First Published: Unite!, Vol. 1, No. 1, August 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The task of reconstituting a genuine vanguard party of the proletariat in the United States, and its mission in leading the proletariat and all exploited and oppressed peoples of this country in proletarian revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is a task of “decisive character from the point of view of the world revolutionary movement,” (Stalin, Speeches to the CPUSA). Moreover, it is our resolute obligation as Marxist-Leninists to realize that when a revolutionary crisis develops in America – as it surely will – it will herald the beginning of the end of worldwide capitalism as a whole, and an opening of a new era in the history of mankind.
For this reason, it is imperative that a party be built in the United States which is fully prepared, ideologically, theoretically, politically, and organizationally, of assuming the leadership of the impending crisis. There must be no limit to the sacrifice we are prepared to make in order to assure the readiness for that day. Our party must forge real revolutionary cadres and revolutionary leadership, based upon Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-Tung Thought as our guide to action, capable of leading the millions of working people and their allies in the struggle to overthrow capital and for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Party is the organizer of all our victories, therefore it must be hardened in struggle, disciplined, centralized, and closely linked to masses.
The Party is the vanguard of the working class and consists of the best, most class conscious, most active, and the most courageous members of that class. It incorporates the whole body of experience of the proletarian struggle. Basing itself upon the revolutionary theory of Marxism and representing the general and lasting interests of the whole of the working class, the Party personifies the unity of proletarian principles, of proletarian will and/or proletarian revolutionary action. It is a revolutionary organization, bound by iron discipline and strict revolutionary rules of democratic centralism, which can be carried out thanks to the class consciousness of the proletarian vanguard, to its loyalty to the revolution, its ability to maintain unbreakable ties with the proletarian masses and to its correct political leadership, which is constantly verified and clarified by the experiences of the masses themselves. (PROGRAM OF THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL, 1928, Chapter 6, Part 2)
There has not been such a union of the class conscious advanced fighters for the emancipation of the working class for roughly thirty years, since the treacherous betrayal of the CPUSA to the hands of the bourgeoisie.
We say roughly thirty years, because a definitive study of the degeneration of the CPUSA has not yet been conducted by Marxist-Leninists, but one thing is clear, and that is that those who fail to struggle against revisionism themselves fall prey to it.
In no country, perhaps outside of the USSR, has there been such a long and treacherous history of revisionism as in the United States. The general ground for all the opportunist mistakes in the history of the Party, as Comrade Stalin pointed out as early as 1929, was the “fundamental error of exaggerating the specific features of American capitalism, and not basing itself on the general features of capitalism.”
That modern revisionism has taken such firm roots in this country in particular, that Earl Browder is recognized as the first truly international modern revisionist, followed by Tito and Khrushov, can be explained by the unparalled material basis for revisionism. For many years, the United States remained the unchallenged citadel of imperialism and reaction, accumulating years of opportunist poison and corruption within the working class due to the strength of bourgeois ideology and the actual bribery of a certain upper stratum of the working class with the super-profits of imperialism.
While a definitive grasp of the struggle between Marxism and revisionism within the CPUSA remains to be completed, it is clear that a whole system of revisionist thinking permeated the Party from its very early days, beginning with Lovestone and Pepper. As early as 1934, Earl Browder advocated that “Communism is 20th Century Americanism.”
From that point on we can trace the degeneration. The liquidation of the control commission, of the Trade Union Unity League, of fractions in mass organizations, of factory nuclei, of genuine criticism and self-criticism, the collaborationist role with union bureaucrats in organizing the CIO, the elimination of work among the unemployed, the revision of the Leninist-Stalinist position of the nation, the position of the party during the Spanish Civil War which held that, “We must not embarrass the President,” the class collaborationist line on the United Front which led to the Anti-Monopoly Coalition, and the welding of all inclusive unity from FDR Democrats to Communists – virtually developing a program and tactical line which actually met with the approval of the monopoly capitalists up to the actual dissolution of the Party in 1945 and the formation of the Communist Political Association!
At almost every critical turn for the party, we see as the rising element in the party the denial of class struggle, the acceptance of the “peace” program of the monopoly capitalists, the liquidation of the national struggle, all leading to Browder’s infamous statement in Teheran and America, that “Marxists will not help the reactionaries by opposing the slogan of ’Free Enterprise’ with any form of counter-slogan.”
