Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael A. Miller

Against Revisionism


The first principle of proletarian politics is the party principle. It is, Lenin said, “the corollary and the result of a highly developed class struggle.”

To preserve the ideological and political independence of the party of the proletariat is the constant, immutable and absolute duty of socialists. Whoever fails to fulfill this duty ceases to be a socialist in fact, however sincere his “socialist” (in words) convictions may be.

Only the Social-Democratic Party, the party of the class-conscious proletariat, has always insisted, and insists now, upon strict adherence to the party principle.[45]

The United Front and the Party

What Is To Be Done? was written to prove, on a theoretical level, that an indispensable condition for proletarian revolution is an organization of proletarian revolutionaries ideologically and politically independent of the bourgeoisie.

Throughout the book Lenin addressed himself to this problem and shows in a thousand ways, approached from a thousand angles, that anything less than this is objectively to give up Marxism in theory and therefore to give up the revolution in practice. In the first chapter there are, incidentally, some profound comments on the relation between the building of this organization, the party of a new type, and the question of political alliances in general. “Not a single political party,” he says, “could exist without such alliances.” And, “only those who are not sure of themselves can fear to enter into temporary alliances even with un-reliable people.” But all alliances had to be based on principle, at least on the proletarian side. On that account, Lenin found it impossible to unite with the revisionists, with the Bernstein wing of the socialist movement, while maintaining a united front against the autocracy as the strategic first stage of the proletarian revolution. Why the split with the revisionists?

The rupture, of course, did not occur because the “allies” proved to be bourgeois democrats. On the contrary, the representatives of the latter trend are natural and desirable allies of Social-Democracy insofar as its democratic tasks, brought to the fore by the prevailing situation in Russia, are concerned. But an essential condition for such an alliance must be the full opportunity for the socialists to reveal to the working class that its interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the bourgeoisie. However, the Bernsteinian and “critical” trend, to which the majority of the legal Marxists turned, deprived the socialists of this opportunity and demoralized the socialist consciousness by vulgarizing Marxism, by advocating the theory of the blunting of social contradictions, by declaring the idea of the social revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat to be absurd, by reducing the working class movement and the class struggle to narrow trade unionism and to a “realistic” struggle for petty, gradual reforms. This was synonymous with bourgeois democracy’s denial of socialism’s right to independence and, consequently, of its right to existence; in practice it meant a striving to convert the nascent working-class movement into an appendage of the liberals. (WITBD?, LCW, 5:362-63)

This, then, is the party principle. Come what may in the realm of alliances, it is always our responsibility to put to the fore the interests of the proletariat. It is called, by Mao Tsetung, “independence and initiative of the proletariat within the united front.”[46] In order to succeed in alliances and keep one’s independent bearings, it is advisable to be very sure of one’s own independent position. How can we be sure?

Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.

To this end, Lenin recommended:

an open and all-embracing discussion of the fundamental questions of principle and tactics raised by the present-day “economists,” Bernsteinians, and “critics.” . . . we regard one of the drawbacks of the present-day movement to be the absence of open polemics between avowedly differing views, the effort to conceal differences on fundamental questions.[47]

Having established unity, it is then possible to enter into alliances with parties representing other classes, depending first on the objective character of the revolution, and provided one’s independent line, so carefully defined and jealously guarded, is not prohibited, provided that independence and initiative of the interests of the proletariat, of the proletarian revolutionary line, is permitted. Failing that condition, there can be no alliance that is not, in actual fact, a matter of co-optation, merging, or making oneself an appendage of another class. Failing the drawing of firm and definite lines of demarcation, an independent line is impossible, initiative is impossible, and the “alliance” is a sham.

This idea of the independence and initiative of the proletariat within the united front has its earliest expression in the writings of Marx and Engels. The Communist Manifesto states clearly the general principles in regard to the question; “what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?” It begins by a declaration which may seem, at first glance, not to be in accord with our argument.

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.

But, by “working-class party” Marx and Engels meant a party which has the aim of

the formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat...[48]

A political party not having this aim, despite the title claimed, is assumed to be a party representing some other class in society. The special distinguishing feature of the Communist political party, and which ultimately determines its absolute hegemony, is that it represents the proletariat internationally, and that it represents the “ultimate general results” of the “movement as a whole.”[49]

Shortly after the publication of the Manifesto Marx and Engels had the occasion to address the newly created Communist League on the subject of the state of affairs in Germany when the revolution of 1848-49 had ebbed. They immediately took up the criticism of the organization for allowing a certain loss of independence thereby allowing domination by petty-bourgeois democrats.

The individual circles and communities allowed their connections with the Central Committee to become loose and gradually dormant. Consequently, while the democratic party, the party of the petty-bourgeoisie, organized itself more and more in Germany, the workers’ party lost its only firm foothold, remained organized at the most in separate localities for local purposes and in the general movement thus came completely under the domination and leadership of the petty-bourgeois democrats. An end must be put to this state of affairs, the independence of the workers must be restored.[50]

Recognizing that the petty-bourgeois democrats were also oppressed, Marx and Engels took up the question of alliances and stated emphatically that, while temporary alliances were possible, unity was impermissible.

At the present moment, when the democratic petty-bourgeoisie are everywhere oppressed, they preach in general unity and reconciliation to the proletariat, they offer it their hand and strive for the establishment of a large opposition party which will embrace all shades of opinion in the democratic party, that is, they strive to entangle the workers in a party organization in which general social-democratic phrases predominate, behind which their special interests are concealed and in which the particular demands of the proletariat may not be brought forward for the sake of beloved peace. Such a union would turn out solely to their advantage and altogether to the disadvantage of the proletariat. The proletariat would lose its whole independent, laboriously achieved position and once more sink down to being an appendage of official bourgeois democracy. This union must, therefore, be most decisively rejected.[51]

United Front Against Imperialism and Social-Imperialism

To return to our circumstances. It should be recalled at this point that the “Communist” Party USA claims to be a party of the proletariat, has renounced the political aims of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and is striving to build what it calls an “anti-monopoly coalition.” This coalition, insofar as it already exists, is a front with reformist, liberal-bourgeois principles, and the leadership consists of the “liberal” wing of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Internationally, this front is led by the Soviet social-imperialists and secondarily through their contacts among the “liberal” wing of the imperialists in their respective countries.

In opposing the CPUSA, many revolutionaries sought to build a truly revolutionary united front, a coalition against imperialism which included, at least theoretically, the hegemony of the proletariat. But the simple substitution of the slogan “dictatorship of the proletariat” for “peaceful transition” could not make the CP’s united front a front led by the proletariat. That could only be the case if the CP were still a Marxist-Leninist party, which had to correct some serious errors. If it were possible to correct the mistakes of the CP, if the mistakes were subordinate to its overall proletarian revolutionary character, then the task would be to join the CPUSA and fight for a Marxist-Leninist line inside the organization. But the CPUSA is long past being susceptible to changes other than reforms in its bourgeois policies.

Exactly how long the CP has been definitely and irreversibly a variant of a bourgeois political party is subject to some debate. As late as 1963, the time of the split in the world communist movement, the Chinese Communist Party, regardless of its expectations or its feelings as to the opportunist character of the U.S. party, addressed a fraternal appeal to unite with Marxism-Leninism.[52] The proposal for unity was a last attempt to put forth the fundamental principles and tactics of the communist movement, and say, in effect, this is the only basis for unity; either accept this as the basis for unity or split with the Marxist-Leninist movement. Despite the most strained relations, even the Soviet party was treated as a fraternal, comradely party. It was in those circumstances that the Chinese comrades advised the Communist Parties in the U.S. and other imperialist countries:

the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat are essential for the thorough resolution of the contradictions ofcapitalist society.

The proletarian parties in imperialist or capitalist countries must maintain their own ideological, political and organizational independence in leading revolutionary struggles. At the same time, they must unite all the forces that can be united and build a broad united front against monopoly capital and against the imperialist policies of aggression and war.

While actively leading immediate struggles, Communists in the capitalist countries should link them with the struggle for long-range and general interests, educate the masses in a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary spirit, ceaselessly raise their political consciousness and undertake the historical task of the proletarian revolution. If they fail to do so, if they regard the immediate movement as everything, determine their conduct from case to case, adapt themselves to the events of the day and sacrifice the basic interests of the proletariat, that is out-and-out social democracy.

