Earlier, when we examined the question of whether we were all united in the movement by the affirmation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we put in question whether or not In Struggle! really upheld this principle and said that the application of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the period of preparation for the dictatorship was the struggle against right-opportunism. We have shown how In Struggle! has abandoned the struggle against right-opportunism both by the relatively greater emphasis it puts on the struggle against ”sectarianism” and by refusing to locate, in theory and in practice, as the principal contradiction in the movement, an antagonistic contradiction with right-opportunism.
In this section we will go into greater detail in explaining why the struggle with right-opportunism is antagonistic in general, and why we relate it to the dictatorship of the proletariat. We will conclude with an explanation of why right-opportunism is in a majority in our movement and draw certain conclusions about what this means in terms of drawing lines of demarcation in our movement and rallying the vanguard of the proletariat.
We base our contention that the application of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the period of preparation for the dictatorship is the struggle against right-opportunism, on certain comments Lenin makes in ”Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International”, particularly the second section which is entitled “What Immediate and Universal Preparation for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat Should Consist In”.
Lenin begins this section with some observations perfectly applicable to our circumstances.
The present stage in the development of the international communist movement is marked by the fact that in the vast majority of capitalist countries, the proletariat’s preparations to effect its dictatorship have not been complete, and, in many cases, HAVE NOT EVEN BEEN SYSTEMATICALLY BEGUN.
... The Communist Parties’ current tasks consist NOT IN ACCELERATING THE REVOLUTION, BUT IN INTENSIFYING THE PREPARATION OF THE PROLETARIAT. On the other hand, the facts cited above from the history of many socialist parties make it incumbent on us to see that “recognition” of the dictatorship of the proletariat SHALL NOT REMAIN A MERE MATTER OF WORDS.
... The ordinary socialist work conducted by groups and parties which recognize the dictatorship of the proletariat has by no means undergone THAT FUNDAMENTAL REORGANIZATION, THAT FUNDAMENTAL RENOVATION, which is essential before this work can be considered communist work and adequate to the tasks to be accomplished on the eve of proletarian dictatorship. (LCW 31:188-89)
What does it mean to “intensify the preparation of the proletariat”? What insures that recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat “shall not remain a mere matter of words”? What is “that fundamental reorganization, that fundamental renovation” which is necessary? Lenin continues by outlining his famous thesis on the intensification of the class struggle after the conquest of power:
The proletariat’s conquest of political power does not put a stop to its class struggle against the bourgeoisie; on the contrary, it renders that struggle most widespread, intense and ruthless. (Ibid., p. 189)
Lenin explains why this is so, putting special emphasis on those who we, today, would identify as right-opportunists within a movement or party as being “the most dangerous of all.”
Owing to the extreme intensification of the struggle all groups, parties, and leaders in the working-class movement who have fully or PARTLY adopted the stand of reformism, of the “centre”, etc., inevitably side with the bourgeoisie or join the waverers, or else (WHAT IS THE MOST DANGEROUS OF ALL) land in the ranks of the unreliable friends of the victorious proletariat. (Ibid., p. 189)
What are the implications of this for the period of preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat?
HENCE, preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat calls not only for an intensification of the struggle against reformist and “centrist” tendencies, BUT ALSO FOR A CHANGE IN THE CHARACTER OF THAT STRUGGLE. The struggle cannot be restricted to explaining the erroneousness of these tendencies; it must UNSWERVINGLY AND RUTHLESSLY EXPOSE ANY LEADER OF THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT WHO REVEALS SUCH TENDENCIES, for otherwise the proletariat cannot know who it will march with into the decisive struggle against the bourgeoisie.... ANY INCONSISTENCY OR WEAKNESS IN EXPOSING THOSE WHO SHOW THEMSELVES TO BE REFORMISTS OR “CENTRISTS” MEANS DIRECTLY INCREASING THE DANGER OF THE POWER OF THE PROLETARIAT BEING OVERTHROWN BY THE BOURGEOISIE, WHICH TOMORROW WILL UTILIZE FOR THE COUNTERREVOLUTION THAT WHICH SHORTSIGHTED PEOPLE TODAY SEE MERELY AS A “THEORETICAL DIFFERENCE.” (Ibid., p. 190)
What is Lenin doing here? He is taking the experience of the successful Russian revolution, the first successful dictatorship of the proletariat and applying it to the period of preparation for the dictatorship. Having had the experience of how the bourgeoisie and its agents take the offensive after the revolution, he is looking at its roots in the working class movement before the revolution and on this basis calls for a “change in the character of that struggle.”
Where before differences amongst those calling themselves socialists may have been seen as “merely a ’theoretical difference’”, as unantagonistic contradictions amongst the people, where before the assumption might have been that explaining the “erroneousness of the tendencies” would be sufficient, now in the light of the actual experience of the revolution and the forms of counterrevolution, Lenin is saying that these elements must be exposed beforehand in terms of the role they are likely to play during and after the revolution. In other words, the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat after the revolution is as much against the false friends and false leaders of the proletariat as it is against the bourgeoisie proper, and before the revolution the struggle is the same. The function of the struggle against these false friends of the proletariat before the revolution is exactly the same as their suppression by the dictatorship of the proletariat after the revolution.
In keeping with this understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Bolshevik Union has adopted a course opposite to that of In Struggle! and against In Struggle! in our practice of struggling against opportunism. Where In Struggle! sees it to be everywhere and nowhere and thus “acceptable” in some sense, we have made the exposure of right-opportunism our main frame of reference. Thus our articles exposing “ruthlessly” “any leader of the working class movement who reveals such tendencies.” (i.e., our articles against Economism in LD no. 1, the articles against the Economism of the League and In Struggle! in this issue, our linking up of the struggle against Economism to the Native question in “Nationhood or Genocide”, and, finally, our pamphlet, “The Whole Is Equal to the Sum of Its Parts: Opportunism, Canadian Revolution, and the Unity of Marxist-Leninists”, to which In Struggle!’s reaction, as usual, was on the order of, “What has this to do with the unity of Marxist-Leninists?”)
At this point we must raise certain questions. Who was Lenin referring to when he speaks of reformists and “centrists”? How does this apply today? What about “left” opportunism?
We have already examined to a certain degree the nature of the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. This split was a reflection of the division within the whole of the Second International between authentic Marxists on the one hand and right-opportunists on the other. The split was finalized by the right-opportunists’ social-chauvinism during the First World War which took the form of siding with their “own” bourgeoisie in each country. The social and economic base for this split, as we will show in greater detail further along, was the petit-bourgeoisie and the growth of the labour aristocracy as a direct consequence of the transformation of competitive capitalism into monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
Prior to this split there existed a situation where, within one movement calling itself Marxist and revolutionary, there were two trends (operating as one trend in the working class movement), one of which was really revolutionary and put forward the dictatorship of the proletariat in a revolutionary fashion, and another which came to represent the bribed leaders of the working class and the top stratum of the working class, the labour aristocracy, which profits from imperialism. This trend called itself revolutionary, but was not, and upheld the dictatorship of the proletariat in words only, while in practice they adapted the concept to bourgeois democracy.
Subsequent to the formation of the Third International and the consolidation of the break (when the revolutionary social-democrats took up the name “communist”, leaving the name “social-democrat” to the opportunists who continued the Second International), there came to exist two trends within the working-class movement, the social-democrats moving more and more to the right.
