Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

How to unite communists: The RCP-USA sidesteps the key issue

First Published: Proletarian Unity, No. 23, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February-March 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In the July 1980 issue of its journal, Revolution, the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States (RCP-USA) published an article entitled: “The International Unity of the Proletariat: What It Is and How to Fight for It”. This article explains the party’s position on the unity of communists throughout the world. The main criticisms in this article are addressed to the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada IN STRUGGLE! for what the RCP-USA describes as IN STRUGGLE!’s centrism.

The article starts off by reaffirming that the proletarian revolution in each country is intimately linked to the proletarian revolution on a world level. The article then goes on to explain how this dialectical relationship demands that the proletariat build an international organization. The RCP-USA also recognizes that it has not been always consistent on this question in the past.

The article continues with the RCP-USA’s analysis of the international communist movement as we know it today. According to the RCP-USA, the international communist movement is presently at a crossroads. The victory of the bourgeois renegades in China has dealt a serious blow to the cause of world revolution. Since then, the international communist movement has splintered. Many new trends have appeared, including the position defended by the Party of Labour of Albania (PLA) and its followers. The PLA’s position amounts to condemning not only the temporary defeat suffered in China but also everything that was ever revolutionary in that country. The RCP-USA continues by explaining that attacking Mao’s line, as the PLA has done, can only mean attacking Marxism-Leninism itself, for Mao Zedong Thought represents the development of Marxism-Leninism on many fronts. Mao Zedong Thought constitutes the theoretical concentration of the experience of the proletarian revolution since Lenin. This is why the question of Mao stands at the centre of today’s controversy.

The rest of the article deals mainly with the criticism of one of the most bothersome representatives of centrism, IN STRUGGLE!. The RCP-USA begins by declaring that some people within the international communist movement do not grasp the necessity of demarcation and seek rather to unite all communists without distinction. These people, according to the RCP-USA, limit the question of demarcation to discerning whether this or that gesture was right or wrong. What they are really trying to do, says the RCP-USA, is to unite the two trends represented by Mao and Hoxha, which amounts to trying to reconcile Marxism with revisionism.

The RCP-USA then goes on to give different examples of IN STRUGGLE!’s “centrism” to prove that our Organization is intent on leading everyone down this path. This explains why IN STRUGGLE! is opposed, amongst other things, to the unity of the left at present on the basis of a general principled line. According to the RCP-USA, this unity is possible at present whereas unity based on a programme is not.

The article concludes by saying that IN STRUGGLE! makes a big deal about the necessity of the unity of the international communist movement rather than emphasizing the historical necessity that faces all authentic Marxist-Leninists today: to make a thorough break with revisionism.

* * *

The RCP-USA article contains a lot of statements that seem pretty persuasive at first glance. Take, for example, its central thesis about how to unite the international communist movement: unite the left around a principled line to win over the centre and isolate the right. Such a position might even appear mighty attractive to some people, given the present climate of political crisis and confusion in the international communist movement. Put this thesis together with the questions raised by the RCP-USA about the restoration of capitalism in China[1] and the Party of Labour of Albania’s opposition to Mao Zedong Thought[2] and you might well be tempted to start thinking the RCP has a pretty solid case. How could IN STRUGGLE! criticize the RCP for making demarcations with revisionism that remain too superficial? Why, it’s ridiculous.

Or is it? The RCP-USA declares that “... while upholding Mao and opposing the attacks against him is not the only dividing line in the international communist movement, it is the one without which all the others become meaningless”.[3] We contend that this approach results in a superficial demarcation. It amounts to hiding in the bushes of principles, of ideology, to get out of the rain of practical and concrete problems which the proletariat, and particularly the communists, are confronted with.

IN STRUGGLE!’s positions get distorted...

To begin with, there is just no way we can keep mum about the many half-truths and outright falsifications contained in the RCP article. If we are to believe the RCP, IN STRUGGLE! supports the criticisms of Mao made by the PLA (p. 54). Not only that, but IN STRUGGLE! implies that the differences that emerged in the communist movement at the end of the fifties and in the early sixties were exaggerated and that it ought to have been possible to maintain unity among the parties that split at that time (p. 55). And further, IN STRUGGLE! still supports Albania today despite the recognition of the CPC(M-L) by the PLA because IN STRUGGLE! doesn’t like Mao and, when you get right down to it, prefers Stalin to Mao (p. 56)... the RCP article continues on in the same vein.

Those then are IN STRUGGLE!’s positions proof of our centrism. Let us take just a couple of examples of that centrism.

