Published Alive, issues 153-156, Sept-Oct, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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EROL Note: This article is a combination of four editorials in Alive on the formation of the Workers Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist).
This group called the League has changed its name. It’s now a ’Party’. The name has changed from the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist) to the Workers Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). We still don’t have the much needed Communist Party in Canada but we do have another group calling itself a Communist Party.
This statement is quoted from the Alive Production Collective speech made on the 3rd anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong, which is printed in this issue of Alive. It is a statement with quite a lot of significance although it may not seem so at first glance. A number of Alive’s friends in Canada and around the world will hear of the formation of the WCP(M-L) and will ask us whether or not we recognize this as the founding of the Party in Canada. The quote above answers this question by way of a simple statement.
Since the speech was concentrating on other issues we did not make more than a simple statement. This should not, however, be interpreted as a simplistic statement on our part.
Analyzing the WCP(M-L) is simple as far as our practice with them goes but is very complex in terms of general political questions. There are a number of other groups in Canada calling themselves the Party, the vanguard of the proletariat. None of these groups merits serious attention in terms of politics. Obviously we do not support these so-called parties – CPC(M-L), the Canadian Party of Labour, and the Revisionists. Nor do we think that a vanguard organization will come into being with the fulfillment of the promises of “Parties” to be founded by En Lutte!, Bolshevik Union or the various Trotskyite formations. To anybody who knows Alive’s politics, all this is obvious.
With the WCP(M-L) things are not so clear and obvious. The WCP(M-L) supports the three worlds theory, promotes relations with China, proclaims the Communist Party of China as correct and not revisionist, supports Mao Zedong Thought, opposes the Albania-led line in the current world polemic, and opposes the false third option of supporting Mao Zedong Thought but opposing the present Chinese leadership. All of these positions accord with Alive’s views. In international affairs Alive and the WCP(M-L) hold quite a few common positions and so we hold a number of friends, both individuals and organizations, in common in Canada and around the world.
We do not, however, recognize the WCP(M-L) as the vanguard Party of the proletariat in Canada for two main reasons. Firstly, they are not the vanguard in practice, and secondly, their line is incorrect in terms of their analysis of the concrete conditions in Canada. We do not agree with their analysis that Canada is an imperialist power. There are also other points of disagreement in theoretical analysis between our two groups.
The question of practice is more pressing at this time, however, since the League has chosen to found its Party.
In terms of what we expect of a Party, the WCP(M-L) falls short in a number of areas. We will mention just a few of the more significant of these shortcomings.
A Communist Party is supposed to be an expression of unity of revolutionaries and of Marxist-Leninists. The WCP(M-L) does not have the respect of revolutionaries in Canada as the leading formation. The League was satisfied with a weak theoretical development and; has not convinced revolutionaries, either in theory or practice, of its leading role.
They have not tried to forge bonds of unity with other revolutionary groups despite differences. Alive has called for this for quite some time but the League has had a poor style in seeking unity. They have not responded to any of Alive’s initiatives or followed through on any of their) own initiatives in seeking common ground.
Alive, too, has been guilty of stressing differences and paying too little attention to seeking unity. We have made self-criticism to the League for this. The League has not’ reciprocated nor have they rectified this situation before founding their Party. In large part the League’s attitude towards Alive could be characterized as a conspiracy of silence on the formal level although there has been some worthwhile contact on the informal level.
This new party is no expression of unity among revolutionaries and no expression of a1 correct theoretical examination of the concrete conditions in the country. By its own admission, neither is it an expression of the force actually leading the practical struggles of] the proletariat.
Despite all this Alive is determined to continue to call for unity rather than disunity. The fact that the League has jumped onto the bandwagon of impetuously forming a Party does not make it a more negative organization than it was before. In order not to seem to stress differences more than common ground, which is often the outcome of not making differences clear in public, we will make our differences with the WCP(M-L) on theoretical questions known in clear terms by publishing our study and critique of their party program before January 31, 1980. We also reiterate to the WCP(M-L) the willingness we have already expressed to the League to seek common ground as the basis for unity in practice wherever possible.
