First Published: Progressive Worker [Canada] Vol. 4, No. 5, March 1968
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Belgian journal, La Voix du Peuple, has given considerable attention of late to a speech by Sidney Rittenberg, an American who has lived in China for more than 20 years. An extremely long article purporting to be a criticism of the Rittenburg lecture has extended over a number of issues during November, December and January. Criticism of Rittenburg is the stated aim but the authors appear to have a much more sinister objective in mind.
Rittenburg spoke to a Peking meeting sponsored by a group known as the “Bethune-Yenan Rebel Regiment”, apparently composed in the main of foreign experts working in China. This event took place in April 1967 and the address was subsequently mineographed and distributed abroad in Belgium (in French) and in England ( in English), under the title “Liu Shao-ehi and His Evil Book”. Copies of the speech together with articles attacking its main content have been received in Canada and we propose to comment on the lengthy polemic which appeared in La Voix du Peuple.
While we might be disposed to be somewhat critical of Rittenburg’s speech for being poorly constructed, not too carefully prepared and containing some careless formulatons, we are in agreement with its basic content in criticizing and repudiating the bourgeois-reactionary line of Liu Shao-chi and upholding the proletarian-revolutionary line of Mao Tse-tung. However, the Belgian trio of Jacques Grippa, Rene Raindorf and Stephen Strulens who are of the opposite opinion, in reply to Rittenburg’s 40 to 50 minute speech inscribed a, reply that would fill a good-sized book.
The extreme length of this literary attack is largely caused by the authors’ ranging far beyond the limits of the Rittenburg speech which did not provide them with sufficient scope for the objective they had in mind. In order to correct this situaton Rittenburg is charged with not saying certain things, and the things which were not said provide the main basis for the attack. The authors list a total of ten so-called “omissions” in the speech:
“ . .. no denunciation of American fascist imperialism”; “... no analysis of the social base of social-democratic reformism and revisionism”; “... no analysis of the contradictions in the contemporary world or the role of fundamental contradiction”; “nothing about revolutionary movements for national liberation”; “no reference to the contradictions between imperalists and revisionists on the one hand and socialist countries on the other hand”; “no allusion to the new stage of working class struggle ... in imperialist countries”; “nothing ... on the subject of contradictions between the capitalists and between the imperalists”; “no reminder of the essential nature of our period as Lenin and other Marxist-Leninists have defined it”; “nothing . . . which recalls that this is a period during which imperialism will be destroyed and the proletarian revolution victorious”; “These ’omissions’ suggest strange conclusions about the real world ...”
If these alleged “omissions” had been discussed, several days would have been added to a 50 minute speech. But let us leave it to the authors themselves to make reply to their charges of “omissions”. In part four of their literary marathon, having ’forgotten what they had written several weeks previous, the authors, criticizing Rittenburg, unwittingly supplied their own answer to the false cry of ’omissions”; as follows:
“It is also necessary to refute the false argument that is purely and simply a diversion and consists of saying that How to be a Good Communist does not deal with such and such a question. With that reasoning no Marxist-Leninist work except a complete encyclopedia would be of any value.”
That is fitting enough reply – nothing need be added.
However, we did not take up the pen to defend Rittenberg; the relentless attack on his speech is but the prologue to the real aim of his detractors – a covert attack on Chairman Mao Tse-tung and the Proletarian Cultural Revoluton in China, an attack masked by vehement declarations of loyalty to Marxist-Leninist principles and with loud cries of “long live Mao Tse-tung.” But not every shouter of slogans is a Marxist-Leninist and the lengthy article in La Voix du Peuple is a prime example of that point. In part 2 of the article we read:
“...the Marxist-Leninists of the world have always contributed new jewels to the common treasure of Marxist-Leninist thought, as Mao Tse-tung has done so brilliantly in many areas.”
We have no desire to disparge the contributions of many working-class journalists around the world, (including our own modest effort), who work under difficult and trying circumstances. But we cannot agree that the vast and important contributions to Marxist-Leninist theory and practice made by the chief architect and leader of the Chinese Revolution are to be considered in the same light, for what the authors imply here is that Mao Tse-tung is just another contributor instead of presenting him in the proper light as the equal of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, the one who advances the work begun by these brilliant minds. Mao Tse-tung has brilliantly applied and developed Marxism-Leninism in the era of the final defeat of imperialism and of victorious proletarian revolution, and particularly in solving the problem of how to carry on the proletarian revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat – a task which Marx, Lenin, and Engels could not, and did not carry out.
