by Alvaro Cunhal, Portuguese Communist Party
Editors’ note: Several months ago, MLT posted Hans-Peter Brenner’s article from the German weekly, Junge Welt, “Of Saviors and Liquidators: V. I. Lenin, Alvaro Cunhal, Sam Webb.” It cited portions of a 2001 article by Alvaro Cunhal, “Six Fundamental Characteristics of a Communist Party.”
We are grateful to Marcel Hostettler, a Swiss reader, for pointing out that the full article is available in English at the PCP web site: http://www.pcp.pt/en/”six-fundamental-characteristics-communist-party”-álvaro-cunhal.
Below is a translation of Alvaro Cunhal’s presentation sent to the International Meeting on “Vigencia y Actualización del Marxismo,” [The Validity and Renewal of Marxism] organized by the Rodney Arismendi Foundation, in Montevideo, Uruguay, September 15, 2001 .
The 20th century will forever be marked by the 1917 Russian revolution, by the political power of the proletariat and the lasting construction, for the first time in history, of a society without exploiters or exploited.
Before, there existed disobedience, rebellion and revolt by the slaves, by the serfs, by the exploited and oppressed classes. But in no case did these struggles have the aim (or even accepted the possibility) of building a new, liberating society.
The falsehood of the official historiography, the slanderous and huge anti-Сommunist campaigns and the denial of their own past by some, make it necessary for Communists to remember what the 1917 Russian revolution and the construction of the Soviet Union meant.
We must remember and justify the claim that this was the chief historical event of the 20th century and one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind.
We must also remember that, in the Paris Commune of 1871, a close forerunner of the Russian revolution, the proletariat took power and, by showing proof of mass heroism, began the construction of a new society.
We must remember that, in Paris, the capital of France, for 102 days the red flag of the working class flew over the city hall. We must remember the attack by the reactionary armies, the monstrous repression, the massacre of 30 000 Parisians, a total number of 100 000 murders, executions, forced labor sentences.
But we also stress that the defeated Paris Commune was not the beginning of the path to mankind’s new history. The Commune heralded the dawn of the 1917 Russian revolution, which, in fact, opened the road to a new social system unprecedented in history.
Many forget that, for more than half a century, this system gained ground as an alternative to the capitalist system. These are events that will forever remain as reference points and ideals of mankind in the struggle for its own liberation.
The building of a new state, expressed in the slogan “All the power to the soviets of the workers, peasants and soldiers,” meant the establishment of popular power as a basic element of the state and a democracy “thousand times more democratic than the most democratic of bourgeois democracies.”
In the economic field, with the workers’ control, the land, the factories, the mines, the railways, the banks, came into the possession of the state, of all the people, opening the way for a dazzling development. Together with the state enterprises, there was a profound change in agriculture, with the agricultural collectivization, in which the sovkhozes (state farms) and the collective farm movement of the masses (cooperatives) played a key role.
At the social level, rights to housing, medical assistance and education were granted. A de facto equality of women’s rights was recognized. The cultural organizations were released from the grip of the great aristocrats.
The Soviet Union achieved great breakthroughs and advances in science and in new and revolutionary technologies that enabled it, together with economic and social development, to gain military strength that, for decades, kept at bay capitalism’s aggressive policy. The fact that a Soviet was the first human being to free himself from the earth’s gravity and fly into space illustrates this spectacular success.
It is also necessary that one should not forget the contribution that the Soviet Union made to the development of the struggle of the workers and peoples all around the world, for new socialist revolutions, for the achievement of fundamental rights by the workers in the capitalist countries, for the development of the national liberation movement and, at the price of 20 million lives (in the deeds of its armed forces, in concentration camps, in huge massacres of defenseless populations), helped defeat Hitler’s Germany during World War II, contributing decisively to saving the world from fascist barbarism.
But by itself, the objective and valid recounting of these facts is not enough. It is essential, at the same time, to carry out a critical and self-critical analysis of the negative aspects, facts and phenomena that happened.
It is an elementary truth that the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries resulted from a series of external and internal circumstances. But they did not have equal weight. Internal factors had an important weight.