Social democracy is a bourgeois ideological trend. Lenin pointed out long ago that the social democratic parties are political detachments of the bourgeoisie, its agents in the working class movement and its principal social prop. Communists must at all times draw a clear line of demarcation between themselves and social democratic parties . . .[53]

It is necessary to quote this somewhat at length so that the reader can see 1) that they adhere to the principle of the final aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat; 2) that they adhere to the principle of independence of the party’s political line; 3) that, in the framework of the first two principles, they urge the formation of a broad united front against imperialism; and 4) that they count the struggle against opportunism, against social democracy, as a necessary part of the overall task. If the CPUSA had been a genuine Marxist-Leninist party, if it had accepted the CCP’s proposal for unity and decisively broken with modern revisionism, then the task, resting on the firm principles of Marxism-Leninism, would have been to form a united front. However, as everyone knows, unless they have conveniently “forgotten,” the CPUSA proved incontestably to be a genuine revisionist party which decisively broke with Marxism-Leninism and the world communist movement. That being the case, obviously it was the task of all genuine Marxist-Leninists in the party to sever their ties ideologically and organizationally from revisionism and build a new party. Without the construction of a new party, the call for a united front would be wishful thinking at best, and a call to subordinate the proletariat to the revisionists at worst.

There already exists a “united front” led by the Soviet social-imperialists. Part of the front is the ruling cliques of a number of oppressed nations, clients of social-imperialism and exploiters of their own peoples in Eastern Europe, in the middle east, in India. In Western Europe and Latin America they have large opposition parties with influence in the industrial unions. In the U.S. they have friends among the imperialist bourgeoisie and the CPUSA is doing its best to consolidate a definite section of the industrial proletariat behind this reactionary front.

Who is the front aimed at? What is its purpose?

Its purpose is hegemony for the Great Russian empire. Thus it is aimed, first and foremost, against any genuine revolutionary movement, any mass military movement led by a proletarian party against the bourgeois state apparatus. It is aimed against the reliable rear area of the world revolution– the socialist countries. It is aimed against the movement for national liberation in so far as that movement takes up the method of national revolutionary war against the imperialist aggressors. It is in the interests of the Soviet social-imperialist clique, and the bourgeois elements they are nurturing domestically, to maintain these movements as strictly reform movements, pressuring the ruling class and thereby helping to carry out the former’s hegemonic plans.

The parties representing this united front cannot actually take power and consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat or even a transitional new-democratic regime. To the extent that they attempted to carry out a program in the interests of developing their own national productive forces they would clash with social-imperialist interests. Political power in the hands of an armed people conscious of its revolutionary tasks and led by a Marxist-Leninist party is a threat, not only to the Soviet imperialist interests, but also to U.S. imperialism and therefore an overall hindrance to detente–the determination of hegemony, of the relative balance of economic, political-military power between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. by friendly negotiation. What they would both like and what they are both cooperating for, is the impossible situation of permanent comprador states who will wheel and deal with both. It is nothing more than the idealization of petty-bourgeois capitalism where the best is determined by fair economic competition. Eventually, detente gives way to inter-imperialist war.

Of course as the conditions demand, i.e., as the revolution develops independent of social-imperialism, the latter will be forced even more to speak in the language of revolution. They may even revive the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But that will not change the class character of the Soviet state nor that of their affiliated parties. Their united front will remain, pending the recapture of the Soviet state by a Marxist-Leninst party, a reactionary united front, uniting the few to defeat the many. To attach to this the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to help them conceal their real aims from the workers.

What is a revolutionary united front? What are the component parts of the world revolution? The world revolution is an objective phenomenon which in this period of history is led by the proletariat as a class with scientific consciousness of itself and its historic mission. The proletariat, on a world scale, has already consolidated state power in certain areas, and these areas, the socialist countries, are to be considered as reliable rear areas, base areas of world revolution. The main component parts of the world revolution where it has not yet succeeded in liberating the productive forces, are the proletariat in the capitalist and imperialist countries, including the social-imperialist and revisionist countries, and the national liberation movement.

The essential condition for world revolution, stated repeatedly by Lenin, Stalin, Mao and other revolutionary leaders as well, is the unity between the proletarian revolutionary movement and the national liberation movement.[54]

In the international united front against imperialism and social-imperialism, the Chinese and Albanian comrades are holding up their end; the Vietnamese, the Palestinians, the Angolans, the Phillipinos and others are holding up their end. But all across Europe from England through the Soviet Union, and North America there is no proletarian revolutionary movement because the workers are without a revolutionary party. Thus, if we wish to fulfill our internationalist duty; if we want to form a genuine united front of the many to defeat the few; if we want to disarm the reactionary united front of social-imperialism; if we want to overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie; then we had better set about building a Marxist-Leninist party.

Yet we find that both the Revolutionary Union and the October League (ML) refer to the CCP proposal in order to justify putting the united front before the party. The “Statement of Principles” of the RU says, “it is the primary revolutionary duty of the people of the U.S. to build a militant united front against U.S. imperialism.” They say that the “main force” is the working class and they also say that the “leading force” is Black people. Many paragraphs later they say that it is their conviction

that the U.S. working class, black and white, with its allies from other classes together constituting a vast majority of the people and led by a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary party, will smash the existing state apparatus.[55]

As prediction this sounds very good, but what about the relation between this united front and the building of the party which is going to lead it? The RU knows very well that there is no party; otherwise they would have no reason or purpose for existing in opposition to the CP. How then is it possible for them to be confused? After quoting the CCP out of context, and disregarding the circumstances in which it was written–as an appeal to the CPUSA–the RU later addresses itself to the relation between the united front and the building of a new party.

While the building of a Communist Party at the earliest possible time is key to building the united front, work to begin building the united front should not wait for the formation of a Communist party: in fact, building the united front is dialectically related to building a real vanguard party of the proletariat.[56]

To call this rhetoric would be too kind. To call it confusion would be a severe understatement. How is it possible to distort dialectics so far beyond recognition? They might just as well substitute the word “magical” for the word “dialectical.”

Anyway, they at least brought up the question of dialectics, which in this case means that if there is a dialectical relationship between two aspects of something, two aspects of communist work–united front and party building–then one or the other must be the principal and decisive aspect. They cannot be spoken of as being in equilibrium.

The OL doesn’t tell us about the dialectical relationship. But they do make certain vague and diffuse comments on the question:

While some of the ultra-“leftists” oppose the united front entirely, others say that united front work cannot go on “until there is a party.”

There are some elements of the movement, generally characterized by “ultra-leftism” who think that a Party can be called into being or declared at one or another conference.

A real Communist Party can only develop in the course of struggle.[57]

At the same time the OL states at the very beginning of their pamphlet on party building that “the main task facing the U.S. Communist movement is that of building a new Communist Party.” The first issue of their newspaper The Call stated their priorities as 1) to build a revolutionary communist party, and 2) to unite all those that can be united into a broad united front. Yet The Call declares, only a few sentences later, that it is “directing itself to the broad masses.”[58]

Since both organizations offer such confusion as to what they are doing, since neither can explain with any clarity what their theory is, we have to reckon with both possibilities, the united front first and the party first, and only then will we be able to understand what it is these “anti-revisionists” are doing; what is the theory which motivates their practice; and who this objectively serves. In the meantime, judgment as to the type of formulations we find in their literature is suspended.

How Not to Apply “Left”-Wing Communism

Let us assume that they are applying “Left”-Wing Communism. In that case perhaps they believe that they represent the party and now, as the vanguard party, are leading the united front. That was how Lenin evaluated the situation in 1920. What was the situation in 1920 and can it be compared to now?

In the years following the Bolshevik revolution the Third Communist International was organized, its direct line of ancestry being the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in Russia in 1912. At the time of the world wide split, significant sections of the old Socialist parties quit those parties and affiliated with the new International. Even in the most politically backward of the capitalist countries, like the U.S., thousands went over to the side of the dictatorship of the proletariat against the social-reformism turned social-imperialism of the Second International. In some cases there were uprisings and proletarian revolutions which failed to hold power. They were a minority, though in some cases a substantial minority, who took their stand, in the most practical of conditions, on the side of the dictatorship of the proletariat against the capitalist class, including all its ideological representatives right down to the conciliators of the opportunists who were conciliators of the revisionists.

