First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the last period, the communist movement has suffered from a right punch and a left hook. The right punch came from the opportunist deviation of the Revolutionary Union (RU) and others (such as the October League (OL)) , who in the name of “experience” and “engaging in mass work” temporarily disarmed the communist movement of the theory of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. The left hook was a blow from the counter-revolutionary “Communist” League (“C”L) who, as we have seen, cashed in on the opportunist errors of the RU, principally by hiding under the guise of taking seriously the study of Marxism-Leninism and the task of party building.
The effect of the left hook has been more stunning than truly damaging, due to the cover that the right opportunism of the RU provided for the “C”L. But this senile disease will not spread far in a bourgeois society. Like many religious sects nowadays, such as the Maharaji, Rev. Moon, etc., it will at best catch some winks from our wretchedly oppressed class brothers and sisters; at worse, it will degenerate into a sect of frenzied petty bourgeoisie. But to fully grasp this two-sided development, how “one tendency covers another,” we must also understand where the right punch is coming from and what it is made of.
The right opportunism of the RU has dominated the scene for the last year and a half. In the long run, it is more dangerous to the communist movement than the “left” opportunism, because of its mass appeal and because it wants “to unite all who can be united” to form a party. Their errors must be just as thoroughly repudiated. The essence of that right punch is an undisguised belittling of the role of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, a taxiing of the movement during the “last period” at the stationary orbit of “anti-imperialism,” from which followed an unprincipled method of party building (i.e. the National Liaison Committee rather than open principled polemics) that amounted to bourgeois politicking. On the one hand, the RU declared the principal task of party building unsound, but on the other hand conducted the movement with a crudely-fashioned theoretical baton. And more recently the RU has taken the additional step of rationalizing its past incorrect formulation of the principal task with special theories.
The ideological root of all these manifestations is a peculiar form of American bourgeois ideology, pragmatism. In this article we will try to illustrate some aspects of this erroneous tendency. Our disagreement with this right opportunist line centers around their formulation of the principal task, which they defined as “building the struggle, consciousness and revolutionary unity of the working class and developing its leadership in the anti-imperialist struggle.” We have opposed this formulation for the last couple of years and still oppose it.
Our principal task is party building. This task is specifically broken down into 4 components:
– the study of Marxism-Leninism and its application to concrete conditions and topical issues.
– the consolidation of advanced elements of the working class around Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.
– Engagement in polemics within the communist movement for the correct programme
– the linking up of our organization with other communist organizations, based on agreement around programme, strategy, tactics and organizational principles.
The chief feature of this party building task is revolutionary theory. Following are some of the reasons why we feel revolutionary theory is crucial at this juncture in our communist movement.
At this period, we are at the crossroads between two historical periods and two movements. First, the international communist movement has made a rupture with the modern revisionists and has begun a new, international communist movement. Second, in this country, the spontaneous movement of the most conscious sectors of the population in the sixties and early seventies (fire at the treetops, as Lenin would describe it) has given way to the beginning of a gigantic upsurge of the US working class (fire at the tree trunks). The role of communists is to lead this upsurge and, through our leadership, to merge the working class movement with the communist movement. This is contrary to the approach of passively serving the spontaneous movement and each of its separate stages. It means, as Lenin put it, “... the mass movement places before us new theoretical, political, and organizational tasks, far more complicated than those that might have satisfied us ....”
Both of these historical junctures demand that we arm ourselves with the weapon of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought to create the basis to smash the international revisionist trend in the US movement. To plunge unarmed from one spontaneous movement into another will certainly lead to nothing but total defeat and demoralization.
Third, communist movements in advanced capitalist countries go through two general steps before the vanguard can mobilize the masses for the final onslaught against the bourgeoisie. As Lenin stated, these two general steps are: 1) to win over the class conscious proletariat to the side of socialism, to organize the vanguard of the proletariat; then and only then 2) to search after forms of the transition of the approach, to link up the vanguard with all the oppressed and lead them to the offensive position. While these two general steps are not mutually exclusive historical stages, we must bear them in mind to help us understand how we can distinguish the principal task from the secondary tasks.
We are still in the first step, that of winning over the class-conscious proletariat to the side of socialism. In an advanced capitalist country like the US, where, unlike semi-feudal, semi-colonial or autocratic states, bourgeois democracy is “almost complete,” the fulfillment of this step is extremely difficult. The existence of a relatively high degree of political liberty is a condition that maintains the separation of the mass movement of the working class from the communist movement, for it breeds bourgeois-democratic illusions among the masses. In the advanced capitalist countries, reform is the principal strategy of the ruling class to divert the struggle of the working class from socialism. (Incidentally, this is also the basis on which we disagree with comrades who uphold the united front against fascism as the strategy for the present. They claim that the ruling class in capitalist countries has basically changed the general strategy of reform. We, however, feel that even though the menace of fascism is increasing due to the changing material conditions, the ruling class at this point still holds the same strategy). This condition of relatively broad political liberty and reform, therefore, permits open political propaganda and agitation. At the same time, it makes economist and revisionist errors, such as serving the mass movement passively at each separate stage of its development, especially dangerous. This demands special efforts to inject socialist ideology into the advanced elements of the working class, in the context of day to day defensive struggles against the bourgeoisie.
Fourthly, as Chairman Mao wrote: “The next fifty years or so, beginning from now, will be a great era of radical change in the social system throughout the world, an earth-shaking era without equal in any previous historical period. Living in such an era, we must be prepared to engage in great struggles which will have many features different in form from those of the past.” (our emphasis) “Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution.” Never before have the struggles of Third World countries against the imperialists been so powerful and never before have capitalist countries been in such deep crisis; in the last half year, almost 10 major capitalist countries have undergone swift changes in their governments as a result of the collapsing of the old world order. In the midst of such great changes and great turbulence and the emergence of new and richer varieties and forms of struggle, theory, as a guiding force, takes on a particularly crucial role.
Fifthly, Lenin long ago contended that, due to their historical traditions, the US and England are countries where the people are the least theoretically oriented, where the philosophy of “do it” has prevailed more than anywhere else. For socialist ideology and theory to root in our working class, the vanguard absolutely must respect it and adopt it as its own.
However, following in the best tradition of American pragmatism, the RU stated their principal task as “Building the struggle, consciousness and revolutionary unity of the working class and developing its leadership in the anti-imperialist struggle”. In traveling the path of least resistance, the RU omitted the ideological and theoretical struggle as a fighting task, and this is probably the most self-indicting evidence that they have delivered. What kind of “consciousness” and “struggle” does their slogan call for? Is it communist consciousness, about which Lenin wrote: “Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected unless they are trained, moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic point of view and no other.” No, it is explicitly ”anti-imperialist consciousness.” But there is only one kind of consciousness that communists are most responsible to impart to the people, which is not “anti-imperialist consciousness” but socialist consciousness. “Anti-imperialist consciousness” or “national consciousness” against national oppression, etc., are not an independent ideology with a comprehensive, consistent stand, viewpoint and method. “Anti-imperialist consciousness” can at best be perceptual understanding of the “system.” It is not an ideology that should be built towards as an aim. It is a special category that we believe the RU has invented to fit their principal task into their program. Such consciousness can be revolutionary in practice. But if no deliberate efforts are made to raise it to socialist consciousness, then it will degenerate into reformism. Communists must win over the advanced elements of the working class to socialism through our day to day immediate struggles. Therefore, in this period of social upheaval it. is not anti-imperialist consciousness that is absent, but our consciousness as communists that is questionable and needs to be raised. To us, therefore, there is not a shred of difference between the Progressive Labor Party’s line of “building the base among the working class” and the RU slogan. The PLP slogan calls on communists to make friends based not on socialist ideology but on bourgeois concepts of friendship. PLP does not stress Marxism-Leninism as a science but only urges disciplined practice based on “common sense” and special schemes. The RU slogan is nothing but old wine in a new bottle.
And what does the revisionist “C”PUSA have to say on this question? The Soviet book US Labor Unions Today tells us that “the Communist Party of the USA directs all its energies toward mobilizing a mass movement of working people against the brutal system of capitalist exploitation and all forms of social and national oppression.” (p. 195) Here the identity between the “C”PUSA’s and the RU’s lines comes out clearly.
