Issued: June 1987
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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We would like to clarify certain aspects of the PTB’s position on the question of Marxist-Leninist unity.
Firstly. It is a question of putting general principles into practice in the context of the current revolutionary movement. Lenin and the Bolsheviks remained part of the Second International of 1903 until 1914-1919. Although the Second International was already dominated by the revisionists, in the pre-1914 context Lenin had to remain and influence the genuinely internationalist elements as much as possible. It was thanks to this policy of unity up to the very end that Lenin was later able to unite all the genuine revolutionaries in the Third International. Our position in 1968 was that the split between Marxist-Leninists, led by Mao Zedong and Enver Hoxha, and revisionists was of the same nature as in 1919. But what was to happen then? The majority of those parties declaring themselves to be Marxist-Leninist in 1968-70 have degenerated or disappeared: some of these parties and organisations were led by petty-bourgeois elements, revisionists, anarchists or agents provocateurs. Some communist parties which rejected a certain number of revisionist theses, refused to take sides at the moment of the split: Korea, Rumania, Viet-Nam. Later the Albanians attacked the Chinese party on a totally un-Marxist-Leninist basis and contributed thus to the division of the Marxist-Leninist forces in the world, then already weak. In addition a considerable number of revolutionary organisations, founded upon Marxism-Leninism, have emerged in the Third World unconnected to the “Great Debate” of 1963 between China and the USSR.
At a world level we are thus faced with a very complex situation with Marxist-Leninist forces of very diverse origins, some of which are developing right-opportunist positions and others left-opportunist positions.
In this complex situation we have to pursue two aims which have always been those of the Communist Movement: the defence of revolutionary principles and the criticism of opportunism on the one hand and the maintenance of unity and the fighting of scission tendencies and division.
So we cannot found unity on arbitrarily fixed positions.
We take Mao Zedong thought as a basic principle, but we cannot demand that unity be based on this principle: we respect the Party of Labour of Korea, which does not take Mao-Zedong thought as a fundamental principle. We are engaged in a struggle of principle against revisionism, but can we impose our idea of revisionism on all other parties? Mao Zedong always considered the Rumanian party to be Marxist-Leninist; but what fundamental differences are there between the Romanian party on the one hand and the Bulgarian, the Hungarian parties on the other? At the end of his life Mao Zedong decided to resume party-to-party relations with the Communist League of Yugoslavia. Enver Hoxha showed great hostility to Mao-Zedong thought: does that mean we should have refused to have relations with the Party of Labour of Albania?
Secondly. We would like to make a few remarks about the concept of revisionism itself. A Communist party can be destroyed by right-wing revisionism, but also be left-wing revisionism, and we, European Marxist-Leninists, seem to have under-estimated the influence of left-wing revisionism such as was spread in China by Lin Piao and the Gang of Four. Even when laying the foundations of the Third International, Lenin did not have to fight only right-wing revisionism but also left-wing revisionism, which provoked divisions and splits, which cut itself from potential allies and from the masses.
Between 1970 and 1977 our party developed basically through the struggle against right-wing revisionism, but we also had to criticise the left-wing revisionism (dogmatism, sectarianism, idealism) of UCMLB. From 1978 to 1980 we carried on a rectification campaign within the party against sectarianism and dogmatism. During this campaign we studied the Third International’s experience of struggle against left-wing revisionism, something we had paid little attention to until then.
We noticed that several Marxist-Leninist organisations carried on a “struggle against revisionism” in such a way that they went’ from one split to another or made uniting with other Marxist-Leninist organisations impossible. In most cases these organisations have disappeared as a significant factor in the political life of the country and they have practically no contact with the progressive masses of the country.
At the end of his life Mao Zedong said: “We must practise Marxism and not revisionism, work towards unity and not towards division, be frank and loyal and not weave intrigues.” Mao Zedong Had extremely serious conflicts with Wang Ming and Li-Li-San but nevertheless defended the position that they should stay in the Central Committee of the party.
We think that the history of the communist movement since 1948 clearly proves that the different Marxist-Leninist parties must at all counts avoid splitting on the basis of debates which turn basically on the acceptance or the denunciation of the policies of another party.
Parties split in 1948-49 into supporters and opponents of Tito; parties split in 1956 over whether or not to support Khrushchev’s position on Stalin; in 1963 parties were divided into pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions; parties collapsed in 1967 because some members supported Mao Zedong others Liu Zhaoqi, in 1976 there were heated discussions in some parties between supporters and opponents of the Gang of Four; in 1978 parties split into pro-Chinese and pro-Albanian elements.
Our position consists of the following three points:
1. A party should never split on the basis of a debate among sister-parties or within another party. By defending “purity” within other parties, some organisations have gone from one split to another and have ended up by disappearing altogether. Where then is the Marxist-Leninist line that has been so valiantly defended? Differences can exist within the party on outside debates but they must always be considered as second-order differences and must never occupy the centre of the stage. The main ideological struggles must turn on our own revolutionary practice at national and international level.
2. We must show great prudence in our judgement of other Marxist-Leninist parties. It is often impossible for us to gather sufficient information and documentation to be able to make a definitive judgement of the contradictions within other parties. In general, we cannot know all the differences which exist within other parties and it is only with great difficulty that we can pinpoint the reality hidden behind certain ideological currents. We do not know enough about the economic, social, political and cultural realities in relation to which the different lines take on their true meaning. We can state our position while maintaining a certain reserve.
3. The label of “revisionism” has usually served to introduce an idealistic and metaphysical work-style which has nothing in common with Communist ideology. Once such and such a party, let us say the Korean party, is declared “revisionist”, it is no longer necessary to study, to do research or to make practical analyses. In theory we should follow the debates and the experiences in the economic, political, cultural, philosophical, academic etc. fields in order to make practical distinctions between what is correct and what is incorrect, between what is Marxist and what is revisionist.