To downgrade the great contribution of Mao Tse-tung as la Voix du Peuple does means denying the authority of Marxist-Leninist thought in our day, it means lowering the banner of revolution. The thought of Mao Tse-tung is not just one more of many contributions, it IS Marxism-Leninism in our time and upholding Marxism-Leninism, defending the proletarian revolution and proletarian dictatorship requires that revolutionaries uphold and defend the authority of the thought of Mao Tse-tung. The above-quoted passage fails in this respect – it lowers the banner of the thought of Mao Tse-tung, hence it lowers the banner of proletaian revolution in the world.
When representatives of the Progressive Workers Movement returned from a trip to China last year, they stated:
The outcome of the struggle now taking place will determine the future destiny of China and will exercise a decisive influence on the whole world because, as far as the present era is concerned, it is China that plays the really decisive role in the world. It is China that is the decisive factor so far as revolution, not only in China but in the world, is concerned. We can say with confidence there will be hope in the world so long as China does not fall and does not change its colour. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is an event of vast importance which has a vital bearing on the destiny of the whole of mankind (Progressive Worker, Vol.3, No.9, July, 1967).
The passage of time and events have not caused us to alter our opinion. On the contrary, we are now more firmly convinced that the consolidation of the proletarian dictatorship and winning new victories in the Cultural Revolution in China constitute objectives that are of supreme importance to the cause of the anti-imperialist struggle and the world revolution. From the contents of the article in la Voix du Peuple it appears that Grippa, Raindorf and Streulens are far from agreeing with us.
Rittenberg, after commenting on the revisionist seizure of power in the Soviet Union, went on to say:
Was that going to happen in China? Were they going to take down the picture of Chairman Mao that hangs over the Tien An Men gate tower one day? Were they going to announce that China would not be the center of world revolution, that China will cease and desist from giving unstinted aid to the embattled peoples of all countries, particularly of Asia, Africa and Latin America in return for false assurances of peace and moderation from the imperialists.
Taking a distorted version of this passage as their point la Voix du Peuple presents an argument that conveys the impression that the defeat of the Chinese Revolution would be but a minor tragedy. Here, in part, is la Voix du Peuple rebuttal to Rittenberg:
For us Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet Union was for a long time the only socialist country, the only one where the victorious proletarian revolution showed the way...and constituted a powerful force for the proletarian world revolution...
When the revisionists usurped power in the U.S.S.R., we were not for long disoriented and discouraged – we did not feel we had lost our ’center’. We considered this setback, this temporary defeat of the Russian Revolution, just as a setback, a check for ourselves and for the world revolution, a regrettable mishap for class struggle on a world scale, but we preserved intact our fighting will...
When the Chinese revolution was victorious and the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed we saluted that victory, considered it as our own... (Part 3).
Ignoring for the moment the all-too-casual way in which the Russian Revolution is written off, and the very low estimate of the extent of that defeat, let us examine its meaning as it applies to China for it is the very obvious intention of la Voix du Peuple that it is intended to convey their opinion of a possible defeat in China. According to these writers, then, the downfall of the Chinese Revolution would be “just a setback”, a “check”, a “regrettable mishap for the class struggle” that would make no substantial difference to the world Marxist-Leninist movement and the anti-imperialist struggle. Apparently we can depend on the editors of La Voix du Peuple to “preserve intact their fighting will”, step into the breach and challenge international reaction led by U.S. imperialism and aided by Soviet revisionism. With all due respect to La Voix du Peuple we simply cannot buy their theory. For us the Chinese revolution is a subject of outstanding importance the defeat of which could never be written off as a “regrettable mishap.” Certainly struggle would go on. It is inevitable that struggle will continue, but under what vastly altered and unfavourable circumstances!