As trade union misleaders who keep the rank and file cool in order to prevent the emergence of spontaneous mass leadership, the revisionists keep the cadres’ heads buried in the heat of spontaneous class struggles and liquidate the struggle for correct ideology and leadership.
Lenin taught that “... all belittling of the role of ’the conscious element’, of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite irrespective of whether the belittler wants to or not, strengthening the influence of the bourgeois ideology over the workers.” “Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn away from it in the slightest degree, means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.” Since American pragmatism, a form of bourgeois ideology, is strong and deeply rooted in this society, what prevails when we deprive our struggle of a fierce and continuous ideological battle is... American pragmatism.
Yes, it is true that the particular feature of our movement resulting from our rupture with the old Communist Party, is the loss of valuable experience and traditions. This, however, only points to the deficiency of our young movement as a whole, which cannot be rectified by plunging the entire movement, which has barely raised its head from spontaneity, back into spontaneity. Experience is certainly necessary, but it is something that will take decades of struggle to reacquire.
The main weakness of the old CP was not its lack of “experience” in various areas of work. Its main weakness, which proved to be fatal, was its weak theoretical base. This lingers on in many of the older comrades who have come over to the Marxist-Leninist movement, who operate on pragmatic rules of thumb and gut feelings for the class. The CP even tolerated Khrushchev and eventually got lost in the swamp of revisionism.
To build a new communist movement with a vigorous and solid basis, we must recall the words and spirit of Lenin when he wrote of the urgent needs of the movement after its rupture with the Legal Marxists and “the task of those who desired to oppose opportunism, in deeds and not merely in words”: “First of all, they should have made efforts to resume the theoretical work (emphasis, added). As we stated earlier, ours is a part of a new international and anti-revisionist communist movement, with many features similar to those of the period between the Second and Third Internationals. As then, the programs of the new Communist Parties must develop out of relentless struggle against renegade revisionist *and opportunist lines of all shades, a struggle that must be especially fierce and protracted in the land of imperialism, where the material ground for such revisionism is especially fertile. The vanguard action of Albania and China have pointed the way for us in the rupture with international modern revisionism. We must now learn how to integrate the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of revolution in this country to contribute to that single international victory over revisionism.
But of course, our pragmatists will have nothing of it. They instead proceed to formulate a program that “is formed on the basis of learning from the advances that have been made and the experience that has been accumulated in the past period.”
For Marxist-Leninists, the correct line emerges from struggle against the incorrect lines. While the summing-up of day-to-day experiences, or as the RU puts it, the “fleshing out” of the experience of a given period, is necessary, it cannot serve as the basis for an anti-revisionist revolutionary program. Revisionism itself is an ideology based on more than a hundred years’ “experience” of the international labor aristocracy and a decade’s experience of the social-imperialist bourgeoisie in state power. Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought must therefore embody an infinitely broader and deeper social knowledge than our movement can “flesh out” of its “experience of the past period” (approximately five years), its knowledge being based on the entire historical experience of the battle against revisionism.
Just as the First International was born out of militant struggle against the original revisionists such as LaSalle, Bakunin and Proudhon, and the Leninist Third International grew out of fierce struggle against the renegades Kautsky and Bauer, etc., of the bankrupt Second International, our new party too must grow out of a tit for tat struggle against modern international revisionism and particularly the “C”PUSA. However, present opportunist tendencies in party building, especially by the RU, relegate this anti-revisionist struggle around ideology, line and program to a secondary position. It instead elevates the question of winning over the “fence sitters,” as the RU so affectionately calls those who don’t belong to one of the three “main trends,” to a question of crucial importance.
Let’s “unite all who can be united” to form a party! The overzealous RU jumps onto the party building bandwagon after seeing how the “C”L is whipping some people into their line. In their tailing after “C”L (!!) on this question, the RU forgot that their slogan is a united front slogan used in China in the context of uniting with the national bourgeoisie and even the KMT against Japanese aggression at a particular stage of their struggle for socialism. That was a slogan for action around definite anti-imperialist and democratic tasks. It was definitely not a slogan for the formation of a vanguard party that would have to lead the masses through every twist and turn and every stage of the revolution to final victory. Lenin and Mao very clearly asserted that we cannot make ideological concessions in the communist movement. Can the RU possibly reconcile their misuse of that left slogan with Lenin’s statement on party building that “Before we can unite and in order that we may unite, we must draw firm and definite lines of demarcation”? Comrades, that’s where you should apply the rule of “one divides into two”! Correct revolutionary unity to build a party must be viewed within definite lines of demarcation! If we don’t adhere to this basic principle, it will have the “most deplorable consequences,” in the future working class movement. Again, in building a revolutionary party in one of the two most vicious and most powerful imperialist countries, any neglect or belittling of the struggle against modern revisionism and social-imperialism, in the slightest degree, means opportunism and revisionism. To build a new communist party that is anti-revisionist, it is not sufficient to merely point our finger at the revisionist “C’PUSA and declare that they are revisionist. The new party must first be anti-revisionist in its program and in deeds. Not to have that at the very beginning is to fall into the swamp of opportunism and revisionism from the get-go.
“Revisionism,” Lenin said, “patently follows from the very nature of this policy that it may assume an infinite variety of forms, and that every more or less ’new’ question, every more or less unexpected and unforeseen turn of events, even though it change the basic line of development only to an insignificant degree and only for the briefest period, will always inevitably give rise to one variety of revisionism or another.” We must not only understand revisionism as an international trend but must also seek out, predict and grasp that which is nationally specific and nationally distinctive. American pragmatism is one such nationally distinctive and specific ideology. This tendency must be thoroughly repudiated, for otherwise we will have not a correct party but another revisionist one.
Another example of how the RU has elevated their belittling of the theoretical task to a special theory can be found in the April issue of “Revolution” in the article on “V. I. Lenin,” In incorrectly assessing the renegade line of the “C”L, the RU went so far as to say “Lenin stressed that ’there can be no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory.’ But he also emphasized that there could be no revolutionary movement without the ’real moving force of history, the revolutionary struggle of classes,’” This seemingly innocent statement coming of the RU’s mouth at this particular period contains, however, the greatest deception. The RU, in putting forth an obviously correct position on the revolutionary role of the masses, manages to evade the essence of Lenin’s point, which is the revolutionary role of theory. The RU, in other words, just as the OL and Davidson of “The Guardian,” begs the question rather than confronting it head on. They twist and turn the argument to pit theory against practice instead of addressing themselves to the question, the theoretical tasks of the movement. Instead, once you mention theory as a principal task, they all point their fingers at the “C”L and at Charles Loren and say “See, this is what studying Marxism-Leninism is all about.” This is nothing but a guilt by association trick to divert the movement from its crucial tasks.
But let’s get back to the RU’s misquote, and show how they desperately try to justify their incorrect principal task of the “last period” and how, in the process, invent a whole new system and order of ideology to rationalize the error which, if they persisted in it, would certainly divert their whole organization into the marsh. Lenin advised that it is common for revolutionaries to make mistakes, but the important thing is to recognize them and to change them, This is what “criticism and self-criticism” are all about. For if one were to persist in a small mistake, it could become a whole new wrong trend.
Lenin, in the first few pages of “What Is To Be Done?” quotes Engels in depth to show us why the German workers’ movement, a theoretically developed, movement, was different from the British and the French struggles. Engels wrote that the British and French workers’ movements were weak, not because they lacked “the real moving force of history – the revolutionary struggle of classes” as the RU contends. He stated that the weakness on the theoretical front held back the entire struggle. In section D of the first chapter of “What Is To Be Done?”, entitled “Engels on the Importance of the Theoretical Struggle,” he noted the “...indifference towards all theory, which is one of the main reasons why the English working class movement crawls along so slowly in spite of the splendid organization of the individual unions” (our emphasis). Without theory, “the real moving force of history” cannot move forward.
