First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, no volume, no number, no date 
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I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe... Here I stand; I can do no other. – Martin Luther replying to charges of heresy at the Diet of Worms, 1521
This first editorial is the Marxist-Leninist Quarterly’s statement of principles; but, more, it is a preliminary formulation of a call for an American Marxist movement. In the judgment of MLQ only socialism can save the American people from the impending disaster and satisfy their just demands for a secure, prosperous, peaceful life, and only Marxism-Leninism can offer the necessary theoretical guidance to those who wish to bring the working class to power.
As we stated in our “Prospectus” a few months ago:
American radicals today find themselves in the midst of three related crises. The first is the general crisis of capitalist civilization, which resulted in World Wars I and II and the Korean War and has deepened with the spread of socialist revolutions and successful wars of national liberation. The second is the specific crisis of the American ruling class, which worsens with its growing inability to put down nationalist and socialist movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and with the decline of the American economy relative to that of the Soviet Union and even to that of the still potent capitalism of Western Europe. The third crisis is within the American Left and is exemplified by its failure to take advantage of the other two crises, which are, after all, evidence of the weakness of the ruling class.
Time is short. The general crisis of capitalism and the growing political and economic weakness of the American ruling class proceed simultaneously with the technological revolution in armaments that enables this same ruling class to threaten mankind with a nuclear holocaust. A solution to the third crisis must be found, for only a revitalized American Left can lead our country out of its present plight.
The policies pursued by the successive governments of the United States – Democratic and Republican alike – since World War II have brought our people to the brink of this nuclear disaster. A world war will mean catastrophe for the human race and will certainly destroy our country.
The domestic counterpart to an aggressive foreign policy has been a war economy and an inability to use American resources to bring healthy, happy lives to millions of people at home and abroad. The regime under which we are living has confronted the American working class with persistent and growing unemployment, corrosion of job security, and a steady downward pressure on real wages; it has confronted the Negro people and other minority groups with unspeakable economic exploitation, social discrimination, physical terror, and daily subjection to personal humiliation. Our difficulties, foreign and domestic, are necessary products of the capitalist system, which is based on private profit-seeking and the concentration of power in the hands of an arrogant class of industrialists and financiers and their military and bureaucratic servants. To break out of these conditions we shall have to establish a socialist system of careful economic planning and the collective ownership of factories, farms, and banks under the hegemony of the working class.
Instead of facing the issues squarely, Americans have, until recently, reacted to the war danger, to economic stagnation, to racial discrimination, and the like, with confusion, fear, and anger. Fortunately, the long-smoldering sense of injustice and outrage is beginning to turn into fierce, if still scattered and too often uncoordinated or misdirected, opposition. In the last few years there has been a wave of heartening demonstrations against the bomb shelter hoax, against nuclear testing, and for sincere negotiations of international disputes. There are growing signs of popular refusal to tolerate the cynical unwillingness of the government to wipe out poverty, slums, and economic insecurity. The brilliant and heroic campaign of the Negro people and their allies against jimcrow has set an example to all and has demonstrated forcibly that the people can win victories under the most difficult conditions if they organize and fight.
The present attempts of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the former McCarthy supporter and counsel for the anti-labor McClellan Committee, to launch a McCarthyite purge of radicals from American life and to imprison the leaders of the Communist Party is meeting with resistance from a growing number of Americans who take the Bill of Rights seriously. Indeed, the ultra-right, which is trying to play the vanguard role in the bipartisan swing to a renewed policy of brinkmanship abroad and political witch-hunting at home, is finding that the tattered banner of anticommunism is not so effective as it was in McCarthy’s time in rallying Americans to degrading and suicidal adventures. If anticommunism remains dangerously effective in inducing panic among decent people, it is less effective than before, and encouraging signs of resistance are appearing, especially among young people.
