First of all, briefly, what is a communist party?
The organization of the communist party is the organization of communist leadership in the proletarian revolution. (Les quatre premiers congres mondiaux de I’internationale communiste, p. 104, Librairie Progressiste, Montreal)
We choose to highlight this short definition put forward at the Third Congress of the Comintern, because it clearly describes the party as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself. This should be obvious, but in fact it is often forgotten in our movement. Outright Economists like the League constantly present the party as the solution to workers’ everyday problems, as the key to success in the economic struggle as if this were equivalent to the key to success in making revolution. (See Appendix no. 3.)
In Struggle!, too, errs on this score not only in the above respect but also in that it proposes that, instead of organizing a party to make revolution, we should organize an organization to make the party (“the creation of the Communist party is the strategic objective at this stage”); the form that their plan takes, as we have shown in part and will be showing further, amounts to the liquidation of the struggle for the programme of the revolution (the party programme) and therefore the party itself becomes the strategy for revolution.
In the final analysis, In Struggle!’s rejection of building a revolutionary unity around the party programme is a form of building unity around a common practice. Instead of unity around the revolution and the accomplishment of the principal task in this context we have “unity” around the common practice of building the party, neatly and subtly abstracted from the strategy for revolution itself. In practice, too. In Struggle! has shown us that it sees the various tactical unities in the economic struggle as the key building blocks of this unity around the practice of building the party. Thus we are reduced to the kinds of “unity” built by the predecessors to our movement several years ago in the phase of liquidationism.
It has been commonplace to compare our movement to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in Russia. We consider that this comparison is basically correct and that we have the most to learn from the Russian experience, especially since it produced the party of the new type, the Bolshevik Party. In this article we will not deal at length with the experience of the Albanian and Chinese parties because their history is less well known and relatively little has been written about their periods of early development (that is, compared to what has been written on the Bolshevik Party of Russia) and because there was a fundamentally different factor in their origin and development the importance of which cannot be underestimated: they both united under the direction of the Communist International (the Third International), something for which we have no equivalent. (The Communist International was a democratic centralist international communist party.)
However, it should be noted that the parties of the Comintern (the COMmunist INTERNational) united, too, on the basis of the most fundamental principle of party building: the need to draw lines of demarcation against opportunism, in their case against the opportunist parties of the Second International.
In the article, “Political Strategy and Tactics of the Russian Communists: Synopsis of a Pamphlet”, Stalin outlined three main periods in the development of the Bolshevik Party in Russia:
a) the period of the formation of the vanguard (i.e., the party) of the proletariat, the period of mustering the Party’s cadres (in this period the Party was weak; it had a programme and general principles of tactics, but as a party of mass action it was weak);
b) the period of revolutionary mass struggle under the leadership of the Communist Party. In this period the Party was transformed from an organisation for mass agitation into an organisation for mass action; the period of preparation was superseded by the period of revolutionary action;
c) the period after taking power, after the Communist Party had become the government party. (SCW 5:87-8)
In the article, “The Party Before and After Taking Power”, Stalin elaborates on the first period, situating it in “the interval of time approximately from the foundation of Iskra to the Third Party Congress inclusively (end of 1900 to beginning of 1905)” and describes it thus:
The first period was the period of formation, of the creation of our Party.... The Party’s strategy – since strategy presupposes the existence of reserves and the possibility of manoeuvring with them – was necessarily narrow and restricted. THE PARTY CONFINED ITSELF TO MAPPING THE MOVEMENT’S STRATEGIC PLAN, i.e., the route that the movement should take; and the Party’s reserves – the contradictions within the camp of the enemies inside and outside of Russia - remained unused, or almost unused, owing to the weakness of the Party.
The Party’s tactics, since tactics presuppose the utilisation of all forms of the movement, forms of proletarian organisation, their combination and mutual supplementation, etc., with the object of winning the masses and ensuring strategic success, were also necessarily narrow and without scope.
IN THIS PERIOD THE PARTY FOCUSSED ITS ATTENTION AND CARE UPON THE PARTY ITSELF, UPON ITS OWN EXISTENCE AND PRESERVATION. At this stage it regarded itself as a kind of self-sufficing force. That was natural.... the question of preserving the Party acquired paramount importance in this period.
The principal task of communism in Russia in that period was to recruit into the Party the best elements of the working class, those who were most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat; to form the ranks of the proletarian party and to put it firmly on its feet. (Works, v. 5, pp. 103-4)
As background to this it is important to understand that Stalin is talking not about the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in general, but about the Bolshevik Party in particular. (In Struggle!, for example, confuses this when they refer to the unity of the Russian Social-Democrats as having taken place in 1900, referring presumably to the first congress of the RSDLP in 1898. (“Fight the Sectarianism of the CCL(ML)”, p, 8)
What is the connection between these two?
In 1898 Russian revolutionaries who recognized allegiance to Marxism and the Second International (which used the expression “Social-Democracy” rather than “communism”) gathered together, proclaimed the formation of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, published a manifesto and were subsequently effectively dispersed by police repression. They did not create a centralized organization much less a democratic centralist one, and the effects of this conference were the creation of a movement comparable to our movement of struggle for the party. A certain amount of confusion arises from this fact, and when we read references to the RSDL Party before 1903 (and even afterwards in some cases), we should substitute “movement” for “party.”
Did Stalin take this event to be the first step in the creation of the Bolshevik Party? Evidently not: in “Political Strategy and Tactics” he notes that this was, rather, “the welding of the main core, especially the Iskra group ...” (SCW 5:72)
What happened between 1900 (the origin of Iskra) and 1903, the date of the Second Congress of the RSDLP? The Russian movement (called a party) underwent a period of ideological struggle to lay the base for a real party. This struggle was necessarily led in terms of the various circles of Russian Social-Democrats which played a valid role up to the point in time when the basis had been laid for principled ideological and political unity. During this period Iskra produced both the programme of the party and the organizational plan for the party. It should be clearly understood that Iskra itself was a circle and that it did not function in terms of democratic centralism in that the line it put forward was not the product of Iskra congresses, but rather the product of the Marxist theoreticians who had control of the editorial board. Iskra performed the role of a leading centre and it had both the prestige and theoretical capacity to convene a Party congress in 1903, when it had laid the foundation for such a congress.