He continued, “The second advantage” of the German workers’ movement is that they benefitted from “German theoretical socialism” which “. . .rest(s) on the shoulders of Saint Simon, Fourier, and Owen.” He said that “the practical workers’ movement in Germany ought never to forget that it has developed on the shoulders of the English and French movements, that it was able simply to utilize their dearly bought experience, and could now avoid their mistakes....” That’s what Lenin meant by “experience,” not merely a “sum-up” of the Farah Strike Support Committee, not merely the “experiences” of “Outlaw” or the “experience of the last period,” but the sum total of all past class struggles as they are correctly interpreted in the literature and history of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. “The history of socialism and democracy in Western Europe, the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, the experience of our working-class movement – such is the material (his emphasis) we must master to elaborate a purposeful organization and purposeful tactics for our Party” (Our Immediate Tasks). How can the RU, quoting Lenin’s statement that “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” then tack on the following cover: “...but he also emphasized that there could be no revolutionary theory without the ’real moving force of history.’” Throughout the Iskra period, Lenin clearly argued against precisely this glossing over of the theoretical tasks. We too are in a period when “the party is only in the process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined.” And now, as then, “Not a word is said about theoretical work and the urgent tasks that now confront us.”
In the June issue of “Revolution,” the RU said, “A Party which in fact is only a paper Party with no real, concrete programme because such a programme can only be created by summing up practical work, which these dogmatists have no use for and little personal experience with” (our emphasis) . And in the July issue of “Revolution” they repeated the same pragmatist theme: ”They are trying to drag people back and obstruct the process of building a true vanguard Party that can lead the masses in revolution because it links theory with practice and is formed on the basis of learning from the advances that have been made and the experience that has been accumulated in the last period.” And in the May issue of “Revolution” there again appears the statement that “the key link” in the building of our party is “summing up” our work. What is this if not pure and “practical” pragmatism? To repeat: ”...our revolutionary programme” “...can only be created by summing up practical work” “...and the experiences that have been accumulated in the last period.” To top it off, the RU went so far as to say in an article entitled “Paper Party or Class Vanguard,” that “.. .the experience of workers, especially workers in large-scale industry in production and in the class struggle is the basis (their emphasis) for Marxism...” and “that’s why Marxism is the ideology of the proletariat.” No wonder then that the “C”L is having a field day in rounding up committed comrades. For the RU is holding high the banner of “experience” and waving it as if it’s some kind of magic bag from which the party programme can be conveniently “fleshed out” in the twinkle of an eye. This is the ultimate of how the RU uses “experience” and “summation” as a substitute for Marxism- Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. For example, in the July issue of “Revolution” in the third article in the series on party building, RU says that ““C”L is reactionary because they give people a defeatist summation of the past period.” But the RU also says that the bourgeoisie give people a defeatist summation too! This is really going too far to elevate their “experience” into a “summation.” The ’C”L is reactionary, RU says, not because their outlook is Trotskyite, is thoroughly bourgeois, but because of their “defeatist summation”! Can’t you even distinguish between a Trotskyite trend, a bourgeois ideological stand and bourgeois ideology – what has that got to do with ”experience” and “summation”? – and a deviation in summing up the work which can be characterized as “defeatist”? It shows that either you are exercising some kind of absurd logic or you are playing with sophistry to “prove” your concocted solution. In going out of your way to prove the point that at this period studying Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought is not important and is not the key link, i.e., not as important as your “struggle, consciousness and leadership,” you have gone so far as to say that “C”L is reactionary not because they are Trots but because they don’t “link theory with practice”! What if some Trots did link their theory with practice? Would that make them less reactionary? SWP, for example, are action freaks. They link their Trotskyite theory with their Trotskyite deeds. Does that make them any better? So, in trying to sound clever, you are making yourselves look ridiculous. By holding on to and persisting in the arguments about “experience,” the rope is getting tighter and tighter. By confusing the enemy’s class stand, i.e., “C”L’s Trotskyism, with some “defeatist summation,” you are forcing yourselves to change your class stand. Beware, comrades, sophistry will lead you into the swamp. Don’t play with fire!
Let us now probe a little more deeply and try to understand just what this monster, American pragmatism, is. What is its historical materialist origin and what are its special attributes?
Marx said in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that “Upon the different forms of property, upon the social conditions of existence, rises an entire superstructure of distinct and characteristically formed sentiments, illusions, modes of thought and views of life. The entire class creates and forms them out of its material foundations and out of the corresponding social relations.”
Pragmatism, as an uniquely American bourgeois philosophy, reflects the particular modes of the productive forces that developed very rapidly over a relatively short span of time, and the subsequent form of bourgeois ideology that arose as a part of the superstructure and was promoted under those material conditions.
We stated in Part I of our preliminary draft on the Asian National Question in the US that “...capitalism in America, unlike capitalism in nation-states such as England or France, was an ’open system’ which drew most of its labor not from rural areas surrounding the cities, but from countries beyond its borders...” “Between 1790 and 1880, America’s population increased from 3.9 to over 40 million, an unheard of 10-fold leap in a brief 90 years.” The largest sector of this population was overwhelmingly immigrants uprooted from their native homelands; many, while embracing feudal modes of production and ideology, were confronted with a society of ruthless exploitation and the naked free sale of labor power.
Marx and Engels said “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has... left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous cash payment and resolved personal worth into exchange value” and “egotistical calculation.” This development was most abrupt in America, which was not bound by residual feudal social and productive relations.
The Asian National Question paper continues: “Between 1830 and 1890, US capitalism flourished at an unprecedented level.” “Whereas, for example, in 1850 68% of needed manufactured goods was imported, by 1911 only 11% was. By 1890, industrial products had already overtaken agricultural products as the main area of national income. By the turn of the century, America, once a colony of Europe, was already producing half as much as what all of Europe produced. Along with the flourishing of capitalism came the development of monopolies.” Such an astonishingly rapid pace of development naturally was accompanied by bourgeois ideology which further promoted such development. This ideology is American pragmatism. It was first introduced by Charles Pierce and John Fiske (promoter of Manifest Destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race) and later by William James and John Dewey.
American pragmatism in its crudest form simply means that whatever works for me and gives me results is good. It regards efficiency, expediency, and usefulness as truth, and whatever works as correct. It is a naked apologist philosophy for imperialism, Manifest Destiny and American jingoism. At home, it is an apologist policy for white supremacy and the crudest forms of national oppression which transcend even feudal crudity.
American pragmatism naturally also serves the labor aristocrats as a collaborationist ideology of sham reform. In the Marxist movement it takes the form of a notorious ideology of “American Exceptionalism.” Of course, far from being an “exception” to the rule, the distinctive feature of American bourgeois ideology probably represents the purest “coldly calculated” ideology of the bourgeois ruling class. And far from being unique, the bourgeoisie of other countries are indeed indebted to their American counter-parts for propagating this “exceptionalist” ideology to get their jobs done well.
Pragmatism is an ideology mutated and promoted by the social relations. Functionalism, instrumentalism, and utilitarianism – these are the “above class” pillars that have evolved and are deeply circulating in the bloodstream of our good old American pie tradition. This ideology, however, can be bodily transferred from the bourgeois superstructure – the realm of ideology – to the Marxist-Leninist movement and superstructure of Marxist-Leninist ideology in the form of determining shortcuts, rules of thumb, expediency, demagogy, sophistry, etc. If practice can hold a group together, then that’s what a group should do, regardless of what kind of practice it has – that becomes secondary. If this argument can beat the opponent, then use it. Worse yet, whether to even have a line or not, to be open about it or hide it, or to silently mutate it – all this is determined by what aids one’s organizational supremacy and expansion. Such are some of the manifestations of the iron grip of a far stronger bourgeois ideology on the communist movement. Pragmatist tendencies, thus, are a particular form of revisionism in the ranks of communists.
For example, Lenin said, “A natural complement to the economic and political tendencies of revisionism was its attitude to the ultimate aim of the socialist movement.” “The movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing.” This catch phrase of Bernstein expresses the substance of revisionism better than any long disquisition could. To determine its conduct from case to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping and changing of petty policies, to forfeit the primary interests of the proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of all capitalist evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the real or assumed advantages of the moment – such is the policy of revisionism.” Thus, in the labor movement, pragmatism takes the form of utilitarianism; it calls on the oppressed to fight for practical interests and to abandon their fundamental interests – as an oppressed class – for their emancipation.