Many of Alive’s contacts, friends and supporters are people who have not had previous experience working with any Left group – either genuine or not. This is different than many other groups who don’t organize very many fresh faces at all but work mainly with those who have been in and out of this and that other organization for years – it’s recycling at its highest level, circulating and recirculating the same medium-sized circle through various permutations of the small circles. Having an abundance of clean slates, close to us, we find ourselves quite often naively asked why we take many formal political positions. This is not a matter of questioning the positions that are taken, although that does happen. In the main, as long as our position on any given question is a logical part of our overall system of thought, our friends find it easy enough to understand and to accept. Many comment that, since we take quite a down-to-earth, common sense approach to revolutionary politics (called “simplistic” or “insulting to the intelligence” by some opponents), it is most often the case that they can embrace our policies or statements of position as their own.
The question is: why take the positions? Our friends and other ordinary individuals do not make a point of taking positions on various affairs in politics. Why do we engage in such a pastime? The simple answer, of course, is: we take the positions because people look to us to do so. This is not because we are a group of brilliant individuals (we’re not) or even because we have amongst us one or two particularly brilliant individuals (we don’t). Rather it is because we are an organization, because we have a collective wisdom, a group strength, which negates the need for particular brilliance from any specific individual.
Obviously, when we say people look to us to take a stand on political issues, we do not mean those who ask these naive questions. If they were looking to us to do it, they wouldn’t ask why we do it. The expectation comes from people who feel a need to be informed and to take their bearings on the political issues. The analysis given by a group like ours helps find such bearings – for some, through positive emulation; for some, by negative example. Such a felt need usually means they have a longer association with Leftist circles than those who ask why. Further, the expectation also comes from people in other political groups – whether they have some warmth for our viewpoint or not. We expect of them similarly.
Thus, such positions are taken for the benefit of those who appreciate the worth of taking such positions, one might say. However, that doesn’t answer the question of what is the worth, for those who don’t already see the worth. If it’s difficult to explain in general terms, the specific reasons for taking specific positions can be explained more easily. Such explanations usually go over well, anyway, amongst those who ask: why take the position?
Why did we feel it necessary to take a position on the founding of the WCP(M-L) by the group formerly known as the League? Why is the question of the Party – also dealt with in last week’s Editorial – so important to revolutionaries like those in our organization?
Revolutionaries who uphold Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought put great stock in the theoretical question of the vanguard organization of the proletariat because as a practical reality the Party is a prerequisite for a successful proletarian revolution. Such a Party, as the form which unifies the advanced forces of revolution and which is their expression in the ongoing life of a given country, is the motive behind new and greater stages in the people’s struggle, is the efficient material entity that leads the way to victory. Thus, if the Party is in existence, it deserves full support. If it comes into being, its founding is an event that very concretely augurs a bright future. We support such an event.
Of course, we talk here of the real founding of the real Party, not the frequent and baseless announcements from various groups – ranging from two-bit outfits to otherwise quite serious organizations – that they have brought the vanguard into being. The vanguard must meet objective criteria before it is recognized and accepted as such. It is an easy way to falsely claim true glory if you announce you have the Party before it actually comes into being. It must be easy – every Tom Dick and Harry does it these days! However, that neither brings credit to the false proclaimers nor discredit to the concept or the actuality of a true vanguard Party of the proletariat.
We should not support the jump-the-gun Parties. We should take note and comment on their existence as less than the real thing. A good reason why we should take note is that there can be only one vanguard Party in any given country. It’s obvious why: how can two distinct groups both be truly revolutionary and correct in saying we have been successful in unifying the advanced revolutionary forces? If true, why two groups and not one? It’is recognized, however, that there can be two, or many more, groups before the unity around the creation of the vanguard – pre-Party formations. Thus, we can say the League was wrong to jump on the Let’s-found-a-Party bandwagon while recognizing this does not necessarily make the WCP(M-L) a less positive political force. No one says you can’t help build the vanguard just because you call yourself a Party before its time.
