First Published: The New Voice, Vol. VI, No. 9, December 12, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The terms Left and Right arose during the revolutions against feudalism, particularly the French Revolution of 1789. People on the Left wanted to keep moving, keep changing things, while those on the Right were conservatives or reactionaries, wanting to stop moving or go back to the old society. When the words Left and Right are used this way, Marxist-Leninists stand on the Left; they are part of the left wing.
Among Marxist-Leninists, however, the terms “Left” with quotation marks and Right both mean something bad. “Left” deviations should be corrected or they will become “Left” opportunism, and the same holds true for Right deviations and Right opportunism.
This use of “Left” and Right has a scientific basis. It reflects objective contradictions and our plans or actions. In a social situation, conditions are ripe for some change, but it will not happen unless people support what is new in the situation against the old and dying. For example, the United States, a monopoly capitalist society, is ripe for socialism. But the U.S. will not go socialist until the working class makes a revolution. A Right deviation favors keeping the old. All monopoly capitalists are on the Right with regard to this question of the best social system for the United States; they want to keep capitalism forever. Right opportunists help the capitalists hold back revolution.
But the U.S. is not ready for communism, which is a completely classless society. We must build socialism. Under socialism, the capitalists will still exist, but they will not be on top any more. Later, under communism, classes and all class influence are erased. To advocate communism today would be a “Left” deviation, trying to change too much, or change too fast, in relation to what conditions require and allow. Anarchists are “Left” deviationists or “Left” opportunists on this question, because they want to eliminate state power immediately instead of replacing the present dictatorship of the capitalists by the dictatorship of the proletariat for the socialist period.
“Left” is in ironic quotation marks because anyone who advocates “Left” policies really supports the Right. Anarchists oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat while the capitalist class still exists, leaving the capitalists a free hand to carry out counter-revolution. This suits the capitalist class fine, and “Left” winds up the same as Right.
There is only one Marxism-Leninism, but there are several varieties of opportunist ideas, different traps people can fall into. It helps to have the terms “Left” and Right to classify them. Still, the important thing is to get to the class essence of things. Class analysis shows us the correct line versus the deviation or opportunism that serves the reactionary class.
Some people argue a lot about whether a “Left” or Right deviation is the main danger at the moment. They dispute whether sectarianism and dogmatism (“Left” deviations) are the main problem in the U.S. communist movement, or whether Right opportunism is the bigger danger.
It is helpful to point out specific problems among communists and to sum them up as “Left” or Right deviations. But from there, Marxist-Leninists try to state the class essence of the correct and incorrect approaches to the issue. If this is not done, then in effect a political platform is being defined as opposition to only one kind of non-Marxist policy. This in turn means that Marxist-Leninists are not drawing a line between themselves and other kinds of opportunist policies. When fighting a “Left” deviation this way, the danger of opening the door to a Right deviation exists. The way to guard against this is to characterize the deviation concretely and contrast it to the Marxist-Leninist stand. Otherwise, only saying that the main danger is “Left” (or Right) means helping the Right (or “Left”) deviation to take over. For example, the October League has been zig-zagging for years from one form of opportunism to another under the cover of talk about “Left” and Right main dangers.
Another advantage of being very explicit about the Marxist-Leninist analysis is that a deviation often consists of “Left” and Right elements combined, even if one or the other is bigger. For example, take the second of The New Voice’s three key points for building a genuine communist party: Make the Workers’ Struggles the Party’s Struggles, and Make the Party’s Outlook the Workers’ Outlook. The October League (now calling itself the CP M-L) practices sectarianism in mass work–refusing to work in broad coalitions it cannot use for its own organizational goals; setting up paper mass organizations with revolutionary requirements, like the National Fight Back Organization. But it is also Right opportunist about spreading Marxism-Leninism–little or no theory in its newspaper, little education of cadres in Marxist-Leninist classics, underconsumptionist economics instead of Marxist political economy, etc. Basically, the OL is not Marxist-Leninist.
“Left” and Right are convenient terms to label problems. They have a Scientific basis in the materialist theory of knowledge (people study the contradictions in reality in order to act effectively to support the new against the old). They can be useful terms for quick reference, but they should not become substitutes for Marxist-Leninist analysis or lead us to the opposite deviation.