Today the social-democrats are still with us in many countries and in Canada take an explicit form in the New Democratic Party and an implicit form in the labour centrals like the CLC, etc., which inherit many of the philosophical underpinnings of social-democracy.
But as social-democracy developed and became stronger (and as imperialism developed and became stronger and along with it the social and economic base for opportunism) it ceased to even make a pretense of being revolutionary, adapted to capitalism and dropped any reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Concretely, what has happened since the Second World War in the USA and in countries like Canada, which have shared the fruits of the expansion of US imperialism after the Second World War, is that social-democracy has become far and away the major trend in the working-class movement, completely eclipsing a real Marxist communist trend.
Where before there were two major trends in the working-class movement, a left trend and a right trend, the left trend all but disappeared and the right trend ceased to be right in the sense that it ceased to even have the appearance of being the right wing of a proletarian movement and became, overtly, purely part of the spectrum of bourgeois politics.
But in Canada in the sixties, as American imperialism began to decline, and as the social and economic base for social democracy’s hegemony began to shrink (or at least to become threatened), we saw a rise of those claiming to be communist, those claiming once again to represent the revolutionary interests of the proletariat.
And yet the historical practice has shown us that many of these trends do not in fact represent the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, that they are in fact opportunist agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement, in spite of their recent appropriation of revolutionary language and even “Marxism-Leninism”.
And finally, we have our present Marxist-Leninist movement of struggle for a real communist party representing, at least in part, an authentic proletarian tendency. And, in part, a right-opportunist reflection of the pseudo-revolutionary trend in the working-class movement (let us call this neo-revisionism). Thus we have at present three trends in the Canadian working class movement:
(1) The “old guard” of the labour aristocracy and the petit-bourgeoisie, i.e., the NDP, the “C”P, etc., and the labour bureaucracy.
(2) The ”new blood” of the labour aristocracy and the petit-bourgeoisie, i.e., the many phony “communists”, the CPL, the Bainsites, the trotskyite groups and the nascent neo-revisionists within our movement.
(3) The communist trend.
Why has it occurred this way and what does it mean? First of all we would like to make it clear that it would be a hopeless vulgarization and an abandonment of the substance of Marxism in favour of the letter of Marxism to claim that because Lenin was referring to the social-democrats in the essay quoted above, we must now take his words to apply only to our most obvious social-democrats, i.e., that the struggle against right-opportunism that Lenin was referring to was essentially a struggle against “open” reformism or centrism in its social-democratic form and that since every one in our movement is against the social-democrats and “C”P-style revisionism, this is already taken care of and the question of bribery by imperialism has no immediate impact in our movement of struggle for the party.
The article on the labour aristocracy in the October 9th In Struggle! (p. 6) is a good example of this. Rather than linking up the labour aristocracy to opportunism in all its forms, the article deals only with the open reformism of the union bosses, the NDP, PQ, and “C”P.
And this is basically the approach adopted by In Struggle! and the League. Whenever they attempt to deal with the neo-revisionists or the trotskyites in the working-class movement or (on the very rarest of occasions) opportunism in the Marxist-Leninist movement, there is seldom a word about the labour aristocracy as an economic base for such phenomena in the working-class movement or in the communist movement. The question of the labour aristocracy is raised only to account for the most obvious forms of reformism (usually the labour bureaucracy). For these groups, the influence of the labour aristocracy is restricted to those who do not use revolutionary phrases, as if the phrases themselves were the line of demarcation defining the social and economic basis of opportunism. The difference between the “old guard” and the “young blood” is seen as a Chinese wall rather than a thin veil separating two different forms with the same substance.
In contradiction to these groups, we say that, precisely because the old form has been so completely bankrupt and so closely aligned with the bourgeoisie that it is clearly a part of the bourgeoisie, the interests of this social and economic base in seeking hegemony over a revolutionary proletariat will have to be realized by new pseudo-revolutionary formations, formations that will have had the whole history of the struggle against opportunism and revisionism to learn from in order to help them to better adapt and hide themselves.
Lenin called this adaptation “the characteristic feature of modern revisionism.”
An ever subtler falsification of Marxism, an ever subtler presentation of anti-materialist doctrines under the guise of Marxism – this is the characteristic feature of modern revisionism in political economy, in questions of tactics and in philosophy.... (Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Peking, p. 400)
Thus we have a division of labour between two trends in the working-class movement. The one trend, formerly called opportunism but now clearly a faction of the bourgeoisie, the now old guard, is limited in the degree it can move to the left as the demands of the proletariat tend to become more revolutionary. It functions more in terms of contradictions among the bourgeoisie (i.e., the labour bureaucrats as one faction of the bourgeoisie against the big monopoly capitalists, as another faction of the bourgeoisie) and may become less able, to a certain degree, to even militantly uphold the demands of the top strata of the working class, the labour aristocracy.
The other trend, the young blood, of the labour aristocracy and the petit-bourgeoisie, representing the extreme left of the bourgeois spectrum of politics, calls for revolution in order to distinguish itself from the old guard and to deceive the working class and, in practice, fights more militantly for the maintenance of wage levels of the labour aristocracy and the petit-bourgeoisie. (Which is being proletarianized, it is true, but more by being thrown into the labour aristocracy at this point than into the lower ranks of an impoverished proletariat.)
Thus any simple division between “reformist” on the one hand and revolutionary on the other is totally inadequate for our purposes in drawing lines of demarcation. The “new blood” arising from the same economic and social base as the ”old guard” will, with all of its tricks, be the principal object of our struggle against right-opportunism per se, in the working-class movement – our struggle against the labour bureaucracy and the NDP being, openly, a struggle against the bourgeoisie.
Lenin said of social-democracy that:
These elements were able to gain control of the labour movement only by paying lip-service to revolutionary aims and revolutionary tactics. (“Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International”, LCW 22:111)
Today social democracy has abandoned even this recognition, and as it becomes more and more difficult to co-opt the proletariat without recognizing “revolutionary aims and revolutionary tactics” new forces are coming forward from the old base to play this role.
