First Published: Canadian Revolution No. 3, October-November 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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This letter deals with the statement of “Political Unity and Policy of the Journal” and the editorial in the first issue of the journal, Canadian Revolution. We do not concern ourselves with the contents of the journal here as the working collective does not directly stand by the articles published in the journal. A Marxist-Leninist theoretical journal and debate are vitally important to the development and life of the revolutionary movement. Our differences concern the basis of unity of the journal, the function of the editorial board, and the role of a Marxist -Leninist publication.
The premises concerning the Canadian revolutionary movement, from which the journal operates are:(l) “. . . there is no revolutionary party giving leadership to the struggles of the working class in Canada (2) nor is there a great deal of unity among Marxist-Leninists on how to proceed”. The goals of the journal are: (1)“. . . to facilitate ideological and political struggle and discussion (2) in order to lay the basis for Marxist-Leninists to achieve a common analysis, strategy and programme (3) to advance the goals of a socialist revolution in Canada.” This letter is restricted to one question. Is the journal, Canadian Revolution, based upon their premises and working to achieve these goals, in actual fact, proceeding in accordance with the principles of Marxism-Leninism?
The answer is no. The journal, Canadian Revolution, has chosen an opportunist course in three ways: first, the political unity upon which the journal is based is designed for accomodation and not on clear Marxist-Leninist principles; second, the journal recognizes the lack of unity in the movement but instead of providing Marxist-Leninist leadership, it only provides a forum for debate and exercises leadership not upon clear proletarian ideology but upon diffise and undefined petit-bourgeois ideology; and third, the journal explicitly denies any organizational leadership but in actual fact assumes that leadership. The crux of the matter seems to be confusion as to exactly what are the tasks of Marxist-Leninists and of the communist movement.
The general task of the communist movement at any stage of its development is to,
. . . organize the class struggle, to point out its essential ultimate aim and to analyse the conditions that determine the methods by which this struggle should be conducted. (Lenin, CW. Vol.4, p. 327)
Communists are the ideological leaders of the proletariat in the struggle of our class against all classes which resist and stand in the way of the economic and social transformation of society. It is impossible to be the ideological leadership without investigation and analysis. This theoretical work,
... must present an integral picture of our (Canadian) realities as a definite system of production relations, show that the exploitation and expropriation of the working people are essential under this system and show the way out of this system that is indicated by economic development. (Lenin, CW. Vol. 1, p. 296)
This theoretical work must be directed to meet the needs of the on-going class struggle, the economic and political struggle. Also it is absolutely necessary to advocate and propagate an understanding of this revolutionary theory, Marxism-Leninism, within the working class. Only when revolutionary theory is grasped by the masses of Canadian workers will it become a material force. Leadership must be provided in organizing the working class; organizing to transform the present sporadic outbursts of rebellion and the limited but continual economic struggle into an organized and conscious political struggle against the bourgeois state. The goal of this struggle being the abolition of the social system based upon the private ownership of the means of production and the passing of political power into the hands of the working class for the organization of a socialist society under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The communist movement must advance on the three fronts: economic, political, and the theoretical, but
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.” When a task, no matter which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. (Mao, Four Essays, On Philosophy, p. 58)
At this time, “creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory” is the principal front in our movement. Canadian Revolution has placed itself in the center of the theoretical front. However, the statement of “Political Unity and Policy” of the journal gives no clear, precise and concrete, ie. in reference to the Canadian situation, exposition of Marxist-Leninist principles. The statement of political unity is comprised of only the most general statements. These general statements lend themselves to any interpretation. For a journal of this type, or for any Marxist-Leninist literature, the general task is to broaden, deepen and guide our work. In order to fulfill this task, we must constantly and clearly explain the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, the concrete situation, the resulting political strategy and tactics, and the tasks of Marxist-Leninists. On this basis, all deviations from and distortions of Marxism-Leninism, proletarian ideology, must be just as clearly explained and their class basis laid bare. This differentiation, this drawing of clear lines of demarcation, cannot be done by simply stating that we are opposed to this or that group or tendency. It must be done explicitly; for example, Canadian Revolution states that it is committed to combatting opportunism, but there is no explanation of what groups in the Canadian movement are opportunist and why. Another example, Canadian Revolution states that there is no revolutionary party leading the struggle of the working class in Canada. However we are not given an explanation of why such a party is necessary, its role in the revolutionary movement or the basic failings of the other groups that claim the title of the Marxist Leninist party. The statement of political unity “amounts to talking with the aim of saying nothing.” (Lenin, cw. Vol 5, p. 360) This reflects the actual political unity of the journal which is no upon Marxist-Leninist principles and clear lines but upon accomodation of ideological differences and the blurring of class lines. Unity of any Marxist-Leninist organization, be it local or national, or around a theoretical journal or paper, must be upon a sound ideological basis; “... without a common ideological basis there can be no question of unity.” (Lenin, cw. Vol 5, p, 227) What is this ideological basis?
