This is the second in a series of articles on building the new Communist Party in the U.S.–Ed.
The time has come for U.S. communists to do some hard thinking and straight talking because there are tough decisions we have to make on how to build the revolutionary mass movement. In the May issue of Revolution, in the first of this series of articles, the RU stated that the most pressing task facing the revolutionary movement in the immediate period is the creation of a new Communist Party ? that could serve as the proletariat’s general headquarters and lead the proletariat and all the oppressed people in the revolutionary struggle against imperialism and for socialism and then on to communism.
We further stated that only now has creating the new Party become the most pressing task because only now have the concrete conditions ripened sufficiently to make this task a practical possibility. Predictably, some forces in the movement have greeted the May Revolution article with statements about “how nice it is that the RU has finally come around to saying what we have been saying for several years–that building the Party is the key task.”
This, of course, totally misses the point. 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 U.S. and create a concrete programme that can serve as the basis of the Party’s work.
It was unfortunately also predictable that as soon the RU stated that now is the time to build the new Party certain forces within the movement would start shouting that this means the RU “wants to achieve hegemony” in the movement, that the RU “wants to absorb everyone else,” etc., etc.
No proof is ever offered for such assertions, which naturally doesn’t stop such people from making them anyway. But the RU has always made its position clear. We have no desire as an organization to “achieve hegemony” in the movement, and we think our actions over the years have certainly proven it. But as Marxist-Leninists we definitely do desire to see the correct ideological and political line achieve hegemony in the movement; and we definitely do desire to see the proletariat achieve hegemony in the anti-imperialist united front which must be built to achieve victory, and to contribute to the worldwide revolutionary struggle against the two superpowers and other imperialist and reactionary forces who are trying to achieve hegemony over the people.
It is true that different lines are represented at this time by different organizations. It is also true that we in the RU think that our line is correct, and that its correctness is being established in practice. But that is only natural. If we didn’t think our line is correct, and didn’t fight for that line against lines we thought were incorrect, we would be acting not like communists but like liberals who prattle constantly about “peace” and “unity” and who neglect to mention that real and true unity can only be accomplished through struggle.
And this question of determining the correct line through struggle is no abstract one for communists. For only by determining the correct line can we lead the masses in struggle. If we adopt the incorrect line we can only lead the masses into an ambush. At the present time, there are three main tendencies developing in the U.S. revolutionary movement, and it is essential for all communists in this country to understand what these tendencies are and determine which of them is correct. There is no single “general” line at this time that everyone agrees on.
Some people have expressed concern over the amount of turmoil that exists now in our movement. The Chinese comrades have emphasized that this is a time when the whole world is in great turmoil, a time of great splits and realignments, and that this is good because it shows the growing strength of the people and the declining strength of the enemy. We believe that the turmoil within our movement is a reflection of this worldwide situation, and is also a good thing because it shows that key ideological and political questions are getting clarified and that we are moving forward to a higher level of understanding, action and organization. Out of this present turmoil will come broader unity around the correct line, the line around which we can create the Party and its programme.
In future articles in this series, we intend to go deeply into the two tendencies we think are wrong and, if followed, will lead our movement down the road to hell and will leave the masses without real revolutionary leadership. Here we just want to characterize them briefly.
One is the dogmatic tendency that treats Marxism-Leninism not as a living science, a systematic, materialistic, and dialectical analysis and summation of class struggle which exists to further that struggle, but rather as a system of lifeless, abstract formulas which neither grows out of concrete struggle nor is ever applied to it.
Mao Tsetung emphasizes that “we study Marxism-Leninism not for display, nor because there is any mystery about it, but solely because it is the science which leads the revolutionary proletariat to victory.” It is wrong, he says, to “regard odd quotations from Marxist-Leninist works as a ready-made panacea which, once acquired, can easily cure all maladies.” People who do this “show childish ignorance, and we should enlighten them. It is precisely such ignorant people who take Marxism-Leninism as a religious dogma. To them we should say bluntly, ’Your dogma is worthless.’”
