Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Progressive Labor Party

“Chicken Little in Boston”


Workers and Intellectuals in PL

When the communist movement was first organized, many serious contradictions existed. One, among many, was that the theories of Marx were predicated on the class struggle. He and others understood that if society was to move forward, this motion would come only through class struggle. Forward motion – revolutionary action – would have to be based on the working class, because their contradiction with the ruling class was primary, and as such made them the revolutionary class.

However, workers as a rule were unaware of communist ideology, specifically the ideas of Marx and Engels. Most workers were illiterate, and even those who could read were not necessarily able to decipher Marx by themselves. So the objective fact was that students and intellectuals were the main bearers of Marxism into the ranks of the working class. Now, Marx – and later others – outlined many of the objective factors limiting students and intellectuals in the revolutionary process. Generally, as a group, they tended to vacillate between workers and rulers. Even those intellectuals who were committed to the working class and Marxism bore many of the imprints of bourgeois training and thought.

Later on, Lenin and others wrote about this problem, and more recently Mao-tse Tung. As many of you remember, Mao wrote of the many years he spent among peasants in order to learn and to shed his student pretensions. The point is, this isn’t a new problem, but has always been a fairly serious one in the revolutionary movement. (Incidentally, the coming article in PL magazine illuminates this question some more.)

Our party was organized to a great degree by students and intellectuals. This is certainly not a criticism of them. It merely confirms the long-range trend of these forces as often being the earlier ones around a revolutionary movement. Obviously, under certain conditions, students and intellectuals can see the illusions of bourgeois thoughts and acts as being opposed to reality. Hence, they seek out solutions which are in their interests, so that they can try to solve their problems, which are caused by the system.

As our Party developed, a distortion took place. On the one hand, the Party had a need for leadership. On the other hand, the forces around and trained–to the extent people were and are developed – were mainly non-workers, or people working at various jobs who had college backgrounds. It is these people who the Party and the working class can thank for the fact that the Party has grown to the level it has. Generally speaking, many of these people did what they were asked to do when it cane to building and guaranteeing the Party. Presently, most of the leadership of the Party is made up of forces with student backgrounds and often with little or negligible work experience. Again, this is not their fault or personal weakness. Rather, it reflects the real world under which the Party grew.

During the past few years, the Party has been slowly bringing workers and minority forces around and into the Party–precisely the development we all want. As pointed out, and accepted – at least nominally–at our past convention, our immediate goal is to a train and win many of these forces into all levels of leadership. Generally, we want to transform the leadership from top to bottom–over a period of time-to combine workers, students and intellectuals. We must forge this unity; the Party must work among other sections of the population to win allies for the working class.

Ideally, the majority of our Party should be made up of industrial workers. In time, these forces – either still on the job or having had these experiences – become the primary leadership of the Party. In other words, the Party, in the truest sense, becomes the Party of the working class, not only through ideas (which are essential) but in fact, due to members and leaders having this background leading workers in battle and introducing communist ideology to them. Through these struggles, communist theory is enhanced.

While lineage isn’t the only requirement, it has great significance. Workers tend not to vacillate, and tend not to over-complicate class questions. This doesn’t imply purity. Workers have many weaknesses because of their lifers training (future pieces will deal with this). But they have essential qualities which must permeate our Party if we are to move ahead in the qualitative way we all want.

