Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Hammer & Steel

“On a Speech by Sidney Rittenberg”

First Published: Hammer & Steel Newsletter, No. 1, January 1968.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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EROL Note: The above title was supplied by EROL.

A world-wide anti-imperialist coalition requires Marxist-Leninist leadership. For this a common international Marxist-Leninist policy is needed. This policy will be developed by Marxist-Leninist leaders. These leaders will not, in our opinion, be like Coleridge’s mariner. They will throw off the stinking albatross of the 81 Party compromise on Marxist-Leninist principles made in 1960.

Since the ambitions of U.S. imperialism are global, the spread of modern revisionism has been global. It has penetrated, and turned into their opposite, sections of the anti-revisionist movement. The scope of the national democratic revolutions and their supporters in all countries is also global and their struggle necessitates ideas and practice opposed to modern revisionism; that is Marxist-Leninist ideas and practice.

The Communist Party of Belgium has printed the speech by Sidney Rittenberg that was made to a section of the Red Guards in Peking in April, 1967. The CP. of Belgium in its organ Voice of the People, is printing a series of articles discussing Rittenberg’s speech. The articles are entitled “Denouncing a new and sinister international counter-revolutionary plot (Concerning a speech by a certain Rittenberg)” The discussion of the Rittenberg speech is of great importance to U.S. revolutionary forces and the development of Marxism-Leninism in the world.

We have the original Rittenberg speech in English. It is lengthy and we are unable, at this time, to print and distribute it. Excerpts of the original speech were in Peking Review, but important sections of the speech were changed. The Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity in England has printed, without criticism, excerpts from the original.

Groups are being formed in Belgium and England using Rittenberg’s speech as their guide. In certain other capitalist countries and several oppressed nations Rittenberg’s line is supported by organizations which claim to have broken with revisionism. In the Socialist countries important forces are echoing some of Rittenberg’s formulations.

Rittenberg, who is described by Peking Review as a U.S. expert living in China, entitled his speech, “Liu Shao-chi and his Evil Book. He states: “that the crux in the opening up of new vistas in the world revolution today lies in solving the central problem – once the proletariat has come to power, how are we to assure that the bourgeois does not rise up and seize back the power that was won by the people... Rittenberg’s answer is “...to wipe out the exploiting classes (in Socialist countries) and their influence for all time...” Rittenberg views the main enemy of the world’s people as the bourgeois remnants in Socialist countries. Lenin held that such forces were secondary and dependent on “international capital.” Stalin held, and proved in practice, that bourgeois remnants in Russia were a threat because of their dependence on foreign imperialists. In Rittenberg’s speech there is not one word on U.S. imperialism as the main enemy. He does not mention Taiwan, Chinese territory occupied by U. S. imperialism. Rittenberg’s line is to divert the Socialist countries from the struggle against the main enemy. His line is to split the Marxist-Leninists in Socialist countries from those in capitalist and oppressed nations; he proposes that they fight different enemies.

Rittenberg, a U.S. citizen who claims to be a Marxist-Leninist, mentions neither the war in Vietnam nor Korea where U.S. imperialism suffered its most serious setback. But his contempt for the Vietnamese and Korean peoples and the Marxist-Leninists in their countries is made clear enough. Rittenberg patronizingly asserts there has been no development of “real Marxist-Leninists” except in “one or two small lands like Albania.” At the moment U.S. imperialism concentrates its aggression for super-profits against smaller nations. To dismiss and distort the importance of Marxist-Leninist development in small nations, as does Rittenberg, is to side with U.S. imperialist aggression. A world-wide anti-imperialist coalition in support of Vietnam will be created in struggle against Rittenberg’s policy.

The question of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a principled question for all Marxist-Leninists. It is not of concern only to Marxist-Leninists in Socialist countries. For the attitude of Marxist-Leninists in oppressor capitalist countries on this question helps determine both their international outlook and their attitude toward revolutionary leadership in their own countries. Rittenberg has a great deal to say about “the proletarian line”, “the bourgeois line”, “proletarian cultural revolution” and even mentions “the proletarian dictatorship” once or twice. But when it comes down to specifics it is the “masses” whom he wants in power. Rittenberg never says a word on how the Chinese proletariat can strengthen its dictatorship. The proletariat is relatively small in numbers in China. Without the alliance of the urban workers and poor peasants in the countryside, without the hegemony of the proletariat in that alliance, power will inevitably revert to a bourgeois dictatorship. Rittenberg says, “the Chinese masses have rebelled.” Whom have they rebelled against? He means against those in power, against the dictatorship of the proletariat. And he warns the Chinese workers if they reject his line “that over a hundred thousand students will be marching in the streets in Peking...” (Our emphasis – H&S).