In “Nationhood or Genocide” (CR no. 4) we dealt with this question in a section entitled “Opportunism: A Materialist Explanation”, but will supplement this here.,/p>
First of all, it should be noted that there are two components of opportunism, the petit-bourgeoisie and the labour aristocracy. Lenin often does not make a distinction between these two, mentions one and not the other on different occasions, and sometimes describes it, fully, as an alliance:
... chauvinism and opportunism in the labour movement have the same economic basis: the alliance between a numerically small upper stratum of the proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie ... (“The Collapse of the Second International”, LCW 21:244)
He locates the base of this alliance in imperialist superprofits:
... Objectively the opportunists are a section of the petty bourgeoisie and of certain strata of the working class who have been bribed out of imperialist superprofits and converted into watchdogs of capitalism and corrupters of the labour movement. (“Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, LCW 23:110)
Of the use to which superprofits are put, Lenin says:
The whole thing boils down to nothing but bribery. It is done in a thousand different ways .... WHEREVER PRESENT-DAY CAPITALIST RELATIONS EXIST. It is these thousands of millions in superprofits that form the ECONOMIC BASIS OF OPPORTUNISM IN THE WORKING-CLASS MOVEMENT. In America, Britain and France we see a far greater persistence of the opportunist leaders, of the upper crust of the working class, the labour aristocracy; they offer resistance to the communist movement. THAT IS WHY WE MUST BE PREPARED TO FIND IT HARDER FOR THE EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN WORKERS’ PARTIES TO GET RID OF THIS DISEASE THAN WAS THE CASE IN OUR COUNTRY. We know that enormous successes have been achieved in the treatment of this disease since the Third international was formed, BUT WE HAVE NOT YET FINISHED THE JOB: THE PURGING OF THE WORKERS’ PARTIES, THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTIES OF THE PROLETARIAT ALL OVER THE WORLD, OF BOURGEOIS INFLUENCES, OF THE OPPORTUNISTS IN THEIR RANKS, IS VERY FAR FROM COMPLETE. My task consists in indicating THE DEEP ECONOMIC ROOTS OF THIS PHENOMENON. The disease is a PROTRACTED ONE; the cure takes longer than the optimists hoped it would. OPPORTUNISM IS OUR PRINCIPAL ENEMY. Opportunism in the upper ranks of the working-class move- ment is bourgeois socialism, not proletarian socialism. It has been shown in practice that WORKING-CLASS ACTIVISTS WHO FOLLOW THE OPPORTUNIST TREND ARE BETTER DEFENDERS OF THE BOURGEOISIE THAN THE BOURGEOIS THEMSELVES. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not re- main in power THIS IS WHERE OUR PRINCIPAL ENEMY IS, AN ENEMY WE MUST OVERCOME Compared with this task, the rectification of the errors of the “left” trend in communism will be an easy one. (“The Second Congress of the Communist International”, LCW 31:230-231)
Here we note that Lenin considers that in certain countries there is a “far greater persistence of the ... upper crust of the working class, the labour aristocracy”. The only possible explanation for this is that the “economic basis of opportunism” has been greater, and indeed, it has, to the point that the trend that Lenin was referring to as the “principal enemy” in the working class movement no longer even poses as revolutionary. It has been able to maintain its hegemony without putting forward anything but the flimsiest pretenses at presenting a socialist alternative to capitalism.
And, as the economic basis of opportunism shrinks because of the crisis of imperialism, we will not necessarily see a shift to the left on the part of the orthodox “old revisionism” in the form of the labour bureaucracy and the NDP, but also, as we have said, the rise of new parties to play a pseudo-revolutionary left role.
In the following quotes from “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, Lenin deals further with the objective base for opportunism and talks about “bourgeois labour parties”. (He is posing the question of whether opportunism is merely the product of individual choice).
... it may be objected, some will return to the revolutionary socialism of Marx. This is possible, but it is an insignificant difference in degree, IF THE QUESTION IS REGARDED FROM ITS POLITICAL, I.E., ITS MASS ASPECT. Certain individuals among the present social-chauvinist leaders may return to the proletariat. BUT THE SOCIAL-CHAUVINIST OR (WHAT IS THE SAME THING) OPPORTUNIST TREND CAN NEITHER DISAPPEAR NOR “RETURN” TO THE REVOLUTIONARY PROLETARIAT. WHEREVER MARXISM IS POPULAR AMONG THE WORKERS, THIS POLITICAL TREND, THIS “BOURGEOIS LABOUR PARTY”, WILL SWEAR BY THE NAME OF MARX. It cannot be prohibited from doing this, just as a trading firm cannot be prohibited from using any particular label, sign or advertisement. It has always been the case in history that after the death of revolutionary leaders who were popular among the oppressed classes, their enemies have attempted to appropriate their names so as to deceive the oppressed classes.
The fact is that “BOURGEOIS LABOUR PARTIES”, as a political phenomenon, have already been formed in all the foremost capitalist countries, and that unless a determined and relentless struggle is waged all along the line against these parties – OR GROUPS, TRENDS, ETC., IT IS ALL THE SAME – there can be no question of a struggle against imperialism or of Marxism, or of a socialist labour movement. THERE IS NOT THE SLIGHTEST REASON FOR THINKING THAT THESE PARTIES WILL DISAPPEAR BEFORE THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION. ON THE CONTRARY, THE NEARER THE REVOLUTION APPROACHED, THE MORE STRONG LY IT FLARES UP AND THE MORE SUDDEN AND VIOLENT THE TRANSITIONS AND LEAPS IN ITS PROGRESS, THE GREATER WILL BE THE PART THE STRUGGLE OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MASS STREAM AGAINST THE OPPORTUNIST PETTY-BOURGEOIS STREAM WILL PLAY IN THE LABOUR MOVEMENT. (“Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, LCW 23:118-19)
Looking at the question “from its political, i.e., its mass aspect”, we must ask whether the ”bourgeois labour parties” that Lenin considered inevitable will, in the future of our movement, confine themselves to the easily recognizable and patently bankrupt “orthodox” revisionist (as opposed to neo-revisionist) variety. And given that these ”orthodox revisionists” are no longer merely the agents of the bourgeoisie but have clearly become a faction of the bourgeoisie itself, we must answer, in accordance with the historical experience that we have so far (the CPL, the Bainsites, etc.) that these “bourgeois labour parties” which represent the labour aristocracy (as opposed to, to a certain degree, the labour bureaucracy) and the petit-bourgeoisie (as opposed to the big bourgeoisie) and which will lead a more and more determined struggle against the proletarian trend, will inevitably come to the fore in new forms, even posing as Marxist-Leninists, just as the social democrats once posed as Marxists. They will come forward in direct proportion as these other parties become discredited and lose their ability to gain hegemony over the working class.
Let us continue by leaving no doubt as to Lenin’s position on the objective causes of opportunism:
Theoretically, this is a refusal to understand what the facts of the development of the world labour movement have been screaming and shouting about since 1914. The break-away of the top strata of the working class, corrupted by a middle-class way of life and opportunism and bribed by “soft jobs” and other bourgeois sops, began to take shape on a world scale in the autumn of 1914 and reached its full development between 1915 and 1918. By disregarding this historical fact and blaming the Communists for the split in the movement, Kautsky is only demonstrating, for the thousandth time, his role of lackey of the bourgeoisie.
