TOWARDS A MARXIST PARTY – Magic Caps and Monsters (Part II)

First Published: Spark Vol. I, No. 5, August 1947
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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If Comrade Perseus of the CPUSA draws his magic cap down over eyes, ears, and nose to protect him from the mythical monsters of split, disunity, factionalism, and contests of opinion, Expelled Comrade Perseus faces related monsters and wears a similar cap. Because Comrades expelled from the CPUSA should be the impetus behind progress towards a real Communist Party both inside arid outside the CP, whatever mistakes are made outside confuse CP members inside and retard progress from every angle. The dangerous use of the magic cap inside the CP is directly affected by its use outside–and so, the expelled magic cap is the more dangerous at a time when Comrade Perseus, inside, is discarding his.

The expelled magic cap facilitates major incorrect attitudes and positions. Through its faithful use, Expelled Perseus can reject (1) the responsibility of an orderly polemic, (2) work with the rank-and-file of and in the CP, (3) everything in CP history and words and ideas currently “lip-serviced” by the CP, (4) the third party as the American application of the People’s Front, (5) the U.N. and the possibilities for world cooperation, and (6) the will of people to influence events as against a vulgarized inevitability. In this issue we can consider only the first two points. These are important in laying the basis for the rest of the discussion (to be continued in SPARK No. 6).

1. Polemic

Once Comrade Perseus recognizes and fights opportunism in the CP, he realizes that he must have open discussion. When he becomes Expelled Perseus, he finds the others who oppose opportunism and with them begins to work towards a real CP. Now Perseus is open-minded. All differences of opinion are legal – in fact, a little too sacred’, to each his own. He feels that contest of opinion is incorrect and self-destructive. Perseus pulls at his cap and muses: ”How can we countenance polemic among anti-opportunists when we have all we can do to start from nothing and build?” True, it’s a shame. More – it’s punishment: a burp from our sour, undigested history – and unavoidable. The proof for the need of polemic lies in the very lack of unity and, in turn, in the very lack of important organizational advances. There is still no national Marxist organ for the United States. There is only the beginning of a systematic linkage between groups. The time is here to ”bat it out.” The word “Marxism” plus the mood “militancy,” set in the beautifying fog of fake unity, don’t equal leadership.

There is no time like the beginning to forge (unavoidably with some heat and pressure) ideological unity. It would be great Communist efficiency to start a real CP for the U.S. with the right ideas. What a fantastic waste–to encourage a mutual-admiration hodgepodge which will disintegrate in the face of the first problem. Perseus can consider his personal opinions immune only until the first time he attempts collective action which never materializes on the liberal plane of the equality of correct and incorrect ideas. The PR Club has participated with other groups in attempts at collective action which came to naught because there was no ideological unity.

There is a difference between the ordinary run of criticism in a good Party and polemic. When basic differences which are not easily resolved occur (especially after periods of confusion and even degeneration), open argument designed to destroy the roots of dangerous misconceptions is needed. Unfortunately, it usually produces some temporary bad feelings between future friends. Fortunately, it also produces permanent enemies and isolates them from a movement to which they owe no sincere allegiance.

What is the correct method of polemic? One should state clearly one’s own ideas – or nothing can be clear. Any later changes must be made openly with a self-critical analysis. Quiet, subtle -revision, sneaked through to protect “infallibility,” causes confusion, mistrust, and a subordination of a Party’s interests to personal or cliqueish designs. This point is on the agenda now when new revolts in the CP must modify a wrong approach among some expelled people.

Having made clear one’s own ideas, one must present the ideas under attack accurately, carefully quoting from the material considered. (Wild paraphrase is a little suspicious.) The important points should always be clearly. separated from minor points; agreement on important points should not be dissipated during arguments on details. In such polemic the reader has the basis for a factual examination, the basis for checking theory with practice.

This SPARK has tried to do. The first issue of SPARK (April) offered a Draft Transitional Program ”with the intention of stimulating the exchange of more definite opinions.” It thought ”a ’babel tower’ of good and bad ideas inevitable at this stage ”‒ that unity could come only through “open, definite statements”– that ”where this has been lacking we have found fictitious unity – and sometimes foul play.” It ”encountered three main ’left’ errors in connection with the fight against imperialist war and fascism . . . The first is the belief that participation in any form of Popular Front is merely disguised support for Capitalism ... A second left concept is the opposition to the UNO ... The third left error is the misconception of Marxist “inevitability.” The same program asked for simultaneous work outside and inside the CPUSA, avoiding an a priori formula for the materialization of a real CP. ”To work with the attitude of salvaging as much as possible is to prepare for either eventuality.”