Marxist-Leninist theory, proletarian ideology, provides us with a broad historical perspective and a wealth of accumulated experience to draw upon and learn from. This theory guides us in analysing the concrete situation in Canada and in charting a revolutionary course. But
... this theory provides only general guiding principles, which, in particular, are applied in England differently than in France, in France differently than Germany . . . (Lenin, CW. Vol. 4, p. 212)
and in Germany differently than Canada. The general principles of Marxism-Leninism must be applied to the concrete situation in Canada. “... the very gist, the living soul of Marxism – a concrete analysis of the concrete situation.” (Lenin, cw. Vol 31, p. 166.) Thus, the sound ideological unity of a Marxist-Leninist organization is not based upon general, abstracted principles but upon their application in the particular situation, the concrete analysis of the concrete situation. This development of principle, this creative application of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism to the Canadian situation, this development of revolutionary theory, is the primary task in our movement at the present time. In this process it is necessary to go step by step, dealing with one question after another, continuously upholding the principles of Marxism-Leninism, and guarding against opportunism, the abandonment of principle. This is the process of establishing proletarian ideology in Canada. Canadian Revolution’s political unity is not even based upon a clear statement of the basic general principles of Marxism-Leninism let alone their application in the Canadian situation. Solid ideological unity is upon the application of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism in the concrete Canadian situation.
Canadian Revolution disregards the principles of Marxism-Leninism, disregards the drawing of clear class lines, and disregards a clear proletarian class position, in order to facilitate unity. This is a desertion of Marxism-Leninism for opportunism.
Canadian Revolution states that its first aim is to facilitate debate toward a common political line. The premise for the debate is that there is no correct political line, nor that there is even “a great deal of unity among Marxist-Leninists on how to proceed with the historical tasks with which we are faced.” But, Canadian Revolution does not itself define clear and precise points of unity on principles from which to guide and elevate this debate. As such, Canadian Revolution can only serve as a “forum” for independent (that is, “unaffiliated” with any proclaimed party) Marxist-Leninist groups and individuals.
Other aims of the journal are to “promote concrete analysis of concrete conditions in Canada, aid in the scientific summation of practice to advance theory, and promote the study and application of Marxism-Leninism”. This, according to the journal, is the solid basis for the debate. In total, what do we have: a forum for debate is provided, “analyses” are promoted, systematic summing up of practice is promoted, and an organization is built in order to establish and maintaim regular contact with groups across Canada. The stated goal is to build an ideologically united revolutionary movement as the necessary prerequisite for the consolidation of the party. But may we add here, granted, with the possibility of crushing some peoples’ aspirations; first, that debate within the Canadian revolutionary movement has been going on since before the founding of the CPC in 1921; second, that subjective sociology does research and analyses; and third, that economism has, at certain times, very outstanding and tangible success, which, from the “summing-up” point of view, can look pretty good if there is no revolutionary perspective. Debate, research and analyses upon a subjective basis and economism can all be done while proclaiming to be studying and applying Marxism-Leninism.
WHAT MATTERS IS THE METHOD OF ANALYSIS, THE CONTENT AND DIRECTION OF THE DEBATE, AND THE NATURE, REVOLUTIONARY OR REFORMIST, OF THE PRACTICAL ACTIVITY.
The role of the main contributors and editorial board of a Marxist-Leninist publication is to set and maintain debate on a scientific level, to illuminate the debate with the consistent and firm principles of Marxism-Leninism. The editorial board of Canadian Revolution throws this responsibility overboard and claims not to be the leadership. This refusal to provide Marxist-Leninist leadership while claiming to be a Marxist-Leninist theoretical journal is Canadian Revolution’s second departure from Marxism-Leninism.
As we have seen, by its statement of political unity, Canadian Revolution defined its general purpose to be A) to provide a forum to foster debate; in order to B) lay the basis for Marxist -Leninists to “achieve a common analysis, strategy and programme. . .” . This is the first step for the journal in the process of party building. Canadian Revolution denies, any assumption of leadership in the process, “The journal is not the center or the leadership of this process.”