Thus was born the Bolshevik Party at the Second Congress of the RSDLP. But again there is confusion here because the RSDLP formed at the Second Congress was not identical with the Bolshevik Party. It was, in fact, a Social-Democratic Party of the old type with a left wing (the Bolsheviks) and a right wing (the Mensheviks) within it.
How did this come about? Why did the drawing of lines of demarcation around the party programme not produce a Bolshevik Party (except insofar as it already had before the congress, since Iskra was the base for the Bolsheviks in the RSDLP and was the Party in its earliest stage of formation) but a party of the old type?
First of all it should be noted that prior agreement to the programme and organizational principles set out by Iskra was not needed for attendance at the congress. The reason for this is that they were still operating within the norms of the Second International and a party with different currents within it was still considered acceptable. Furthermore, the contours of the party had already been defined somewhat at the first Party congress and some groups had the right to be present because they had been prominent within the informal structure of the RSDLP.
And yet Lenin was well aware of the need for unity and had not called a congress before unity had been established on most of the questions of the programme. Thus it was over organizational differences that the real split took place within the RSDLP producing the Bolsheviks (the majority who adhered to Iskra’s organizational principles) and the Mensheviks (the minority who wanted to uphold decentralized party norms).
It should be noted that although most of the principles of a Bolshevik Party were already understood by Lenin and worked out by Iskra, and thus we can use them as guidelines, they still had not been applied in reality and the Party remained to be forged as a kind of a party distinct from the old parties, in struggle against the Mensheviks, in the context of the party of the old type, over a period of time; and that we take as our guideline and norm, here, not the immediate results (i.e., the RSDLP in 1903, or in the various states of unity and division), but the final results, the Bolshevik Party. In studying the history of the Russian movement our aim is not to replicate their history but to learn from it. The Bolshevik Party is our model. In contrast to this, In Struggle!, as we will show, idealizes the unity of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and sees it as comparable to the “unity of all communists” which is the first step in building the party.
As we have said, the struggle over the organizational principles marked a split which developed, right from the beginning, into a split into a clear left-wing (the Bolsheviks) and a clear right wing (the Mensheviks). For all intents and purposes these two factions acted as two separate parties until the final split in 1912. By 1905 the Mensheviks were clearly acting as the agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class (see “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Peking, p. 12) and in 1912 they were definitively purged from the RSDLP, which at that point became identical with the Bolshevik Party.
How did it come about that even though there was unity on the programme for revolution, a seeming minor difference over organization heralded the formation of a bourgeois party, the Mensheviks, with a whole range of anti-proletarian politics?
At this point we must make something clear: the split in the RSDLP was not a matter of an essentially unantagonistic contradiction having been made antagonistic by incorrect handling, i.e., not a matter of a contradiction among those who represented the fundamental interests of the proletariat turning into something else. Lenin makes it clear in his writings on this subject that Menshevism was just transformed Economism which had already been demarcated against, and that it was the same right-opportunism which had been present in the movement all along. For example:
In casting a retrospective glance at the struggle of the two trends in Russian Marxism and Social-Democracy during the last twelve years (1895-1907), one cannot avoid the conclusion that “legal Marxism”, “Economism”, and “Menshevism” are diverse forms of one and the same historical tendency. (“Preface to the Collection Twelve Years”, LCW 13:112)
... These DIFFERENCES OF PRINCIPLE were reflected in practical activities .... (Ibid., p. 111)
Legal Marxism-Economism-Menshevism are linked not only ideologically, but also by their direct historical continuity. (Ibid., pp. 112-113)
So, understanding that right-opportunism, the agency of the bourgeoisie, was already there, in the Social-Democratic movement, we must look for how it would seek membership and control over the developing organization of the proletariat. This will help us to understand why the main struggle took place not over the programme but over the organizational principles.
The main point here is that opportunism did not need to express itself by having differences over the programme if the party was to be structured in such a way that the determining role of the programme was to be undermined; if unity of views around the programme was not to be maintained; if a situation was to be allowed where one faction of the party was allowed to go in one direction and another faction in another direction; and if, as the Mensheviks wanted, anybody was to be allowed to spontaneously call him/herself a member of the party and have influence in the policies of the party by nature of the enthusiasm or whim rather than an understanding of and commitment to the programme and organizational principles.
Since the importance of the programme (of revolutionary theory) had not yet been established and sealed by the organizational form of the proletarian party, by discipline in regard to the programme, opportunism did not need to concern itself with expressing itself in this fashion, did not seek that area to consolidate itself. Instead it came forward in “more important” areas, i.e., the actual practice in the working class (Economism) and around the question of the level of discipline that could be exercised over it (organizational questions).
We have seen already that Stalin situates the elaboration of the party programme in the first stage of the formation of the party before the organization of the proletariat tries to proceed or is capable of proceeding to the leading of mass struggles as a major activity. This has been systematically obscured in our movement by the CCL(ML) uniting around its dummy political line which it peddles as sufficient for this period of time, and by In Struggle! which conceives of the “organization of struggle for the party” as something different from the party “in its early stage of formation” necessitating therefore a programme “of struggle for the party” rather than the party programme. Implicit in In Struggle!’s reasoning is the tactics-as-a-process conception of the party such that the development of the party grows organically with the working class movement, and that if there is a rise in the spontaneous level of activity in the working class, then there must be a corresponding rise in the organizational ability of Marxist-Leninists to intervene in it and to lead it, and that they must therefore have a correspondingly ”intermediate” programme to unite around.