Our forecast of these errors was based on a realization of the long history of opportunism in the CPUSA and based on our own lessons in fighting opportunism before the liquidation of the Party and before the Duclos letter. We did not progressively “burn up” as B’s letter in this issue implies. We foresaw the main areas of argument in the first place and struck out. After this, we developed and intensified our polemic as the dangerous ideas in our movement developed.

Not everything is good, as B says in his letter. We are certain he realizes that Trotskyite Sutta – at least – is not so good. The case of Sutta should engender in us a little more vigilance and a little more critical appraisal of “anti-opportunist” writings. We can’t countenance anti-Soviet ”potshots” or redbaiting. On these we are biased. An examination of SPARKs will show that we have criticized only on the basis of ideas– not on the basis of personality or tone. B’s letter was certain that NCP would react to our criticism with an outburst. The fact is that NCP has reacted only with anger and innuendo, but not with criticism. While it implied that SPARK did not allow it space, it never dared consider our position or its own defense in its weekly Report. This caution (in print only) is characteristic of NCP’s attitude towards other positions.

In a letter to the Siberian Committee (Geneva, Oct. 30, 1904, Lenin bitterly wrote, “Even K. Kautsky announced in his letter to “ISKRA” that veiled polemics are worse than any others, for the question becomes tangled, hints remain obscure, straight answers are impossible.”

The criticism involved in polemic should be helpful. Obviously SPARK isn’t helped by the comrade who calls us “immature.” We were not told on what point we were immaturely incorrect and why. We have no collector’s interest in the categories of immature, pre-mature, mature, or over-ripe. (Or were we “immaturely correct?”)

The leisurely hobby of insinuation should be omitted – such as NCP Report’s hoarse bark that SPARK was “illiterate.” At that, the article had not the courage to name SPARK – only to identify it through reference to SPARK material. Only one thing is constructive in the letters from B and R in this issue – and that indirectly. They tell us how they feel, and that is important in taking inventory of our movement today. To their credit, they tell us frankly–a good basis for better feelings one day.

By now we are a little tired of enigmas. Our opinion is pretty low of Enigma Darcy who operates fluently behind the scenes, but refuses to commit himself. We know that Darcy’s position is Dunne’s, but even Dunne doesn’t receive open support. It seems that if Dunne has appointed himself the “Pharoah” of the anti-opportunist movement, Darcy has appointed himself the “Sphinx.”

In a letter which we cannot print in this issue, Fergus McKean criticizes us for not proving in more detail from the classics. He has a good point – but we have a precipice at the end of the page where the type falls off and laughs at our measly 16 pages. The extensive quoting in McKean’s “Communism Versus Opportunism” is of great value. In this little magazine we have to quote briefly and choicily.

Often, we can refer only to the source. Sometimes we have been forced to summarize carefully a page of Dimitroff because of space limits. Then it is dismaying to see those thoughts attacked as opportunism. We hope our regular reprint is an indication of our attitude.

McKean, the L.A. group and others, have suggested an organ representative of all the anti-opportunist groups. We have tried this with others, but an organ did not materialize because there (1) was no ideological Unity, and (2) in the absence of such unity, there was, unfortunately, no acceptance of the principle of open polemic. It’s never too soon to try again, but we could all help avoid needless fiascos by making our positions clear beforehand. This is a responsibility of every group and individual now. And this is the main content of our argument for polemic and our original reason for issuing SPARK: to pull all positions into the open, to make differences clear, and to accelerate the discussion in order to help pave the way for a representative organ. All this will pave the way, in turn, for a real CP.

2. Work in the CPUSA

The PR Club has repeatedly argued that it is incorrect to decide now which of the two concentrations – in or out – will produce a real CP in the U.S. The effectiveness of our organizational and ideological contact work will decide that. There can be no reform in the CP by its leaders. There will be revolts by the rank and file, but these alone will not do the trick. There can be a rescue of the CP or an important part of it through the organization of a strong anti-opportunist movement outside with extensive links inside the CP and with international factors helping these two conditions. In other words, if there develops a clear corps outside, coordinated with “illegal” activity inside the CP, then the pressure of the opinions of our brother parties can either make possible a rescue of the CPUSA or take its membership – even if the NC boys refuse to part with the formal apparatus. It is important to realize that the good advice of our brother parties is for the time incapacitated by the fact that after their advice, the present NC would adopt the advice nominally, immediately give it lip-service – and BURY IT. On the other hand, Communists and workers generally would have no clearly defined national organization to which to turn.