But in order to get at the heart of the matter, it is necessary to rely on the materialist method, as is necessary on every question. That is, it is not enough to look simply at what a person or group says, we must also look at what is being done, what the objective situation actually is. It is in practice that the truth of one’s proclamations and statements is determined. How does Canadian Revolution stand the test of practice on the question of leadership in the proclaimed process of party-building? Is Canadian Revolution’s claim objectively correct?
The fact is, Canadian Revolution does draw general boundaries around itself, thus separating and defining itself as a general tendency from various other consolidated groupings; does set priorities and guidelines for publication of material based on these boundaries; does choose articles based on these priorities and guidelines; does maintain the right to solicit articles in reply to articles it disagrees with; does work to build national distribution and thus national co-ordination. In spite of all this, we are expected to believe that Canadian Revolution is not actually providing leadership in the process of party-building.
What do we have here? Explicit denial and implicit assumption of leadership! But why this approach?
Canadian Revolution is fighting for the creation of the party; is trying to unite Marxist-Leninists through the necessary “pre-party debate”; and is building national organization through the production and distribution of the journal. This adds up to the fact that Canadian Revolution is a political organization, is a center; but, as we have shown above, a “Marxist-Leninist” center without principled Marxist-Leninist unity, without a principled ideological basis. Without this basis, Canadian Revolution must deny its leadership function; as anyone familiar with Marxism-Leninism knows ideological leadership cannot be provided without the concrete application of the guiding principles, and organizational unity cannot precede ideological unity.
Thus, the basis of unity of the journal is not upon a clear political line which sets aside this journal as a revolutionary journal, but upon a definite organizational, functional unity. Ideological and/or organizational unity based upon an undefined hazy conception or complete lack of the principles of Marxism -Leninism inhibits the growth and destroys the inner strength of any revolutionary movement. Within this haze you will find a smattering of Marxist-Leninist phrases covering an overall framework of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology. The ruthless weeding out of the ideology of the proprietory classes is an absolutely necessary and continual process in order to establish the hegemony of proletarian ideology. Without ideological independence, firmly founded upon the principles of Marxism-Leninism, the political struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to establish and maintain the dictatorship of the proletariat, can never be successful. Ideological independence is established and maintained by not making compromises upon principles, but rather by strict adherence to principle, by clear definitive explanation of their application and by continually drawing clear lines of demarcation.
This task will be accomplished only if consistent principles leadership is provided; leadership that combats every deviation from the principles of Marxism-Leninism; leadership that fosters the elaboration of Marxism-Leninism in every direction; and leadership that while defending and elaborating Marxism-Leninism does so in a manner that continuously raises the class consciousness of the working class. The responsibility to provide this leadership, falls upon the shoulders of all those who have taken or will take the initiative to circulate any public statement. The editorial board of Canadian Revolution very definitely has this responsibility!
Does Canadian Revolution assume this responsibility? NO! The journal is providing ideological leadership, but bourgeois ideological leadership, leadership denying and refusing to provide clear Marxist - Leninist ideological principles. The political unity of the journal is one based upon the acceptance of the hegemony of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology as the only feasible unity, the only unity possible, at the present time. Canadian Revolution has abandoned the arduous socialist road of struggle for the road offering the least resistence, the bourgeois road. Instead of solidifying itself upon a principled basis and them providing consistent Marxist-Leninist leadership, Canadian Revolution bows down and accomodates the lack of ideological unity in the statement of political unity.
Political opportunism, as such means “precisely a lack of definite and firm principles.” (Lenin, CW. Vol. 5, p. 525) The most familiar manifestations of opportunism are those groups and individuals who constantly switch their political position or line in order to sway with the tide in the working class and/or communist movement. We are confronted with this type of opportunist at all stages of the development of the communist movement and the class struggle.
In the earliest stages of development of the communist movement, when there is little ideological clarity or unity, we are confronted with the most blatant form of opportunism – “ideological” unity on the lowest common denominator. This lowest common denominator is agreement on “Marxism -Leninism” minus any explanation of the basic principles in general or applied to our particular situation, Marxism-Leninism in name only. This unity is proposed as the only one feasible considering the level of the revolutionary movement. Tactical unity, unity with all those that can be united with to defeat a common foe, is used as a cover to sneak in unity without principles. This sham unity is substituted for principled unity in a whirl of hyperactivity, as the basis for a revolutionary organization. “Revolutionary” organization first and a struggle for unity within the organization later. Because of the general lack of experience and amateurishness at this stage, it is all too often the case that many comrades do not know how to combat even this most obvious form of opportunism, and fall into this trap themselves.