The desertion of the Soviet government to the imperialist Camp has temporarily shifted the relationship of forces to the side of reaction. With an international Marxist-Leninist movement, following the traditions of the 3rd International, Socialist nations can make important contributions in the anti-imperialist struggle, receive the effective support of the world’s peoples and contribute to a new relation of forces favoring the revolutionary cause. According to Rittenberg, “...the revolutionary regime in Spain got much more assistance from international proletarian forces than did the Chinese revolution in all the several decades put together.” In other words, the struggle of the Spanish people against fascism was not of aid to the Chinese revolution. Let us apply this reactionary bourgeois attack on international solidarity to the situation today. Rittenberg’s line means that aid given to Vietnam outweighs the support the Vietnamese people give to the Socialist countries. When the focal contradiction in the world concerned the question of the first Socialist nation vis-a-vis imperialism, Rittenberg negates the struggle against German-Italian & Japanese fascism in Spain. Now when the focal contradiction is the struggle of the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America vis-a-vis U.S. imperialism, Rittenberg tries to negate the struggle of the Vietnamese people.

According to Rittenberg, the CPC’s Central Committee sent a representative “to Moscow to study in the forties” (when Stalin led the CPSU). This representative “returned to set up a system” which featured “careerist gossip” and “which viewed the Party as an organization for watching over and controlling the masses...” Rittenberg claims, in effect, that Comrade Mao Tse-tung led the Chinese revolution in opposition to the leadership of the 3rd International and of J.V. Stalin.

Rittenberg poses as an “expert” on Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s thought. Hammer & Steel’s editorial board are not experts on anybody’s thoughts. Our judgments are limited to a leader’s writings, his actions and his associates. When Comrade Mao was associated with the 3rd International he never made any such criticisms as now voiced by Rittenberg. And after Stalin’s death Chairman Mao wrote on Stalin’s contribution in “For a Lasting Peace, for a Peoples Democracy”, March 13, 1953. Mao stated that Stalin “discovered and substantiated the basic economic law of modern capitalism and the basic economic law of Socialism; he contributed to the theory of the revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies.” Mao further wrote, “After Lenin’s death, Comrade Stalin was always the central figure of the world Communist movement. Rallied around him we constantly received advice from him, constantly drew ideological strength from his works. Comrade Stalin had the warmest feelings for the oppressed peoples of the East. ’Do not forget the East’ was the great appeal by Comrade Stalin after the October revolution.”

And Chairman Mao said further, “It is common knowledge that Comrade Stalin ardently loved the Chinese people and considered that the forces of the Chinese revolution were immeasurable. He displayed the greatest wisdom in matters pertaining to the Chinese revolution.”

Either Trotsky, Khrushchev and Rittenberg are right about Stalin and the 3rd International in relation to the East, or Chairman Mao was right in 1953. We believe the successes in China before Stalin’s death were the practice that proved Chairman Mao’s theory on Stalin correct. Rittenberg’s speech is based on Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin speech to the 20th Congress, CPSU. Rittenberg’s line is intended to delay international unity of Marxist-Leninist forces – to delay the repudiation of the 81 Party line on Stalin–to delay that which would deal mighty blows to U.S. imperialism.

Rittenberg attacks the Deputy Chairman of the CPC, Liu Shao-chi. Says Rittenberg, “The two lines, the reactionary bourgeois line of Liu Shao-chi and the proletarian revolutionary line of Mao Tse-tung... ..ran parallel to some extent; in parallel opposition for many years in the Chinese revolutionary movement.” Rittenberg states, “This reactionary bourgeois line...is reflected in this book of Liu Shao-chi – How to be a Good Communist.”

Rittenberg then attacks Comrade J. Grippa, leader of the CP. of Belgium, “Last year a leading cadre in a fraternal Party visited China. He had a conversation with some of us in which he said that he heard that Chairman Mao had written an essay about a Canadian doctor named Bethune but he had never seen the essay. Could we find him a copy? This is an anti-revisionist fighter, one of the leaders of a well known fraternal Party. On the other hand, this same Comrade was very familiar with this book of Liu Shao-chi and had used it for training Party cadres in his own country.”

The Belgian comrades claim that Rittenberg lies; what Comrade Grippa actually said was that the article on Bethune was not published in French as a pamphlet. Comrade Grippa had read the article according to the Belgian comrades.

Why did not Rittenberg, before he attacked Grippa or Liu Shao-chi, explain his own role? If Liu Shao-chi’s book has “poisoned and misled large numbers of revolutionaries, not only in China but all over the world...” why did not Rittenberg warn us in the U.S. before now instead of aiding the book’s distribution here? Or at least tell us, Rittenberg, why you supported what you call “the reactionary bourgeois line” for two decades after you “left”(?) the employ of the U.S. government and went to China? Were you silent concerning what you describe as a “bourgeois reactionary line” so that you could be on the “winning” side? Is this the way U.S. Marxist-Leninists should avoid what you call building “a revolutionary movement on the organizational principles of blind obedience, of servility”? Rittenberg tells us that “one who sees someone harming the interests of the masses and is not stirred to anger and indignation is no real Communist.” Let us accept this admonition and warn the masses that Rittenberg is without principle.

