Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Waiting for A Communist Party? (A statement by the Discussion Bulletin Editorial group)

First Published: Discussion Bulletin #9, March 24, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What contribution can REM make to the Australian resolution?

In our opinion the main contribution that REM can make at present is to play a very active role, a leading role, in helping to create an environment in Australia which is conducive to developing some genuine Marxist theoreticians.

Let us hasten to add two explanatory qualifications to this main task:

Firstly, what type of Marxist theoreticians do we want? We don’t want armchair Marxists, those with only a comprehensive “book” knowledge of Marxism, but with little or no inclination of putting it into practice. We want to develop some real Marxist theoreticians who have both the inclination and the ability to serve the people and thus are impatient to develop their theory so they can put it into practice.

Previous experience, and common sense, indicates that those who regard theory as very important but strive to test it in practice whenever possible tend to produce much more interesting theory than those who regard theory as primary in a formal, dogmatic sense (and do nothing but study of the Marxist classics).

Secondly, does this mean that every member of REM is expected to become a capable Marxist theoretician?

No. Such a demand is setting too great a task for at least some members of REM. What we would rather encourage is that every REM member make efforts to raise their theoretical level, while striving to link theory and practice, and we actively support each other in this process. If this is done then we will all become better Marxists and some genuine Marxist theoreticians will emerge. Rather than ’waiting for a Communist Party’ we will be beginning the process – in a collective and not an individualistic way – of creating one.

This understanding of REM’s role at present has evolved as follows:

In the past some of us were loyal followers of the “great” theoretician E.F. Hill because we respected his contribution and because his contribution was linked to the remarkable achievements of the Peoples Republic of China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung.

Following the leader turned out to be not enough. The split between the REM and the CPA-ML struck us, at first, as being a split between the honest Marxist-Leninists (REM) and the dishonest non Marxist-Leninists (the remains of the CPA-ML).

Again, this analysis proved to be inadequate.

Firstly, some of our best friends in the “Party” who we knew (and this is not said tongue in cheek) to be as honest as the day is long, decided to stay with the “Party” (much to our surprise). Second, some of our friends who we knew to be as honest as the day is long decided to support the Albanian line.(for comprehensive critiques of the Albanian line , see ’Are Mao’s critics ML’s at all? in Discussion Bulletin no. 3. Also see ’Beat back the Dogmato-Revisionist attack on Mao Tsetung Thought’ in The Communist, theoretical journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, no. 5, May 1979. These documents are available through After Hours Books.)

In the face of such evidence there was no other alternative but to conclude that honesty is not enough. It is true that without honesty we can achieve nothing. But with honesty alone it was not possible to achieve much either.

Nor is class origin enough. Some of those who decided to stay with the revisionists had impeccable working class backgrounds.

Now we think that the initial split was between the rebels and the blind followers. To be a Marxist, one must be a rebel and one must be honest, but again these alone are not enough.

The rebels and honest people in REM and elsewhere now have to embark on the more arduous task of learning Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and applying it to Australian conditions. If we were communists at the time of the split then we would not have been so surprised and annoyed at the whole sick show.

Many of us have been proudly calling ourselves “ML’s”(at least in private, if security forbade a public utterance) for the last 10 years (or more or less) without having much idea at all about what Marxism is all about.

The example has been cited that 5 years ago some comrades (all one of them!) realised that the “Party’s” explanation of inflation (e.g., as expressed in the Party pamphlet “YOU Fight Inflation” (We intend to republish this with a refutation in a future Discussion Bulletin) was totally inadequate and that we did not really understand inflation at all. Five years later, after some fairly persistent study of political economy by a few individuals, we still don’t understand inflation and so we cannot get out a leaflet for mass distribution on this.

There are other huge gaps ... in our knowledge, e.g., no class analysis of Australia; don’t understand the nature of the Australian revolution, etc.

In short, at present, we have not got a great deal that is useful to give to the Australian people and working class and we should not pretend that we have.

