Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The unity of the international Marxist-Leninist movement: A political question for today

First Published: Proletarian Unity No. 20 (vol 4 no 2), February-March 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Where are the Marxist-Leninists in Iran and in Afghanistan capable of offering a real alternative to the “Islamic revolution”? Where is the Marxist-Leninist party in these countries which is supposed to lead the revolution towards the victory of socialism? And in any case, who wants your Russian-style socialism? Thanks, but no thanks! Afghanistan is getting a taste of it and I’d rather keep what little “freedom” we have under capitalism than to lose everything. These are the questions, doubts and scepticism which we hear regularly, when we are not faced with outright opposition to what is wrongly identified as socialism. Imperialism’s offensive at all levels – with its solid allies among the reformists and revisionists – has, for the moment, succeeded in turning the struggles of the peoples away from the path of proletarian revolution and the construction of socialism.

As the imperialist bourgeoisies’ war preparations become an increasing reality, the proletariat and peoples find themselves without real proletarian leadership on an international scale capable of guiding their struggles to a decisive victory over imperialism. Nevertheless, the forces which are resolutely working for the victory of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat – the only path capable of assuring total liberation from the capitalist system of exploitation – are to be found in the Marxist-Leninist movement as it exists and is developing in several countries.

What is the current situation within the international Marxist-Leninist movement? Does it really influence the course of events and the development of class struggle in each country and on a world scale? How are its main contradictions and Its major weaknesses going to be resolved? Today’s communists must give the proletariat answers to these questions because it is about time that socialism cease to be a vague aspiration which we will “inevitably” attain one day or another, despite the just as “inevitable” reversals and detours.

A movement which exists but is dispersed

We have only to point out the lack of influence of the international communist movement on support for the main revolutionary struggles in recent years – Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Zimbabwe, for example – to recognize that, despite the solidarity organized by many Marxist-Leninists around the world, their efforts have not been able to break through the wall of silence surrounding the struggles of these peoples. They have not been able to unmask the lies of the bourgeois press. They have been even less able to thwart the booby-trapped aid offered by the imperialist powers burning with impatience to replace the dominant imperialists.

It must be pointed out that in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, the influence of Marxists-Leninists is still very weak, when it is not inexistent, especially in the face of attempts by the Soviet revisionists to place revolutionary liberation movements under their thumbs.

If we turn our attention to the capitalist or imperialist countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Canada or the United States, we have to admit that the influence of the Marxist-Leninist point of view among the proletariat and the masses is still very limited in comparison to the influence of social democracy and modern revisionism.

But at the same time, we would be denying reality if we didn’t recognize the existence of Marxist-Leninist forces in a large number of countries. Although their influence in the class struggle is still very limited (there are a few exceptions, and notably that of the Party of Labour of Albania, which is leading the struggle to build socialism), these forces do exist and are developing in the revolutionary struggle. In Iran, several Marxist-Leninist organizations are playing an important role in the armed struggle of the Kurdish peasants both through their agitation within the Persian nation and their work to counter the chauvinist campaign being waged by the regime in power. They have also developed their influence among oil workers and students. Iranian Marxist-Leninists are not united within a single organization and on the basis of a common programme, but twelve organizations have begun to hold regular conferences with the goal of building the unity of Marxist-Leninists. [1] In Venezuela, Equador, Brazil, Chile and other Latin American countries, Marxist-Leninists exist and are very actively involved in the struggle against U.S. imperialism and its manoeuvres to “democratize” military regimes. In some cases, they are engaged in armed struggle alongside peasants and workers. [2] In Tunisia, Upper Volta, Dahomey, Senegal, Angola and elsewhere in Africa, the development of the Marxist-Leninist movement is an increasingly concrete reality at various levels, going from relatively simple propaganda activities to active involvement in the struggle against suppression of workers and their unions, as was recently reported in the newspaper IN STRUGGLE! with regard to the struggle in Tunisia. [3]

Without enumerating all the countries where we are aware that Marxist-Leninist forces exist, one thing is clear: the international Marxist-Leninist movement is an increasingly concrete and dynamic reality in the struggles of the proletariat and the peoples of the world.