The dogmatists in our movement–refusing to analyze the actual situation and preferring instead to say whatever they please–are now putting forward the totally erroneous and reactionary line that U.S. imperialism is not in serious trouble and in actual decline, but is in fact consolidating its power worldwide. They use this “analysis” to spread the notion that the enemy is strong and the people are weak, that fascism is just around the corner.(Which is not even consistent with their own analysis, because if U.S. imperialism was growing stronger, it wouldn’t need to bring on fascism).
These dogmatists go further and argue that given this situation, all mass struggle is futile and only plays into the ruling class’ plans to establish fascism. According to these dogmatists, all such mass struggle is “spontaneous” and “economist” because it is not being led by a “genuine” Communist Party, which means, of course, not being led by these dogmatists.
And what kind of “genuine” Communist Party have these dogmatists been talking about creating for several years? A Party divorced and isolated from the masses because its members have not participated deeply in mass struggle since such struggle, before the Party has been created, is , according to them, all futile and spontaneous anyway. 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.
And finally, a Party which is putting forward a totally incorrect and counter-revolutionary line on the actual state of things, a defeatist line that turns things upside down and fails to reflect the growing strength of the people’s movement. Can such a Party with such a line possibly lead the masses to victory? We will have more to say about these dogmatists in the next article in this series.
The other incorrect tendency is the reformist tendency. Significantly–and showing how dogmatism and reformism share a lot in common and in the final analysis come down to the same thing–this reformist tendency also proceeds from an incorrect assessment of the present situation, overestimating, along with the dogmatists, the strength of the enemy and underestimating the strength of the people, stressing the likelihood that fascism is just around the corner, etc.
This leads the reformist tendency into a whole series of rightist errors–on the question of how to build the movement against Nixon, on work in the factories and inside the trade unions, on student work, work among women, etc.–and basically comes down to a failure to rely on the masses and instead to rely on the “liberal” bourgeoisie, “liberal” trade union officials, bourgeois elements in the Black movement, etc. At bottom, what is at issue here is whether or not people representing this tendency (and also the dogmatist tendency) consider the masses too backward and simply incapable of making revolution.
At present, it must be said that people representing this reformist tendency are fighting against those communists who argue for mobilizing the masses for political struggle, to raise people’s consciousness in the course of such struggle, and to rely not on the liberal politicians, trade unionists, etc., but on the masses themselves and to recognize that it is the masses who make history and who have, as Mao states it, “a potentially inexhaustible enthusiasm for socialism.”
Only by building such a political and revolutionary mass movement, and not a reformist movement, can imperialism be defeated, fascism be prevented and the revolution succeed.
As for the question of building the Party, this reformist tendency also says that it is the most urgent task, but given their outlook and actions, what kind of Party are they talking about? In reality, they are hindering the development of a revolutionary Communist Party by trying to hold back the development of the revolutionary workers’ movement, the revolutionary united front, etc., by pushing a rightist line and engaging in rightist activities. And every effort on the part of other communists to politically educate the workers and masses while uniting and trying to lead them in political struggle is labeled by this reformist tendency as “sectarian” and “ultra-Left.”
As far as we can see, the only kind of Party this tendency could produce is a reformist Party–a Communist Party only in name–that tails behind the masses and does not lead them in developing the revolutionary movement, that prefers instead to ally with and rely on the liberal bourgeoisie, and in fact does not fight for socialism achieved through revolution and is actually opposed to it. But why bother to create a Party of this sort when one already exists–the revisionist “Communist Party,” USA? We’ll have more to say about this reformist tendency in the fourth article in this series.
And then there is the third major tendency–the correct tendency which we in the RU unabashedly identify ourselves with, which we have fought hard for, and which we will continue to fight hard for. This tendency proceeds from a much different appraisal of the present world and U.S. situation, an appraisal that sees the two imperialist superpowers and the entire world imperialist system in serious crisis and being attacked with increasing ferocity on all sides by the exploited and oppressed peoples, and concludes from this appraisal that the situation in the U.S. is excellent for boldly going forward to build the revolutionary movement under the leadership of a new Party.