Oppose Empiricism

Since the split there have been different reactions to our experience with the CPA-ML and its chief theoretician.

E.F. Hill (in the past) made some valuable contributions to Australian revolutionary theory. This would include his book on trade union politics (“Looking Backward. Looking Forward”) and his book on the Labour Party (“The labour Party?”). One task we have yet to fulfil is to critically review these books, so that we digest their useful side and reject their negative side.

One reaction to the desertion of Hill to revisionism ( see Discussion Bulletin no. 5 for a detailed exposure of Hill’s revisionist book “Class struggle within the Communist Parties”) has been to paint him absolutely black (forgetting his white undercoat) and to forget the contribution that he did make.

Those influenced by empiricism took the opportunity to condemn “intellectualism” (really condemning the role played by advanced theory) while glorifying all agitational work and the closest possible organic contact with the working class. These ideas have had some influence within REM. For example, see the article ’The leading role of the working class’ (part 1) in The Rebel! vol. 1, no. 3 (Sept. 1977). A correction was made in the continuation of this article in The Rebel! vol. 1, no. 6 (Dec. 1977). Another example of the influence of empiricism was the article ’working class leadership vital to win socialism’, in Discussion Bulletin no. 4.

This was followed up in Discussion Bulletin no. 6 with the article ’Intellectuals and the working class’ which though a deeper attempt to come to grips with the question, was still not sufficient.

The problem posed by E.F. Hill’s desertion cannot be solved simply by honest workers summing up their experience and condemning advanced theory as “intellectualism” and “armchair Marxism”. It is important that more summing up of experience is done and that bourgeois intellectuals posing as Marxists be opposed, and exposed. But this alone is not enough.

E.F. Hill was almost the only theoretician in the CPA—ML. The problem was not that one was too many but that one was not enough. Consequently, many CPA-ML members did not have the independence of thought and action to break with E.F. Hill when he became a revisionist. Since then the political study done within the CPA-ML has dropped away to almost nothing and the herd mentality of that organisation has grown stronger.

Hence, it is vitally important that REM trains a large contingent of Marxist theoreticians who adopt a proletarian class stand, irrespective of their actual class background.

For example, the Chinese Communist Party published a series of booklets in English translation by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin as well as Mao Tsetung. Obviously, they thought it important that these be studied. But very few have studied them.

Unite with empiricisms while opposing empiricism

By now most REM members who were influenced by an empiricist line have either changed their views or left the organisation. More than 90% of REM members now accept the view that our knowledge of Marxism is quite inadequate and we have to do something about it. For members to suggest, or imply, that an empiricist approach is now the main danger in REM is simply not true.

One bad tendency can be used to mask another bad tendency in the opposite direction. Opposition to empiricism has been used to actually sever the connection between theory and practice, between ’intellectual’ and ’worker’, and to promote an atmosphere within REM where only armchair Marxists feel comfortable.

We should think up ways to encourage those influenced by empiricism to remain in the organisation and change. We should not create an environment where such people feel completely out of their depth and have no real option but to leave.

Of course, if we don’t actually care about such people (or are afraid of hurting their feelings) then we will never create such an environment.

Having come so far, the main task now facing REM is actually how to create an environment from which Marxist theoreticians with a proletarian class stand will emerge.

Before going further it is necessary to state some definitions so that at least we have a common language and know what we are talking about.

Theoretical work: We shall use Mao’s definition (in describing Marx’s theoretical work) from ’Rectify the Party Style of Work’ (Selected Readings, p. 176):

...Marx took part in the practice of the revolutionary movement and also created revolutionary theory. Beginning with the commodity, the simplest element of capitalism, he made a thorough study of the economic structure of capitalist society. Millions of people saw and handled commodities every day but were so used to them that they took no notice. Marx alone studied commodities scientifically. He carried out a tremendous work of research into their actual development and derived a thoroughly scientific theory from what existed universally. He studied nature, history and proletarian revolution and. created dialectical materialism, historical materialism and. the theory of proletarian revolution. Thus Marx became a most completely developed intellectual, representing the acme of human wisdom; he was fundamentally different from those who have only book-learning. Marx undertook detailed investigations and studies in the course of practical struggles, formed generalizations and then verified his conclusions by testing them in practical struggles – this is what we call theoretical work.