Yet, it would be a mistake not to realize that these resistance movements are only one aspect of a broader discontent that has dangers as well as favorable possibilities. The increasing frustration and undirected anger that grips our people could serve the interests of a fascist movement if the class nature of our problems is not grasped. The positive resistance movements that have arisen do not have the scope or class consciousness to prevent the more general national discontent from falling victim to fascist demagogy. A strong socialist movement is needed to alert the people to the varied sources of American fascism. The threat from the ultra-right is clear to American progressives; the threat from within American liberalism is much less so. The ultra-right is certainly not to be underestimated, but its opposition to social welfare, its open alliance with racism, its rural-suburban appeal and clear contempt for the urban masses greatly reduce its chances for success. The danger is that its hysterical pro-war propaganda will make a deep impression on a tired, frightened public that uncritically accepts the capitalists’ version of Cold War issues and that, simultaneously, cannot understand why United States foreign policy suffers so many humiliating defeats. The opposition of American liberalism to the ultra-right, to fascism, is more apparent than real; that is, it is ambivalent, partial, and more concerned with tactics, style, and secondary questions than with the central issues of the Cold War and of domestic reaction. The “sophisticated” liberals who rally to Rockefeller in the Republican Party and to Kennedy in the Democratic Party are no less desirous of waging the Cold War, even at the risk of nuclear war, and of suppressing the Left. These forces do not have to carry the heavy ideological baggage of the Goldwaters and Welches: as liberals they can and do pay lip service to racial integration, can and do pretend to be concerned about the spread of anti-Semitism, can and do advocate the “welfare state;” in short, they are in a position to combine fascist repression, disguised as measures to defend the democratic liberties they are supposed to represent, a Cold War foreign policy, and a demagogic policy of throwing sops to the middle classes and the upper stratum of the workers. Certainly, there is a good deal of genuine antifascism left among American liberals; and possibilities exist for isolating the demagogs from their own mass following, for defeating their designs for a “national” Cold War effort. Certainly, there are important differences between the Kennedy-Rockefeller liberals and the ultra-rightists, if only because the latter are more reckless, more committed to the insane notion of total victory through a first-strike war (although we ought to remember Kennedy’s infamous remarks on first-strike), and less appreciative of the dangers to their own cause from such adventures, whereas some sanity and caution apparently remains in the former. Under the impact of the inevitable defeats abroad, however, these two tendencies could easily merge behind a thinly veiled military or fascist movement of “national unity” and a last-ditch stand against “Communist barbarism.” The basis for such a merger already exists, and in any case, either tendency, if allowed to continue to pursue Cold War policies, will sooner or later lead our people to disaster. Our task is to oppose all Cold War policies and internal repression, but we must do more. We must call attention to the fearful dangers to liberty and peace inherent in the growing militarization and economic regulation in the service of the big capitalists. We must combat those aspects of the “welfare state” that strengthen the monopolies, expand the power of big business over the national finances, and deceive the working class into believing that its own interests are being served. Certainly, Marxists must support measures to extend social security, unemployment benefits, slum clearance, and so forth, but such support must always be critical and qualified. First, reform measures cannot cure the basic ills, and a determined battle must be waged against the illusion that they can – that they are steps toward socialization. Second, these reforms are a vital ingredient in a particularly nasty game of political duplicity. A “progressive” liberal Democrat like Kennedy asks for legislation that he knows he will not get from Congress, not even from a Congress dominated by his own party. Either the legislation is defeated, in which case he looks like a people’s champion battling reactionaries (whoever they are supposed to be at any given moment), or it is passed in a diluted form, in which case he is supposed to “have done his best” against these reactionaries. The game should be transparent and yet continues to deceive millions. Third, much of the “welfare state” legislation turns out, on close inspection, to be “warfare state” legislation: for example, measures to combat unemployment through arms contracts. Fourth, and perhaps most important, all welfare legislation expands the national debt. If the debt is financed through taxation, the burden invariably falls on the lower income groups – especially through the device of indirect taxation; if the debt is financed through borrowing, the power of the great banks and monopolies over the nation’s economic life is extended. In other words, even in the best of situations, social reforms in a capitalist framework have their reactionary side and strengthen the position of big business to some degree. To teach these lessons without seeming to oppose genuinely progressive legislation designed to bring greater security to the people will not be easy, but it can be done by the correct application of Marxist criticism and by patient, principled political activity.
We dedicate ourselves to exposing the roots of America’s foreign and domestic difficulties – the domination of our national life by a class of capitalists who use their immense propaganda machine to promote reaction at home and who use an immense military machine to promote their hegemony abroad. We dedicate ourselves to fight every one of these policies to the limit of our ability and, above all, to fight against the class and class rule that make these policies possible.
