Adopted from a series of lectures given to Catholic clergy leaders in Washington D.C. by Douglas Hyde, a former cadre of the Communist Party of Great Britain who left the party and became a Catholic organizer and anti-communist, this short text was first published in 1966. Despite Hyde’s political orientation at the time of the lectures, the book is not overly distorted by his anti-communism, and in most places it offers a straightforward, fair view of what Hyde sees as the key ingredients of communist party effectiveness. The book centers around practical organizational questions, rather than looking to strategy or material conditions as an explanation for organizational success, because it is intended for an audience looking to copy some of the organizational tactics without, of course, incorporating the strategy of class struggle that most communists would point to as the ultimate engine of their organizational growth. But still, this almost “de-politicized” perspective on how many communists organizations ran with such a high degree of effectiveness and discipline has a lot to admire. As a snapshot of the communist movement at a relative high point in power and prestige, there is also obviously a lot that cannot be copied. The degree of “dedication” the Party expected and got from its membership was commensurate with the high morale and historical confidence of the global communist movement. In our current moment of massive demoralization, when the darkest futures often appear the most possible, replicating that kind of dedication is much harder. When Hyde turns his gaze back towards Catholic organizing at certain points in the book, the deficiencies he finds there are pretty familiar to anyone active in a U.S. leftist organization in the present day: low expectations for membership, lack of motivation, inactivity, passive recruiting, etc. There is clearly a huge gulf separating his era of communist organization from ours, and the largest factors explaining this gulf are outside our control. Still, as a review of some of the basic organizational principles that once made communist parties some of the most effective political groups in the world, this has a lot to teach. If boiled down to a handful of key themes:
- The importance of using idealism to increase commitment, and the recruitment of youth as a natural corollary of this.
- The creation of a culture of intense dedication within the party.
- “The party in action” providing both the main source of recruitment as well as the baseline level of activity that sustains dedicated membership and leadership development.
- The use of study groups as a way to build unity around key ideas and to convince new members that the party can win.
- Systematic and widespread leadership development, by pushing people to develop new and challenging skills and take leadership in other facets of their lives outside the party.
- Honest and straightforward collective criticism that “cuts through the compliments and cant so that it is possible to see whether the purposes of your cause have really been served by the activities in which you have been engaged.”
A quick and engaging read, this text is a good reminder of the seriousness which characterized communist organizations of old, and a source of inspiration for thinking about how to build our own organizations.
Chapter 1: The Starting Point
As Hyde points out, Communist groups have had immense success by cultivating a dedicated minority of hard-core members (a.k.a a vanguard) but they are not entirely unique in this, they just may not pay as much lip-service to the idea of majoritarian democracy as other groups:
Even so, it is probably true to say of the Communists that never in man’s history has a small group of people set out to win a world and achieved more in less time. Certainly, they have brought far more people under their sway by the methods they employ than anyone else has done during the same period. Moreover, they have always worked through a minority. This is true of those territories which they now rule and also of those where they have not yet come to power.This is, however, less exceptional than would appear. In practice, most organisations and causes work through minorities. Even those who believe most deeply in majority rule still depend upon the faithful few to do the work, to make the necessary sacrifices in time, energy and devotion to keep the movement going.The Communists have learned from experience, and as a result both of pooling their ideas and of learning from the successes and failures of their movement everywhere, how best they can make the maximum impact upon others, even though they must work through a minority. Many of the methods they have evolved have grown out of this realisation. It is these that I consider it is most useful for us to examine.The Communist Party throughout the world has thirty-six million members. Of these, a very high proportion live in lands ruled by Communism. There, quite consciously and deliberately the party is kept small so that it may retain the character of an élite. Only a few million live and work in the non-Communist world. Yet the impact they make upon it is such that we are conscious of their presence the whole of the time. They have profoundly influenced the thought of the majority. The policies of other parties are notably different from what they would otherwise have been because the Communists exist.
Why the “correct ideas” are not enough for effective organization:
Beliefs are important to Communists. Communist policies grow out of them. Reading Marx, Engels, Lenin, may not be easy but it is necessary to an understanding of Communists and Communism. But it is not this that attracts people to the Communist cause. In my experience, the strength of Communism lies in its people and the way in which they are used. It is at this level that Communists have most to teach us. They use well the human material at their disposal. Most often non-Communists do not.Perhaps I should make it clear that when I speak of Communists in these terms I do so against a background of having associated with Communists in almost every part of the world, not just some special sort of British Communists, or Western Communists, who live in affluent societies. A point which must be grasped in any discussion of world Communism is that Communists are, or become, much of a type the world over. They have certain things in common which distinguish them everywhere.