The Editorial Board of H&S has emphasized the leading potential of China and the CPC in the world-wide struggle against U.S. imperialism. In our discussions with Chinese leaders and in our publications we have stated frankly and, on occasion, critically, our views. And we have always requested criticism of our policies, including published criticism of our articles on policy. Such a relationship is necessary for equality between Marxist-Leninist forces and for the development of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice. Now Rittenberg, a U.S. citizen, speaking in China, seeks to prevent effective discussion by posing the question of Marxist-Leninist development as simply a struggle between two leaders of the CPC. In view of Rittenberg’s speech we must state that in our experience and study no such division existed.

Why does Rittenberg, the U.S. “expert” on China, jump back to events in the 1930s and 1940s and skip over the events in the 1950s aid 1960s – the period when the modern revisionists became powerful and the period when the struggle against them began? Why does he not mention the CPC’s 8th Congress which endorsed the 20th Congress of the CPSU? Why doesn’t Rittenberg deal with the compromise of Marxist-Leninist principles made in the 81 Party Statement? Why isn’t the 25 point pamphlet, one of the important efforts by Marxist-Leninist forces in CPC leadership to correct some of the errors on principle made in the 81 Party compromise, mentioned? Could it be that an honest discussion of these questions would reveal that both the errors and the contributions of the CPC leadership were collective, that they involved not only the “thought” of Chairman Mao, but the “thought” of Liu Shao-chi, Chou En-lai, Chen Po-ta, Lin Piao and others? If these questions are valid then how can Liu Shao-chi be denounced as “China’s Khrushchev”? Isn’t Rittenberg the most likely candidate for that title?

Doesn’t Rittenberg imply that the Chinese CPC leaders, who worked collectively with Liu Shao-chi are comparable to Mikoyan, to Breshnev and to Kosygin? Isn’t Rittenberg, in the name of Mao’s thought, making a vicious slander against Chairman Mao? These questions should be directed not only to Rittenberg, but to his colleagues and agents in Australia who take the same line, thereby avoiding their own responsibility on the 20th Congress, CPSU and the 81 Party compromise on Marxist-Leninist principles. We believe we have made a modest contribution to Marxism-Leninism by taking a self-critical attitude on the 20th Congress and the 81 Party Statement and we believe that other anti-revisionist forces will also find this step is correct and necessary.

It is important to remember that Liu Shao-chi’s book was not utilized only by the Belgian C.C. for cadre development. Under the leadership of Chairman Mao, the C.C, CPC used “How to be a Good Communist” to train cadre in the CPC. And not a few times has the CPC leadership told the world that this pamphlet contributed to the Party’s correct leadership in the anti-imperialist war and the Socialist revolution. We believe Chairman Mao and the CPC leadership were correct in utilizing “How to be a Good Communist.” (The original edition). And we believe that the attack of Rittenberg on “How to be a Good Communist” is a thinly disguised attack on the concept of a vanguard Marxist-Leninist Party. It is an attack not just against Liu Shao-chi, but against the tactics and policies of the CPC in the anti-imperialist war and in the Socialist revolution. It is aimed at the dictatorship of the proletariat which cannot exist without a Marxist-Leninist Party. It is an attempt to divert the Chinese peoples and the peoples of the world from their main enemy, U.S. imperialism and the real agents of U.S. imperialism in China and elsewhere.

When one denies U.S. imperialism as the main source of revisionism then one must also deny the leading role of a Marxist-Leninist Party for only a Marxist-Leninist Party can consistently expose the interconnection between revisionism and the main enemy. Rittenberg gives us the following advice – “From the masses to the masses.” Not – Rittenberg insists–“From the leaders to the masses and then back to the leaders.” Rittenberg substitutes “leaders” when he means a Marxist-Leninist Party. A Marxist-Leninist Party must be part of the masses, understood by them, but if it has no initiative, does not play a vanguard role, then the imperialists and Rittenberg will be very happy indeed.

We know from experience in the U.S. what kind of a “Party” Rittenberg seeks. It is Progressive Labor which is described by Rittenberg and his U.S. colleagues in Peking, the Adlers, the Coes and Jack & Ruth, etc, as Marxist-Leninist.

PL says from one side of its mouth that all political issues are finally resolved by the barrel of a rifle. From the other side of its mouth comes the advice to Afro-Americans and other anti-imperialist forces to join the anti-draft movement – to reject the rifle. In this way those opposed to the Vietnamese war will be defenseless, tucked away in jails and separated from the working class draftees who cannot and do not participate in the legalisms and pacifism of the white middle class anti-draft forces.

