First Published: In Struggle! No. 283, March 21, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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IN STRUGGLE!’s fourth congress is drawing close. The “decisive choices” before us, the basic stakes, are also clearer than they were just a few months ago for a significant number of comrades. Yes things have evolved in IN STRUGGLE!. So have our positions from what we said in “IN STRUGGLE! must take serious changs” (issues 267) last October.
We (like many who criticized our earlier article) no longer see a “minimal political platform” that would enable all IN STRUGGLE! members to work together within the same organization as relevant. Political tendencies have developed and polarized which in some cases have little common ground. The idea of an autonomous women’s organization has been raised. Such things make it impossible to envisage keeping IN STRUGGLE! together organizationally even around the lowest common denominator imaginable. Nor is unity with other left-wing organizations formable in the short term for basically the same reasons that unity is impossible within IN STRUGGLE!. The possibility still remains, however, to establish structures which would make it possible for various left organizations to exchange views and information (the sort suggested by Varda Burstyn).
IN STRUGGLE!’s next congress will play a positive role, give this context, in a different way: by upholding (or rejecting) political perspectives. Loosely structured groupings would then be possible to create involving all those who had in common either the rejection or the upholding of IN STRUGGLE!’s programme.
Our first article concentrated its fire on the arbitrariness of the concept of a vanguard which leads ML organizations to proclaim themselves the vanguard, and to sectarianism and commandism in their dealings with their own members and the masses. This observation leads us today to the view that the very foundations of the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism as canonized and summarized by Stalin in 1924-25 – the concepts of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the leading role of the Party and of the working class, democratic centralism, the understanding of socialist revolution and socialism itself – are the ideological basis and justification for the totalitarian, undemocratic and anti-worker regimes of Eastern Europe.
The history of IN STRUGGLE! is what has forced the issue of the programme onto centre stage for the upcoming congress. For indeed there is something quite astonishing about how IN STRUGGLE!’s political line and programme have evolved. From 1974 on, IN STRUGGLE! rejected the old communist parties and the model of socialism provided by the Eastern European countries (and later that of Vietnam, China and Albania). Yet it continued to uphold the same theoretical assumptions upon which those societies and parties are founded.
In 1974, IN STRUGGLE! argued taht these societies had “degenerated” because they were led by communist parties that had betrayed Marxism-Leninism. To get away “from this degeneration” then required a crusade to restore to power a Marxism-Leninism which had been rid of its “revisionist” impurities. The method was to reread the “6” genuine classics: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hoxha.
It is worth noting in passing that this was also the period when the basic work of developing IN STRUGGLErs current programme was done, based on this reading. However, after several years spent, quoting chapter and verse from these classics, IN STRUGGLE! declared that this way of analyzing history was quite insufficient (not to say downright obscurantist).
The growing contradictions within China and Albania and the beginnings of an analysis of the “real existing socialism” that existed in the U.S.S.R. before 1950 began to shake the image of Mao, Hoxha and Stalin being infallible.
That is when the IN STRUGGLE! leadership, and more particularly its Secretary-General, put forward the tempting hypothesis that the material conditions for the building of socialism had not existed. In short, the “socialist” countries could not really be socialist because the economic and social bases for socialism (a considerable development of the productive forces etc.) had not yet been attained. The leaders of these societies, revolutionary or not, could not, despite their good intentions, build the socialism envisioned by Marxism-Leninism.
This hypothesis (which saves us from having to question Marxism-Leninism) is being defended at a time when the M-L parties in the most industrialized countries have begun to fall apart one after another. Curiously, these parties, which criticized revisionism and upheld the “torch of Marxism-Leninism” as the hallowed expression goes, have reproduced within their own structures “a miniature totalitarian society” just like the full-scale ones in Eastern Europe: the centralization of power in the hands of a small number of individuals, the development of a bureaucracy of full-time staffers that provide the “perspectives” for the rank and file in the cells, a sexist division of labour, a de facto lack of democracy (the members’ job is to apply directives), a leadership unknown to the majority of members, a press with anonymous authors, the subordination or elimination of personal life, the subordinating of all “other issues” (like women) to the revolution, the keeping of files on individuals, censorship of viewpoints, etc.
Furthermore, many members of these parties are saying that these ML concepts are just as inapplicable to advanced Western societies. In short, the hypothesis that the material conditions are simply lacking to apply ML correctly is getting less credible. Even within IN STRUGGLE! this crisis has ensured that Marxism-Leninism itself will come up for scrutiny at the 4th Congress.