Good communists believe in materialism but are also the ultimate “idealists”, as he puts it here - and the connection here he makes with youth is especially key - youth is also where we see many class-defections, or people taking a definitive side that is not always sharply in line with their “objective” class interests. It is is exactly the “subjective” factor of idealism that can lead to important minorities of middle-class youth taking the side of socialism. The flip side of this is youth in more desperate conditions taking the side of revolutionary action because they see a bleak future ahead in “adult society” - they have the most to gain from revolution and the new possibilities it would create:
If you ask me what is the distinguishing mark of the Communist, what it is that Communists most outstandingly have in common, I would not say, as some people might expect, their ability to hate—this is by no means common to them all. I would say that beyond any shadow of doubt it is their idealism, their zeal, dedication, devotion to their cause and willingness to sacrifice. This characterises the Communists wherever Communism has still to come to power and is obviously true of many in the very different circumstances where it now rules. The vast majority of the Communists I have met anywhere conform to this pattern.This is no accident. It does not just happen. The Communists have evolved their own means by which they are able to evoke an exceptional degree of dedication. And they use it very effectively indeed. To understand how it is done, one must follow through the process step by step from the start.The majority of those who join the Communist Party are young. The average joining age used to be between seventeen and twenty-five. Today it is between fifteen and twenty-five. For some years now they have been recruiting successfully among fifteen to seventeen-year-olds. The British Communist Party recently organised a recruiting campaign which brought in several thousand new members. When, in due course, the General Secretary made his report to the Executive Committee, he said that most of those who joined during the period of the campaign were between the ages of fifteen and nineteen.A majority of the Asian Communists with whom I have shared prison cells joined the movement when they were at school. Go to Caracas, Venezuela, and you will find that some of the Communists’ greatest successes are amongst high school and secondary school boys and girls. Some of the guerilla bands in the mountains of Venezuela are manned almost exclusively by youngsters of this age who have left their homes and their studies in order to be able to start the armed fight for Communism. The first sign of Communism which missionaries in Africa have discovered has often been when strikes occurred in their own mission schools. In other words, the successful appeal to the very young is not a British phenomenon. One finds it everywhere.Youth is a period of idealism. The Communists attract young people by appealing directly to that idealism.[…]Wherever I have travelled I have found that young people are idealistic. This is natural to any healthy youngster. I can only conclude that it is the way God wants them to be. We offend against charity and justice, and against commonsense too, when we sneer at starry-eyed idealism. We do it to our own loss.Young people have always dreamed of better worlds and we must hope that they always will. The day we lose our dreams all progress will cease. Idealistic young people will want to change the world and will pursue their own idealistic course in any case. If their idealism is not appealed to and canalised within the circles in which they have grown up they will seek elsewhere for an outlet.The Communists have demonstrated that the idealism of youth is something which can be harnessed and used with tremendous effect. It is a dynamic thing. Despite all the twists and turns of Communist policy it continues over the years to provide the dynamism of the Communist movement.
If there is one point emphasized over and over in this book, it is the level of dedication communist parties have been able to expect from their membership - communism becomes the “dominant thing” in the lives of members:
Communism becomes the dominant thing in the life of the Communist. It is something to which he gives himself completely. Quite obviously it meets a need, fills a vacuum at the time when he is first attracted to it. More significant is that it normally continues to be the dominant force in the life of the Communist for as long as he remains in the movement.The Communists’ appeal to idealism is direct and audacious. They say that if you make mean little demands upon people, you will get a mean little response which is all you deserve, but, if you make big demands on them, you will get an heroic response. They prove in practice that this is so, over and over again. They work on the assumption that if you call for big sacrifices people will respond to this and, moreover, the relatively smaller sacrifices will come quite naturally.
The “virtuous circle” of high expectations in an organization (anyone can probably relate to his counter-example of this at the end of the second paragraph):
Such sacrifices, whether at the level of leaders or of rank and file, are impressive. And they do impress those who associate with the movement. Particularly impressive is the fact that sacrifice is found at all levels of the organisation. Youngsters of every continent have responded to this example of idealism expressing itself in terms of sacrifice. This is true of the newly-developing areas. It is true also of the ‘decadent’ West. Indeed, the more materialistic our society becomes, the more the dedicated man stands out by way of contrast. The dedicated man makes his own appeal simply by virtue of the fact that he is dedicated.Like attracts like. Those who are attracted by the dedication they see within the movement will themselves be possessed of a latent idealism, a capacity for dedication. Thus dedication perpetuates itself. It sets the tone and pace of the movement as a whole. This being so, the movement can make big demands upon its followers, knowing that the response will come. If the majority of members of an organisation are half-hearted and largely inactive, then it is not surprising if others who join it soon conform to the general pattern. If the organisation makes relatively few demands upon its members and if they quite obviously feel under no obligation to give a very great deal to it, then those who join may be forgiven for supposing that this is the norm and that this is what membership entails.If, on the other hand, the majority of members, from the leaders down, are characterised by their single-minded devotion to the cause, if it is quite clear that the majority are giving until it hurts, putting their time, money, thought and if necessary life itself at its disposal, then those who consider joining will assume that this is what will be expected of them. If they nonetheless make the decision to join, they will come already conditioned to sacrifice till it hurts.
This anecdote (while amusingly centered on the party newspaper) adds some color to Hyde’s idea of what it is like for Communism to become the “dominant thing” in someones life, and the real sense of purpose and meaning that can create:
Often ex-Communists meeting together can talk of the ‘old days when we were in the Party’ rather like old soldiers discussing nostalgically the campaigns they shared in the past. We had been doing this. We had talked of old comrades who now saw themselves as our enemies, of the campaigns in which we had engaged together.Then, very wistfully, he said: ‘Do you remember what life was really like in the Party? You got up in the morning and as you shaved you were thinking of the jobs you would do for Communism that day. You went down to breakfast and read the Daily Worker to get the Party line—to get the shot and shell for a fight in which you were already involved. You read every item in the paper wondering how you might be able to use it for the cause.‘I had never been interested in sport but I read the sports pages in order to be able to discuss sport with others and to be able to say to them, “Have you read this in the Daily Worker?” I would follow this through by giving them the paper in the hope that they might turn from the sports pages and read the political ones too.‘On the bus or train, on my way to work, I read the Daily Worker as ostentatiously as I could, holding it up so that others might read the headlines and perhaps be influenced by them. I took two copies of the paper with me; the second one I left on the seat in the hope that someone would pick it up and read it.‘When I got to work, I kept the Daily Worker circulating. One worker after another would take it outside, read it for a few minutes and bring it back to me again. At lunchtime, in the canteen or the restaurant, I would try to start conversations with those with whom I was eating. I made a practice of sitting with different groups in order to spread my influence as widely as I could. I did not thrust Communism down their throats but steered our conversations in such a way that they could be brought round to politics or, if possible, to the campaigns which the Party was conducting at the time.‘Before I left my place of work at night, there was a quick meeting of the factory group or cell. There we discussed in a few minutes the successes and failures of the day. And we discussed, too, what we hoped to be able to do on the following day.‘I dashed home, had a quick meal and then went out, maybe to attend classes, maybe to be a tutor, maybe to join some Communist campaign, going from door to door canvassing or standing at the side of the road selling Communist papers—doing something for Communism. And I went home at night and dreamed of the jobs I was going to do for Communism the next day.’Rather sadly he added: ‘You know, life had some meaning and some purpose in those days. Life was good in the Communist Party.’He was right. Of course it was. It is quite wrong to suppose that it is only the saints who are not sad. Sinners can get quite a lot of fun out of life too. And those who are dedicated get immensely more out of life than those who are not. The day he had described had been my life and that of most of my old comrades. It was a day in the life of a dedicated man, a normal day in the life of a hardcore Communist Party member. It is not surprising that he looked back at that life from the wasteland of his present purposeless existence with a considerable degree of nostalgia.