But at the same time, another thing stands out just as clearly for those who take the trouble to analyse reality as it exists, and that is the state of disunity and division of this movement in many countries such as Iran, France, England, Italy, the United States and Turkey, to name just a few. This state of division coincides with its weakness in the face of the bourgeoisie and its reformist and revisionist agents. And more important still, the international communist movement as a whole is largely unable to act as a unified and organized political force on an international scale against imperialism. It is not at present a force whose programme and action constitute a powerful arm in the hands of the struggling proletariat and peoples.

Evidently, this weakness and dispersion is a result of the struggle which the bourgeoisie successfully waged against the communist movement, including its witch-hunt in the thirties, forties and fifties. But there is also the fact that the communist movement degenerated and that the vast majority of parties which had been communist, starting with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik), were tranformed into instruments of policies of pacification and collaboration with the bourgeoisie and imperialism leaving the working-class movement disoriented to continue the struggle for socialism. And even if the idea of rebuilding the communist movement was put forward and the struggle against revisionism waged for a long time, we cannot say that communists around the world have systematically undertaken the work of rebuilding their unity. In other words, they have not taken up the task of rebuilding the movement as a real force, as a political and organizational force, and not just as a force which denounces reactionary and reformist ideas around the world.

Combat viewpoints which oppose unity

It might seem like an exaggeration to talk about disunity at the present time and to insist on this characteristic within the international communist movement when from year to year, from six months to six months, the international communist movement seems to be winning victories against all new forms of revisionism and opportunism. Yesterday, it was the victory over the so-called “three worlds theory”; more recently it was against “Mao Zedong Thought”; and increasingly it has become the struggle against those who “denigrate” Stalin... and perhaps that’s how it will continue until “a perfect identity of views” is attained... at least among a certain number of communists in the world. And in fact, there exists a tendency within the international communist movement which denies the existence of Marxist-Leninist organizations outside of those which fully share the conclusions which this tendency comes up with every six months.

The Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist) (PCE(M-L) is one of the organizations which is often in the vanguard of new “principled demarcations” within the international communist movement. After reading the papers on the situation in this movement written in preparation for its Third Congress held in November 1979, we would naturally be led to conclude that the type of struggle against revisionism which would best serve the unity of communists and the interests of the international proletariat at this time would be a struggle which consists of attacking Mao Zedong Thought and of placing Joseph Stalin on a pedestal.

our Congress paid particular attention to analysing, unmasking and denouncing Mao Zedong Thought as a revisionist and anti-Marxist trend whose goal is to undermine and hinder as much as possible the victorious development of the international Marxist-Leninist movement; we consider that resolutely denouncing and combatting Maoism is today a question of vital importance for Marxist-Leninists.[4]

In addition to this, we find its logical counterpart:

The Third Congress considers that, at this time, the question of comrade Stalin constitutes a decisive element which separates authentic revolutionaries from revisionists and counterrevolutionaries.[5]

The PCE(M-L) isn’t the only organization which considers matters in this way. Similar affirmations can be found in the press of many other Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations, including that of the Party of Labour of Albania. It’s one thing to conclude that Mao wasn’t a Marxist-Leninist – something which is somewhat questionable given that many of the analyses on this subject are far from reflecting a materialist point of view on the history of the Chinese revolution – but it is quite another to impose this condemnation (accompanied with the glorification of Stalin) as a criterion for demarcating Marxism-Leninism from revisionism. If we are to judge by the effects of these positions and the actions which they lead to – especially at the Anti-imperialist Youth Camp in Spain last summer[6] – they lead not to unity but to continual division on the basis of political and ideological demarcations which have all the appearances of being intransigeant in the defence of Marxism-Leninism and the struggle against revisionism. But, curiously, they see all criticism as provocation or betrayal. The PCE(M-L)’s November 1979 Congress took up the responsibility (with the parties of the world) of preparing conditions for a new communist international.[7] But if this new international is judged on the basis of past actions and avowed intentions, there is serious danger that it lead to the consolidation of a faction of the international communist movement rather than sealing the political and organizational unity of all communists in the world. And it is also likely that this take place in isolation from the international proletariat.