Among those in the new parties, among the most revolutionary representatives of the class at that time, were numerous petty-bourgeois revolutionists, anarchist types who could not maintain their proletarian class stand other than in insurrectionary conditions. Thus when there was an ebb in the revolutionary situation in Europe, these new parties demonstrated what Lenin called, in comradely fashion, “infantile leftism.”

The immediate objective of the class-conscious vanguard of the international working-class movement, i.e., the Communist parties, groups and trends, is to be able to lead the broad masses (who are still, for the most part, apathetic, inert, dormant and convention-ridden) to their new position, or, rather, to be able to lead, not only their own party but also these masses in their advance and transition to the new position. While the first historical objective (that of winning over the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat to the side of Soviet power and the dictatorship of the working class) could not have been reached without a complete ideological and political victory over opportunism and social-chauvinism, the second and immediate objective, which consists in being able to lead the masses to a new position ensuring the victory of the vanguard in the revolution, cannot be reached without the liquidation of Left doctrinairism, and without a full elimination of its errors.[59]

This seems to be exactly what Carl Davidson is applying in his recent Guardian column criticizing “leftism” in the person of Charles Loren representing the “party builders” as opposed to the “united frontists.” Davidson’s article apparently coincided so exactly with OL’s line on the subject that they reprinted it in full on their “editorial” page. Davidson began by saying:

An important achievement of the new communist movement in the past several years has been its transition from student-oriented propaganda circles to agitational work in the mass movements.[60]

It appears to be the same point Lenin was making:

As long as the question was (and in so far as it still is) one of winning over the vanguard of the proletariat to Communism, so long, and to that extent, propaganda took first place; even propaganda circles, with all the imperfections that circles suffer from, are useful under those conditions and produce fruitful results. . .[61]

But he goes on to speak of the “practical activities of the masses,” “vast armies,” etc.

It appears consistent, and yet it actually has no relevance whatever. For the fact is that Lenin was addressing himself to parties, where the “proletarian vanguard has been ideologically won over,” just as the Chinese Communist Party was addressing itself to parties where presumably the vanguard was established. Without that condition being satisfied, Lenin said, “not even the first step towards victory can be made.” How can Carl Davidson, who knows very well that we have not yet won over the proletarian vanguard ideologically, take such pleasure from the knowledge, presuming it to be true, which it actually isn’t, that the communist movement has moved from propaganda circles to mass agitation before the party has even been formed?! How can The Call, which says its first task is building the party but is “directing itself to the broad masses,” find such unity with such a blatant misapplication of Marxist theory?

So, on the one hand, they are conducting fierce struggles against “ultra-leftism,” against the “sectarians,” “dogmatists,” “armchair theorists,” etc., and are readying themselves to win over the “middle forces.” And on the other hand, they all deny that they are parties. “We are pre-party formations” they say. “We are the young communist movement.”

Very well. If they all understand that they are not parties and that they are building parties then they must be applying some other theory. They must be, independent of their will, principally building a party. Their united front policy is a means for carrying out the task of party building. They believe that the necessary conditions, have not been satisfied in order to build a party. The RU made it very clear that they were organizing revolutionary collectives to carry on the work of the united front and thereby “create the conditions for the emergence of a revolutionary party.” This raises the question of the objective and subjective conditions necessary for the formation of a Marxist-Leninist party.

The Objective Conditions for the Party

What does it mean to call oneself and others the “young communist movement?” It is to say either that the communist movement is just coming into being, just being born, or that the communist movement is coming into being again, being reborn. It can only be understood in one of these two ways, both of which, it will be demonstrated, are false.

Lenin uses the phrase “the proletarian vanguard has been won over ideologically” as synonymous with the fulfillment of the objective and subjective conditions for the party. It is presumed that following from this, and developing along with it, is the translation of ideological unity into the material weapon of organization. But what comes before? When is the proletariat not yet ready to comprehend scientific socialism? (“Not ready” is understood to mean not ready objectively, and not to mean unwilling.) According to Marxism,’ the proletariat goes through stages of social cognition. Marx and Engels state in the Communist Manifesto:

The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie. At first the contest is carried on by individual laborers, then by the workpeople of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade, in one locality, against the individual bourgeois who directly exploits them. They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves, they destroy imported wares that compete with their labor; they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze ...[62]

At this point the “whole historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie.” The bourgeoisie, by revolutionizing the means of production, by concentrating thousands of proletarians, by intensifying exploitation in order to better compete, forces the issue and causes the struggle to take on “more and more the character of collisions between two classes.” Unions are formed, riots break out. The struggle becomes national in scope and becomes political, in the sense of the struggle for state power. All this describes, in the words of Marx and Engels, the “organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party.”[63]

Lenin developed this thinking and analyzed the dialectical relationship between the two main stages of relative spontaneity and relative consciousness. He speaks of the spontaneous strike wave which occurred in Russia in 1896. “But,” he continues:

There is spontaneity and spontaneity. Strikes occurred in Russia in the seventies and sixties (and even the first half of the nineteenth century), and they were accompanied by the “spontaneous” destruction of machinery, etc. Compared with these “revolts,” the strikes of the nineties might even be described as “conscious,” to such an extent do they mark the progress which the working-class movement made in that period. This shows that the “spontaneous element,” in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form. . . . The revolts were simply the resistance of the oppressed, whereas the systematic strikes represented the class struggle in embryo, but only in embryo. Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, not yet Social-Democratic struggles in this sense, the strikes of the nineties, despite the enormous progress they represented as compared with the “revolts,” remained a purely spontaneous movement.[64]

This is exactly the same theory which Mao Tsetung explains in On Practice:

In its knowledge of capitalist society, the proletariat was only in the perceptual stage of cognition in the first period of its practice, the period of machine-smashing and spontaneous struggle; it knew only some of the aspects and external relations of the phenomena of capitalism. The proletariat was then still a “class-in-itself.” But when it reached the second period of its practice, the period of conscious and organized economic and political struggles, the proletariat was able to comprehend the essence of capitalist society, the relations of exploitation between social classes and its own historical task; and it was able to do so because of its own practice and because of its experience of prolonged struggle, which Marx and Engels scientifically summed up in all its variety to create the theory of Marxism for the education of the proletariat. It was then that the proletariat became a “class-for-itself.”[65]

After a generation or two generations of proletarians had gone through the experience of class struggle against the bourgeoisie in a number of capitalist countries, Marx and Engels were able to sum up this practice, place it in its proper relationship to history and society and turn this comprehensive view into a science. This science did not arise spontaneously out of the proletarian movement, but originally out of the struggle within bourgeois philosophy, a struggle for a correct theory of history and society, a struggle going on among the members of the bourgeois intelligentsia. Once it arose, however, it split from bourgeois philosophy and developed as a separate form of social consciousness reflecting the objective contradiction in the economic base between the two major modern classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The objective conditions, in the sense of adequate spontaneous social-practice, existed for winning the proletarian vanguard in a number of European countries during Marx and Engel’ lifetimes. And they always saw to it wherever they went and wherever they had contacts, that an attempt was made to form a party, even if, in most cases, it was only a small core, a handful of adherents.

But what about the U.S.? Through most of the nineteenth century the proletariat was immature. The relative immaturity of the proletariat can be seen from the degree to which the bourgeoisie, even reluctantly, concentrated the historical movement against slavery in its hands. Marx and Engels did not consider it possible that in this country the proletariat could quickly gain leadership of the democratic movement and immediately overthrow the bourgeoisie after the democratic revolution (in our case, the civil war)–something they held to be entirely possible in Germany and France, for example.

So immature was the working class and so isolated were the few Marxists (mostly German) from the working class in the U.S., that Engels even advised support for Henry George, “an ideologist of the radical bourgeoisie,” “for it is better to let the workers’ party begin to consolidate itself, even if on a not altogether immaculate program. Later on the workers will themselves come to understand what is at stake, will ’learn from their own mistakes.’”

