Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Gagnon

For the Proletarian Party


Chapter 3: Ideological struggle – a mass practice

At the present time priority must go to struggle on the ideological front. In other words, while concrete examples of the will to organise and the desire for unity proliferate within the working class and among working people generally, on the one hand, and while the working class cannot create a revolutionary party until a greater cohesion, a greater ideological unity has been achieved, on the other – the priority has to be the ideological aspects of the class struggle of the proletariat.

Primacy, of course, does not mean exclusion of other aspects. It would indicate a mechanistic attitude to think of ideological struggle as the only form of political work among the masses at the present time. For, in the final analysis, as for subjective conditions, all progress by the workers’ movement, including progress in the development of the proletarian line and of class consciousness rests on the development of workers’ struggles. These struggles have aspects which are ideological, organisational, tactical, etc. One can never totally isolate one aspect and try to advance it without taking the others into account. Thus, political groups which tried the method “study first, struggle later”, quickly learned that this “mechanistic” route is a dead-end. It’s the same “mechanistic” conception of political processes which leads some people today to almost totally priorize organisation through “grass-roots implantation”.

The clarification of class interests, the basis for developing a proletarian line, can only result from the constant dialectical connection, through analysis and critical examination, of the contradictions to be resolved, the means used and the progress made with regard to general strategy and tactics of the moment. This analysis and critical examination are aspects of the struggle, of any political struggle. Consequently, without struggle there could be no criticism or analysis. Thus Marxism is nothing other than the theory of class struggle; Marxism does not create class struggle, as the bourgeoisie would like us to believe. Marxism is the knowledge and understanding of class struggle.

The nature of ideological struggle

To emphasize the ideological aspect of the proletarian struggle means developing the analysis of the contradictions opposing workers and capitalists. It means deepening one’s knowledge of the actual local and international situations, unmasking the present-day forms of capitalism and imperialism, and finally, developing one’s mastery of dialectical and historical materialism. That is study.

But study only has meaning and can only develop in relation to the needs of concrete political struggle. In the final analysis, the propagation of revolutionary ideology amongst the masses is at the heart of activities which make up the ideological struggle. The proletarian line isn’t some sort of theory which takes shape in the heads of some “great minds” in order then to be spread in the working class. On the contrary, it is the result of workers struggles – generalized and raised to the theoretical level, the level of scientific knowledge. It is the science of revolution for the working class. As in the case of all knowledge, it is practice which is determinant.

This is why ideological work really has no meaning for this struggle unless it is carried to the masses, where it can have its desired effect, greater effectiveness in the struggle of the masses against capital, better strategy, better tactics – in short, the revolutionisation of the workers’ movement in itself and in relation to the bourgeoisie.

From this point of view, the decisive importance of propaganda is irrefutable. Its role is to uncover, on the basis of the current struggles of the working class and working people in general, the various contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, to relate these contradictions to the basic elements of the situation at the time, am out of this to draw necessary and useful lessons for more important, significant and decisive struggles.

Understood thus, ideological struggle clearly has little to do with what some call the struggle within the ideologies apparatus, i.e., in the “institutions” whose role is to “disseminate” the ruling ideology and assure its reproduction is rather naive to wish to transpose onto capitalist countries the tasks which the Cultural Revolution in China set for itself, although certain Marxists have been led to exactly such “tactics”. It is difficult – in fact impossible – to see how workers’ power could be built by intermediate persons or classes.

We mustn’t forget that the Cultural Revolution in China came about 15 years after the seizure of power by the Communist Party ... It’s unwise to want to put the cart before the horse! Taking account of concrete conditions in China in the 1960s, on one hand, and in Quebec in 1972, on the other hand, we can easily see that ideological struggle has a different nature in the two situations. In the case Quebec the ideological struggle aims at making the creation of the proletarian party possible, i.e. at taking a qualitative leap in the workers’ movement in its march toward proletarian power. In China the Cultural Revolution set itself the goal of transforming the party, if you will, but above all (assuring the proletariat control over certain institutions which were slipping out of their grasp or which were in danger of falling into the hands of the revisionists, the reactionaries. These are two quite different situations: on the one hand having to organise to take power, on the other in struggle to extend and consolidate that power.

Ideological struggle among the masses

Given that workers’ struggles are decisive in the development of the workers’ movement and thus also of the proletarian party, shouldn’t we take from this that organisational tasks are the first and the most important, inasmuch as organisation is indispensable to struggle? From the point of view of “mechanical materialism” to use Mao Tse-Tung expression, such an idea would seem correct. However, precisely because it is ̴mechanical”, it does not conform to the dialectical character of the proletarian class struggle, the dialectical nature of the relation between the worker movement and working class organisation. The specific role of proletarian vanguard groups today is not so much to “organise the working class” as to act so that working class organisation, which is the product of the working class, becomes revolutionary.