What distinguishes the Communist movement from most others and makes it possible for so small a minority to make so great an impact upon our time is the dedication of the average individual member and the immense and dynamic force this represents when all those individuals collectively make their contribution to the cause. Without that they would not be prepared to accept the organisation, the discipline, the unending ‘Marxist education’, the incessant appeals for ever more action. All these contribute to the Communist impact, but the starting point is dedication.
Chapter 2: Taking the Plunge
Communism “asked for the whole man and got it”:
I recall a conversation with a judge in South East Asia before whom hundreds of captured and surrendered guerilla fighters and detainees had appeared. He told me, that without prompting, he could invariably distinguish between those who were trained Communist Party members and those who were mere sympathisers. Of many of the intellectuals who came to Communism in the West in the 1930s it might be said that their association with the Communist movement led to a flowering of their talents. The finest period of many of the artists, writers and poets, who came to Communism—even though they subsequently left it—was the one when they were Communists. This was partly because their work became more meaningful to them because they now had a cause for which to live and to which they could harness their talents. But it was also the case that Communism demanded everything of them. It asked for the whole man and got it.
Tying back to his earlier talk about idealism, this quote shows that “idealism” maybe is the wrong word - because Communist self-belief in their ability to actually transform the world in their lifetimes was so strong in this era:
Individual members of the Communist Party are brought to believe that together they and others like them can change the world. In their lifetime. They are convinced that this is not just a dream for they have techniques and a Marxist science of change-making which provide them with the means by which this can be done. When you have succeeded in making men believe that change is necessary and possible and that they are the ones who can achieve it; when you have convinced them that they and the small minority of whom they are a part can transform the world in their lifetime, you have achieved something very considerable indeed. You have put into their lives a dynamic force so powerful that you can bring them to do what would otherwise be impossible. The dull and humdrum becomes meaningful. Life becomes purposeful and immensely more worth living.
On the “Party in action” being the key point of contact with new recruits - specifically, the dedication of the Communists and their concern with real problems. This also helps to select for people who understand the level of dedication that will be required once they join the party:
To understand the Communist achievement one must understand the sheer mechanics, as it were, by which people, quite ordinary people with only average potentialities, can be brought to a state of mind where they are anxious to serve their cause by becoming leaders, are made into leaders and are enabled to lead effectively. As I describe the method which the Communists use, Christians and others may care to relate it to their own work.The majority of people who join the Communist Party do so knowing very little about Communism. This is as true of the intellectuals as of the workers. The potential recruit sees the Party in action. Frequently, someone he knows is associated with it, or someone with whom he works comes to his attention because of some form of activity in which he is engaged. It may be that signatures are being collected for a peace petition, or a Communist-led campaign is being conducted to improve working conditions or to obtain higher wages. Or he may see the Party campaigning to prevent a widow from being evicted from her slum dwelling. The important point is that he sees the Party in action and he admires what it is doing. From this he goes on to be more conscious of its other campaigns and increasingly to feel that these correspond to real needs. They are relevant where so much that is being done by other bodies seems to be quite irrelevant to the titanic needs and ills of our time.In other words, it is the Party in action, an active, campaigning body, and the people who make up the Party, who normally provide the spur to the recruits’ first approach to Communism. To spell it out: recruits to Communism are usually attracted by the dedicated people who are Communists and by the Party in action, and this action is appealing because it appears to be concerned with real problems. The Party operates at a level which is meaningful to the potential recruit. It comes to him, as it were; he does not have to seek out the Party.[…]The strongest impact made upon the mind of the recruit by the first Communist with whom he associates is likely to be of dedication. The first impression made by the Party comes from its activity—and the apparent relevance of that activity to our times. This being so, the man who decides to become a Communist does so in the expectation that he, too, will have to be dedicated and active as well. This, he knows from the start, is what is involved in being a Communist. He comes to the Party, therefore, prepared to have to give of himself to an exceptional extent.
Again, the difference in culture/expectations that is key to effectiveness:
In circumstances like these, the number of non-dedicated, non-active members continues to grow. Their minimal Christianity, their lack of dedication and absence of activity becomes the norm. It is a vicious circle.The norm in the Communist Party is quite different. The consequence is that the recruits come expecting right from the start that a lot is going to be asked of them. This is tremendously important. It means that the recruit gets off on the right foot. The Party has only to underpin and maintain a concept which is already in the mind of the new member.
