Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Report of the “Down with Bourgeois Individualism” Study Group

Published: People’s Canada Daily News Release, June 27, 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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New York (PCDN) June 26 – Recently, several members and supporters of the New York Branch of the American Student Movement met to sum up their work and develop guidelines for moving forward. After a long discussion they agreed that although, in the main, the recent work had been progressive and some past erroneous tendencies had been successfully combated, certain weakness in the work were holding back the further development of revolution in the local area. The comrades analyzed these weaknesses as manifestations of the counter-revolutionary ideology of bourgeois individualism. They immediately determined to weed out the influences of bourgeois individualism and rectify their political practice; They decided that to cure themselves of this disease; they would begin to combat it on the ideological front, expose its sources as well as some of its symptoms, and heighten their vigilance against its concrete manifestations. They organized themselves into the “Down With Bourgeois Individualism Study Group”, which held a meeting soon afterwards. A report of that meeting follows:

One of the comrades presented a short talk. She pointed out that the source of bourgeois individualism is the monopoly capitalist class. Monopoly capitalists see themselves as the centre of the universe and the motive force in the making of world history, and they try to force the American people to hold this same view. Thus, they use their whole propaganda machine, (schools, churches, journals, media, etc.) to spread the backward idea of bourgeois individualism to the broad masses of the people.

As we have seen, anytime the bourgeoisie sees the people uniting against their enemies, they start wailing about the loss of “individual freedom” and the “disregard of individual rights”. They promote the idea that the greatest attainment in life is to be an “individual”, unique and above the “teeming masses”. They even produce pseudo-scientific “proof” that selfishness and egotism, the outlook of the bourgeois individualists, is the “natural” outlook of mankind.

Why does the bourgeoisie foster this idea so doggedly? In order to preserve its own existence as a class and create a generation of slaves. The bourgeoisie promotes the theory of ’individual salvation’ to make sure the people remain isolated from each other and unable to solve their problems, and then, to kill the revolutionary world outlook of the proletariat, the attitude of selflessness and dedication to the people, they spread their bourgeois selfishness and egotism. Since the ruling class spends so much time and effort fostering the attitude of bourgeois individualism, we should take the opposite path and be very active in repudiating it wherever it crops up.

The speaker explained that bourgeois individualists invariably suffer from bourgeois hang-ups. The main way bourgeois individualism manifests itself within the ASM is in detachment from the problems of the people. What is the main problem of the American people, including the American students, right now? It is the absence of a genuine Communist Party to lead their struggle against US imperialism and fascism. So, what is our main bourgeois hang-up? Refusing to build the Party. Concretely for us, refusing to develop the class struggle against fascist and social fascist ideas on a wide scale, that is refusing to build the discussion group in the University.

In the practice of the New York Branch of the ASM, bourgeois individualism has given rise to three main hang-ups which are clearly impeding the work.

1) Hesitation: holding back instead of boldly engaging in revolutionary practice to change the situation and then, summing up. Hesitation means not going to the masses and getting organized while there is time. This shows a lazy attitude, in other words, a bourgeois attitude. The proletariat is bold and vigorous in changing the world, and we must also put daring in command.

2) Intellectualism: this hang-up comes from hesitation, from not dealing with the real world to change it, but rather, preserving our bourgeois selves through study detached from the problems of the people. If we want to learn anything, we must look into the real world. This particular hang-up was long ago characterized by the Internationalists Youth and Students’ Movement as being the counter-revolutionary line of “Organize to understand the world”. Only by resolutely going to the people, learning from them, and working hard to change the situation will we be able to combat this hang-up.

3) Disunity: this comes from a liberal attitude toward organizational questions, and it has come up a few times. For example, during the upsurge of mass political acclivity in response to Nixon’s escalation of the war in Indochina, some of us had our own individual lines on how to participate in the struggle and to what extent. We did our own thing instead of carrying out the line of the organization in a disciplined manner.

Finally, the speaker made several concrete suggestions for combatting bourgeois individualism ideologically and in practice. Above everything else, we must grasp Mao Tsetung Thought and remold ourselves in the light of it. We must take up the living study and application of the “Three Constantly Bead Articles”, which crystalize the ideology of the American proletariat, the ideology of absolute selflessness, of serving the people, and of persevering in struggle. We must use these articles in “making self target of revolution, making masses target of revolutionary propaganda,” and as a guide in ’upholding Party spirit in practice.’ In addition, we must put into practice the guidelines developed by the Internationalists in Canada since 1963, and learning from their example, start from the real world and struggle to change the situation. If we dare to go to the masses, dare to put our ideas before them, and dare to build the discussion group, constantly sum up experience, and follow revolutionary discipline, then we will definitely weed out the influence of bourgeois individualism.

After the talk, there was vigorous discussion of the problem that was posed. The comrades agreed to be vigilant against any of the hang-ups that had been described and also to be on the look-out for any other bourgeois tendencies emerging to stifle the revolutionary work. They were enthusiastic to intensify their mass work in order to combat the counter-revolutionary line in practice.