This is all consistent with the short shrift that revolutionary theory is given in our movement. Lenin spoke of
“... Bolshevism, which had ARISEN on the GRANITE foundation of theory ...” (“Left-Wing” Communism, an infantile Disorder, LCW 13:26). In Proletarian Unity In Struggle! makes a telling self-criticism in passing: “. .. the journal will be a place to focus our theoretical work in a continuing way; work which we confess has only been accomplished in a sporadic way since the publication of ’For The Proletarian Party.’ ” (no. 1, p. 4)
After three years of activity Iskra (the “granite” foundation of the Bolsheviks) had produced the party programme. In Struggle!, after three years, is just beginning to think about theory systematically! The same In Struggle! which for a whole period of time was
... shouting about the usefulness of “unity”, about the harm of “the circle outlook”, and yet they (could not) elaborate a united opinion even of their “own” circle, either on questions of principle, or on practical questions of our entire activity! But, to compensate for this, there is phrase-mongering galore! (“Against Unity – With The Liquidators”, LCW 17:496)
What about the sectarianism and “circle spirit” that In Struggle! claims is the main danger to our movement’s development, and what can we learn from the history of the Bolsheviks on this subject?
In Struggle! presents a picture of the movement where it is a “given” that all those who “call themselves” Marxist-Leninists by paying lip service to certain minimal, unexamined ideological criteria are already “communists” (as In Struggle! took to calling us in its second phase). All are already true blue authentic Marxist-Leninists with proletarian interests at heart and no others. Since they are satisfied of this they do not see any fundamental reason for drawing lines of demarcation and thus the main thing that is likely to keep us apart is “circle spirit”, the possibility that deep in our hearts we have not the ”spirit” of unity, that we may be recalcitrant, like little children, i.e., authentic communists, but with a tendency to become infantile leftists.
At the 1903 congress of the RSDLP and afterwards Lenin attacked the Mensheviks for “circle spirit” because they refused to recognize the discipline of the “top” of the party (the programme, the congress and the central bodies). But did the actions of the Mensheviks result from an incorrect attitude, did a split occur because somebody was being nasty rather than nice?
No cutting witticisms could have made the conflict a matter of principle; it could become that ONLY BECAUSE OF THE CHARACTER OF THE POLITICAL GROUPINGS AT THE CONGRESS. It was not cutting remarks and witticisms that gave rise to the conflict – THEY WERE ONLY A SYMPTOM OF THE FACT THAT THE CONGRESS POLITICAL GROUPING ITSELF HARBOURED A “CONTRADICTION”, THAT IT HARBOURED ALL THE MAKINGS OF A CONFLICT, THAT IT HARBOURED AN INTERNAL HETEROGENEITY which burst forth with immanent force at the least cause, even the most trifling.
.... It is perfectly clear and natural that any falling away from the “lskra”-ists of even a small minority created the possibility of a victory for the anti-lskra trend and therefore evoked a “frenzied” struggle. This was not the result of improper cutting remarks and attacks BUT OF THE POLITICAL COMBINATION. IT WAS NOT CUTTING REMARKS THAT GAVE RISE TO THE POLITICAL CONFLICT; IT WAS THE EXISTENCE OF A POLITICAL CONFLICT IN THE VERY GROUPING AT THE CONGRESS that gave rise to cutting remarks and attacks.... (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, LCW, Second Edition, 7:230)
Why? Incidentally, did Lenin attack circle spirit at this point in time rather than before the party congress?
As long as we had no unity ON THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS OF PROGRAMME AND TACTICS (Lenin is talking about the Party programme – BU), we BLUNTLY ADMITTED THAT WE WERE LIVING IN A PERIOD OF DISUNITY AND SEPARATE CIRCLES, we bluntly declared that before we could unite, lines of demarcation must be drawn; we did not even talk of the forms of a joint organisation, but exclusively discussed the new (at that time they really were new) problems of fighting opportunism on programme and tactics. At present, as we all agree, this fight has already produced a sufficient degree of unity, AS FORMULATED IN THE PARTY PROGRAMME and the Party resolutions on tactics; we had to take the next step, and, by common consent, we did take it, working out the forms of a united organisation that would merge all the circles together. (Ibid., p. 387-8)
Why, in contrast, does In Struggle! refrain from “bluntly admitting” the truth and make its main attack on “circle spirit” when we have not yet drawn the lines of demarcation that permit us to negate the circles? And why, after this was done in Russia, did the Mensheviks act in terms of circle spirit? Where they merely obstreperous dogmatists? “Sectarians” at heart? ”Leftists”? According to Lenin:
... Only the circle atmosphere could preserve the ideological individuality and the influence of these elements, whereas the Party atmosphere threatened to absorb them or deprive them of all influence. (“To The Party,” LCW, Second Edition, 7:455)
Now it is true that in the polemics contemporary with the split, Lenin accused the Mensheviks of “anarchistic individualism” but as much as this had the form of “left” opportunism it was obvious to Lenin that this was superficial and the main thrust of his attacks was against the essence of Menshevism, which is, far from being “left” opportunism, a classic example of right-opportunism.
Thus in 1920, in “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Lenin is reviewing the struggles of the Bolsheviks against “left” deviations within the party (Peking, p. 20), and he does not even mention the circle spirit of the Mensheviks! This is not hard to understand. The wheelings and dealings of the Mensheviks were blatantly a tactic of right-opportunism. Lenin noted in his analysis of the congress in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:
And when people sort things out, the howls of the minority will also be laughed at, for they cried out against centralism and against the Rules when they were in the minority, but lost no time in taking advantage of the Rules once they had managed to make themselves the majority. (LCW, Second Edition, 7:251)
Let us summarize a few things about “circle spirit” as we inherit the concept from this point in the history of the Bolshevik Party. “Circle spirit” was not a full blown deviation in itself, a consolidated kind of opportunism. It was arbitrary because they were not, as left opportunists often do, standing firmly on a principle out of context, or being purist or idealistic. It was just the best way for right opportunism to gain and maintain its influence at that point. Circle spirit came forward because right-opportunism did not want to be bound by the revolutionary lines of demarcation that had been drawn. Right-opportunism could just as easily, at another point in history, in our movement for example, exercise itself by not wanting to see revolutionary lines of demarcation drawn at all, or it could exercise itself by striving to see the wrong lines of demarcation drawn.
