Cadre Party or Mass Party?

Written by an activist. Translated from a norwegian text.

We believe that a party is necessary to organize and lead a socialist revolution. But what kind of party?

Serve the People (Tjen Folket) works to establish a communist party in Norway. We believe that such a party must use Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) as a guideline to act and organize itself as a cadre party.

MLM has a party model that ruptures from other methods of organizing parties. The normal bourgeois parties are election parties. They are only organized to win votes for their politicians. A communist party has an entirely different task, and must therefore be organized in a entirely different manner.

Party as leadership

Ever since Marx, communists have sought to be the most foreseeing spearhead of the worker’s movement. A prerequisite for this has been theoretical insight as to how the proletariat must organize itself to abolish capitalism. The Communist League, where Marx was a member, organized itself with security policies.

Reformism in the worker’s movement has on the contrary embraced the “mass party” as an organizational line. From the Mensheviks in Russia to The Norwegian Labour Party, they have been against setting standards for its members either for activity and participation or political education.

Mao says that people can be divided into three groups—the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward. A communist party must first and foremost be an organization of the most active. The relatively backwards will not be able to stand at the fore of the movement, but will rather follow others.

Our task in organizing the broad masses is also the party’s task—but the tools the party must use for this are revolutionary united fronts. One example today is the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)—an umbrella organization for revolutionary mass organizations in the Philippines—under the leadership of the communist party.

The united front is a method for organizing the masses and uniting all those that can be united in the struggle against their common enemy. In a united front lie the seeds of a new state, just as Russian workers’, farmers’, and soldiers’ councils became the foundation for the new soviet state. To give these mass organizations a direction, they need an ambitious leadership: a communist party.

In parties that are not cadre parties where most members are passive members, there will nonetheless be elite elements. Those who are given (or take) trust and authority, the bureaucracy, and certain parliamentarians and administration members will become a “party within a party”. If the goal is to combat elitism, then the “mass party” is a poor model. If this is hard to believe, we can just consider the development of the Labour Party.

The party must foster consciousness

Communists believe that the proletariat’s politics must be designed with the help of scientific methods, not with feelings or prejudice. Through our senses, we can paint a picture of the world, but this will always be partial and superficial, or even often entirely wrong. For a long time, humans believed that the sun revolved around the earth, because it appeared so from our position.

Lenin believed that because of their position in production, the proletariat would spontaneously develop the consciousness that it would be advantageous to stand together and organize. But this was trade union consciousness, and not a consciousness about the necessity of socialism. The socialist consciousness was provided to the proletariat “from the outside” by socialist intellectuals, where Marx and Engels were at the forefront.

Marxism is a practical philosophy that states that all true knowledge has its roots in practice, but before this practice can create a true insight, it must be determined scientifically. For instance, one can study quite a few methods of practice—because an experience is always one-sided and limited, and will therefore lead to a one-sided and limited conclusion. One must constantly discard those positions that cannot carry water. A condition for learning something is that one sorts out the many false impressions and thoughts.

Lenin said that creating consciousness should not be a task for groups of intellectuals, but a party where industry workers and intellectuals organize together, study together, and develop political tactics and strategies in a united struggle. If such a party had deep roots in the masses, it would be able to give many people the understanding that socialism is necessary.

All people have an everyday perspective of certain things. Everyone has their own experiences and thoughts that are of personal important. This cannot replace the scientific understanding of the world. They give an impression about how one experiences society personally, but not how society is experienced by others or how it is in reality. Oppression in itself does not give an understand of how to remove oppression. On the contrary: many oppressed learn to hang their heads and keep quiet, because they believe they will remain safer in the short term.

The fighting spirit, strategies, and future perspectives must come from another place: from a communist party. The party can only develop these things if members are active and studious people. It is not a coincidence that studies in the social democratic parties quickly become something for the trusted elite and not for the general membership in the party.

The party as a revolutionary general staff

Capitalism can only be abolished if the proletariat takes the power from the bourgeoisie. This can only be achieved if it destroys the bourgeoisie’s most important tool for exercising power: the state. It is impossible and almost unthinkable that this could happen through reforms where the worker’s party wins through votes and bills in parliament within this very state.

This strategy, reformism, has time and again shown that it does not lead to socialism. The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) has had government majority for long periods of time and the result has been one of the world’s most capitalist countries that plunders and goes to war for profit in the world’s poorest places.