For forty years, from 1852 to 1982, Marx and Engels spoke of part (i.e., the top strata, the leaders, the “aristocracy”) of the workers in Britain becoming increasingly bourgeois, owing to that country’s colonial advantages and her monopolies. IT IS CLEAR AS DAYLIGHT THAT THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY IMPERIALIST MONOPOLIES IN A NUMBER OF OTHER COUNTRIES WERE BOUND TO CREATE THE SAME PHENOMENON AS IN BRITAIN. In all the advanced countries we see corruption, bribery, desertion to the bourgeoisie by the leaders of the working class and its top strata in consequence of the doles handed out by the bourgeoisie, who provide these leaders with “soft jobs”, give crumbs from their profits to these upper strata, SHIFT THE BURDEN OF THE WORST PAID AND HARDEST WORK TO BACKWARD WORKERS BROUGHT INTO THE COUNTRY, AND ENHANCE THE PRIVILEGES OF THE “LABOUR ARISTOCRACY” AS COMPARED WITH THE MAJORITY OF THE WORKING CLASS. (“How the Bourgeoisie Utilises Renegades”, LCW 30:34)
... In all the civilized, advanced countries the bourgeoisie rob – either by colonial oppression or by financially extracting “gain” from formally independent weak countries – they rob a population many times larger than that of “their own” country. THIS IS THE ECONOMIC FACTOR THAT ENABLES THE IMPERIALIST BOURGEOISIE TO OBTAIN SUPERPROFITS, PART OF WHICH IS USED TO BRIBE THE TOP SECTION OF THE PROLETARIAT AND CONVERT IT INTO A REFORMIST OPPORTUNIST PETTY BOURGEOISIE THAT FEARS REVOLUTION. (“Letter to the Workers of Europe and America,” LCW 28:433)
It is generally agreed that opportunism is no chance occurrence, sin, slip, or treachery on the part of individuals, BUT A SOCIAL PRODUCT OF AN ENTIRE PERIOD OF HISTORY. (“The Collapse of the Second International”, LCW 21:247)
Opportunism was engendered in the course of decades by the special features in the period of the development of capitalism, when the comparatively peaceful and cultured life of a stratum of privileged workingmen “bourgeoisified” them, gave them crumbs from the table of their national capitalists, and isolated them from the suffering, misery and revolutionary temper of the impoverished and ruined masses. (Ibid., 242-3)
The petty-bourgeois democrats in the capitalist countries, whose foremost sections are represented by the Second and Two-and-a-half Internationals, serve today as the mainstay of capitalism, since they retain an influence over the majority, or a considerable section, of the industrial and commercial workers and office employees who are afraid that if revolution breaks out they will lose the relative petty-bourgeois prosperity created by the privileges of imperialism. (“Third Congress of the Communist International”, LCW 32:454)
In understanding the struggle against right-opportunism, in understanding why the nearer the revolution approaches “the greater will be the part the struggle of the revolutionary mass stream against the opportunist petty-bourgeois stream will play in the labour movement”, we must take up the analysis of the objective base of opportunism. We cannot see our enemies in the working-class movement as some who merely hold to certain definite sets of opportunist ideas (orthodox revisionism) which can be defeated once and for all. Despite the ideological defeat and because of the ideological defeat of old forms of revisionism, new forms “inevitably emerge” “in all workers’ parties” (and movements). As Marx said:
... What history exhibits everywhere was repeated in the history of the International. What is antiquated tries to re-establish itself and maintain its position within the newly acquired form. (Selected Works, in one vol., Moscow, letter to F. Bolt, p. 682)
In “Marxism and Revisionism”, Lenin takes this up:
Pre-Marxian Socialism has been smashed. It is continuing the struggle not on its own independent ground but on the general ground of Marxism, as revisionism. (LCW 15:33)
He defines revisionism thus:
To determine its conduct from case to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping and changing of petty politics, to forget the primary interests of the proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of all capitalist evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the real or assumed advantages of the moment – such is the policy of revisionism. And it patently follows from the very nature of this policy THAT IT MAY ASSUME AN INFINITE VARIETY OF FORMS, AND THAT EVERY MORE OR LESS ”NEW” QUESTION, EVERY MORE OR LESS UNEXPECTED AND UNFORESEEN TURN OF EVENTS, EVEN THOUGH IT CHANGE THE BASIC LINE OF DEVELOPMENT ONLY TO AN INSIGNIFICANT DEGREE AND ONLY FOR THE BRIEFEST PERIOD, WILL ALWAYS INEVITABLY GIVE RISE TO ONE VARIETY OF REVISIONISM OR ANOTHER. (Ibid., pp. 37-8)
THE INEVITABILITY OF REVISIONISM IS DETERMINED BY ITS CLASS ROOTS IN MODERN SOCIETY.
.. . Wherein lies its inevitability in capitalist society? Why is it more profound than the differences of national peculiarities and of degrees of capitalist development? Because in every capitalist country, side by side with the proletariat, there are always broad strata of the petty bourgeoisie, small proprietors. Capitalism arose and is constantly arising out of small production. A number of new “middle strata” are inevitably brought into existence again and again by capitalism. . . . These new small producers are just as inevitably being cast into the ranks of the proletariat. IT IS QUITE NATURAL THAT THE PETTY-BOURGEOIS WORLD OUTLOOK SHOULD AGAIN AND AGAIN CROP UP IN THE RANKS OF THE BROAD WORKERS’ PARTIES. (Ibid., p. 38-9)
Can any Marxist-Leninist who has studied the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat under socialism as summarized by the CCP and Mao fail to recognize this language? That which produces the bourgeoisie in the party after the revolution is doing this throughout the whole period before the revolution. Exactly the same process is taking place constantly! And the struggle against, the defeat, and the suppression of this opportunism, this revisionism which is continually rising up in the workers’ movement, in any party whatever it calls itself, is, as we have said, the application of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the period of the preparation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
And why must we be so rigourous in demarcating? Why do differences arise? What is their significance?
What we now frequently experience only in the domain of ideology, namely, disputes over theoretical amendments to Marx; what now crops up in practice only over individual side issues of the labour movement, as tactical differences with the revisionists and splits on this basis – is bound to be experienced by the working class on an incomparably larger scale when the proletarian revolution will sharpen all disputed issues, will focus all differences on points which are of the most immediate importance in determining the conduct of the masses, and will make it necessary in the heat of the fight to distinguish enemies from friends, and to cast out bad allies in order to deal decisive blows at the enemy. (Ibid., p. 39)
We have tried to show that opportunism need not necessarily channel itself into openly reformist political formations and that the social and economic base of opportunism is quite capable of throwing up opportunism within a revolutionary movement, group, or party. This we take to be an objective and inevitable fact.
We present more of Lenin’s and Stalin’s views on this subject in case the reader is unconvinced of this, or does not consider that the contradiction is antagonistic.
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 organizational “line” reflects the opportunist tendencies of the petty-bourgeoisie.. . . (“Preface to the Collection Twelve Years”, LCW 13:113)
In Russia, the complete severance of the revolutionary Social-Democratic proletarian elements from the petty-bourgeois elements has been prepared by the entire history of the working-class movement. (“The Collapse of the Second International,” LCW 21:258)
... But in our country the masses of the workers are influenced “by a social element alien to them,” namely, the radical intelligentsia. And so, Comrade Axelrod ESTABLISHES THE EXISTENCE OF AN ANTAGONISM BETWEEN THE PROLETARIAT AND THE RADICAL-INTELLECTUAL TREND IN OUR PARTY.
