To take stock of the situation and see how broad, collective debate can be organized in the international communist movement, we have to arrive at a clearer understanding of what the purpose of such debates are. But even more basically, we have to first reaffirm that the international communist movement’s role in the international class struggle on a world scale. The crisis in the international communist movement indicates that there are major disagreements about precisely what is at stake in the struggle for unity.
The division currently reigning among the parties and organizations that seek to lead the struggle in all countries is not unrelated to the division that characterises the international working class in confronting its enemies. There are many divisions in the revolutionary and communist movements – on the struggle of the Polish workers, for example, or the struggle of the revolutionary and people’s forces in El Salvador and Central America, or the position to take on the Iranian regime or the Iran-Iraqi war; or the popular resistance to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. This division is an obstacle to building solidarity movements based on a common goal: to win victory for the proletariat and the peoples over all the forces of imperialism and to achieve socialism.
The question of unified struggle against all imperialism is posed directly when we see the popular forces in El Salvador and Central America battling U.S. imperialism while the workers of Poland and the other Eastern European countries are confronted with bourgeois regimes in crisis and the threat of Soviet intervention. In both cases, European and especially German imperialists are trying to turn the weaknesses of their rivals to their own advantage. What we lose sight of is that the struggles of the Polish workers and the Salvadoran people both have to be directed against a common enemy, imperialism – an enemy that is working hard to divide and isolate these struggles.
Since the split with modern revisionism, working-class parties have by and large continued to line up behind one of a number of countries as reference points – ranging from China to Cuba or Vietnam, and more recently the China of the Cultural Revolution and Albania. Although no one can deny the revolutionary victories in these countries, some of them have since taken up fundamentally nationalist paths, going so far as to intervene in other countries to further their own interests. For examples, you just have to look at the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and China’s subsequent “punitive” attack on Vietnam. This explains why these influential reference points – and in fact models – have been criticized and abandoned one after the other by various and sometimes fairly substantial groups of communists and revolutionaries. The most recent example is Albania. Many of those who had placed their hopes in this country were disappointed by the positions it took on southeast Asia (where it supported the Vietnamese invasion), the Iranian regime (which it supported) and Poland (where it condemned the Solidarity union), or by its sectarian and dogmatic attitude towards the international communist movement.
What is more important is that this kind of alignment is now being openly challenged. The issue at stake goes beyond the limits or even the reactionary gestures of this or that country at a specific moment in time. The issue at stake is that the actions and work of international revolutionary alignments has all too often been based on what serves the interests of a given party or country; the problem is that these specific interests are not and cannot be equated with the interests of the international working class as a whole.
For our part, we have always struggled to free our international relations from the contraints of these kinds of alignments and the underlying principles used to justify them.
What kinds of solutions are being proposed to overcome the division of communist forces on the international level? The meetings we held to defend our idea of a conference enabled us to identify two opposing points of view on this that remained constant, regardless of the international grouping the responses or solutions came from.
A first set of responses says that the solution to current division lies in the reaffirmation of the principles systematized by certain leaders; unity can only be rebuilt with the forces that recognize these same principles. There are several variations in the specific application of this solution: some adulate Mao Zedong Thought; others make Stalinism the model; still others condemn the Party of Labour of Albania for its alleged distortion of Stalin’s thought. But they all boil down to the same basic result. The role of the international communist movement is reduced to reiterating what certain parties or leaders have learned from their experience and pretending that this is an adequate basis for defining the revolutionary tactics and strategies required for the struggle against imperialism today. Instead of being a process of political and ideological struggle, the unity of Marxist-Leninists becomes a series of statements and decrees. Those who do not subscribe to the decrees are either rejected offhand as revisionists or purely and simply ignored. But what is even worse is that the struggle of their peoples are often in practice not supported, on the false pretext that the forces leading the struggle are not “real Marxist-Leninists”. This has happened with struggles in El Salvador, Poland, Chile, Afghanistan...
Many others reject outright this conception of the struggle for unity, a conception that has less and less to do with a genuine Marxist-Leninist point of view. More and more of these people and groups are concluding that it is important to support the forces involved in their peoples’ struggles, regardless of whether they can be fitted into the traditional categories of the international communist movement. More and more of them are working towards unity with these revolutionary forces, trying through debates and polemics to win over as many as possible to a shared revolutionary outlook on the international level.
The Marxist-Leninists who therefore reject a dogmatic conception of the struggle for unity take the reality of the revolutionary struggle today, and not a series of principles. as their starting point. Their purpose is not to make the international communist movement into an ivory tower embodying the “purity” of Marxism-Leninism and MaoZedong Thought. Instead. they want to make the communist movement into a revolutionary political alternative to the reformist solutions put forward by our enemies. They do not think that all, or nearly all. the problems were solved by Marxist-Leninists in the past, leaving us with little to do except repeat their formula; they believe that the theoretical and practical contributions of the Marxist-Leninists who have gone before us must he examined in a materialist way, that is in the light of the results achieved so far in the struggle for socialism.
