Moreno, Problems of Organization (1984) – Excerpt

In 1984 Nahuel Moreno published Problems of Organization,  an extremely useful pamphlet on the topic of building the party that is based on concrete examples. His reflections were an attempt to draw some conclusions about organizational matters based on several decades of organizing in the working class in Argentina and building the party. He dealt with what we could call the “nuts and bolts” of party organizing: how to structure meetings, how to organize branches and cells, how to develop cadre how to recruit, etc. in short how to be flexible in some aspects of organizational form in order to make sure the party structure does not stand in the way of pushing the struggle forward, does not lag behind, and keeps its essential connection to working people. 
The Importance of Organization
By Nahuel Moreno, 1984
In general, the problem of organization seems like a secondary thing, which we tend to underestimate, that pales in comparison to other matters, be they “philosophical” – like the dialectic or the theory of alienation, or be they fascinating discussions on the economic or political situation: “What is going on with the imperialist economy?”; “Is there a revolutionary situation in Argentina or Brazil or not?”, etc. However, the question of organization is the center, to a certain degree, of Marxist revolutionary activity. Just as the program and policy are a response to the question: “What are the tasks, objectives or slogans to mobilize the masses today for socialist revolution?”, the question of organization is a response to the questions: “What organization of struggle is there today for the mass movement masses?”  “With which organization will the working class take and exercise power?” “How to organize the party that aspires to lead the struggle, the revolution, and workers’ power at each stage of the class struggle?”
The question of organization is so decisive that, contrary to what many believe, there were not two but three great leaders of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Party. Alongside Lenin and Trotsky there was Sverdlov, the Secretary General, the organizer of the Bolshevik Party. Iakob Mikhailovich Sverdlov is not remembered for any statement on economics, philosophy or Marxist politics. No one is interested in a collection of his completed works, if it even exists. But he was the most beloved man, most respected of the Bolshevik Party. He was so great that when he died, he was replaced by four of the best Bolshevik leaders, and the four failed: they could not handle the task.
Lenin, who was not prone to demagoguery or praise, defined him, in a speech at his funeral as “the proletarian leader who did the most for the organization of the working class, for their victory” (Complete Works, Volume 29 , pp. 89). And in the speech given in his memory, delivered on March 18, 1919, he clarified the reason for these words:
“To those who judge things superficially … what stands out with special importance is a feature of the revolution that has manifested itself in strong, firm and relentless reckoning with the exploiters and enemies of the working class. There is no doubt that without this feature – without revolutionary violence – the proletariat would not have won, but it is also clear that revolutionary violence is only a necessary and legitimate method during specific stages of the revolutions development, only when special, specific conditions exist. Further, a much deeper and more permanent quality of this revolution, the condition for its triumph, is and will always be the organization of the proletarian masses, the organization of the working class. This organization of millions of workers, in fact, is the most important condition of the revolution, the deepest source of his victories … (Idem, vol 29, pp. 83, emphasis added).
For Lenin, the organization is a “much more profound and permanent quality” of the revolution than even revolutionary violence. That is, at one extreme is the action, the movement, the struggle, the spontaneity of the masses. At the other is the organization that provides structures, gives continuity, and that sustains the actions or mobilizations. Without major struggles and mobilizations, there is no revolution. But without organization it is equally impossible: The struggles dissolve, the heroic actions of the masses are lost …
This is so much the case that the party not only utilizes slogans that call for struggle and that identify an objective, but also organizational slogans. Now, for example, we mobilize around the objective of the struggle: for wages, we call for a particular form or method of struggle: the general strike, and we agitate how to organize this struggle: in factory assemblies, the election of delegates, picket lines, etc.
The problem of organization is extremely difficult, it is really complex, because it contains in itself a contradiction, which sometimes becomes acute. All organizations and structures have conservative tendencies that arise from processes that serve to maintain the existing organization. But at the same time, the working class is given or needs revolutionary organizations, in order to fight and defeat the bourgeoisie, that is to destroy the capitalist system.
Argentinian workers, for example, built large and powerful trade unions, with which, for many years have been able to defend their standards of living, until in the last decade the crisis made it impossible. But this organization has put and continues to put a tremendous conservative weight on the Argentine proletariat. It allows extremely right-wing elements, the Peronist bureaucracy, to lead it, and for the moment, there is no revolutionary leadership in these unions, let alone a revolutionary workers party.
It is precisely because of this contradiction that the question of organization is so difficult. If indeed a revolutionary party is to be in the leadership of the mass movement, it becomes a problem of problems: “What organic relationship should exist between the party and the masses?”
The soviets (workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils) are an organizational form of mass movement. They govern, with good or bad policies. The policy is very important, but without soviets we would not have been able to take power, no matter how good of a policy the Bolsheviks had. They are the military that mobilizes, in an organized way, the masses to take power and rule. But, at the same time, there is the party, which is the staff of the army,  that consolidates the most militant and conscious of the vanguard. And this raises a second problem: “What form of organization must the party have in order to be able to direct and to develop an increasingly close relationship with the soviets and the masses who are in them?”