The United States has the wealth to bring a higher standard of living to all its people immediately and to help solve the problems of hunger and backwardness on a world scale at the same time. Instead of squandering its precious wealth and even more precious talent on a debasing Madison Avenue hucksterism designed to provide our people with a television-age equivalent of “bread and circuses,” it could put this wealth and talent to work revitalizing our national life, raising our cultural standards, and giving Americans a renewed sense of individual dignity and social responsibility. The United States cannot do these things unless it replaces the war economy with a peace economy; ultimately, it cannot do these things unless it reorganizes the economy to eliminate the profit system and to put the profits of billion-dollar corporations to work for the people’s welfare.
The American people are not making good progress toward the solution of their problems because they see only isolated injustices and do not see the underlying cause. The struggles of the working people for better conditions, of the Negro people for full equality, of all peace-loving Americans for a peace policy, are all struggles against a ruling class that cannot survive without dividing and silencing the people at home and without shooting down opponents abroad. To be effective, these isolated struggles against our imperialist ruling class must be coordinated and guided by a movement that understands their full significance and that openly fights for a socialist reconstruction of society. Such a movement can arise only from the ranks of the working class, which is at the heart of our economic life and upon whose labor all economic and social reconstruction depends.
Common among Americans are a number of illusions preventing them from seeing the underlying cause of their problems and from looking toward a socialist solution. One of the most dangerous of these illusions concerns the nature of the state; another concerns the idea of national interest. Many Americans have allowed themselves to be fooled into believing that because they can choose between candidates selected by money-dominated political machines, they have a government ruling in the public interest. Because the people do not yet understand the class nature of state power they are unable to see through the boldfaced lie that the government is above class interests. The first lesson to be learned – and a socialist movement has no greater responsibility than to instill this lesson in the national consciousness – is that state power, for all its demagogic pretensions, is ultimately the ruling arm of the capitalist class. In a bourgeois democratic state such as ours a sterile parliamentarism serves principally to settle quarrels among the moneyed interests, although the people can use parliamentary forms to improve their lot in peripheral ways. Too many Americans in the labor and left-wing movements suffer from the liberal delusion that a parliamentary democracy in a society in which big capital dominates the political parties and communications media can somehow raise the working class to power. On the contrary, the great task of American socialism is to destroy the capitalists’ power over the state and to erect a genuinely representative democratic state in which political power is wielded by the working people. American Leninists do not “advocate” violent revolution; they do advocate the revolutionary transfer of power from the few to the many and warn the working class that the capitalists will probably resort to violence, fraud, and civil war to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.
The second widespread illusion is the capitalist notion of “national interests,” which in reality is the interest of the capitalists and their servants, not the people. United States foreign policy is designed to protect the money and property of big business, even if it means the destruction of foreign peoples and countries and even if it threatens our own people with nuclear extermination.
Too many of our people still believe that our government stands for peace and freedom; many accept the government’s claim that the Soviet Union is responsible for meddling in the internal affairs of small defenseless states. Yet, the whole world, although not many of our own people, knows that in recent years the United States government has been responsible for coups and aggression against popular regimes in Iran, Indonesia, Brazil, Guatemala, Cuba, El Salvador, Laos, and the Congo, among others. Indeed, the Kennedy administration has intensified the policy of aggression against the socialist world and has, despite pretensions to the contrary, continued to strike blows at small countries (Cuba, El Salvador) and to try desperately to prop up discredited, corrupt, reactionary regimes (South Korea, South Viet Nam). It is time Americans were made to ask themselves why, if our government stands for peace and freedom, it has made the United States the most hated and feared nation on earth.
Our people are coming to understand these things, but their understanding proceeds slowly in the face of the almost total control of the press, radio, and television by the capitalist class and those who prostitute themselves for the money and glamour of upper-class life. Time is short. If the United States, which has so much to contribute to the material and cultural well being of the world, is to survive as a nation, its people must take their lives and fortunes into their own hands. They must learn to distinguish between the needs and interests of the country (i. e., of the workers, farmers, intellectuals, and oppressed minorities) and the needs and interests of capitalism and the capitalists. In particular, Americans must take a critical look at the political system and the leaders it brings to power. Americans, including American socialists, are deeply committed to political democracy and individual freedom. For socialists the task is to refute the lie that capitalism can provide individual freedom for the masses, the lie that socialism is opposed to democracy and freedom.