In this Comrade Axelrod is undoubtedly right. The existence of such an antagonism (and not in the Russian Social-Democratic Party alone) is beyond question. What is more, everyone knows that it is this antagonism that largely accounts for the division of present-day Social-Democracy into revolutionary (also known as orthodox) and opportunist (revisionist, ministerialist, reformist) Social-Democracy.... Everyone also knows that the proletarian trend of the movement is expressed by orthodox Social-Democracy, while the trend of the democratic intelligentsia is expressed by opportunist Social-Democracy. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, LCW, Second Edition, 7:380)
“Centrism,” writes Comrade Stalin, “is a political concept. Its ideology is one of adaptation, of subordination of the interests of the proletariat to the interests of the petty-bourgeoisie within one common party. This ideology is alien and abhorrent to Leninism.” (Stalin, Leninism, Vol. II, “The Industrialization of the Country and the Right Deviation in the C.P.S.U.”, p. 97.) (History of the C.P.S.U.(B), p. 136)
We cannot hope to master even the ABC of communism, unless all along the line and throughout the world we make short shrift of the centrists and semi-centrists, whom in Russia we call Mensheviks. Our first task is to create a genuinely revolutionary party and to break with the Mensheviks. (“Third Congress of the Communist International”, LCW 32:474)
In reality, the opportunists’ formal membership in workers’ parties by no means disproves their objectively being a political detachment of the bourgeoisie, conductors of its influence, and its agents in the labour movement. (“Collapse of the Second International”, LCW 21:247)
If there is no such struggle, if opportunism in the working-class movement is not utterly defeated beforehand, THERE CAN BE NO DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT. Bolshevism would not have defeated the bourgeoisie in 1917-19 if before that, in 1903-17, it had not learned to defeat the Mensheviks, i.e., the opportunists, reformists, social-chauvinists, and ruthlessly expel them from the party of the proletarian vanguard. (”The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, LCW 30:275)
Unless the revolutionary section of the proletariat is thoroughly prepared in every way for the expulsion and suppression of opportunism it is useless even thinking about the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Ibid., p. 258)
Finally, from the History of the C.P.S.U.(B.):
The history of our Party is the history of the struggle against the petty-bourgeois parties – the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Anarchists, and nationalists – and of the utter defeat of these parties.
... The history of the development of the internal life of our Party is the history of the struggle against the opportunist groups within the Party – the “Economists”, Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Bukharinites and nationalist deviators – and of the utter defeat of these groups, (p. 359)
It may seem to some that the Bolsheviks devoted far too much time to this struggle against the opportunist elements within the Party, that they overrated their importance. But that is altogether wrong.... If, while carrying on a life and death fight against the bourgeoisie, there are capitulators and traitors on its own staff, within its own fortress, the working class will be caught between two fires, from the front and the rear. Clearly, such a struggle can only end in defeat. THE EASIEST WAY TO CAPTURE A FORTRESS IS FROM WITHIN, (p. 360)
This clearly applies to a movement of struggle for the party.
Earlier we posed the question of where left opportunism fit into our analysis.
In “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Lenin notes that right-opportunism was always the principal enemy in the Russian movement and internationally.
IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST WHAT ENEMIES WITHIN THE WORKING-CLASS MOVEMENT DID BOLSHEVISM GROW UP AND BECOME STRONG AND STEELED? (This is a chapter heading)
FIRSTLY AND PRINCIPALLY, in the struggle against opportunism, which in 1914 had definitely grown into social-chauvinism, had definitely sided with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Naturally, this was the PRINCIPAL ENEMY of Bolshevism within the working-class movement. IT REMAINS THE PRINCIPAL ENEMY INTERNATIONALLY TOO. The Bolsheviks devoted and continue to devote, MOST ATTENTION TO THIS ENEMY. (Peking, p. 16)
He notes, however, that under certain circumstances (what we have identified by Stalin’s definition as the second stage of building the party), “left” opportunism became an obstacle that had to be surmounted:
WHILE THE FIRST HISTORICAL TASK (THAT OF WINNING OVER THE CLASS-CONSCIOUS VANGUARD OF THE PROLETARIAT TO SOVIET POWER AND THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE WORKING CLASS) COULD NOT BE ACCOMPLISHED WITHOUT A COMPLETE IDEOLOGICAL AND POLITICAL VICTORY OVER OPPORTUNISM AND SOCIAL-CHAUVINISM, the second task, which now becomes the immediate task, and which consists in being able to lead the masses to the new position that can ensure the victory of the vanguard in the revolution THIS IMMEDIATE TASK CANNOT BE ACCOMPLISHED WITHOUT ELIMINATING LEFT DOCTRINAIRISM, WITHOUT COMPLETELY OVERCOMING AND ELIMINATING ITS MISTAKES. (Ibid., p. 98)
Lenin generalizes this:
The history of the working-class movement now shows that in all countries it is about to experience (and has already begun to experience) a struggle between Communism, which is growing, gaining strength and marching towards victory, and, FIRST AND FOREMOST, its own (in each country) “Menshevism”, i.e., opportunism and social-chauvinism, and SECONDLY – as a supplement so to say – “left-wing” communism. (Ibid., p. 94)
Is it out of sheer dogmatism (because of Lenin’s words on this subject) that the Bolshevik Union considers that in the first stage of building the party right-opportunism is far and away the main danger, and that while right-opportunism is always the principal enemy, “left” opportunism only becomes a major danger under certain circumstances? Or does this have something to do with the nature of “left” and right-opportunism? When do “left” and right-opportunism particularly come forward? Mao notes that:
In combatting “Left” and Right deviations within the Party, we must decide on our policy according to the specific circumstances. For example, the army must guard against “Left” deviations in times of victory and guard against Right deviations in times of defeat or when we are unable to win many battles. In land reform. Right deviations must be combatted where the masses have not yet been aroused in earnest and the struggle has not yet unfolded, and “Left” deviations must be guarded against where the masses have been aroused in earnest and the struggle has already unfolded. (”Important Problems of the Party’s Present Policy”, MSW 4:183)
Why does right-opportunism come forward when progressive forces are weak or are beginning to marshall themselves, or when a communist party is in its earliest stages of formation? Why does “left” opportunism come forward when progressive forces are strong or a communist party has reached the point of leading mass struggles?
The answer to this is that right-opportunism seeks control over those forces, whereas the effect of “left” opportunism is to divide or isolate them.
When a movement is young, left opportunism can make little headway. The movement is already isolated from the masses, its forces are already divided; right-opportunism, precisely because the movement is young, divided, and inexperienced, comes forward in an attempt to dominate and take it over.
But when the proletariat begins to be able to lock horns with the bourgeoisie in society at large, this is the sign and result of the victory of the proletariat in the working-class movement. It is the sign and the result of the bourgeoisie’s inability, through right-opportunism, to control the proletariat in its headquarters. And at this point the conditions arise for “left” opportunism to become a great danger.
Let us examine the question from another perspective. First of all we have one-sided thinking. This is “merely” the influence of bourgeois ideology and crops up inevitably in even the best of individuals and parties who, nevertheless, solidly represent the interests of the proletariat.
It is the influence of bourgeois ideology because it is not scientific, because it is not dialectical thinking. It is therefore not proletarian thinking, not proletarian ideology because proletarian ideology can only be achieved by the application of dialectical materialism, the only means for correctly understanding the world and changing it.
This influence of bourgeois ideology crops up because we inherit one-sided thinking from life in bourgeois society. It comes “naturally” whereas scientific dialectical materialist thinking must be learned in general as a methodology, and in each circumstance must be learned in particular, i.e., each new circumstance must be scientifically understood, consciously rather than intuitively in a bourgeois fashion.
Bourgeois ideology also crops up because the course of the revolutionary movement, and of all changes in the world, zigs and zags from one side to another, thus reinforcing the tendency to one-sided thinking. (Compare Lenin, “Differences in the European Labour Movement”, LCW 16:348-49)
This one-sided thinking of course can be one-sided to the left (thus becoming “left”) or one-sided to the right.