Lenin summed up the point of Marx and Engels’ tactics:

In countries where there are no Social-Democratic workers’ parties, no Social-Democratic members of parliament, no systematic and consistent Social-Democratic policy either at elections or in the press, etc., Marx and Engels taught the socialists at all costs to rid themselves of narrow sectarianism and join the labor movement so as to rouse the proletariat politically for in the last third of the nineteenth century the proletariat displayed almost no political independence either in England or America. In these countries–where bourgeois democratic historical tasks were almost entirely absent–the political arena was wholly filled by the triumphant and self-complacent bourgeoisie, which has no equal anywhere in the world in the art of deceiving, corrupting, and bribing the workers.[66]

However, by the end of the century, national unions had been organized on a stable basis, and Marxism had begun to penetrate the proletariat. In 1894, for example, the question of the ownership of the means of production was up for a vote at the AF of L convention. (It didn’t pass, of course; but it should be known that the Gompers forces and all the “labor lieutenants” had to maneuver a delay and manipulate the isolated local organizations for a year in order to get it defeated.) By this time there had been established parties affiliated to the international Marxist movement, and these parties were widely known among the workers. But this turned out to be only the first round in the effort to organize the class on the level of a political party.

This organization of the proletarians into a class and consequently into a political party is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves.[67]

These parties arose, as has already been shown, in the period of the rise of U.S. imperialism. At best they did not yet understand, on a theoretical level, the nature of imperialism: they did not understand the contradiction between oppressor and oppressed nations, they did not understand the contradiction within the proletariat between different nationalities, and they did not understand the objective role played by opportunism, nor the extent of its influence among the workers. That was the best, i.e., the revolutionary wing of the parties. At worst, these parties were themselves infected with social-chauvinism and social reformism, and they failed to carry out truly internationalist and truly revolutionary work. The fact that among the most revolutionary representatives of the parties there was insufficient consciousness of the overall relations of society, meant that the theory of Marxism became subordinated to the spontaneous domination of bourgeois ideology in the form of revisionism. The eruption of the imperialist war provided the final external condition which completed the transformation of these parties into political instruments of the bourgeoisie. Lenin created the subjective conditions for the new party by his struggle against revisionism and opportunism and by his efforts to organize a new international. It was Lenin who analyzed scientifically the practice of the international proletarian movement in the generation preceding World War I, and created the theory of the proletarian revolution in the era of imperialism.

Thus, the Bolshevik party, having defeated opportunism in its ranks, was prepared for the revolutionary situation in Russia, while the other parties failed. And it was the Bolshevik party, the Leninist party, which became the model for the proletarian revolutionary movement from that time forward. It may be said: The modern communist movement, the Marxist-Leninist movement, dates from the time of the October Revolution, the embryonic theoretical form of which is Lenin’s earlier writings and the development of Bolshevism.

When we say that the proletariat had sufficient practice to be able to comprehend the overall relations of society, we do not mean to say the whole class becomes conscious.

In the first place, spontaneity doesn’t disappear from the proletarian movement. Each new generation of workers and each new wave in the struggle regenerates spontaneity over again, and individual proletarians, who have been kept from the history of their own class and therefore base their understanding mainly on direct experience, manifest contradictory aspects of perceptual and rational knowledge about capitalism. In the second place, the class is divided into relatively advanced and relatively backward, and at the beginning stages a very small minority of the most advanced workers form the vanguard of the class.

Finally, the class can only become conscious if the leaders of the class, the ideologists, do not subordinate the theory to the spontaneous movement. If the theory is brought to the workers, then they will gravitate towards it because it is scientific and true, and because they have no class interest in reconciling themselves with wage-slavery. If it is not brought to the workers then they will naturally gravitate towards the leadership, the ideologists, of the bourgeoisie.

The spontaneous movement is, first and foremost, a movement to resist oppression, a movement which is unconscious of its objective character and significance, and unconscious of the overall class relations which impel it forward. It develops in two directions: towards a relatively peaceful movement within capitalism for better conditions, and also towards an all-sided struggle for emancipation.

What are all the sides of the “all-sided” struggle? First, there is the economic struggle, which is the most obvious, the most accessible with the most immediate results, the oldest, most familiar. Second, there is the political struggle, which is the concentrated expression of economics in the realm of law and order. The organization of the proletariat politically presupposes a certain level of economic organization. If the proletariat has had sufficient practice in the economic struggle, it is then possible to organize the class politically. But at that point, whether the class is to have a political party simply reflecting and corresponding to its economic struggle within capitalism, or a revolutionary political party, depends on the ideological struggle.

This third side is still, even after Lenin went through the trouble of quoting Engels at length in What Is To Be Done?, being ignored or opportunistically avoided. However, without this side of the movement, the politics reflects the economics, the struggle for better economic conditions is waged against the government as well as the individual capitalists, industries, etc., and the movement comes under the wing of the bourgeoisie. It is only revolutionary theory, which when integrated with the spontaneous movement, transforms the spontaneously reform-oriented economic and political movement into a revolutionary political movement aimed at the dictatorship of the proletariat, which radical political change is the prerequisite for victory in the economic struggle.

If tomorrow some workers engage in machine smashing, this does not mean that the proletariat, in the person of some other workers, needs to learn the elements of organization to learn how to fight the capitalist, in order to learn to fight the capitalist government, in order to learn the theory of revolution, etc. If the proletariat in the U.S. still lacks rational knowledge, i.e., a correct scientific analysis of capitalism; if the proletariat in the U.S. is still not conscious of its objective position in society and its objective historical task, it is not because the class lacks sufficient practice.

Why then?

Because the leading members of the class, who represent the class in its overall struggle against the bourgeoisie, have accepted bourgeois ideology as rational knowledge. If the proletariat was objectively unprepared for Marxism then there never could have arisen a Marxist party with any proletarian composition. If no Marxist party then no revisionism. Thus the communist movement is very old indeed.

Obviously it could not be the case that the objective conditions existed once, in the 1930’s for example, but went out of being and are coming back into being. The objective conditions for the party are to be found in the historical experience of the class. The historical experience of the class cannot come into being, go out of being, and come into being again. Once it exists, the question is mainly one of becoming conscious of it.

The only thing which existed in the thirties, went out of being and is coming back into being, is an economic crisis. Of course the boom and bust cycles of capitalism will have an effect on how successful the party can be in terms of mass influence; the conditions may be favorable or unfavorable according to the expansion and contraction of capital. But whether it is possible for the party to exist at all–that question was decided a long time ago, and that question having been decided does not rest on the boom and bust cycles of capitalist economy. The objective conditions are here and have been here all along. What is not here and is not being created by the “young communist movement” is the subjective conditions.

What Is New In the Communist Movement?

The spontaneous movement is very old and the communist movement is very old. What is new in the communist movement is precisely that which the “young communists” (and in their ranks are, of course, a number of old “young communists”) refuse to acknowledge. What is new is that the struggle changed from one inside the CPUSA to one outside the CPUSA; from a struggle for a Marxist-Leninist line subordinated organizationally to the persistent revisionist leadership, to a struggle for a new organization, a party of a “new type” altogether. This is a significant new feature of our movement.

This change occurred between the mid 1950s and the mid 1960s. The anti-revisionist struggles in the CPUSA began to take a new form in the late 1950’s when, for the first time, large coherent groups of Marxist-Leninists left the party to launch a struggle for its reconstitution from outside the organization. They understood then, that the party had become the central task of Marxist-Leninists. The original organizations split many times over what appeared to be unimportant shades of differences, and finally disappeared from the scene. But the struggle against CPUSA revisionism was joined by the entire international struggle against revisionism, led by the Albanian and Chinese Communist Parties, and the struggle to reconstitute the CPUSA gave way to the struggle to form a new party, a party of a new type, actually the first genuine communist party in the U.S. state boundaries.

Even in early 1963, the CCP referred to comrades outside the CPUSA, and the definite split in the international communist movement came shortly after that.[68] During that whole period, the recognition of the party as the central task was growing and became principal. That’s what’s new in the communist movement, and that’s what the “new communist movement” has been denying.

It was thought that the party had gotten past the first step, winning the vanguard ideologically, but it turned out that it did not and that this is still our task.

The stages of the party’s growth is summarized by Stalin:

Three periods must be noted in the development of our Party.

The first period was the period of formation, of the creation of our Party. It embraces the interval of time approximately from the foundation of Iskra to the Third Party Congress inclusively (end of 1900 to beginning of 1905).

In this period the party focussed its attention and care upon the Party itself, upon its own existence and preservation ....

The principal task of communism in Russia in that period was to recruit into the Party the best elements of the working class, those who were most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat; to form the ranks of the proletarian party and to put it firmly on its feet. Comrade Lenin formulates this task as follows: “to win the vanguard of the proletariat to the side of communism.”