In the question of revisionism we can distinguish two quite different problems.
First of all there is the question of revisionism in the imperialist world. There we are on good grounds: the Communist movement has 140 years of experience of struggling against opportunism, the basic characteristics of capitalist society and the laws governing proletarian revolution are well-known, we ourselves have direct experience in this field. We can therefore declare on a well-founded basis that the European Communist parties have a right revisionist political line.
Nonetheless we have to admit that most struggles against revisionism in Europe were undertaken on a false basis since the majority of Marxist-Leninist organisations have disappeared.
In addition we have to study the analyses, the policies and the tactics, the practice of the communist parties in a dialectical materialist way, so as to separate what is revisionist, what is opportunist and what is correct or partly correct. Lastly, some Communist parties are very complex entities and it is not impossible that revolutionary fractions or potentially revolutionary fractions can be found in then. The hypothesis that genuine Marxist-Leninists in Italy (also) work inside the PCI cannot be dismissed.
Secondly there is the problem of revisionism in the socialist countries.
There we are not on firm ground at all and we must be very prudent.
First of all because the experience of socialist construction is very recent, because not all the laws of this construction have already been clarified and because the possibility of a restoration has not been completely and scientifically analysed.
And lastly because we ourselves have no practical experience in the matter.
In the thirties certain “left-wing communists” and the Trotskyites made “definitive” analyses of Stalin’s revisionism, declaring that a bureaucratic and dictatorial caste had taken power, that this caste was fighting revolution both within and outside the USSR and that it would inevitably lead the USSR to defeat in the case of a world war etc.
History has shown that these were unwarranted generalisations from the observation of certain mistakes, errors and weaknesses; the reality was infinitely more complex and they had been blind as to the possibilities of a diversity of development patterns within the Communist movement. The method used by quite a number of Maoist organisations and the concept they put forward were not different from those of the Trotskyites. It is in any case very difficult to get to know the reality of socialist countries, but the label of ’revisionism’ has had the result of dispensing us with the effort necessary for getting to know this reality.
If it is undeniable that there have been revisionist ideas and practice in most of the socialist countries, it is no less certain that there have been analyses, scientific work and political decisions inspired by Marxism-Leninism. Certain reform plans in Eastern Europe sprang from objective analyses of problems and contradictions within the economic system whose pertinence had to be recognised even if certain of the proposed reforms had to be disagreed with. Where can a revival of Marxism-Leninism spring from in Eastern Europe? Is it not probable that a Communist tendency will develop within the parties against the revisionist tendencies in the party? Can a regrouping of genuinely Marxist-Leninist forces be realistically forecast outside and against the party? Have not numerous changes of majority, reversals of situations already been seen? Solidarnosc is a popular movement, but can we be sure that socialist forces will obtain its leadership and not the Church, fascist extreme right or the CIA agents?
An important part of the Marxist movement judged in 1963 that degeneration in the East European countries, in Cuba and in the USSR could be declared to be total and irreversible. The Marxist-Leninists of our countries could support this point of view.
But now that all the socialist countries, except Albania, declare these affirmations to have been over-hasty and ungrounded, we have to take their point of view into account.
We have known Communists who have taxed the Cultural Revolution with being left-wing revisionist, and others who say that today capitalism has been restored in China, while both have turned away from the complex economic and political realities of China. Proceeding from a position of Communist solidarity, we have always studied the Chinese experience with great attention; during the Cultural Revolution we learnt certain things that were valid and we also learnt how to understand certain left-wing mistakes, At the present time we can observe positive developments in the economic field in China and we are also learning how to understand right-opportunist tendencies.
We do not say that it is always the case, but we have often noticed that those who stick the “revisionist” label on China are blind to the practical problems facing China. Blind to China’s positive experiences they are overcritical, read books not to understand but to glean a few sentences that will be singled out as proofs of the crime of revisionism.
Thirdly, we think that the history of the Marxist-Leninist movement since 1968 shows that there is a link between left-wing revisionism and right-wing anti-communism. In our document “The Crisis in the Revolutionary Movement” we showed that the notion of “revisionism” and “state capitalism” was first put forward by the Mensheviks and by right-wing Catholic writers against Stalin. As soon as the accusation of revisionism takes the place of continuous study, based on dialectical materialism, of socialist society, the basic position adopted is one of hostility, in other words it is the enemy’s class-position that is adopted. So we drift into anticommunism in exactly the same way the Trotskyites do. We will say that the children of peasants and workers do not get in to universities in China, that only the children of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie go to university. And when these children of “restorers” demand more democracy we will say that they form the left-wing in revolt against the new bourgeoisie.
Since 1980 bourgeois propaganda has deliberately put the emphasis on those aspects of reform in China which allow it to back up the notion of a “return to capitalism”, with the aim of undermining the confidence of Communist activists. The arguments used by the bourgeoisie and by certain “Maoist” tendencies to fight socialism in China scarcely differ from one another. In the case of many “Maoist” organisations which have collapsed, we have noticed that the scattered activists have completely turned away from the Communist cause. The declarations of Moscow in 1957 and 1960 affirm as their first principle for relations among Communists: solidarity, support and mutual aid. This is valid even if a party judges another to be following an opportunist line. The Belgian Communist party had without a doubt a notoriously opportunist policy in 1938. Nevertheless it was the duty of the other parties to give the Belgian party their solidarity and to bring it their help and support. Even if the Chinese Communist Party commits certain right-wing errors today, it is infinitely more revolutionary than the Belgian party of 1938.