It would take nothing away from the outstanding heroism of the Vietnamese people, nor would we be underestimating their brilliant application of, and contribution to the strategy and tactics of peoples war, to say that, without revolutionary China as their firm and reliable rear, their struggle would be infinitely more difficult, if not impossibe in its present highly-developed form. Without China, Soviet revisionist and treachery pressure to yield imperialist blackmail would go unchallenged.
It is not without significance that it is in Southeast Asia where the Chinese revolution has the greastest influence, and not in the Middle East or Latin America, that U.S. imperialism is meeting its most formidable challenge just now. Are we not justified in believing that had China fallen to the revisionists the anti-imperialist struggle in Vietnam and elsewhere would not now be in its present highly-developed form? If that diaster had occured the counter-revolutionary policy of peaceful co-existence with the imperialists, and not that of the revolutionary anti-imperialist peoples war, would be the dominant characteristic in the world in this period. Should we, then accept the opinion that this would be only a “regrettable mishap.”
We cannot accept the way in which La Voix du Peuple presents the sequence of events quoted above. It happens that the Russian revolution suffered a “regrettable mishap” following which the courageous editors of the Belgium journal “preserved intact their fighting will, the determination to struggle”, then, happily, along came the Chinese Revolution which the editors “claimed as their own.”
We have not such short memories. We will remember that the Chinese revolution was victorious for some seven years before the outright seizure of power by the Kruschovites and that it was the Chinese Party that was in the lead in exposing that betrayal by the revisionists. We know that it was still another seven years, in 1963, before Grippa and his colleagues effected an organizational break with the revisionists in Belgium. Had there been no Red China to stand against and expose revisionist treachery the struggle to build a Marxist-Leninist movement would have been more difficult.
In his preface to the second edition of The Peasant in Germany Engels said of the German workers:
“If the German workers proceed in this way, they not march exactly at the head of the movement – it is not in the interests of the movement that the workers of one country should march at the head of all – but they will occupy an honourable place on the battle line, and they will stand armed for battle when other unexpected grave trials or momentuous events will demand heightened courage heightened determination, and the will to act”, and further on in the preface, they “form the vanguard of the proletarian struggle.”
What could be said of the German workers a century ago, without state power in their confrontation with reaction is a thousand times more applicable to China today. The working people of China certainly occupy an honourable place in the battle line, and those who have been privileged to see China in these days of victory in the Cultural Revolution know that the Chinese people, mobilized around the revolutionary banner of Mao Tse-tung, stand armed for battle when grave trials or momentuous events demand heightened courgae.
The true extent of La Voix du Peuple becomes clear in Part 4 which appeared in the issue of December 1st. Rittenberg’s speech is but the means to an end, that end being defence of the book by Liu Shao-chi. This fact is established in the very first phrase when Rittenberg’s criticism of How to be a Good Communis is referred to as “vituperations against the book by Liu Shao-chi”. This categorical rejection of any criticism of the book is made still clearer later when Rittenberg’s critical remarks are classed as, “frantic attacks against Marxist-Leninist parties”, “a peridious campaign against Marxism-Leninism”, “an anti Marxist-Leninist counter-revolutionary line”, etc. Repudiation of the line of Liu Shao-chi is discribed as an “invention of Rittenberg and his masters” used with the “intention of destroying Marxist-Leninist parties by any means.”
La Voix du Peuple makes numerous allusions to “Rittenberg, his masters and agents” with the obvious intention of having all criticism of Liu Shao-chi and his book automatically associated with an alleged international counter-revolutionary conspiracy. In this way the authors of the article strive to suppress criticism of the line of Liu Shao-chi and, at the same time, give their actions the appearance of defending Marxism-Leninism. If Rittenberg does have “masters and agents” they must total in the hundreds of millions – presently engaged in sharp criticism and repudiation of the line of Liu Shao-chi. This repudiation of Liu Shao-chi and his book is an important part of the Cultural Revolution, and a fact which cannot help but be known to La Voix du Peuple.
One of the authors, Stephen Strulens, arrived in China last spring apparently there to discuss some questions in connection with the Rittenberg speech. We met Strulens and his companion at the Shanghai Airport and spent several hours with them there. We were with them when airport workers gave a concert featuring the thought of Mao Tse-tung by means of song and dance – one encounters these impromptu concerts all over China. Propaganda teams of the thought of Mao Tse-tung can be found in all corners of the land and they number in the millions. In unison with the working masses of China these teams raise the cry “Down with Liu Shao-chi and his evil book.” Strulens witnessed this phenomena at Shanghai and when we saw him again on our return to Peking we know he could not fail to see millions of workers repeating the slogan in the great square at Tien An Men, not far from the Hotel Peking.