But a last-ditch effort to salvage Marxism-Leninism is underway: Charles Gagnon(in Liaison Bulleton No. 5) and the collective of 30 are talking now of rediscovering, one more time, the real Marxism-Leninism. The errors, crisis and failures of the ML movement that in the early days of IN STRUGGLE! we attributed all to revisionism will now be attributed to “rigidified MLism”.
We would pose two questions to the promoters of a return to our origins. First, who will decide what is “rigidified” in MLism and what is not? Could it be that the MLism of all the parties in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Asia, and North America are rigidified but the MLism of the collective of 30 by exception is not?
Marxism-Leninism is in fact far from being mainly a rigidified doctrine. Stalin took a few theses developed by the Bolshevik party and some of Marx’s ideas and then put new flesh on those bones to define Marxism-Leninism. Adapting itself if you will to concrete realities, ML doctrine was further developed on certain points. The theses of “socialism in one country”, of the seizure of power, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of “the party which grows stronger by purifying itself” etc. are all examples of this. This doctrine helped parties to stay in power and to take power where possible.
To talk about “non-rigidified” MLism is quite simply a way to avoid the required scrutinizing of Marxism-Leninism as it is in fact and as it has actually been applied (as opposed to how we imagined it would be).
After 8 years of “unsuccessful invasion” of the territory of the Marxist-Leninist movement, IN STRUGGLE! members are perfectly justified in rejecting the model represented by the totalitarian Eastern European countries; they are also justified in rejecting the ML ideology upon which these societies are based. We will not try to advance a developed critique of Marxist-Leninist concepts in this article: we will try to do that in the context of a sum-up prior to the congress. Let it be noted also that we do make certain distinctions between the ML organizations in Eastern Europe for example and those in Third World countries which are fighting for social progress in their country. The context is different; further, the objectives of the struggle and the economically backward state of those countries forces us to evaluate them in a different light. We will confine ourselves to two observations.
First, it is false representation to talk about a party which is the vanguard of the working class. In most cases, 80% of the leadership of these parties is petty-bourgeois intellectuals (that was true of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party in 1917 which had but one worker on it). At best, when a communist party is well-rooted, its roots are sunk mainly among unionized workers in big industry. How can these intellectuals and a fraction of the workers in big industry possibly represent the interests of working women, welfare recipients, unemployed workers, students, non-unionized workers in small shops and young people?
There’s nothing wrong with having a party of intellectuals and big industry workers. But when that party pretends to be the sole standard-bearer for and representative of all the interests of other strata of workers and people, which often contradict one another (men vs. women, national divisions, low wage vs. high wage earners, etc.), there is something wrong. History has amply shown (and here experience with the women’s question is very revealing) how these parties ultimately deny the specific interests of other strata and impose their own demands. And as soon as they get in power these parties waste no time in crushing all the movements of those whe feel that they are not represented by them.
The same false representation underlies the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Far from being “the dictatorship of the majority over the minority” that ML propaganda justifies it as, it is the dictatorship of another minority. For those who are hung up on the classics, let it be noted that Lenin did not beat around the bush in defining the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In State and Revolution, Lenin described it as “the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed”. He also added that “the dictatorship is not exercized by the whole people but only by the revolutionary people”. Such definitions testify quite clearly to the triumph of arbitrariness. Who is to define at all times what is revolutionary and vanguard? Why, of course, this can only fall to the (vanguard) party in power. The “bourgeois line” is always the line of those “other people” out of power!
Obviously, dissident movements (like Solidarity) soon become “bourgeois and counter-revolutionary”. It becomes convenient to lock up some workers in jail “for the good of the working class”...
It is time to recognize Marxism-Leninism for what it is: a totalitarian ideology which legitimizes the power of a bureaucracy (at the head of a party) to decree what is true and what is false in all spheres of society. It is precisely the concepts of vanguard, democratic centralism and the dictatorship of the proletariat which historically have made it possible to legitimize these new dictatorships.
No, Mother History has not played a dirty trick on Marxism-Leninism by making it a theory which is supposedly too advanced for the 20th century! History has rather shown that MLism is a very contemporary ideology which serves very contemporary interests of those heading up some very contemporary regimes.
The forward march of progress need not pass by way of these undemocratic and anti-worker regimes. It need not mean the turning of individuals into robots, all looking and thinking the same. Progress requires instead support for the struggles which improve the situation of the oppressed, and which aim at the development of democratic values, freedom to organize, pluralism, a non-sexist division of labour, better living conditions, the autonomy of individuals and communities, and a power based on the appropriate collective distribution of tasks and of goods. That is the “decisive choice” we must make.
Editor in chief