The second period was the period of winning the broad masses of the workers and peasants to the side of the Party ....

The third period is the period of taking and holding power...[69]

It was during the first period that Lenin wrote, in What Is To Be Done?

Indeed, no one . . . has . . . doubted that the strength of the present-day movement lies in the awakening of the masses (principally the industrial proletariat) and that its weakness lies in the lack of consciousness and initiative among the revolutionary leaders.

“Instead of frankly admitting,” Lenin went on to say, “that we, the ideologists, the leaders, lacked sufficient training–the ’economists’ seek to shift the blame entirely upon the absence of conditions,” an assertion, he said, which was “diametrically opposed to the truth.”[70]

Now we can understand why these organizations, our present-day economists, appear to be applying “Left” Wing Communism, seem to be taking the view that, having built the party they are now facing the masses. What, in reality, has been a retreat, they have made to appear as a step forward. The proof of this is their early literature compared to their recent literature. In 1971-72, the OL was conducting fierce struggle against economism and preaching the party principle. Here is an example from a mass leaflet entitled “Take Up Mao’s Call,” in which no less than half of the whole leaflet deals with the necessity of organizing a new communist party in opposition to revisionism.

A genuine Marxist-Leninist Party has to be built on the ashes of the old CPUSA, the flunlcy of the capitalists within the movement. Unlike the old CPUSA, it must be rooted in the most advanced, revolutionary sections of the proletariat, not in the middle classes or the ranks of the privileged workers. It must be a party which teaches the workers self-sacrifice and internationalism in preparing them for the necessary armed struggle, and not one which preaches pacifism, patriotism and narrow self-interest. Finally, it must lead the present struggle through to the end, to the DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT, and not the substitution of “united fronts” with the liberal imperialists for the undivided rule of the workers.

What happened since 1971-72?

What happened was that they went to the masses to build a party and discovered that they could not accomplish that goal. They were unprepared and they backed off. Now a retreat is not absolutely a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the only rational policy. But it ought to be known that it is a retreat and not made to appear as an advance. Unfortunately, they did not back off from the mass movement and consolidate themselves ideologically. That would have been a reasonable policy. What they did instead was back off from the party principle and intensify their mass work! They took the road of bluff rather than self-criticism, and shifted the blame onto the supposed backwardness of the masses.[71]

What does Marxism-Leninism teach on the question of bringing into being of the subjective conditions?

Eventually, we all understand, the working class will become conscious of the practicality, the necessity, indeed, the whole science of revolution. This will happen as a result of “the course of the struggle;” it is inevitable and independent of what we do. But this is the greatest theoretical abstraction, just the very thing our friends from the OL/RU want to avoid. As the old saying goes, people do not eat in the long run, eventually, inevitably, and in the abstract. The revolution, like eating, is a material act and is made today in the concrete. What we do influences the course of events for a long time to come and what we do cannot change the objective conditions unless we first bring into being subjective conditions.

So the question is: how do the workers become conscious of their objective position in society and their historic task, in the course of what struggle?

Lenin, in combatting the tendency to bow to spontaneity, stresses that the leaders, the ideologists, are responsible for bringing scientific socialism to the workers and that, left to itself, without the ideological struggle, the working class movement generates only trade unionism, an economic and political movement within capitalist productive relations which strives for better condItions in the sale of labor-power. And here, despite the many times Lenin’s words have been quoted, it is necessary to quote him again (From WITBD?LCW, 5:Ch. IIB)

Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is–either bourgeois or socialist ideology.

There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ’third ideology,’ and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.

There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology . . . for the spontaneous working class movement is trade unionism . . . and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade unionism striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.”

There is however, another aspect of the spontaneous working class movement, an aspect which strives for the all-sided struggle for emancipation of the class. This is the more advanced, the more conscious aspect.

It is often said that the working-class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism. This is perfectly true in the sense that socialist theory reveals the causes of the misery of the working class more profoundly and more correctly than any other theory, and for that reason the workers are able to assimilate it so easily, provided, however, this theory does not itself yield to spontaneity, provided it subordinates spontaneity to itself. Usually this is taken for granted, but it is precisely this which Rabocheye Dyelo forgets or distorts. The working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism; nevertheless, most widespread (and continuously and diversely revived) bourgeois ideology spontaneously imposes itself upon the working class to a still greater degree.

But why, the reader will ask, does the spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that bourgeois ideology is far older in origin than socialist ideology, that it is more fully developed, and that it has at its disposal immeasurably more means of dissemination. And the younger the socialist movement in any given country, the more vigorously it must struggle against all attempts to entrench non-socialist ideology, and the more resolutely the workers must be warned against the bad counsellors who shout against “overrating the conscious element.”[72]

What Lenin understood about Economism has been summed up exactly in the History of the CPSU (Bolshevik), written under the direction of Stalin:

He realized better than anybody else that “Economism” was the main nucleus of compromise and opportunism, and that if “Economism” were to gain the upper hand in the working-class movement, it would undermine the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and lead to the defeat of Marxism.[73]

The fifty year struggle for a Marxist-Leninist party has taken a new turn in that it recognizes that the first round of the struggle is over. Marxism in the U.S. suffered a defeat at the hands of revisionism a long time ago and it is now our task to break our revisionist fetters, to overthrow economism and liberate the Marxist-Leninist movement from the ideology of the bourgeoisie. Thus we have much vigorous struggle to conduct, and a lot of resolute warning to do “against bad counsellors who shout against ’overrating the conscious element.’”

Bourgeois Ideology

The working class gravitates–both ways. Yet much more powerful in the immediate, temporary sense, is the ideology of the bourgeoisie, which ideology is strengthened a hundredfold by the capitulation, the giving up, of the ideological field by the economists. Failure to develop theory, failure to apply the theory to concrete conditions, to really integrate it with the actual practice of the movement of the revolutionary class, this is the sure guarantee that the striving for emancipation, which is part of the spontaneous movement, will be thoroughly overwhelmed by bourgeois ideology.

Exactly what is meant by bourgeois ideology?

Here there is much confusion, reinforced naturally enough by all the bourgeois ideologists. The ideology of the bourgeoisie was once honest and open. When the bourgeoisie was a progressive class fighting its way to power against the feudal aristocracy and against the prevailing clerical ideology, it represented itself honestly. Its ideological representatives made use of the contemporary science to make an objective analysis of society. Marx, for example, gave much credit to Ricardo, Smith, Benjamin Franklin, and others, who fell short of a science of economics but nevertheless made an attempt, with the tools at their disposal, to make that breakthrough.

After Marxism arose, however, bourgeois ideology began to decay and more and more sought to conceal rather than reveal the essential contradictions of society and the causes of historical progress. One thing the ideologists of the bourgeoisie never did understand, even when their class was progressive, was that their ideas represented their own class and not the whole of society, were always relative to the class struggle and were not absolute. Their starting point was not classes but individuals, not the contradiction between classes but the contradiction between the individual and society. The concentrated essence of bourgeois ideology is self-interest.

In this regard it should be noted that the greatest bourgeois theory is found in the realm of individual psychology and its greatest theorist in Freud. Only Freud elaborated a theory which was, like Marxism, universal and historical; it presumed to be applicable to everything in which human consciousness played a part. Needless to say Freud and all his disciples, including the “revisionists” of psychoanalysis, have never succeeded even in effectively combatting mental illness, let alone finding the way to individual gratification.

Clearly, proceeding from the standpoint of self-interest is the opposite of a solution to the social contradictions faced by individual members of oppressed classes. Individual happiness is inextricably tied to the struggle to overthrow the production relations which fetter the peoples’ productive ability and are the cause of the alienation and mental anguish suffered. Communism alone affirms the correct relationship between the individual and society: that self-interest is a by-product, an incidental result, of serving the interests of proletarian revolution.

Now in relatively peaceful times, in those times of which Lenin stated that the masses often uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed, individual psychology achieves some measure of popularity. We even have Lucy, of Peanuts fame, who charges only a nickel, thereby making her professional services available to even the poorest worker. But in times of crisis, i.e., almost all the time and for almost all of the oppressed people, social movement is irrepressible; it bursts forth despite the predominant forms of bourgeois ideology, and disregarding the bourgeois theories of individual psychology.