Propaganda and agitation: In ’What is to be Done?’, Lenin approves Plekhanov’s definition which is:

A propagandist presents many ideas to one or a few persons? an agitator presents only one or a few ideas, but he presents them to a mass of people. (Ch. III B).

Persuasion, not compulsion

This principle applies to theoretical work, as with other things.

The capability of many REM members to just sit down and read Marx is limited. To do this people have to be self-motivated.

It is true that different members of REM have grasped the concept of our ignorance in Marxism to different degrees.

Not many, at present, are prepared, to consistently sit down and read Marx. But more are prepared to read Marx in relation to a concrete problem they have in mind. E.g., what causes inflation?; the position of women in the workforce; analysis of a particular industry.

With encouragement, most REM members will gradually take up the reading of more Marxist classics.

But if methods of compulsion are resorted to (e.g., demanding that people read ’Capital’) this will only slow down the process.

Part of this involves thinking in terms of the whole organisation, not in terms of a few individuals in it. When Lenin sat in the library and wrote ’Materialism and Empirio-Criticism’ (1909) he did not demand that all Bolsheviks drop their propaganda and agitational work and do likewise.

Building, a bridge – link theoretical work to propagate work

For an example of this refer to the introduction of the broadsheet “Can’t Bear it ... ” in this Discussion Bulletin.

Apply, the theory of 2 points, not the theory of 1 point.

As argued above it is still necessary to continue to oppose empiricism.

It is also necessary to oppose armchair Marxism and the associated tendency to exaggerate our ignorance.

Although not accepting the conclusion of the article from which the following extract is taken, we do think the extract is very true and relevant:

To be ignorant id one thing – and ignorance can be transformed into knowledge by taking part in the process of changing the world and using Marxism as a guide to this. But to raise ignorance to a principle, to make a virtue of it, to grow arrogant in direct relation to this ignorance, and to insist that everything stop until through self-cultivation, struggling to ’accept’ theory, one has overcome his own ignorance, this is both self-defeating and sabotage of the revolutionary movement... (The Communist, vol. 1, no. 2, p.81, theoretical journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA).

An article authorised by the REM Executive(“Party Building is Bullshit”, see Discussion Bulletin no. 7) airily dismisses all the struggles waged by all the ML and “ML” groups in most Western countries today as follows:

Any energy left over is spent ’immersing oneself among the masses’ leading Economist struggles against the employers and the Government. (DB 7, p. 3)

This is promoting the terrible idea that to become involved in any practical struggle at this time is Economist.

How on earth it is even possible to arrive at such a clear picture from the vantage of one’s lounge room in sunny Australia is a mystery to us. Gratuitous insults, so airily wiping off all the ML groups in the Western world, will not help us build international contacts. But the implications for REM itself are far more serious.

Although it is true to say: “... we have not got a great deal that is useful to give to the Australian people and working class and we should not pretend that we have.”

It becomes another thing altogether (negating all propaganda and agitational work) when it is said:

it is an exercise in futility to attempt to systematically take our ideas out to the people or the working class”, or, our theory is reading the classics; our practice is turning the pages”.
Such arguments amount to a severing the nexus between theory and practice, i.e., armchair Marxism. And unlike the empiricist line, armchair Marxism is a big internal danger in REM at the moment. We should be warned of the dangers of this by the words of the Chinese Communist Party in summing up 50 years of experience:
But the divorce of theory and practice and the split between the subjective and the objective are the ideological characteristics of Chen Tu-hsiu, Wang Ming, Liu Shao-chi and other sham Marxists...
In reading and studying, it is essential to keep to the principle of integrating theory with practice. It is essential to read and study with problems in mind, problems arising in the three great revolutionary movements of class struggle, the struggle for production and scientific experiment, and problems in the Chinese and the world revolution. This means combining reading with investigation and study and with the summing up of experience, combining the study of historical experience with the present-day struggle and the criticism of modern revisionism. (from “Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Communist Party of China”, July 1, 1971, p. 14)