In addition to this tendency within the movement, there is another tendency, its complete opposite. This tendency is composed of parties and organizations which are trying to consolidate their unity on the basis of the defence of Mao Zedong Thought and the fight against the “opportunists and revisionists of the PLA and its supporters”. There is no lack of name-calling in this kind of struggle.

The clearest defence of this point of view is to be found in the positions of an American organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States (RCPUSA):

The Second Congress of our Party called for stepped up efforts to make contact, carry on struggle and build pricipled unity with Marxist-Leninist forces in other countries, on the basis of drawing and upholding clear lines of demarcation...At the same time with the full flowering (weeding?) of opportunist tendencies in the line of the Albanian Party and its degeneration into counterrevolution, we have not only taken up the task of resolutely upholding the immortal contributions of Mao Tsetung against attacks from this quarter, but have begun to make a thorough (and continuing) criticism of the dogmato-revisionism of the Albanian Party and its hangers-on... the number of organizationa and parties that have taken a clear stand in support of Mao Tsetung and his contributions to Marxism-Leninism while opposing and exposing the revisionist rulers of China is growing. But, at the same time, the contacts and level of unity, in theory and practice, among these forces (and some we may not even know of as yet) are still extremely primitive. For both these positive and negative reasons, the need for a qualitative leap in this situation stands out very starkly....It calls for step by step (but constantly advancing) progress toward ongoing and concrete unity in theory and practice, on every level – ideological, political and organizational.[8]

At the current time, the RCPUSA’s reaction might seem extreme, but it is nevertheless an expression of a trend within the international communist movement which is also trying to consolidate itself by imposing criteria for demarcation which are supposed to be decisive for the reconstruction of the unity of communists. But behind these superficial references to this or that leader are hidden important positions on the building of socialism, the role of the party, its links with the masses and the role of the international. Unfortunately, these trends want communists to adhere to their understanding of these crucial questions without debate, and on the sole basis of blind faith in individuals who are certainly not completely exempt from all error.

It should come as no big surprise that besides these trends, there are other Marxist-Leninist organizations which question the very existence of an international communist movement. The discovery of mistakes in the lines and activities of certain parties becomes a pretext for questioning whether or not they are Marxist-Leninist, and this in a surprisingly simplistic way. In the end there are no Marxist-Leninists but oneself because the examination of the past and present of all the other parties reveals that they adopted erroneous positions, be it three, ten or twenty years ago! It’s easy to guess what this kind of attitude with regard to the nature of the movement leads to: isolation and turning inwards, or support for a very small number of communists from other countries who, with oneself, defend the “purity” of Marxism-Leninism. The only thing left to do is to bottle Marxism-Leninism and send it out to sea.

Putting the struggle against revisionism onto its feet

Despite its weakness, and despite the negative characteristics described above, the communist movement exists. There are organizations which have a common adherence to Marxism-Leninism, which recognize the need for proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat to achieve socialism, and who are actively involved, to one degree or another, in class struggle. If one refuses to adopt an attitude which consists in saying: who’s for Mao, who’s against? Who’s for Stalin, who’s against?; it becomes clear that the international communist movement cannot be limited to “recognized” parties or tendencies which seem to be consolidated. It also becomes clear that this narrow method for examining the movement, defining who belongs to it and imposing lines of demarcation (a poor substitute for not serving the genuine interests of communists and the international proletariat), is not shared by all and is even being increasingly fought.

In issue 180 of the newspaper IN STRUGGLE! (November 13, 1979), we published the position of Marxist-Leninists in Venezuela on the situation in the international communist (Marxist-Leninist) movement. Here are a few important excerpts:

Concerning the ideological struggle that currently exists within the international Marxist-Leninist movement on the evaluation of Mao Zedong, we believe that this struggle should not be reduced to a simple positive or negative verdict on the personality and contributions of Mao Zedong. We feel that this ideological struggle should be an important step forward in clarifying the problem of the proletarian revolution as a whole. Marxist theory is required for this, not preconceived ideas. It is only in this way that we can contribute to consolidating and enriching Marxism-Leninism as the scientific theory of the proletariat and of proletarian revolution.