There are many non-Marxist forces who honestly believe that anti-draft movements and other “peaceful transition” tactics weaken U.S. imperialism. But is it not a fact that Johnson employing the carrot and the club, utilizes the anti-draft movement as a “democratic” smokescreen, a “right to dissent” gimmick, in order to extend U.S. imperialist holdings–which are always grabbed off in the name of “freedom”? Isn’t this why Johnson insisted, according to Drew Pearson, that the last anti-draft demonstration be given a permit for Washington, D.C.?

PL in a recent issue of Challenge warns against faith in bourgeois elections. In the same issue it waxes ecstatic over the possibility of U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam as a result of referendums in San Francisco and New York City.

On the one hand, PL claims to oppose peaceful transition. On the other hand PL insists that all Communists must work openly. Rosen, PL leader and leg man for Rittenberg, was a leading exponent in the CPUSA of exposing all revolutionary forces long before PL was organized.

PL personnel visited Cuba and praised Premier Castro to the skies. In the latest issue of their magazine, M-L Quarterly, they attack Castro without explaining why they supported him before or why they changed their position.

PL prints an article by forces outside the country which is somewhat critical of the State of Israel. At the same time they seek finances from Zionists and do not take a stand themselves on the struggles of the Arab peoples.

PL is opposed to self-determination for the Afro-American people in the Black Belt. But PL will also pretend support to self-determination in order to vulgarize its meaning and to divert Afro-American leaders from the land question in the Black Belt.

PL will feint a punch against the Trotskyites and CPUSA leaders. Yet on the question of Vietnam the three marched arm in arm in Washington, united in support of the pacifist, Dr. Spock, who is disturbed because U.S. imperialist tactics in Vietnam are hurting “U.S. leadership in the free world.”

PL claims to oppose U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, but denies that the Puerto Rican and Afro-American liberation movements are the main U.S. forces actually fighting U.S. imperialism and are the basis for an anti-imperialist coalition in our country.

PL claims to be the enemy of revisionism and labor opportunism while uncritically evaluating actions by union leaders who bow to Johnson on Vietnam and every other major question.

H&S has a policy of uniting ideologically and organizationally the forces which can establish a Marxist-Leninist Party in our country. We have come into conflict with many revisionist and opportunist forces serving U.S. imperialism in the course of this struggle. The most dangerous of these has been the CPUSA. Today the most dangerous is that creation of Rittenberg and U.S. imperialism, Progressive Labor. PL can claim support from forces in China, a former semi-colonial country. It disguises its adventurism, its lack of principle and its revisionism by claiming to be on the side of Mao’s thought.

Rittenberg claims that when his views on cultural revolution “are brought home to a relatively small number of revolutionaries in other countries and become a part of the understanding of the masses in whatever struggle they demand to carry on and do carry on...” everything will be alright. In other words, the smaller the revolutionary force the better and let it get lost among the masses as soon as possible and under no condition criticize reactionary or revisionist ideas. The class enemy, through its agents, is often able to mislead the masses – an example is the German masses, many of whom were misled by Hitler and the Social Democrats into supporting the attack on the Soviet Union. The U.S. masses, many of whom follow Johnson and the labor opportunists on Vietnam, are another example.

There are honest anti-revisionist forces who believe that Rittenberg’s arrogance and revisionism are so obvious that he is not a dangerous force. In our opinion he is as dangerous as U.S. imperialism is dangerous.

Rlttenberg is not a small potato in Peking. As head of the foreign department of Peking Radio he was able to prevent any effective broadcast in support of the Arab peoples last June. He has used his influence to prevent a Robert Williams broadcast to Afro-American troops in Southern Asia. He decides what U.S. material is on the news-stands in Peking – only PL’s Challenge and the National Guardian are allowed. He now decides what U.S. forces can visit Peking, whom they can see and even where they can stay. He edits (actually writes) the “Anna Louise Strong Newsletter” with its Trotskyite-pacifist line. He is printed in Peking Review. It is doubtful that any U.S. ambassador to Chiang Kai-chek’s regime was a more chauvinistic, more dangerous foe of the Chinese people than S. Rittenberg.

The Khrushchev clique allied the Soviet Union with U.S. imperialism. China is a former semi-colonial country; its development is linked to the struggles of Asian, African and Latin American nations, most of whom are oppressed by imperialist countries. If successful, Rittenberg’s policy means that U.S. imperialisms domination of Taiwan would be extended to all of China. This would be a harsh blow to the revolutionary movement in the world. Revisionism threatens China, but it does not yet control China. Modern revisionism and Rittenberg will be defeated as the U.S. imperialists are smashed and defeated. This will not happen spontaneously. Destruction of Rittenberg’s line and organizational efforts is a pressing, important task for all Marxist-Leninists, all fighters against national oppression, all who struggle for a Socialist world.