Chapter 3: The Follow Through
This chapter, which can sound a little dated, still conveys an interesting idea about the importance of selling the party paper. As a commitment device and a demonstration of moral courage:
The instruction of the new Party member does not normally begin immediately after he joins. Quite deliberately, and with good reason, the Party sends its new members, whenever possible, into some form of public activity before instruction begins. More specifically, it is designed to commit the recruit publicly to Communism.Quite often this will take the form of being sent out to stand at the side of the street or in some public place selling Communist papers, periodicals or pamphlets. This may appear to be a very simple, somewhat low-grade form of activity. It is in fact of profound psychological significance. For the new recruit, still having to adjust his mind to the thought that he is now a Communist (and he knows that for large sections of the public the very name is a dirty word), this is something very significant indeed. He is making a public witness for the cause which he is now making his own. And he is, incidentally, committing himself to the Communist cause in more ways than one.When I was a Communist I sold the Party’s papers at the roadside. I hated it. Only someone who has done the same will understand what I mean. You take up your stand in some particularly public place, armed with your pile of papers. With the eyes of the world upon you, you unwrap them, feeling very self-conscious as you do so. You are convinced that everyone is wondering what you are going to produce from that parcel. You hold up a copy of the paper and you try to shout its name, and hardly recognise your own voice as you do so. The significance of all this is that, humble as the task may appear, to engage in it requires for many people a certain degree of moral courage.
Chapter 4: Study Groups at Work
On Party study groups and the general structure that makes them effective.
Once recruits have sold the paper enough to field a lot of hostile questions, they are hungry for more knowledge about communism, capitalism, and the Party, and it is from this real felt need that the Party starts educating them.
He will be made to feel right from the start of the very first session that instruction is not an end in itself; that acquiring knowledge may be interesting but that this should have some purpose. He is made to understand that the knowledge he gains will be so much ammunition for the fight, something to be used, not just absorbed. And he can see that this is not just words for all around him are people who are living the Communism he is being taught.The way in which the subject matter is presented emphasises the difference between these classes and orthodox ‘adult education’. If he has ever attended other adult classes he will know that it is normal for quite a high proportion of the people who attend them to be there simply ‘out of interest’, and that others are learning simply for the sake of learning. They are the sort of people who talk a lot and do little. Armchair philosophers and bar-parlour know-alls. It would be untrue to say that there are no people at Communist classes who enjoy the sound of their own voices. But the recruit will soon see that these are the ones for whom the tutor shows the least patience or that the attention he gives them is aimed at persuading them, or pressurising them, into linking words with action.Important too is the fact that the tutor is not simply asking his pupils to go into battle, he is quite obviously involved in it himself. The examples he uses, the anecdotes he tells, are not taken from books. They come direct from his own experience, from his contact with people and from the workaday world. The demand for total commitment implicit in the tutor’s words is made acceptable by the knowledge that the tutor is himself totally committed. If he is so obviously dedicated he has the right to present the world in terms which emphasise the need for dedication.
Hyde details the “Inspirational Approach” the party education first takes, tackling the key questions and the role the party plays:
(1) The kind of world we live in.
(2) How that world can be changed.
(3) The force that can change it.
(4) The Communist Party, the party of the working class.
Some other key ingredients:
Next, the subject matter is presented in global terms. It is presented against the background of a world in conflict. The recruit is made to feel that there is a great battle going on all over the world. That this includes his own country, his own town, his own neighbourhood, the block of flats in which he lives, the factory or office where he works.He is made to feel also that the period of history in which he happens to be living is a decisive one and that he personally has a decisive role to play. He is part of a great, worldwide movement which is challenged on all sides, confronted by an implacable enemy and involved in a battle which will decide the course of history for generations ahead.
Instruction for Action:
Next, the instruction the recruit receives is from the start linked with action. It is made meaningful to those who receive it. It is the tutor’s job to somehow connect it up with real life in every way. Each person being instructed must be made to feel that, no matter how theoretical the subject, what he is being taught is meaningful to him in his life and meaningful to the world and times in which he lives. The tutor sees his job as not simply that of pumping so much information into the heads of so many people but rather that of giving them instruction which will lead almost automatically on to action.Any Communist tutor who is worth his salt finishes each class with these words: ‘What are the comrades going to do about what they have learned today? How are you going to apply it to the hospital where you are nursing? You in the school where you teach? You in the factory where you are employed? You as a housewife to the neighbourhood where you are living?’The first item on the agenda when the class next meets will be: ‘How did the comrades apply what they learned last week?’ It does not matter whether the subject is trade union history, scientific socialism or dialectical materialism, teacher and taught must try to relate it to life and action.
The Fight Against Evil:
Quite apart from this ‘war propaganda’ aspect of the subject, the point we are considering is that Communist instruction is presented in such a way that the Party member is convinced that he is on the side of good, and involved in a struggle against evil. This appeals to something deep in his nature, something good. In their hearts, many men, perhaps most men, like to feel that they are on the side of righteousness. The Communist is brought to believe precisely this. What was, when he first joined, little more than a vague ‘feeling’ that he was identifying himself with a cause which is on the side of good, is transformed into a deep intellectual conviction.An immense amount flows from this. One reason why the Communist is prepared to make his exceptional sacrifices is that he believes he is taking part in a crusade, he is on the side of righteousness. His total dedication is really no more mysterious than the fact that millions of men could, almost knowingly, march straight into a mincing machine to be chewed to bits in senseless battles between 1914 and 1918. They left home and loved ones, prospects and careers, almost anxious to throw away their young lives. Dedication of this type is normal in time of war. By creating a similar psychology, the Communists in time of peace get the response that goes with it.
Finally, the use of both “economic” and “ethical” appeals:
Communist propagandists know that Communism has both an economic and an ethical appeal. To one man, it will be the economic appeal which will be most powerful. He is most likely to be the one who is at the receiving end of poverty, underpayment or unemployment. To another the ethical appeal will be the greater. This will most probably be the deeper and more enduring of the two. In practice, the Communists usually combine the ethical with the economic, even when they are appealing to the man at the ‘receiving end’.Anyone who has ever led a strike which is being fought on a ‘bread and butter issue’ knows perfectly well that if it is going badly and the morale of the strikers threatens to decline and crack, then, if you really want to give it a boost, you must stop talking economics and switch to the ethical appeal. You get away from simply stressing that the strike is for so many extra pence an hour and insist that there is a tremendous principle at stake. That way you maintain morale and increase the willingness to fight to a finish.The Communists use this. Basically, they appeal to something that is good.