And, far from necessarily manifesting itself by resistance to centralism, it might, on the contrary, find a bourgeois use of democratic centralism to be an efficient tool in sabotaging the ideological struggle that is a precondition to a revolutionary unity. When we sum up our view of the movement we will be showing that this is in fact the case.
In regard to the “circle spirit” in our movement we must say quite simply that because we already have, as part of the ideological corpus of Marxism-Leninism, the model of the party, and the organizational principles of the party, “circle spirit” in the sense of rejection of democratic centralism, is not a “permissable” deviation. Authentic Marxist-Leninists have the party spirit. If they do not they are not Marxist-Leninists.
For In Struggle! to say that an incorrect “circle spirit” is the main danger in our movement is to say the opposite of what In Struggle! is trying to say with its claims that we are all united as communists by a common ideological line.
This, however, is not to be confused with the fact itself of the existence of circles. Circles play a valid role. A correct understanding of this role in struggling out revolutionary theory might be perceived by In Struggle!, however, as “circle spirit”, when in fact it is the party spirit because it shows some understanding of how a party is formed.
In Struggle!, on the other hand, by not understanding the correct formation of the party, by identifying the existence of circles as the problem itself, may in fact be manifesting something different than the party spirit, something that might be called “big circle spirit.” This is something which MREQ used to call “big group chauvinism”; but, now that the League has moved into a more powerful position within the Marxist-Leninist movement and can compete with In Struggle!’s “big group chauvinism” on its own terms, the League has quietly dropped this controversy.
What about the role of circles? We have already seen how Lenin described the period which was the earliest part of the first stage of the formation of the party (1900-1903) as a “period of disunity and separate circles” (and we must, too, “bluntly admit” this in our movement). Lenin describes how, in this period, the ideological influence of one circle substitutes for the authority of the party congress and programme.
... Revolutionary Social-Democracy ... strives to proceed from the top downward, and upholds an extension of the rights and powers of the centre in relation to the parts. In this period of disunity and separate circles, THIS TOP FROM WHICH REVOLUTIONARY SOCIAL-DEMOCRACY STROVE TO PROCEED ORGANISATIONALLY WAS INEVITABLY ONE OF THE CIRCLES, THE ONE ENJOYING MOST INFLUENCE BY VIRTUE OF ITS ACTIVITY AND ITS REVOLUTIONARY CONSISTENCY (in our case, the Iskra organisation). In the period of the restoration of actual Party unity and dissolution of the obsolete circles in this unity, this top is inevitably the Party Congress, as the supreme organ of the Party. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, LCW, Second Edition, 7:397)
From this we have derived, in our movement, the idea of a leading centre or circle as one of a number of separate circles existing in a period before the unity of all authentic Marxist-Leninists is possible in one organization because the party programme (i.e., the programme for revolution, not In Struggle!’s programme for evolving the party) has not yet been elaborated.
In a preface to a collection of his writings called Twelve Years written in 1907, Lenin reviews the history of the circles. At one point he contrasts the “irreconcilable theoretical polemics” of the Bolsheviks, often perceived as excessive and conducive to splits, with liberalism.
(An old polemic included in the collection) .. . shows the practical and political value of irreconcilable theoretical polemics; REVOLUTIONARY SOCIAL-DEMOCRATS HAVE BEEN ACCUSED TIMES WITHOUT NUMBER OF AN EXCESSIVE PENCHANT FOR SUCH POLEMICS with the “Economists”, the Bernsteinians, and the Mensheviks. Today, too, these accusations are being bandied about by the “conciliators” (those who called for “unity” on an unprincipled basis – BU) ... An excessive penchant for polemics and splits, we are all too often told is typical of the Russians in general, of the Social-Democrats in particular and of the Bolsheviks especially. But the fact is all too often overlooked that the excessive penchant for skipping from socialism to liberalism is ENGENDERED BY THE CONDITIONS PREVAILING IN THE CAPITALIST COUNTRIES IN GENERAL, the conditions of the bourgeois revolution in Russia in particular, and the conditions of the life and work of our intellectuals especially. (“Preface to the Collection Twelve Years”, LCW 13:97-8)
We contrast this with In Struggle!’s present ritual of non-sectarianism: “. . . starting with what unites Marxist-Leninists presently in order to achieve greater unity ... we must discuss the question of unity ... in a way that reinforces unity.”
Lenin continues on the subject of circles:
This circle spirit has to be briefly explained to the present-day reader. The pamphlets What Is To Be Done? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Back published in this collection present to the reader a heated, at times bitter and destructive, controversy within the circles abroad. Undoubtedly, this has many unattractive features. Undoubtedly, it is something that could only be possible in a young and immature workers’ movement in the country in question. Undoubtedly, the present leaders of the present workers’ movement in Russia will have to break with many of the circle traditions, forget and discard many of the trivial features of circle activity and circle squabbles .... the old circle ways that had outlived their day.
Yes, “that had outlived their day”, for it is not enough to condemn the old circle spirit; ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN THE SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PAST PERIOD MUST BE UNDERSTOOD. THE CIRCLES WERE NECESSARY IN THEIR DAY AND PLAYED A POSITIVE ROLE.... A struggle between the circles was, therefore, inevitable. Today, in retrospect, we can clearly see which of the circles was really in a position to act as a base of operations. But at that time, when the various circles were just beginning their work, one could say that and THE CONTROVERSY COULD BE RESOLVED ONLY THROUGH STRUGGLE. Parvus, I remember, subsequently blamed the old Iskra for waging a destructive circle war and advocated after the event a conciliatory policy. That is an easy thing to say after the event, and to say it reveals a failure to understand the conditions then prevailing. For one thing, there was no criterion by which to judge the strength or importance of one or another circle. The importance of many of them, which are now forgotten, was exaggerated, but in their own time they wanted through struggle to assert their right to existence....