At the same time, the early CPUSA did play a leading role in many great struggles of the working class, such as the textile, maritime, garment, fur, electrical, auto, steel, coal, and other union struggles. Communists led the great unemployed struggles of the 1930’s, and the struggles for democratic rights by the Black masses. But, more than not, the leadership of communists actually consisted of trade union leadership, not communist leadership.
At several important points, particularly at the time of the dissolution of the Party and even as late as the late l950’s, Marxist-Leninists within the Party have waged ideological struggles against the revisionist degeneration of the Party. In this sense, there is nothing “new” about our current struggles against revisionism, except that it is being waged now exclusively from outside the Party.
Even the slightest investigation of revisionism in the United States clearly illustrates that the overriding danger historically within the communist movement has been right opportunism in the form of economism. Moreover, that without a thorough grasp of the history of right opportunism within the communist movement, and its counterpart within the workers movement, reformism, the break with revisionism ideologically, theoretically, politically, and organizationally cannot be consolidated.
It is not without reason that right opportunists frequently raise the cry of “ultra leftism” as the main danger, to cover their own revisionist line. More often than not, they put themselves in the company of such distinguished campaigners against the “ultra leftism” as Tito, Krushchov, Browder, Togliatti, Eugene Dennis, and Gus Hall. History has proven that whenever American Communists have gone against the tide of right opportunism and revisionism, they have been purged as “ultra-lefts” and “factionalizers.” When communists in the 1930’s objected to the liquidation of factory nuclei and of Browder’s opportunist “Peoples Front,” they were labeled “ultra-left.” When comrades in the Party spoke out against the liquidation of party work in the Black Belt, they were accused of being “ultra-left.” When Party members rose up in 1944 to protest the dissolution of the Party and then in 1945 to point out that although Browder had been purged and the Party reconstituted, that revisionism had not been purged, they were expelled as “ultra-left.” In 1956, when the CPUSA liquidated the class struggle altogether, the party and the national question, those that refused to go along with this “creative Marxism” were summarily purged as “ultra-left.”
The struggle against imperialism and the struggle against opportunism, particularly right opportunism, must go hand in hand.
The result is that for close to fifty years, because of the long and deep influence of right opportunism on the American Communist Movement, there has been no systematic and patient effort made by Marxist-Leninists to win the working class to the side of communism in this country. Moreover, in a capitalist country, right deviations within the party have the opposite effect:
A victory of Right deviation in the Communist Parties in capitalist countries would mean the ideological collapse of the Communist Party and an enormous accession of strength to Social Democracy. And what does an enormous accession of strength to Social Democracy mean? It means the strengthening and consolidation of capitalism, for social democracy is the main prop of capitalism in the working class. Hence, a victory of right deviation in the Communist Parties in capitalist countries would add to the conditions necessary for the preservation of capitalism. (Stalin, PROBLEMS OF LENINISM, “The Right Danger in the CPSU(B),” 1943)
Put in terms of the current situation in the US, right deviations within Marxist-Leninist organizations prevent the formation of a genuine vanguard party, which amounts to adding to the preservation of capitalism.
That is why the development of the subjective factor – consciousness, leadership and organization – is paramount today. In the Age of Imperialism, the objective conditions are already rotten ripe for revolution, as Lenin pointed out long ago. It is the task of the subjective factor, through the vanguard party of the proletariat, to lead the masses to revolution. For such leadership to emerge, a struggle must be waged on two fronts, against both Right opportunism and ultra-leftism, but we must make no mistake about which error historically has been the greatest danger, and which remains the greatest danger today – right opportunism.
Since the CPUSA has abandoned the interests of the working class, our class has been like a ship without a rudder. The lack of a correct revolutionary theory leading the spontaneous struggles of labor against capital, has left the working class without a center, without a general staff to lead it into battle, without strategy and tactics, without a clear course charted for its emancipation. Our task, our obligation, is to restore that leadership, to restore revolutionary theory as the guide to action for proletarian revolution.
Without its vanguard party, the working class is without direction, Without theory, the vanguard party is not able to scientifically forecast the course of events, to formulate and carry out correct policy, to confidently lead the working class towards communism.
Historically, the US working class has waged a militant and heroic economic and political class struggle against capital. This struggle has time and time again taken the form of armed clashes – and on several occasions the form of open armed insurrection. The political and economic class struggles call to mind such battles as Haymarket, Molly McGuire, Homestead, Pullman, Ludlow, Memorial Day Massacre, the Western Federation of Miners struggle, the International Working Womens’ Day struggle, the Great Steel Strike, the Auto Sit-downs, the Scottsboro Boys – to name just a few. These struggles had international significance, such as the fight for the eight hour day, which served as one of the main slogans raised by the Bolsheviks in their conquest of state power.