If we were to detach the instances of one-sided thinking from the real historical process, we would have every reason to expect to get one-sided thinking to the right or left in equal proportion on the average both in terms of occurrance and strength. But this is of course not the case if we look at it in the context of the historical process and take into account that it is nurtured in one direction or the other by the forces that serve the bourgeoisie.
There is always present within a genuine party of the proletariat, which has a programme for revolution and which has rallied the vanguard of the proletariat to it, a reflection of the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in society at large. So, although in this case the proletariat is the dominant aspect of this contradiction, the secondary aspect – the bourgeoisie – continues to try to assert itself. It asserts itself both in the form of bourgeois ideology within the party and in the form of certain leaders who come to serve the bourgeoisie because of personal ambition or despair and cynicism about the proletarian cause, etc.
Within such a party, when-the forces of the proletariat are weak the bourgeoisie asserts itself primarily in terms of right opportunism, in terms of taking control. But when this tactic proves unfeasible in practice, it asserts itself by attempting to divide or destroy what has become a powerful instrument of proletarian class interests. Thus it takes the form of “left” opportunism.
At the same time, right-opportunism within the party or the bourgeoisie outside of the party may actively give support to the ultra-left and attempt to consciously wield it like a club against the proletariat. We must always remember that right-opportunism never lets up in trying to control the proletarian forces. Even while the ultra-left is exercising its attack, the right will be attempting to gain from the excesses of the “left” in order to consolidate itself. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution provided an excellent example of this phenomenon.
What is the connection between thinking that is “merely” one-sided in some specific circumstances, and opportunism? We see a qualitative difference between the two such that we should speak of errors or deviations in the first case and “left” and right opportunism in the second case.
In the case of opportunism we are dealing with tendencies which have developed, or there is good reason to believe are developing, to the point where they more or less actively serve the class interests of the bourgeoisie in an all around way, i.e., parties, groups, or individuals who pass themselves off as communists but in fact pursue a policy of derouting the proletariat into dead-ends or pursue a careerist bourgeois policy of seeking leadership over the proletariat.
And while one-sided thinking, as an error, can always be mechanically to the left or the right, opportunism in seeking leadership over the proletariat, will tend to be towards the right (e.g., the two major forms of revisionism in the international communist movement have been to the right). Let us examine why this is so.
In terms of its own rationale – as an extension of onesided thinking to the left – what is the aim of “left” opportunism? To turn a party that should make revolution scientifically into a party that will make it instantly through superhuman effort. To achieve communism and the withering away of the state without methodically and scientifically preparing for it in the period of socialism. Has “left” opportunism ever succeeded in accomplishing its aims? Could it possibly?
On the other hand, what is the aim of right-opportunism, in terms of its own rationale, as an extension of one-sided thinking to the right? To turn a proletarian party into a bourgeois party. To turn a socialist state into a bourgeois state. Has right-opportunism ever succeeded in accomplishing these aims? Of course it has, many times (e.g., almost all of the parties of the Second International, almost all the parties that were originally part of the Comintern have become bourgeois parties and right revisionists).
What does “left” opportunism accomplish in pursuing its aims? The weakening of the party or the state such that the bourgeoisie, directly or through the right-opportunists, can defeat the proletariat. “Left” opportunism is not essentially a danger because it is one-sidedness to the left but because it weakens the proletariat. Right-opportunism is a danger precisely because it is essentially from the right, because it more directly serves the bourgeoisie.
The strategy implicit in “left” opportunism is an impossible one which does not connect with reality (i.e., it is “infantilism”) whereas the strategy implicit in right-opportunism does connect with reality, is possible, is realizable. There is a qualitative difference in the way the two function and right-opportunism is essentially closer to the bourgeoisie, is more closely bound up with the class struggle in its essence between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This is so even when right-opportunism is merely an error, merely one-sided thinking. The two mesh perfectly as the latter serves right-opportunism or transforms itself into right-opportunism proper.
But when one-sided “leftist” thinking goes beyond being merely an error, becomes a trend hostile to the proletariat and actively serves the class interests of the bourgeoisie it comes into contradiction with its own rationale and tends to lose influence by its own actions or, more important, becomes part of the battle plan of right-opportunism which may have even instigated it to weaken the left proletarian forces. Again, we can see an outstanding example of this happening during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when the Liu-ist forces used this tactic to gain influence.
“Left” opportunism, then, is neither as all-pervasive nor as direct in its effects as right-opportunism. There is an ambiguity about “left” opportunism. It may be essentially “left”, i.e., “infantilism” in the sense of shortsighted impatience, etc. – as Lenin notes of the “left” communists:
Compared with this task (the defeat of right-opportunism – BU), the rectification of the errors of the “left” trend will be an easy one. In a number of countries anti-parliamentarianism is to be seen, which has not been so much introduced by people of petty-bourgeois origin as fostered by certain advanced contingents of the proletariat out of hatred for the old parliamentarianism, out of a legitimate, proper and necessary hatred for the conduct of members of parliament. ... The fight against these errors in the proletarian movement, against these shortcomings, will be a thousand times easier than fighting against those bourgeois who, in the guise of reformists, belong to the old parties of the Second International.... (“The Second Congress of the Communist International,” LCW 31:233)
or it may be a naked and very direct tactic of right-opportunism, i.e., the circle spirit of the Mensheviks that we have already examined, or it may be something that is best described as “left in form but right in essence”, i.e., a political phenomenon which is essentially right if examined closely, but which has an extensive and semi-consistent “left” rationale or pretense.
The general points we have tried to make with this analysis are the following: (1) that “left” opportunism in its “pure” form (in the sense of “infantilism”) is relatively innocuous compared to right-opportunism. To a much greater degree it is likely to be in unantagonistic contradiction to the proletariat. (2) that “left” opportunism is very often merely a tactic of the right or is “left in form but right in essence”, and must be exposed as right-opportunism when that is the case. (3) that when “left” opportunism becomes dangerous in a movement or a party (for example in the second stage of the development of the party) it does so not only because of its own actions but also because of the threat of right-opportunism which is always waiting in the wings to take advantage of any weakening of the proletariat by “left” opportunism in order to once again seek control over the proletariat. Right-opportunism and the bourgeoisie can fit anything that weakens the proletariat into its “implicit strategy”, as a tactic, whereas “left” opportunism is blind in comparison.
What conclusions can we draw from this?
We defeat “left” opportunism mainly by exposing concretely how it aids the bourgeoisie. We defeat right-opportunism mainly by exposing how it represents the bourgeoisie. And in the degree that “left” opportunism is or becomes a tactic of the right or is “left in form but right in essence” we must not leave it its left or even “left” cover, but expose it as a tactic of the right.
Finally, as destructive as “left” opportunism is to the proletariat, its main thrust is not to systematically take control of the proletarian forces, its implicit strategy is not to turn a proletarian party into a bourgeois party or restore capitalism (although in its effects it certainly aids this process). Rather, this is the specialty of right-opportunism and this is why we stress the connection between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the struggle against right-opportunism.
How do parties which represent the economic and social base of opportunism, the petit-bourgeoisie and the labour aristocracy, come about? Let us consider one of Lenin’s definitions of the revolution:
... the revolution itself is nothing but the break-up of old superstructures and the independent action of the various classes, each striving to erect the new superstructure in its own way.... (“New Tasks and New Forces”, LCW 8:218)
In Proletarian Unity (no. 1, pp. 14-15) In Struggle! puts forward the position that the Bainsites and the CPL were the product of dogmatism and “leftism” and that their main problem was how they went about uniting!