THE CIRCLES PLAYED THEIR PART and are now, of course, obsolete. BUT THEY BECAME OBSOLETE ONLY BECAUSE THE STRUGGLE THAT THEY WAGED POSED THE KEY PROBLEMS OF THE SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT IN THE SHARPEST POSSIBLE MANNER AND SOLVED THEM IN AN IRRECONCILABLE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT, THEREBY CREATING A FIRM BASIS FOR BROAD PARTY ACTIVITY. (Ibid., pp. 104-6)
We contrast this with In Struggle!’s presentation of the circles as inherently bad, as a sign themselves of nothing other than “circle spirit” that leads In Struggle! to the conclusion that we should unite organizationally before we have created, and in order to create “a firm basis for broad party activity”, and then demarcate the party programme by democratic centralism, ”the most advanced and the most correct form of the development of line struggles.” We will return to In Struggle!’s conception of democratic centralism further along.
Elsewhere, we have commented on a tendency in the Marxist-Leninist movement to see Marxism-Leninism as something extremely fragile. But we say that if our movement is a Marxist-Leninist movement, and in the degree that it is a Marxist-Leninist movement, it is not fragile.
Contrary to In Struggle!’s presentation of the matter, the continuing presence of circles, of factions, is not necessarily a sign in itself that the struggle for unity is not being led correctly and that the solution is unity as soon as possible. On the contrary, the Bolshevik party in its early stage of formation thrives on this controversy over all issues. It forms itself in struggle that permits it to hone its weapons for the final struggle. If it errs in any direction, it is in that of a split rather tl unprincipled unity. Lenin observed about the Economists:
It is still premature to judge how deep the cleavage is, and how far the formation of a special trend is probable (at the moment we are not in the least inclined to answer these questions in the affirmative and we have not yet lost hope of our being able to work together), but it would be MORE HARMFUL TO CLOSE OUR EYES TO THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION THAN TO EXAGGERATE THE CLEAVAGE (“Draft Declaration of Iskra and Zarya”, LCW 4:322)
Lenin concludes his introduction to Twelve Years with the following observation:
In all capitalist countries the proletariat is inevitably connected by a thousand transitional links with its neighbour on the right, the petty bourgeoisie. In all workers’ parties there inevitably emerges a more or less clearly delineated Right wing which, in its views, tactics, and organisational “line”, reflects the opportunist tendencies of the petty-bourgeoisie. ... Familiarity with the various forms in which this tendency is displayed in the Russian Social-Democratic movement in different periods of its development is necessary in order to strengthen revolutionary Marxism and steel the Russian working class in its struggle for emancipation. (LCW 13:113)
It is in the struggle against this right wing which exists in out movement as a whole which we must appropriate in building, not a Social-Democratic party of the old type with two wings in it (i.e., those who uphold the revolutionary programme at those who will inevitably act to undermine the implementation of the programme), but a Bolshevik party. In “The Collapse the Second International” Lenin sums up the significance of this struggle against right-opportunism, which is at one and the same time the struggle to form the party of the new type:
In Russia, the complete severance of the revolutionary Social-Democratic proletarian elements from the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements has been prepared by the entire history of the working-class movement. Those who DISREGARD THAT HISTORY, and BY DECLAIMING AGAINST “FACTIONALISM”, MAKE THEMSELVES INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING THE REAL PROCESS OF THE FORMATION OF A PROLETARIAN PAR IN RUSSIA, which has developed in the course of many years of struggle against various varieties of opportunism, ARE RENDERING THAT MOVEMENT THE WORST POSSIBLE SERVICE. (LCW 21:258)
Here we have it in a nutshell. Instead of “factionalism” we have In Struggle! declaiming against “sectarianism”, and in their whole presentation of their “teachings” on unity they completely “disregard that history” of the Bolsheviks and “make themselves incapable of understanding the real process of the formation” of the Bolshevik party that we must strive to create. They are therefore rendering our movement “the worst possible service.”
So much for the “sectarianism” that In Struggle! is constantly declaiming against, gloatingly perceiving an opportunity to seek hegemony in a new and nice way, frantically trying to juggle all the fragile Marxist-Leninist eggs of the movement and promoting itself to the role of the leading mother hen, all the while kicking up the dust of confusion with its feet about our real tasks.
The “diversity” of the Marxist-Leninist movement which In Struggle! so often makes as its excuse for its project is a disunity that can only be accounted for by the presence of different class interests in the movement, by the presence of right-opportunism consciously and unconsciously putting forward the interests of the bourgeoisie. And it exists for objective social and economic (the crisis of imperialism and the consequent panic of the petty bourgeoisie and labour aristocracy) and ideological (the victory of revisionism in the USSR) reasons. It is time to become more rigorous, not more liberal, in our dealings with this situation.
Why do we say that In Struggle! is trying to resurrect the party form of the old type?
We have already shown that In Struggle! is calling for the unity of all those who are presently in the Marxist-Leninist movement by virtue of some very basic ideological criteria that could be “used to unite anyone”. The title of their article on unity says it all: “Towards the Unification of the Canadian Marxist-Leninist Movement”, not “towards the unification of all authentic Marxist-Leninists”. We have already shown that In Struggle! plans to hold a congress where lines of demarcation will be drawn, but those who do not adhere to these lines will remain in the “organization of struggle”, remain in one organization with fundamental differences over fundamental questions of the revolution. Thus they recreate (at a lower level, because they are not claiming to demarcate the party programme) the calling of the congress of the RSDLP in 1903, as a party of the old type. Learning nothing from the history of the development of the party of the new type, they are calling for all to join the party simply because of their verbal adherence to international communism. We have already seen that In Struggle! considers right-opportunism to be everywhere and nowhere and that it never speaks of demarcating, against right-opportunism so that it will not be in the ”organization of struggle”.
Now we know that this situation is not merely a particularity of In Struggle!’s “organization of struggle for the party” but reflects the essence of their view of the party because they justify their organizational plan in terms of what they consider normal in a party.