In this struggle Marxist-Leninist parties must combat superficial analyses that lead to subjectivism and unilateralism. Moreover it is essential that Marxist-Leninist parties help each other in making these analyses. The kind of haste which results in taking statements as fundamental without taking into account the political practice which is developing must end. In order to study these and other problems facing the international communist movement, our organization’s point of view is based on the community of Marxist-Leninist parties being guided by general principles which take a concrete form in each specific real situation. This means we must take into account the unequal and multiple development of our community of parties. To start from the assumption that unanimity would be possible on specific problems which are not directly linked to principles would deny the ideological struggle which exists within each party.[9]

We basically share these reservations and criticisms. We share them because we find them to be a more materialist attitude for defending Marxism-Leninism, criticizing revisionism, and studying the teachings of history. It is an attitude which will enable us to genuinely speed up revisionism’s defeat.

Sometimes the attitude adopted in the criticism of revisionism is linked to manifestations of sectarianism in the movement. There are many examples of incorrect ways of looking at the movement as it exists today and of examining its past. Take the example of China and its party. It is said that the Communist Party of China has fallen into revisionism and that this must be anlysed. This leads to the conclusion that it didn’t fall into revisionism just two years ago, and that if we look closely at the situation, we can see that already in 1935 opportunist and bourgeois ideas dominated this party. [10]) This is the conclusion reached by the Party of Labour of Albania, the Communist Party of Spain (M-L) and several others, including the phoney Communist Party of Canada (M-L), which only a few years ago was the greatest fan of “our” chairman Mao and his thought in Canada. But this kind of conclusion isn’t limited to the Communist Party of China which, we should point out, was a member of the Communist International until the latter’s dissolution in 1943, and which was never expelled either.

This same type of analysis is repeated, this time with regard to the Communist Party of Vietnam. It is said that the Vietnamese party has chosen the path of collaboration with Soviet imperialism and that this must be analysed. This leads to the same kind of conclusions as in the case of China. The Communist Party of Vietnam was contaminated right from its very creation in the thirties.[11] We are not trying to deny that important questions are posed by these analyses. These questions must become the object of a collective struggle by Marxist-Leninists to draw lessons from our history so as to arrive at an articulate and complete criticism of revisionism. We ourselves have undertaken the study and analysis of revisionism and its particular forms in given periods of history, and our Central Committee has decided to publish a special pamphlet on this question in the months to come.

However, after reading certain analyses, we are sometimes led to wonder from what point of view the criticism of revisionism is being made and just where it is going. If studying revisionism was simply a matter of listing a certain number of quotations without trying to understand them in their historical context, in the countries they come from and on a world scale, then we would just have to take a few quotations from Lenin, use them out of their context, and state with all certainty that Lenin himself was a revisionist and that it was obvious that capitalism would inevitably be restored in the Soviet Union.

This method of analysis is a far cry from dialectical and historical materialism. Marxist-Leninists will not be able to make progress in the analysis and criticism of revisionism if they continue along this path. This kind of analysis is not consistent with the goal we are pursuing in the struggle against revisionism and for the unity of communists. This goal is to serve the interests of the international proletariat by objectively examining the mistakes and the positive lessons of history in order to draw out the teachings – the orientation and programme – whose application will ensure a decisive victory for the revolutionary struggles of the proletariat and peoples against capitalism and imperialism.

On what basis and how will we achieve the unity of communists? If we reject positions which consist in transforming Mao Zedong Thought or the question of Stalin into criteria for demarcation, it is not because we are trying to find a middle path somewhere between Mao and Stalin. Rather, it is because the task of communists is to resolve the central problems raised by the revolutionary struggles of the peoples of Iran or Afghanistan; and these problems must be solved today. How would a definitive and complete judgement of Mao or Stalin advance the revolutionary struggle in Iran today?

If our goal is to unite communists in order to ensure the victory of the revolution, then the study of the contributions of Mao or Stalin or the other leaders of the proletariat must be undertaken with this goal in mind.