Pragmatic tendencies within the Marxist-Leninist movement bow down before practice and despise theory. Those who adhere to these tendencies worship experience and regard experience as the only reliable guide to action. That is, they are in the main empiricist. Being empiricists, they necessarily follow the method of “tactics as process”, i.e. proceed from the basis of the experience of practical struggles rather than on a systematic plan of action based on historical materialism.
For example, in the June 1974 issue of “Revolution,” the RU said: “A party... is based on a political programme that is developed by summing up what has been learned from the mass struggles we communists have already participated in and have tried to lead.” And in their September 1974 “Revolution,” on party building, they again say “You always get it (a correct line) by summing up experience, being deeply involved in the struggle and applying the revolutionary science of the working class, Marxism-Leninism, to that” (our emphasis).
This formulation can be interpreted in two ways. First, that it is purely empiricist. Second, that it can serve as a good sum-up of practical work based on Marxist-Leninist criteria – but after the struggle is over. At best the latter line suggests how to acquire a good relative truth from a correct sum-up. But the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism contains a larger absolute truth which is supposed to be a guide to our practice in the first place. To advocate that the party programme must come out of “summing up practical work” and “the experience of the last period” is at best tactics as process and at worse empiricism.
Let us compare the validity of a party programme “fleshed out” of one’s limited experience and one that is based on the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the application of Marxism-Leninism to specific conditions. If a comrade with empiricist tendencies were to have some bad experiences with two Eskimos with whom he had had no previous contact, he would conclude that all Eskimos are bad people, class collaborationists, etc. But a communist whose thinking is based on the science of Marxism-Leninism would automatically reject this concept, for he knows that all people are composed of classes and that good and bad must be based on the respective class. The communist would automatically put the empiricist comrades’ experience in the proper perspective. This shows that if a party programme were to be based on experience, one would be led to the ridiculous implicit rejection of the outlook of Marxism-Leninism. On the other hand, the RU would say “Well, we don’t reject Marxism-Leninism, we only apply Marxism-Leninism to our experience,” but if that is the case, aren’t you saying that your past practice, seven years’ worth, was not, as we suspected, based on Marxism-Leninism as a guide, but based on groping in the dark and just keeping a whole bunch of people busy. If that is the case, then you certainly did follow the method of tactics as process, the method of all economists.
The RU’s party building line, no matter how you look at it, epitomizes the pragmatist tendency and is nothing but a continuation of the PLP’s methodology as well as their world outlook. To the RU’s understanding of the concept of experience, we counterpose the very explicit dialectical materialist understanding. Dialectical materialism regards experience as a subjective and partial reflection of objective reality. It unequivocally advocates that objective reality is independent of subjective experience, that objective reality is the source of experience and not vice versa. Pragmatists and empiricists regard experience as the sole source of objective reality. They thus advocate just the exact opposite.
For the RU, then, experience is larger than life. Their party program, as they strongly advocate, is going to come out of the, concentrated larger than life sum-up of experiences. But we would like to know how these experiences would broaden the scope of our work which, due to historical limitations and our own primitiveness is necessarily narrow. We feel that the scope of our work, as well as questions and problems that we will face in the future, require deeper understanding to formulate tactics as plan. This has to come out of studying and understanding the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought correctly interpreted experiences (relative truth) to it. And not the other way around as the RU claims. This is the only approach whereby we can minimize the communist movement’s bowing to spontaneity – the only way to seize crucial revolutionary initiative. No wonder then that Lenin said “At a time when many Russian Social-Democrats suffer from a lack of initiative and energy, from an inadequate “scope of political propaganda, agitation, and organization,” from a lack of “plans” for a broader organization of revolutionary work, at such a time, to declare that “tactics as plan” contradicts the essence of Marxism means not only to vulgarize Marxism in the realm of theory, but to drag the party backward in practice.
Marxist-Leninists should take the universal truth of historical materialism as a guide to integrate with relative truths obtained through a process of cognition that repeats practice and investigation. This is the only correct manner by which communists can derive political lines and specific policies. The pragmatist, on the contrary, uses his “experiences” and ties them together by a systematic school of thought through a method of sophistry in order to obtain expedient results. This is why Lenin said “There is no doubt that both the materialist and idealist line in philosophy may all be concealed beneath the word ’experience.’”
This is why we said in the Asian National Question Forum, “...pragmatists are the ones who beg on past experiences and hold them above everything while only paying lip service to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, for in essence they reject the Marxist-Leninist stand, viewpoint and method.”
The manner in which the RU justifies a new period – by distorting a correct Marxist-Leninist relationship between theory and practice, the role of experience and the theory of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought – is sophistry. A new period was created just to rationalize their past incorrect principal task.
Lenin said, “...the word ’experience,’ on which the Machists build their system, has long served as a shield for idealist systems, and now serves Avenarius and Co. for eclectically passing from the idealist position to the materialist position and vice versa.” This is precisely the manner in which the RU displays their sophistry. The RU conceals their line underneath the word “experience” and the CL buries their line under idealism and metaphysics.
Besides following pragmatic lines and their narrow experiences, pragmatic organizations also follow one rule: they only respect their own experiences. As empiricists, they only trust their own and disregard others’ experiences. For if they were to extend their knowledge to others’ experiences, they would necessarily also extend their knowledge to the historical experiences of others and thus the sum total of experiences. The rejection of all experiences outside their own is the basis for organizational sectarianism and, for larger organizations, for organizational chauvinism. It stems from bourgeois ideology and the bourgeois class stand of careerism and individualism.
This pragmatic line also leads to a narrow conception of united front work generally. All pragmatists are short-sighted, just as capitalists. If they don’t see immediate results of united front work, they try to maneuver the united front in such a way as to wreck it. This, of course, stems from the outlook of “We are the only correct organization.” This, of course, also applies to inter-organizational relations over and beyond the question of independence and initiative within the united front.
Among their attempts to deny the current importance of theory to our movement, the RU at one point quotes Lenin:
In one of his first major works, while stressing the importance of theoretical work at that time (1894), Lenin made a point of saying that ’In thus emphasizing the necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of the Social-Democrats, I by no means want to say that this work should take precedence over PRACTICAL WORK.” “On the contrary, the practical work of propaganda and agitation must always take precedence, because firstly theoretical work only supplies answers to the problems raised by practical work”)...“Such a presentation of the task guards Social-Democracy against the defects from which socialist groups so often suffer, namely, dogmatism and sectarianism. (“What the ’Friends of the People’ Are,” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 1, pp. 297-98, emphasis added)
The RU often speaks and writes of the importance of making concrete analyses of concrete conditions, but it here commits precisely the error of not doing so. It quotes Lenin entirely outside of time and place.“
First, the RU does not explain the fact that its quote comes towards the end of one long work (among an entire set of articles written in that period) in which Lenin throughout repeats and demonstrates the “necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of the Social-Democrats”. It instead plucks out two sentences in which Lenin writes of the precedence of practical work over theoretical work, and hopes thus to get over. That is the first and less important mistake.
To understand the second, far more serious error, we must take a long quote in which Lenin explains the four periods, the changing time and conditions, of the Russian Social-Democratic movement:
In all, I named four such periods in the above-mentioned pamphlet (What Is To Be Done?), the last of which referred ’to the sphere of the present and, partly, of the future’; the third period was termed that of the domination (or, at least, the wide spread) of the ’economist’ trend, beginning with 1897-98; the second period was the name given to the years 1894-98, and the first to the years 1884-94. In the second period, in contrast to the third, we see no disagreements among the Social-Democrats themselves. At that time Social-Democracy was ideologically united, and it was then that an attempt was made to achieve the same unity in practice, in organisation (the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party). At that time the main attention of the Social-Democrats was centered not on clearing up and deciding various internal Party questions (as was the case in the third period) but on the ideological struggle against the opponents of Social-Democracy, on the one hand, and on the development of practical party work, on the other.
There was no such antagonism between the theory and the practice of the Social-Democrats as existed in the period of ’economism’.