In opposition, we offer the view that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and that the proletariat must fight to take the power. This requires a protracted revolutionary people’s war. A communist party must therefore not only be a political leadership, but a revolutionary general staff. Without this it will not be possible for the proletariat to take power.

The bourgeoisie has its general staff—it has NATO, the police departments, defense staff, defense commandos, defense ministers, and defense departments. They also have a surveillance apparatus in PST and defense intelligence, together in cooperation with the intelligence services of other countries. Throughout most of the 1900s up until the present day, they have used enormous resources to spy on and sabotage the state’s political enemies.

The state and its many tools for spying, oppressing, and exercising violence has as its most important task to defense the political-economic status quo. They are there to defend those who have the power today, their system, their property, and their laws.

In other words, revolutionaries will and do meet oppression and a socialist revolution cannot be a tea party. A revolutionary leadership cannot be organized as a tea club. The communist party must be organized for a fight and for illegality, because a genuine revolutionary communist party must meet with oppression and persecution.

This is why communists must practice certain forms of security and make it more difficult to surveil the party and its members. It must fight radical struggles with radical means, not only move within the framework of what is considered acceptable. It must struggle and challenge, not simply conform to the system. The revolution is not only a political theory, but must show itself in its practice and organization of the party.

To summarize—a communist party must be a cadre party, a fighting party, because it has three very distinctive tasks:
- The party will be a leadership, a vanguard for the proletariat’s movement, and not a deadweight for it.
- The party must introduce scientific socialism, a revolutionary consciousness, to the proletariat and the masses.
- The party must be a general staff to establish the proletariat’s political power through protracted people’s war.

A cadre party is not an elitist party

The communist party of the MLM variety is called a cadre party—as opposed to a “mass party” that does not set any requirements for its members. The mass party is a dangerous political mistake and it quickly becomes a form for bourgeois elitism. The bourgeoisie promotes ideals about strong individuals and drivers. They depict the masses as sheep that must be led.

This is alien to MLM and Mao’s mass line. We say that the masses are the true heroes. When Mao divides the masses into three groups, he does not do so according to the ideals of the elite based on strength or mental ability, but he does so according to how relatively active and revolutionary they are.

A communist cadre party sets demands for its members around activity, loyalty, and participation, but other than this cannot become a club for a special type of well-adjusted person. A number of ML parties in the West in the 1960s and 70s set demands for short hair and formal attire, some set standards for relationships and the “revolutionary nuclear family” and some, like RCP in the USA, went as far as to forbid members from being homosexual (!). Sexism and homophobia have been justified with bourgeois norms about what “most people” like or do not like and what is “normal”. This is not a proletarian “mass line”. This is bourgeois chauvinism.

The cadre party is not for one type of person, or for a special superproletariat. Mao formulated this position when he said:

The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.

A cadre party must be a leadership collective, not so-called strong individuals. It will not be led through some members’ fantastic individual abilities, but through a scientific political line, through organizational strength, and through revolutionary enthusiasm, activity, and amibition.

Some quotes about the party

Emphasis our own

Marx and Engels

“Communists in practice are the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others"; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”

From the Communist Manifesto


“Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers.”

From What is to be Done?

“The only serious organisational principle for the active workers of our movement should be the strictest secrecy, the strictest selection of members, and the training of professional revolutionaries. Given these qualities, something even more than ‘democratism’ would be guaranteed to us, namely, complete, comradely, mutual confidence among revolutionaries.”

From the same source


I have already spoken of the difficulties of the struggle of the proletariat, of the complicated conditions of the struggle, of strategy and tactics, of reserves and manoeuvring, of attack and retreat. These conditions are no less complicated, if not more so, than the conditions of war. Who can see clearly in these conditions, who can give correct guidance to the proletarian millions? No army at war can dispense with an experienced General Staff if it does not want to be doomed to defeat. Is it not clear that the proletariat can still less dispense with such a General Staff if it does not want to allow itself to be devoured by its mortal enemies? But where is this General Staff? Only the revolutionary party of the proletariat can serve as this General Staff. The proletariat without a revolutionary party is an army without a General Staff.

From Foundations of Leninism


"A disciplined party, equipped with the Marxist-Leninist theory and practice self-criticism and remains linked to the masses, an army led by the Party, a united front of all revolutionary classes and groups run by the Revolutionary Party: they are the three main weapons with which we defeated the enemy"

From Quotations from Mao Tse Tung

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