The present NC must be taboo. It belongs in no Communist Party. The leadership of the real CP would have to be fresh and trustworthy. While we must damn the leadership, there must be no smug condescension towards the rank-and-file of the CP. Opportunism is an extensive disease. If the CP’ers have wrong ideas, so do many of the expelled people. There is no room for ”categories,” and a pompous, self-righteous attitude towards CP’ers is as ignorant as a Communist’s immodest attitude towards a non-Communist. At the same time it is important to tell CP’ers bluntly what “their” responsibility is. (There is a group of CP members, whether leaders or not, whom we will have to watch for a long time to come: those who know better but wait for the “safe” time to chime in – fair weather pilots of “revolutionary upsurge.” They have developed the facility for drifting with any trend and not ruffling their respectability. These authorities can* always ”go far” but can never be depended on for vigilance or real integrity. They will be ready at any time to greet an accomplished Marxist party with a prepared “leadership sermon.”)

R’s letter blames us for our moral tone and idealist attitude towards CP members. He writes, “It seems to say that CPUSA members are to blame if they don’t suddenly see that their party is opportunistic and try to change it. A new CP would open the eyes of many who are not hopelessly corrupted.” This sounds pretty good but there’s a ”booby-trap” ahead. R, it seems, defends CP members long enough to criticize us, and having finished criticizing us, he’s finished with their defense. The very next sentence reads, “But are there many such?” We won’t hairsplit the word “many.” The point is that a job is being done in the CP, and R’s attitude impedes the job. The Leninist conception of combined legal and illegal work applies within the Party itself. We are illegal in the CP. Therefore we work in it illegally (and we do) for contacts, salvage operations, for links, for the development of a corps inside. We do this so that the rank-and-file may learn through their experience as we did. We work for that coordination which will prepare a climax capable of destroying opportunism as a “respectable” force (i.e., operating in the name of a CP).

McKean writes us that the only reason for work inside would be ”to lead a small split or to secure a more advantageous moment to publicly denounce the Party and resign from it.” And even then, he feels that this must take only a few days or at the most 3 weeks. On what basis can we set such a limit? There are many factors. The CPUSA’s pressured NC has at different times frantically applied the tactics of “rapid expulsion,” “no expulsion,” and “delayed expulsion.” More important is the perspective of better accomplishments to be had by staying in longer–until a situation is “ripe.” Revolts in the CP will logically occur in waves, but these waves are made, and we have to make them. There must be real Communists in the CP. to reject the daily dish of opportunism. Of course, they can be effective only in coordination with the open front of anti-opportunism outside the CP.

McKean states that it is dangerous to encourage workers to stay in the CP because “an opportunist environment generates opportunism in all concerned.” ”An opportunist party is bound to attract not the revolutionary workers but opportunist types.” Until there is something better than the CP, one cannot decide that the CP attracts only opportunists. As a results of their experiences workers still approach the CP and it is criminal to confuse their budding socialist ideology with the accomplished opportunist crime of the CP–rotting pseudo-Socialist ideology. Lost in the swamp of sellouts today, there are a few correct spontaneous actions that teach workers, that send them in the direction of a CP. True, they do not know that this CP is a fake, that even its defense (?) of the Soviet Union is lipservice. But for this let us not relegate them to the category of opportunists. We don’t believe in wasteful recruiting to the CP. There is, however, a simple logic operating in advice to stay in and work. The members who are too far gone at the moment don’t accept such advice anyway; those who do accept our advice will stay in with a conscious, disciplined purpose and direction. These cannot be corrupted. Lenin said that a Communist who is dependable can operate in any corrupting circumstances. To remain incorruptible by avoiding corrupt. territory is a leftist virtue – a ‏cloistered virtue.”

We must have a calm organizational plan – not one based on anger towards a miseducated membership in the CP. Where there is something to be. gained for a real CP we’ll work, We repeat, we’ve found some of these valuable people, and those who haven’t should look harder–but not decide they don’t exist.

R wonders at the low rank-and-filism and the lack of political reason in our expulsion. Can R consider it low rank-and-filism and unpolitical to have called Browder’s ideas opportunism, revisionism, tailism, – and even pragmatism long before the liquidation of the CP and long before the Duclos letter; to have exposed Foster and the fake reform after the Duclos letter; to have built a new branch specifically to fight opportunism inside the Party and thus earn the designation of “best club” in N.Y.C.; to have educated a branch in anti-opportunist literature and work until it was prepared to force the issue with an “S.O.S. to All Communists” from a Party branch; to have followed this up with a polemical magazine designed to project a program and fight both right and left deviations in the Expelled movement? Our anti-opportunism is in the record – available to anyone who is interested. We have not had the space for it in SPARK.

There has to be a system to the fight for a real CP. We laid our plans during the war, and we have followed them. The attitude that produced an S.O.S. is producing new plans, new revolts, and new declarations in the CP – even in unexpected parts of the U.S. The most heartening letters and news, unfortunately, we have been unable to print. But there are whirlwinds in the bowels of the CP.