The fact is that, in building a new society, there was a distancing of the ideals and principles of Communism, a progressive deterioration of the policy of the state and party, in short, the creation of a “model” that, with Gorbachev’s betrayal, led to defeat and collapse. The “model” being created, resulted in a strongly centralized and bureaucratized power, in an administrative concept of political decision-making, in intolerance regarding diversity of opinion and regarding criticism of power, in the use and abuse of repressive measures, in the hardening and dogmatization of theory.
Jeopardized was the political power of the working class and the toiling masses. Jeopardized was the new democracy. Jeopardized was economic development, which, based upon the militancy and the will of the people, reached a heady rhythm in the first decades of Soviet power. Jeopardized was the dialectical, creative character of revolutionary theory, which, of necessity, has to respond to changes in reality and to the experience of practice.
The examination of both the historical achievements and of these fateful events, as well as the experiences of the international Communist movement, places before the Communist parties the need to redefine socialist society, their aims and one of the basic factors of their identity.
Although contained by the socialist camp and by the world revolutionary process until the last decades of the 20th century, capitalism registered a development that, led it to world supremacy at the end of the century.
Two factors determined this situation. On one hand, the disappearance of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, the weakening of the international Communist movement and of the national liberation movement, the regression of revolutionary processes.
On the other hand, capitalism’s progress in the fields of production, science, scientific research, revolutionary technologies and military power. This resulted at the end of the 20th century, in a change in the correlation of forces that enabled imperialism to launch a gigantic offensive with the aim of gaining a complete domination of the whole world.
For more than three quarters of the 20th century, the general trend was the advance of socialism and the liberating struggle of the peoples.
A reversal of this trend took place during the last decades of the century. The change in the correlation of forces, made it possible for capitalism to launch a “global” offensive. The imperialist offensive currently under way has as its declared and announced goal, the imposition on the whole world of the complete domination of capitalism as the only, universal and final system.
This is the fundamental meaning of the theory of “globalization,” so called. This is the greatest danger and the most sinister threat facing mankind in all its history. It is true that certain aspects and factors of capitalism’s objective development, leading to “globalization,” were already being felt. This was the case of the internationalization of production processes, of economic and financial relations, of information and media, of the creation of zones of economic integration.
It is also true that imperialism, in its struggle “for a division of the world,” already had the weapons of military intervention, aggressions and wars. However, imperialism’s “global” offensive is a different matter. Having the United States as a fundamental dominating force, the current offensive is taking place on all fronts.
As instruments of the economic offensive we have the creation of huge groups of transnational companies, different bodies with increased powers to impose “legal” rules and policies (IMF, World Trade Organization, World Bank), seizure of the resources and strategic sectors of the weaker countries, cuts in credit, economic policies decided by supranational bodies on member states of unions of a federating nature, measures of financial strangulation and economic blockades aiming to surrender countries that oppose the offensive.
Areas of economic integration become areas of political integration, with supranational bodies, supranational ministers, effective subordination of the poorer and less developed countries to the richer and more powerful countries. This process sharpens the contradictions of capitalism. This has, as its feature, a widening, even in developed capitalist countries, of social sectors living in extreme poverty and, in the underdeveloped countries, whole millions of people starving to death.
At the same time competition increases, and creates the possibility of serious conflicts among the gigantic economic and political poles and among richer and more powerful countries. In the meantime (and this is a new distinctive feature) all come together in the “global” offensive.
Significant among the great projects and plans is the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). According to this project, the associated great economic and financial potentates could, with the necessary military support, impose, country by country, forms of exploitation, seizure of the vital areas of economy, the fate of the invested and created capital and even the obligation of puppet governments to crush, with effective repressive measures, any struggles and revolts by their workers and peoples.
MAI is like a constitutional charter of imperialism in its “global” economic and political offensive. It is common knowledge that the disclosure of this project, drawn under the aegis of the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany, caused such a vast reaction and outrage that it was withdrawn from immediate consideration. But the fact is that it was saved for later consideration.
At the same level, and sometimes as a direct tool of the economic offensive (closely linked to political and diplomatic action) the military offensive has as its instruments a clear superiority in weapons, namely that of the United States, and NATO as an autonomous supranational force, but also dominated and commanded, in fact, by the United States.
The military offensive is translated into ultimatums, bombings, armed interventions, arming and promotion of rebel forces against democratic governments, interventions to impose tyrannical governments and puppet governments, aggressions and wars against countries that courageously oppose the domination of the United States and other imperialist countries, attacks by terrorist organizations and military actions of state terrorism.