Yet, in the US, these bitter, often bloody class struggles have not yet culminated in the establishment of workers state power. Obviously the American working class has a glorious history of economic and political class struggles.But the spontaneous struggles of the working class, by themselves, lead only to trade union consciousness, to the bowing to spontaneity, to economism and reformism. And, more often than not, when the CPUSA did participate in and lead many militant struggles, it was as the champion of economic demands, not of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The reasons for this are part and parcel of the development of capitalism in the United States. But most important, as Engels pointed out, is that there are not only two forms of class struggle, the political and the economic, but three forms of class struggle, “placing on a par with these first two the theoretical form of struggle,” (WITBD, FLP, p30) It is because the American working class has lagged behind on the theoretical front – the struggle to summarize its own experience, in light of the universal laws of Marxism-Leninism, and apply this theory to the objective conditions of monopoly capital, deriving strategy and tactics from this theory – that has historically prevented the American working class from becoming, up to this point, a class conscious of its own historical mission.
At a time when the bourgeoisie is intensifying its attack upon the working class and oppressed nationalities, seeking to shift the burden of the crisis of monopoly capitalism worldwide to the backs of American workers, it becomes all the more important for Marxists-Leninists to be able to find their bearings in the face of complex conditions, to constantly remain firm and clear as to our ultimate goal. In this context, Engels’s comment nearly eighty years. German Marxists in the US, Engels notes that:
they do not understand the theory themselves for the most part and treat it in a doctrinaire and dogmatic way, as something which has got to be learnt by heart.... To them it is a credo [creed] and not a guide to action.
for, from good historical reasons, the Americans are worlds behind in all theoretical things, and while they did not bring over any medieval institutions from Europe they did bring over masses of medieval traditions, religion, English common (feudal) law, superstition, spiritualism, in short every kind of imbecility which was not directly harmful to business and which is now very serviceable for making the masses stupid. And if there are people at hand there whose minds are theoretically clear, who can tell them the consequences of their own mistakes beforehand and make it clear to them that every movement which does not keep the destruction of the wage system in view the whole time as its final aim is bound to go astray and fail – then many a piece of nonsense may be avoided and the process considerably shortened. (Marx and Engels, LETTERS TO AMERICANS, Intl. Pub., 1953, pp. 163-4, “Engels to Sorge,” November 29, 1886)
Noting the propensity for narrow practical action, Engels pointed out three years earlier that it “is just the character of the American movement; that all mistakes must be experienced in practice. If American energy and vitality were backed by European theoretical clarity, the thing would be finished over there in ten years,” (Op cit, p 141).
This propensity for narrow practical action is most expressed in the form of American Pragmatism, which finds its roots in the material development of capitalism in this country. It guides the whole course of US business and political dealings, both nationally and internationally. Since the rise of Imperialism, it has been consciously imbedded into the entire education system, where the prejudices of bourgeois ideology are used to subjugate the masses.
In America, historically, and today in the present period, when the proletariat is without a vanguard party, the theoretical form of class struggle becomes even more important than during Engels time, for “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” Without a firm Marxist-Leninist theoretical foundation as our guide to action the economic and political forms of class struggle remain on the spontaneous level. It is only the theoretical compass of Marxism-Leninism that allows communist cadre to steer a firm course in the revolutionary storm. The firmer the grasp of theory, the firmer the compass.
As communists, we seek to provide conscious leadership to all forms of the class struggle, at every opportunity. However, at any given period of the revolution, one form of class struggle can be seized as the key link in order to move the struggle forward, on all fronts. That key link today is the theoretical form of class struggle. It is a time, as Comrade Mao Tse-Tung states, in which the “creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role,” (ON CONTRADICTION, FLP, p 36).
Precisely in a period of crisis for socialism, a period in which a genuine vanguard party does not now exist, and the working class is without united leadership, it is then we must pay special attention to the role of revolutionary theory.