The first problem, that of the organization of the masses, is in a certain way simpler than the second. The party can not invent nor impose organizational forms on the masses. They themselves create them. The great art of the Party is to discover them when the first symptoms appear and agitate to generalize them. Or, if they do not appear, to patiently advise the masses an organizational form that is appropriate for the situation and for the historical experience. Like this, we were able to raise the slogan for coordinating committees in 1975, relying on the historical experience of the interfabriles 20 years before. Or to raise the slogan today of military bodies of the COB and peasant Center in Bolivia, and for both mass organizations to take power, relying on the lessons of the 1952 revolution.
The problem of party organization, however, is in our hands. The masses can show incredible heroism and can construct magnificent revolutionary organizations to seize power. But if we do not move forward with our own organizational form, to allow us to build towards the highest level of these struggles and organizations, unless we are able to organize strongly, to structure with iron ties our influence and the sympathy that our policy and program evokes among the masses, we and the revolution are lost. There is the example of Bolivia: a lot of revolutionary struggle; sufficient organization of the masses to take and exercise power; a sufficient program … but the lack of the party as organizational structure with its roots firmly planted in the heart of the revolutionary masses. That is the great problem, of life and death to be resolved in Bolivia. And also in Argentina, even if in our party we are starting from a qualitatively superior situation and from a revolutionary pace that is slower than the objective reality.
Changes In Mass Organizations
The labor and mass movements are constantly changing their organizational forms. There are changes that have to do with broad historical stages, and that express structural changes in the working class. For example, trade unions reflected a sector of the working class, specialized and much closer to its social and productive life to its craft than the modern highly concentrated industrial working class. The industrial sector unions reflect the latter.
There are changes, moreover, they have to do with the specific situation of the class struggle. If there is a retreat of the working class, it takes refuge in defensive organizations, the unions. In situations of extreme defeat, they can reach the point of organizing themselves into mutuals or cooperatives. But if they live through a revolutionary upsurge, sooner or later, organizational forms of power , like the Russian Soviets, the Chilean “industrial belts”, or the trade unions themselves change their character to transform themselves into organisms of power, like the Bolivian COB. At the same time, the class begins to organize military bodies.
We have also seen revolutions made by the peasantry, like in China, Vietnam and Cuba, where different mass organizations emerged: the guerrilla armies.
The same happens in a factory. Normally, the working class is organized through the Internal Commission and the body of delegates. But when there is a high level of internal repression, imposed either by employers or the union bureaucracy, at times the workers even arrive at the point of organizing themselves through soccer teams. When there is no struggle, the assemblies happen very rarely, or not at all. But when there is struggle, or when it is being prepared, the assembly becomes the primary organizing tool of all workers. If they go on strike, the strike committee appears, which very often is different from permanent legal leadership: the official delegates. The picket lines appear and, like what is happening now in our country, “popular meals” which are a combination of the picket line and the rank-and-file assembly.
It is impossible to even attempt to list the wealth of organizational forms that have existed and that the labor and mass movements are producing over time. But what is demonstrated is that, contrary to the assertions of the bureaucracy of all kinds – from the Peronist trade union to the Communist Party – the working class is not definitely vested in one fixed organizational form. Rather, they themselves continue changing their organizational forms according to the changes in the stages of class struggle and the appearance of new needs.
Changes In The Organization of The Revolutionary Socialist Party
It has become a fetish, especially in this era of Stalinism, that there is only one revolutionary socialist form of organization that is fixed and absolute: the organization composed of small cells. We, the poor Trotskyists who have survived for decades in isolation, watching the years pass and our organization remain small, have fallen victim to this fetish. We still have not broken completely with it. We continue to believe that revolutionary socialism is a form of permanent organization, always equal to itself.
In reality, it is the opposite. The revolutionary socialist party is constituted and solidified around a common program and set of political principles. But in Marxism, there is nothing rigid or definitive. And the party of permanent revolution can be even less so. For this reason, the Party is extremely flexible when it comes to converting the program and the principles into strategies, tactics, slogans and specific policies to influence the present situation of the class struggle. Every time there is a change in objective reality, the party changes its slogans, its policies, tactics and strategies … and also its organizational forms. That is the true essence of the revolutionary socialist form of organization: change, the adaptation to the reality of class struggle and the tasks and objectives that the party is given at each stage.
Changes in the organizational form of the Party are determined by a combination of two key factors: the situation of class struggle and the situation or stage of the development of the Party itself.
Clearly, the Party’s organizational structure cannot be the same during a period of counter-revolutionary triumph, under a fascist or semi-fascist regime, as during a revolutionary period. The first would be super clandestine, super vanguardist small cells, where the only ones who could participate would be militants who had been pre-tested and securely recruited by the Party. The second would be open and legal, with numerous meetings if necessary, where new comrades who were only recently close to the Party could participate, who would complete the process of joining within the organizational structure of the Party.