It is for this reason that we believe that Marxist-Leninists must unite around a communist programme and not around the contributions of this or that leader of the revolutionary proletariat.

In the Appeal from our Third Congress (held in March 1979), we stated that in order to rebuild their political and organizational unity, communists had to unite on the basis of a communist programmefor world revolution.[12] In our opinion, a new international has to be created on the basis of such a programme. The point of view which holds that communists must be united on the basis of a programme cannot be said to have a large following in the international communist movement. In fact, the majority of Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations talk more about a “general line”, although they are fully aware that there are important differences over the content of this “general line”. But if our Appeal proposes unity around a programme, it is not simply because we wanted to have an original position in opposition to unity based on the “general line”. We based ourselves, in part, on the teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin on this question and on the history of the international communist movement itself during the period when it was united and organized within an international. We based ourselves as well on the political shortcomings which the international communist movement has periodically faced since it is no longer united around a common programme, but rather around a “general line”, which more often than not, consists of an analysis of the immediate conjoncture and a criticism of the most recent forms of revisionism. We also based ourselves on the goal pursued in the struggle for the unity of communists, which is to make the international communist movement a political force capable of influencing events on an international scale and of leading the revolutionary and progressive forces of the world in the struggle for socialism. On this basis, it is more correct to struggle to ensure that the political instrument for the unity of communists is at the same time the political instrument for the revolutionary combat of the proletariat. The basis for the unity of communists will no longer be a “general line”, but a very specific programme in which each word will become a razor-edged arm in the hands of the proletariat for the defeat of imperialism and revisionism and the victory of the revolutionary proletariat.

This programme remains to be worked. It will be worked out through struggle at all levels: on the theoretical level; on the level of the teachings to be drawn from the history of the communist movement; on the level of the lessons to be drawn from the international communist movement today as it struggles to rebuild solid vanguard parties of the proletariat in different countries – not outside of class struggle, but in the very heat of the struggles of the proletariat and peoples; and on the level of the international solidarity of the proletariat of all nations and countries in the world. These different grounds for polemics and debates and for practical cooperation in the struggle will all contribute in varying degrees to moving us forward to the day when the conditions for the creation of a new communist international will be more favourable. But Marxist-Leninists will have to unite their efforts to achieve this. Both the Marxist-Leninists who condemn Mao and those who defend him must accept the possibility that their criteria are not criteria which serve the superior interests of the international proletariat. All of them must begin to consider the possible existence of communist forces in the world and even the possible existence of several organizations in the same country, outside of the relatively limited number of organizations which they have official relations with.

The entire international communist movement has to recognize its current weakness and accept collective debate and discussion. One possible form for this would be international conferences of Marxist-Leninists. The aim of this debate is not to seal precarious unity created overnight, but rather to examine collectively through frank and vigorous criticism the obstacles to a higher level of unity.

The international communist movement must first deal with the question of its unity: how and on what basis it will attain real unity among the communists of the world, given that they are currenlty divided, isolated and do not form a vanguard force for revolution on an international scale.

Communist forces – parties, organizations and even small groups – exist around the world. They are not united, but they do exist. There are many political contradictions among them. They are organizationally dispersed and there are even efforts to consolidate the different tendencies which exist within the movement. But it is with all of these forces that IN STRUGGLE! intends to make a contribution to the construction of the political and organizational unity of the movement. We will not restrict ourselves to working with those forces with whom we totally agree from the start. This doesn’t mean that we will abandon the criticism of errors we discover in the line or practice of other organizations, or in the history of the international communist movement. We will continue to wage criticism in a frank and open manner, for that has always been the attitude which has characterized the class which communists try to serve. But at the same time, the proletariat has another quality which is intrinsically linked to its situation as the only class which is revolutionary right to the end; and that quality is its spirit of unity, its solidarity which goes beyond borders, nationalities, and the divisions sown by the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Today’s communists must take more inspiration from the proletariat – not by attenuating the criticism of revisionism, far from that – but by waging this criticism with the goal of uniting all genuine Marxist-Leninist forces existing in the world today. The unity of communists is a vital question. On it depends the real and thorough-going unity of the international proletariat.


