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In modern usage, the term communist party is generally used to identify any government which has adopted communist ideology. However, the Leninist concept of a communist party includes not only ideological orientation, but also a wide set of organizational policies.
The communist party is, at least according to Leninist theory, the vanguard party of the working class. Lenin's theories on the role of the communist party were developed as the Russian Social Democracy was bifurcated into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Lenin, who was the leader of the Bolshevik ('majority') faction argued that the revolutionary party should be a well-knit vanguardist party with a centralized political command and a strict cadre policy whereas the Menshevik ('minority') faction argued that the party should be a broad-based mass movement. The Bolshevik party, which eventually transformed into the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, took power in Russia after the October Revolution. With the creation of the Communist International, the Leninist concept of Party Building was copied by emerging communist parties worldwide.
There currently exist hundreds, if not thousands, of communist parties, large and small, throughout the world. Their success rates vary widely: some are growing; others are in decline. In five countries (China, Cuba, DPR Korea, Laos, and Vietnam) communist parties retain dominance over the state. See the List of Communist Parties for details on the communist parties of today.
Structure of Communist parties
- See: democratic centralism.
In theory, a party congress would elect a Central Committee to execute the will of the Congress between meetings. The Central Committee would elect a much smaller Politburo to elect a general secretary and handle day-to-day operations. In practice in many countries where communist parties were in government, the flow of power often became the reverse: the Politburo became self-perpetuating, and controlled the composition of the Central Committee, which in turn controlled the party congresses.
Some contemporary communist parties still hold to the democratic centralist tradition. Others have abandoned democratic centralism, often accompanied by a renouncing of Marxism-Leninism overall.
As the membership of the communist party itself was to be limited to active cadres, there was a need for networks of separate organizations to mobilize mass support for the party. Typically communist parties have built up various front organizations, whose membership is often open to non-communists. In many countries the single most important front organization of the communist parties has been its youth wing. During the time of the Communist International the youth leagues were explicit communist organizations, using the name 'Young Communist League'. Later the youth league concept was broadened in many countries, and names like 'Democratic Youth League' were adopted.
Other organizations often connected to communist parties includes trade unions, student, women's, peasant's and cultural organizations. Traditionally these mass organizations were politically subordinated to the political leadership of the party. However, in many contemporary cases mass organizations founded by communists have acquired a certain degree of independence. In some cases mass organizations have outlived the communist parties in question.
At the international level, the Communist International organized various international front organizations (linking national mass organizations with each other), such as the Young Communist International, Profintern, Krestintern, International Red Aid, Sportintern, etc.. These organizations were dissolved in the process of deconstruction of the Communist International. After the Second World War new international coordination bodies were created, such as the World Federation of Democratic Youth, International Union of Students, World Federation of Trade Unions, Womens International Democratic Federation and World Peace Council.
Basis of the Communist organization
1. Communist organisation must be adapted to the specific historical circumstances of the country in which it operates, and to the specific conditions and purpose of its activity. (It's no use, for example, expecting industrial workers to lead the revolution in a nation composed of small farmers and shopkeepers).
2. Common to all Communist organisation is the working class struggle. In other words, the fundamental political task of the working class is to struggle for its rights, against the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, distribution and exchange.
3. The basic organisational task of a Communist Party is to become the leader of the revolutionary working-class movement through having the closest ties with the working class itself. Without these ties, the leadership will not lead the masses, but, at best, tail after them.
4. Communist activity needs to be centralised. This doesn't mean formal, mechanical centralisation, but rather the building of a leadership which is strong, quick to react, and flexible. Otherwise, the masses will see centralisation as bureaucratisation, and will oppose leadership and discipline.
5. A Communist Party must avoid separation or estrangement between the leadership and the people.
6. The work of the Party should be a working school of revolutionary Marxism, through day-to-day collective work in the organisation. Every member should be expected to devote time and energy to the Party, and always to give the best in service.
7. Communist Party members should attend meetings, at whatever level, regularly. This must be married to concrete tasks, to be carried out in such a way that cadres see their work as useful, desirable and practicable. Otherwise, even the most energetic participation in worker struggles will fail to influence those struggles.
8. Communists should report back to the Party on the political work they have done.
9. Communist propaganda includes: individual discussion, participation in the union movement and its struggles, and through the Party press and literature. It should raise the political understanding and the militancy of those who hear it.
10. As part of its struggle against all capitalist social relations, a Communist Party must make it a priority to develop a comprehensive gender consciousness among its cadres and the working class as a whole. This should be reflected in the Party's work, in relationships between cadres, and as a central component of its propaganda.
A uniform naming scheme of the communist parties was adopted by the Communist International. All parties were required to use the name 'Communist Party of (name of country)'. Today, there are plenty of cases were the old sections of the Communist International have retained those names. In other cases names have been changed. Common causes for the shift in naming were either moves to avoid state repression or as measures to indicate a broader political appeal. A typical example of the latter was the renamings of various East European communist parties after the Second World War, as staged 'mergers' of the local Social Democratic parties occurred. New names in the post-war era included ' Socialist Party', ' Socialist Unity Party', ' Popular Party', ' Workers Party' and ' Party of Labour'.
The naming conventions of communist parties became more diverse as the international communist movement was fragmented due to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. Those who sided with China and/or Albania in their criticism of the Soviet leadership, often added words like 'Revolutionary' or 'Marxist-Leninist' to distinguish themselves from the pro-Soviet parties.