Strulens, therefore, could not fail to observe that “Down with Liu Shao-chi and the capitalist roaders” was the demand of millions and not a plot devised by a small band of counter-revolutionary conspirators. Strulens must have communicated this fact to his colleagues. What purpose do they have, then, in attempting to have this appear as an “invention of Rittenberg, his masters and his agents”? They can have only one aim in view – rehabilitation of the bourgeois-reactionary line of Liu Shao-chi as sumanzed in his book How to be a Communist
La Voix du Peuple gives an edited and abbreviated version of the following passage from Rittenberg’s speech: “ the poison smuggled into the Communist movement by Liu Shao-chi and the representatives of his line, particularly reflected in his book, must be eradicated, not only in China, but throughout the revolutionary movement. Otherwise, it will be impossible to really establish a proletarian revolutionary line and carry the revolution forward to victory.”
Responding to this la Voix du Peuple says: “Rittenberg his masters and agents have thrown their ultimate to Marxist-Leninist: those who do not yell ’Down with Liu Shao-chi and his book How to be a Good Communist’ become ’false revolutionaries,’ ’revisionists,’ ’counter revolutionaries.’”
This type of ’reply’ only amounts to an evasion of the real point at issue by a resort to invective. If Rittenberg is justified in his criticism of the book – and we agree he is – then those who do not join in repudiating it are false revolutionaries and revisionists, and resorting to invective connot erase that fact. Again it is evident La Voix du Peuple is anxious to defend Liu Shao-chi by any avaible means. Following the above passage the editors express righteous indignation over an “order” said to have come from Ritenberg: “... at their order, our Party is supposed to serviley reject, totally, on the spot, with no discussion, a book which for all this time has been considered good...”
There is no part of Rittenberg’s speech which could possibly be interpreted as an order to servilely reject anything. As for “no discussion”, the editors of la Voix du Peuple must surely know that Liu Shao-chi and his book have been important items for discussion for many months and that numerous articles and pamphlets on the subject have been published in many languages. If there has been no discussion of this question in Belgium then the fault rests with the Belgian movement for failing to read, study, and discuss the wealth of material and information available. And if there has been no discussion, as the above quotation clearly indicates, on what did la Voix du Peuple base their decision to reject Rittenberg’s thesis and defend the book by Liu Shao-chi? It seems they have decided to accept the line of Liu Shao-chi “with no discussion”.
That the authors of the article in la Voix du Peuple do defend How to be a Good Communist is not in doubt as the following passage form Part 4 will demonstrate:
Rittenberg condemns How to be a Good Communist because it mentions nowhere the problem of taking revolutionary power.
This is not true. Not only does the whole book deal with the education of the Communist Party, of the cadre in the revolutionary struggle, thus implying the necessity of the taking of power by the proletariat allied to the other classes of the labouring population, that is to say the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also deals explicitly with the fundamental question of power, in relation to the deportment of Communists.
It is significant that the authors are unable to quote Liu Shao-chi DIRECTLY on the dictatorship of the proletariat, but, in giving the lie to Rittenberg, are limited to making the unsubstantiated claim that Liu Shao-chi IMPLIES the necessity of taking power, which can be considered as no more than an opinion of the editors, and a very unreliable one at that. The truth is that How to be a Good Communist, first published in China in 1939, and revised and republished many times thereafter until 1962, maintains total silence on the proletarian dictatorship. (First published in the fierce struggle of the anti-Japanese war, it never once touched upon that conflict until the 1962 edition, long after the war, when a brief reference to it was thrown in). Liu Shao-chi simply describes the state as “centralized and at the same time democratic” and nowhere mentions the necessity for dictatorship over the class enemy. What is that but the Kruschovite “state of the whole people”?
However it is not necessary for us to enter into an endless debate over this question of implicit or explicit references to proletarian power for it is easy to establish the fact that Liu Shao-chi not only does not mention the subject but actually eliminates all references to it in every one of the many editions issued since 1939.