Beyond these crude examples, the Party structure must be adapted to other objective and social processes even within a single period. It will not have the same organizational form in a situation where sectors of the mass movement are rapidly moving to the left as in a situation when this does not happen and the masses suffer massively from “democratic” illusions and flock to the reformist parties, as frequently occurs in the first stage of the revolution. In the first case, the Party should adopt an appropriate organizational form to organize around it these sectors of the masses; the second, despite the revolutionary situation, must maintain the structure of the “vanguard party”, that is, of militants that to a greater or lesser extent, have already decided to devote an important part of their lives to revolutionary militancy.
To finish, the Party structure should be adapted to national characteristics, and more specifically to the exploited classes. Obviously, it cannot be the same to intervene in the revolutionary process in Nicaragua as it is in Argentina. In Nicaragua, there were virtually no unions under Somoza. The unions appeared en masse after his fall. The revolutionary struggle developed through a combination of war between armies and urban insurrections organized geographically by district. Clearly, revolutionary socialism must adapt its organization to these national characteristics. Hence, the Simon Bolivar Brigade, and had there been a Party in Nicaragua, it would have been organized around the popular neighborhoods.
In Argentina, it is totally different. The classic mass organization is the unions, for almost a century now. Inside them, the key organism for the past 40 years has been the Internal Commission and the body of delegates. The Party is organized around it: working groups corresponding to worksites and/or employers that fight for the leadership of the unions and thus the masses.
Finally, the Party during exceptional circumstances sometimes needs to adopt a geographical organizational form, by neighborhood, and even relegate to the backburner, in certain occasions, the classic structural integration of these bodies (by company or place of study, above and beyond the barrios). We have adopted this structure when engaging with bourgeois elections.
However, the organizational question becomes qualitatively more complex because it also includes the second factor: the Party itself. Because, when considering a task or goal for a period, we don’t just have to answer the question “What is happening in the class struggle?”, but also that of: “With what Party, with what human resources – leadership, middle cadre and militants – can we intervene in it?”
Very schematically, we can point to three stages in the development of a Party: the first is the founding group, many times made of of just a few individuals; then comes the propaganda Party that has already fulfilled its period of accumulation of cadre and has won a few hundred of them; and finally the Party with mass influence. A developed revolutionary situation, with sectors of the masses breaking with reformist and bureaucratic apparatuses and moving to the left, presents us with, objectively, the possibility of gaining mass influence, that is of winning over to the policy of the Party rank-and-file sectors of the mass movement. But obviously,  if the Party is made up of a few individuals its organizational structure will be very different from that of a Party that has already gained some mass influence. In the latter case, it is the obligation of the Party to shape and structure its organisms in all  the sectors of the mass movement (prioritizing though those that emerge as the vanguard of the revolution, for example, the industrial working class in Argentina, miners and factory workers in Bolivia, etc.).. If, however, we are only a few comrades, the effort to structure ourselves in all the sectors would be fatal, it would destroy the Party. On the contrary, we must try to put all our comrades in one single sector, in order to not disperse our forces and to arm the Party, its organizations and its mass influence in this sector. This is not to say that if we are a small Party, that we must define ourselves as a “propaganda group” and not intervene with all our force in the revolutionary struggle. What is necessary is to do the same work as a big Party would in the whole mass movement, only in just one sector, the most favorable one for the rapid organic growth and political influence of the Party. Although the task is the same, the organizational form is completely different. If we succeed only in putting forward our analyses without also adapting our  organizational form to allow us to better solidify our presence within the working class, we are in danger of disappearing.
On another level, the organizational form of the Party depends on something as simple as whether or not there are cadres capable of building and directing the organisms. This was a serious problem for us, which took us years and years to solve. We tried all kinds of organizational forms – by craft, by factory, by neighborhood  – and every six months or year, it fell apart. A French rank-and-file comrade, without a very developed theoretical level, but possibly reflecting the strength of the Trotskyist tradition that developed while Trotsky was living in France, gave us the solution to the problem. This guy asked us how many cadre capable of leading an organization we had, and advised us that we should not make any organism – whether it were a cell, a union fraction, a neighborhood group, or a theater or whatever – if we didn’t have a cadre capable of managing it. If you have no leadership, an organization fails, no matter how perfect it seems on paper. The problem of the existing cadre is, therefore, a decisive challenge –  no matter what stage of class struggle we are going through – to define the organizational form of the Party.
We, for example, decided to organize the Party during the election campaign around 600 locals that we opened in the outlying working class neighborhoods. That’s what we planned because we had a similar or greater amount of middle cadre, able to open and manage the premises. If the Party had had to face the campaign with only 50 cadre, we would have had to think about another organizational form. Maybe, focus on a few municipalities, with large central premises, or another type.
Translated and excerpted from the original Spanish by Florence Oppen