Judge people by their deeds, not their words alone

In assessing the 2 bad tendencies outlined above we must judge people by their deeds, not their words. This cuts both ways.

Some people say that reading the classics is important but do nothing about it. If we develop the environment, where people are actually encouraged to do this and still nothing happens, then obviously these people have not grasped this truth adequately. If we build the bridge or the boat to cross the river and the poor swimmers still don’t want to cross then obviously they are not fair dinkum. While continuing to encourage them it is more important for us to cross the river ourselves, even if this means they can’t hear our voices so well from the other bank.

The same applies to people who energetically advance the proposition that “Theory is primary and propaganda is secondary” while in fact apparently doing nothing to help develop collective REM propaganda work.

Opposition to this formulation is based, in part, on the apparent hypocrisy of those who advance it. Don’t say cannot, say will not!

Develop REM collective life

Most socialist minded individuals have a strong desire to develop collective life in an organisation because they realise that their own individual ignorance and inability to change society can only be overcome by learning from others with mutual support.

Women tend to be more sensitive to the breakdown of collective life and will leave before some men who are more prepared to play the role of the “rugged individual”.

Collective life and collective spirit have broken down badly in some sections of REM. This is an extremely serious problem that must be fixed.

Anyone should be allowed to speak out, whoever he may be, so long as he is not a hostile element and does not make malicious attacks, and it does not matter if he says something wrong. Leaders at all levels have the duty to listen to others. Two principles must be observed; (l)Say all you know and say it without reserve; (2)Don’t blame the speaker but take his words as a warning. Unless the principle of ’Don’t blame the speaker’ is observed genuinely and not falsely, the result will not be ’Say all you know and say it without reserve’. (Little Red Book, pp. l6l-2)

Opposed to Mao’s concept of developing a collective life in the organisation there is another bourgeois method and style of work. This breaks down and destroys the collective life of the organisation leaving only a motley collection of individuals all striving against each other.

This method and style of work does blame the speaker and by different debating tactics attempts to browbeat the speaker into submission. It attempts to deny the right of the speaker to argue a certain way or ask certain pertinent questions.

Attempting to win an argument by distorting your opponent’s position is a bourgeois style of work that reflects either a lack of care or a lack of understanding of people.

To willfully exaggerate differences, rather than just fighting for what is correct does not help to resolve them (E.g., labelling one side ’Menshevik’ or proclaiming ’party building is bullshit’ rather than premature).

To treat genuine offers of help with suspicion and to question the motives of those making such offers is bound to poison the atmosphere.

To prematurely put a contentious issue to a vote by falsely arguing that organisational decisions and ideological problems are separate and distinct from each other is a bourgeois style of work designed to avoid the essence of a problem.

Of course some questions must be resolved by vote. But it is much better to try to reach a consensus by examining all the arguments, suspicions and doubts before the vote is taken.

To demand centralism when there is no real, functioning democracy is an unacceptable hangover from the CPA-ML.

It is obvious what the main barrier to developing REM collective life is. The above bourgeois method and style of work, poisons the atmosphere and turns non-antagonistic into antagonistic contradictions.

Only by developing a collective life in REM will it be possible to transform our organ, the Discussion Bulletin.

The Discussion Bulletin can develop in 2 ways. As the haphazard and sporadic work of a few individuals. Or as the collective organ of an REM that has a collective life. The latter course is the only healthy one. The Discussion Bulletin is, has been and will become as good as the organisation.