In contrast to this, the Bolshevik Union’s position on these two groups is not that they were essentially (“innate”) sincere Marxist-Leninists who went about accomplishing their tasks incorrectly, but that they were the vehicle of the class interests of the petit-bourgeoisie (in alliance with or seeking alliance with the labour aristocracy) using Marxism-Leninism as a mask. What they did not do correctly was what they did not want to do: apply Marxism-Leninism as a science in elaborating the strategy for proletarian revolution and in building a proletarian party.
By a Marxist definition the petit-bourgeoisie is a class which vacillates between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Sometimes it will put itself under the leadership of the bourgeoisie and sometimes it will accept the revolution and come under the leadership of the proletariat, a necessary condition for proletarian revolution.
But there is another factor here. At the same time as the petit-bourgeoisie is incapable as a class of really erecting “the new superstructure in its own way” and thus must tie itself to the proletariat or the bourgeoisie in the final analysis, this does not prevent a faction of the petit-bourgeoisie from attempting to do so. Thus we get two phenomena: one is fascism where the discontent of the petit-bourgeoisie may be marshalled by a party which appears to be a petit-bourgeois party (while in fact it is controlled by the most reactionary forces of finance capital). The other is a situation where a faction of the petit-bourgeoisie, “the radical intelligentsia”, recognizes the potential of proletarian revolution, but rather than coming under the leadership of the proletariat, seeks hegemony over the proletariat.
Engels noted of the Fabians:
The Fabians here in London are a band of careerists who have understanding enough to realise the inevitability of the social revolution, but who could not possibly entrust this gigantic task to the raw proletariat alone, and are therefore kind enough to set themselves at the head. Fear of the revolution is their fundamental principle. (Engels to F. A. Sorge in Hoboken, London, Jan: 18, 1893, in Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow 1965, p. 453)
Thus a faction of the petit-bourgeoisie is quite capable of being subjectively revolutionary in the sense that they recognize the bankruptcy of the monopoly bourgeoisie and can grasp the historic mission of the proletariat. But in reality what has occurred is that rather than having “thrown their lot in with the proletariat” they have merely tied their fate to that of the proletariat in the short range and are only using the proletariat as a counter in their struggle against the monopoly bourgeoisie. They have chosen the terrain of proletarian revolution for the realization of bourgeois interests.
We have already quoted Lenin to the effect that:
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 organizational “line” reflects the opportunist tendencies of the petty-bourgeoisie. (“Preface to the Collection Twelve Years”, LCW 13: 113)
What then distinguishes those who have “thrown their lot in with the proletariat” from those who are merely willing to tie their fate to the proletariat? What, for example, distinguished Marx from the myriad “Utopian socialists” that claimed to want socialism, and against whom Marx and Engels elaborated scientific socialism? We cannot concern ourselves here with the subjectivity of individuals. As Lenin notes:
It is said that history is fond of irony, of playing tricks with people, and mystifying them. In history this constantly happens to individuals, groups and trends that do not realise what they really stand for, i.e., fail to understand which class they really (and not in their imagination) gravitate towards. Whether this lack of understanding is genuine or hypocritical is a question that might interest the biographer of a particular individual, but to the student of politics this question is of secondary importance, to say the least. (“Bourgeois Intelligentsia’s Methods of Struggle”, LCW 20:456)
We must look for the objective difference and that difference is to be found in the use of Marxism as a science.
But counterposed to this we have seen a trend in our movement to identify proletarian ideology with sentiments. We have seen the lazy acceptance of superficial “political line” (the CCL(ML)), and we have seen In Struggle! validate all who are sentimental Marxist-Leninists by their acceptance of a minimal set of unapplied ideological criteria as authentic Marxist-Leninists.
We have not the slightest doubt that In Struggle! and the League consider that they are authentic Marxist-Leninists and have the best interests of the movement and the proletariat “at heart”. But authentic Marxist-Leninists must operate on the basis of science, not sentiments. It is a fact that the social and economic base of the vast majority of those who “call themselves” Marxist-Leninists in our movement is the petit-bourgeoisie. There is only one thing that distinguishei those who have subjectively and objectively “thrown their lot in with the proletariat” from those who are merely subjectively revolutionary (their sentiments) but objectively acting in terms of (petit-)bourgeois class interests. That one thing is the application of Marxism-Leninism as a science. Without this one thing we will inevitably act, objectively, in terms of (petit-)bourgeois class interests, because Marxism-Leninism, as a science rather than as a dogma, is the ONLY way to perceive and represent the fundamental interests of the proletariat.
But both the League and In Struggle! are convinced on the basis of their subjective sentiments that they are innately Marxist-Leninist. They abstract these sentiments from the scientific application of Marxism-Leninism to concrete conditions, and therefore, for them, the way forward is to bring the movement under their discipline as soon as possible. Science can come later.
But what can the result be of calls for unity, in a movement whose individual members clearly arise from the same social and economic base of opportunism, on a level which soft-peddles the application of Marxism-Leninism as a science? What can be the result but a party of the petit-bourgeoisie (and the labour aristocracy)? How could it possibly be a proletarian organization or party?
In the struggle against right-opportunism we must always remember that objective social and economic conditions are such that they have the effect of a strong magnet directed at all those who subjectively want revolution and claim to be Marxist-Leninist. The only antidote to this is the most rigorous use of science, the most intimate attention to theory.
In our movement we have seen the opposite. We have seen In Struggle! admit in its first major statement of political line that “the document we are presenting shows all the characteristics of a ’homework’ assignment. But we do not hesitate to admit that we still have to ’study our lessons’ in Marxism-Leninism.” (“Let Us Construct the M-L Organization of Struggle for the Party”, Dec. 12, 1974, p. 1) And then two years later we have In Struggle! admitting in Proletarian Unity no. 1 (p. 4) that they have only been able to accomplish theoretical work in a “sporadic” way. And yet we have seen large sections of our movement continue to have an unshakeable faith that In Struggle! is pursuing the correct path to the elaboration of a correct political line.
And in this respect we are indifferent to the quantitative vacillations of In Struggle!, a theoretical article here or there, or some future issue of Proletarian Unity which will pay high homage to the role of theory.
What is needed is a qualitative leap in their understanding of the role of theory (along with a qualitative leap in their understanding of Economism, the unity of Marxist-Leninists, the Native question, the international situation, the principal contradiction, etc., etc., and a qualitative leap in the defeat of the rank economism and right-opportunism which has been infesting it to date.)
And we have seen, at the same time, the League refuse to respond to an article almost as extensive as their whole statement of political line, that attempts to scientifically criticize their understanding of a fundamental element of a revolutionary strategy, the principal contradiction.
And we have seen a whole movement (with a few exceptions) completely liquidate the question of the nationhood of a whole people within Canada’s territory, in spite of a rigourous and extensive scientific analysis put forward by two members of the Bolshevik Tendency and endorsed by the Bolshevik Union.
What is the danger of our movement producing another “bourgeois labour party”? That is presently the momentum of our movement. At In Struggle!’s Unity conference on October 9, the Bolshevik Union raised the call to ”go against the tide” of this momentum.