Chapter 5: The Story of Jim
This is the interesting (and at times funny) story of the personal and political transformation of an initially uninspiring party recruit who Hyde helped develop into a real leader, and the overarching point is that the communists, working with the same “human material” as any other organization, pushed people much further. The lessons are summarized at the end of the chapter:
Jim’s story says much of what can be said about the training of a leader as the Communists see it. First, I inspired him, gave him the clearly-defined goal of a new and better world and the belief that he and others could between them achieve it provided that they prepared themselves sufficiently for the moment of opportunity. I gave him a sense of involvement in a battle, and the conviction that by going to classes he would gain the arms and ammunition required for the fight.The classes he attended were geared to his needs. What he learned was presented in terms which were understandable to him as a worker. The classes he attended were small ones. We shall come to this later, but this is of great significance. There, he was an individual and in the intimacy of the small group could, despite his reticence, be brought to make his contribution to discussion.By making him a tutor, we gave him confidence in himself, enabled him to glimpse his own unsuspected potentialities. By making him a tutor, too, we made him think in an organised way, sifting what was relevant from that which was irrelevant; he learned, because he had to, how to get the ideas out of his head into the heads of others. He was made articulate. We gave him knowledge which others had not got and an intelligently selected group to whom this could be passed on. By training him, then putting him up to speak in the market-place and at the street corner we showed him that he could influence larger bodies of people, too. We helped him to grow in stature when we thus brought him before the public eye as one of the Party’s leading local figures. Then we gave him specialised training in preparation for the sphere of activity in which he could be most effective, where there was the biggest job to be done, and which lay nearest to hand.[…]Yet, on the other hand, it is also conspicuously true that the individual member of the Communist Party who undergoes its training and its formation frequently blossoms as a personality. People who have been seen as failures by other organisations are frequently turned by the Communists into successes. Men who have been bypassed or rejected by others, who seem too ordinary, too mediocre to be even considered as leaders, are shown by the Communists to have potentialities of leadership, nonetheless.The Communists show confidence in the Jims of this world where others ignore them. They demonstrate in practice all too frequently a greater faith than we in the human material that God puts into our hands.
Chapter 6: The Formation Process
This chapter goes into more detail about higher-level party classes / study groups and how they are structured. Useful read when thinking about design of book/study groups that are oriented towards action or higher ideological unity.
One guide for tutors deals with this under the somewhat quaint heading ‘Against “bashism” as a method of education’. This is explained as follows:‘There is an old diehard theory that the best way to teach children to swim is to throw them into the sea. All the reports of miraculously floating infants are dutifully recorded. There is silence on those that sank.‘A similar theory once prevailed in certain circles of Party tutors that the way to teach people was to “bash” them. Publicly expose their weaknesses, misformulations and deviations. This may have had a good effect on some hardened characters but of those who never returned to be bashed again there is no record.’The passage that follows may surprise those who have learned only of Communists and Communism from the anti-Communist propagandists and who therefore suppose the Communists’ methods are always and necessarily ruthless and coercive.‘My own experience is that a kindly and decent attitude to students is one of the first demands on a tutor. Many comrades find things difficult; many are diffident, are nervous at first in the field of study. I am for the most co-operative and comradely atmosphere; an endeavour to listen patiently to what comrades have to say even if you feel it is wrong; an effort to pick out from contributions what is good as well as what is bad, and to explain mistakes in the most comradely and helpful manner. In general there is a very strong case for modesty on the side of tutors who often have less experience than those they are helping to study.‘Rough treatment should be reserved for those who are arrogant and intolerant to others in the course of the class or discussion.’
In what we have seen of Communist ‘education’ and tutorial methods, it will be clear that there is much that the non-Communist, and particularly the Christian, may not copy. There is much in it that will, quite properly, be an affront to the mind of any democrat. But there is much, also, from which others might learn. This is particularly true of the Communists’ attitude to the question of study and formation, and their recognition that those who would serve a cause must establish a unity of theory and practice in their own lives. It is here that the non-Communists tend most often to be at their weakest. It is assuredly where the Communists have their greatest strength.
Chapter 7: ‘You Must Be The Best’
The principle of being the best at your day job (as explained later, this also applies to other areas of a Communist’s life - like hobby or cultural groups, or as a student):
And so, the Communists say, if you are going to be really effective in your place of work, you must set out to be the best man at your job. In many Communist parties this has even been made an unwritten rule. It is repeated in Communist circles over and over again—every member should aim to be the best man at his job. It is not a bad rule.I knew a man who helped to lead a movement of the unemployed from just after the end of World War I right through to the beginning of World War II. When there was an unemployed agitation in South Wales he would be there to help build it up. Barricades went up in the streets on Merseyside and he would arrive to lead the fight. If hunger marchers went to London he would go with them. He was a full-time agitator, devoting all his efforts to spreading Communism amongst the unemployed by championing their cause. As a result of riots in which he was involved, he went to both jail and hospital time after time.By the time World War II came, most of the unemployed had already been absorbed into war industries. There were less and less of them for him to organise. Then came the certainty that able-bodied men would be directed by Government either into the armed forces or into industry. The Party leaders decided that he should return voluntarily to industry instead of waiting to be directed there.During World War I he had worked in a branch of engineering which required a very high degree of skill. He decided to go back to the same type of work. By way of preparation he dug out and studied his engineering manuals again. Then he applied for, and got, a job in a factory engaged in war work, employing top-grade craftsmen. The workers there had never been particularly well known for their Communist sympathies. When they heard that the notorious agitator was coming to work among them they were cynical. ‘He may be all right at talking, and leading unemployed, and fighting the police at the barricades, but we’ll soon see whether he’s any good at his job,’ they said.He arrived on the job and, contrary to expectations, he did not talk, he did not agitate. He just got on with the work. And, for a period of some months, that is all he did. During that time he concentrated on recapturing his old skill, mastering the work once more.[…]Only when he had already, to the surprise of everyone, established himself as a craftsman amongst craftsmen did he go into action. By this time he had the respect of every worker in the factory and in the trade union branch. It was only then that he stood for a vacancy on the shop stewards’ committee. He was elected. In his trade union branch he let his name go forward for a minor position and got it. He did both jobs well. Before long his was the dominant influence in the shop stewards’ committee. Simultaneously, he went up the trade union ladder. Within two years of returning to an industry from which he had been absent for twenty years, he had obtained one of the most influential positions in his union, where he could profoundly influence policies which concerned the working lives and conditions of hundreds of thousands of Britain’s key war-workers.The Communist approach to the choice of methods to be used, or rejected, where no Marxist principles as such are involved, is the pragmatic one. They test their methods by the simple question ‘Does it work?’ They have demonstrated that being the best man at your job does work very well indeed. They have proven this over and over again.