In the first article of this series, we said it would be wrong to underestimate the strength of the enemy, “who is dying but certainly not dead yet.” But we went on to say that the more serious danger under the present circumstances is “to overestimate the strength of the enemy, while underestimating our own strength.”
Given the actual state of affairs worldwide and in the U.S., and given the fact, as we said in the first article, that we have entered a new period in this country–a new period both in the communist movement and in the mass movement–we say the time has come for all genuine communist forces, groups and individuals to come together and form the new Communist Party.
Not a Party that is isolated from the masses and which in fact has nothing but disdain for the masses and their struggles. Not a Party that tails behind the masses and in that way also shows nothing but disdain for them. But a Party that is closely linked with the masses and their struggles, and a Party that 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.
Only such a Party can achieve real political authority in the working class and among the masses because it has a correct line and a correct programme that can in fact lead the people in political struggle.
There are many people, who in the course of the last ten years or so, and through their experience in the civil rights and national liberation movements, the student movement, etc., have studied Marxism-Leninism and who have come to consider themselves communists. Many of these people at this time do not adhere to or clearly represent any one of these three major tendencies, and do not belong to any of the larger organizations which do represent one or another of them.
They are in small, “independent” collectives or not affiliated with any group at all, and despite all difficulties are continuing in their work. Some are working in factories and doing political work there, others are doing “serve the people” community work, etc., and at the same time are trying to keep up with how things are developing in the movement overall, kind of watching and waiting to see the flow and direction of things.
But while that might have been a correct position at an earlier time–when our movement was characterized primarily by the development of many independent collectives working in relative isolation from one another, experimenting with this idea or that, this form of work or that–it is no longer such a good position to be in as we enter this new period, when it is necessary for these various forces and individuals “to come off the fence,” as it were, and actively participate in the crucial ideological and political struggle that is now developing so rapidly within our movement so that we can raise it and the mass struggle to a higher level.
It is necessary, and in fact their responsibility, for these forces and individuals to make their own ideas and experience, and their own summations of that experience, useful to the entire movement, to come forward and join with the rest of us to discuss this question of building the new Party at this time, and related questions. Or if they disagree with forming the Party at this time, to discuss why, and what they think the main task is.
It is these independent forces and individuals, “independent,” again, in the sense of not being part of some of the larger national organizations that have been created over the last several years, and the various major tendencies these organizations represent–who must play a crucial role in helping to determine with all other honest forces the direction of things in the period coming up. And there are literally thousands of such people.
Forming the new Communist Party is no magical answer to anything, just as Mao says that reading Marxist-Leninist works is no “ready-made panacea which, once acquired, can easily cure all maladies.” After the Party and its programme have been created, all the major tasks that we have today, before there was the Party, will still be the major tasks. And the central task once again will be to develop the revolutionary workers’ movement and the leadership of the proletariat in the united front.
But what forming the Party at this time will enable us to do is to take on these tasks much better. It will enable us to systematize our plans, have a clearer overview of how the class struggle in its many facets and complexities is unfolding, help us to determine where to concentrate our forces to make important breakthroughs in the mass work, where to attack and where to retreat, what tactics must be used in one particular situation and what tactics in another, etc. It will enable us to coordinate our work and overcome the primitiveness that still exists in our movement and which hinders us from taking full advantage of the growing weakness of the enemy.
This planning, coordination, concentration, etc. is reflected in the Party’s programme, which serves as the general guideline defining both the general and long-range goals of the struggle and also the specific and short-range goals and demands. There is no one programme that will carry us through from the beginning to the end. Programmes must change as conditions change. But each step of the way, for each stage of the revolutionary struggle, the programme serves as the glue which holds our Party together by defining the main struggles and tasks.
In the course of the Russian Revolution, for example, the Bolshevik Party, under the leadership of Lenin, developed many programmes which combined the general and ultimate political goals and demands–bringing down the Tsarist regime and moving onward to socialist revolution–with specific goals and demands reflecting the immediate struggles and needs of the people. And these programmes also characterized the general economic and political situation in Russia, and what were the key forces the proletariat had to ally with in the struggle against the Tsarist autocracy, the landlords, and the capitalists.