The RCP quotes a statement made in the Appeal from the 3rd Congress of IN STRUGGLE! to the Communists (M-L) of the World to show that IN STRUGGLE! considers that the divergences between the Marxist-Leninists and the revisionists were exaggerated in the late fifties-early sixties period: “... the victory of Marxism-Leninism over revisionism is held back considerably by the disunity that has existed in the communist forces for over 25 years”[4] The author of the RCP article proceeds to interpret these words to suit his purposes. According to him, IN STRUGGLE! thinks that “unity is always the highest principle, the key to advance, and that Mao should have tried harder to keep together the parties that had together belonged to the Third International, when what was required was a split.”[5]

A little later on, the author latches onto another sentence. This one is plucked out of the Political Report presented to the Third Congress of the MLOC IN STRUGGLE!: “The struggle against revisionism was then carried out in a way that many people seem to wish to continue it, that is by criticizing various parties and communist leaders one at a time and in isolation from one another. This has been done with Tito, Togliatti, Khrushchev, Liu Shiao-chi, Lin Biao, Deng Xiao-ping... and now Mao Tsetung!”.[6] The RCP author’s interpretation of this sentence is as follows: “The only possible meaning of including Mao in this list of renegades is that they were all ’communist leaders’, none of them deserving of ’wild and fiery denunciations’ – and Mao, who committed this unpardonable sin, in IN STRUGGLE!’s eyes is now getting a posthumous taste of his own medicine.”[7]

The commentary on this point concludes: “In this criticism of the form the struggle against revisionism took over the past 25 years... there is more than the whiff of the idea that nobody should have gotten so excited about it because the differences were exaggerated. This is what throwing out Mao as a dividing line leads to.”[8]

The mountain of arguments marshalled by the RCP to demonstrate the so-called centrism of IN STRUGGLE! is in fact a sand-castle. The whole thing comes down to speculating on the meaning of the two sentences just quoted to suit the purposes of their argument. The fact is that both sentences are taken from documents which do not in any way state that the differences in the late fifties – early sixties period were exaggerated but rather make the point that the criticism of modern revisionism has been insufficient and that it must be pursued to get to the roots of revisionism in all its aspects. Obviously, there is no room here to repeat our entire position on the struggle against modern revisionism. The reader is advised to persuade himself of the truth of what we are saying here by going back to the original quoted documents, especially to pages 15 to 21 of the Appeal from the 3rd Congress booklet published in May 1979 (or pages 140-143 of the Proletarian Unity 17-18 reprint of the same document).

The RCP’s argument amounts to nothing more or less than taking some quotations out of context and interpreting them to suit their fancy in complete disregard for our actual positions. It is not hard to prove yourself right in an argument when you use that method. We will keep this in mind.

... in order to sidestep the key issue

All of the RCP’s criticisms rest on the idea that IN STRUGGLE!, by refusing to take sides between Mao on one side and Hoxha-Stalin on the other, is really trying to unite the two trends. And this supposedly amounts to an effort to reconcile Marxism and revisionism. The RCP is so caught up in its narrow and simplistic view of the international communist movement (divided up neatly into the “left” who are all those who uncompromisingly defend Mao Zedong Thought, the “right” which describes those who reject Mao and defend Stalin and Hoxha, and the “centre” who are the groups that hesitate between the right and the left) that it cannot see or deal with any other positions without stuffing them into its preconceived and distorted mould.

Here again the RCP’s logic rests on a distortion of our views. IN STRUGGLE! is not calling for unity between the two trends presently represented by the groupings defending Mao and those defending the PLA. We are calling for the unity of the international communist movement around a communist programme: “And whereas this unity can only be realized within a single organization that bases its action on a common programme that represents the living application of Marxism-Leninism to the present conditions of the world...” (Appeal from the 3rd Congress, p. 3 or p. 135 in PU, no 17-18). This distortion is all the more unforgivable because it is not a misrepresentation of some secondary point but of the very essence of the question that the RCP claims to be shedding light on with its article, namely the way to unite the international communist movement. What then is the real basis to the RCP’s point of view on this matter and ours?

As far as the RCP is concerned, it is not possible to act like a Marxist these days unless you carry out a resolute defence of Mao Zedong Thought which is “the theoretical concentration of the experience of the proletarian revolution since Lenin”.[]9 The enrichment and development of Marxism-Leninism that the RCP feels Mao has been responsible for (on revolution in colonial countries, revolutionary war and military line, political economy and socialist construction, philosophy, culture and the superstructure, and most especially, continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat) are principles that must constitute an essential line of demarcation between Marxists and revisionists. The way to unite the movement is to start by uniting the “left of the movement” on the basis of these principles.