This same rule is applied to the Communists’ work among students. As is well known, Communists are active amongst students everywhere—this is particularly true today of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is true that you will find the occasional Communist student who gets so carried away by his Communism, gives so much time to political activity, that he fails all his examinations. This is not viewed with approval by the Party. Indeed, he is likely to be called to account for it. His Party group leader is likely to tell him: ‘You work very hard for the cause, and we are very grateful to you for what you have done. But you would have done a better job for Communism if you had passed your examinations instead of failing them. You would be more likely to carry conviction amongst your fellow students. More important, you would be more effective later on. You will not always be a student. Student life is a preparation for what follows. We want you to use this student period as your preparation for going out and making a mark in your profession so that you may do a good job for Communism there. So the better you do in your exams, the better it will be for the cause.’Once the student has grasped this point, his studies become more meaningful. They cease to be just a wearisome necessity and become a form of activity for the cause. If he finds them hard or distasteful, then this is a sacrifice he is making. Such an approach to his studies tends to make him more successful in them.The Communists carry this same unwritten rule that each member should be the best of his group into their activities in other organisations.
Chapter 8: Campaigns, Criticism, and Cadres
How the “party in action” works.
In urging their members to be active, therefore, Communists are not going against the grain. They are using something which has its own appeal. People, once they are suitably activised, get satisfaction from being active. If this can be made meaningful, then they will get even greater satisfaction, for they will feel that they are engaged in something virtuous. The Communists recognise this. To an exceptional extent they succeed in keeping their people almost constantly in action and in making members’ activity relevant to the needs or desires of the people they are seeking to influence and activise.This, then, is their approach to the technique of campaigning. Collectively the leaders at all levels must find issues upon which to campaign which will relate activity to the real needs of the people. Ideally, these issues should be linked to the people’s deepest desires. Quite frequently Communist campaigns have on the face of it little to do with the long-term aims of Communism. But they have a great deal to do with keeping Party members in action, attracting others to the movement and creating the image of a party which alone concerns itself with the lives and problems of ordinary folk.Much of Mao Tse-tung’s success, particularly during the guerilla phase of his fight, depended upon his party’s ability to discover the needs of the people and to come before them as their champions. In one of his essays he describes this approach as ‘from the people to the people’. By this he means that the Party should send its members out among the people, try to discover what they want most, what are the questions which are troubling their minds, what are the things which are nearest to their hearts. Then they should report back to their Party, cell or group what they have discovered. This should then be discussed and the means be found by which it can be used for the Communist cause. The Party then adapts its campaigns to the things the people already want. You take the raw material for campaigning from the people, give it a Communist content, then give it back to them again. Since, as Mao notes, it originated with them, they will naturally respond to it.
Books by Lenin and Stalin read like military textbooks. The terminology is that of the military academy. Communists think in terms of strategy and tactics. They think like so many army officers. And any military man should know that the art of campaigning is to be able to maintain the morale of your troops come what may.He knows that a big defeat may lead to his men’s becoming demoralised, but that there are ways of avoiding this. He knows, or should do, that you can take a big defeat and still maintain morale if you throw your troops quickly into action again in some sector of the front where they can get a quick victory, no matter how small. Leave them inactive and before long they are demoralised. So, for this reason, you need your long-term objectives, but you need intermediate and short-term objectives as well. The long-term objective of a Communist world may not be achieved for some time (although Communists believe it will be achieved in our lifetime). But Communist Party members are also given goals which are capable of realisation here and now.
But there must also be the short-term, immediate objectives. Campaigning for these is like the little skirmishes into which the wise officer sends his men knowing in advance that they stand a good chance of getting a small victory. This is of great psychological importance in constantly keeping morale at the highest pitch. Campaigning for well chosen immediate objectives helps to ensure that members do not lose heart, it keeps them continuously working for the cause, and therefore tied to it. A sudden cessation of activity, due to sickness or some other contingency, has been the downfall of many a Communist—it has led to his attitude towards Communism cooling off and to his subsequent defection.The immediate objective may be almost anything which links people with the Party, weakens the position of the ‘ruling class’ and the opponents of Communism, or advances the cause of Communism. If the members can see results from time to time, as Communists normally do, then they feel that all the fighting and campaigning is worth while, and they get the very human satisfaction of seeing ‘something attempted, something done’.
One obvious immediate objective is the making of converts. This is something which is in the mind of the Communist all the time. He is out to make converts whenever and wherever he can. Often the methods of individual members have been crude. They have proselytised so blatantly that they have built up a very natural and understandable resistance to their efforts. This is not peculiar to Communists. There have been many others who have fallen into the same trap.Communists learn from their mistakes and so their conversion methods have tended to become more subtle as the years have gone on. But this does not mean that their members have become less conversions-minded. Any Communist who is worth his salt, moving into association with a new group of people, will almost instinctively look around to see who are the ‘probables’, the ones who may most easily and usefully be brought into the Party. Having selected these, he will try to devise ways and means of bringing about their conversion.
