Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Daniel Burstein

Debate: What Road for Communists in the ’80s?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 7, Feruary 18, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Call Note: Last week, The Call printed a letter from Charles Loren of the New Voice organization, which was a commentary on the Jan. 7 article in The Call by Daniel Burstein entitled: “Communist Movement in 1970s: Strengths and Weaknesses.” Below we print a reply by Burstein to some of the points raised in Loren’s letter.

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Charles Loren’s letter to The Call is a positive response to the struggle for unity in the communist movement. While uniting with the thrust of my article summing up the 1970s, it also adds some important points which I didn’t emphasize, such as the need for a deeper analysis of classes in U.S. society.

I would only caution Comrade Loren that such an analysis cannot be made simply by sorting through statistical abstracts and government census figures. In my article I tried to emphasize the need to base our analysis on practice, that is, making practice our starting point. The problem with much of the class analysis work that has gone on so far is that it tries to start from abstractions in order to prove pre-conceived notions about who will and who will not support socialism.

It seems to me that the class analysis Loren has come up with greatly minimizes the role and influence of the petty bourgeoisie. He suggests, for example, that “there is no longer a significant petty bourgeoisie” in the U.S. and concludes that “we must develop and take to all the working class the link between their class situation and the goal of socialism that we advocate.”

It’s true that the objective relationships between the workers and the capitalists generally leads to the socialist revolution. But there are other political factors at work also. There are millions of middle forces that stand between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie in the U.S. in fact is quite large and influential, and made up of various strata. Even the working class itself is stratified and penetrated by the petty bourgeoisie.

Loren’s letter fails to point out the need to develop a fighting program for these middle forces. He implies that we should simply point out to the working class the need for socialism vis-a-vis their class position in society and this understanding will be enough to lead them to revolution. As to the petty bourgeoisie, Loren offers no real reason for them to follow working class leadership except to present a negative promise not to expropriate their property.

Loren stresses the need for study and theoretical work, as well as defining our aims concretely. He says: “We need to agree on a basic class analysis of the United States–definitions, sizes and economic importance.” And, “We need to define our revolutionary goal.” This is all well and good, but, nowhere does he point out that the various forces develop their consciousness through active participation in the struggle today.

Whether the petty bourgeoisie or other middle strata of society support or oppose the cause of socialism does not rest simply on a promise that under socialism their property “would not be seized.” Rather, we must use class analysis to develop a minimum program of struggle that reflects the needs and demands of all those people who are suffering from the exploitation and oppression of the monopoly capitalist class. We need such a program for the small and middle-sized farmers, for the students and intellectuals, for the small businessmen, for the unemployed, elderly, etc. We need a program which rallies the oppressed nationalities together with the white workers in the fight against racial discrimination and national oppression.

To the masses of people today, the main question facing them is not one of choosing between socialist revolution or capitalism. Our socialist education must be closely linked to a program of struggle for partial demands and reforms, a program that reflects the actual conditions today when there is no revolutionary situation and no real prospects for revolution in the immediate future.

Loren’s perspective could be interpreted as counter-posing the struggle of the workers with the united front movement of the broad majority of people in the U.S. under working class leadership. Both must be developed simultaneously.

Nowhere is this more obvious than around the national question, which Loren seems to say is not a “universal principal of Marxism-Leninism,” but rather the “kind of specific reflection of U.S. conditions we still need to work on.” In fact, the struggle of oppressed nations for self-determination and against imperialism is at once a part of the universality of Marxism and also a question of U.S. particularities.

In the U.S., broad strata of the oppressed nationalities suffering long and severe oppression have been thrown into the fight against the U.S. ruling circles and their policies of national subjugation. Even sections of the bourgeoisie of these nationalities have a role to play in this struggle and have played it historically. Struggle with these non-proletarians must be carried on in the context of forging the united front or else chauvinism will be substituted for the fight against the capitalists.

Finally, Loren seems to want to avoid the debate about right and “left” errors. While correctly pointing out some of the historical problems with this fight (its divisiveness and the confusion which has reigned as to the difference between “left” and right), Loren tends to dismiss the entire subject as being unnecessary or a diversion.

I would only say that it is precisely on these questions of class analysis and formulating a fighting united front program, as well as around the national question and the right of self-determination, that “left” doctrinairism must be carefully examined.

I hope that Loren and the other comrades in the New Voice organization will consider some of these points as we begin to work to heighten our unity in the struggle to forge a single, unified Marxist-Leninist party.

–Daniel Burstein