Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Problems of Pre-CP Groups... Mass-Action Campaigns

First Published: NCP Report, No. 71, March 1, 1948
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Workers and other exploited people are so numerous in this country that it is rather too easy for pre-CP groups to overlook those segments of “the masses” who are right at hand.

In typical CPUSA speeches, there is much big talk about the “broad masses”–masses that appear to get broa-a-der and broa-a-a-der with each successive pronouncement by Dennis until finally they, are so very “broad” that no one at all is really in them.

In specific industrial areas, and neighborhoods, however, the masses always turn out to be composed of living human beings, each one with a name, face, personality, ideas, and problems. Mass work, concretely, means work among and with these living human beings right at hand.

A pre-CP group, we have suggested in earlier articles, does well to concern itself with planning and carrying into action the following successive and cumulative projects: (1) propaganda of a high political level aimed to reach the most advanced workers, and aimed to recruit them; (2) more general political propaganda on behalf of the workers’ and farmers’ government and aimed, not just at the advanced workers, but at all and seeking to bring about a clearer understanding of the proletarian dictatorship.

A Third Project

To the foregoing two projects ought to be added a third: the drawing up, issuing, dissemination, and popularizing of Bolshevik immediate-program slogans for specific mass actions. Naturally, this project aims at winning the support of all–not just the support of those who already agree to the full program of the Bolsheviks.

Strictly speaking, a mass-action slogan is not quite the same thing as a propaganda slogan. True, mass-action slogans usually start their careers as simply propaganda slogans, during which phase the main aim is to present the slogan and its meaning as clearly as possible to as many workers and other as possible in preparation for actual mass actions.

When a propaganda slogan begins “to take hold,” so to speak, then the time has come for transforming the purely propaganda slogan into a specific, mass-action slogan.

On the issue of evictions, for example, slogans that urge tenants to organize themselves to resist evictions may be said to be primarily propaganda slogans, even though they already contain some action components; but when a specific slogan is issued calling for a specific act of resistance to evictions, then the slogan has become primarily a mass-action slogan. As is usual, in Marxism, no absolute, hard-and-fast line divides the two; but the distinction is all the same worth making.

The Role of Mass-Initiative

In all countries, not excluding this one, the masses of people and especially of workers have a great deal more creative organizational ability than they are sometimes given credit for.

Once a slogan in its purely propaganda form has really been driven home amongst a mass of people, usually they themselves will find the ways and means of taking some action about it. For many years in CPUSA circles there has been rather too much of the tendency to neglect the propaganda side and to overemphasize the alleged “need” of CPUSA to control every last detail of the mass-action in question. The tendency has been to leave no room at all for any initiative on the part of the masses; indeed, any attempt of the masses to assume responsibility themselves was usually frowned on severely. This has been because the typical CPUSA bureaucrat cannot conceive of anything at all worth while happening without his or her rigid supervision, and, besides, usually is actually afraid of the masses “going too far.”

In most areas, a majority of the workers at least are experienced enough so that once they are really convinced that, such-and-such an action ought to be undertaken, they are perfectly capable or organizing it and frequently will do a much better job of it than if they leave it all up to the particular CPUSA “leader.”

The history of the labor movement in this country shows not a few examples of extraordinarily well organized mass actions with which CPUSA forces had nothing whatever to do, and even boasted that they had nothing to do with them.

There exists a category of mass-action projects known as “exploratory,” aimed at ascertaining the degree to which the propaganda has taken effect. A pre-CP group really well based in a shop ought not, under ordinary circumstances, to have to make such “explorations” because it ought to be enough in touch with the workers to have a good idea of what the sentiment is. Nevertheless, in some shop cases and also in more heterogeneous situations, as in neighborhoods, these “exploratory” mass-action slogans may be of some value.

Location of Tactical Initiative

Under present circumstances most (but not all) mass-action slogans arise in struggle against the initiative taken by the enemy class, which now does in fact have the initiative. Workers so far haven’t very much control over what particular hot potato the capitalists will pitch at them next, and most energies have to be concentrated of handling each hot potato as it is pitched.

Nobody can predict, always, what particular issue will be it.

It is well known, for example, that factory workers sometimes let an economic injury go by fairly calmly – and then flare up over an apparently lesser question, often one involving some affront to their own self-respect as workers, which is not really a lesser question at all.

The fact that the capitalists now generally have the initiative does not entirely preclude the development by workers of some tactical sortie or offensive of their own, on some issue other than the one the boss has preferred. This tactic becomes more and more useful as the movement and its solidarity with the rest of the workers develops.