The social movement is spontaneous; it is an inevitable result of the oppressive relations endured by the masses and occurs independent of the will of individuals or even whole classes. It is, first and foremost, a movement to resist oppression, a movement which is unconscious of its objective character, unconscious of its objective significance, and unconscious of the overall class relations which impel it forward. Since the ideas of an age are those ideas of its ruling class, the spontaneous movement spontaneously embraces those ideas. At the same time, since it is objectively a movement which resists oppression, it also spontaneously resists the ideas perpetrated by the oppressor.

The bourgeoisie and its ideologists are of course well aware that such movements cannot and will not waste their time analysing individual psyches. Thus there are theories of collective self-interest, theories which appear to correspond to such movements, to isolated and separate constituencies resisting their own oppression. Proceeding pragmatically, these theories have the superficial appearance of representing progress, whereas they do not at all challenge the fundamental premises of bourgeois society. Lenin devoted the greatest attention to this phenomenon in relation to the spontaneous working class movement. The bourgeois theory which appears to correspond to this movement, a movement for better economic conditions under capitalism, is trade-unionism or economism.

The trade union movement may be directed against the capitalists individually, industrially, and against the capitalist government, but it seeks only to win the best possible terms in the sale of labor-power to the capitalists. It seeks to win these concessions from the capitalists and their government, who rule and make the policy in the end, one way or another.

The aim of the communist movement is to abolish the wage system, throw the capitalists out of power, and eventually abolish classes altogether. Communism is a partisan ideology. Communists always and everywhere support and encourage movements to better the workers’ conditions of life and work. At the same time we put forward our ideas concerning the interests of the proletariat internationally, and the history and future of the proletarian movement as a whole. We are united with the trade union movement but we are disunited with the set of ideas of trade unionism. The “ism” make the difference because it means that people believe, and act on their belief, that reforming capitalism is the way to freedom and liberation from exploitation.

The difference then, is not a matter of degree of militancy or activity. The independent truckers, who are not even wage-slaves but rather oppressed petty-bourgeois, used very radical tactics and even brought in the word “revolution.” But all this was strictly in pursuit of reform, an economic concession from the bourgeois government.

The left-wing expression of trade unionism, which has often been confused with communism, is no more than syndicalism. Syndicalism is the idea that by coordinated mass action, direct action at the workplace, the workers can win freedom and liberation from exploitation, can permanently reform capitalism so that it functions in the workers’ interest. The French syndicalists actually brought the word “sabotage” into the international vocabulary, but no syndicalist movement has ever succeeded in getting rid of the wage system. They could never organize the entire class of workers into one union, and could never take over production in a capitalist country. Why not? Because in the last analysis the capitalists prevent it by armed force. They use their state to break the strike, break the organization, and maintain capitalist production.

While syndicalism has substituted for scientific socialism, and the various parties are dominated by it, it is the right-wing expression of trade unionism which has led the trade union movement in all the imperialist countries, in all those countries which partially live off the labor of the oppressed nations. The method of right wing trade unionism is to identify with the bourgeois politicians, creep into the state apparatus and in fact, help the capitalists carry out exploitation of the workers. They are the most helpful in a crisis; even as the army moves in to shoot down the workers and maintain capitalist production by force, they remind the workers how things would be worse if it weren’t for their presence among and pressure on, the bourgeoisie.

Naturally, the appearance of a trade unionist political party, a party which does not have the aim of state power, reinforces the prejudice among the militant workers that political parties are all parties of the bourgeois type and that politics is something for the bourgeoisie and not the workers. That is why it is so important that the organization of the communist party must be an organization of a new type, specifically suited to the overall class struggle against the bourgeoisie and having the aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The same distinction applies with regard to the movement for liberation of the oppressed nations, including those inside the U.S. state boundaries. Our support for the movement is unquestioned. But what is its ideology? In the U.S. the dominant ideas have swung from liberal integrationism to nationalism. Since the swing to nationalism was a reaction of the most militant fighters of oppressed nationalities to their disillusionment with bourgeois integration, it appeared to correspond to the interests of the proletariat as opposed to the bourgeoisie. But that is a profound mistake.

The national movement against imperialist domination is progressive, and the struggle for independence, even under bourgeois leadership, may coincide, in certain given conditions, with the struggle of the proletariat against the imperialist bourgeoisie. But the “ism” corresponds only to the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, who, while resisting subjugation by the oppressor nation and striving to unite the whole oppressed nation, also strives to obscure the class differentiation within its own nation. This the proletariat cannot allow, even in the oppressed nation, for this would be to give up the independence and initiative of the proletariat within the united front. There is no such thing as proletarian nationalism, only proletarian internationalism.

There was such a thing, before the proletariat became a class-for-itself on an international scale, as revolutionary bourgeois nationalism. But no more. Now the bourgeoisie is no longer capable of leading the national liberation movement to victory; it is only capable of playing a positive practical role, given the leadership of the proletariat. The recurring phenomenon of “revolutionary nationalism” is strictly a temporary and transitory attempt to combine bourgeois ideology with the practice of the revolutionary movement of oppressed nations. Those who point to Malcolm X as a revolutionary nationalist forget how rapidly he moved away from that position and towards the revolutionary internationalism of the proletariat. Other “revolutionary nationalists” are pointed out in the international arena and it is forgotten how quickly their regimes are overthrown in bloody military coups directed by the imperialists or how quickly they become subservient to U.S. imperialism or Soviet social-imperialism.

The same is true in the case of the movement for women’s liberation from male supremacy. The theory with which the bourgeoisie “supports” and gains entrance to the movement is feminism. And all kinds of attempts follow, by the petty-bourgeois ideologists, to make it appear that there is such a thing as proletarian or socialist or Marxist feminism. But there is no such thing. There is no “women’s” ideology or point of view that is separate from the two class ideologies.

We support the struggle for peace, but we oppose pacifism. We support the struggle for reforms but we oppose reformism, and so on.

This is the only way to pose the problem if we are to speak of proletarian leadership of these movements. To talk of proletarian leadership and not safeguard the ideological independence of the proletariat within these movements, is to fail completely to bring to the fore the revolutionary interests of the proletariat and to talk empty phrases.

The Opportunist Theory of Stages

Of course the economists are always quick to point out that by and large people first come to active resistance against oppression before they understand that the whole system “has to go.” They are drawn into the spontaneous movement motivated at the beginning by the necessity to survive, by the immediate struggle closest to their own self-interest. Is this true? And if it is, then why is it wrong to introduce communist propaganda only after self-interest propaganda?

Yes, it is true, and this is just the point. The struggle around self-interest is the common beginning, the spontaneous route to consciousness. It is an objective phenomenon, independent of our will, a movement we have nothing to do with creating, nor can we create it. The spontaneous self-interest movement is something created by the oppression of the bourgeoisie; it is the one thing we can “rely” on the bourgeoisie for. We can have absolute confidence that the bourgeoisie, without any help from us, and by its own policies, will throw the entire society into economic chaos and begin to destroy the productive forces on a big scale. What we can create, and what the bourgeoisie can never create, is the subjective consciousness of what is actually going on in society and what, in general, can be done about it. If we hide communism away while appealing to the motives of self-interest, then not only are we not bringing the spontaneous movement any closer that it already was to being ready for communist consciousness, we are actually helping it develop the distorted, irrational consciousness of the bourgeoisie.

It is also true that the practical struggle of the class goes through certain stages. And the economists have a theory of stages which they think corresponds to the historical stages which the proletariat goes through in reaching the stage of an independent political party. The practical struggle proceeds from economics to politics to ideology (i.e. the party). Since this is the way the class develops historically, say the economists, then we must adopt this form of development in the day to day struggles as well. This appears to be an application of historical materialism but in fact it is mechanical materialism. Why is this so?

What historical stage is the U.S. proletariat in? The class has organizations presumably suited, or at least intended to be suited, for economic struggle. One-fifth or one-fourth of the class as a whole belongs to these organizations. The economists make it appear that this is a low stage of development. But Lenin stated in 1916:

In England then, as in Germany now, not more than one-fifth of the proletariat was organized. No one can seriously think it possible to organize the majority of the proletariat under capitalism.[74]

Why did Lenin take it as obvious truth that the majority of the workers cannot be organized under capitalism? He learned it from elementary Marxism:

The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labor. Wage-labor rests exclusively on competition between the laborers.[75]

Trade unions exist for the purpose of reducing competition so as to increase the price of labor-power and its overall bargaining power. Therefore the organization of the majority of the class would be tantamount to undermining an “essential condition” for capitalist rule. Thus, far from being in a low stage of development, the proletariat is actually at a very high, if not the highest stage of development possible under capitalism. It is only after the destruction of the rule of the capitalist class that the proletariat can be organized in the majority.

