First Published: Lines of Demarcation No. 1, July-August 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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It is in a period of theoretical confusion that the Bolshevik Union is undertaking to publish a new journal of the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism.
The Marxist-Leninist movement cannot move forward without a correct theoretical grasp of Marxism-Leninism and its application to the concrete conditions of Canada and the world. The correct political line emerges not out of the void but in the struggle against incorrect thinking and anti-Marxism. This means that ideological struggle, to the point of drawing lines of demarcation and elaborating the program of the party, plays the principal role in the task of building the Marxist-Leninist party in Canada. To build the party, advanced workers and other progressive elements are rallied to this struggle; through propaganda and agitation, increasing numbers of workers will grasp the ideology of the fundamental interests of the proletariat, and thereby steel themselves for the impending class struggle, the struggle for the political power of the proletariat.
More than a year ago, Canadian Revolution was founded to begin the task of fostering a “large, permanent and open debate” on all questions facing Canadian Marxist-Leninists. It was hoped that the judgment of this debate would be left to the masses and to history; that incorrect thinking would be drawn out, exposed, and repudiated, and that correct thinking would rally new elements to Marxism-Leninism. Unfortunately, however, an assortment of opportunists, under the assumption that they were the franchised dealers of Marxism-Leninism in Canada, assigned themselves the task of “guiding” this debate, passing judgments on the “style” of Marxist-Leninist polemics, and sifting out undesirable material for publication. Canadian Revolution is clearly foundering. The first several issues were a significant step forward for our movement; but Issue no. 5 is a slim picture book of reprints, and, aside from the very good article by the May 1st Collective, there is little in that issue to justify its existence as a forum for debate in the Marxist-Leninist movement.
But it would be a mistake to think that Canadian Revolution is foundering only because of the hegemonism of the groups in CR. Its problems are the problems of the Marxist-Leninist movement. After a period of vitality late in 1974 and in 1975 when the debate among Marxist-Leninists in Quebec intensified to the point of laying the first theoretical groundwork for the struggle to build the party, and the debate among English Canadian Marxist-Leninists accelerated, the pace has slowed and the ideological struggle which is the motive force of our movement at this time is stagnating. The level of theory and the degree of its concrete application is not advancing. This is a national problem.
In Struggle!, in the summer of 1975, put forward a leading article, “The Tasks of the Marxist-Leninist Movement: How to Build the Marxist-Leninist Political Party.” It took the position that ideological struggle was principal in the struggle to build the party and that this entailed an “open and often bitter struggle of political confrontation.” It was expected by many that the newspaper, In Struggle!, would take up the task of leading that debate, particularly the struggle against right-opportunism, and that its newspaper would be a newspaper of open ideological struggle wherein the burning issues of the Marxist-Leninist movement would be taken directly to the masses.
In Struggle!, we are very sad to say, has not been fulfilling this task in recent months. There have been strong indications that it is moving in the direction of Economism. It has published very little material on the new organization, the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist), and, more seriously yet, its major attempt to deal with this right-opportunist group has been an attack on its “dogmatism, sectarianism and leftism”. It has spent more newspaper space on reporting the “class struggle” (by which they mean the economic struggle) than in advancing the class struggle through rallying people to an escalated level of ideological clarity.
Finally, we consider that In Struggle! has the correct line on the principal contradiction; yet In Struggle! has written almost nothing in the way of a solid defense of that line, with the result that comparatively few people have been rallied to it, and people have been rallying to incorrect lines instead.
As for the CCL(ML), which we consider to be the strongest organized manifestation of right-opportunism in our movement, it too has its newspaper, The Forge. Although The Forge attempts (ironically, more so than In Struggle!) to “systematically ... discuss all political questions ... all questions of home and foreign politics” (Lenin, “DRAFT DECLARATION OF ISKRA AND ZARYA, LCW 4:324), it is not a newspaper which stresses first the ideological struggle in the Marxist-Leninist movement. In general it is a newspaper of staged correspondence, vignettes and shallow political analysis, and by its own admission it is a “newspaper of agitation”. This enables it to slink away from the more difficult challenges of ideological confrontation.
In short, the struggle – the criticism and response and more criticism and more response – is not taking place in the Marxist-Leninist movement. In Struggle! has not taken up this task beyond its critique of Economism in the context of the CSLO. Nor has the CCL(ML). Canadian Revolution has effectively sabotaged itself with its eager opportunism. This is why we have undertaken to publish LINES OF DEMARCATION.
