Basically, the question is: would WordPress be our preferred blogging platform if there were no plugins? Or, we can ask an even more difficult question: would WordPress be worth anything without plugins?
My personal opinion is as follows: if there were no plugins, I would not necessarily use WordPress. What I mean is, without the plugins, WordPress becomes a plain vanilla blogging platform and I’d have to see how it measures up to the competing blogging platforms. Maybe it would still have advantages over the other blogging software, but maybe it wouldn’t.
Thanks to plugins, we WordPress users can easily create highly optimized blogs and sites that search engines love, add features that help us retain readers and monitor stats, and become more efficient bloggers. (See my post on “Things I do to optimize and secure every WordPress site and blog” to see all the wonderful ways we can improve the basic WordPress installation thanks to plugins.)
But luckily, we don’t have to seriously consider this question because plugins exist and new ones are being developed all the time. And that is why, at least for the foreseeable future, nothing can compete with WordPress. Viva la plugin developers!