IN STRUGGLE!’s view is that what the international proletariat, and particularly the communists, need is not just unity around principles. The imperative need is for a common strategy and tactics based on a solid analysis of the class relationships in the various types of countries. That is what we call a communist programme, a guide for revolutionary action which is a living application of Marxism-Leninism to the present conditions of the revolutionary struggle in the different “types of countries and in the world.

There will be no success in the battle to unite the movement and defeat revisionism until and unless there is a struggle to develop that kind of programme.

If the RCP really wanted to get to the roots of the differences between themselves and IN STRUGGLE! they should have polemicized about the importance of the struggle for a programme. They could have saved themselves a lot of the time and ink that was wasted distorting our positions.

Why unity around a communist programme?

In all fairness, we must recognize that the RCP did not completely ignore the central point in IN STRUGGLE!’s positions. There is indeed a single paragraph which raises the issue at the very end of the article but just long enough to drop it again like a hot potato.

But this question of “general line” versus “programme” as a basis for unity of the international communist movement can’t be considered in the abstract – it is clear in the context of In Struggle’s own general line that their proposal about a programme has no other purpose than to oppose unity around principles and key living lines of demarcation. Pitting programme against key dividing principles would result in a very sorry programme indeed! What they oppose most is not the form of a “general line” type document, which is today within the reach of the international communist movement in a way that a fully developed programme – such as the Communist International developed for the whole world and all the key countries – is not. What they oppose is the content of a general line that embodies the principles we listed earlier. It is not really that Mao’s line has nothing to do with international communist unity, but rather that they oppose the political and ideological line that he represents and fought for and they don’t want that to be in any way, shape or form a cutting edge question in that movement.[10]

IN STRUGGLE!, says the RCP, counterposes uniting around a programme to uniting around a general line because IN STRUGGLE! is against the key principles that Mao systematized. According to the RCP, these principles are the cutting edge of demarcation in the movement at present that would be included within that general line. The author of the RCP article has evidently just plain run out of arguments and is starting to go around in circles.

How are we going to get this debate out of the blind alley the RCP seems determined to keep it in and back out into the street? In our view, that can only be done if we set aside the narrow framework within which the RCP is conducting the debate, a framework which is also the germinating point for the RCP’s whole position, namely the search for the ideal general principles which will provide all the answers to our real-life problems once they are conceived.

Let us take the issue of Iran. It is a very concrete revolutionary situation. Yet if there is any question that communists around the world have proven themselves completely incapable of reaching unity of thought and action on, it is Iran. To being with, there is no agreement on the very nature of Iranian society: is it a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society “like China in the thirties”? Or is it a country where the rule of capital has been established in many sectors of the economy, including in the countryside, even if that capital remains largely foreign capital?

There are also differences over the attitude to take to the various social classes and strata in Iran, especially to the social bloc represented by Khomeini. Should criticism of the reactionary policy of the Iranian government be toned down on the grounds that the local bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country have an anti-imperialist side “as was the case in China”? This is the view adopted by the RCP.

More recently, differences among communists emerged even more badly over how to analyze the Iran-Iraq war. Which class interests within Iran are served by this war? Some people think that the whole thing is simply a plot of the “superpowers” against the Iranian revolution. The RCP is among those groupings arguing this view. To buttress the case for this interpretation, they go so far as to contend that Iranian pilots are acting with revolutionary consciousness and hence are only bombing military targets. The Iraqi pilots, on the other, are bombing the civilian population....”[11]

The issue of Iran is a problem of critical importance for Marxist-Leninists to resolve as are the other struggles taking place within revolutionary situations in the world. And the problem that continues to stick in the craw is that we communists are still without a solid and reliable analysis of the social classes in those types of countries and the interrelationships between those classes. We do not have a strategy and tactics which are capable of serving as a guide in the revolutionary struggles being led by the proletariat and peoples in Iran, El Salvador, Palestine and elsewhere.

This problem exists just as much for Marxist-Leninists in the oppressed countries as it does for those in imperialist countries. There is disunity on the issues of how to build the party and how to work in the trade unions and mass movements. There is disagreement on what kinds of relationships should be established with the peasantry, with the local bourgeoisie and with other strata which may at one point or another take a stand in opposition to one or another imperialist power. Those are but a few of the divergences over fundamental practical matters that exist that prompt IN STRUGGLE! to say the communist movement needs a programme.

We can all agree at least in words that the struggle for unity will be pointless if it fails to address and come up with satisfactory answers to these practical problems. Yet we are really at loggerheads over the way to carry out the struggle to get at those answers.