We note too that, because of this lag in the promotion of ideological clarity, the two-line struggle in our movement cannot be represented simply, as a two-organization struggle between In Struggle! and the CCL(ML), as Canadian Revolution, for example, represents it. For a time, there was no question that In Struggle! was taking leadership in the two-line struggle against right-opportunism in Canada, and that this was shaping the orientations of the leading elements in our movement. Now, however, such a representation must be seen as mechanical and inadequate, in view of In Struggle!’s readiness to tread water and even to take a step backward. The debate over the principal contradiction, against Economism, and over how correctly to build the party is not advancing. For now we must perceive the two-line struggle not in terms of a “two-organization” struggle but in terms of the lines themselves: that is, in the struggle against Economism, the struggle over the principal contradiction, the struggle upholding the right of Native Canada to self-determination, and the struggle against bourgeois nationalism. The examination of the practice of the two organizations and of the many groups must be an integral part of this, but seeing the differences between the two major organizations as automatically the scope of the struggle would not be correct.
The struggle for unity – the drawing of lines of demarcation – must be undertaken in the Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada. We have seen different groups consolidate; we have seen groups claiming to be providing leadership in the struggle to build the party (in the case of CCL(ML), claiming to be the “vanguard” of that struggle); we have heard that “unity” in the Marxist-Leninist movement is “growing” (“tactics as a process”, “close and organic contact”, “principledly demarcate positions”, etc.). Yet when it comes to struggle over line, we have seen very little; more often than not we see people shirking the struggle, never having time for it, postponing it, criticizing “styles” in it, doing everything but plunging into it. It is to plunge into this task that we are producing this journal.
The Bolshevik Union is a united group of Marxist-Leninists which has emerged from political struggle in the Bolshevik Tendency, a tendency which first came together in the course of the two-line struggle in Canadian Revolution. We drew a line of demarcation against the opportunist “unity” in CR, and, in doing so, a step forward in true unity was taken.
Our first statement of agreement defining our tendency read as follows:
1. We recognize EN LUTTE! to be the leading Marxist-Leninist group in Canada.
2. We have consensus on what the Journal is and what it is to become, as set forward within the Journal membership.
3. We recognize the right of the people of Native Canada to self-determination, up to and including secession.
4. We agree that the first step in achieving unity among Marxist-Leninists is to draw firm lines of demarcation against bourgeois ideology inside and outside the Marxist-Leninist movement.
5. We define building the party as the principal task of Marxist-Leninists.
6. We oppose neo-revisionism and we characterize CPC(M-L) as a neo-revisionist counter-revolutionary organization.
7. We agree that right-opportunism is the main danger to the proletarian revolution at this time.
8. We characterize Canada as a weak imperialist power of the Second World.
Subsequently we added to point 8, “dominated by U.S. imperialism”, and we added a ninth point, that being that the principal contradiction in Canada was between the proletariat on the one hand and the Canadian bourgeoisie and U.S. imperialism on the other hand.
We still hold to our original statement of agreement, except that Point no. 1 is under review – not because of changes in our politics but because of what we feel are changes in In Struggle!’s politics. We cannot at this point tackle this question in depth. Issue no. 2 of LINES OF DEMARCATION will contain a major position on the subject of the unity of Marxist-Leninists, the Marxist-Leninist movement, the role of a newspaper, and the nature of contradictions in our movement. Here, we will restrict ourselves to a few observations: (a) statements In Struggle! has made on the unity of Marxist-Leninists in the “special issue” of the digest on CCL(ML) are in contradiction to statements made in “The Tasks of the Marxist-Leninist Movement”, (b) The digest and the newspaper in English have tended to be Economist and have contained little in the way of ideological struggle (except what we consider to be an incorrect position on CCL(ML), i.e., their practice of attacking CCL(ML) for being left dogmatist, rather than primarily right-opportunist, (c) The change in their slogan (see In Struggle! no. 55) from one appropriate to the first stage of building the party (“assimilate Marxism-Leninism”) to one appropriate to the second stage, the period of leading the masses (“down with capitalism itself”), is only one indication of a drift to liquidating the first period. Seeing the CCL(ML) as marred mainly by sectarianism or left dogmatism (a great, and perhaps main danger in the second period), is another example of this drift.
We feel that it is necessary to give some account of our position on these matters at this time, but these observations are hardly adequate as an account of our attitude vis-a-vis In Struggle! The whole question of how we must proceed to build the party, the proper application of the experience of the past, and the stages of development of the party must be examined in detail.
The Bolshevik Union considers that it has gone beyond being a “tendency” and has achieved Marxist-Leninist political unity. This means that more than having merely affirmed that we have all independently agreed on certain politics, we have analyzed, in depth, why we agree, and we are prepared to put forward collective positions on most of the questions around which demarcation must take place in our movement.