I recall how on one occasion, back in my Communist days, I discovered that people living on a housing estate just on the outskirts of the town where I was working, had to go some three-quarters of a mile out of their way in order to get into the town. This was because their way was blocked by the mainline railway which ran past the estate. I at once started a campaign for the construction of a footbridge over the railway. It was a perfectly legitimate demand—someone should have provided such a bridge years ago when the estate was first built. So far as I recall I got literally every resident to support the demand. A splendid agitation, with petitions, meetings and marches—and good Press publicity—was conducted in the name of the Communist Party.We did not get our footbridge, but we got a unit of the Communist Party established on the estate, where previously I was the only member living there, and so, from our point of view, the campaign was a complete success.
They run a campaign, engage in some form of activity, and this is followed by what is called the ‘inquest’. At the inquest they are not concerned about being polite to each other. Their sole concern is to discover what weaknesses were revealed by the campaign, what mistakes they made. So they do not tell each other how wonderful everyone was and how splendidly the campaign was run. On the contrary.When you make a contribution to the discussion, you first criticise yourself, admitting that it was in such-and-such a way that you went wrong. You make no reference to your successes. These can be taken for granted. Instead you say: ‘I slipped up completely on this, on that and on the other.’ Then, having criticised yourself honestly and frankly, you consider you are entitled to do the same with the other people present.You point out where they went wrong, too, and seek the views of others on the matter. Every mistake is brought to the surface. But, more important, persistent probing reveals why the mistakes were made, how they might have been avoided and how the lessons learned from them can be applied to specific forms of activity which are already planned.[…]Certainly for the Communists’ purposes, they have demonstrated that the idea is a good one. One of its most important consequences is that the leaders feel free to send members into action without being inhibited by the thought that they may make mistakes. For they already know that mistakes need not be disastrous, provided that all concerned study them in due course, learn from them and try to ensure that they are not repeated. Bolshevik self-criticism is of considerable psychological importance because it helps to create a serious-minded approach to the members’ activities. To the man who joins the Communist Party and sees self-criticism at work it looks like clear evidence that here is a serious-minded group of people anxious to cut through all the cant and nonsense and get on with jobs that matter.
After describing an impromptu party-organized march that led thousands of housewives to confront town leadership over a lack of coal for heating their houses:
Our housewives’ demonstration had been given frontpage treatment by the Daily Worker which described it as a great Communist campaign. It goes without saying that Monday’s Daily Workercarried an even bigger story, with bolder headlines, proclaiming the great victory for which our local Communist Party had been responsible. And the appropriate moral was underlined that the people of that London industrial suburb were now no longer shivering, because they had refused to shiver in silence. Then came the inquest when we met as a Party branch to discuss this seemingly so successful campaign. Our propaganda had very naturally described it as a great success. But what was our verdict at the inquest?It was that the campaign had been a failure. Why? We had demonstrated to the authorities, and to ourselves, that the housewives of our town were angry at a situation which had grown out of the war. We had had thousands of angry housewives in fighting mood. Then victory had come. But it had come too easily. Now, as a consequence, we had thousands of contented, complacent housewives sitting smugly by their stoves, preening and complimenting themselves on what they had achieved by their own efforts. We should have built up class anger; we should have given the campaign a revolutionary content; we ought to have made some converts to the Communist Party, some new readers of the Daily Worker. We had not done so. From our point of view the results had been unhelpful rather than helpful to the revolutionary cause. We wrote it off as a failure. That is Bolshevik self-criticism in action.If there was anything in this for others to adopt and adapt it is surely the attitude of mind. A determination to be absolutely honest with yourself and with each other about what you are doing. To cut through the compliments and cant so that it is possible to see whether the purposes of your cause have really been served by the activities in which you have been engaged. To say to yourself and to each other ‘What is all this really about, what is it really for?’
On the systematic development of cadres - if a cadre is a “professional revolutionary”, this is their “professional development”:
The Christian wrestles with the old Adam, the good Communist wrestles with the old bourgeois beneath the skin.But the Party member is not left to achieve all that is expected of him in some lonely fight with his baser, bourgeois self. Nor is he left to wrestle alone with his self-cultivation like someone trying to pass some impossibly difficult examinations on the basis of self-study courses. The Party is there to aid him.In a famous speech to the graduates from the Red Army academies in May 1935, Joseph Stalin launched the slogan: ‘Cadres decide everything’. Techniques, he said, were important, but in the final analysis it was upon people that techniques depended for their success. It was no use simply trying to develop techniques if you did not also develop your people.This slogan was taken up and applied in practical fashion by Communist parties all over the world. In every one of them was established a special Cadres Department. This existed at every level of the Party. Its task was to ensure that each member was developed to the uttermost, made just as effective as possible in the fight for Communism. From the top to the bottom of the Party, at every organisational level, people were appointed to supervise this work.In a well run local branch, for example, there would be the cadres secretary who was supposed to know all the members individually and to know as much about them as possible. A good cadres secretary kept a card index file in which were noted the forms of activity in which each member engaged, the classes he attended, his response to them, those spheres of activity or study in which he had excelled, those, too, for which he had shown no aptitude or inclination.Within the particular unit of the Party the cadres secretary had an overriding authority. By this I mean that he was entitled to go to the branch or group leader and say that he considered that Comrade X was being used for too much campaigning, was in danger of becoming an activist who knew little of what all the action was about or, conversely, was attending many classes but doing little of a practical character and so was in danger of becoming an armchair philosopher. He would tell the group leader that this situation had to be rectified, and together they would discuss how the comrade concerned might most easily be persuaded to bring about a proper balance between theory and practice in his life. It would then be the cadres secretary’s job to see that this was accomplished.He would visit a member he considered to be in need of guidance, who looked like developing away from the Party or showed signs of still clinging to old bourgeois prejudices and attitudes. Earnestly they would discuss together how the comrade might improve himself and so become a good Communist, the sort of person he wanted to be.There is not the slightest doubt that when this cadres work was operating most successfully it brought about the very rapid development of Party cadres, gave the individual Communist a feeling that, having totally committed himself to the Party and submitted himself to the direction of the cadres secretary, he was now an ‘improving’ person and on the way to perfecting himself as a Communist.[…]When Stalin concerned himself with the development of people, when he tried to impress upon his Party leaders that people must be treasured and developed, he had of course only a certain section of the people in mind—those in the Communist Party or who were of direct and immediate use to it and, as was later shown, who were of immediate use to himself. His ‘humanity’ was selective. But his slogan: ‘Cadres decide everything’ was not a bad one.
