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Issue #1907      March 16, 2020

What is the Communist Party?

The Communist Party of Australia is the Marxist-Leninist Party in Australia; but what is a Marxist-Leninist Party?

A simple answer would be that it is a political party that adheres to Marxism-Leninism in its theory, organisational methods, and political practice. This definition is correct in terms of fact. But this definition, even if followed by an extensive explanation of Marxism-Leninism itself, would obscure the most important key characteristics of the Marxist-Leninist Party’s position in society and in political struggle.

In 1847, Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto:

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

When reading the Manifesto and applying it to modern conditions, we must take note of the advice given by Marx and Engels themselves in their preface written twenty-five years later:

“However much that state of things may have altered during the last twenty-five years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever. Here and there, some detail might be improved. The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing [...]”

With that in mind, is the above description of the defining features of the Communist Party still accurate, over 170 years later, with regards to the modern Communist Party – the Marxist-Leninist Party?

We must find that in fact it is still accurate. However, some additional comments must be made to suit our modern context and proceeding from these we can devise another version of this description.

The common thread between the two points delineated by Marx and Engels is that the Communist Party alone is guided by a consistent scientific ideology which positions it as uniquely capable of leading the political struggle of the proletarian class. It is uniquely capable of overcoming certain forms of short-sightedness and misdirection, such as national chauvinism, temporary setbacks, and secondary contradictions.

This is further clarified in the Manifesto, which argues that the Communist Party has “the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

The Manifesto also states earlier in the text that the Party has “no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”

Thus, we could say:

“The Communist Party, or Marxist-Leninist Party, is: 1. A political party with the sole aim of fighting to further the interests of the proletarian class. 2. The only party which adheres to the scientific ideology necessary to comprehensively identify, consistently adhere to, and carry to their conclusion, those interests.”

That ideology is Marxism-Leninism.

This description, while quite different in form, is no different in content to that given by Marx and Engels. The most notable feature of the original that this lacks is the emphasis placed on the principle we now call proletarian internationalism. By rephrasing in a way which erases this emphasis, am I implying that the principle of proletarian internationalism is any less important today?

By no means. However, the emphasis placed upon it in this context had a particular relevance at the time of its writing that has since undergone a significant transformation. It was written in Europe right at the historical moment of the political ascent of nationalism. This ascent occurred together with the final transformation of the bourgeoisie’s historical role from progressive force to reactionary, and the emergence of the proletariat as the new and final progressive class. Nationalism, along with the appropriation of the feudal ideology of religion by the bourgeoisie, served as the most powerful ideological barriers to proletarian class consciousness.

Thus, at the time, being either an opponent of nationalism or an atheist was widely considered synonymous with being a Communist. Thus, convincing a reader of internationalism or atheism was a very effective means of encouraging them towards Communism. The former was perhaps easier than the latter and has a direct class component.

Matters have since become somewhat more complicated. Certain forms of both opposition to nationalism and to religion have arisen that are not Communist, and sometimes even reactionary. This does not change the correctness of these positions in their proper forms.

Examples are the sort of “internationalism” represented by capitalist globalisation and multinational corporations, and the examples of what I might call “imperialist solidarity” such as that observed between countries like the US and UK, or US and Israel. Another is condescending or aggressive attitudes held by many “leftists” in imperialist countries towards progressive national liberation movements of exploited and dependent countries.

The emergence of the great importance of national independence in the global politics of the present era adds more nuance to our modern concept of internationalism.

These complications are some of the many results of the development of a new historical phase, the era of imperialism. The importance of the new additions to the body of Marxist theory made in analysing this development and its consequences, exemplified by Lenin’s contributions, is the crucial reason for the use of the term “Marxism-Leninism” to describe modern scientific Communism, and “Marxist-Leninist” to describe the modern Communist Party.

Thus, we could add to our description of the Party a corollary “1.1. The only consistent anti-imperialist, proletarian internationalist party, which supports the struggles of all the working people of the world on the bases of working-class power, solidarity, and independence.”

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