Our name, first the Bolshevik Tendency and now the Bolshevik Union, was chosen with a specific import; it is not mere admiration of a past struggle. The Marxist-Leninist movement contains a wide assortment of elements, mainly characterized by one variety or another of opportunism, principally Menshevism – i.e., mechanical materialism, the rejection of an understanding of the world imperialist system, vulgar Economism, and the belittling of the role of consciousness and politics. The struggle, as stated by Vern Harper in his letter [elsewhere in this issue] is a struggle to demarcate the Bolsheviks in our movement from the Mensheviks – and the Native question is only one question over which this demarcation will take place.
To demarcate the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks means to demarcate the orthodox Marxist-Leninists from those who do not understand Marxism-Leninism, who misrepresent it, who revise it, and who are therefore misrepresenting themselves to the masses. To call ourselves the Bolshevik Union, then, is to call for the drawing of firm and definite lines of demarcation, within as well as outside the Marxist-Leninist movement, in the tradition of Lenin’s Bolsheviks. This tradition is invaluable to a rising communist movement and proletariat in the context of a new ripening of objective conditions for socialist revolution in Canada and other developed countries.
LINES OF DEMARCATION will strive, in many aspects, to fulfill the role of a “Zarya” and “Iskra” type publication.
In “THE DRAFT DECLARATION OF ISKRA AND ZARYA”, Lenin poses the question:
If the proposed publications are to serve the purpose of uniting all Russian Social-Democrats and mustering them into a single party, they must reflect all shades of opinion, all local specific features, and all the various practical methods. How can we combine the varying points of view with the maintenance of a uniform editorial policy for these publications? Should these publications be merely a jumble of various views, or should they have an independent and quite definite tendency? (LCW 4:326-7)
We hold to the second view and hope that an organ having a definite tendency will prove quite suitable (as we shall show below), both for the purpose of expressing various viewpoints, and for comradely polemics between contributors. (Ibid., p. 327)
Although we carry out our literary work from the standpoint of a definite tendency, we do not in the least intend to present all our views on partial questions as those of all Russian Social-Democrats; we do not deny that differences exist, nor shall we attempt to conceal or obliterate them. On the contrary, we desire our publications to become organs for the DISCUSSION of all questions by all Russian Social-Democrats of the most diverse shades of opinion. We do not reject polemics between comrades, but, on the contrary, are prepared to give them considerable space in our columns. Open polemics, conducted in view of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to afford discussion of disputed questions from all angles, in order to combat the extremes into which representatives of various views, various localities, or various “specialities” of the revolutionary movement inevitably fall. Indeed, we regard one of the drawbacks of the present-day movement to be the absence of open polemics between avowedly different views, the effort to conceal differences on fundamental questions. (Ibid., p. 328)
LINES OF DEMARCATION, then, will carry the positions of the Bolshevik Union as a definite tendency, and will not claim to be merely a forum for debate as the Journal Canadian Revolution was supposed to be.
It will, however, attempt to reflect the positions of all Marxist-Leninists within the movement, and its pages will be open to polemics by Marxist-Leninists outside of the Bolshevik Union. Exactly what our editorial policy will be in this regard will be decided in practice depending on the volume of submissions. At this point, given the problems that CR had in obtaining copy, we do not expect a large volume of submissions.
Nevertheless, we encourage Marxist-Leninists and others to write letters to LINES OF DEMARCATION and consider it a possible outlet, along with CR, of developed positions.
In the DRAFT DECLARATION quoted above, Lenin replies to those who would have rushed into the reorganizing of the Russian party at a time of disunity similar to the disunity that exists in our movement:
We consider such a plan to be a false one or, at all events, a hazardous one. To establish and consolidate the Party means to establish and consolidate unity among all Russian Social-Democrats; such unity cannot be decreed.... it must be worked for. IN THE FIRST PLACE IT IS NECESSARY TO DEVELOP A COMMON PARTY LITERATURE, (p. 323. Emphasis ours.)
and that we must create
a common literature, since we regard this as the pressing demand of the movement today, and a necessary preliminary measure towards the resumption of Party activity. (Ibid., p. 324).
We plan to make LINES OF DEMARCATION a step forward in the creation of such a literature, and hope that others will take up the challenge we are raising and respond to our polemics; and that, consequently, the free flow of ideas will escalate, Marxist-Leninist theory will be sharpened, the concrete conditions of Canada will be scientifically grasped, the cadre of the party will be rallied, and the foundations of the party will be laid.