We will examine some of In Struggle!’s positions on this subject as put forward in “Towards .. .”
If one takes the trouble to study the history of the three above-mentioned parties, one soon finds that they were created and that they developed amidst an intense line struggle over questions that were most definitely central ones. For example, in Russia, there was a tendency within the Party (In Struggle! is talking here not of the Bolshevik Party whose development as outlined by Stalin we take as the model for our movement, but of the RSDLP – BU) which rejected the political struggle against the Tsar’s rule; this is how the Menshevik tendency appeared which went as far as to flout the Congress decisions in order to make its opportunist positions triumph.
Notwithstanding these divergences, the communists of these countries first searched for unity, conscious that unity of communists is essential to the unity of the proletariat.... When Marxist-Leninists claim that “the ideological and political line is determining in all”, they must not forget that the unity of all ML communists, the unity of the proletariat and finally the unity of the people are an essential element of the Marxist-Leninist line. To put forward as the League did, that there must be an absolute identity of views over ideological, strategical and tactical questions within the Party ... are erroneous positions ... . which tend to division.
To claim that unity will result from an “absolute identity of view” . . . is in practice to renounce the line struggle in the movement; it is to conceive of the Party as a “haven” (of) peace and unity. (Proletarian Unity no. 1, p. 26)
In passing we note that if In Struggle! had taken “the trouble to study the history” of the Bolshevik Party, they would know that the Menshevik tendency did not “appear” over this difference, that it was one particular form of a whole historical tendency, right-opportunism, which took its Menshevik form at the second party congress before the differences In Struggle! mentions became evident. What is In Struggle! doing in taking such a position? They are idealizing the unity of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in one party, completely burying the painful and precious lessons of the struggle against the right-opportunism which taught the international communist movement that they must break with the Mensheviks, the right-opportunists. Lenin in advising the Italian Communist Party says:
Comrade Lazzari said: “We are in the preparatory period.” This is absolutely true. You are in a preparatory period. The first stage of this period is a break with the Mensheviks, similar to the one we brought about with our Mensheviks in 1903 (when In Struggle! would say they were united! – BU). The sufferings the whole of the German working class has had to endure during this long and weary post-war period in the history of the German revolution are due to the fact that the German party did not break with the Mensheviks. (“Third Congress of the Communist International”, LCW 32:464)
and in general he said:
The epoch of imperialism cannot permit the existence, in a single party, of the revolutionary proletariat’s vanguard and the semi-petty-bourgeois aristocracy of the working class, who enjoy morsels of the privileges of their “own” nation’s ̴Great-Power” status. The old theory that opportunism is a “legitimate shade” in a single party that nation’s “Great-Power” status. THE OLD THEORY THAT OPPORTUNISM IS A “LEGITIMATE SHADE” IN A SINGLE PARTY THAT KNOWS NO “EXTREMES” HAS NOW TURNED INTO A TREMENDOUS DECEPTION OF THE WORKERS AND A TREMENDOUS HINDRANCE TO THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT. Undisguised opportunism, which immediately repels the working masses, is not so frightful and injurious as this theory of the golden mean, which uses Marxist catchwords to justify opportunist practice.... (“The Collapse of the Second International”, LCW 21:257)
The painful history of this struggle was that some who “call themselves” communists are not communists, with the interests of the proletariat at heart, but right-opportunists representing the interests of the bourgeoisie. (In Struggle! even confers on the Russian Mensheviks the mantle of communists!) Instead of learning from this, In Struggle! raises doing it to a principle!
In “Towards.. .”, In Struggle! says:
Thus the organization we advocate is not some kind of federation of the present groups who would keep some autonomy and would be able to publicize their divergences with the programme adopted by the organization’s congress. Besides this is the way things happen in all Marxist-Leninist communist parties: there are always divergences, the two-line struggle goes on steadily, more or less sharply; at the congresses the majority settles the points in contention and the minority must rally to it;. ... Up to now, not one party in history has ever reached the “absolute identity of views” of all of its members on the ideological, strategical and tactical questions. (Proletarian Unity, p. 26)
And, in “Fight the Sectarianism of the CCL(ML)”:
The life of any communist party is made up of this struggle between different stands, between correct and erroneous positions.
The existence of divergences among the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement cannot constitute in itself a sufficient reason to oppose unity, (any) more than the existence of divergences inside the party necessarily leads to its breaking up. (p. 9)
For In Struggle!, it is clear, the movement equals the party minus formal organization. But before we examine the question of “identity of views”, and In Struggle!’s misconception of the nature of the two-line struggle in the party, let us sum up some of the characteristics of the party of the old type and of the new type as put forward by the History of the CPSU(B):
The task of the Bolsheviks was not merely to break with the Mensheviks and formally constitute themselves a separate party, but above all, having broken with the Mensheviks, to create a new party, to create a party of a new type, different from the usual Social-Democratic parties of the West, ONE THAT WAS FREE OF OPPORTUNIST ELEMENTS and capable of leading the proletariat in a struggle for power.
In fighting the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks of all shades . .. invariably used weapons borrowed from the arsenal of the West-European Social-Democrats. They wanted in Russia a party similar, let us say, to the German or French Social-Democratic Party. They fought the Bolsheviks just because they sensed something new in them, something unusual and different from the Social-Democrats of the West... . Conciliation with the opportunists, with the traitors to the revolution, for the sake of what? – the Bolsheviks asked the West-European Social-Democrats. For the sake of “peace within the party”, for the sake of “unity” – the latter replied. Unity with whom, with the opportunists? Yes, they replied, with the opportunists. It was clear that such parties could not be revolutionary parties.