To add to this we have the monstrous institutionalization of an international political court commanded by imperialism to try and sentence to life imprisonment prominent guardians of their peoples and countries. And also the massive destruction of the atmosphere, rivers and oceans by the more developed countries and the plunder and destruction of the natural resources of backward countries, which results in the destruction of the ecological balance in vast regions of the globe.
All these aspects of the offensive reach a level never before attained and are part of the process of world integration by the forces of imperialism in its “global” offensive. Looking forward, imperialism proclaims the offensive unstoppable and irreversible and in the end, announces the stability and ultimate stabilization of the system. In ideological terms it announces the universalization of thought, the end of ideologies and the “unification of thought.” But the offensive is neither unstoppable nor irreversible.
And with these ideas, spread through propaganda, in the end imperialism tries to fool itself. That is: the declared aim of its mad ambition, represents the present utopia of capitalism. Utopia because, on one hand, capitalism, by its own nature, is torn with contradictions and problems that it cannot overcome.
Because, on the other hand, there are forces which oppose, which resist, and which, by strengthening themselves, can prevent capitalism from reaching this objective. They are:
a) The countries which, with the Communists in power, insist on the objective of building a socialist society, albeit through very different paths.
b) The working class movement, namely the trade union movement.
c) The Communist parties and other revolutionary parties, fighting with confidence and courage.
d) The potential resistance of capitalist countries currently dominated and exploited by imperialism, with a real loss of their national independence.
e) New national liberation movements.
f) Movements defending the environment, against the power and decisions by the richer countries and directly against “globalization.”
These forces are fundamental to preventing imperialism’s domination of the whole world. But awareness of this is not enough. It is essential to have a corresponding action. It is necessary to strengthen them and to strive so that they coincide and converge. This is the only way to stop, hinder, and prevent the advance of imperialism’s offensive and to create the conditions that will eventually defeat it and determine a shift in the international situation.
One should also remember that imperialism does not limit itself to a frontal attack on several fronts. It actively tries to divide the forces that resist it, undermine them from within, drive them to give up the fight, to self-destruction and to suicide. In some cases they have succeeded. But, in many others, one finds their strengthening, revitalization, growing influence and initiative.
It is important to spread, stress, validate the examples that confirm this understanding. The objective of building a socialist society in no way hinders this. Rather, it implies that a Communist party has short-term and medium-term solutions and objectives that propose alternatives to the current situation.
However, beware. An analysis of the situation and definition of politics has to arise from the basic realities of capitalism, and the corresponding fundamental concepts of the proletariat’s revolutionary theory: - the division of society in classes, some that exploit, others are exploited; - the class struggle; - the class politics of governments. These are realities and concepts. Their discovery is not due to Marx and Engels, but earlier economists and philosophers.
What is new in Marxism is the analysis of concrete economic and political situations based on these concepts. It is true that, in pre-revolutionary situations and others in which a temporary equilibrium of classes arises, a strongly conditioned political power can in the circumstances implement a policy not at the service of capital. It may even implement progressive measures of an anti-capitalist character. These are, however, exceptional situations of short duration. This is not the case of capitalist countries with bourgeois democracies.
In these, political power undermines the four facets of democracy:
Economic – through big capital’s ownership of the basic sectors of the economy and the submission of political to economic power.
Social – through the exploitation and misery of workers and people and the concentration of wealth in a limited number of gigantic fortunes
Cultural – through the propaganda of big capital’s ideology, a system of discriminatory education of the working class’s children, the propaganda of obscurantist ideas, the attacks on artistic creativity, the multiplication of religious sects.
Political – through the abuse and absoluteness of power and the liquidation of the democratic oversight institutions and mechanisms, the unconstitutional changes to the legality and competencies of sovereign institutions when the law turns out to be insufficient for the exercise of absolute power by big capital.
And all this degradation develops under the pretext of necessary “stability” and of the “rule of law”. The degradation of political democracy – together with the spectacular and theatrical conflicts of parliamentary machinations, careerism, impunity and corruption – provokes the discrediting of politics and politicians.
