December 4, 2023

Editorial note: In recent activity, the CWPUSA has undertaken the task of branching out from local committees with the objective of entering the workplace and establishing cells. Taking up this task has required reflection on the history of the communist movement in our country which has suffered from its detachment from the workplace. It is within this reflection where the members of the committees have developed questions, especially with confronting the various currents of opportunism that are encountered in our work. Taken up here is an elaboration on the workplace cell, its role, and how their establishment should not be confused with “Economism”

Dear Comrades,

The issue of what a workplace cell is, by definition and in practice, is the most immediate practical question for our committee to address. In their article, “The Backbone of Leninist Organization: Workplace Cells,” [1] the Turkish Communist Party elaborates the centrality of workplace cells as the “backbone” of the Party itself. Indeed, this was the recommendation put forward by the Comintern in its “Guidelines on the Organizational Structure of Communist Parties,” [2] passed at the Third Congress. The victory of the October Revolution demonstrated the necessity for communist parties the world over to adopt the Bolshevik organizational methods, which situate workplace cells as the tentpole of the entire Party.

But first, what is a workplace cell? A cell (also called a Party Base Organization) can be simply defined as the grouping of three or more Party members. A workplace cell, then, is a cell operating within a specific place of employment, whether it be a factory, cafe, port, department store, etc. Ultimately, these cells act as the building blocks of the Party. The cells, alongside the town/street units, are stitched together, either within a larger production facility or a geographic area, to form a Section, which are then connected together with other Sections to comprise a District, all of which operate under the direction of the Party Congress, and of the Central Committee in between congresses. In this way, each organizational component of the Party—and it must be emphasized that there can be no member of the Party detached from an organizational unit—is comprised of workers, organized at their workplace as members of the working class, and, having reached the highest level of class consciousness, as members of the Communist Party.

Now, this stands in opposition to the social democratic parties, which are organized on the basis of geographical units (typically referred to as chapters). By this method, class has no bearing on membership, and thus people who have arrived at a Marxist world outlook are brought in by mere circumstance, often by virtue of their access to higher education and the luxury of free time (both common elements of a petty-bourgeois class background). Moreover, the only criteria for membership is to pay dues. While dues are a vital component of a revolutionary organization, of greater importance is active participation in Party activities through one of its units. Without workplace cells to organize such activities, the ability to participate in any form of working class struggle is restricted at best to mass demonstrations or rallies that are nonetheless disconnected from a broader strategy.

​Workplace cells provide a remedy to this unfortunate arrangement, in which a purportedly revolutionary organization is filled with members of the upper strata of the working class or the vacillating elements of the petty bourgeoisie, neither of which have as vested an interest in the overthrow of the capitalist state as the proletariat does. The petty bourgeoisie does not have an immediate material interest in the end of capitalism, for that would mean an end to the social relations that make their comfortable existence possible! Whether or not they consciously understand their interests, such a reality inevitably influences their world outlook and their engagement with Marxism-Leninism. Meanwhile, the upper strata of the working class, i.e. the labor aristocracy, often professionals and office workers, enjoy the luxury of a bourgeois existence while meeting the technical criteria of being workers exploited by capital. This strata also tends to conceive of Marxism as an abstract ideal, nothing more than a lens through which to view the world, instead of a holistic model of reality providing a roadmap for revolution. These elements therefore lack a sufficient material interest in ending the system which gives rise to their conditions.

The labor aristocracy and the petty-bourgeoisie articulate their experience under capitalism in a way that is predominantly eclectic and opportunist, and therefore non-revolutionary. For the labor aristocrats and their petit bourgeois cohorts, the end of capitalism would mean an end to their lives of relative comfort and ease. Only the proletariat has an interest in its own end as a class. Owing to their privileged position within the imperialist system, bribed by their supervisory and professionalized positions within the monopolies and trade unions, the labor aristocracy provides the basis for opportunism within the labor movement. Instead of organizing the working class for the revolutionary overthrow of the whole capitalist system, they advocate (in deed, if not in word) conciliation with the bourgeoisie or pursuing a path of pure reformism. The experience of the Bolsheviks in combating the opportunism of the Second International – in which the labor aristocracy constituted the “principal prop” – demonstrated the necessity of combating all opportunist tendencies generated by this social stratum to avoid the failures that resulted from their nonrevolutionary positions. A key element in combating this opportunism is the adoption of the Bolshevik form of organization (workplace cells, sections, districts, etc.) that fortifies the social composition of the Party, guarding against the bourgeois influence and deviations that these labor aristocrats and their ilk advance.

It must be made abundantly clear that adopting workplace cells as the organizational backbone of the Party itself is not, by any means, economism, i.e. the struggle for better wages, better working conditions, or better hours within workplaces. Economism ultimately ignores the question of political power, a fatal error that would never allow for the revolution to be won. Perhaps the most striking example of economism is the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA seeks parliamentary reforms and the formation of unions as ends in themselves. They repudiate political struggle, instead adopting the strategy of tailing any momentum the labor movement generates on its own, which, as Lenin explains in What Is To Be Done?, [3] cannot give rise to socialist revolution. In this way, economism abandons the aim of the seizure of state power, and thus abandons the revolution in favor of “improved” conditions for the workers under the continued reign of capital.

While the economic struggle is vital for the revolutionary movement—indeed, the workplace cells will lead these economic struggles in their worksites—it is not an end in itself. Rather, workplace cells are the launchpad from which the Communist Party will lead the struggles on a solidly proletarian basis. The revolutionary movement will not progress beyond the struggle for better conditions under the rule of capital if it does not also enter into the arena of political struggle. This entails organizing demonstrations, strikes, mass meetings, and other disruptive actions with explicitly political character and demands, not merely economic demands. The workplace cells carry out the task of educating their coworkers in Marxist-Leninist ideology, of raising the consciousness of their class. The workplace cells are the units of the Party within the communities that lead these efforts, organize them, and enact the will of the working class, as expressed through the Party. In these ways, the cells provide the training grounds for the proletariat and prepare the working class and the Party through struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Such a moment requires extensive preparation indeed.

Thus, we see that workplace cells solidify the proletarian character of the Party, demonstrate the ability of the Party to lead the working class as its vanguard, and prepare the ranks, through their work, for the revolutionary seizure of power.

[1] Alpaslan Savaş, The Backbone of Leninist Organization: Workplace Cells

[2] Third Congress of the Communist International, Guidelines on the Organizational Structure of Communist Parties, on the Methods and Content of Their Work

[3] Vladimir Lenin, What Is To Be Done?