.... The Bolsheviks could not help knowing that the proletariat needed, NOT SUCH A PARTY, BUT A DIFFERENT KIND OF PARTY, a new and genuinely Marxist party, which would be IRRECONCILABLE TOWARDS THE OPPORTUNISTS and revolutionary towards the bourgeoisie, which would be firmly knit and MONOLITHIC, which would be a party of social revolution, a party of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It was this new kind of party that the Bolsheviks wanted. And the Bolsheviks worked to build up such a party. The whole history of the struggle against the “Economists”, Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Otzovists and idealists of all shades, down to the empirio-criticists, was a history of building up just such a party. The Bolsheviks wanted to create a new party, a Bolshevik party, which would serve as a model for all who wanted to have a real revolutionary Marxist party, (pp. 139-40)
But In Struggle! does not take this “monolithic” party as its model, in justifying its organisational project. Instead they take the party of the old type as their norm, a party within which two line struggles on fundamental questions are “normal” events, a party for which democratic centralism exists as “the most advanced and the most correct form of the development of line struggles”. They conceive of an organisation where the majority may have one strategy for revolution (derived from a specific understanding of the principal contradiction and from a specific understanding of who our allies are) and a minority may legitimately hold to another strategy, as long as they agree to carry out the majority programme between congresses (a procedure, incidentally, that would be correct in regard to questions of tactics).
Why is this incorrect? There is only one correct strategy for revolution. This strategy must be established scientifically, not on the basis of majority vote before the theoretical work, based on investigation of concrete conditions, has been completed to establish the facts. When, subsequent to this activity, a minority persists in developing a different position in the face of the facts, then its position is revealed, not as backwardness, but as the agency of the bourgeoisie within the movement or party, trying to deroute the proletariat. This formula applies to all differences of principle, all differences over fundamental questions that arise in the party as it reevaluates its programme after it is tested in revolutionary practice, or as completely new circumstances are encountered.
The solution to the problem is the purging of the party. Before the formation of the party, the solution is the purging of the tendency out of the movement by forming the party against it, not with it. And this struggle is not the content of democratic centralism, as In Struggle! would have it, rather. the democratic centralism is used against it, as a tool of the dictatorship of the proletariat rather than as a democratic process within the party.
In Struggle!’s conception of these matters is that a “legitimate” wing is allowed to exist and is defeated within the party by ideological struggle (i.e., In Struggle!’s concept of demarcating by democratic centralism). Stalin makes clear what he thinks of this view:
The theory of “defeating” opportunist elements by ideological struggle within the Party, the theory of “overcoming” these elements within the confines of a single party, IS A ROTTEN AND DANGEROUS THEORY, which threatens to condemn the Party to paralysis and chronic infirmity, threatens to make the Party a prey to opportunism, threatens to leave the proletariat without a revolutionary party, threatens to deprive the proletariat of its main weapon in the fight against imperialism. Our Party could not have emerged on to the broad highway, it could not have seized j power and organised the dictatorship of the proletariat, it could not have emerged victorious from the civil war, if it had had within its ranks people like Martov and Dan, Potresov and Axelrod. Our Party succeeded in achieving INTERNAL UNITY AND UNEXAMPLED COHESION of its ranks primarily because it was able in good time to purge itself of the opportunist pollution, because it was able to rid its ranks of the Liquidators and Mensheviks. Proletarian parties develop and become strong by purging them selves of opportunists and reformists, social-imperialists and social-chauvinists, social-patriots and social-pacifists.
The Party becomes strong by purging itself of opportunist elements. (Foundations of Leninism, Peking, pp. 116-17)
What is incorrect in In Struggle!’s view of the two-line struggle in the Party? First of all, let us note that there are two possible forms of two-line struggles: (1) over partial questions or over two positions on a matter that has not yet been scientifically investigated. This is not so much a two-“line” struggle as the collective examination of different possibilities. It is part of the division of labour within the party and properly comes within the realm of unantagonistic contradictions “among the people” and differences that reflect, in the final analysis, differences over right and wrong rather than profound class differences. (2) Two-line struggles over fundamental differences and matters of principal. These struggles arise when the democratic methods applicable to the solution of unantagonistic contradictions have been exhausted. The difference is antagonistic because they involve two mutually exclusive positions on how to proceed in the context of major decisions the Party must make. The differences reflect different class interests.
When we speak of two-line struggles in the history of the international communist movement, in the Russian or the Chinese party, we are usually referring to the struggles of the latter sort.
In The Tenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (Documents) there are references to these two types of two-line struggles. The first of the two forms of the two-line struggle is of the sort that will remain even after the disappearance of classes:
In the future, even after classes have disappeared, there will still be contradictions between the superstructure and the economic base and between the relations of production and the productive forces. And there will still be two-line struggles reflecting these contradictions, i.e., struggles between the advanced and the backward and between the correct and the erroneous, (p. 16)
The second is described this way:
In the last fifty years our Party has gone through ten major struggles between the two lines. The collapse of the Lin Piao anti-Party clique does not mean the end of the two-line struggle within the Party. Enemies at home and abroad all understand that the easiest way to capture a fortress is from within. It is much more convenient to have the capitalist-roaders in power who have sneaked in the Party do the job of subverting the dictatorship of the proletariat than for the landlords and capitalists to come to the fore themselves... . (ibid.)
Contrary to In Struggle!’s claim that differences that exist in our movement are not an impediment to unity because comparable differences in a party itself do not lead to its breaking up, there is a “breaking up” in the party, there is a split, in the form of a purge. By this division of authentic communists from opportunists the party is strengthened by not containing all the components that it formerly contained.
In Struggle! completely liquidates this understanding of the two-line struggle. Rather than a life-and-death struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, this two-line struggle is, on the contrary, normal proletarian democracy, according to In Struggle!. The bourgeois line is seen by them as mainly the activity of authentic communists conveniently presenting the party with some anti-Marxism, so that Marxism can develop by democratic centralism and, if we are lucky the majority will vote the right way at the congress. And if it does not, the correct line will always have a chance at the next congress. After all, that is the proletarian way to do things!