Chapter 9: The Value of Techniques
This chapter deals with various techniques around propaganda Hyde considers important, much of which is fairly specific, but there are some generalizable lessons too.
How communist parties must distinguish themselves from bourgeois electoral parties:
The Party know from experience that people tend to be influenced by the mere fact that Communists are not just talking but are doing something, and then go on to accept the thought that they are probably accomplishing something, too.Communists try to prove to the public that they care about them as people. Anti-Communist propaganda has built up the idea that Communists care only about power. In the newly-developing areas, in particular, they have combated this idea so successfully that there are large numbers of people living in vitally important areas today who, whilst not accepting Communist beliefs or whilst knowing little or nothing about Communist teachings, still believe with absolute conviction that ‘only the Communists care’.[…]Political parties today are very much concerned about creating an image which they hope will be acceptable to the public. Public relations experts and advertising agencies are brought in for the purpose. It is all rather artificial, this attempt to create by slick publicity methods an image which does not necessarily have much relation to the actual performance past, present or potential of the party concerned. Sooner or later the public must sense this. But, when the Communists set out to create an image by the means I have just described, this looks genuine and convincing. It is certainly likely to achieve more among an unsophisticated public than all the costly publicity methods of the Communists’ opponents.
In retelling an anecdote from the Russian Civil War, about a group of illiterate peasants rushing to the front to join the Red Army, Hyde emphasizes the simplification of complex ideas: propaganda needs to be understandable by everyone.
It is for such simple ideas that men will die. Not one of those peasants could have explained even the rudiments of dialectical materialism. In all probability none had ever heard of it. The name of Lenin, as the champion of the poor, was known to them, but they were illiterate and so had never read his writings. But Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks had succeeded in reducing their message to a simple proposition for simple people. In so doing they made a major contribution to the victory of the revolution. For revolutions, no matter whether they are bloody Communist ones or peaceful Christian ones, are made by simple people, even though they may be led by intellectuals.If a Communist who is put on to propaganda work has been a good Communist he will already be close to the people. He will know their language, the way they think, the way they express their ideas. It is therefore easy for him to do his propaganda in their language, to know what will get through to them and what will not. The spokesmen of the non-Communist world too often are remote from the minds and lives of those to whom they wish to convey ideas.The Communists would say that, if your propaganda is to succeed, then you cannot live sealed off from the world. You must identify yourself with those amongst whom you wish to do your propaganda. The burden is on you. You have to find a way to get your ideas to them. If they are not receptive, it is no good blaming them. It is because you have not found a way to make them receptive. You will only do this if you understand how their minds work and if you make what is meaningful to them immensely meaningful to yourself.
Chapter 10: Leaders for What?
The last chapter emphasizes that the party views development of leaders as paramount to their cause - and that these leaders should then go out and lead to the maximum extent possible in the other areas of their life:
International Communism’s inner Party journal, The World Marxist Review, frequently refers to Communists as ‘soldiers of the revolution’. This is how they see themselves. And the fight goes on, no matter whether they are operating in a ‘revolutionary situation’, or in periods of more gradual change, which they see as ones of preparation. In that situation, they set out to establish themselves as leaders. They cannot all be leaders of the Communist Party itself, for it would be a case of all chiefs and no Indians. That is not the aim. Each Communist Party member is expected to be a leader in any field of activity into which life may take him. Trained automatically, spontaneously to take up a position of leadership wherever he goes. After all, men are not suddenly going to follow the Communists, when at last the barricades go up in the streets, unless they have already established themselves as leaders. Stalin, at the grave of Lenin, said: ‘We Bolsheviks are men of a special mould.’ The Communist Party everywhere sets out to produce men of a special mould.
Hyde closes with what leadership really means for the communists. It means creating an entirely different mindset, creating “integrated people”:
The task of making leaders is really one of creating an attitude of mind. When some new situation arises, the reaction of most people is to ask; when is someone going to do something about it? The spontaneous reaction of the trained leader is at once to ask himself: what do I do in this situation?He comes before his fellows and says: We should do this and that and the other. And they follow him. Partly because he speaks with authority, they respect him and look up to him, but also because they have learned from experience that he has something to offer.The Communist is taught always to ask himself: What do I do as a Communist? The answer he provides flows direct from his beliefs. Action and belief are always related in his mind and in his practice too.The Communists are not interested in producing leaders as such. It is Communist leaders they want. Men who will lead for the cause not just for themselves. […] Leadership training is not just to help ambitious men to the top, or to make little men who have done leadership courses feel bigger than they really are. Still less is it to produce führers, either large or small.It has much more to do with the making of integrated people. Ones who understand what they believe, are deeply dedicated to it, and who try unceasingly to relate their beliefs to every facet of their own lives and to the society in which they live.