The pamphlet in question reflects the specific features of the situation then and ’tasks’ of Social-Democracy. It calls for deeper and more widespread practical work, seeing no ’obstacles’ whatever to this in lack of clarity on any of the general views, principles, or theories, seeing no difficulty (at that time there was none) in combining the political struggle with the economic. It addresses its explanations of principles to adherents of the Narodnaya Volya and the Narodnoye Pravo, who are opposed to Social-Democracy, in an endeavor to dispel the misunderstandings and prejudices which keep them away from the new movement.
So, at the present time, when the ’economist? period is evidently coming to an end the Social-Democrats’ stand is again the same as it was five years ago. Of course, the tasks now confronting us are incomparably more complicated, as a result of the immense growth of the movement during this time, but the principal features of the present reproduce, on a broader base and on a larger scale, the specific features of the ’second’ period. The variance between our theory, programme, tactical tasks, and practical activities is disappearing in proportion to the disappearance of ’economism’. We can and must boldly call again for deeper and more widespread practical work, since the theoretical premises for this work have already been created to a large extent. We must again devote particular attention to non-Social-Democratic illegal trends in Russia, and here we are again confronted with trends which in essence are the very same as those of the first half of the 1890’s – only much more developed, organised, and ’mature’.” (Lenin CW, V. 6. pgs. 212-213)
Thus, the first period achieved the dissemination of Marxism among the revolutionary intelligentsia and the beginning of the ”ideological struggle against the opponents of Social-Democracy”, principally the Narodniks. Theoretical work was the principal, virtually the only Social-Democratic activity at that time. “This was the period of the rise and consolidation of the theory and program of Social-Democracy. The number of adherents of the new trend in Russia could be counted in units. Social-Democracy existed without a working-class movement; as a political party it was undergoing a process of foetal development.” (What Is To Be Done, conclusion)
Neither the ’Emancipation of Labour’ group nor the Marxist circles of that period had yet any practical connections with the working-class movement. (History of the CPSU, p. 13)
These tasks were initiated by Plekhanov in the Emancipation of Labour group. The second period completed the ideological victory over Narodism, and in that struggle achieved the ideological unity and the first attempt at organizational unity (the first Congress) of the Social-Democrats. In this period, the Social-Democrats also began practical work among the masses, developing their first ties with the working class.
In this period Social-Democracy appeared on the scene as a social movement, as the upsurge of the masses of the people, as a political party. This is the period of its childhood and adolescence.... The movement made enormous strides. ...The struggle compelled them (the young Social-Democrats) to educate themselves, to read the illegal literature of diverse tendencies and to study closely the questions of legal Narodism. Trained in this struggle, Social-Democrats went into the working-class movement without ’for a moment’ forgetting the theory of Marxism which illuminated their path or the task of overthrowing the autocracy.” (What Is To Be Done, p.221-222)
Lenin led this period through the St. Petersburg League of Struggle. At that time, the differences between Economism and Marxism had not yet emerged. In the third period, those differences erupted, along with the struggle against Economism.
This was a period of disunity, dissolution and vacillation.... But it was only the leaders who wandered about separately and went back; the movement itself continued to grow, and advanced with enormous strides. The leaders not only lagged behind in regard to theory (’freedom of criticism’) and practice (’amateurism’), but tried to justify their backwardness by all sorts of high-flown arguments.” (WITBD, p. 222-3)
The Social-Democrats again turned principally to ideological and political consolidation, led by Lenin’s Iskra.
Some thought that the building of the Party should be begun by summoning the Second Congress of the Party, which should unite the local organizations and create the Party. Lenin was opposed to this. He held that before convening a congress it was necessary to make the aims and objects of the Party clear, ...to effect an ideological demarcation from the ’Economists.’” (History of the CPSU, p. 27)
Finally, the fourth period gained the Victory over Economism and as in the second, ideological unity was achieved through the struggle and reopened opportunities for mass, practical work. To the fourth period belonged the successful Second Congress, from which the Bolshevik Party emerged.
Lenin thus identifies periods of ideological and political disunity in which theoretical work is the principal need, (“Those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary practice.’” On Contradiction, Mao) and periods characterized by ideological unity which makes broad practical work possible. As they themselves note, the RU’s quote dates from 1894. As we have seen, this was the time of transition in the communist movement from the first to the second period, from the initial struggle against Narodism to consolidated victory over it, from ideological disunity and extremely limited practical work to unity and quickly expanding practice. It was also a transitional period in the mass movement, the very beginning of the mass struggles. Therefore, while Lenin’s article is still mainly devoted to finally smashing Narodism, he also notes the rising aspect, the quickly increasing need and ability to undertake broader practical work.
Does the RU claim that the U.S. communist movement is now in such a period? Is this a period in which “we see no disagreements among the Social-Democrats themselves”, in which Marxism-Leninism is “ideologically united”, in which there is “no such antagonism between the theory and practice of the Social-Democrats as existed in the period of ’economism’”? Does a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions show any such similarities?’
No: Such unity can be won only through years of struggle against the present opponents of Marxism-Leninism, the modern revisionists. And our movement is only beginning, not completing this task.
True, ours is a period of rising mass movements, which we must prepare to lead. But given the present disunity in the communist movement, the surge of these mass movements only sharpens the need for theoretical work.
Thus, through either ignorance or deliberate sophistry, misquoting Lenin by displacing one period for another, the RU has pragmatically liquidated the actual character of our movement and the periods of the Russian movement, neglecting any concrete analysis of concrete conditions which all honest Marxist-Leninists undertake.
And in conformity with the RU’s empiricist tendencies, their definition of two periods is ahistorical and riddled with non-historical materialist “experiences.” In “Red Papers 6” the RU said:
Several years ago and right up to this historical point, building the new Party was not the main task because the young communist movement in this country had not accumulated enough practical experience in mass struggle, and also didn’t have enough experience in applying Marxist-Leninist theory to summing up this experience in order to advance the mass movement. Now there is enough experience. Now we can apply Marxism-Leninism systematically to that experience in order to sum it up, draw the correct lessons from it through principled ideological struggle, and in that way unite around the correct line for making revolution in the US and create a concrete programme that can serve as the basis of the Party’s work.
First of all, the young communist movement in this country is not a single block, but a complex thing with many sides. From which side is this idea of a “new period” and its qualitative advance derived? Is the RU referring to the communist organizations which emerged from the “New Left,” mainly student and anti-war struggles? Or is it referring to the many individuals and small circles which similarly emerged from these struggles? Or is it referring to the communists who emerged from among the advanced workers or from the struggles of oppressed nationalities? And more important, to which advances in the two-line struggles, around which all of these forces must align, is the RU referring? No one knows, because the RU has nowhere explained any of this! Our movement is marked with the theoretical unevenness resulting from the differing origins of the various communist forces. Working class and Third World communists often have a more solid class stand but a lower theoretical level than those communists with a petty bourgeois background. And a line that downgrades theory will most hurt those working class and Third World comrades.
In any case, the RU has failed completely to show any concrete differences between the “old period” and the “new period.” They have instead delivered the most abstract, ahistorical claim that previously we “had not accumulated enough experience,” whereas “now there is enough experience.” They give no examples of past weaknesses and the present strengths, no summation of the past and recent major struggles in political line and their progress. There is nothing but a flat claim, a completely unsupported declaration.
When Lenin defines the different periods of the Russian communist movement, he does not resort to evasions such as, “before 1894 we had not enough experience, but after 1894 we had enough.” He gives a concise summation of the major line struggles in the communist movement, indicating which ideological and political trends were defeated and which trend was consolidated. He further summarizes the state of the mass movement and shows the relation between the two (communist and mass) movements.
Did the RU provide an analysis of this change of periods with its corresponding lines? Since the communist movement in this country cannot be viewed in isolation from the international communist movement, has the RU anywhere in their definition of a “new period” given reference to the state of our struggle against the modern revisionists and the “C”PUSA? Did they speak of the relation between our present party building attempts and the history of the POC, the PLP, and other smaller efforts? No. The line struggles involved in attempting to build a party are nowhere to be found.