The theoretical struggle today means the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, the application of the universal teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung to the objective conditions in the United States as well as raising the rich and varied experience of the workers and communist movements in the US to the level of theory. Our theoretical work must study the current conditions, the history of our class and other classes, as well as the international revolutionary experience. Theoretical work means solving the immediate as well as long term practical problems of proletarian revolution, analysis of such important questions as the composition of capital; the various strata of each class and their relationship to the United Front; identification of the bribed stratum; the material basis for fascism, etc. Marxist-Leninists must scientifically respond to each and every demand raised by the proletariat, such that each and every protest by labor against capital can be transformed into a political demand against the capitalist class and the state apparatus they control. The greater the progress made by Communists in elaborating this theory, the greater the movement toward socialism by the working class.
Only revolutionary theory, taken as a guide to action in the practical tasks of propaganda and agitation, can transform the spontaneous, sporadic struggles of the working class into a class conscious of itself.
The theoretical struggle by Marxist-Leninists is the struggle to put the correct stand, method and viewpoint in command, to correctly interpret each of the pressing practical problems that arise in the course of class struggle, and provide scientific explanations adequate to provide the basis for revolutionary strategy, tactics and program. Each of the pressing struggles toward proletarian revolution, such as trade union work or the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, must be placed on a firm theoretical foundation. The firmness of this foundation will determine the ability of the Party to:
find its bearings amidst the complex conditions of revolutionary struggle ... to steer clear of all submerged rocks in the path of its goal ... to find the right orientation in any situation, to understand the inner connection of current events, to foresee their course and perceive not only how and in what direction they one developing in the present, but how and in what direction they are bound to develop in the future. (HISTORY OF THE CPSU(B), Conclusion)
In the last few years, Marxist-Leninists have taken steps forward in grasping these theoretical tasks, particularly in terms of the basis for party building, the Black National Question, and Soviet social imperialism. But even here our foundations are shaky, and on many other questions, such as trade union work, the united front, the womens’ question, our foundation is very far from adequate. On such questions, our theoretical foundations are not adequate to provide a reliable guide to action.
At every turn today, events themselves throw up definite questions, questions which must be scientifically explained and clarified to the masses, so that in each and every important turn in the class struggle, Marxists-Leninists are able to explain the elementary teachings of scientific socialism in connection with outstanding political events.
Particularly in the current period when Imperialism is in a state of acute decay, when the moribund character of Imperialism becomes all the more visible, and thus the real danger of world war and fascism – the ideological firmness of communists and their ability to keep pace theoretically with political events, is of a decisive character.
Only if communist cadre acquire theoretical understanding of revolutionary practice can cadre become real leaders of the masses, conscious of their aims, and thereby reduce the possibility of mistakes to a minimum.
Bolshevik leadership in the face of moribund capital requires a knowledge of theory by all cadre – not just leading cadre; it demands that cadre grasp the fundamental laws of development of society, the laws of development of the working class movement, the development of proletarian revolution, the development of socialist construction, the ability to combat all decadent and revisionist tendencies nationally and internationally, and the ability to apply these laws to practical work, in the day to day class struggles of the working class. Communist cadre must be trained who fully possess these theoretical weapons, and who in turn, can train ever larger circles of cadre and advanced proletarians. The theoretical mastery of Marxism-Leninism is the foundation for Bolshevik propaganda and agitation.
Theoretical work, as Lenin directed the Fourth Congress of the Cominterm, must be directed to “really attain the organization, construction, method and content of revolutionary work.” The discovery of the material basis which make for revolution, the actual conditions, prospects and hindrances to revolutionary change, is the basis for successful party policy, organization and agitation. Advances on the propaganda and agitation front require clarity on fundamental theoretical questions.
Our work on the theoretical front will be arduous and protracted. But at the same time we realize that the actual fighting capacity of our cadre of all communist cadre, will in an important measure, be determined by their world outlook, as well as their ability to grasp and apply revolutionary theory. This theory does not fall from the sky, but is learned in the course of practical struggle, providing the answers to questions that the class struggle actually raises. We learn warfare through warfare, and in this way, we gradually, but systematically, raise the theoretical level of our cadre.
Theoretical work must never be separated from political and economic work. Theory can only answer the questions raised by the economic and political struggles. The study of Marxist theory is, as Mao Tse-Tung described it, a process of “practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge.”
All Marxist theoretical work begins with objective reality. Theory actually studies the objective process in its development and decline, it is based upon material reality. That is why theoretical work starts from perceptual knowledge, and raises It to a conceptual level, raises particular problems to their general and universal significance.
The whole point is to know how to unite theory and practice, to promote the historical unity of the subjective and the objective, and of theory and practice.