Why is right-opportunism in the majority in our movement? In Struggle! and the League together comprise the majority of the Marxist-Leninist movement and both these groups are marked by right-opportunism in three major areas:
(1) the organizational opportunism and hegemony-seeking which we have dealt with at length in this article.
(2) Economism in general as examined in LD no. 1 and in “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” and ”Right-Opportunism is Dead! Long Live Right-Opportunism!”, and Economism in the particular form (related to organizational opportunism) of liquidating the first stage of building the party without accomplishing the tasks of this stage.
(3) Social-chauvinism and the refusal to break with the labour aristocracy.
In this last connection, both In Struggle! and the League have taken social-chauvinist positions on the nationhood of Native people who form a colony within the borders of the Canadian state. In Struggle! has taken the position that Native people are in fact a national minority rather than a nation and the League has manifested what Lenin called “annexationist indifference in practice” by not explicitly dealing with the question. Implicitly, their position, too, is that Native people form a national minority. Both groups, moreover, have openly defended the interests of the labour aristocracy bribed by imperialism by defending the expansion of the Canadian and American bourgeoisie in the North. (See “The Native National Question and the Marxist-Leninist Movement”.)
We have analyzed this right-opportunist social-chauvinism in “Nationhood or Genocide” in Canadian Revolution no. 4. Here we will link this question up with what we have already said about the social and economic base of opportunism and explain why social-chauvinism is a refusal to break with the labour aristocracy.
First of all, in “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism” Lenin explains how a break with top strata of workers (who will ally with their “own” bourgeoisie in oppressing a colony) means going deeper and lower into the masses and calls this “the essence of Marxist tactics” and “the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism.”
Engels draws a distinction between the “bourgeois labour party” of the old trade unions – the privileged minority – and the “lowest mass”, the real majority, and appeals to the latter, who are not infected by “bourgeois respectability.” THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF MARXIST TACTICS!
NEITHER WE NOR ANYONE ELSE CAN CALCULATE PRECISELY WHAT PORTION OF THE PROLETARIAT IS FOLLOWING AND WILL FOLLOW THE SOCIAL-CHAUVINISTS AND OPPORTUNISTS. THIS WILL BE REVEALED ONLY BY THE STRUGGLE, it will be definitely decided only by the socialist revolution.
... It is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists, to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses; THIS IS THE WHOLE MEANING AND THE WHOLE PURPORT OF THE STRUGGLE AGAINST OPPORTUNISM. (LCW 23:120)
And, in “Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International”, Lenin says:
All parties affiliated to the Third International must at all costs give effect to the slogans: “Deeper into the thick of the masses”, “Closer links with the masses” – meaning by the masses all those who toil and are exploited by capital, particularly those who are least organized and educated, who are most oppressed and least amenable to organization. (LCW 31:194)
In a polemic against an opportunist German party (the Independents) Lenin deals with this again:
The Independents and the Longuetists do not understand and do not explain to the masses that the imperialist superprofits of the advanced countries enabled them (and still enable them) to bribe the top stratum of the proletariat, to throw them some crumbs from the superprofits (obtained from the colonies and from the financial exploitation of weak countries), to create a privileged section of skilled workers, etc.
Without the exposure of this evil.. .without the ruthless removal from the revolutionary party of those imbued with this spirit, without an appeal to the lower strata, to ever wider sections of the masses, to the real majority of the exploited – without all this there can be no question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. (“Draft (or Theses) of the R.C.P.’s Reply to the Letter of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany”, LCW 30:343)
Lenin continues by giving an example of exactly what it means to break with this top stratum of workers:
This unwillingness or inability to break with the top stratum of workers who are infected with imperialism, is also found among the Independents and the Longuetists IN THEIR NOT CONDUCTING AGITATION FOR THE DIRECT, UNQUALIFIED SUPPORT FOR ALL INSURRECTIONS AND REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS OF COLONIAL PEOPLES. (Ibid., p. 343)
Many in our movement have refused to grasp the importance of the Native question and have treated it as a question of very secondary importance for our movement. In doing so they have failed to take up one of the tools that help us to break with the top stratum of the proletariat and this is because they do not see the necessity of breaking with this top stratum and explaining to the masses how it has become bribed, how its short-term interests are not the revolutionary interests of the proletariat and how the long-term interests of the proletariat lie with the peoples of the nations and colonies oppressed by their “own” bourgeoisie (i.e., Quebec and Native Canada). They have, in short, missed “the essence of Marxist tactics”, “the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism”, without which “there can be no question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
In Struggle! and the League have gone further. Not only have they failed to grasp this, they have, by taking the “national minority” position and endorsing the expansion of the bourgeoisie into the North, been actively seeking an alliance with the top stratum of the proletariat and are, in this respect as in others (i.e., their Economism in general) functioning not like a Marxist-Leninist political force, but like “bourgeois labour parties” thrown up by the social and economic base of opportunism, the petit-bourgeoisie and the labour aristocracy.
For those who consider that it is of little importance whether a position is taken on the Native question, or whether In Struggle! and the League have taken incorrect positions, we conclude this section by pointing out that one condition for membership of a communist party in the Communist International was the following:
8) Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a MOST WELL-DEFINED AND CLEAR CUT POLICY in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International MUST RUTHLESSLY EXPOSE THE COLONIAL MACHINATIONS OF THE IMPERIALISTS OF ITS “OWN” COUNTRY, MUST SUPPORT – INDEED NOT MERELY IN WORD – EVERY COLONIAL LIBERATION MOVEMENT, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, INCULCATE IN THE HEARTS OF THE WORKERS OF ITS OWN COUNTRY AN ATTITUDE OF TRUE BROTHERHOOD WITH THE WORKING POPULATION OF THE COLONIES AND OPPRESSED NATIONS, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples. (“Terms of Admission Into the Communist International”, LCW 31:209)
We should note at this point that in the many quotes we have used from Lenin it may not be clear that he is speaking of right-opportunism when he is referring to “opportunism”. In general, Lenin refers to what we now designate as “left” opportunism not by the designation “opportunism”, but by “left’ communism”, or “left doctrinairism” or “adventurism”. “Reformism” refers to the right-opportunist currents that clearly revealed themselves as non-revolutionary during and after the split in the Second International, and ”centrism” refers, in general, to right-opportunist attempts to straddle the fence between revolution and reformism.
There is another reason why left opportunism tends to become a great danger during the second stage of the development of the party. There is a relationship between this stage and the degree to which the objective conditions for revolution have developed. Thus the period of the mobilisation of the masses tends to take place at a time when the crisis necessary to a revolutionary struggle has intensified to the point where the petit-bourgeoisie is threatened with being thrown into the ranks of an impoverished proletariat. Because of this “leftism” which is the product of the despair of the petit-bourgeoisie is on the increase. This despair (and the consequent impatience and adventurism, lack of faith in the masses, etc.) is the key characteristic of “left” opportunism; just as right-opportunism is characteristically a reflection of the ambition of the petit-bourgeoisie.
When we say “majority”, we are not taking a body count. We are referring to In Struggle! and the League as large units operating from the top downwards, i.e., from their political line. We will not speculate to what degree the rank and file membership of In Struggle! and the League! are sincere but backward elements, or essentially right-opportunists. Only time will show us these things by the degree to which In Struggle! and the League are turned away from their opportunist course or the degree to which they begin to lose their best cadre.