Take a look, for example, at the “Draft of a Programme for the Social Democratic Party of Russia,” written in 1902 when the Russian communist movement was still very young. First there is a brief characterization of the situation in Russia–the development of capitalism and the capitalist class, the growing exploitation and misery of the workers in the factories, the continuation of semi-feudal relations in the countryside and the continued exploitation and oppression of the vast majority of peasants, etc.
Then there is a brief characterization of the main and ultimate goals of the movement growing out of the intensifying contradictions between the exploiting and exploited classes. This is followed by more specific demands reflecting the struggle against the Tsarist autocracy and for democratic liberties: demands for the right to vote, freedom of speech and assembly, etc.
Then there is a section “for the purpose of protecting the working class and of increasing its fighting power,” and includes such demands as for the eight-hour day, the prohibition of overtime, the prohibition of wage-labor for children under 15 and for women in occupations particularly harmful to their health, state pensions for aged workers who can no longer work, that a system of health inspection for all factories be set up, and so on. This is followed by another section dealing with the demands of the peasants, the proletariat’s major ally in Russia and who still made up the huge majority of the Russian population.
At the end of the programme, there is a clear statement of the proletariat’s intention of uniting all who can be united, while at the same time rejecting reformism: “While striving to achieve its immediate political and economic aims, the RSDLP (Russian Social Democratic Labor Party–Ed.) supports every opposition and revolutionary movement directed against the social and political order existing in Russia, but emphatically rejects all those reform plans which represent every extension of police tutelage over the toiling masses as a step toward the solution of the social problem.”
The Bolsheviks also drafted other programmes dealing with specific questions within the general question of socialist revolution. For example, they wrote a programme dealing with the national question in Russia, and, along with specific demands, showed how the struggle against national oppression was an integral part of the overall struggle for socialism. And in their main, overall programmes, the Bolsheviks also had planks dealing with the national question and other burning issues the Party educated the masses about and led them in struggle around.
This is the kind of programme, or programmes, that we must now come together to create–based on the concrete conditions and situation in the U.S.–so that we, too, can form a vanguard Party worthy of that name in the eyes of the masses.
And in order to unite all who can be united around creating such a programme and Party, it is necessary to establish general and specific political and organizational principles on which everyone can agree. We would like to suggest the following: That the Party be based on Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, the revolutionary science and ideology of the international proletariat. This means that the Party, as the vanguard of the proletariat, leads the fight to establish socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and this can be achieved only through political struggle culminating, at the correct time, in armed insurrection.
This also means that the new Party declares itself the determined enemy of revisionism, the revisionist “Communist Party,” USA, and any other organized forms that revisionism may take. At the same time, the new Party also declares itself the determined enemy of Trotskyism and all Trotskyite organizations. These revisionist and Trotskyite scum are dangerous enemies of the people, working within the people’s movement in order to wreck it, and the new Party declares war on them and all they represent.
We also want to suggest three other, more specific points of political unity. One, me basic strategy for revolution in this country is the united front against U.S. imperialism. This is part of a broader, worldwide united front being formed against U.S. imperialism and also Soviet social-imperialism.
The united front against imperialism strategy is not the same as the united front against fascism strategy that our dogmatists and others are putting forward. Their strategy, in practice, comes down to including a section of the monopoly capitalist class in the united front on the supposed basis that they are “anti-fascist” and must be allied with to prevent fascism from occurring.
While recognizing that there are serious splits in the U.S. ruling class, and that it is the duty of the Party and the proletariat to take advantage of these splits to strengthen the revolutionary movement, this does not include bringing in some supposed “antifascist section” of the ruling class into the united front. On the other hand, we must build the united front as broadly as possible, bringing in all other classes and strata who will ally with the proletariat against the common enemy.