In addition to refuting the lies circulating among the American people, a serious socialist movement must dispel, irrevocably, the crippling illusion circulating within the American left that the imperialists, out of a newly recognized self interest, could and would change the predatory and warlike character of their system. During and after World War II we were told that self-interest would lead the imperialists to foster full employment at home, promote economic growth abroad and develop equitable and extensive trade relations with the Socialist nations. These policies would expand the market, stabilize capitalist production, make possible steady economic advances for the working class, mitigate the class struggle, ameliorate imperialism’s most glaring social evils (racism, jingoism, cultural conformity and sterility), and end the threat of war. Marx and Keynes were to be joined in joyous wedlock. “Revolutionaries” would be spared the arduous task of overthrowing the entrenched power of the ruling class and could henceforth devote themselves to the far more interesting work of exploring the “true self-interest” of the now enlightened imperialism.
Regrettably, the imperialists have proven themselves backward pupils incapable of responding to this well-intentioned, albeit unsolicited, advice. They have instead continued to conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of their system: they have stepped up the drive for conquest of the world market; increased capital exports designed to extract super profits from underdeveloped countries; and refused to cooperate with any movement, at home or abroad, that infringes upon their right to exact tribute from the entire human race. They reserve for themselves the power to decide how and where the accumulated profits are to be used – whether to bribe a section of the working class here, a nationalist movement there; whether to hire mercenaries to wage counter-revolutionary war in the Congo or gun-thugs to terrorize strikers in Hazard, Kentucky.
If the Cold War has underscored the fundamental characteristics of imperialism, it has also exposed its weakness, for each imperialist success has ultimately turned into failure. To take a single instance: In Latin America the United States investment boom of the 1950’s led to a collapse of the market price for raw materials (in order to realize the profit on the investments) and consequently dried up the whole area as an arena for continued profitable investment. In fact, the entire Alliance for Progress might well be viewed as an extraordinarily cynical attempt to make political capital from the present unwillingness of United States private enterprise to invest freely in Latin America and hence to convince the American people to underwrite and secure these investments through “public” loans and grants.
Only philistines – people who have lost all political outlook – would conclude from the self-defeating consequences of imperialist actions that we can sit back and “let history take its course.” It is more absurd to conclude that the main task of revolutionaries is to “enlighten” the imperialists and somehow make them aware of the destructive and self-defeating results inherent in their policies. To follow such a path is to abandon Marxism, which bases itself on objective social laws, for a subjective idealism unworthy even of the most immature political analysts.
Revolutionaries draw other conclusions: that capitalism has outlived its usefulness and bred an imperialism responsible for most of the depredation and suffering in today’s world. They conclude that this decadent social system is daily threatening mankind with the incalculable destruction and devastation of a thermo-nuclear war. Consequently, they redouble their efforts to organize the masses, direct their anger into revolutionary channels, and to resist imperialism on every front. Above all, they fight to end the war danger forever by mobilizing the people against imperialism and its state apparatus – by preparing the people, under the leadership of the working class, to smash the imperialist state and establish a democratic socialist society.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons has given fresh currency to illusions about imperialism’s self-interest. Who, it is asked, would want to cause his own destruction by unleashing a thermonuclear war? From the “obvious” answer it is easy to pass on to a description of an imperialism that accepts its fate passively, that stands around wringing its hands while the economic might of socialism multiplies, the colonial empire crumbles, and the world market shrinks steadily. MLQ does not claim to have answers to the wide range of complex problems that the present stage of imperialism poses for the revolutionary working class movement of our country. This issue features an article, “Inventory for Terror,” with which we hope to open discussion on the military and political consequences of nuclear weaponry – a discussion that might profitably be entitled “How to Strike the Nuclear Gun from the Imperialist Fist.”
If doubts about imperialism’s unchanging nature remain, the Cuban crisis, Kennedy’s speech to the released prisoners in Miami, the increasing involvement of American troops in South Viet Nam, and the swelling budget for still more destructive weapons should dispel them once and for all. There are no self-imposed limitations on imperialism’s drive for world mastery; humane and moral considerations will not deter imperialism from its course. Because we understand what a nuclear war means and also understand the danger of such a war arising from the imperialist system we maintain that only a world-wide movement of aroused tens of millions, together with the adequate military strength of the socialist countries, can stay the hand of imperialism in the immediate future and that only the conquest of power by the American working class can guarantee world peace.