On the contrary, if we were to read Lenin and see how he defines periods, we would find a wealth of material. For example, he compares periods of the growth of the communist movements with infancy, childhood, adolescence! and adulthood. In each period, from the first period (1884-1894) and Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labour Group – the first Marxist group in Russia – to the second period (1894-1898) – the period of struggle against the Narodniks and the corresponding material basis for the existence of Narodism and its ideology – he provides a thorough analysis. Then the Marxists coexisted with the Legal Marxists, one divided into two, and new conditions ushered in the third period with the Legal Marxists and economism the main ideological and political enemies. The fourth period was the period of consolidation of the Russian Militant Marxists and saw an attempt to call for a larger party. Underlying all these periods were the powerful mass working class movement and social movements in general which propelled the communist movement to grow from an infant into an adult.
The RU did none of this. Granted, the American movement is vastly different from the Russian movement. For example, we have a tradition of a communist movement and the Russian movement started when Engels was still alive. And granted that modern revisionism in some countries has state power and is therefore far stronger than even the opportunist Second International and will undoubtedly take a far longer time to defeat. But in our opinion, to understand our state of development and to chart our future course, an analysis still has to be made of the history of the CP, including after they turned revisionist, the role of the POC, PLP and other tendencies, and the reasons they failed, the social basis for their deviations, and their relation to the mass movement etc. Without these sum-ups, the movement is without a compass and cannot gain its bearings in the stormy seas.
A communist movement is mainly a movement of subjective factors (a vanguard ideology, political line and organization). Theoretical victory over opportunism and “theoretical premises” must be made which alone will make united, mass practical work possible. How far have we gone on the path of this struggle? We are only just beginning.
One thing revealed by the failures of the POC and the PLP is the serious theoretical weakness of the US communist movement. It has most recently and sharply been revealed again by the CL, no matter how brief its impact may be. And it is revealed again in the vacillation of many forces and in the present general disunity. The whole recent history of our movement has confirmed the lesson which Lenin taught, that in consolidating the vanguard we must struggle against all narrowness of theory (economism and bowing to spontaneity) and practice (amateurism). And it is this error that the RU tells us to repeat with its all-round pragmatism and their “experiences.”
The RU’s present-day party building line to build the party “in the brief period ahead” is a product of their past incorrect principal task in the last couple of years (i.e., “to build the struggle, consciousness, and revolutionary unity of the working class and developing its leadership in the anti-imperialist struggle”). This is what has led them to conclude that the party program will be “fleshed out” of “the experience of the last period.” To cover up these opportunist mistakes, RU used a whole new philosophical system, American pragmatism, to justify them. Nevertheless, all this is necessarily centered around the term “experience.” Lenin said the word “...’experience’ embraces both the materialist and idealist line in philosophy and sanctifies the muddling of them. But ... our Machists trustingly accept ’pure experience’ as pure coin of the realm.” (Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, C.W., Vol. 14). In its use of the work “experience,” RU becomes a perfect caricature of opportunism.
Actually, the RU line of building the party in the brief period ahead is really a continuation of their incorrect line of the last couple of years: practice, practice, practice. Except now they find their party building line to be more expedient – that is, ever since the open rupture between PRRWO, BWC and themselves – in trying to win over the majority of Marxist-Leninist circles around the country, who in spite of them have moved ahead and have begun to consolidate. Since the RU cannot change their principal task without admitting that they were tailing, they have to say that “it is only now” (Revolution, 5/74) that the movement is ready to build the party. In other words, they arbitrarily took the privilege of declaring the opening of a new era. On what basis? On the basis of their own subjective experience. In their first article on party building, “Build the New Party to Lead the Masses,” the RU claimed:
Across the country, scores of independent ML collectives (and other forms) sprung up, with their members seriously studying the basic works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao and trying to apply what they understood to the concrete situation and struggles in the US... Some of these collectives floundered and developed many internal difficulties and either split apart or simply ceased to exist. Some have continued and are continuing to do work in the working class ... All in all, these collectives and organizations have accumulated a great deal of important experience ... but at the same time, it must be stated frankly that at this time in the development of our movement, there is a certain amount of pessimism and demoralization. This seems to stem primarily from the fact that many of us have learned through experience that it is easier to read ML than it is to apply it to developing the ML movement.
First the RU reports on the state of the movement, with no surprisingly new ideas. But then the RU claims that ”frankly (that) at this point in the development of our movement there is a certain amount of pessimism and demoralization,” “primarily” because ”...it is easier to read Marxism-Leninism than it is to apply it.” But what kind of trash is this but unbounded opportunism! Let us tell you first that the “certain amount of pessimism and demoralization” is largely your own. Many communist collectives around the country are more consolidated than before due not to more practice, which they have had plenty of in the last few years, but precisely due to a clearer orientation and purpose because of the persistent study of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought in combination with some form of guided practice. Your “experience that it is easier to read ML than it is to apply it” is nothing but an appeal to the petty-bourgeois reflex which rejects the study of Marxism-Leninism (because it is “too intellectual” etc.) and an appeal to base instincts of relatively backward elements, to those who resist the stand and viewpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought due to class vacillation, lack of commitment to the working class, and even some degree of anti-communism. It is far easier for people to engage in some form of progressive practice without even talking about or worrying about the question of direction and eventual aim. It is far easier, especially in this country where the tradition of reformism is deep-rooted, for them to fall back to some kind of reformist-type struggle than it is for them to persist, with all their class vacillations, in studying and adopting the stand, viewpoint and method of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. It is true that many collectives have fallen apart due to hair-splitting ideological struggle. But far more class brothers and sisters have been “burned out” in their day-to-day defensive, spontaneous struggles, for lack of a clear orientation toward socialism.
However, to prove your point that “it is only now” that we need to build a revolutionary party, and with a forced optimism, you revealingly assure us that “... when all is said and done, it is not us, but the imperialists who are really in trouble (!!!) It is their (RU’s emphasis) system that is in rapid decay ... It is their (RU emphasis) economic crisis, not ours, it is their (RU emphasis) political crisis, not ours.” (!)
Is this any way to “sum up” that “it is only now” that we need a party?
In grief, the RU, in desperation, having tried to defend their incorrect line for the “last period” and having nowhere to turn, simply resorted to sophistry.
Your sophistry is nothing but a tool to justify the hypocrisy of your dual line, that is, on the one hand openly advocating “practice, practice, practice,” on the other hand secretly pushing a party building line. (See “On Some Actual History of the National Liaison Committee, the RU’s ’Party Proposal and the Present Ideological Struggle,” RP 6, pp, 57-61,) If you think party building is most important for the communist movement and for the long-term interest of the working class struggle, then why didn’t you advocate it publicly? This discrepancy between what you say and what you do smells fishy. To us, the only rational explanation for that kind of behavior is that you follow a pragmatist line – that is, you regard whatever works for you as correct, despite the clumsy arguments that you give and the glaring contradictions in what you do. Could it be then, as some of you would put it, that we have been “plagued by opportunism of all stripes that has succeeded somewhat in confusing some people?” The fact that you have, comrades, is indisputable. The main point – and what is most serious – is your special theory to justify them.
On this question of party building, in debating whether the RU could be “100% correct” you said,
our line has always been generally correct, but like the line of any communist organization at any point, it has always contained aspects of incorrectness.
But then you admit that you have the tendency to put the task of party building almost “into the distant future” or as you would put it, “as a serious error, the tendency in our own organization, and other sections of the communist movement, to almost (our emphasis) make a principle out of NOT HAVING a party” (emphasis in original) (RP 6, p. 58), but then you were still essentially correct.
As some of you are so fond of saying, you do not quite play the piano well enough, in balancing out the principal task and secondary tasks more correctly, and that the music wasn’t melodious enough, etc. But what we want to know is whether the music wasn’t melodious enough or whether you were simply playing the wrong piece altogether. Or worse, as some other comrades have suggested, maybe the whole piano is out of tune! We prefer to believe the former. But the player must acknowledge the awful notes which have been heard so loudly around the movement which have driven so many good listeners away. This is what you should feel abashed about, instead of “unabashedly identifying” yourselves with the correct line.