It’s the whole question of the creation of the proletarian party which is at stake here. We have seen how the position of the social-democrats in this respect amounts in practice to entrusting this task to a minority of militants who are “in the know”, whose function would be to involve the masses in collective struggles against bourgeois power – or rather against the State, as they like to say in those circles. Clearly one can’t get this from what the social-democrats say: rather they claim to support the idea of a “workers’ party”, of all the workers, all the wage-earners. But, in fact, what do they do?

They are the ones who go around constantly repeating that the workers will be trained through action, that we’ve got to have action. Which means: it falls to certain people to decide how the working class should struggle, which struggles to take up, when to do so, and against whom. The poor workers don’t know what to do! This is how the “Common Fronts” of the social-democrats work, such as the Transportation Workers’ Council (COT), where the leadership is petty-bourgeois, the majority of the “militants” (statement writers, to be more exact!) are not working class, let alone composed of transport workers. We understand why the delegation from the Taxi Liberation Movement (MLT) and later the delegation from the Political Action Committee (CAP) of Cote-des-Neiges withdrew from the COT: too much talk, too many statements and meetings. A lot of time and energy wasted with no progress for any of the organisations belonging to the “Common Front”.

The proletarian party cannot come about in this way. Those who are working today as “organisers by appointment to the revolution” seem to be totally unaware of this. At present there are militants who, while criticising FRAP, are embarked on exactly the same route. While for the time being they are less opportunist, on the other hand they are more “putschist” in the sense that they are working for revolution as if for a conspiracy, in isolation. An isolation which can only, in the more or less short-term, lead them to cut themselves off from the masses.

Struggle amongst the masses does not mean having links, even very close links, with the five or ten people who control a union or some other peoples’ association, if meanwhile the masses of workers in either the union or the association aren’t party to the debates which this tiny group has or the agreements it reaches. Seen on the scale of the proletariat as a whole, this example shows quite well that the proletarian party does not arise from the mere existence of even thousands of tiny cells based on local struggles, lacking any concern for the current situation and the contradictions within the proletariat as a class (and not as the sum of individuals or groups of workers).

This is a situation which is quite comparable to one which led Lenin to write in 1899 that:

”We are all agreed that our task is that of the organisation of the proletarian class struggle. But what is this class struggle? When the workers of a single factory or of a single branch of industry engage in struggle against their employer or employers, is this class struggle? No, this is only a weak embryo of it. The struggle of the workers becomes a class struggle only when all the foremost representatives of the entire working class of the whole country are conscious of themselves as a single working class and launch a struggle that is directed, not against individual employers, but against the entire class of capitalists and against the government that supports that class. (...) Social-Democrats, (in the sense this term had in 1899, i.e. “Communists”) by organising the workers, by conducting propaganda and agitation among them, to turn their spontaneous struggle against their oppressors into the struggle of the whole class, into the struggle of a definite political party for definite political and socialist ideals. This is something that cannot be achieved by local activity alone.”[19]

At the stage of local struggles and of organisation on a local basis, the only possible class practice, as correctly defined by Lenin, is the struggle on the ideological front and particularly mass propaganda. It’s not because class ideological struggle is possible that it is the priority, but above all because it is through this struggle and it alone that local organisations are going to be able to transcend their present position as tiny marginal groups. Only if propaganda can expose the content and all the importance of the struggles of the organisationally isolated vanguards to ever broader sections of the proletariat and popular masses can they concretely transcend their present marginal character.

The dialectical unity of opposites of implantation and organisation work on the one hand, and of propaganda among the masses on the other, thus comes through clearly. The struggles waged by groups at the base constitute in large part the material on which the analysis of class contradictions can be worked out, while these very analyses inform thousands of workers of these struggles and their underlying contradictions, thereby giving the work of implantation its true political significance and accelerating its development.

We thus see that the organisation of the masses – the creation of the proletarian party – isn’t a plot by a few tens of militants but rather the beginning of a process which brings together the working class vanguards on one hand and the broad masses of the people on the other. The working class vanguards no longer try to carry the people along against their will or to command them, but to lead. That is, to draw the theoretical and practical lessons from the very experience of the masses, which will be “returned” to them to undergo the criticism of their practice, since only correct slogans are positively received by the masses. This is the meaning one must give to the leadership role of the proletarian party in the struggle of the masses.

At the present stage ideological struggle is the principal aspect of the class struggle of the proletariat The struggle to develop proletarian ideology and disseminate it among the masses constitutes the main political task at this time. In the present situation, taking account of the present relation of forces and of the prevailing conditions in the workers’ movement, only the setting up and broad activity of organs of proletarian propaganda among the masses are capable of putting the workers’ movement in the position of creating its class party – the essential leadership tool for a victorious struggle against the forces of bourgeois reaction.