The WCP(M-L) is a newly proclaimed entry in the already full arena of aspirants to the honoured title of revolutionary vanguard Party of the proletariat. The WCP (M-L) – now and in its predecessor form, the League – has definite correct points in its politics. Thus, we don’t just shrug off their proclamation of a Party. We don’t agree this Party is the vanguard it claims to be, however, we do treat this organization seriously enough that we want to explain why we don’t accept this self-description of theirs.
Of course, this self-description from the WCP(M-L) is a matter of substantial and central importance to its own members and supporters. It is easy to understand, then, that anything we say beyond our statement that this new Party is not the vanguard, may not endear us to those people at all. Whether we go on in a lengthy, explanatory fashion or not will probably make little immediately perceivable difference in that subjectivist response. It is important to note, then, that we feel the objective responsibility to explain our stand. We don’t feel they feel we should explain or even that they will necessarily give our reasoning serious attention.
This is the problem of sectarianism. The WCP (M-L) does not have a monopoly on that problem. We, ourselves, fall into it all too often. Specifically, we have fallen into it with the WCP(M-L)’s predecessor, even launching unprovoked and speculating attacks in the pages of Alive. This was a definite error.
Why is the arena of aspirant organizations to vanguard Party status so full? Why is there such a proliferation of groups, each calling itself the group? Has there been such a situation before in history? Is it common? Is it a bad thing or a good thing? How do you tell the difference between the pack of false Parties and the true vanguard? These are the questions we are most often asked when we deal with this question.
As we wrote in our last Editorial, the arena is full simply because the false “Left” groups wish to disrupt and some positive groups jump the gun. The disruption comes in two ways. One, convincing some honest individuals that a false vanguard is a true vanguard is disruptive by misleadership. Two, clouding the atmosphere around actual progressive groups by flooding the field with false groups is disruptive by driving honest people into a posture of wariness towards all, even positive, revolutionary leadership. This is why the KGB has two groups in Canada, the Bainzites and the Revisionist Party. It is also why some other police agencies have different groups for each of many shades of a wrong political line.
There have been similar situations before in the history of Canada and the rest of the world. There have been proliferations of Parties. There have been proliferations of international focal points with which Parties affiliate. There have been proliferations of self-proclaimed centres in single organizations. In every case each grouping has tried to rally honest revolutionaries under its banner in confusing competition.
Lenin had to lead the Bolshevik Party in dealing with competitor parties such as the Socialist-Revolutionaries. He also had to lead the Communist International in dealing with competitor international centres such as the revived 2nd International. Further, he had to lead the majority within the Party he belonged to in dealing with competitor factional centres, such as the Mensheviks. That is only Lenin’s experience in this regard. There are many other past and present parallels, enveloping every country that has or has had a revolutionary movement.
Materialists realize that struggle is literally the process of life itself. In this, we can consider this proliferation a good thing. This is not to say that creating a confusing situation for honest people or leading good people astray are good things. They are not. They are bad things. It is only to say that revolutionaries have never withdrawn, do not and will not withdraw in fear, simply because the class enemy throws up a smokescreen. Sometimes the smoke is thicker, sometimes thinner but never does it raise doubt about ultimate victory. It is best to battle on a field of clear vision but fog will not assuage the fierceness of the encounter. In fact, it can be used to strategic advantage by a good guerrilla force.
Revolutionary people do not create such confusion as is presently at hand in Canada on the question of the vanguard. Revolutionaries can work in such confusion, though, or at least, despite it. It is known to be inevitable that the ruling class will sooner or later create such confusion in the hope that out of it will come that class’ preservation. It can equally be affirmed that if revolutionaries do their work well, out of such confusion can come unassailable clarity. In that sense, the confusion can be seen as a good thing. We can even hope for confusion’s arrival speedily, given our basic reluctance to accept that it must come at all. The sooner we engage it, the sooner we’ll be rid of it and that’s a good second to not having it come up at all.