The ability of communists to promote this unity is a fundamental ideological question. Neither the day to day tasks of propaganda and agitation, or the theoretical tasks must in any way be pitted against each other. Today, however, when any number of immediate and pressing questions face communists every day; questions regarding the correct line and course of action on trade union work, the economic crisis, unemployment, national repression, fascism, the united front, the changing world situation, the danger of war in Europe – to belittle theoretical struggle at such a time represents a fundamental question of ideology and out look.
Party building, at all times, is an ideological question. It is a struggle to place all forms of class struggle, economic, political, and theoretical, on a firm ideological basis. Our ideology is dialectical historical materialism, the world view of the proletariat. Marxist-Leninist ideology embraces all aspects of the proletariat. Marxist-Leninist ideology embraces all aspects of communist work. Every action, every idea, as Mao points out, is stamped with the brand of its class. The belittling of any aspect of proletariat ideology, even to the slightest degree, only serves to strengthen the dominant aspect of this society, bourgeois ideology.
In the United States, it can hard be argued that the economic and political class struggles have been belittled. Theoretical work, historically however, has been belittled. That is why it is vital for American communists today to understand the correct relationship between these forms of struggle. The correct emphasis at any given period in the revolution, seizing the key link, the main form of class struggle based on an analysis of the contradictions in any period, represents an ideological question. The failure to pay adequate attention to ideology and theory has marked the attention of the international communist movement for the last twenty-five years.
The Moscow Declaration of 1957 pointed out correctly that “The theory of Marxism-Leninism derives from dialectical materialism. This world outlook reflects the universal law of development of nature, society, and human thinking. Dialectical materialism is countered by metaphysics and idealism. Should the Marxist political party in its examination of questions base itself not on dialectics the result will be one of one-sidedness and subjectivism, stagnation of human thought, isolation from life and loss of ability to make the necessary analysis of things and phenomena, revisionist and dogmatist mistakes of policy.
Further, the Conference of Eighty One Parties in 1960 stated that “ideological issues are of special importance today...Communists regard it as their task to launch a determined offensive on the ideological front, to work to free the people from the shackles of all types and forms of bourgeois ideology...Marxism-Leninism is a great integral revolutionary doctrine, the guiding light of the working class and the working people of the whole world at all stages of their great battles for peace, freedom, and a better life, for the establishment of the most just society, communism.”
At the time, this polemic was largely directed against the revisionist course charted by Tito, and other similar tendencies which were appearing. Just a few years later, the world was to be provided with another, even starker lesson of the failure to heed this correct line, as the USSR fully consolidated its degenerate revisionist course.
Today, while the United States is on the one hand the bastion of world monopoly capitalism, it is also the cradle of opportunism within the workers movement, and revisionism within the communist movement.
Nowhere more than in America is it the case that the struggle against Imperialism must go hand in hand with imperialism provides its all-out support to both reformism and revisionism, seeking to undermine the workers and communist movements from within, with the force of bourgeois ideology, the struggle against right opportunism and modern revisionism. For It Is here, as Mao Tse-Tung suggests, that bourgeois ideology is stronger than napalm and bullets. The struggle for the supremacy of Marxist-Leninist ideology must be fought for, at every step of the way.
The supremacy of proletarian ideology involves our attitude toward every single fundamental question of the revolution, toward all forms of class struggle. But this is all the more reason today, when modern revisionism seeks to disarm the communist movement, and reform the workers movement, that special attention must be paid to revolutionary theory. Without theoretical clarity on each of the tasks facing the proletariat, the light shed by Marxist-Leninists will be weak, dull, and unable to guide the working class at each moment in the course of battle.
Theoretical work is key to advancing all economic and political work. The extent to which theoretical clarity is gained on the correct application of Marxism-Leninism to our struggles here today, the extent to which definite lessons are drawn from our own experience and raised to the level of theory, is the extent to which substantial advances will be made in winning the vanguard to the side of communism and winning the masses to the side of the vanguard. The extent that Marxist-Leninists can respond scientifically to the day to day contradictions of capital and labor, is the extent to which we will be able to unite scientific socialism with advanced workers, provide definite leadership to the economic and political struggles of the masses, and unite Marxist-Leninists into a single communist party of a new type.
The ability of communist cadre to unite theoretical and practical tasks into a correct political line in order to unite Marxist-Leninists and lead the masses to fight the class enemy, on all fronts, is a question of whether to practice Marxism or Revisionism. At every turn, party building must be closely linked with the political line and firmly placed on an ideological plane. This is the essence of breaking with modern revisionism.