Meanwhile, politics is a necessary activity and Communists and other true democrats are different and better in political practice and distinguish themselves from the discredited so-called “political class”. The powerful means of the media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, audiovisual technologies), the property and instrument of the big monopolies, do not constitute a new independent power, as some would have it, but an instrument of big capital in its dominant connection with governments. The struggle for democracy is one of the central objectives of a communist party’s actions.
Thus, it is necessary to define the fundamental elements of this democracy. From a government, one must demand the simultaneity and complementarity of its fundamental facets. It is not enough that a government affirm itself democratic. It is necessary that it, in fact, be democratic. It is also necessary to define more concretely, in each specific situation, the democracy for which one struggles.
In a given situation, a given moment, the struggle for democracy can, for example, give great importance to the struggle for strengthening of the elements of direct and participatory democracy together with representative democracy. Elections are one of the basic elements of a democratic regime, but only if they respect equality and if there is no abuse of power, discrimination and exclusion. If these conditions are not met, elections become a fraud, a serious blow to democracy and an instrument of monopolization of power, at one time or another, by the political forces in the service of capital.
An “advanced democracy,” for which some parties struggle, is defined as a democratic regime that precedes progressive developments of a non-capitalist character such as the nationalization of some sectors of the economy and the liquidation of landlordism. Regardless of form, given the objective of the struggle for democracy at a given time, Communists cannot be, do not want to be, and are not isolated.
The understanding of the class struggle, omnipresent reality in society as a motor of historic evolution, does not contradict or exclude the need for social and political alliances of the working class and its party with immediate concrete objectives, given that the correlation of political forces is set by the relationship among and the correlations between social classes and strata.
The concrete definition of what these alliances may be demands, firstly, the concrete evaluation of the objectively considered social alliances and, afterwards, the definition, whenever possible, of which social class and strata is represented by such and such parties and what is their social support base. There are no two identical situations. There may be, in such or such a country, similar economic, social and political situations. But there are always differences that demand different responses. There are neither universal solutions nor “recipes.” Copying solutions leads to orientations that do not correspond to the demands of the concrete reality.
Big scientific and technological revolutionary discoveries are provoking profound changes in the composition of the working class and in the social composition of societies of developed countries. The definition of social alliances – the basis for political alliances – has therefore become particularly complex. In this regard, definitions are far from clear. In numerous countries with bourgeois democracy, democratic parties, namely Communist parties, have defined as their objective a so-called “left-wing” politics. There are cases where, in the orientation of these parties, the word “left” excludes the support for or co-participation with “right-wing” politics. In these cases it has a clear and positive meaning.
However, in most countries, the word “left” in the modern political dictionary has an imprecise meaning, full of uncertainty, contradictory, and objectively confusing. When defining “left” parties or sectors of the “left” this frequently includes, together with “extreme-left” anticommunists, socialist and social-democratic parties, which in their political action defend and practice “right-wing” policies. The same is true regarding so-called “left-wing” governments.
Experience shows that, in some cases, the participation of Communists in governments of socialist or social-democratic parties, understood as being “left,” entails the participation in implementing “right-wing” policies.
We must define as an objective the four facets of democracy, we must struggle for this democracy and not proclaim a policy that includes the participation (or the objective to attain it) in governments such as many current governments that proclaiming themselves of the “left” are in fact instruments of big capital, transnationals, the richer more powerful countries, and of the current “global” offensive of imperialism seeking to impose its dominion worldwide. This is also the case with the so-called “stability pacts” signed by reformist parties and trade unions, that sacrifice fundamental worker’s rights with the intent of overcoming the present crisis of capitalism. That is not the path demanded by the struggle of workers, peoples, and nations. It is the role of Communist (and other revolutionary) parties to define the necessary path, given the concrete conditions of their countries with conviction, courage and their communist identity .
The framework surrounding the world’s existing revolutionary forces changed during the last decades of the 20th century. The international Communist movement and its component parties suffered profound changes as a result of the fall of the USSR and other socialist countries and the success of capitalism in its competition with socialism. There were parties that denied their past of struggle, their class nature, their objective of a socialist society and their revolutionary theory. In some cases, parties integrated into the system and eventually disappeared.
This new situation in the international Communist movement opened space in society in which other revolutionary parties assumed importance and, given the concrete conditions of their countries, identified themselves with Communist parties in important aspects and occasionally with their objectives and action.