Another example of your sophistry comes out in the July issue of Revolution. In the article “Building the New U.S. Communist Party,” you acknowledge that “in the past, the RU has not carried out direct polemics with the “C”L. This was justified by you on the grounds that the “C”L was not influential in the past. But now, since it is time to build the party, you say that “they (“C”L) are playing on the fact that the central task has now become party building”, and therefore you have to start to polemicize against them!! You pull another amazing thing out of your hat: “We are devoting considerable attention now to dealing with CL’s line, not only for the reasons cited above, but because, within the past two months, CL has come out with a direct (though very thinly disguised) attack on the Chinese Communist Party and its line on the international situation.” Isn’t this another novelty? The “C”L if you please, as every one in the communist movement knows, has been attacking the CCP for years. So that can’t be the reason you “counter-attacked,” can it? No doubt this is another rationale you use to cover up your pragmatic and opportunist approach to polemics.
Didn’t Lenin say that at a period like this when the feature of a party is just beginning to become clear that ”what at first sight appears to be an unimportant error may lead to most deplorable consequences. . . and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous?” And, “the fate” of the communist movement for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other shades.” Certainly, you have not followed the Leninist approach. Because of; your pragmatism, you only began to polemicize against the “C”L when they started to become a threat to you. Is this any way to build a communist movement that has in mind the interests of the vast majority? This is the kind of opportunism, comrades, with which you have driven away so many genuine communists.
Engaging in sophistry has serious consequences. If a quantitative error is made, as long as it is changed, it will not affect the direction of the organization. However, if the mistake is persisted in and is justified by a whole system of ideas, the organization will inevitably make a qualitative turn – straight into the marsh. This is why sophistry and pragmatism have to be thoroughly repudiated.
A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfills in practice its obligation towards its class and the working people.” Lenin advised,
Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it and thrashing out the means of its rectification – that is the hallmark of a serious party.
This is an area where we think the leadership of the RU needs to do some soul-searching.
One serious qualitative turn the RU is about to make,, in defending their former position on the principal task, is caused by their distortion of the correct dialectical relationship between theory and practice. Chairman Mao said that at any given time there is necessarily one principal aspect, whose development will influence and determine the development of the other aspect. Between theory and practice, practice is generally the principal aspect, but there are times when theory becomes the principal aspect. This is the kind of period when Chairman Mao said, “The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said ’Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” when a task, no matter which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy.”
To the RU, from the way they stress practical tasks, it is clear that party building amounts to nothing more than programme writing and the calling of the party congress. But how is the correct line of the anti-revisionist party to be differentiated from incorrect lines if the, cadre of the communist movement are theoretically weak? And how does the principal task of practice, practice, practice create the basis for party building, especially its programme, if cadres cannot tell genuine Marxism from sham-Marxism?
Of course, the RU leadership would tell you that in fact they have placed importance on theory all along. They would point to their Red Papers and Revolution. But that is a complete misunderstanding of what the theoretical tasks of the movement are. There are two different kinds of theoretical tasks – one is advancing the frontiers of our theoretical knowledge and its application to the concrete condition in the U.S.; another is to raise the theoretical level of the movement as a whole. The RU has conveniently liquidated the latter task completely in its conception of the principal task of the movement. It is probably incomprehensible to the RU that, for example, 700 million people in China are engaged in the theoretical work of criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius – some one who lived over two thousand years ago in a period entirely different from today. Wouldn’t’ this seem odd to the RU since Confucius is not even remotely linked to the day-to-day experience of the masses?
The CPSU under the Khrushchevite mechanical materialist world view, contended that the principal contradiction was immutably the one between the socialist states and the imperialists. The CCP on the other hand, contended that presently secondary contradictions, such as the contradiction between the oppressed countries and imperialism, were becoming the principal contradiction. Of course, the correctness of the CCP’s dialectical analysis is a great deal clearer today after we have witnessed the degeneration of the Soviet Union into a capitalist and Social-imperialist country and can, in retrospect, see why Khrushchev and Co. tried to sell that revisionist line. For that reason, comrades should be vigilant about the seeds of revisionism in our own movement.
We have consistently argued that party building is our principal task, and that presently the main feature of this task is theory. We must always recall that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line decides everything. We must acquire a proper grasp of larger issues – the international and national situations, the basic line of anti-revisionism, the history of the communist and mass movements in the US and their mutual relation – and from ideological and political line struggles over such material and based on the present conditions, formulate our program and our principal task. We must grasp this principal task tightly, for not to do so will be not to grasp it at all.
The principal task is that task which influences and determines the secondary tasks. It clearly is not the only task. On the contrary, the existence of a principal task always presupposes secondary tasks, for without them the very method of defining a principal task would become meaningless.
Our revolutionary practice in spontaneous struggles is our secondary task in this period. However, it must not be neglected. We must begin to transform our world outlook, for as Chairman Mao has written: “This change of world outlook is something fundamental.” And only through revolutionary practice in the thick of struggle and studying the stand of Marxism-Leninism can that be done.
As Chairman Mao also put it, theory must be linked with practice by “shooting the arrow at the target,” integrating the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of revolution in our country.
From the dialectical and historical materialist point of view, we must analyze all “topical political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical and political life... all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population.” We must strive to have a plan as comprehensive and as detailed as possible, following the method of “tactics as plan” to seize the initiative in our long-term and immediate struggles.
In this period of the consolidation of the vanguard, we must concentrate on taking propaganda to the advanced elements of the working class. Following from our principal task and our plan, we must engage in immediate struggles, providing ideological leadership through propaganda in popular language, as well as practical leadership. We must specialize and concentrate in areas of work (working class, community, student-intelligentsia, etc.) raising our organizational level. Thus far, we have bowed far too much to spontaneity, straying from our principal task. Again, we must instead learn to propagandize the stand, viewpoint and method, the world outlook of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought mainly to the advanced elements of the wording class.
Revolutionary practice in this period can serve as a basis for us to sharpen the focus of our theory, which will in turn serve Our revolutionary practice. But theory in this period is the “main link,” – that which we have to learn to grasp in order to help us to ”keep hold of the whole chain and to prepare for conditions for achieving strategic success. Revolutionary practice is the basis for long term proletariat victory. But it would be nothing except eclecticism to confuse the long term need of the movement with the immediate need of the movement for direction and orientation. Revolutionary theory should not be counter-posed to the need for revolutionary practice – as Opportunists often do.
Lenin wrote the book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, especially to refute those people seemingly materialist in words, but idealist and metaphysical in deeds. At the turn of the century when modern science flourished, mysticism and outright idealism lost its popularity and attraction. Materialism in the form of scientific experimental “experiences” and all forms of raw data substituted an idealist conception of the world, so much so that suddenly “experience” and raw data became reality itself. Due to the bankruptcy of the idealist system, materialism became the fad of the day. It is no wonder then that all professors and crooks started to talk about “experience” and “practice.” Lenin wrote this book especially to refute those empirio-critics such as Ernest Mach, foremost physicist of the day, and Bogdanov, who used the weapon of “experience” and mechanical materialist tricks of all sorts to refute and slander dialectical materialism and Marxism. In that context, he said:
The standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge. “However” ...we must not forget that the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely (emphasis in original). This criterion too is sufficiently ’indefinite’ not to allow human knowledge to become ’obsolete’ but at the same time it is sufficiently definite to wage a ruthless fight on all varieties of idealism and agnosticism, ...For instance, Bogdanov is prepared to recognise Marx’s theory of the circulation of money as an objective truth only for ’our time’, and calls it ’dogmatism’ to attribute to this theory a ’super-historical objective’ truth. This is again a muddle. The correspondence of this theory to practice cannot be altered by any future circumstance, for the simple reason that makes it an eternal truth that Napoleon died on May 5, 1821. But in as much as the criterion of practice, i.e. the course of development of all capitalist (emphasis in original) countries in the last few decades, proves only the Objective truth of Marx’s whole social and economic theory in general, and not merely of one or the other of its parts, formulations, etc., it is clear that to talk here of the ’dogmatism’ of the Marxists is to make an unpardonable concession to bourgeois economics, (and the RU’s concession to bourgeois ideology of pragmatism) The sole conclusion to be drawn from the opinion held by Marxists that Marxist theory is an objective truth is that by following the path of Marxian theory we shall draw closer and closer to objective truth (without ever exhausting it): but by following any other path we shall arrive at nothing but bourgeois confusion and lies.” (Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Collected Works, Vol. 14)
In 1974, with the mass movement surging forward in the US, all official bourgeois philosophy and ideology lose their credibility and currency. It is now that Marxism will become fashionable and popular; thus all opportunists will begin to hide behind the facade of Marxism. Therefore, what they call themselves publicly is unimportant. It is their actions that really count. It is a question of whether their actions precede from the stand, viewpoint, and method of Marxism that is the most crucial question.