In contrast to this, our position is that two-line struggles over fundamental questions of the revolution, after the facts have been scientifically established (and this is the first step in any struggle), are a life-and-death struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It is not “normal”, it is not “acceptable”, it is not “just the way things are done”. Now, we are not saying that a programme for revolution once established could never be wrong in part. Nor are we saying that two-line struggles do not arise as a matter of course in a movement or a party, nor are we saying that a party always achieves the unity of views, the “monolithic” character that we put forward. All of these, if they were our position, would be dogmatic errors.
The difference between our view and In Struggle!’s is a matter of perspective (but nonetheless a profound difference and a matter of principle). It is a question of what the party strives for, and considers “normal” in terms of what it must come close to achieving in order to make revolution and maintain the dictatorship of the proletariat.
On the one hand we have In Struggle!, which perceives that two-line struggles do arise in the party, and concludes therefore that we should adopt structures and attitudes which legitimize it, by idealizing it and accommodating it. They encourage us to see it as inevitable and therefore permissable. Relax, they are saying, this is just the way a proletarian party operates. Relax your vigilance against the bourgeoisie. Because we have proletarian organizational forms, the proletariat is bound to prevail.
On the other hand, we are saying: two-line struggles arise in the party not because the party is a proletarian party but because right-opportunism is trying to turn it into a bourgeois party with a bourgeois political line. Rather than accommodating differences on fundamentals, we must purge those who persist in carrying a bourgeois line. Two-line struggles are inevitable on fundamental questions until the bourgeoisie is defeated in an all round way but they are not “permissable”. On the contrary, they are a life-and-death matter and are primarily part of the class struggle against the bourgeoisie, not merely part of the life of the party. Only an unremitting struggle against the bourgeois line will safeguard the proletarian party. Without this struggle the proletarian organizational forms will be used by the bourgeoisie in its interests. It is because democratic centralism does not automatically ward off opportunism or settle all fundamental differences within the party that Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
It is, in fact. In Struggle! that considers the party to be a “haven (of) peace and unity” that it accuses those who speak of ”identity of views” of holding to. In Struggle! considers that differences of views in the party are necessarily unantagonistic, just “a matter of course”, part of a polite ongoing internal struggle which is the exercise of democratic centralism itself. They do not understand that striving to realize the proletariat’s unity of views in the face of right-opportunism and the bourgeoisie means the opposite of a haven of peace and unity. It is always a battleground. And life and death differences will arise. They will arise in a movement before the formation of the party, they will arise when it is necessary to re-evaluate the programme as the result of revolutionary practice, they will arise over major tactical questions, and they will arise over the questions of building socialism after the conquest of power.
In the face of them we must always strive for the most profound scientific unity of views on fundamental questions and not, like In Struggle!, conclude that because it is not always achievable, therefore it is not desirable or necessary.
This does not mean, however, that there will never be times when a purge cannot be effected immediately or that fundamental differences co-exist in one party for a period of time. This all depends on historical circumstances. But we must firmly adhere to Marxism-Leninism in all struggles and in this case this means we strive for the norms of a Bolshevik party with its unity of views and homogeneity. It is these principles of Marxism-Leninism that In Struggle! would call “only an idealist’s dream” (Proletarian Unity no. 1, p. 19)
In regard to the Chinese party (apart from the question of Comintern guidance), there are several reasons why we have not taken it as a model in our analysis. (1) There is no approved history of the CPC for us to use as a base. (2) The Russian Party arose in a period which was marked by a theoretical “crisis of socialism”. Revisionism was rampant and part of the struggle for the party was the struggle to re-establish orthodox Marxism. The period of the earliest formation of the Chinese party, on the contrary, was a period of the victory of orthodox Marxism on the international level. The period of the formation of our party today is much closer to the experience of the Russian party in that revisionism is once again rampant in various forms, and the struggle to re-establish orthodox Marxism-Leninism is part and parcel of the struggle for our party. (3) The Chinese party in its earliest stage of formation did not go through a protracted “circle” phase. It is clear that our movement, like the Russian movement, is going through such a phase, therefore we look to the Russian movement in order to understand this.
If, however, they are referring to the formation of Iskra in 1900, they should take note that this was a unity of a small circle of editors, not the unity of “all Russian Social-Democrats” In Struggle! takes as their main slogan and principle these days. And if this is the event they are talking about, we will not bother to find an adjective to describe the ignorance and opportunism that this falsification of history betrays.
“Lenin regarded the Party as an organized detachment, whose members cannot just enroll themselves in the Party, but must be admitted into the Party by one of its organizations, and hence must submit to Party discipline. Martov, on the other hand, regarded the Party as something organizationally amorphous, whose members enroll themselves in the Party and are therefore not obliged to submit to Party discipline, inasmuch as they do not belong to a Party organization.” (History of the CPSU(B):Short Course, 1939, p. 42)
“Comrades Akimov and Lieber . .. betrayed their true nature by demanding ... that in the case of the programme too only basic acceptance, acceptance only of its ’basic principles’ should be required...” (Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, LCW 7:274)
Compare this situation with the one in Canadian Revolution, which we described as follows: “We are left by the editorial with the conclusion that the main danger is not unprincipled unity or inobservance of Marxist-Leninist principles, but incorrect presentation of one’s viewpoint....” (“The Whole Is Equal to the Sum Of Its Parts”, p. 8)
In “The Whole Is Equal to the Sum of Its Parts” (p. 8), we said, “The Journal reflects an attitude referred to earlier as a trend in the movement as a whole: to see the Marxist-Leninist ’movement’, and thus Marxism-Leninism and the unity of Marxist-Leninists, as something fragile, endangered, and not to be subjected to too close an examination. They do not honestly see Marxism-Leninism as a science which “fears no criticism”. Rather they recognize the precariousness of their opportunist grasp of the situation and feel the need to “finish ... off with a single blow” and “restrict” debate within confines over which they have control.
We should note at this point that many people seem confused by the implications of this analysis. They are unaware that In Struggle! holds this position because In Struggle! has nowhere explicitly stated it. Yet they cannot present any alternatives because it follows logically from In Struggle!’s insistence that all should be in the organization and that the programme is to be arrived at by majority vote rather than rallied to.