[1] In February 1980, IN STRUGGLE! published a pamphlet in English and French on the revolutionary struggle of the Iranian people. It Is entitled Behind the headlines: Religious war or people’s revolution in Iran. The pamphlet includes reprints of articles which appeared in the newspaper IN STRUGGLE! following a trip to Iran by a militant of our Organization a few months ago. The pamphlet includes many facts about the positions and activities of Marxist-Leninist organizations in Iran as well as an editorial from the Union of Iranian Communists dated April, 1979 on “The revolution in Iran and its political developments”.

[2] Several publications by Latin and Central American Marxist-Leninist are available at the l’Etincelle and Spark bookstores. The majority are only available in Spanish, but some have been translated into French or English.

[3] Here we are particularly referring to the publication of organs such as La Flamme published by the Communist Party of Dahomey; ECH-CHOOLA published by the Tunisian Communist (Marxist-Leninist) Group ECH-CHOOLA; Le Protetaire published by the Union of Communist Struggle of Upper Volta, a country where there is another organization which claims to be Marxist-Leninist, the Voltaic Revolutionary Communist Party. As for the struggle waged by the Tunisian communists, refer to issue 182 (November 27, 1979) of IN STRUGGLE!

[4] Message from the Third Congress to fraternal parties, published in Vanguardia Obrera, organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain (M-L), November 10-16, 1979, p. 11 (our translation)

[5]Resolution of the Third Congress on Stalin, published in Vanguardia Obrera, op. cit. p. 12 (our translation)

[6] IN STRUGGLE! reported on these events in its newspaper, issue 174 (October 2, 1979). The organizers of the camp, which brought together youth organizations linked to a certain number of European Marxist-Leninist parties, prevented Marxist-Leninist and anti-imperialist organizations from having access to this camp and denied their right to distribute their points of view. The organizers refused to allow points of view opposed to theirs on the question of Mao, for example, to be openly expressed at the camp. The organizers even called on the police and physically attacked the “undesirables” to get them to leave.

[7] See, for example, Vanguardia Obrera, November 10-16, 1979, p. 17. The need to rebuild a new International was also reaffirmed by other organizations present at the CPS(M-L)’s Third Congress, notably in messages from the Communist Party of Japan (left) and the Communist Party of Germany (Marxist-Leninist).

[8] Documents of the Third Plenary Session of the Second Central Committee of the RCPUSA, published in Revolution, organ of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States, Vol. 4, no. 10-11, October-November, 1979, p. 11

[9] On the general revolutionary line, published in Que Hacer?, organ of the National committee of the committees of popular struggle, Venezuela, special October 1979 edition, p. 10 (our translation)

[10] See Enver Hoxha, Imperialism and the Revolution, editions “8 Nentori”, Tirana 1979, particularly the second part which deals with a criticism of Chinese revisionism. This work is available in several languages. PLA publications are available at the Spark and l’Etincelle bookstores in English and French. The condemnation of Mao Zedong Thought is also put forward by the PCE(M-L), the Communist Party of Portugal (Reconstructed) since its last congress in the spring of 1979, the Communist Party of Dahomey, Le Parti communiste des ouvriers de France (the Communist Party of Workers of France), the Communist Party of Germany (Marxist-Leninist), the Communist Party of the United States (Marxist-Leninist) and others.

[11] See Vietnam, aborted revolution, published in Revolution vol. 4, no. 7-8 (July-August, 1979) in English. Also published in Spanish in Revolucion, vol. 4, no. 10-11, October-November 1979

[12] See For the political and organizational unity of the international communist movement, Appeal from the Third Congress of IN STRUGGLE! to communists (M-L) of the world, May 1979. IN STRUGGLE!’s positions on the struggle against revisionism and for the unity of Marxist-Leninists can also be found in no. 17-18 of the journal PROLETARIAN UNITY, which contains the documents from IN STRUGGLE!’s Third Congress (Political Report, Programme, Constitution, Appeal). The Appeal was also published in Spanish in February 1980.