This is the last in our series of four Editorials prompted by the proclamation of another “vanguard of the proletariat”, the WCP(M-L). We have dealt with a number of questions we consider to be particularly relevant to the issue of the Party in Canada, at present. We have not dealt with all the questions, by any means. No doubt, we will deal with further questions in future. Perhaps we will find it necessary to go over the same questions again. We do not pretend that we have a clear grasp of everything.
One of the most relevant questions we cited was left unanswered in our last editorial. It referred to the proliferation of self-proclaimed “vanguards” and the confusion they create.
How does the clarity come, then? Which is the true vanguard organization? The vanguard is the Party with answers to questions pertinent to the revolution in the country. Certainly, if it lacks some specific answer to a certain question at a given moment, it, at least, must have the method which allows it to arrive at the answer subsequently. Neither the revolutionary theory nor the correct method nor the two together is all, though. The vanguard must have the practice, too. If it doesn’t have the most advanced practice, the revolutionary successes and the resulting warmth from the people (or, at least, the definite promise of these things), it is not the Party.
The vanguard must prove its theory in the test of practice and must have the theory that will be proved in this test.
This is the reason we do not treat seriously other groups’ claims to have founded or to be building towards founding the Party. Groups such as En Lutte, the Bolshevik Union, CPC(M-L) – the Bainzites, the Canadian Party of Labour, the various Trotskyites and the CPC – the Revisionists, do not have advanced practice. Many have little political practice at all, existing more as social clubs. Others have the obvious practice of saboteurs against revolutionary development. Some have some good points, which attract some actual honest and progressive people to their ranks; they have mainly bad points, though, which drives passive or leads astray any honest people hanging around.
A complete lack of self-critical or honest spirit in these groups testifies to the lack of a correct method.
They do not have revolutionary successes under their belts. It is impossible for them to do so. They never lead but always follow the basic militant consciousness of the workers if they have any relation to them at all. They develop no models, no successful revolutionary experiments, on a small scale that have been or can readily be applied on a larger scale. They have no working plan for long-term revolutionary development – just a worshipping of immediate issues and some general, abstract ideals.
These groups do not have the warmth of the people. The broad masses certainly have not rallied under the banner of any one of these groups. However, it is worse – even amongst those who do follow these outfits, there is more of a sense of nothing-better-to-do than of real warmth to the organization, its structures, its policies, its norms and its practical activities.
By the same token, not one of these groups have a feeling of promise about them. There is no sense, even among the supporters (excepting hard core crazies and fanatics), that revolution will actually take place under the leadership of the organization supported. Most often, there is no sense that revolution will actually take place period.
Correct theory is completely lacking in these groups, even amongst those individuals who are honest – they are deliberately thwarted in studying theory seriously. With three simple touchstones, crucial components of a correct revolutionary theory in the present day, we are demarked from all these groups. The first, respect for Stalin as one of five great revolutionary teachers and leaders, draws the line between us and the Trotskyites and the Revisionists. The second, exactly the same respect for Mao Zedong, distinguishes us from CPL, the Bainzites and Bolshevik Union. The third, upholding Mao Zedong’s three worlds theory, puts En Lutte completely by the board.
As previously noted, though, on none of these three touchstones is there a difference between us and the WCP(M-L). In this sense and in other ways the WCP(M-L) does have promise. It has a substantial number of good, honest people in its ranks. It does generate warmth for its work amongst sections of the masses. Also, it has done some good work in the role of a leading force (it has also missed chances and botched attempts). Further, it has displayed some degree of a correct method in developing its political work from one stage to the next and of doing so with a long-term plan.
We know, with our faith in the Canadian people, that even if WCP(M-L) never fulfills its promise, the true revolutionary vanguard will be built. However, because of the exact same faith, we hope, with all sincerity, that the WCP(M-L) does fulfill its promise in the future, even though we state that it hasn’t yet.