How is a socialist movement to be built? The editors of MLQ do not pretend to have a formula but do believe that certain steps can and should be taken. The defeatism of recent years must be replaced by confidence in victory. There is no point in making polyanna pronouncements of invincibility at a time when few see a real possibility of victory in America. Rather, we need to stress the considerable advantages that American socialists have today. First, imperialism is on the defensive and can no longer prevent even small countries like Cuba from winning independence and establishing socialism. The breakup of the imperialist world means, among other things, a growing defeatism in the capitalist camp and new possibilities for an anti-capitalist offensive at home. Secondly, the capitalist class and its governments are having increasing difficulty coping with unemployment and economic stagnation, and new opposition is appearing in the long quiet labor movement and among the unorganized workers. This development and the dramatic new turn that the Negro people’s struggle has taken provide excellent opportunities to win large numbers to socialism. Third, world events now impress themselves on the thinking of Americans in a way that hastens the process of awakening and of resistance to imperialism. It was only a short time ago that the political and intellectual servants of the capitalists assured the world that socialism could never achieve what capitalism has achieved. It is now clear to all, the capitalists and their servants included, that the socialist economy of the Soviet Union and of the whole socialist bloc is rapidly overtaking the capitalist economy of the United States and of the capitalist bloc despite a fifty-to-one-hundred year disadvantage.
The decisive step, we believe, in building a socialist movement must be the organization of a vanguard party guided by Marxism-Leninism that can coordinate and direct a many-sided struggle for a socialist democracy. It is worth noting here that, at the very moment in which bourgeois ideologists and revisionists assure us Marxism is passed only those countries which have boldly and creatively applied Marxism to their specific national circumstances have been able to build socialism and make breathtaking economic and social progress. The development of a sound Marxist program for an American socialist party and the proper application of general theory to specific conditions require careful study of American history and politics; such study will be greatly facilitated by a mastery of Marxist theory, built up from worldwide experiences, and will in turn enable us to enrich and develop that theory. We know that no small group can claim a monopoly of the ideas, experiences, and talent necessary for this work. MLQ hopes to do its part and invites all who share its goals to join with it.
This is not the place to undertake a lengthy critique of an avowedly Marxist-Leninist group such as the Communist Party (CPUSA). But a few words are in order. In general, we believe that the CPUSA has long been shackled by the liberal illusions of which we have spoken; that it has abandoned the fight for socialism, which is ostensibly ”not on the agenda”; that its position on international affairs is becoming less and less distinguishable from that of liberal pacifists; that it is no longer willing to undertake an uncompromising, principled struggle against class collaborationists in the labor movement and against liberal imperialists in the Democratic Party. The CPUSA has repeatedly compromised itself by supporting various “reform” and liberal groups in the Democratic Party despite their deep commitment to imperialism, while it has refused even to discuss coalitions, however limited, with revolutionary socialist groups. Perhaps most serious: the CPUSA has so little internal freedom that it has long been impossible to work within it, constructively and in a disciplined way, to change its policies. In a phrase, it has lost its will to revolution and, in consequence, has lost the self-confidence necessary for that internal struggle and debate without which growth is impossible. We believe, too, that the Trotskyist SWP is dangerously wrong in its hostility to the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc and that its position is harmful to the struggle for a socialist world. We recognize that the SWP has generally defended the socialist bloc against the attacks of imperialism, but the extent and nature of its criticism has often done far more damage to our cause than its support could offset. The SWP has for too long been a sect engaged in special pleading for Trotskyist theses, some correct, some dubious, some absurd, and most irrelevant to contemporary problems. We do not want a fratricidal war with the CPUSA, the positive achievements of which are well known and the leaders of which are now threatened with imprisonment by the Kennedy administration, nor with the SWP, nor with any other socialist group; and we shall refuse to engage in such a war. We seek only a frank discussion of differences and, whenever possible, a coordinated socialist struggle against the imperialist enemy.
These, then, are the general circumstances and attitudes that have led to the founding of MLQ. Its editors hope that its pages will enable American workers and their intellectual allies to see more clearly their common class interests and to act upon their knowledge. We intend to present critical analyses of contemporary problems and to expose the roots of United States imperialism. Our aim is to win advanced fighters in the labor, Negro, peace, student, and other popular movements to independent socialist activity and particularly to a vanguard Leninist party that can lead millions in mass movements against imperialism. MLQ hopes to be a channel through which the experiences of the world working class movement can be absorbed and through which Marxism-Leninism can be applied to American experience. It is to effect these ends that we open our pages to all who share our desire to advance the cause of a socialist United States.