As communist theory is first and foremost concerned with the project of emancipation, it must necessarily confront questions of social and political change. Chief among these questions are those concerning the nature of political organization and its relationship to the development of (potentially) liberatory struggles. Central to this discussion is the concept of the historic party. Indeed, the nature of the party dominates debates regarding communist organization. Its formal aspects, its role in revolutionary practice, its relation to the working class as a whole; these are all given great importance by radical theorists seeking to understand the possible anatomy of a successful anti-capitalist revolution.
Over the past century or so, the discursive hegemony of official Communism has led to the emergence of two theoretical camps, both of which, as I see it, have failed to properly engage with the question of the party, instead clinging to vulgarized conceptions of its connection to class struggle. These two theoretical models can be broadly referred to as the Marxist-Leninist approach (for our purposes this shall include all Stalinist tendencies: Trotskyism, Maoism, etc.) and the anarchist/councilist approach. Both approaches share a general framework which conceptualizes an ontological gap between the conscious vanguard (i.e. the party) and the working class proper. Where they diverge is their respective attitudes towards this entity, seen in both models as something that exists externally to the proletariat.
The Marxist-Leninist theory of the party holds that the working class on its own is incapable of developing the necessary political consciousness to mobilize itself against capital, only reaching the level of “trade-union consciousness” over the course of its economic struggles. For this reason, the intervention of a party in possession of the correct analyses and strategic outlook becomes necessary to inject revolutionary content into these struggles. The theoretical doctrine applied by the party in its leadership of the class movement is formulated by the professional revolutionaries that make up its membership, and need not emerge out of a direct engagement with the struggles themselves. The positions outlined by Lenin in What Is To Be Done? are representative of this approach to party and class:
We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. 
It should come as no surprise that such positions on the party’s role came to be consolidated within Soviet orthodoxy at a time when there was a need to provide theoretical justifications for the state suppression of the working class. By rejecting the idea of any communist potentiality existing within the class itself, it became possible to rationalize the concentration of power in the hands of a “revolutionary” minority. It should be noted that Lenin by himself cannot be held responsible for all of this, despite the integration of his works into Stalinist dogma. In fact, his political assumptions underwent significant development in the years following the publication of What Is To Be Done?. Indeed, the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent emergence of a state capitalist regime played a much greater role in the evolution of this vanguardist model than anything Lenin wrote in 1901. Nonetheless, the above quote does encapsulate a type of thinking that continues to influence large parts of the left today.
In opposition to this first camp arose an array of positions characterized by a wholesale rejection of the party-form. The anarchist/councilist understanding also sees the party as existing outside of class, and must therefore be rejected along with all other perceived alien formations. Any type of centralized leadership structure is denounced as inherently counter-revolutionary. Only forms of self-organization that emerge spontaneously during intensified periods of class struggle, such as workers’ councils, are seen as proper mediums for the coordination of revolutionary activity. This cult of spontaneity proves problematic, however, when it comes to translating the theoretical model into a framework for concrete practice. A tension then exists within existing communist elements, as any large-scale class consciousness is viewed as a product of material conditions, which at some point compel the proletariat to act in its own interests. This must somehow be reconciled with existence of an already conscious minority, which must restrict its own activities in deference to the “autonomy” of the majority. Attempts to assume leadership of the movement are perceived as overly “authoritarian” or “hierarchical”.
The two camps just described are both deeply flawed in their approach, as they share an inability to understand the immanence of the party, as described by Marx and Engels in the second chapter of the Manifesto:
In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. 
For Marx and Engels, the party is something that arises from the concrete struggles of the working class, as the most politically advanced section of the proletariat organizes itself towards the aim of articulating an alternative social vision that can form the basis for a revolutionary transformation of said struggles. This party serves as the organ by which the proletariat asserts its political power and challenges the institutions of the bourgeoise, and is produced within the class itself by those workers who have come to see communism as the only possible escape from capital’s society of exploited labor.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, 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. 
Thus, the party provides the means by which the proletariat constitutes itself as a class for-itself, by organizing on the basis of a united opposition to capitalism. Rather than some external faction attempting to assert dominance over the masses, the party facilitates the internal clarification of struggles. In this manner, the working class as revolutionary force, according to Bordiga, becomes “a reality, made manifest in its organ, the Party, without which it has neither life nor the strength to fight” .
Communists should not shrink away from the prospect of assuming leadership, hoping that their fellow workers will someday be forced to organize themselves against the bourgeoise. It is inevitable that the development of political consciousness will be uneven, and such hopes for its instantaneous generalization only lead to a deluded, passive optimism. If we seek to end the tyranny of capital, then we must be willing to direct the movement against it. To do so does not necessarily entail operating via small, conspiratorial cells, working to infiltrate and manipulate proletarian activities for the benefit of a single organization. Instead, through direct and open partcipation in these activities, communists can put forward a positive program for change, while drawing on these experiences to develop new analytical perspectives for the purposes of strategic evaluation. Through the rejection of the ontological gap, pro-revolutionaries can avoid lapsing into substitutionism, by understanding that the production of communist consciousness is only possible through an internal process: the striving of the working class to overcome the limitations and contradictions of its own movement. The party is the apparatus by which the class conducts this process.
Such a process should not be confused with the strategy pursued by “vanguardists”, who conflate the expansion of their organizations’ membership base with the spread of class consciousness. The goal of the party is not to incorporate as much of the class into its formal structures as possible; it only aims to serve as a focal point for proletarian mobilization by advancing a clear plan of action. The basis for such a plan is derived from the historical lessons integrated by the party’s theoretical doctrine, a doctrine that only exists in close relation to the unfolding struggles.
If we conceptualize the party in this way, it becomes readily apparent that we must also affirm the intimate relationship between revolutionary theory and practical activity. As Mario Tronti once wrote, “there is no autonomous development of theoretical discoveries that is separate of their organizational practices. It is impossible to foresee the struggle when one is not in it. A command that does not understand the weapons to impose it is not a command. Such are the laws that govern the history of workers’ experiences” . In order to articulate a unified program and strategy, the advanced sections of the working class must put itself at the forefront of any struggles it seeks to direct. We have made it clear that the voluntarism of the Marxist-Leninist model is incompatible with how Marx and Engels saw the vanguard, but it is also important to resist any lapse into economic determinism. If theory is informed by action, then the theorists themselves must take action, instead of sitting idly by, hoping to gain insights through the observation of periodic outbursts of class antagonisms. What use would such theories be if they did not contribute to the revolutionary development of struggles? Theoretical intervention must come before, and not after, the revolution.
Through a reassessment and revitalization of the party-form, radicals can equip themselves with the conceptual framework necessary to investigate the connections between communist subjectivity and the contours of class struggle. An organizational outlook that discards shallow formalisms and idealist notions of political development is necessary if we are to confront the questions central to a revolutionary project. By approaching the proletarian subject from a position of immanence, such an outlook allows for the realization of the class’s independent emancipatory potential.
 V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
 Amadeo Bordiga, The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism
 Mario Tronti, Workers and Capital