In the same book, Lenin said, in refuting those mechanical materialists, that:
...every ideology is historically conditional; but it is unconditionally true that to every scientific ideology (as distinct, for instance, from religious ideology) there corresponds an objective truth, absolute nature. You will say that this distinction between relative and absolute truth is indefinite. And I shall reply: it is sufficiently “indefinite” to prevent science from becoming a dogma in the bad sense of the term, from becoming something dead, frozen, ossified; but at the same time, it is sufficiently “definite” to enable us to dissociate ourselves in the emphatic and irrevocable manner from fideism and agnosticism, from philosophical idealism and the sophistry of the followers of Hume and Kant. Here is a boundary which you have not noticed, and not having noticed it. you have fallen into the swamp of reactionary philosophy. It is the boundary between dialectical materialism and relativism. (our emphasis)
For the RU to elevate “experience” to the level of the “key link” and the basis of the party program is to fall into the swamp of empirico-criticism. It is, in essence, to make relativism the basis of the theory of knowledge and the basis of our party program. That is exactly how the American pragmatist, in the disguise of a “Marxist,” comes into the picture, i.e., the old debate between the dialectical materialist and the mechanical materialist, between dialectical materialism and revisionism. In the final analysis, the point in question here is whether Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought is the basis of our party program, or “Experience” is the basis of our program.
In the communist movement today, we have the “Communist” League, who whips the naive into their line of immutable, idealist, and categorical truths, all of which are “dead, frozen, and ossified”. On the other hand, we have the RU, who, with an air of good old American self-confidence, peddles relativism, “scientific experience”, and the “fleshing out” of theory as their latest guide, straying further and further away from the stand, viewpoint, and method of MLMTT Thought. We have the CL, on the other hand, who acts like a preacher, demanding people’s submission to their god-like inspired eternal truths, and as a “ML” Reverend Ike, promises people Heaven, just as opium dopes the masses. In contrast, RU, as the “ML” scientist, arrogantly modern, efficient and expedient, and equipped with their latest “experiences” and “sum-ups”, rides on the crest of the mass movements. And like a second-generation poverty pimp, constantly appealing to the “masses” and to “practice”, ends up only tailing in the wake of the movement.
To sum up, the communist movement has recently suffered from a Right punch and a Left hook from the RU and the ’C’L respectively. The RU, in trying to disguise its opportunism, has resorted to sophistry, and in the process, moved away from the correct direction. The ideological root of their erroneous line is American Pragmatism. Its characteristics are the belittling of the theoretical task of studying ML MTTT. and in place of it, waving their “experience” bag which is nothing but justification for not following the teaching that “there cannot be a strong socialist party without a revolutionary theory which unites all socialists, and from which they draw all their convictions, and which they apply in their methods of struggle and means of action”. And in place of actions guided by proletarian ideology, the RU’s slipping into the path of least resistance along the bourgeois line of pragmatism at the expense of the long term interests of the proletarian struggle.
In the struggle for a proletarian Party of a new type, we uphold the principle that “ideological and political line decides everything”.
We oppose the slander and vulgarization that many forces raise on the question of “hegemony”. To raise catch words of that sort at a time when political lines and questions are still obscure, circle mentality still rampant, is to construct a barricade in front of the forward march of the new Party formation. As Lenin put it “before we can unite and in order that we may unite, we must draw firm lines of demarcation.” Then, and only then, should we be “prepared to sacrifice all their group aloofness and group independence for the sake of the great whole, which we were for the first time actually creating – the Party. But in politics, sacrifices are not obtained gratis; they have to be won in battle. The battle over the slaughter of organizations will necessarily prove terribly fierce.” Lenin went on, ”The fresh breeze of free and open struggle blew into a gale, and... the furious gale will raise all the mud from the bottom of our party stream.” We are certain the Party program will not be “fleshed out” of narrow experiences. What will be fleshed out will be all the mud and “ghosts and demons” of all kinds, and from this process the movement will be strengthened and a proletarian Party of a new type will be formed.
Comrade Davidson and the OL (who can do no better in understanding revolutionary theory than to reprint Davidson’s article on party building and the mass line on the editorial page of “The Call”) speak out of both sides of their mouths. In the April 1974 issue of “The Guardian,” Davidson attacked those who study Marxism-Leninism as “...another version of hippy radicalism – first we got to get our heads together...” In the context of attacking Charles Loren, Davidson said “What does Loren want the communist movement to do? The first priority is that they should study and debate the theory among themselves. Second, they should set up study circles around Leninist classics which advanced workers will ’gravitate to’ rather than be actively won to through the example set by communists in the mass movement.” “At the bottom of the list,” Davidson sneered, “is the task of ’leading’ mass struggle mainly through the ’most outstanding’ method of education, ’by negative example.’” And then in an apparent display of a pure proletarian class stand, Davidson continued by quoting Mao’s “Mass Line”: “In all the practical work of our party all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses to the masses’...” But what has the mass line for our practical work got to do with the task of party building besides as one of the correct policies in our party programme? At the end Davidson quoted “Peking Review”: “When one is divorced from practical struggle and the worker and peasant masses, thinking about remoulding one’s subjective world is out of the question.” Now we are even not sure why you want to go to the masses – whether you are going to them to help make revolution or to remould yourselves. If you see the “mass line” as the theory for the building of the party, then in our present situation you must mean taking spontaneous activity from the masses and raising it to the level of theory, namely, economism.
But Davidson made a complete about-face on the same question in the same column in the September 18, 1974, issue of “The Guardian.” In correctly relating the anti-Confucius campaign in China to ideological struggle within the communist movement, Davidson suddenly switched targets and started to attack the very same target he was defending before – those same ones who advocate practice, practice, practice in the spontaneous struggles of the movement – namely, the same bankrupt line of the RU and the OL and himself. In an apparent attempt to leap from a sinking ship, Davidson wrote, “Because pragmatism is the dominant ideology in the US, communists here must take into account that there are bound to be two lines, two ways of understanding the concepts of ’summing up experience’ and ’practice’ as the criterion of truth. Pragmatists and Marxist-Leninists will often use the same words but mean entirely different things.” But wasn’t your own line of confusing the task of party building and the question of mass line – ”the practical work of our party,” as Mao describes the mass line – precisely the same pragmatist tendency that you are now so vehemently attacking?
So in practice for the RU, the OL and yourself, there can’t be “two ways of understanding the concepts of ’summing up experience’ and ’practice’”, can there? Nor can there be the use of “the same words” but meaning “entirely different things” either, can there? In fact, pragmatism makes bedfellows of the RU, the OL and yourself. And if between April and September you changed your position due to the ushering in of a “new period,” then you would be sharing the same bed as the RU. The dialectics of ideological struggle is a two-edged sword. No opportunism can escape its logic, no matter how hard you try to wriggle out of it.
And of course, with the same negligence, Davidson failed to point out the first half of the theme: “When one is divorced from practical struggle and the worker and peasant masses, thinking about remoulding one’s subjective world is out of the question.” But what is conspicuously missing is what Chairman Mao always says in regard to the relation between the subjective and the objective – that one must engage in the process of changing the objective world to change his own subjective world. Otherwise it amounts to nothing but sheer self-cultivation.
In another unconscious slip, Davidson did what so many revolutionary intellectuals are so fond of doing – engaging in spontaneous struggle intellectually in their own heads, reflecting their own deficiencies rather than soberly looking at the movement and proceeding to make their analysis from that.