In 1962 – the year of the most recent edition (English edition 1964) – the question of proletarian power was under sharp attack from the revisionists led by the Soviet ruling clique, therefore Marxist-Leninists were duty-bound to rise in defence of this concept which is central to Marxism-Leninism. Yet Liu Shao-chi continued to erase it from his book.
On pages 40 and 41 (1961 English edition) Liu Shao-chi cites two passages from Left-Wing Communism by Lenin but he eliminates important sections from the body of each quotation. In the quotation on Page 40 the following section is excluded:
The dictatorship of the proletariat is a persistent struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of the old society... Without an iron party tempered in the struggle, without a party enjoying the confidence of all that is honest in the given class, without a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, it is impossible to conduct such a struggle successfully.
And on Page 41 we find the following excluded from the quotation from Lenin:
“The dictatorship of the proletariat is essential.”
So we can see clearly that Liu Shao-chi ELIMINATED all references to proletarian dictatorship when he “quoted” from Lenin and made no reference to the subject himself. Was this just an oversight, an accident repeated in each new and revised edition of How to be a Good Communist? How could any Marxist-Leninist possibly overlook the all-important question of proletarian power? It is not Rittenberg but the editors of la Voix du Peuple who are wrong about Liu Shao-chi failing to deal with the dictatorship of the proletariat. And in view of the charge by la Voix du Peuple that “Rittenberg and his masters” are trying to destroy the Marxist-Leninist movement it is significant that Liu Shao-chi erases Lenin’s reference to the type of party required UNDER THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT.
The Belgian article states: “Engels, Lenin and Stalin ought to disappear according to Rittenberg”. This is to our way of thinking a completely unjustified accusation, all the more slanderous in view of the failure to point out how Liu Shao-chi did, in fact, cause Engels and Stalin to disappear.
In all the editions of his book until 1962 Liu Shao-chi wrote: “be the best pupils of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin” and quoted three passages from Chapter Four of the History of the CPSU. But in nineteen-sixty-two, he revised this to read: “Be worthy pupils of Marx and Lenin” and deleted entirely the passages previously quoted from the History of the CPSU. To do this in nineteen-sixty-two could only mean conforming to the wishes and needs of the Soviet revisionists who attacked Stalin to destroy Marxism-Leninism. In order to delete the name of Stalin he made Engels a co-victim with him.
For us the evidence seems clear and irrefutable: Liu Shao-chi opposes proletarian dictatorship and the party of a revolutionary type which Lenin fought for and Mao Tse-tung did so much to build in China.
We have not exhausted the subject of Liu Shao-chi whose activities range well beyond those dealt with here. There is a lot of material available which can be obtained from Advance Books and Periodicals, Neither have we dealt completely with the lengthy article in la Voix du Peuple. We feel however, that we are justified in drawing the conclusion that the editors of la Voix du Peuple are committed to defending the bourgeois-reactioary line of Liu Shao-chi and are intent on making it appear that criticism of Liu Shao-chi is an attack on the Communist Party and the thought of Mao Tse-tung. But these two are representatives of two fundamentally different lines which cannot be reconciled. Liu Shao-chi represents the counter-revolutionory line of the bourgeois while Mao Tse-tung represents the proletarian revolutionary line. One must choose between these two. The Central Committee and the vast majority of cadres and Party members, together with the Chinese masses, guided by the thought of Chairman Mao, are criticizing and repudiating the reactionary line of Liu Shao-chi who is the top party person in authority taking the capitalist road.
The speech by Rittenberg, as we have noted above, might justifiably be criticized for its style and some careless formulations. But this is not what the editors of la Voix du Peuple are concerned with. On the basic point of repudiating Liu Shao-chi and defending Mao Tse-tung Rittenberg is correct. But it is precisely against this correct point that the attack is directed. It is clear that the authors, behind the screen of a pretended attack on Rittenberg, are in reality mounting an attack on Mao Tse-tung and the Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
We firmly state our opposition to the line advanced by La Voix du Peuple, which we consider to be pointing a revisionist course and, in essence, counter-revolutionary. We take our stand now, as always, on the side of Chair Mao Tse-tung and China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.