The reason why the economists fail to see what historical stage the working class is in, is that they fail to grasp, or are opportunistically avoiding, the essential features of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. One of these features is the ability of the imperialist bourgeoisie to sustain a relatively reduced level of competition in the working class. But as the empire contracts, Marx and Engels’ proposition will once again be taken as an obvious truth. And that is the period we are now entering. We are not entering a period of any sustained expansion of imperialism; quite the contrary.

And yet the economists’ practice is based on the assumption of the possibility of expansion of economic organization and reduction in competition, an assumption which has for its premise, whether this is conscious or not, that imperialism will expand, that the territory available for superprofits is going to increase.

Although the theory of stages is correct insofar as the development of the class struggle over the entire history of bourgeois society is concerned, there is no basis for bodily lifting up that analysis and applying it to the last stage itself. This mistake was characterized by Lenin as treating the proletariat as if they were children because it treated the now existing class, in their present historical conditions, as if it had no past, as though the struggle began entirely anew with each generation. Unlike the productive forces which accumulate, the technical knowledge which each generation of workers passed on to their children, the historical experience of the class struggle, this rich experience, is made to appear lost with each new generation.

So the economists begin anew with economic agitation, attempting to interest the workers in the immediate self-interest struggle. And they often fail. The workers are often indifferent or apathetic to this agitation. Then the economists say that the workers are hopelessly backward; since they can not even be aroused to the economic struggle, they won’t reach the stage of political struggle, etc., etc.

How do they approach the workers who are struggling for economic gains, struggling against monopolies which are reaping superprofits from foreign investment. They tell the workers: support the liberation struggles because if the imperialists lose their source of superprofits they will be weaker in the economic struggle against you and therefore you will be more likely to gain concessions from them. This is to raise the economic struggle to a political level in order to reduce the political struggle to an economic gain. Besides it is untrue. The victory of the liberation movements, especially if they gain some measure of economic independence and cut off the superprofits, will inevitably force the imperialists to intensify exploitation of their own workers, to intensify war preparations, and preparations for open terroristic rule.

Of course this makes things very difficult for the Marxist-Leninists. We cannot promise any immediate economic benefit as a result of particular political actions. We will be called defeatist, since we will be saying over and over that unless the workers have a revolutionary party they will be helpless against the imperialist bourgeoisie. But we will have to say it because it is true. And we will have to repeat it because all the opportunists are lying about it. Is this defeatist? To do the opposite is to be optimists with regard to opportunism.

How does this compare to earlier times? When the workers were organizing unions to reduce competition and gain higher wages, the capitalist often used the tactic of promising an economic concession on the condition that the workers give up the idea of the union. The attitude of the most class-conscious workers was that the deal had to be rejected because without a union the workers would be helpless in their struggle against the capitalists. And they were right. They fought to make the workers not helpless by explaining to them why they were helpless. And today, when the struggle is concentrated against the imperialist state, the workers are going to be helpless as long as they have no party. Of course, at that time, sacrifices were of a different sort. Economic gains were actually around the corner. Today the future holds only civil war and the party has to be responsible for seeing to it that the proletarian side of the civil war is taken care of, and therefore has to be a very special type of party indeed.

This is how we have to understand the phrase “raise the level of consciousness.” When Lenin used this phrase he meant making the movement conscious of its objective position in society, and what it is moving to. He meant raising the level to communist consciousness, the only genuine and scientific class consciousness. But when our modern economists use the phrase “raise the level of consciousness,” a phrase which is extremely popular nowadays, they mean something quite different, in fact opposite to Lenin’s idea. What they mean is raise it, quantitatively, step by step, as if we were dealing with a continuum, instead of two opposing ideologies. It is a conception borrowed whole from the liberal bourgeoisie where there is only right and left wing, existing on the same continuum, communism at one end and fascism at the other end.

By this conception the modern economists liquidate scientific socialism in theory; they come to deny the difference in principle between socialism and liberalism and in practice make Marxism the tail of the radical bourgeoisie. Marxism is not simply a set of ideas to the left of the radical bourgeois, which is to the left of the liberal bourgeois, to the left of conservatism, etc. Marxism is a separate ideology, opposed in principle to all forms of bourgeois ideology, and which retains its independence even in the most trying, defensive positions, even when it forms alliances with liberals and radicals.

How the “Friends” of the Masses Fight Communism

The OL and RU,[76] who think they are bringing into being the conditions for the party, are actually banging their heads against a wall by trying to create objective conditions instead of subjective conditions. They tell the workers to link the economic struggle with the political struggle in order to win an economic gain. They tell one movement to unite with another movement in order to accomplish its own particular demands.

An example of this persistent demagogy is the issue of The Call dealing with women’s oppression. In an “editorial” entitled “Women’s Oppression Rooted in Class Society,” the OL, after making theoretical observations about the necessity of socialist revolution, gets to the point, which is what to do about the women’s movement now. The answer is not a Marxist-Leninist party with a program of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but rather a united front movement with a program of anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-male supremacy, anti-exploitation, etc., etc.

Thus the idea is, following exactly in the footsteps of the RU’s “spearheads,” that the women’s movement should “begin with the struggle for the basic necessities.” It should link up with the struggle against racism (what happened to OL’s theory of the Black Nation?), the struggle against economic oppression, the struggle for democratic rights. “Finally,” it must “oppose imperialist war and aggression” and “resist the rise of fascism.” The OL concludes:

With the building of a strong united front of women around such a program of militant mass struggle, the movement for women’s equality will take a tremendous leap forward on the road to victory.

Without a party the OL thinks quite a lot can be accomplished. In fact, they would argue, like the RU, that the uniting of all these movements into a broad united front is a prerequisite for the building of the party. However, that theory is completely hidden from its readers since they are not ready for it. To complete the picture of this contrivance to hide communism from the masses, the OL tells us what we should bring to these movements.

A united front movement for women’s rights should not frighten the communists [what this means is anyone’s guess!] Instead [!!] they should add their militancy, organizing abilities and experience to this struggle and learn from it as well.

Note well. “Add their militancy, organizing abilities and experience.” Not their ideology. At least not communism; their subservience to spontaneity and their contrivance to keep communism for themselves, is itself an unmistakable expression of their bourgeois ideology which they are adding in great quantities to the mass movements. What they say they want to bring is that which the mass movement, in this case, the women’s movement, is perfectly capable of developing on its own. But what cannot be developed out of the spontaneous mass movement, regardless of the militancy of its best fighters, the ablest of organizers and generations of experience, is communist consciousness.

Consistent with this compulsion to hide communism from the workers, the OL removed the hammer and sickle from the masthead of The Call. A disappointed reader asked why. And this, from the same issue, is the editor’s reply:

The Call staff felt that the hammer and sickle, while a beloved symbol of the international working class movement, is not at present a recognized symbol to the people of the U.S. We found that it tended to keep people who are unfamiliar with communist ideas or policies from reading the Call. So we removed it for now, as a tactical compromise. This in no way changes our editorial policy, nor does it belittle the need for the Call to advance an independent communist position within the united front movement and within our pages. It is intended only to make the paper more popular in form and broaden our outreach, while maintaining its class content. It is only a small part of the October League’s struggle against dogmatism.

As unabashed opportunism this is truly incomparable, truly a new low in the vulgarization of Marxism. In the first place it is ludicrous on the face of it, since if the symbol is really unrecognized, then what possible difference could it make aside from stirring up some curiosity. It brings to mind the old joke on the old fashioned parents who, upon hearing their children use obscenities, exclaim: “I never heard such dirty language!” The smart-aleck offspring responds: “then how do you know it’s dirty?”

But of course, it is no joke. The leaders of the OL know better. They know that the communist movement is not new but as old as May Day. They know that most U.S. workers recognize the symbol. The problem isn’t one of unfamiliarity. The problem is hostility. The plain fact is that the workers have been trained to see in the hammer and sickle a foreign enemy and the prejudice is very deep indeed. So they should have said, it tended to keep people who are prejudiced against communism from reading the paper.