Thus, when we speak today of the international Communist movement you cannot, as was done upon a time, draw a line between Communist parties and any other revolutionary parties. The Communist movement now has a new composition and limits.
These developments do not imply that Communist parties, with their own identity, are not necessary to society. On the contrary. With the characteristics that are fundamental to its identity, Communist parties are necessary, indispensable and irreplaceable. Just as there is no “model” of a socialist society, there is no “model” for a Communist party.
Six Fundamental Characteristics of a Communist Party
With different concrete responses to concrete situation, one can identify six fundamental characteristics of a Communist party, whether it have this name or another:
1. A party that is completely independent of the interests, ideology, pressures and threats of capital. The independence of the party and the class is component part of the identity of a Communist party. It affirms itself in its own action, its own objections, its own ideology. A departure with these essential characteristics is in no way a demonstration of independence, but, on the contrary, a renunciation of independence.
2. A party of the working class, of workers in general, of the exploited and oppressed. According to the social structure of each country’s society, the social composition of the party members and its support base can be quite diverse. In any case, it is essential that the party not be closed onto itself, not be faced inward, but faced outward, towards society, which means that it have not only but above all close ties to the working class and the working masses. Disregarding this characteristic and losing the class nature of the party has led to a vertical decline in some parties and, in some cases, to their self-destruction and disappearance. The replacement of the class nature of the party by the conception of a “party of citizens” veils the existence of exploiting and exploited citizens and leads the party towards a neutral position in the class struggle – which in practice disarms the party and the exploited classes and turns the party into an appendix, a tool of the politics of the dominant exploiter class.
3. A party with an internal democracy and a single central leadership . An internal democracy is particularly rich in virtues, namely: collective work, collective leadership, congresses, assemblies, debates throughout the party on fundamental issues of political orientation and action, decentralization of responsibilities and elections of the central leadership and leadership of all organizations. The application of these principles has to correspond to the political and historic situation the party is facing. Under conditions of illegality and repression, democracy is limited by the imperative of defense. In bourgeois democracy, the virtues referred to can be and should be vastly and deeply applied.
4. A party that is simultaneously internationalist and defender of the interests of its country. Contrary to what was at one time defended in the Communist movement, there is no contradiction in these two elements of direction and action of Communist parties. Each party is in solidarity with the parties, workers and peoples of other countries. But, with conviction, each is a defender of the interests and rights of its own people and country. The expression “internationalist and patriotic party” has full meaning at the end of the 20th century. One can include as values within the internationalist position the struggle within a country and as values in the domestic struggle the relations of solidarity with workers and peoples of other countries.
5. A party that defines as its objective the construction of a society without exploiters or exploited, a socialist society. This objective is also still fully modern. But the positive and negative experiences in the construction of socialism in a series of countries and the deep changes in the global situation demand a critical analysis of the past and a redefinition of the socialist society as the objective of communist parties.
6. A party with a revolutionary theory, Marxism-Leninism, that makes it possible not only to explain the world but also to point the way towards its transformation. Denying all the slanderous anticommunist campaigns, Marxism-Leninism is a living, anti-dogmatic, dialectical, and creative theory that is enriched with practice and with the responses it is called to give in the face of new situations and phenomena. It energizes practice, enriches itself and develops creatively by means of the lessons of practice.
We owe to Lenin and his work “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” the definition of capitalism in the end of the 19th century. These theoretical developments have extraordinary value. Likewise, the research and systematization of theoretical knowledge.
In an extraordinarily rigorous and clear synthesis, a seminal text of Lenin’s indicates “the three sources and three component parts of Marxism.” In philosophy, dialectical materialism, and historic materialism in its application to society. In political economics, the analysis and explaining of capitalism and exploitation, whose corner-stone is the surplus-value theory. In socialist theory, the definition of a new society with the end of exploitation of man by man.
Throughout the 20th century, after social transformations, new and numerous theoretical reflections took place in the Communist movement. However, they are scattered and contradictory, making it difficult to distinguish which are theoretical developments and which are revisionist departures from fundamental principles. Thus the imperative character of debates, without pre-established ideas or absolute truths, not towards drawing conclusion taken as definitive, but towards deepening a common reflection.
We hope the International Meeting at the Rodney Arismendi Foundation, in September of the current year, gives a positive contribution towards reaching this objective.
September 15, 2001