Canadian Revolution’s denial of ideological and organizational leadership is a despicable subterfuge in order to slip around the Marxist-Leninist principle of organizaitonal unity only upon a sound ideological basis. Remember – “without a common ideological basis there can be no question of unity.”
There are no clear Marxist-Leninist principles elaborated as the basis for the development of the process that is already unfolding. This is an opportunist error, pure and simple. The first part of the error is to the right, i .e., acceptance of the low ideological level of our movement, acutally perpetuating this low level by providing a forum for debate with no clear ideological leadership. This is right opportunism because it does not advance our movement in regard to what is demanded by the objective conditions. Our movement is in desperate need of a firm founding in the principles of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete analysis of the concrete conditions. But instead of pointing the way out of the morass by providing clear Marxist-Leninist ideological leadership, Canadian Revolution simply admits the weakness, points to the need, and says “go at it comrades, we’ll provide the paper”. The second part of the error is to the “left” i.e., providing organization leadership to a tendency with no ideological clarity or clearly stated principles of unity. This is left opportunism because on an organizational level it objectively moves ahead of the actual stage of development of our movement. National organization of Marxist-Leninist work within one united and real Marxist-Leninist party is always necessary, and has been on the agenda since the turn of the twentieth century. However, no formal aspects of the party, be it debate, theoretical journal, declaration of formation, official program, regular mass newspaper, etc., will automatically result in correct leadership and correct line. That will depend upon the content of these various aspects. Revolutionary content is possible only by strict adherence to the principles of Marxism-Leninism in our work. As we have noted, Canadian Revolution moves ahead toward national organization, but refuses to take responsibility for the nature of the content.
To sum up, Canadian Revolution makes the observation that there is little or no unity among Marxist-Leninists in the Canadian movement. Unity is a cherished goal for the revolutionary movement but unity of Marxist-Leninists is always on clearly defined principles. In order to achieve unity, the working collective publishing the journal must ignore the “paltry” principles of Marxism-Leninism and achieve “unity” under an umbrella of all encompassing declarations and statements in the negative. The editorial of volume 1 number 1 states “articles should be consistent with the stated editorial priorities and principles of the journal” but these stated principles are no where to be found. The statement of political unity is especially designed to accomodate any shade of opportunism, the only qualifying statement being non-affiliation to the presently consolidated political parties. On the basis of no position, no principles and no clear lines of demarcation, Canadian Revolution has taken the leadership in consolidating an organization in opposition to the existing parties.
It is high time to chart a new course: not petty-bourgeois ideology; not unity first, principles second but development of principle first, then unity; not unity of petty-bourgeois diffuse-ness; not accomodation and the blurring of differences but clear statement and principled struggle for resolution. The journal stands on petty - bourgeois ideology not proletarian ideology.
Does this mean that we think everyone working or associated with the journal is an “inherent opportunist”. Of course not! What it means is that objectively, as it is presently structured, Canadian Revolution has made opportunist errors. As a whole, the journal has not made a thorough enough study of Marxism-Leninism and our situation; in trying to proceed to a higher stage, through uniting for unity’s own sake. This error inhibits the further advance of our movement. Errors become opportunism in general only if they remain unanalyzed, and un-rectified. As we see it, the analysis, criticism, and rectification of these errors are the most immediate tasks before the journal.
Clearly defined unity based upon the main principles of Marxism-Leninism applied in the concrete historical situation in Canada must be struggled for and achieved by the editorial board as a prerequisite to the publication of a journal which claims to carry the banner of Marxism-Leninism. This analysis, and the political line arising from it, does not have to be fully elaborated in order to begin publication of a journal, but there must be some clearly defined unity around the main questions facing the Canadian movement. We consider that this basis of unity should include such important points as the nature and place of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought in the development of modern history; the historic role of the working class; the role and function of the party of the proletariat; determination of and agreement on the principle contradiction in Canada; a general analysis of the state of the communist movement and the working-class movement at this time; and why the groups that call themselves communist parties are not in fact communist parties. This would be a minimum platform of unity from which a stronger basis could be accomplished.
Unity cannot be decreed; it must be struggled for. This applies to the revolutionary movement and the the working collective of the journal, Canadian Revolution. What must be upheld above all else is the conformity of the principles and platform of unity to the actual process of social and economic development. From this basis, the journal would be in a position to lead and guide the debate within the Canadian revolutionary movement in a Marxist-Leninist manner.
Guelph Workers Committee
P.O. Box 1844 Guelph, Ont.
(a small group of workers studying Marxism-Leninism)