For all these reasons, these Marxist-Leninists do not see the struggle for unity as a series of decrees to bring the “faithless” back to the fold. For them, the struggle for unity is a process of struggle in which debates on history, theory, analyses of imperialism and revolutionary tactics and strategies are intimately linked to the current requirements of the revolutionary struggle in various countries and in the world.
Does this mean that communists no longer have to refer to and base themselves on Marxist-Leninist principles? Not at all. It does mean that the crisis of the international Marxist-Leninist movement cannot be reduced to a problem of abandoned principles. What is at the very heart of the crisis is the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism as a science to be used by the proletariat and communists to transform reality. We do not believe that the international communist movement can solve this crisis and emerge stronger than ever simply by coming up with a new grab-bag of slogans, schemes, models and criteria...
To come back to our proposal for a conference: in practice, this proposal was in opposition to a dogmatic conception of the struggle for unity. Although at first it was not necessarily clear for anyone, including ourselves, it is now becoming obvious that many of the reactions to our proposal could ultimately be traced back to one or these two conceptions of the struggle for unity. We say “many”, for we are certainly not claiming that everyone who has supported the proposal shares the same vision of the struggle for unity (indeed, this is not true) or that the same generalization can be made about those who have not supported it.
In our meetings, some people suggested that there was a danger our proposal for a conference would give rise to a third pole, alongside those supporting the PLA and those that oppose this party and emphasize the defence of Mao Zedong. We do not think this is the real problem. The problem is first and foremost a political one: what kind of international communist movement will confront the bourgeois and reformist tendencies in each country and on the international level? As for us, we have made our choice and we have stated it several times. The struggle of the international working class requires the unity of communists around a common programme, for Capital has spread its tentacles to all parts of the world, making the struggle of the proletariat in the different countries interdependent. The organization and leadership of this struggle on the international scale is necessarily more than a matter of principles to which we pay lip service; it is a practical necessity if we want to make sure that short-term or national interests do not win out over the interests of the international proletariat. The international communist movement we have the task of rebuilding must be able to respond to the new problems posed by the development of the revolutionary struggle with courage and conviction.
To carry out this task, we propose some methods for encouraging the necessary debates among organizations from different countries.
We still think international conferences would be useful, but our previous conference proposal has proven to be inadequate in current circumstances. More than half of those who had agreed to participate do not in practice attach much importance to the planned conference. As well, generally speaking, there are still struggles to be waged and won against the “official traditions” of the international communist movement before this kind of method can be envisaged as a way of making progress in the collective struggle and debates instead of simply endorsing agreements hammered out prior to such a conference. We put a great deal or time and energy into our proposal for it conference. These efforts were not a waste of time, for they helped convince some people of the importance of collective debates. But at the same time, we have to admit that this kind of conference is not very suitable in the concrete conditions of the present time.
So for the time being we are abandoning the idea of organizing an international conference. But this does not mean we are abandoning our attempts to establish more collective forms of debate in the international communist movement and to participate in such debates when possible.
In current circumstances, we think it is especially important to link the debate on the political foundations of communist unity more closely to the concrete revolutionary work of communists in each country and on the international level. Indeed, this is essential at a time when the weakness of the international communist movement is related first and foremost to its inability to furnish scientific analyses and revolutionary perspectives that will convince the proletariat and peoples now fighting their common enemy.
We also think it is necessary to work more collectively in developing the debate and struggle with the parties and organizations that share a more correct conception of the revolutionary struggle and the struggle for the unity of Marxist-Leninists. We should work towards forms of co-operation in terms of debates, of course, but also around internationalist solidarity activities, polemics, research and analytical work. These are all necessary components of the work of building a political force that can provide a concrete alternative to the erroneous solutions so often put forward today. We are not excluding any possible fields of action: we want to use and encourage all possible opportunities for strengthening the action of the international communist movement in the class struggle on all levels.
Finally, we believe it is necessary for Marxist-Leninist forces to debate more actively with the revolutionary forces involved in today’s struggles, forces that do not always fit into the “classic catetories”. For our part, we will try to ensure that International Forum responds better to their concerns and reflects more adequately their positions. When possible, we will participate in collective debates with them.
If there is a political pole to establish and develop today, it is around the task of waging the theoretical, polemical and practical struggle for militant internationalist unity, including unity in the revolutionary struggles being waged today.