Already we are beginning to pay a stiff penalty because of our slowness in dealing with this question. The problem of student-type people leading the Party leads to several limitations. The most important are:
(1) Workers and minority forces shy away from us because they sometimes get a false impression of the Party. They sometimes estimate the Party to have a good line, but not the necessary forces who will really carry out that line. They don’t understand why people who come from certain backgrounds – who never really suffered – want to make a revolution. This question of self-interest cuts two ways. On one level, class interests of Party members arenít self-evident to workers. And often it isn’t even clear to Party members.
(2) People from academic backgrounds often tend to view the world in an extremely idealistic and subjective way. They view developments from the point of view of their personal careers. So now careerism is beginning to become a small but growing factor in maintaining Party leadership. While it isn’t a big problem now, it can become one. The Party could degenerate into kingdoms and fiefdoms, etc, all the cliches you have read about in other parties. This small-group mentality leads to factionalism. The saying “scratch a student and you will find a factionalist” has some meaning because students have been drowned in a sea of individualistic orgies. Most students have been spending a lifetime hearing about how smart they are, how smart they could be, how smart others are, etc. Success is measured by how “smart” you are or by how much money you have or can extort. Generally, the examples of factionalism we have run into in the Party stem from students, and usually have no political line. The “line” of factionalism revolves around being “better than someone else.” When this is pointed out to a person acting in a factional way, they usually drift off to the right, or develop some weird “left” line, a la the Labor Committee. All have ended up in political – and often personal – oblivion.
(3) Because of this type of thinking, or even elements of it, not too much thought is given to how to bring workers and minority forces into leadership now. Sometimes when workers are considered for leadership, their superficial weaknesses are used to keep them out of leading work: “They don’t think; they don’t write; they are poor talkers,” etc. Now, not every worker is leadership timber, but many can be. This is one reason the NC is conducting training schools for workers, so that we can speed up this development. Also, we don’t want to throw people into leadership without any training.
(4) Many students come from the middle or upper class. All students have some training which gives them more maneuverability than workers who have no economic or training “reservoir.” In a crunch, and it usually comes sooner than we realize, some students and intellectuals move to the other side. There is a material basis for vacillations. Sometimes they try to play in the two camps at once–business and revolution. On a leadership level, it’s an impossible a contradiction. It’s generally impossible. These factors have always been behind our discouragement of sending students and intellectuals into the factories for long periods. Objectively – not because they plan it that way – they leave workers in the lurch. It is generally better for students and intellectuals to build a base among their peers and unite workers with students around questions of mutual class interest.
(5) Because of a strong individual outlook, many people often take a reactionary line on building the Party, because they see themselves in the Party based on personal loyalties or considerations. Thus, they develop a feudal or, at best, “franchise” approach to the Party. Their understanding of democratic centralism divides up into two trends:
(a) things are democratic when you agree with them. If you disagree with things, then they become undemocratic, no matter how open the discussion and planning was. They do not realize or understand that there is a class question involved in necessarily subordinating personal interests to collective interests. Many people are so imbued with the importance of their ideas or their pals’ ideas that they supercede the line of the Party. This is why some people can break so easily with the Party over secondary questions. “If I don’t get my way, I’m out.”
(b) The second trend is loyalty to the local “Duke.” Local and personalist loyalty isn’t a bad thing, within limits. However, when it goes beyond loyalty to the Party and to the working class, it is beyond the limits, and terminates the revolutionary process of this or that particular force or group. This is not a new experience in the development of the international movement or in our Party. It is the logic of bourgeois thought. “Me and mine first – as for the rest, we’ll see.”
(6) Students and intellectuals are often among the first to cave in to ruling-class attacks – not because they are born “bad” but because their life’s training imbues them with the thinking of the bosses. They have more shit in their heads than workers. There is a constant struggle within these forces between ruling-class ideas and working-class ideas, between loyalties to one class or the other. Historically, many intellectuals have, in their time, triumphed and ended up firmly on the side of the working class and the communist party. Their commitment was not frivolous. It was not like buying some clothes–“If we like them, we’ll keep them; if we don’t, we can always return them.” Once you go over to the other side, you’ve committed yourself, no matter how “left” the slogans may sound. Slogans of this or that group are always couched in “left” rhetoric, “saving” the workers from one thing or another. So, the way you live and develop in this society is also determined by how you live and act in all situations. This is political, as political as anything else. People who can’t be loyal to their spouses or their friends end up being disloyal to the Party.

In conclusion, we want all areas to discuss these problems more fully and put more workers and minority forces into some type of leading positions now. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL WE TOLERATE CAREERISM, FACTIONALISM, FIEFDOMS, ETC. ONCE THE PARTY GOES THIS ROUTE, WE ARE THROUGH. There is plenty of opportunity for open – as opposed to secret – polemics. The only “need” for secrecy is to hurt the Party by helping yourself. Small-group mentality, boss mentality only goes a very short way. If you have a long-range outlook, you will subordinate what seem to be your Interests for the interests of the Party and the working class.

(Note: Significantly, or ironically, this short piece was prepared for an internal bulletin prior to the events in the Boston Party organization. This article deals with at least one of the points of idealism vs. materialism, or subjectivity as opposed to objectivity, which is required to a great degree in order to become a professional revolutionary.