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No party is perfect. Nonetheless, in the 20th century parties played a central 
role in every single liberation struggle and in the revolutions that broke most 
with capitalism. To be sure, these revolutions became ossified; they gave rise 
to bureaucratic regimes and then yielded way for the revival of capitalism. 
This had multiple causes that I can’t go into here.

Intransigent critics of revolutionary parties would do well to consider what 
happened to revolutions without parties. And indeed what continues to happen to 
them into the present day. We have rarely seen a popular uprising as massive 
and covering as vast a geographic zone as what is somewhat inaccurately 
referred to as the “Arab springtime”. The sudden surge of the “masses” into the 
political realm was spectacular, and the struggle waged against a range of 
counter-revolutionary forces quite remarkable. It continues to deserve our full 
support; but it’s now the opposing camp that has the wind in its sails. The 
struggle often persists in appallingly difficult conditions, such as in the 
Iraqi-Syrian theatre of operations.

* * * * *

The debate on “Lenin’s conception of the party” (as if he only had one) has 
often gotten bogged down in simplistic interpretations of What is to be done? 
(Lenin 1902; Draper 1999). And yet one needs a careful understanding of the 
rapidly evolving historical context and a complex interpretation (Le Blanc 
1989; Löwy 1991) of Lenin’s never concluded activist and intellectual 
trajectory (Vercammen 1989) – and of the role assigned to politics and the 
relationship between strategy and tactics (Bensaïd 1997).
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