So they made a “tactical compromise.” (But the potential readers who are prejudiced against communism are unaware of any compromise made with them. It is no tactical compromise at all. It is just a trick.) They should have said: since some of our readers are prejudiced against communism and won’t read our paper with a hammer and sickle on the masthead, we decided to trick them into reading it by giving the impression that it’s not a communist newspaper at all. Of course, after the paper gets bought, the buyer will become aware that more was received, or at least something different was received, than was bargained for. For inside the paper, there will still be communist ideas, presented within the united front movement. One thing for sure, the class content, bourgeois to the core, will be maintained. It is only a small part of the October League’s struggle against Marxism-Leninism.

What they hope is that people will buy the paper thinking its a radical paper, a trade-unionist paper, an activist paper, anything but a communist paper, and then, after reading it will say, “this is right-on stuff.” Later, when the worker is more ready, the trick will be revealed. The real purport, presumably will be confessed. At this, the worker is supposed to respond, “well, if this is communism, then I’m all for it!”

This approach of bringing everything but communism to the movement is not actually unique, even if it is an unmatched admission of ideological bankruptcy. The OL, like the RU before them, and PL before them like the CP before them is only adopting a technique familiar to all salespeople; they are selling the seller in order to sell the product. The problem is that we have this very wonderful commodity, communism, which has a poor reputation among the potentially neediest consumers. So we will offer a special deal for a limited time. We offer our communists without-their-communism. Our communists will bring their superior organizing abilities, their militancy and their experience. They are good fighters and tacticians in the economic struggle. They won’t be corrupted by bribes. Our communists will impress you with their ability to win concessions from the capitalists. After you try out our communists-without-their-communism, you will want to buy our communists with-their-communism. Why? Because our communists-without-their-communism are what they are because of their communism.

This is the opportunist logic which apparently guides the thinking of the “young communist movement.” Let us suppose it is successful. What is accomplished? Suppose the workers “bite”; they accept the” purely commercial deal, feeling as they do that communists are all right–so long as they leave their communism home and function as good trade unionists. The hope that the workers will say, “well, if this is communism then I’m all for it,” is to hope that they never find out what communism is, is to hope that they continue to confuse it with militant trade unionism. A practical success can be counted as the successful transformation of a potentially advanced worker into an opportunist.

A purely commercial deal such as this is completely self-defeating. What it does is reinforce the very economist prejudice we faced at the beginning. But it is not only self-defeating; it is much worse. For if the workers are willing to make a commercial deal with the communists in the hope that the latter can win some concessions from the boss, concessions which the bureaucratic trade unionists can’t get, then why will they not make a deal with the boss as well? The boss is smart enough to know that if concessions are offered on the condition that the communists are abandoned, the workers will likely accept the deal, since the concession is what they wanted in the first place. Thus the attempt to water down communism in order to make it immediately palatable to the majority leads the workers’ movement, more, pushes the workers’ movement, straight into the arms (“under the wing”) of the bourgeoisie. And what is gained in return? A few economic concessions, which, as Lenin said, “are the cheapest and most advantageous” for the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. “For this reason,” he said,

we must not under any circumstances or in any way whatever create grounds for the belief (or the misunderstanding) that we attach greater value to economic reforms, or that we regard them as being particularly important . . .[77]

To sum up, these present-day merchants of opportunism are selling none other than the heritage of the proletariat for a mess of pottage and obstructing the development of the party by creating more anti-communism, and therefore even worse subjective conditions.

After they have gotten through heaping their elitist contempt on the masses, telling us how backward and unready these masses are for communism, they turn around and quote the mass line and accuse us of not adhering to the masses! What is the mass line, and how is it to be applied in a period where the objective conditions exist for the party, yet there is no party?


[45] The Socialist Party and Non-Party Revolutionism, LCW, 10:75, 80, 81

[46] MSW, 3:213-217 (written in 1938)

[47] Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra, LCW, 4:354-55

[48] The Communist Manifesto * MESW, 1:119-20

[49] ibid.

[50] Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, MESW, 1:175

[51] ibid., pp. 179-80

[52] “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement,” The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, op. cit., The CCP’s attitude toward the CPUSA was expressed in A Comment on the Statement of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. ”... there are not a small number of genuine Communists, both inside and outside the Communist Party of the United States, who firmly adhere to Marxism-Leninism and oppose revisionism and dogmatism, pp. 16-17 (emphasis added)

[53] Point 10 in “A Proposal ...” ibid, pp. 17-19

[54] See Note 85

[55] “Statement of Principles,” A Selection from the Red Papers 1, 2 and 3, Revolutionary Union, p. 3-4 (originally written in 1969)

[56] “The United Front Against Imperialism,” Red Papers 2, Revolutionary Union, 1970, p. 22. It has just been announced by the RU that ”the earliest possible time” now means immediately. As for why the building of a party wasn’t the central task until June of 1974, the exact reasoning seems to be very tricky. See Which Side Are YOU On?, pamphlet published by the Red Star Publications, S.F., (June 1974). In 1970 the RU suggested a massive united front with the mass participation of even the backward workers as prerequisite to the building of a party. “As the strength of the united front grows, so will the strength of the proletariat, as the more backward workers are drawn into motion by the gathering momentum of the movement. And, as the workers’ movement gains impetus and more and more workers are brought into the active struggle, the building of a vanguard party of the proletariat will be the order of the day.” Has all this just come into being in the last few months? Does the RU now have a different theory of how the party comes into being? The real reason the RU decided that the building of a party is now the order of the day is that other groups, especially the Communist League, succeeded in establishing a small base for Marxism-Leninism among some revolutionary workers and are therefore calling a congress to form the party. While these other groups took the view that the building of a party has been the central task and have deliberately concentrated on training small numbers of revolutionary workers, the RU took the opposite, opportunist road and has continually found itself losing whatever working class cadre it managed to recruit. Just prior to the RU’s declaration of a “new stage” in the movement, the Black Workers’ Congress, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, and many more revolutionary cadre split from the RU organization. RU’s call for the party is nothing more than a last desperate struggle of the reactionary on the verge of extinction.

[57] Party Building in the U.S., October League (Marxist-Leninist), 1973, pp. 10, 13-14

[58] The Call, Vol. 1, No. 1, November, 1972, p. 2

[59] “Left-Wing” Communism-An Infantile Disorder* LCW, 31:93

[60] Carl Davidson, “Which Side Are You On?” (regular Guardian column, 3/6/74 and reprinted in The Call, April, 1974, the big flap was over Charles Loren’s book, The Struggle for the Party, Cardinal Publishers, Davis California, 1973. Loren threw a whole lot of Lenin’s writings and general conclusions concerning the conscious element at the OL and RU, challenging their opportunist theory of party building. This obviously touched a raw nerve and caused a corresponding whole lot of panic (see RU’s response in the June 1974 Revolution). Loren and The New Voice later split from the forces calling the Congress. See note 83.

[61] ”Left-Wing” Communism . . . op. cit., pp. 93-94. One page earlier Lenin states: ”The proletarian vanguard has been won over ideologically. That is the main thing. Without this, not even the first step towards victory can be made.”

[62] The Communist Manifesto*, MESW, 1:115-16

[63] ibid., p. 117

[64] WITBD?*, LCW, 5:374-75

[65] On Practice*, MSW, 1:301

[66] Preface to the Sorge Correspondence, LCW, 12:372-73

[67] The Communist Manifesto, op. cit., p. 117

[68] see footnote 52

[69] The Party Before and After Taking Power, SW, 5:103-107

[70] WITBD?, LCW, 5:373, 377-78n

[71] This example has just been thoroughly dwarfed in comparison to RU’s outrageous posturing. Their cards are falling out of their hands for everyone to see and they are sitting there, straight-faced, demanding credit in order to raise the pot!

[72] WITBD?,* LCW, 5:384-386

[73] History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks)*, Authorized by the Central Committee of the CPSU(B), International Publishers, N.Y. 1939, p. 23

[74] Imperialism and the Split in Socialism*, LCW, 23:119

[75] The Communist Manifesto*, MESW, 1:119

[76] While the RU and the OL have differences, they are not ones of principle. The main principle to be defended right now is the party principle, and when it comes to that principle, they are as united as one in opposition.

[77] WITBD?*, LCW, 5:406