Two passages taken from the works of Mao Tse-Tung will clarify the question. In his 1937 essay, On Contradiction, Mao Tse-Tung devotes a long passage to the study of the development of contradictions. He shows how the primary aspect of a contradiction can become the secondary aspect and vice versa. He says that “mechanical materialism” doesn’t understand this aspect of every contradictory movement and is thus powerless to grasp that in the course of a struggle to solve a contradiction the accent can be placed on one or another aspect, according to which is primary or secondary. He writes:

”The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” (...) “Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also – and indeed must – recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism.”[20]

In Quebec at the present time, ideological confusion is the main obstacle to realising the proletariat’s desire for unity and organisation, in practical terms the creation and development of the workers’ party as the leadership instrument of the people in its struggle for liberation. Thus the ideological struggle, i.e. the development and propagation of the Marxist theory and the proletarian line, becomes the principal aspect of the struggle. In that whenever the proletarian party truly represents the interests of the masses, the line it defends should both objectively and subjectively be held by the masses. How could a political line be a proletarian line, a mass line, if it’s produced by only a few dozen small cells, if it isn’t even put to the masses to be changed by them in concrete practice?

IDEOLOGICAL PRACTICE – A PRACTICE OF STRUGGLE

The development and propagation of Marxism, which are at the source of the proletarian line, are basically a practice of struggle. There are no types of practice which in and of themselves should be given a special status. Only by starting from the “concrete analysis of the concrete situation” can we determine if a given practice is politically correct, and not by appealing to abstract or moral arguments as to which task is superior to another in an absolute manner.

When we have to choose between tasks of organization, study, propaganda, etc. the decisive criterion always remains the objective analysis of the concrete conditions at the time. If there’s such a thing as “revolutionary morality”, it’s not on the level of choosing priorities that it should first come into play. Giving in to workerist moralism doesn’t indicate a high political consciousness.

One tends sometimes to establish basic distinctions between certain tasks which are in fact one or another of the many forms of political struggle. Propaganda work, just as much as organisational work, is a form of proletarian practice. Propaganda, and even the development of Marxism, are forms of struggle. Mao Tsetung (this is our second quote from him) touched on this question in the ’following terms in 1957 (twenty years after writing On Contradiction):

“Truth develops through debate between different views. The same method can be adopted with regard to whatever is poisonous and anti-Marxist, because Marxism will develop in the struggle against it. This is development through the struggle of opposites, development conforming to dialectics. (...)

“Marxism develops in the struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology, and it is only through struggle that it can develop.”[21]

The struggle on the ideological front today in Quebec is in practice the struggle against bourgeois ideology, against the deceits of bourgeois social and economic “science”. This is the aspect of the ideological struggle which will let us develop an understanding of our concrete conditions, those conditions on the basis of which the proletarian class struggle must be developed. The struggle on the ideological front is also the struggle against the particular present-day forms which bourgeois ideology assumes among the masses – a struggle against bourgeois nationalism, reformism, and the distortions of proletarian ideology, including opportunism and leftism. This second aspect of the ideological struggle will be, directly and immediately, where proletarian ideology develops and penetrates within the masses. It will allow a constant clarification of the proletarian line and an ever more articulate denunciation of the bourgeois, non-proletarian, currents, through the unmasking of contradictions and the class interests underlying both proletarian and bourgeois ideology. Such is the role of proletarian propaganda.

PROPAGANDA IN RELATION TO THE ORGANIZATION OF THE MASSES

At the present stage of development of the Quebec workers’ movement, propaganda work and organisational work are linked together at many points. In fact they simply form two complementary aspects of the struggle to create the proletarian party.

The “organising power” of the ideological struggle as propaganda work involves two aspects. Firstly, propaganda requires an organisation: editors, distributors, writers in short, many groups of militants all over Quebec whose task is to produce and distribute an organ of propaganda. The same goes for all the other forms of ideological struggle. Every struggle requires an organisation: the more the struggle develops, the more organisation has to grow.

Secondly, the ideological struggle also has an “organising power” by promoting the putting into effect of the willingness to organise and desire for unity of many groups and individuals at work within the working class and the working people in general. This happens through the spreading, after having synthesised and formulated it in general terms, of the political lessons of the active strata of the working class and thereby providing better instruments to analyse class contradictions and their solution.

Thus, struggles undertaken by working people and presented in leaflets or a newspaper can act as examples: they provide organisational models and indicate forms of struggle. All these elements advance working class organization, creation of new groups or the transformation of existing but undeveloped groups. This is how working class unity, within the working class itself, and with other working people, can take root. The community of interests emerges. The necessity of class organisation, of the party, becomes evident.

Then and only then, does the broad development of the party become possible. The subjective conditions of this major stage are thus realised. This phase is the one which appears on the horizon beyond the phase when the primacy of ideological work will have brought about a greater class consciousness through concrete struggles in the realms of analysis of the situation, political education and propaganda.

Endnotes

[19] Lenin, Our Immediate Task in Collected Works, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1972, Vol. 4, p. 215. (my emphasis in the last sentence - C.G.).

[20] Mao Tse-Tung, On Contradiction, in Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse-tung, Peking, FLP, 1971, p. 116.

[21] Mao Tse-tung, Speech at CPC National Conference on Propaganda Work, p. 494.