The RCP feels that a good part of the solution to these problems lies within principles, Mao’s principles of course, which are “the enrichment and development of Marxism-Leninism on many fronts”.[12] It is around these principles that the “left” must be united as quickly as possible in order to carry out a fundamental demarcation between the Marxists and the revisionists. It is precisely this approach to getting unity that we reject.

We reject the approach that results in making superficial demarcations because the path of the revolution in a country like Iran is not a question which will get resolved by repeating a list of principles. It will be resolved by carrying out a concrete analysis of the class forces facing one another and of the specific characteristics of imperialist domination in this type of country. It will be resolved by criticizing these views which, in the final analysis, serve the interests of classes other than the proletariat and the revolutionary struggle. Is the RCP seriously proposing that we can and should unite the communists of the world around a “general line of principles” which requires a priori the acceptance of the thesis that the class relationships in the oppressed countries have not changed since Mao analyzed then in China in 1930-40? Is it perhaps the application of just such a “line of principles” that has led the RCP to support the Iranian bourgeoisie in its war with Iraq? The RCP may well have rejected the “three worlds theory” in words (the theory which is utilized par excellence to justify support for each and every struggle waged by an oppressed country regardless of the specific class interests served by that struggle) but it has yet to reject it in practice.

The approach of uniting around a “general line of principles” is not a new one. The 1960 Statement signed by the Soviet, Chinese, Albanian and other parties was an attempt at that sort of unity. It proved incapable of bringing about solid unity (on this subject, see pages 42 to 49 of issue 21 of PROLETARIAN UNITY). We reject this approach because it has already proven ineffective in ferreting out the real roots of revisionism and in enabling communists to break in their practice from viewpoints contrary to the interests of the proletariat.

The Letter in 25 points published by the Communist Party of China in 1963 (entitled A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement) also proved to have definite political limitations. Take but one example, the question of the path of the revolution in capitalist and imperialist countries. The Letter in 25 points does not draw a solid line of demarcation between the interests of the proletariat and those of the bourgeoisie, far from it: “In the capitalist countries which U.S. imperialism controls or is trying to control, the working class and the people should direct their attacks mainly against U.S. imperialism, but also against their own monopoly capitalists and other reactionary forces who are betraying the national interests.”[13]

In Canada and a number of other imperialist countries, the revisionist programme during this period expressed pretty well exactly the same line. In reducing the struggle against imperialism to the struggle against a foreign superpower (in this instance U.S. imperialism), you run the risk of pushing a line which more than anything else serves the interests of sections of the local imperialist bourgeoisie, which see their development being threatened somewhat by American dominance. And with all due respect to the sensibilities of the RCP, we must point out that there has always been a coincidence of views on this major political question between Mao and the Party of Labour of Albania, as the latest book by Enver Hoxha on Eurocommunism demonstrates.

In short, we do not reject the RCP’s approach because we reject communist principles (whether they are advanced by Marx, Lenin, Stalin or Mao). We reject it because we oppose the dogmatic and mechanical use of Marxism-Leninism which leads to hiding in a fog of principles and pretending that the problems have been solved because you cannot see them any more.

That, in our view, is the real basis of the differences between the RCP-USA and us.


[1] See The loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tse-tung, RCP Publications, Chicago, 1978.

[2] See “Beat Back the Dogmato-Revisionist Attack on Mao Tsetung Thought”, The Communist, no. 5, May 1979.

[3] Revolution, vol. 4, no. 5, July 1980, p. 53 (emphasis ours). The page numbers in the following paragraph refer to this same article.

[4] For the political and organizational unity of the international communist movement. Appeal from the 3rd Congress of IN STRUGGLE! to the communists (m-l) of the world, Montreal, May 1979, p. 3. Or see the same Appeal reprinted in PROLETARIAN UNITY, No. 17-18, p. 135.

[5] Revolution, op. cit., p. 55.

[6] “Political Report presented to the Third Congress of the MLOC IN STRUGGLE!, in The Third Congress of the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada IN STRUGGLE! (documents), title of PROLETARIAN UNITY no. 17-18, June-July-August-September 1979, p. 107. The same passage is contained in an excerpt from the Political Report in International Forum, no. 1, April 1980, p. 38.

[7] Revolution, op. cit., p. 55.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 8

[10] Ibid., p. 56.

[11] See the Revolutionary Worker, central organ of the RCP-USA, Oct. 1980.

[12] Revolution, op. cit., p. 8.

[13] “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement”, June 1963, point 10. Reprinted in The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965, p. 18.