level inevitably imply a revolutionary situation, reality is much more complex. Economic crises do not necessarily develop into political crises, let alone into a military crisis, a necessary feature of revolutionary situations. In a revolutionary conjuncture, the choice is between a reestablished capitalism and a defeated working class, or socialism – the dictatorship of the proletariat and the erosion of the capitalist mode of production. The choice is never between capitalism or communism, let alone socialism or barbarism. As Lenin said, those who expect a revolution in which the bourgeoisie are all lined up on one side and the proletariat on the other will never live to see it. In non-revolutionary conjunctures the options appear even less distinctly. In particular, in a restructuring conjuncture it may appear that Leninists are faced with the choice of supporting capitalism by opting for a particular form of restructuring, or supporting the proletariat by calling for all manner of resistance to all forms of restructuring, but this is a bogus choice. In a situation where the conditions for a revolution do not exist, as in Britain at present, it is inevitable that capitalism is going to restructure itself, the form of restructuring being determined by political struggle. Leninists, then, have two choices.
The first option is to try to affect the course of that restructuring for the benefit of the working class: for example the development of greater class polarisation, with increased class cohesion and strengthened working class ideology; the weakening of the material bases of ideologies which divide the working class, eg racism, sexism, nationalism; the increased self-confidence of the working class in its collective ability to take charge of society. If a crisis is not revolutionary, restructuring must take place under the existing state power. If the working class is to influence the restructuring, it must make demands on the state. However, in fighting for reforms, communists never lose sight of their eventual aim or permit the belief that the existing state apparatus can serve as an instrument of proletarian state power: reformism must be strenuously opposed. Reformism is the idea that socialism can be achieved through a gradual accretion of reforms won by constitutional means and without the overthrow of bougeois state power. Our view is that the struggle for reforms can only prepare more favourable conditions for the future overthrow of bourgeois state power.
The other option is confinement to propaganda work, disregarding changes in material conditions, whether on the grounds that the restructuring cannot be influenced or that involvement in reform struggles will only foster illusions in the working class.
To the first objection one can say: “Suck it and see!”; at the very least the analysis and experience of political struggle gained will be valuable. To the second, the obvious retort is that there is no inevitability about the outcome of political struggle. The outcome depends on the relative strengths of the forces involved. Leninists cannot intervene and lead the struggle in a revolutionary crisis without having already developed their political, ideological and organisational practices. These practices cannot be developed in a political vacuum. If Leninists have always waited immobile or stood aside for fear of being contaminated with reformism, when all the conditions for a revolutionary situation exist they will be unable to influence its outcome. Communists must be aware of the possibility of deviations, but must not become paralysed and impotent in the face of these dangers. As Lenin pointed out:
The greatest, perhaps the only danger to the genuine revolutionary is that of exaggerated revolutionism, ignoring the limits and conditions in which revolutionary methods are appropriate and can be successfully employed.