Two, the central task of the Party, after it has been formed, is to build the revolutionary workers’ movement and the leadership of the proletariat in the anti-imperialist united front. Three, the struggle of the Black nation, and the struggle of other oppressed nationalities, has two aspects: against national oppression and as part of the overall struggle for socialist revolution.
The struggle against national oppression in the U.S. is closely and inseparably linked with the struggle for socialism because the great majority of Black and other oppressed nationalities are working people and there is one multinational working class. This means there is only one general stage to the U.S. revolution, unlike the situation in many Third World countries where there is first a national-democratic revolution, followed as quickly as possible by the socialist revolution.
This also means that the main thrust of the Black people’s struggle does not revolve around the territorial or land question–the question of self-determination (political secession) or “land to the tiller.” At the same time, it is the duty of every genuine Communist Party to uphold the right to self-determination, but that does not mean the Party must advocate separation.
At the same time, every genuine Communist Party recognizes that there must not be any forcible solution to the question of self-determination, and that, in the U.S., at the very core of the united front is the alliance between the multinational proletariat and the minority peoples struggling against national oppression and for liberation. The proletariat and its Party must determine its position on whether or not to support a specific demand for political secession concretely: that is, if and when it becomes a real question that must be taken up.
Finally, on this question–from the standpoint of achieving minimum unity to build the Party–it is not necessary to hold strictly to Black people being a nation in terms of the five criteria laid out by Stalin. But it is necessary to agree that the right of self-determination does apply to Black people.
In addition to these general and somewhat more specific political principles, we want to add one key organizational principle: that the Party operate on the basis of democratic centralism. This means that within the Party, there is both democracy and centralism, both the fullest possible discussion and struggle and also a democratically chosen leadership that makes decisions for the entire Party membership to carry out.
To quote from an article appearing in the November 1973 issue of Revolution, “The Party–Invincible Proletarian Vanguard”: “
Within the Party there are lower and higher bodies, with the higher bodies chosen democratically by the membership on the basis of demonstrated ability to apply Marxism to concrete struggles. Major lines and policies of the Party are adopted by the highest leading body, through summing up discussions held throughout the Party on these major questions.
While these discussions are going on within the Party, every member has the right and the duty to put forward his or her ideas and fight for them. And even after the lines are adopted, members who still disagree have the right to reserve their opinions; and, at the right time, when these policies are being summed up and discussed again, to bring forward these opinions and fight for them again.
But at each point, after decisions have been made and lines adopted, every member and all bodies of the Party must unite to carry them out fully, regardless of personal opinions. Otherwise individual members would put their personal opinions above the collective will and wisdom of the whole Party, the Party would not be united and could not act as a vanguard. The Party must be the general staff of the class in various forms of warfare against the exploiters, and, in going into battle, it must concentrate its forces and act with a unified chain of command.
Finally, we want to say that all of us who do come together to form the Party and its programme must do so as equals. This means that regardless of whether we are individuals not affiliated with any group or organization, belong to a small, independent collective, or to one of the national organizations, everyone’s ideas and everyone’s experience must be treated equally, with equal respect and equal consideration. Only in this way can we struggle in a principled way and come to real and meaningful agreement on questions of line, strategy, programme, etc.
And on the basis of this equality, the RU would like to propose specifically to all honest revolutionary forces, groups and individuals across the country that we start communicating with each other on a more extensive and intensive level than so far has existed. We are planning to try to contact you, and also want to suggest that it would be helpful if you tried to contact us, either through our national address or by contacting local RU people in or near where you are. Then we can follow up and together work out ways to get discussion going–discussion around the question of building the new Party and its programme, around the principles of unity we have just suggested, and also about the general state of things.
Comrades, surely the key task at this time of uniting all who can be united to form the new Communist Party in this country, a Party which can lead the masses in struggle on the basis of a carefully thought out programme, is a historic one, and one that we all have a responsibility to carry out. And if this is so, surely we can put aside subjective talk and rumor-mongering, such as spreading nonsense about “some groups seeking hegemony,” “some groups trying to swallow everyone up,” etc., and get down to the business at hand.